Manufacturer's Comment

Dear Michael,

Thank you for telling our story so well and giving us such a positive review. We really appreciate the involvement of John DeVore and Stephen Mejias in your barn, adding their impressions to the proceedings.

To address one of the responses you expect from this review “$16k for a computer? Are you nuts?”. First of all, as I think you’re probably aware, for this product which is designed and assembled in Holland, nobody is making a fortune at this asking price. That includes the dealers and “ambassadors” we have appointed in Europe, Asia and in the US. For them championing the SGM is also a passion, and we very much appreciate their support. If the price were more in line with normal returns within this industry it would be more in the region of $24k.

Computers consist of a number of components that just do the job, with prices for those components kept as low as possible. What we at Sound Galleries have created is a product that allows the most convenient and enjoyable access to music, married to the best possible sound quality. Yes, it is based on a computer motherboard with an i7 CPU and Skylake architecture. The comparison ends there though! With proprietary power supplies using massive chokes, passive cooling with copper pipes formed by hand, external heat sinks CNC milled from copper billet, and an oven controlled clock, custom manufactured for us, we have created a product in a different category.

As part of the customer delivery, we tune the settings in HQ Player and Process Lasso, together with the customer, to achieve the desired sound with the particular DAC the customer is using, along with the rest of his system.

…and we are DAC agnostic ! We’ve heard wonderful results with certain R2R DAC’s such as your own totalDAC D1-six and D1-twelve DAC, the Aqua Formula, as well as DSD DACs such as the T+A DAC8 DSD, Lampizator Golden Gate and Nagra HD.

We provide support in loading the customer’s music library onto the SGM or their preferred location such as a NAS. Full support is also provided via a Team Viewer remote session for upgrading software, loading necessary DAC drivers; etc.

The SGM hardware will also be upgradeable as future technology becomes available.

Thank you once again Michael, both for your encouragement at the beginning and your appreciation of the final product as expressed in this review.—Geoff Armstrong, Sound Galleries

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
otaku's picture

(4) All of the above

bobflood's picture

the best DSD and the best PCM comparison possible with your DAC and the T+A DAC.

How did they compare? Differences on the same music?

Thanks Michael,

Bob

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...by a not-narrow margin.

I'm not sure I'd frame this as DSD v PCM, rather DAC v DAC. Attribution is a tricky business and we need to take all aspects of DAC design into consideration, imo.

bobflood's picture

What I was getting at is that you had a true R2R PCM DAC and a true DSD 512 Delta/Sigma DAC. Very different ways to get sound.

miguelito's picture

Sounds fantastic. I would say it's a good solution if you want both HQP upsampling and in-the-box support (and you can afford it).

As for the DAC question, I thought that my DAC (EmmLabs XDS1v2) sounded more nuanced and musical than the T&A (but then again my DAC is $25k). Ed played a few redbook Miles Davis live tracks from TIDAL upsampled to DSD512 into the T&A, and that was good, but still less musical than the EmmLabs.

stevebythebay's picture

Seems that the Aurender W20 and Baetis Ref. 2 are in the same price category. And the former has received top reviews from numerous sources. And I find it curious that the output appears to be so restricted. And 1TB of SSD appears quite limited if intended to house a music library, and overkill if not. All in all, now that we're in 2017 I suppose 2015 in the name tells you this is due for an update -- especially for the price.

EuroDriver's picture

The SGM is Roon feeding HQ Player centric. The weight and cost of the SGM is to allow HQ Player's most computationally demanding filters and modulators for PCM to PCM, PCM to DSD, DSD to DSD, and DSD to PCM processing.

We have limited the output option to USB, as DXD and DSD 256/512 are only supported over USB. We do have excellent USB to AES/BEU solutions available for interfacing the SGM with non USB DAC's

There are 2TB and 4TB SSD options. For larger library's we recommend a NAS solution

We don't expect there to be many top draw DSD 1024 DAC's in the future as there are significant implementation difficulties with low jitter clocking at 44 MHz, and the theoretical benefits of DSD 1024 are questionable. We are therefore confident that the SGM will not be obsolete for many years to come. Our investment in the casework reflects our conviction that the SGM will provide many years of reliable service.

As to the sound quality, a home demo will determine if the SGM is right for you

stevebythebay's picture

Given my use case: No DSD, just a Berkeley Alpha USB to Berkeley Ref. DAC this specific solution is not really applicable. And my current top end MacMini running Roon core and with USB attached 5TB drive running Ethernet out seems to be doing quite nicely. However, if a system comes along that's designed as a no holds barred music player to output either Ethernet or (heaven forbid) USB, I'd consider giving it a go an dropping my microRendu/Sonore Signature LPS as well.

The Federalist's picture

I do appreciate the ways you went a big step above the typical server with separate trafos for power and a separate pcb with an oven controlled clock. Thats pretty cool. Kudos for doing it right, versus just grabbing $700 of off the shelf parts and shoving it inside a bling case and asking $10K.

One thing I am curious about, and this always gets in the way of me spending big money on a dedicated audio computer. Is the long term support for the Asus B150M motherboard, the skylake CPU and 1151 chipset.

In general these MB have and related components have a 5 year service life before you start seeing issues with instability and rarely do you see support stretching out much further than 7 years from either ASUS.

Does SGM have a plan in place to support customers who drop this kind of money on a computer for long term support?

The obsolescence life cycle in the computer world is my stumbling block with spending big money on a dedicated audio PC. Curious if you guys are addressing that are forced by certain parts into the same cycle.

EuroDriver's picture

The longevity of the SGM 2015 is something we have thought about quite a lot about. We do feel that as far as computational horse power needed for 2 channel PCM and DSD, we have hit a plateau for a while. The advantages of going to DSD 1024, are not obvious to us, there seem to be more drawbacks of 44 MHz data stream, challenges of jitter control and the quantum of ultrasonic noise than the theoretical advantages.

Where we do see developments and improvements is in the playback software. With both Roon and HQ Player, improvements are coming thick and fast. The SGM being the most powerful server on the market, has absolutely no problem to run the new versions for many years to come, and when more horsepower is needed, then a motherboard swap is relatively easy. The nice thing about using a Micro ATX board is that future M-ATX boards can drop right in, even the mounting holes are in exactly the same place ! We will need to install a new back plate, but we manufacture the back plates in house, so easy to do, and low cost for us

As to reliability, the key driver is heat dissipation, and operating temperature. The cooling design has been very over specified, and we don't expect to see any thermally caused shortening of the SGM's service life which we project to be in excess of 8 years.

The Federalist's picture

That's exactly what I was looking for.

DH's picture

Wish I could afford one. That will never happen.

I will just have to make do with my fanless i7 PC server with Linear PS, mRendu, LPS-1, and SOtM Lan Filter. All of that together approaches $4500, Which most people, even audiophiles, think is pretty expensive.

To think that an "upgrade" to that is almost 4X that price is pretty mind boggling.

Part of me hopes one day to hear such a setup. On the other hand, I think my setup sounds great. Do I want to hear something like that and think mine is second rate...always a problem of the audiophile.

Hope you still fully enjoy your system when the SGM goes away.

Great review, by the way. Very well written and you hit all the important points, IMO.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...still sounds great, just not as great ;-) One of the hazards of the job. Thankfully I've found that when listening for pleasure, I can easily focus on the music and not think about comparative listening.
Boogieman's picture

Thank you for a great review. Maybe I misunderstood, but does everything need to go to DSD with this product? or can things stay in PCM?

For less technically inclined, why don't the DACs do what HQPlayer does?

Did you use MQA Tidal, or plain old Tidal?

And also, how does one figure out the appropriate settings for each DAC to perfectly jive with this product? Is it art or science? If art, can one flavor to taste?

Thanks!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
You can send out all files in their native format/resolution.

The answer to your second question is there are many reasons. One of the main reasons being most DACs do not have the processing power to run all of the features that HQPlayer offers, especially if you upconvert to DSD512 and doing any kind of DSP. Another reason is some people feel that having this kind of heavier lifting processing going on *outside* the DAC allows for better performance *within* the DAC. If you watch the video conversation with Juergen Reis, he gets into this a bit.

I used Roon exclusively which does not yet offer Tidal/MQA.

Art. As mentioned, Sound Galleries offers this 'artful' matching service, if you will, when you purchase the SGM server. Lastly, yes - there are a number of settings in HQPlayer which allow you to flavor to taste.

Cheers.

DH's picture

No, it doesn't have to go DSD, but that's the best way to exploit HQPlayer and especially the T+A DSD 8, whose "native" internal rate is DSD 512. HQP also does a great job with PCM, but it's even better upsampling and converting to DSD.

DACs don't do what HQP does for 4 reasons: a) a computer, especially an i7, has orders of magnitude more computing power than the chip in any DAC; 2) as a result of 1, the PC can do upsampling and filtering on the fly that is too much for a DAC chip to crunch, or at least crunch well; 3) the proprietary filters and modulators in HQP are more sophisticated and complicated than the ones in any DAC chip. They just do a better job, and you need the computing power of a PC to compute them; 4) having the computing stuff done outside the DAC means the DAC itself has an easier time, and creates less internal electrical noise that can negatively effect the SQ.

You get HQP and play with the settings till you find those you like. It isn't hard.

miguelito's picture

Through VNC you can access everything just as in any computer, so you can set things up whichever way you want. It is through remote VNC that SG provides support, which is great for someone looking for a turnkey solution.

Richard D. George's picture

I apologize if this has been covered but where can the EIO music you referenced be purchased in high rez?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...and is no longer available. You can buy other downloads here: irritablehedgehog.com/

And listen to a live version here: Intonazione - Foggy Foggy Dew (Silo City- 20 September 2016)

Richard D. George's picture

Thanks!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Irritable Hedgehog just released the *entire session*:

Silo City: 20 September 2016 by Ensemble of Irreproducible Outcomes

Boogieman's picture

Thank you for the replies. I apologize in advance for the naivete of my questions, but I am a simple plug and play guy who just like to enjoy music instead of futzing around:

- As a practical matter, if HQ Player works so well, should DAC manufacturers in the future release 2 versions of their DACs, with one as is, and one optimized for HQPlayer?
- What is the "secret sauce" of HQ Player? What are similar products, and why is HQ Player better?
- Why does this server lack an SP/DIFF connection? In my case, I already own a very expensive SP/DIFF cable that took me a long time to find and it rocks my world (too embarrassed to admit in public how much I paid for it). Furthermore, as I mentioned I am a simple plug and play guy, yet my buddies who are into this digital stuff always say "USB sucks!" and recommend to stay away from it. Furthermore, I find DSD dull...Why now go out and get another USB cable?
- And maybe one would need a new DAC also that is optimized for this server...

Nevertheless, seems like an OUTSTANDING product...

solarophile's picture

- HQ Player is good because it has more accurate filters and options compared to the builtin DAC filters. No need for 2 versions of a DAC. So long as the DAC can handle high bitrate, like 24/384 and DSD128 and above.
- "Secret sauce" is the algorithms used in the player and the almost countless options you have to select which you use.
- SPDIF is an old interface that is synchronous and more jittery. USB is better in all the tests I have run into from the objective folks and I agree. USB does not suck.

Don't worry, not eveyone likes DSD.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...and no need to apologize.

There is no need to optimize a DAC for HQPlayer. HQPlayer sends a DAC an 'optimized' signal. This optimization, if you will, is tailored by the user to his/her own taste.

Please go to the HQPlayer website and read about it. You can also find *tons* of information online.

Re. S/PDIF, please read Sound Galleries comment (EuroDriver) here

People who believe "USB sucks!" are doing something wrong.

No, you do not need to get a DAC 'optimized' for this server -- this server works with any DAC. Again, see Sound Galleries response.

Ultrarunner's picture

Michael, perhaps I missed it, but did you compare the SGM to Roon playing to the microRendu in NAA mode? In other words were you using HQPlayer in both setups?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The sonicTransporter, which I use as Roon Core/Server, cannot run HQPlayer.
CarterB's picture

Small Green Comouter has an optimized HQPlayer box for $2k, I am curious how they compare (and also curious why it is so hard to find on their website)

https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/products/sonictransporter-roon-server...

Michael, have you done a formal review of HQPlayer? I'd be curious your general thoughts on usability and performance.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Since I have not heard (about) the sonicTransporter for HQplayer + Roon Server, I cannot offer an comparisons. Perhaps some time in the future...

I have not done a review of HQPlayer but this is something I plan to do.

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