SOtM sMS-200 Mini Network Player and SOtM mBPS-d2s Intelligent Battery Power Supply
Device Type: Network Player
Input: RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
Input: 2 USB 2.0 ports for External USB Storage Device
Output: USB 2.0 High End Audio Grade
Power Requirement: 6.5~ 14.5 Volt DC
Dimensions (H x W x D): 53mm X 106mm X 152mm
Weight: 1.5 Kg
Price: $450.00 with 9-volt power supply
Device Type: Battery Power Supply
Input Recharger Power Supply: SMPS with 5.5mm x 2.5mm DC barrel connector
Output: 6-9 volt DC, 1.5 A
Output Connector: 5.5mm x 2.5mm DC barrel connector
Dimensions (H x W x D): 48mm X 105mm X 150mm
Weight: 1.5 Kg
Price: $450.00 with UP-OCC copper DC cable (.3m length) and external 9 volt supply; silver DC cable adds $100
The SOtM sMS-200 is SOtM’s 2nd generation mini network player replacing the previous sMS-100 model. The sMS-200 offers the following features:
- A dedicated ARM processor board specifically developed for audio use only.
- Dual Core AMD chip
- 2GB DDR3 RAM
- Micro SD slot for Linux Operating System
- Ultra-Low Jitter Clock
- Ultra-Low Noise Regulator
- Active Noise Canceller
- Audio grade USB output port
- 2 USB 2.0 ports for external USB storage devices
- Use of Optional WiFi Module (not provided)
- File Support: 32-bit/384KHz max, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256
- Native DSD Support (only with certain DACs)
- Software Specifications:
- Roon Ready Endpoint
- MPD/DLNA Audio Renderer
- HQPlayer NAA
SOtM has developed an ARM board for the sMS-200 and their own Linux software called Eunhasu, which means Milky Way in Korean. The sMS-200 has an attractive case with all connections made at the rear of the device. The soft footers add stability to the small sMS-200. There are two LED indicators on the front panel that indicate power and network activity. The rear panel has the Ethernet input, audio-grade USB 2.0 output, 2 USB 2.0 inputs for external USB storage devices, a reset button, a microSD card, and the DC power input. I also noticed at the Ethernet input LEDs that indicate network activity.
But what is the advantage for the audiophile to use a network player like the sMS-200? Given that computers are electrically noisy devices, the mini network player allows another computer or NAS to do the heavy computing, thus allowing a minimalist device to be connected directly to one’s DAC via USB. The hardware and software of the sMS-200 are optimized for audio use only, resulting in a theoretically ideal input source for a USB DAC.
The SOtM sMS-200 comes with its own 9-volt SMPS wall-wart power supply. While this power supply does allow the sMS-200 to properly function, superior sound can be obtained by using a good quality battery or linear power supply.
Setting Up the sMS-200
The sMS-200 is a highly versatile and easy-to-use device that should have a wide appeal. Given that the sMS-200 is a Roon Ready device, it was immediately recognized by my Roon Core when connected to my network. The Eunhasu software allowed me to activate the Roon option and automatically recognized my Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty DAC.
A number of other playback options are available from the excellent software, including Squeezelite, which works with the Logitech Media Server and incorporates services such as Tidal. When a USB storage device is directly connected to the sMS-200, MPD and DLNA support allows it to work as a network server. Further, the sMS-200 can be controlled by DLNA software like Linn’s Kazoo. One could also use JRiver Media Center as a server from another computer on the network. The excellent Signalyst HQPlayer can stream from another computer to the sMS-200 or can be combined with Roon for a superb audio interface. Even Apple’s Shairport can be used to stream 16-bit/48KHz files.
The Eunhasu software allows a number of other options such as updating itself or setting up NAS (Network Assisted Storage). To access the software, one just has to type http://eunhasu/ in a browser or http://eunhasu.local for iOS.
mBPS-d2s Intelligent Battery Power Supply
- Dual battery Power Supply
- Ultra-Low Noise Regulator
- Automatic Charging to Maintain Battery Power
- LEDs Indicate Operating Status
While acceptable sound quality can be achieved from the sMS-200 with the supplied SMPS 9v DC source, I highly recommend using a higher quality 9v source. The SOtM mBPS-d2s Intelligent Battery Power Supply has two batteries that allow one battery to provide power while the other battery is being charged. The mBPS-d2S switches between these functions automatically. The battery power supply is fed by an external 9v DC power supply. There are dual LEDs on the front panel to indicate output status, charge status, and low-battery status for each battery. The main unit has an on/off switch that SOtM recommends be turned off when not in use.
The mBPS-d2 offers protection from input overcurrent, output short, battery overvoltage, and battery undervoltage. The SOtM uses a Samsung or LG 18650 Li-ion battery pack with an initial impedance of under 100 mohm.
For the evaluation of the sMS-200 and the mBPS-d2s, I used my Asus G701VI laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 with the AudiophileOptimizer. The Asus G701VI possesses an over-clockable Intel Core i7 6820HK processor with 32GB DDR4 2400Mhz SDRAM and a very fast PCIe Gen3 X4 NVMe SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports, as well as a Thunderbolt port (USB type- C). An NVIDIA GeoForce GTX1080 with 8GB VRAM processes video. This powerful video processor allows significant CUDA offload processing for the Signalyst HQPlayer. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.
The Asus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF, and both were grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block. A G-Technology 16 TB G|RAID Thunderbolt 2 / USB 3 drive was connected to the Asus with an AudioQuest Coffee Thunderbolt cable. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive was powered by an HDPlex 100w linear power supply plugged into a Shunyata Denali power conditioner. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive and its HDPlex power supply were placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base.
Music software used for the evaluation of the sMS-200 and the mBPS-d2s was Roon Server.
I used an Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty for the DAC. It was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF and plugged into a Shunyata Triton v2 / Typhon with a Shunyata Sigma Digital AC cord.
The sMS-200 and the mBPS-d2s were both placed on a Synergistic Tranquility Base with the power supply of the mBPS-d2 plugged into a Shunyata Research DPC-6 v2.
I enjoyed what I heard from the sMS-200 using a .75 meter AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and an AudioQuest RJ/E Ethernet Diamond cable for connection to my network. I also had good results using a .5 meter Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB 2.0 cable for the evaluation of the sMS-200.
Listening to the sMS-200 powered by the mBPS-d2s
The mBPS-d2 that was used for evaluation had the SOtM copper power DC wire for connections to the sMS-200. The sMS-200 booted up very quickly and entering Eunhasu on my iPad Air 2 allowed me to activate Roon. The sMS-200 appeared in Roon Server on my Core Asus computer allowing me to select this as the output device. I was now up and running in a matter of minutes.
The sound quality of this SOtM combination was impressive, with an overall clarity and low noise background that were very apparent. The midrange had a richness and ease that seemed to impart a very natural and unprocessed sound quality to voices and instruments. The overall detail was very good, extending from top to bottom. Bass had good impact and was well defined. I did not hear an overly ripe mid-bass or unnatural warmth to the sound. The soundstage was wide and deep with what I refer to as a “tube-like” bloom and dimensionality. Even though the sMS-200 was very revealing, the overall musical presentation was relaxed. One area that was most impressive was the resolution of micro-transient detail that the Ayre QX-5 Twenty was able to reproduce when using its USB input from the sMS-200.
The Ayre QX-5 Twenty is one of the most revealing DACs I have heard. This DAC has exemplary transient response and superb macro- and micro-dynamic reproduction. The sMS-200 / mBPS-d2 combination allowed the Ayre QX-5 Twenty to shine in terms of its dynamic liveliness.
The overall sonic superiority of the sMS-200 was quite apparent compared to a direct USB connection from my Asus computer to the Ayre DAC. In addition, running AudiophileOptimizer on the Asus Roon Core made a big difference in overall sound quality when driving the sMS-200 through my network.
On the back of the mBPS-d2s is a prominent ground post. I decided to connect it to my Synergistic Research UEF Ground Block. It came as no surprise to me that the use of the Ground Block bumped up the sound quality a notch or two. I heard a wider soundstage and a slightly more open sound to the midrange. The bass definition was also slightly better with the ground connection. May Park from SOtM told me that the ground terminal was designed to improve the sound from the mBPS-d2s and suggested that I try different ground cables to arrive at the best perceived sound for my setup.
The sMS-200 / Ayre QX-5 Twenty combination had no issues playing PCM or DSD over DoP. Unfortunately, I was unable to evaluate the sMS-200’s ability to play native DSD, as the Ayre does not support native DSD.
The sMS-200 has a very wide input voltage range of 6.5 ~ 14.5 Volt DC. The higher voltage is needed if the user desires to plug in an external USB storage device into the sMS-200.
Comparisons of the mBPS-d2s & Other Power Supplies Powering the sMS-200
The UpTone Audio UltraCap™ LPS-1 ($395.00)
Uptone Audio feels that the most important feature of the UltraCap™ LPS-1 is the blockage of AC leakage currents. They also feel that the LPS-1 is superior to battery power supplies due to its speed and ultra-low output impedance over a large bandwidth.
The UltraCap™ LPS-1 set at 7 volts did a great job with sMS-200. I felt that the LPS-1 was more dynamic compared to the mBPS-d2s. Bass transients and deep bass were more realistically reproduced with the LPS-1. The midrange of the LPS-1 had presence that gave it the impression of enhanced clarity. This midrange clarity or presence did have a trace of dryness at times depending on the musical selection.
The mBPS-d2s was a bit more laid back, with less dryness or sheen, in the midrange. When the ground was connected to the Synergistic Research Ground Block, the size of the soundstage was larger than that of the LPS-1. While bass and overall dynamics were very good, they didn’t quite match that heard with the LPS-1. But the midrange of the mBPS-d2s was very engaging, and quite frankly, beautiful to listen to.
The Sonore Signature Series Power Supply ($1399.00)
This expensive, beautifully built power supply spares very little in its use of top-of-the-line components. I reviewed the Signature Series Power Supply in my review of the Sonore microRendu. In that review, I found the Signature Series Power Supply to confirm Sonore’s description:
“Most everything about this power supply is deluxe from the Cardas-Sonore custom DC output cable; custom made footers with Sorbothane isolators, beautiful aluminum case, and many United States sourced parts. The Sonore Signature Power Supply was designed specifically to provide an ultra-low noise and ultra-low impedance supply for the microRendu. The Sonore Signature has a custom ultra-low noise discrete linear regulator, as well as the ability to provide the necessary peak current for the microRendu.”
I found that the Signature Series Power Supply combines the best of both worlds when discussing the midrange sound of this power supply. The midrange purity of the mBPS-d2s and the presence of the UltraCap™ LPS-1 are combined to result in a highly detailed, but “analog” sounding midrange and high end. The Signature Series Power Supply also matches the excellent dynamic sound I heard with the UltraCap™ LPS-1.
In terms of background noise, I found all three power supplies to be indistinguishable from each other.
The Sonore microRendu Audiophile Micro Computer ($640 without power supply)
Both Michael Lavorgna and I were very impressed with the sonic improvements that the microRendu brought to our systems. We found that the microRendu did a fabulous job processing USB audio.
Comparing the sound of the microRendu with the sMS-200 using multiple power supplies, I definitely preferred the sMS-200. The microRendu is not as detailed sounding, or for that matter, as fast sounding as the sMS-200. Both micro- and macro-dynamic changes to the music were more realistically reproduced with the sMS-200. Low bass is better controlled and has greater impact when listening to the sMS-200.
This is not to suggest that the microRendu does not sound good, but if I had to make a choice, I would opt for the sMS-200.
What about USB Enhancement Devices?
The Sonore microRendu has a built-in circuit to regenerate a new USB data signal, which is something the sMS-200 lacks. I find it interesting that SOtM will be offering a product called the tX-USBUltra. SOtM describes the tX-USBUltra as a USB audio signal regenerator combining the SOtM tX-USBhubIN USB audio card with a newly upgraded sCLK-EX clock board. It easily lends itself for use with the sMS-200, but, unfortunately, is not yet available. I was eager to learn whether the UpTone Audio USB REGEN and other USB enhancement devices would make an improvement to what I was hearing with the sMS-200.
The Uptone Audio USB REGEN ($175.00)
For those of you that are not acquainted with the USB REGEN, it is a USB enhancement device that generates a new USB data signal by combining a USB hub chip and an ultra-low noise regulator and low-jitter clock. The USB REGEN also provides a clean 5-volt bus to the DAC. The Ayre QX-5 Twenty that I used in this review does not depend on the 5VBUS from the computer, as it supplies its own power. Both Michael and I have previously reviewed the USB REGEN for AudioStream.
I connected the USB REGEN directly to the Ayre QX-5 Twenty with a Sonore USB Adapter. I also used the UpTone Audio UltraCap™ LPS-1 for the USB REGEN’s power supply and the Sonore DC-4 Power cable to connect the LPS-1 to the REGEN.
I found that the USB REGEN added a small, but easily perceptible improvement to what I was hearing with the sMS-200. I would describe it as improved liquidity to the sound with a lower noise floor. The resolution of low-level information was enhanced with the USB REGEN. It will be interesting to see what improvements the forthcoming tX-USBUltra will offer to the sMS-200.
The iFi Audio Micro iUSB3.0 ($399.00)
I thought it would be fun to try the iFi Audio Micro iUSB3.0 powered by the SOtM mBPS-d2s with the sMS-200 powered by the Sonore Signature Series Power Supply. The iUSB3.0 needs a 9v source, while the Sonore Signature and UltraCap™ LPS-1 can only deliver 7 volts. I obtained the best sonic results with a Wireworld .5m Starlight USB 3.0 cable connected between the sMS-200 and the iUSB3.0. The USB3.0 reclocks and regenerates the USB signal while applying active noise cancellation. I have also previously reviewed the iUSB3.0 and found it to be one of my favorite USB enhancement devices.
Using the Wireworld .5m Platinum Starlight 7 USB cable between the iUSB3.0 and the Ayre QX-5 Twenty, I was able to achieve a liquid and full midrange that sounded positively gorgeous. The bass had more weight than with the previous combinations, yet was punchy, with excellent definition. The soundstage was similar in size to what I had achieved with the USB REGEN.
The Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator (Industrial Version $348.00)
The Intona Technology USB 2.0 High-Speed Isolator essentially provides galvanic isolation to the USB bus, and re-packets and provides clean power to the USB DAC. Complete isolation of both the data and power lines are achieved, thereby blocking noise from the host computer.
While I liked the Intona when I reviewed it for AudioStream, I found that it didn’t offer much of an improvement to the sound when paired with the sMS-200 and the Ayre QX-5 Twenty. The sound became darker with no improvement in definition or transient detail.
Some of you are going to ask what the point of all of these comparisons was. Many of us have one or more of these USB enhancement devices. I was interested in showing that fine tuning of the sound can be achieved to enhance one’s musical satisfaction. Results are going to vary with whatever particular DAC you are using. But for me, this is the fun of the hobby. For those of us who started the audio hobby with vinyl, it reminds me of trying different cartridges, tonearms, cables, etc. And remember, one can achieve very satisfying results just using the sMS-200 without these add-on devices. But invariably, when discussing USB audio, the question of enhancement devices always comes up.
The midrange excellence of the SMS-200 when combined with the mBPS-d2s was easily perceived when listening to Julienne Taylor’s When We Are One (96/24). The title was recorded, mixed, and mastered in 96/24, resulting in exemplary sound. Julienne’s voice sounded clear, focused, and rich when heard with the sMS-200 and the mBPS-d2s.
Nathan East’s new recording Reverence (96/24) displayed the ability of the sMS-200 and mBPS-d2s to deliver a lively upbeat sound that was a pleasure to experience. The SOtM combination’s sound was pure and direct with extended treble that did not have a “digital edge.” Voices and instruments were reproduced with good inner detail and resolution. Noah East’s (Nathan’s son) piano rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was engaging, with wonderful reproduction of accompanying instrumental textures.
I feel that the sMS-200 has raised the performance bar of what is possible from a mini network player. When combined with the mBPS-d2s, one can expect engaging musical performances with midrange reproduction that is topnotch. Those of you that own other quality power supplies will find the sMS-200 highly versatile in application given its wide input voltage range. I am happy to report that the audio possibilities available to the computer audiophile have never been better.