Intel NUC & sonicTransporter: A Tale Of Two Mini Computers Running Roon Core

Intel NUC
Device Type: Mini Computer
Hardware Configuration: Intel i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 120GB M.2 SSD
OS: Windows 10
Input/Output: 1x mini HDMI 1.4a with audio support, 1x mini DisplayPort 1.2 with audio support, 2x PCIe mini slots (one half-length & one full-length), 2x internal USB 2.0 via 2x5 header, 2x USB 3.0 connectors on back panel, 2x USB 3.0 connectors on the front panel, 1x SATA data connector, 1x One SATA power connector, Intel 10 / 100 / 1000 network connection
Dimensions: 4.6 x 4.4 x 1.4 inches
Weight: 2.5 pounds
Availability: Online
Price: $535.00 as configured
Website: www.intel.com

Small Green Computer sonicTransporter i5
Device Type: Fanless Mini Computer
Hardware Configuration: Intel i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 120GB SSD
OS:Custom Linux (Sonicorbiter)
Input/Output:Gigabit Ethernet, 4x USB 3.0 port for USB drive, 2x USB 2.0 for USB drive
Dimensions: 5 x 7 x 2.5 inches
Weight: appx 5 pounds
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $645.00 as configured
Website: microjukebox.com

Guess Who's Back?
If you've been following Roon's development, you know that you need to run Roon Core on either a computer or a NAS. Since I already own a NAS, which is under-powered for running Roon Core, I thought I'd explore the world of mini computers by reviewing two; an Intel NUC and a sonicTransporter i5 (sT). Why two? To see if there's any difference.

There's really not a heck of a lot to talk about in terms of these two mini computers that you don't already know from reading the specs above. The only software I ran during this review on both is Roon Core: I had to install it on the NUC while it comes pre-loaded on the sT.

For the NUC setup, I installed Microsoft Remote Desktop on my iMac so I could use it as the NUC's head (if you will). Downloading and installing Roon Server (Core) took all of a few minutes and once it was loaded I simply started it up and set it to launch on start-up. Done.

For the sT, I took a look at its configuration in my browser, and it came set running Roon Core. The sT can also run Squeezebox Server, MinimServer, BubbleUPnP Server, Plex Media Server, and more. Since I was sticking with Roon, I was done before I got started. Small Green Computer recommends the standard sonicTransporter ($375) for music libraries up to 24,000 tracks, the i5 for libraries up to 450k tracks, and a custom solution for anything more than that.

When you first connect to your Roon Core machine, I used my iPad mini and my iMac to do so, running the Roon Remote and Roon respectively, you have to tell Roon Core where to find your music. In the Roon app you go to Settings > Storage > Add Folder > and point it to your NAS. Done. If you have a Tidal HiFi account, I do, you have to enter your login credentials. Next tell Roon what DAC to connect to: Settings > Audio > and select your device. In my case this device is the microRendu. Done.

My system connectivity looks this:

Synology 412+ NAS > Ethernet cable > Netgear ProSafe 8-port Switch
Intel NUC/sonicTransporter > Ethernet cable > the same Netgear ProSafe 8-port Switch
Sonore microRendu > Ethernet cable > the same Netgear ProSafe 8-port Switch
Sonore microRendu > USB cable > DAC
the same Netgear ProSafe 8-port Switch > Ethernet cable > ASUS RT-AC68U Router
I sat both mini computers on an Ikea Expedit rack which also houses my NAS, router, and switch. They are both, for all intents and purposes, silent. In terms of looks and fit and finish, I'd give the nod to the little NUC if you go for its clean, aluminum and plastic look whereas the sonicTransporter's all black aluminum body (think heat sink to make up for no fan) is a bit rougher around the edges.

The remainder of my system looks the same as always; Ayre AX-Twenty integrated amp > DeVore Fidelity gibbon X. You can see from the picture that I rearranged things a bit in the barn, moving my Box Furniture 'Fallen A' rack next to my Box Furniture Heavy Double Width Rack which allows me to have access to many more review components at the same time. Nice! I also added hospital-grade outlets for better grip. What you cannot see is I'm also in the process of trying out some new cables; the Tellurium Q Black XLRs and USB cable. My initial impression, which is now a few weeks old, is they sound like keepers...

One more thing before we get going listening—HQPlayer. HQPlayer is on a lot of people's minds and if you want to run HQPlayer, you'll have to stick with Windows. For now. Small Green Computer does build Windows-based computers and of course the NUC is ready to roll to run Roon Core/HQPlayer.

Why two? To see if there's any difference
Everyone, including those who will and those who won't want to follow me, know what's coming—the NUC and sonicTransporter made my music sound different depending on which was in use. If this fact rankles your sense of self-worth to the point where you're already composing an angry comment, let me suggest you try to relax and enjoy the ride. I did.

The Intel NUC arrived weeks before the sT, so I had a few weeks to employ and enjoy it with the microRendu and a few different DACs including the Auralic Vega, Simaudio 280D, and dCS Rossini. This configuration sounds much better than my old MacBook Pro acting as both Server and Roon Ready device regardless of the DAC, so much so that no lengthy A|Bing was necessary. We're talking an obvious improvement. For under a grand, I could replace that aging MAC with two better-sounding devices (I've decided to keep the microRendu in my system and retire the MacBook Pro). I was happy.

Then the sonicTransporter showed up. My pre-setup thoughts were; this is kind of silly. Two computers, similar in terms of their basic hardware but running different OS. Why would I hear a difference between them and even if I did, it would be rather subtle. Right?

I did hear a difference and that difference was immediately recognizable and not subtle. With the sT in my system, music sounds more natural, more fully-formed, and more engaging. Subtle musical nuance came through with more emotional impact when listening with the sonic Transporter in my system making music that much more...gripping. That much more live-like.

Since it's my job to make sure I know what I'm typing about, I spent a goodly amount of time going back and forth between NUC and sT, sT and NUC, and the differences I heard never went away. The NUC consistently made music sound more bunched up, flatter, less alive, and therefore less engaging. It's this last trait that really makes these A|B comparisons especially easy because our memory of being moved by music moves away from silly things like short-term aural memory tests, tricks and treats, into much deeper, longer term, why-we-listen-to-music-in-the-first-place territory.

If you like short and sweet when it comes to reviews, this bit is for you—if you're looking to run Roon with your network-attached music and USB DAC, and you want it to sound really good, get the sonicTransporter i5 and the Sonore microRendu (see review). While you can spend a lot more money, you don't have to.

How good does my system sound with the sonicTransporter/microRendu combo feeding the Auralic Vega DAC? Better than it ever has.

But How Can This Be?
I cannot support the fact that these two computers made my system sound different with measured results. You can run down the list of differences between the NUC and sonicTransporter and pick any attribute(s) you'd like; motherboards, OS, fan/no fan, etc. Since there's no small amount of discussion regarding optimizing Windows for audio, even products claiming to do just that, you may want to begin your theorizing here. Or stick with all of the above. Or none of the above. The thing is, it really doesn't matter if we're interested in the enjoyment of listening to music. I've got my pet theories, who doesn't when it comes to computer audio, but my music knows better (yours does too).

Appeasement: Of course you can build your own computer for less. How much less + how much better + how much of your time = is it worth it.

I know some readers will also wonder if running HQPlayer on the NUC will even things out or even put the Windows-based NUC in the lead. Since HQPlayer's results are DAC-dependent, YMWV.

The Quest
Truth be told, this review was personal. As regular readers know, I've been looking for a sensible replacement for my MacBook Pro for years. The first step in this conversion process was Roon (and Tidal HiFi); with Roon I finally found the interface to my music I want to grow old with. This being the case, I've been waiting for Roon to develop to the point where it is today—a full-fledged music library manager/interface/network protocol that allows us to put together not-crazy-expensive pieces into a great-sounding great musical experience.

Since I already own a NAS and a USB DAC, my solution was to find a Roon Core machine and a Roon-Ready device. The microRendu has filled the latter role and the sonicTransporter has filled the former. I am happy.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
DH's picture

The sT can't sound better than the NUC
The mR can't sound better than another computing device acting as render.

Don't you know that?
Where's your DBT?
and so on.

Enjoy. Looks like you have a truly killer setup now. And while it certainly has some expensive components, I dare guess that it terms of SQ return for the dollar, you have done very well for yourself.

spons's picture

Would be interesting to see a comparison of the NUC - after removing Roon Core and loading up Roon Bridge - and the microRendu as Roon endpoints.

findog3103's picture

I assume one can run Audirvana and Decibel on these minicomputers, right?

Steven Plaskin's picture
Audirvana and Decibel are OSX programs-they need a Mac.
findog3103's picture

Thanks, Steven.

Doak's picture

When I saw this article's title I, wrongfully, assumed that its subject would address running a small, efficient dual PC setup with Roon on one and HQP in NAA mode on the other. May that be forthcoming? Hope so.

I'm currently doing something like that with the smaller Sonictransporter running Roon core, HQP on a laptop into the microRendu and Lampizator DAC. Sonics are the best digital I've ever had or, possibly, heard.

At this point I am very interested in getting my laptop back which means another small computer. Curious about the benefits of running Roon and HQP on separate machines. I'm not into any heavy duty upsampling with all PCM going to 24/192 and DSD a straight pass-through. That's what sounds best to me and what the Lampi (dual mono DSD 128 boards) seems to like best too.

Frank Hardly's picture

My system is so 1 1/2 years ago. Laptop running JRiver v. 21 with two 4 TB hard drives attached via usb ports to said laptop. Running Fidelizer on Laptop. I have to admit that I haven't kept up entirely on the newest stuff and I prefer to keep things simple. Can you explain the bits and pieces as to what they do. I get the feeling the microrendu is necessary for a Lan based system? And the Roon is somewhat analagous to JRiver but with better interface and metadata etc? Am I right? Can one take the st you review positively and use this as an audio optimized substitute for a laptop? But that means you need a separate monitor, or do you run the whole thing off a tablet?
Thanks

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Roon is somewhat analogous to JRiver. With Roon, one configuration is to run Roon Server (aka Roon Core) on its own computer (like the sonicTransporter) and then run Roon on another device (like the microRendu) which will feed your DAC (it takes an Ethernet input and outputs USB). Playback control can be done via a tablet, smartphone, or computer.

I prefer using my iPad mini as Roon Remote.

Make sense?

Stephen Dupont's picture

Michael- i wonder if there's a difference in sound when using a NAS vs directly attached storage.

and, how a mac mini running roon server (not as an endpoint) would compare?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...on a USB drive so I can try this out. When? Some time ;-)
geoffrey's picture

"..I finally found the interface to my music I want to grow old with."

The way digital audio has evolved just the past decade I know I wouldn't be making such a statement now or in near future.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Seeing as the Sooloos system, Roon's rev. 1 so to speak, has been around since 2007 and nothing else has come close to it, I'm very comfortable with this notion.
geoffrey's picture

Sooloos system has been rather successful indeed. My point was skepticism about thinking ones system is here to stay, but can appreciate your confidence you've found your end game.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...Roon is not a "system" in terms of hi-fi. It is the intelligence informing your file-based music playback.
geoffrey's picture

I tried Roon. Moved on.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
;-)
bobflood's picture

on several Windows computers over the years but when I got my sonicTransport ($375 version) and mRendu combo, I was immediately struck by the same things that Michael has noticed and reported in this review and in his mRendu review. The sonicTransport and the microRendu are a sonically solid pairing. Quite amazing actually!

euphony's picture

I spend most of my listening time at home streaming Tidal from my iPad to my Devialet/Sonus Faber Olympica IIIs via Apple TV. Could I use the MicroRendu to improve the sound quality using its shairport/airplay? Or do I need to have a setup similar to the reviewed sT?

Thank you.

ednaz's picture

I've been running my main audio system from a custom-built smallish PC for quite awhile now. It's a core i7 processor, 16gb of memory, an SSD main drive and two pairs of drives, each pair set up RAID1, for music, with a NAS for backup. (Because I have an Exasound e22, I need to have either a Windows or Mac PC, or the very expensive player that Exasound now makes.) I've got quite a long run from the PC to the audio rack, but since going to fiber optic USB, that's not been an issue, and frankly it sounds better with the fiber optic USB than it did when did a test, I placed the computer near the audio rack (4 feet away) with a fancy USB cable to do a sound quality comparison. Fiber rocked it.

Still, I kept thinking, having the renderer be right there close must have some advantages. So I built a NUC - i5, 8gb, SSD. Single purpose - only serving up music that it sucks from an ethernet connection through a .5 meter high end USB cable. (The other PC is used for ripping CDs, downloading new music, and for guests who need internet access.) Compared to the general purpose PC, it sounded awful. Flat, flatter than flat, maybe even inverted, compared to the PC/fiber optic setup. I think that the NUC has too much stuff crammed into too small a space, because I tried the NUC through the fiber optic (30 feet of fiber to cover 12 inches of distance... sheesh...) and it still didn't sound as good as the music server system I've been using.

I think the NUC has way too much stuff crammed into way too small of a space, everything marinating in the fields of everything else. It's just fine for serving up video and multi-channel audio, maybe the HDMI connection is inherently cleaner than the USB path? Don't know, but I wouldn't recommend a NUC based on my experience.

BTW, I tried Roon, loved the experience initially, running off my laptop... then discovered that NONE of the iPads in our house could be used because the control software only runs on recent vintage iPads. Didn't love it enough to absorb the cost to replace the four iPads scattered throughout the house that serve as remotes, plus my personal and my wife's personal iPads. We're back to JRiver and Google...

ronalde's picture

I must admit I rarely read these sorts of threads because of the level of non-information that's exchanged. And I do therefore understand that you and others readers are inclined to reply in the same sense. But what you're writing is really too far of to stay silent.

USB is an electrical transport for serialized datastreams; so any translation to (a) fiber optic (cable?) between host and device can't possibly enhance anything in respect to it's nature. (Extremely) Bad conditions inside your host (PC) and/or device (DAC), or microwaves in between them, could lead to data loss. But that should of course be solved by addressing the severe underlying problems. Not by wild experiments with out-of-this-earth "solutions".

And you "think" the NUC is "too crammed"? Without any hints on the origin of your "ideas" and the situation described above, I guess you're in for some studying on digital audio in general and system management in particular.

Regards,
Ronald

mikey8811's picture

A little confused by your comment in the review that to run HQ Player, you need to use Windows. I thought there are many instances of people running HQ Player of Macs.

Also, would one be able to get a Sonic Transporter and a microRendu and run both HQ Player and Roon core on the Sonic Transporter and be done with it without needing another computer?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
HQPlayer will not currently run on the sonicTransporter.
AbeCollins's picture

@mikey811:
I didn't quite get Michael's comment either about needing Windows to run HQPlayer. I guess he just addressed that.

But to be clear, HQPlayer runs fine on Mac. I'm running Roon+HQPlayer on my late 2012 Mac Mini streaming to the microRendu attached to my USB DAC with excellent results.

But I should note that Roon+HQPlayer on the Mac Mini directly attached to my USB DAC is also sounding quite nice.

I attribute MOST of the benefit coming from the HQPlayer software itself and less from the hardware choice. But that's been my observation. YMMV.

The Current Test Setup

Steven Plaskin's picture
My microRendu has been ordered Abe. But I have a question; did you set the Backend setting to network for the HQPlayer to stream to the Rendu?
AbeCollins's picture

Yes, for the HQPlayer Backend setting I chose NetworkAudioAdapter. When I did this, the Device pull-down menu automatically showed, default: PS Audio USB Audio 2.0: USB Audio (for my PS NuWave DSD DAC).

I chose HQPlayer NAA from the mRendu App Switcher in the mRendu web user interface. I also had to find the mRendu IP address manually as the link in the mRendu online manual didn't work for me.

The microRendu is a fun little box and what I consider to be "reasonably priced" but that's all relative to one's budget and priorities.

Steven Plaskin's picture
Thanks Abe.
lestes's picture

There is something I am missing. What role is the microRendu playing and what role is the sonicTransporter? Can't the microRendu utilize Roon to play both music from your NAS and Tidal? My assumption prior to this article is that Roon Ready meant you could have a laptop/ipad/whatever for controller to communicate to the microRendu so it could serve music from your storage devise to your DAC. It now appears you need something in addition. Sorry if you answered this and I missed it.

I am using an Auralic Aries and it is Roon Ready. It is able to use the Roon controller on my laptop as control point to communicate to my DAC. Nothing else is needed. Isn't the microRendu the same thing?

green's picture

Yup, my initial thought exactly. Maybe I'm not understanding the Roon setup correctly, but it seems like there are too many unnecessary steps in the reviewers chain

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The NAS stores my music, the sonicTransporter runs Roon Core, the microRendu is Roon Ready so it acts as the audio output (USB) to my DAC, and I use an iPad mini as playback controller.

Of course you can run Roon on a computer and have that computer also act as the audio output. I did this for a year+ using a MacBook Pro. If you are interested in getting improved sound quality over this approach, this review illustrates the best solution I've heard to date.

There are also devices coming into the market that combine Roon Ready within the DAC (the DAC needs to have an Ethernet input), I have two such DACs here for review, as well as servers that combine Roon Core, I have one here for review.

This might help How Roon Works

green's picture

Exactly, I think you have redudancies. For example, your sonictransporter is not necessary, as your NAS can run roon core (http://kb.roonlabs.com/Roon_Server_on_NAS). Now, this doesn't seem like a purposeful choice, more just catching up with Roon 1.2's recent release. However, it might be interesting to evaluate if there are any advantages to keeping the sonictransporter in the system.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you look at Roon's recommended specs for a NAS to run Roon Core, you'll see that mine does not have adequate processing power.

Also, if you look at my experience with Roon, as well as others, you'll see that running Roon Core on a dedicated purpose-built computer offers real sonic gains.

From a practical perspective, I already own a NAS and a DAC so I've been looking for a Roon solution that allows to keep both. And I found that solution.

DavidZ's picture

>>>>I am using an Auralic Aries and it is Roon Ready. It is able to use the Roon controller on my laptop as control point to communicate to my DAC. Nothing else is needed. Isn't the microRendu the same thing?

The mRendu does the same thing. Sonore has gone to extraordinary lengths to optimize the streamer/renderer function for audio sound quality (new Linux code, proprietary circuit board, special power regulation,etc.) I haven't heard the Aries, but am bowled over by the mRendu. Based on the buzz, it might be worthwhile to give it a listen. I'd be curious to hear how it stacks up vs. the Aries. -- David

mikey8811's picture

I have an Aries and would like to compare the microRendu to it. I understand from people who have that HQ Player is the game changer. Some prefer the Aries with its current Beta firmware update running on LDS as opposed to just running Roon and the microRendu without HQ Player in the mix.

However, in my current setup, I cannot without buying another computer. Also, the Aries is not an NAA for HQ Player.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"I am using an Auralic Aries and it is Roon Ready. It is able to use the Roon controller on my laptop as control point to communicate to my DAC."
I am using the sonicTransporter in place of your laptop (they are both running Roon Server) and the microRendu instead of your Aries (they are both Roon Ready). They key with Roon is you need to run Roon Server/Core somewhere on your network so that your Roon Ready devices can access it.

In other words, if you tried to use just an Aries or microRendu to run Roon, it wouldn't work.

Make Sense?

lestes's picture

I formerly believed my laptop to be the equivalent of a Controller, but I see it is actually the server component doing more of the core function(s). Thank you for the follow up.

mikey8811's picture

Now that you've got Michael's point.

If you do NOT use Roon then you would be right in that you wouldn't need the computer in the form of your MacBook as far as the Aries goes.

You could link your drive with the library on it to the Aries, use LDS that is built into the Aries, use the Lightning iOS app on your iPhone or iPad as the control point software and be done with it. Like you said, you cannot do that with a microRendu which requires a computer whether you use Roon or not.

lestes's picture

I think that is where my thinking initially got derailed. The Lightning software runs on my iPad to control the Aries, therefore I assumed that Roon was functioning in a similar way.

This helps me understand a problem I was having with Roon too. Roon works flawlessly with my NAS feeding the Aries with Tidal and lower resolution files on the NAS, however it hiccups with DSD and Higher PCM files. Lighting DS has no problems at all with the same files. So it is clear that the computer must be doing more than just control point. The added device (my computer) is causing delays or network problems.

Thanks everyone.

rexp's picture

Submitted by euphony on July 14, 2016 - 1:04pm
I spend most of my listening time at home streaming Tidal from my iPad to my Devialet/Sonus Faber Olympica IIIs via Apple TV. Could I use the MicroRendu to improve the sound quality using its shairport/airplay? Or do I need to have a setup similar to the reviewed sT?
Yes you can stream directly from iPad to MicroRendu to Devialet. Or for less money get a Chromecast Audio device, both options much better than apple tv.

en1omb's picture

Michael. Did you compare these two to your Macbook Pro just doing Core duties with the MicroRendu? I am in the market for both a new computer a a Roon streaming solution and all of these devices are on my radar!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...to the Intel NUC with the microRendu and the NUC was simply much better. Since the sonicTransporter was better still, I did not bother comparing the MacBook to the sonicTransporter ;-)
en1omb's picture

Thanks Michael. It is all baffling stuff, trying to pin down the aspects affecting quality. The basic transporter is very reasonably priced though and will meet my needs, so if the MBP and microRendu doesn't quite float my boat, it won't be much of a stretch to try the transporter.

Forgisound's picture

Are the NUC and Sonic Transporter used the power supply delivered by the device?
The difference in sound could be the result of different power supply?
Can you try both devices with power supply supplied by the Sonic Transporter?

philipjohnwright's picture

OK, maybe tongue slightly in cheek :-)

There is a slightly serious point though, in that I would have thought the bigger iPad would make a gorgeous control for the system. But that in itself would cost the same or more than the MicroRendu or the Roon Sever (NUC or ST). OK Apple is expensive, but surely in the scheme of things we are talking about seriously good value for money with the MR and a Roon Server - name me any other component that competes with the very best and costs under £1600 all in (UK prices excluding storage). Methinks the £12k streamer boys are having sleepless nights at the moment.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
;-)

I like the size of the iPad mini but I could certainly see someone preferring a larger screen.

Lifer's picture

I recently changed from jRiver to Roon mostly to use this new client/server configuration of computers as I read in many places how good it sounds. And, yes it does sound great - somewhat better than I had before - and I am not planning on going back soon, metadata issues and all.

I had been running a C.A.P.S. Carbon 3 fanless computer (assembled by me) running Windows 10 and Fidelizer Pro with an SoTm USB card connected to my PS Audio Directstream dac via a Wireworld Platinum 7 USB cable. The computer ran headless via Remote Desktop Connection and jRemote. The computer and the USB Card were powered independently by a Red Wine Audio power supply. I also used a Synology NAS and the computer and NAS were ethernet cabled by AudioQuest Diamond runs to a Netgear switch. So, a pretty good rig.

My new configuration is almost the same. The C.A.P.S. computer now runs Roon Server (and is headless via Remote Desktop and Roon)and is still connected to the switch using the AQ Diamond line. The NAS hits the switch via an AQ Vodka ethernet cable. A Sonore MicroRendu is directly attached to the dac via the hard USB plug it comes with (I will try the WireWorld USB cable soon) and uses the other AQ Diamond to reach the switch. The Red Wine Audio power supply still powers the computer and now the MicroRendu as well because I don't need to use the USB Card, which is left in the computer.

It would take me maybe 5 minutes to go back to jRiver, so it isn't a big deal to go from one to the other once both are working.

Timcognito's picture

I am part what is called the “silent majority” here and this is my first post. Firstly, I find this site very informative and l like the great information, didactic interchanges without too many “nattering nabobs of negativism” (that’s a hint at my age). I have some great sounding stereo stuff, YBA, MSB, Theil and VPI and many hundreds of Cds and LPs. I have been playing with Roon lately, will be putting together a headless core and end points in the very near future and have a reasonable budget do so. One of the sT i5 configurations seems like just the ticket for me. Thank you Michael for the heads-up. The know there are those who have a tight budget and in my exploration of possible systems to meet this goal I have come across some interesting low budget options. I recently came across someone running a brand new sub-$350 combo headless core and satellite end point seamlessly running Roon without building anything. The combo is a Kangaroo minicomputer that comes with Windows 10 ($100) as a Roon core and Roon endpoints of Sonic Bitstream ($219) or Sonic DAC ($249). You just need Roon, some cables and your sound system.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16883722001&cm_re=ka...
http://www.sonic.build/
I know that someone with 1000 Cds may not find the Kangaroo powerful enough but the endpoints seem like a bargain.
Michael if you could look into the sonic.build devices and let us know what you think, it might be helpful to someone on low budget or someone looking to spice up their workshop or garage.
Thanks for a great website.

green's picture

Just a heads up that sonic.build stuff looks like an assembled version of the hifiberry Digi. You can get it for less than half the cost and just snap it together yourself. Might to load the room specific image, but there are great guides on hifiberry site that walk you thru this.

Doak's picture

Entirely

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...which is $300 and performs the same function as the microRendu. I'll see if I can get the sonic.build Sonic DAC in for review.

Cheers.

SoundsGood's picture

Where both NUC & ST computers powered from the same source?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
.
fritzg's picture

Maybe the difference is Linux over Windows rather than the hardware, which is pretty close in specs.

Booster MPS's picture

Great article and it seems to be very timely with the number of comments.

For some time I have thought that there seems to be a need for some kind of foundational explanation that provides the next step for lovers of music to take the next step towards networked/streaming set ups. Tidal/Roon is the next thing no doubt and we all pretty much understand the computer + usb DAC set up. Those are becoming ubiquitous which is great. I think the readers hear are trying to understand the basics of how these new elements fit together.

I would love to take the next step to get my Mac Mini out of my listening area and move it to another room running Roon core and introduce an Aurender/Aries. Lots of ways to do this, but the path is not always clear on what each hardware (NAS/mini computer/microRendu/etc) and software (Roon Core/Lightening) component is required and what will or will not work together.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But things change so quickly, I'm constantly editing what I've written ;-)

One note on your set up, the Auralic Aries is Roon Ready so if you run Roon Server/Core on the Mac mini, and put the Aries and NAS on the same network, you will be able to control playback using Roon. No Lightning DS necessary.

Aurender is not yet, as far as I know, Roon Ready so you cannot use Roon to control playback when using the Aurender, making the Mac mini unnecessary in this config.

findog3103's picture

Maybe a stupid question but I'll ask it anyway.

Can I use the following path and what would the sound limitations, if any, on it?

- NAS with music but not powerful enough to run Roon Core, connected to airport extreme
- mac mini with Roon Core in one room hooked up via ethernet to airport extreme
- Sonore microRendu with Roon Server hooked up via ethernet to airport extreme in another room --> hooked to DAC
- iMac in another room running Roon Server
- iPhone 6 SE with Roon remote

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...one minor edit - the microRendu and iMac will not be running Roon Server, they run Roon (making them Roon Ready endpoints). You can only have one instance of Roon Core/Server in a system.

In terms of "sonic limitations", this setup shouldn't have any major issues but I'll be talking about optically isolating the audio portion of the network in an upcoming article ;-)

Coffee_fan's picture

As fritzg posted already, I think the differences you saw are because Linux and Windows have different sound architectures. Windows most recent stack supposedly allows you to do bit-perfect and you need to do special work to get it to work. Even then, it is never clear to me when they put to work the mixer, which allows several sound sources to play music via the default output which means they inject DSP modules you are unaware of. As for Linux, I think the MPD / Alsa combo is very capable. I have it on a small raspberry PI feeding the USB input of my Devialet and it sounds very nice. As to your statement that one can build your own and whether it is worth it. In my case is very worth-it for the fun factor. The amount of hours I have of fun hacking is great.

As to the Sonore, I am not sure I understand yet its value add, I guess it possibly has a great clock, but given that I am using the Devialet USB input which is fantastic and reclocks everything on input I do not see yet too much interest. I was possibly going to get an Auralic Aries or the Aries Mini for stable streamer. The Auralic Aries picks my interest with its AES/EBU output, but I do not think it will be better than the async USB as even if it is a femto clock, it is still clocked at source.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...or DAC, sending any device a 'clean' signal, i.e. a signal with less phase noise and electrical noise, is intended to minimize the amount of 'work' the receiving device has to do thus lowering its internal noise. Or so the story goes.
Coffee_fan's picture

I think what confused me the most of the MicroRendu is their usage of the word "output", which after reading several of their pages I think I get. In my mind, the only "output" the device has is USB-Audio and the only "input" is Ethernet. Then on top of that, it seems they run other services, like a BubbleUpnp renderer or a home server or a "Roon endpoint?". Seems, they call these services "outputs" and further state that you can have only one active at a time, which makes sense. Anyway, if that is the case, it seems that this device is basically a streamer which, instead of having its own control app, integrates itself in other music delivery systems, because it either acts as a renderer or creates a mini-server which can be reached by some client. If that is the case, it looks like an interesting replacement for an Aries if you are willing to use only the USB input to your amp and you already have a DAC.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...are apps, i.e Roon, Squeezelite, MPD/DLNA, HQPlayer, and Airplay.
"...if you are willing to use only the USB input to your amp and you already have a DAC.
Clarification - the microRendu's USB out needs to connect to a DAC, not an amp.
Coffee_fan's picture

Indeed, I just assumed that was the case as USB-audio is digital. It seems a good streamer for the devices I have, a chord hugo or the Devialet as both have great DACs and take asynchronous USB-in. I am also assuming that the MicroRendu works in async-USB mode, where the receiver is the one that controls the data flow rather than the synchronous or adaptive modes, where the sender controls the pace of transfer. I will read more to see whether I can confirm that last one.

bobflood's picture

or a USB====>SPDIF converter. Mine is connected to my ULink and it works just great.

Coffee_fan's picture

The great thing about async-usb is that the receiver controls the pace of data and it can tell the sender when to send more / less data, IOW a feedback loop, plus usb-audio has some data checks embedded. SPDIF on the other hand is sender controlled and a one shot open loop play, where the receiver has no say. From what I have read is much more dependent on the physical characteristics of the cable because it is open loop.

Coffee_fan's picture

Regardless of the theory I mentioned above, in short SPDIF / TosLink runs I do not seem to hear much difference, although others may disagree. It sort of depends on the material.

audiofool's picture

Doesn't surprise me that the NUC sounds not so good with an unoptimized Windows 10 OS. Installing Fidelizer in purist mode for streamer may change that.

bobflood's picture

I don't think it is possible any longer to use it as a serious audio platform. I used Fidelizer since the beginning on various Windows platforms and it does work very well but I will say that I have never been able to get the level of performance from it that my sonicTransporter/microRendu combination is now giving me. Not even close! And I also used JPlay and several other optimizations. The only one that might get close is the Audiophile Optimizer for Win 10. I have not tried it as it has been in Beta for a long time and I gave up on Windows when I got my sT/mR combo.

bmac78758's picture

...after reading all of these comments and replies. I couldn't figure out why you needed the microRendu and the sT in the same system. I thought the whole purpose of the Sonore was so that you wouldn't need a computer in the system at all. But I guess the main (and maybe only) reason for it is for sonic benefit, as you certainly could control Roon from your iPad using just the sT. Conversely, there would be no need for the sT at all if you weren't running Roon.

So basically Roon is sending the metadata to your iPad from the sT and the music (data) from your NAS to the microRendu. My NAS is newer than yours, so I think I'm going to try a similar setup without the sT and see what I get...

Thanks!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The Sonore microRendu is a Roon Ready device which means you need another device in the same network running Roon Core. This could be a NAS or a computer.

If you used an iPad to control playback and you only had the sonicTransporter, the sT would also have to function as a Roon endpoint, i.e. your DAC would have to be connected to it. This scenario defeats the purpose of Roon's recommended architecture (and my experience says they're right).

bmac78758's picture

If you are NOT running Roon, you don't need the sT. If you ARE running Roon (like you), you don't necessarily need the 'Rendu because you can control Roon right on the sT (from your iPad.) But you are using the 'Rendu because it sounds better than without it. And I guess you're saying Roon recommends not running core on the same machine that controls it / produces output. Right? (Please say yes...)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
You don't need any of this stuff - just get a boombox and you're good to go ;-)

Roon's architecture is explained very well on their website. In brief yes, you can run Roon on just one computer and send the audio out from that same computer to your hi-fi. I did this for over a year using a MacBook Pro.

If you want to improve the quality of reproduction, you'll want to move Roon Server to a dedicated computer (or a NAS but I have not tried this so can't speak to specifics). In so doing, you'll need a Roon Ready device as well.

findog3103's picture

With this setup:

Synology 212 NAS>Ethernet to AirPort Extreme 5th generation
Mac mini running Roon core>Ethernet to AirPort Extreme 5th generation
Microrendu running Roon server>Ethernet connected to AirPort Extreme 5th generation
Using Room app or screen sharing for Mac mini

Will Roon send the music to the microrendu?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
To clarify, the Mac mini will run Roon Server/Core (Server and Core are the same thing) and the microRendu is Roon Ready.

For remote control, you can use an iOS or Android device running Roon Remote, or another computer running Roon. I'm assuming you have another computer on the network.

findog3103's picture

I have an iMac that runs Roon app.

jsb1989's picture

and you'll get a linear power supply, a hard disk for storing music, and a superb piece of hardware that is ROON ready. No need to fuss with three separate pieces of equipment that may not play nice together.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...get a transistor radio ;-)

There's zero fussing necessary and there's also no question regarding how well these pieces work together.

Jorgen Skadhauge's picture

Hello Michael

Thanks for all the words. Till now I use Squeezebox Touch and LMS on a Synology NAS. As living in France I have a Quboz HIFI subscription and listen to internet radio.

I don't see Roon supports Qobuz, is that so ?

If they do will Quboz streamming with Roon then sound better than using LMS, or is it more a question of metadata and design ?

Will LMS sound better using the sonictransporter instead of LMS on the NAS ?

Jørgen

bobflood's picture

support Qobuz. The only streaming service they are affiliated with right now is Tidal. They have approached both Qobuz and Deezer but at this moment Tidal is their one and only affiliate.

On your second question, to me LMS sounds much better on my sonicTransporter than it did using Windows computers but I have not tried it on a NAS so I can't make a comparison there.

The sonicTransporter/microRendu combination is the best sounding computer based audio I have ever heard and I have been in this pretty much from the beginning of computer based audio.

Hope this helps.

Jorgen Skadhauge's picture

Do you use the ifi power supply ?

bobflood's picture

I had a CIAudio 9V/2A linear supply leftover from use with a Duet years ago so I use it with the mRendu. It is on the list of recommended supplies for the mRendu.

lenbell's picture

I run roon on my windows laptop, which im guessing is roon core and roon ready...how are you defining roon core versus roon ready, with examples? and how does microrendu factor into all of this? am I ready right that the transport can actually house your audiofiles..thanks

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...they are from Roon:

How Roon Works

lenbell's picture

I know you wrote out the configuration, but maybe an actual visible picture or diagram of what's connected to what may help.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
lenbell's picture

the illustration helped alot , thanks for your sharing your knowledge and insight

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'll keep this in mind for future articles. I included a 'connectivity' graphic in today's review so I'm happy to hear that this helps.

Cheers.

udis's picture

Hi Mike,

Any reason why you have a switch between the FMCs and mR? It would seem to mostly negate the benefits of the FMCs. no?

Also, maybe i missed this, but how does the size of the library factor on whether or not the sT i5 is recommended?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
A very large library will place increased demands on Roon so it is advisable to go for more processing power.
jazz's picture

There is another major difference between a NUC and sonicTransporter set up, which has not been discussed here and might be a show-stopper for people like me with a roon set up with many edits.

It is not possible to move your existing roon database to the sonicTransporter. It will create a new roon database from the music files. So you loose edits, play counts and date added.

I think this is pretty big disadvantage. When my NUC died after 3 months of use, it was simple to move my roon database to my iMac and continue listening, while my NUC reseller tried to get me a new NUC (which took 6 weeks).

I hope that Andrew from Green Computer comes with a solution soon.

Menno

nununo's picture

Hello,

Would you say that the power sources for both the computer running RoonServer and the Sonore microRendu make a big difference?

If I'd go for such a solution would I need to invest in yet more expensive power cables?

Thanks,
Nuno

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I have not tried any other power sources beyond the stock supply for the sonicTransporter (running Roon Server).

For the microRendu, if you read my review, you'll see that different power sources do affect sound quality. Note: I'm not talking about "power cables", rather external power supplies.

I'll also mention that Steve Plaskin will be writing a follow-up review of the microRendu where he'll also talk about different power supplies.

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