An Audiophile Conundrum: Sonore vs SOtM

SOtM sMS-200ultra
Device Type: Network Player

Input: RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
Input: 2 USB 2.0 Ports for external USB storage devices
Output: USB 2.0 High End Audio Grade
Power Requirement: 9 Vdc Standard, Optional 6.5V ~ 8.5Vdc or 12Vdc
External Power Supply: 9V / 2A SMPS supplied with the standard 6.5 ~ 9Vdc model
Dimension (H x W x D)s: 48mm X 106mm X 227mm
Weight: 1.5 Kg
Availability: Direct / Authorized Dealers
Price: $1200 with no Master Clock Connection, $1400 With Master Clock Connection Option (Evaluation Unit)
Website: www.sotm-audio.com

SOtM sPS-500 Power Supply
Device Type: Switching-Mode Power Supply
Output: DC copper cable with choice of optional 7N UPOCC copper DC cable or 7N UPOCC silver DC cable
DC Power Output Voltage: Selectable 7Vdc, 9Vdc, 12Vdc, and 19Vdc
Dimensions (H x W x D): 48mm X 106mm X 230mm
Weight: 2 Kg
Availability:  Direct / Authorized Dealers
Price:  $500 Includes .3-meter copper DC cable and an AC cord, Choice of optional 7N UPOCC copper DC cable or 7N UPOCC silver DC cable in single cable or Y cable As Tested: $400 7N UPOCC silver DC Y cable
Website: www.sotm-audio.com

SOtM tx-USBultra
Device Type: USB Isolator / Power / Reclocker

Input: USB B
Output: 2 USB A
Power Requirement: 9Vdc Standard, Optional 6.5V ~ 8.5Vdc, or 12Vdc
External Power Supply: Supplied with the standard 6.6 ~ 9Vdc model
Dimensions (H x W x D):  47mm X 53mm X 123mm
Weight: 1.5 Kg
Availability:  Direct / Authorized Dealers
Price:  $990.00 (Unit Evaluated), With Master Clock Connection Option $1200.00
Website: www.sotm-audio.com

Sonore by Simple Design Signature Rendu SE
Device Type: Network Player with built in Linear Power Supply
Input: RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
Output: USB 2.0
Dimensions (H x W x D): 3" X 12.75" X 10.25"
Weight: 10 pounds
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $3295.00
Website: www.sonore.us

A difficult task has been presented to me; sonic comparison of the Sonore Signature Rendu SE with the SOtM Triple Set that is composed of the sMS-200ultra, the tx-USBultra, and the sPS-500 power supply. It’s a difficult mission because these products have been previously reviewed here at AudioStream and all were found to be first-rate products. Michael Lavorgna did an excellent job reviewing the Sonore Signature Rendu SE and found it to be a "pure pleasure" to listen to. Likewise, I was very impressed with the performance of the SOtM sMS-200ultra, tx-USBultra, and the sPS-500 with silver Y DC cable in my reviews. It just so happens that I own both the Sonore Signature Rendu SE and SOtM Triple Set and have a burning desire to know which setup will sound best in my system. Will it be the Sonore Signature Rendu SE or the SOtM Triad that will bring me closer to the music, and ultimately, long term musical satisfaction?

The Sonore Signature Rendu SE and the SOtM Triple Set are designed to connect directly into the USB input of a DAC. The Signature Rendu SE and the SOtM sMS-200ultra are mini network computers that accept a network data stream from another computer or NAS resulting in less noise ultimately being injected into your DAC. The sMS-200ultra has an additional option of acting as a server when an external USB hard drive is connected. The combination of the sMS-200ultra and the tx-USBultra act as the Signature Rendu SE by supplying a very low noise output to one’s DAC.

The Sonore Signature Rendu SE

The Signature Rendu SE is composed of an improved version of Sonore’s Signature Linear Power Supply and the ultraRendu. Both Michael and I found that the new ultraRendu sonically outperformed the microRendu; even when powered by the Sonore Linear Power Supply as in my system. Sonore has gone even farther in their design of the Signature Rendu SE than just installing an ultraRendu board into the case. From the Sonore site:

"The Signature Rendu SE takes advantage of a single chassis design, allowing close coupling of the power supply and processing board for the ultimate in ultra-low impedance and ultra-low noise power delivery. The Signature Rendu SE processing board uses a larger footprint to allow for more independent low noise voltage regulation stages (all main board regulators are now ultra-low noise linear types), and better physical separation of the Ethernet processing and USB output sections, further reducing noise and crosstalk. A new ultra-low phase noise (so called "femto") oscillator is used to govern all processing and USB audio output."
I found the Signature Rendu SE to be physically impressive looking and perfectly at home with my other high end audio products.

The SOtM Triple Set

The SOtM Triple Set is the combination of the sMS-200ultra mini network computer and the tx-USBultra signal regenerator all powered by the sPS-500 power supply. The sPS-500 is a switching-mode power supply (SMPS) unlike the more expensive linear power supply used in the Signature Rendu SE. Although SOtM claims that their sPS-500 has a special filter to reduce noise, theoretically, the Signature Rendu SE’s linear power supply has a performance edge over their SOtM competitor. But with the SOtM sPS-500 comes more adaptability with multiple output voltage selections and sufficient current allowing the sPS-500 to power both the sMS-200ultra and tx-USBultra with a single DC Y cable. In my setup, I used SOtM’s 7N UPOCC silver DC Y cable. Both the sMS-200utra and the tx-USBultra have high quality internal reference clocks.

Associated Components Used in This Evaluation

For this evaluation I used my Asus G701VI laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 with the AudiophileOptimizer 2.20 beta 5. The Asus G701VI possesses an overclockable Intel Core i7 6820HK processor with 32 GB 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 8 GB 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 grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer. A G-Technology 20 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 200w linear power supply plugged into a Shunyata Denali 6000T 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 was Roon Server taking advantage of the Roon Ready features of the SOtM sMS-200ultra and the Sonore Signature Rendu SE.

I used my Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty for the DAC in this review. It was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF and plugged into a Shunyata Triton v3 / Typhon with a Shunyata Sigma NR AC cable.

The SOtM Triple Set and the Sonore Signature Rendu SE were both placed on a Synergistic Tranquility Base. The Signature Rendu SE was plugged into a Shunyata Research Triton v3 with a Shunyata Alpha NR AC cable. The sPS-500 was plugged into a Shunyata Research DPC-6 v2 with a Shunyata Alpha NR AC cable. The DPC-6 v2 was designed to deal with high frequency noise generated by a SMPS like the sPS-500 and sounded better than powering it from a Triton v3.

The AQVOX AQ-SWITCH-SE network switch was employed in this review along with AudioQuest Diamond Ethernet cables.

USB cables used in this review were primarily Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB 2.0 .5-meter lengths. I also employed AudioQuest Diamond and Kubala-Sosna Research Realization USB cables.

Sonic Impressions of the Sonore Signature Rendu SE

When I first experienced the Sonore Signature Rendu SE after an appropriate break-in period, I must say that I was very impressed with what I heard. The Signature Rendu SE, utilizing the new ultraRendu, was sonically a big improvement compared to the microRendu powered by the Sonore Linear Power Supply. The microRendu’s somewhat dark sound was replaced with greater clarity and detail coupled with superior bass control. The Signature Rendu SE was fast, dynamic, and quite alluring in its sonic presentation. But with extended listening over several weeks, certain undesirable qualities emerged that had been glossed over earlier in my listening sessions. I detected a bit of midrange brightness, that that at times, was hard sounding. I also heard a slight loss of clarity with complex loud musical passages that tended to congeal the sound. At times, I found myself longing for some of the warmth heard with the microRendu.

I then entered the tweak phase of my listening trials changing out USB cables to optimize the sound I was experiencing with the Signature Rendu SE. I substituted the AudioQuest Diamond USB and the Kubala-Sosna Research Realization USB cables for the Wireworld cable. Some of the presence or brightness was ameliorated, but not eliminated. Unfortunately, the larger soundstage and superior retrieval of detail delivered by the Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB 2.0 cable was lost.

I then focused on replacing the footers of the Signature Rendu SE. While I did like the sound of the Sorbothane footers that were installed on the Signature Rendu SE, I ultimately preferred the overall sound of the Mad Scientist Audio BlackPod Tungsten Carbide footers by a very small margin.

But all of this is not to imply that the Signature Rendu SE is not a high-performance product. In spite of my criticisms, soundstage, bass impact / dynamics, and overall clarity are delivered in a first-class fashion.

The Sonic Impressions of the SOtM Triple Set

While setting up the SOtM Triple Set, I couldn’t help but think back to the Signature Rendu SE’s elegance with its elimination of external DC cables and an extra USB cable. The sheer mass of the Signature Rendu SE also appealed to my audiophile sensibilities of a stable audio component. But the sound that emerged from the SOtM components outshined that heard with the Signature Rendu SE. My audiophile conundrum was resolved.

The SOtM Triple Set does not have the midrange brightness or presence heard with the Signature Rendu SE. The Triple Set does have a trace of mid bass warmth compared to the Signature Rendu SE that I find more natural sounding. The soundstage of the Triple Set is wider and deeper than that possessed by the Signature Rendu SE. I also preferred the way the Triple Set handled complex musical passages with less congealing of the sound heard with the Sonore product.

What About Adding a USB Enhancement Device to the Signature Rendu SE?

When my system was centered around the Wilson Audio Sasha Series 1 speakers with the Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 4 interconnects and speaker cables, I experienced a positive sonic effect connecting the SOtM tx-USBultra to the output of the Signature Rendu SE. But after updating my system to the more revealing Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers with Shunyata Research Sigma interconnects and speaker cables, the sound was now too technicolored and quite frankly, at times irritating. I should also mention that Sonore does not recommend connecting a USB enhancement device to their statement product, and in this case, I totally agree.

I then decided to try an UpTone Audio ISO REGEN powered by Uptone Audio’s UltraCap™ LPS-1 with the Signature Rendu SE. The sound was now warmer with no brightness or emphasis of the upper midrange. Unfortunately, the excellent detail rendition of the Signature Rendu SE was lost with a reduction of soundstage size. While I have previously found the ISO REGEN / UltraCap™ LPS-1 to be very effective products, this application did not sound very appealing to me.

The Music

The midrange brightness I experienced with the Signature Rendu SE was heard with Cantus Northern Lights (24/96). At times the female choir had an edge to the sound that was unpleasant. I did not hear this hardness with the SOtM Triple Set. I also found the soundstage to be smaller with the Signature Rendu SE than what I had experienced with the Triple Set.

Chuck Loeb’s Unspoken (24/44.1) seemed to have a little more weight at the low end with the Triple Set as well as a wider soundstage. The midrange presence experienced with the Signature Rendu SE was absent with the Triple Set resulting in a more relaxed-natural sound that was just as revealing as that experienced with the Signature Rendu SE.

Thierry Fischer’s new Reference Recording of the Utah Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler Symphony 8 (DSD128) displayed the ability of the SOtM Triple Set to favorably handle complex musical passages. The Triple Set sailed through this complex orchestral / choral piece that seemed to be occasionally challenging for the Signature Rendu SE.

Conclusion

I consider both the Sonore Signature Rendu SE and the SOtM Triple Set to be fine products that were easy to use and entertaining to listen to. Both the Sonore and SOtM worked flawlessly in my system with my Roon Server. But if I could only have one to live with, it would have to be the SOtM Triple Set. I found the SOtM Triple Set composed of the sMS-200ultra, tx-USBultra, and the sPS-500 with silver Y DC cable to be the more musically engaging set of products that over the long haul became my preferred setup.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
Mischko's picture

Wonderful and much needed comparison, thank you. Any news on the separate clock, or a single complete component consisting of the Triple Set + clock from SotM? As an owner of tx-USBultra + LPS-1, I am wondering whether to go towards the Triple Set or wait for SotM to put it all in a single box. Probably other readers are wondering the same thing.. Happy holidays :)

Steven Plaskin's picture

Good questions that only SOtM can answer. Perhaps May from SOtM will help us out.

Happy Holidays to you as well!

Steve

austinpop's picture

Hi Steven,

Thanks very much for this courageous review. I say courageous because, no doubt soon enough, the skeptics and haters will descend, spewing doubt and vitriol. Please know there are many - mostly silent - readers, who hunger for reviews like this, and your findings are most appreciated.

As you most likely know, more gains are to be had by using the sCLK-EX in one of your Ultras to reclock a modified switch upstream of your sMS-200ultra. Indeed, to many of us, THAT combo of (switch, sMS, tX) is the real trifecta. I found the impact of the reclocked switch to be qualitatively even greater than the tX-USBultra. Your mileage may vary, of course.

And finally, there is the reference clock, that raises the SQ level of the (real) trifecta even further.

I look forward to your future findings.

P.S. Is the Innuous Zenith SE on your radar?

Steven Plaskin's picture

Thanks for your comments on the switch/clock and the Innuous. Things to consider for investigation next year.

DH's picture

Interesting and for me, a bit unexpected. I sort of thought the all in one architecture of the Sonore would be an advantage, but you clearly heard the SOtM stack as superior.
These kind of comparative reviews are very helpful, as most of us can't audition these units before purchase.
As far as the Innous Zenith MKII SE, I'd rather see a review of the non-SE, as it sells for a price us mortals can consider.
I'm hoping Michael can do something similar with the Bricasti M5 review.

alphorn's picture

Thanks for your comparison in this cloudy field of digital data transmission.

What was your impression of the AQVOX AQ-SWITCH-SE?

Thanks
Andy

PS: Another brand going strong in "getting the stream right":
http://www.artistic-fidelity.de/index.php/en/9-allgemein/1-artistic-fide...

Steven Plaskin's picture
Hi Andy, I like the AQVOX SE switch. A big up from the $30 D-Link switch. Also, better sounding than AQVOX’s lower priced switch.
alphorn's picture

Hi Steven

Thanks. They do have good ears at Aqvox. I own a Aqvox-revised Plextor DVD-drive.

Since pricing is good, too (for the company) I don't estimate their Bastel- appeal ("handicrafters").

I understand the Aqvox switch comes with an external power supply. Why not a triple-pole solution for all the audio people out there who try to treat phases correctly?

Thank you again and happy X-mas!
Andy

24bitbob's picture

Hi Steven,
Thanks for the review, very informative. Two sets of products which are not too costly. Nice.
Can I ask about your laptop? You went to great lengths to optimise playback with your laptop as a source. Have you moved on, and in your view are products such as the Rendu and SOtM at a stage where they handily beat any computer as a source?
Thanks and Season's Greetings,
Bob

Steven Plaskin's picture

Hi Bob,

In my system, the laptop running AudiophileOptimizer, is also running Roon Server. My library external hard drive is connected to the laptop. I stream from the laptop to the Sonore or SOtM Set via Ethernet.

I could connect the laptop directly to my Ayre DAC, but the system sounds better with the Sonore or SOtM employed in the middle.

Kind of an expensive tweak, but I really like it.

Happy Holidays,

Steve

bjeff1's picture

Thank you for you review. Nicely articulated, informative, and helpful. Sense communicated is that you were unbiased and open to "let the chips fall". Appreciate your work.

Russ_L's picture

How about another one box review. The Sonica DAC.

Russ

MikeB33's picture

Great review. I've noticed a lot of people asking for this comparison in other forums. I'm hoping someone could advise me if these devices will have any effect on an asynchronous USB connection as it pertains to clock timing? I've always understood that asynchronous will use its own clock instead of the clock by the sender.

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