Sonore Signature Series Rendu

Device Type: UPnP/DLNA Network Player
Input: Ethernet
Output: I2S, Coax S/PDIF (BNC)
Dimensions: 12.75in (width) x 3in (height) x 10.25in (depth)
Weight: 12lb
Availability: direct and through authorized dealers
Price: 2,895.00
Website: www.sonore.us

Rendu
Streaming your NAS-based music from storage to speakers requires a device that sits in between. The requirements for this device are twofold; it needs to recognize your network attached storage (NAS) and make it available to another device, typically iOS or Android, which acts as your remote control for playback. In UPnP parlance, which I find as clear and easy to remember as Latin, and I never studied Latin, we're talking about a renderer and a control point. The Sonore Signature Series Rendu is, as its name suggests, a renderer whose job it is to serve up your network attached music. It'll also stream from Tidal as you'll learn about below.

Some people like to think that all network players are created more or less equal; a $35 Raspberry Pi being every bit as good as everything less, regardless of everything else including cost. So things that we know make sonic differences like power supplies, internal noise, re-clocking, protection from external noise, processing power, and more, somehow don't matter and a $35 device that doesn't deal with many of these important aspects of overall performance magically disappear like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Knowing that you've spent $35 while others have spent thousands on the * same thing * offering an equally satiating self-satisfied belch. The problem is, it's just not true.

Sonore have taken care in the design and manufacturing of the Signature Series Rendu to ensure its performance is not hindered by sonically deleterious stuff while improving on their lower-cost Rendu:

We decided the correct way to go would be to upgrade all facets of the design making incremental improvements which add up to considerable performance gains. The power supply is upgraded both in parts quality and layout. The big addition is the new isolated, clock/re-clock, output board. By specification, the Ethernet input is already isolated from the noise on the network, but there is still some noise produced on the processing board. To generate an absolutely pure clock signal, we added a separate, isolated, output board with a separately regulated power supply. This output board holds the dual Crystek CCHD oscillators, the re-clocking circuitry, and the output drive circuitry for SPDIF and I2S. Because the Signature Series Rendu generates clean clocks and then reclocks on the output board right before the SPDIF and I2S output jitter is lowered even further. Additionally, a very special SPDIF driver circuitry results in a perfectly clean SPDIF waveform which allows one to get the best out of any SPDIF input DAC.
You read that right; the Signature Series Rendu offers Coax S/PDIF and I2S output only. No USB. The sole input is Ethernet. To get the Signature Series Rendu ready for play, just connect it to your network and DAC, plug it in and power it up.

The Rendu supports PCM sample rates up to 192kHz as well as DSD128 via DoP for S/PDIF and native DSD over I2S. You can also stream from Tidal HiFi as long as your NAS is running BubbleUPNP when using an Android device for playback or BubbleServer for use with Linn's Kazoo controller for iOS devices. For DSD playback, your NAS needs to be running MinimServer, JRiver, or Foobar2000 with the SACD plug-in.

For this review, I installed BubbleServer on my Synology DS412+ NAS which also runs MinimServer. For playback, I loaded up Linn's free Kazoo app on my iPad mini. I employed two DACs; the dCS Rossini DAC/Clock via S/PDIF and the review sample PS Audio DirectStream Junior via I2S. I used HDMI cables from AudioQuest as the I2S link which I'll talk about below.

The Signature Series Rendu sports a brushed aluminum faceplate, black metal chassis, and custom footers that employ Sorbothane for vibration control. Sonore also includes a 1M Blue Jean Cable bonded Ethernet cable (with test certificate) which I was not able to use due to distance requirements so I stuck with my AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable. The Rendu feels nice and solid and is certainly simple looking with nothing on its face besides the screened company name, product name, and a very tiny blue power status LED. The on/off switch resides around back but I'd expect owners will only use it on rare occasions, preferring to leave the Rendu On.

Just The Bits
It has been my experience, and continues to be, that the performance of music servers and network players like the Signature Series Rendu exist on a recognizable sonic scale. In other words, they tend to affect the quality of system performance in varying degrees according to some key performance parameters. These include dynamics, micro detail, tone color, bass control, and spatial cues both in terms of the overall sound picture and the clarity within it.

It would logically follow that if I had every single network player on the market here at one time, I could theoretically compare all of them using the same sonic scale, say 1 to 10 for each of these performance parameters. Since this is not physically or logistically possible, I'll make due with what I have on hand and instead of numbers, I'm going to rely on words since numbers do not speak to outcomes, i.e. what does it mean if component A offers spatial cues rated as a 3 compared to component B's 8. I know, 5!

Let's begin with the easy part; the Sonore Signature Series Rendu betters my MacBook Pro running Roon in every one of these key performance parameters. Music simply sounds more natural, better focused, more delineated in space, with improved dynamics and detail. These improvements allow me to better hear into my music and better connect to it. If we want to begin to put together a story as to why and how the Sonore accomplishes these improvements, I'd suggest we simply re-read what the company claims to be their key concerns.

Then, re-read some of our other reviews of music servers like the Antipodes DX (see review) or the Bel Canto REFStream Asynchronous Ethernet Renderer (see review), and you'll read that these companies are dealing with similar concerns.

Moving into more price-worthy comparative territory, I spent some time listening to both the Sonore and the review sample Aurender N100H ($2699). The Aurender offers USB-out only so I had it leashed to the PS Audio DirectStream Junior via USB along with the Sonore connected to Junior via I2S. Cabling was from AudioQuest, the AQ Diamond USB USB cable and the AQ Diamond HDMI cable so we can forget about cables and focus on components (yea, that's kind of a dare ;-).

Using the DirectStream Junio's remote, I was able to remain in the listening seat and switch between I2S and USB, and using my iPad mini, I was able to switch between Lin's Kazoo remote app and Aurender's own app. Basically I would just let the same music play on both so that I could simply switch between inputs to do my comparisons.

Wow. Very close. The kind of close I'd imagine I'd miss in a brief A/B comparison but over time and varied music it became clearer that the Sonore offered a tighter sound image where the Aurender sounded a bit fatter and looser in comparison. Again, we're talking a subtle difference but in my experience subtle can be like spice; you may love a dish with the right spice while finding the same dish with the wrong spice just OK. Eat with relish or fill yourself.

Difference certainly raises the specter of "better" but I'm going to stick to preference. If you like music on the rich, big, bold and warm side, the Aurender may serve you more to your liking. If, on another hand, you prefer tight, big, focused (especially bass), and resolute, the Sonore should be on your "listen to" list. Of course how one's system is weighted will also play a role in which sonic spice you prefer. It's also worth noting that the kinds of sonic changes we're talking about do not add things like bass or treble extension, they enhance what's there, bring your music into clearer focus.

To my mind, and to my preferences, I could easily live with either the Sonore or the Aurender. What's of equal importance for me is the interface to my music and I actually find Linn's Kazoo pretty OK and the Aurender app better. Neither comes close to the enjoyment I get from Roon/Tidal.

Forgetting About The Bits
I love, love, love the idea of getting my MacBook out of my hi-fi. The Sonore Signature Series Rendu offers up as good a case for doing so as I've encountered so far.


Also in-use during the Signature Series Rendu review: dCS Rossini, PS Audio DirectStream Junior, Aurender N100H

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
Doak's picture

...different tastes - BUT, the consistent refrain is "Better than the computer." Not only do they (purpose built "computer audio appliances") sound better, they are a damn sight easier and more fun to use (generalization). So it's "No Excuses" time. Get the dang computer OUT of your audio system. ;-)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'm waiting for an interface that is Roon's equal.
Doak's picture

...that it "Roons you" for anything else.

Doak's picture

Manufactures are scrambling en masse towards "Roon Ready certification." So where does that leave the general purpose computer? Still necessary?

deckeda's picture

Sorta wondering if Roon Speakers, or whatever it's called now will be a tipping point for all of this. The quality software void seems huge, especially given that's about the only way we could interact with renderers, and the music.

I browse the Roon forums sometimes, where this comes up and the company is socially engaged. One of the main sticking points appears to be computational power is low for many renderers ... back to the computers issue again.

Having not tossed $100 at a Pi system I can neither defend nor champion it, but as a small, and yeah dedicated platform (picking the right OS and so on) it intrigues and will continue to do so. All else being equal, heh. :)

sordidman's picture

This is a great review. So many people have spent way too much time, labor, & expense, chasing down issues in an effort to turn a multi-function computer (designed by people who eschew high-end-audio) into a single purpose high-end digital file transport. This process of converting an expensive, commercial computer, is beyond the abilities of an end user. It has been a difficult road, & it will continue to have many bumps. But as people become more aware of the significant improvements, they will run away from the hassles of turning noise boxes into something they are not. Although digital file playback now requires good software, it doesn't mean that hardware is no longer important. And we've seen that concentrating too much on software to fix hardware problems is confusing the issue.

Venere 2's picture

"I love, love, love the idea of getting my MacBook out of my hi-fi."

I know that dedicated servers like the Rendu are better than any computer for serving music. But, some computers are better than others as well.

When I decided to sell my turntable and go full throttle into computer audio, I had to choose between a Macbook and a Mac Mini (I wanted to be in the Apple system). I went with the Mac mini.

I like the fact it can be run headless with an iPad. I've heard that the screens on MacBooks can add noise. Also, the MacBooks I have seen have an outboard power supply with a proprietary (cheap) power cable. Using an adaptor, I plugged a much better power cord (Shunyata Venom digital) into my Mac Mini. I also added some sorbothane feet to help with vibration control. I also plugged in a Shunyata Venom Defender into the same receptacle as the Mac Mini on my power distributor.

It is still probably not as good as a dedicated server, but it is much better than it was when it was completely in stock form in my system. The cost of the Mac Mini and the upgrades is still very reasonable.

Because of the user friendly environment of Apple (I control it with an iPad, and rip CDs with an iMac, etc), it is a compromise I am very happy with!

rexp's picture

Ok I'll bite. Testing the Sonore against the Aurender using the same DAC but different inputs is meaningless. What would be a truer comparison would be to use a USB to SPDF converter (Mutec/yellowtech) with the Aurender and do the test using only the SPDF (coax) input of the DAC. If you find the HDMI sounds better than the SPDF input at least you can take this into account when declaring how each sound.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
In your scenario, "...use a USB to SPDF converter (Mutec/yellowtech) with the Aurender and do the test using only the SPDF (coax) input of the DAC", we'd also have to take into account sonic characteristics of the USB to SDIF converter since they do not all sound the same.

Since the Aurender is clearly targeting people with USB DACs, whereas the Sonore isn't, it made to use them as they will likely be used.

rexp's picture

Best to not make the comparison then as too many variables...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Or potentially any other DAC with I2S input.
ItemAudio's picture

. . . which in most cases will (potentially) be their best-performing input. Any moves like this toward standardising I2S over HDMI are welcome and should be applauded.

vortecjr's picture

We are developing a new application for the Sonicorbiter operating system that will facilitate using Roon Server with the Sonore Signature Series Rendu and other DLNA/UPNP devices. Why...because Roon Server currently doesn't support DLNA/UPNP devices. Testing of the new application is in beta form and working nicely here.

Information is available on the Sonore sponsored section over on Computer Audiophile.

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