Innuos Zen Mini - a Journey into Streaming Audio

Intrigued by your couple of mentions of this. Innuos have always advised me that best sound quality was achieved from my Zenith by setting volume to 100% and then controlling volume from DAC/pre. Has something specific changed apart from the coming sensible change which might impact sound quality? I certainly experimented when I got mine and concluded their advice was right at that time.

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Hi @mikehughescq I have never tried intentionally the volume of the Innuos Zenith set to 100%. I have frightened myself and the neighbours a couple of times :bomb:, unintentionally.
Personally, due to this I have steered away from Sense. I may go back and investigate more when the volume buttons are added. Not sure how you are connecting, USB or Ethernet. If by USB, this may be the reason for best SQ at full volume on Innuos setting ?
I have found my best SQ by ethernet to be Roon Nucleus running Roon Core, Innuos Zenith in Roon Player mode. These and Naim 222 are all connected to Innuos Phoenix-Net. I have not concluded what is giving the most uplift to SQ, but for the moment a happy bunny :blush:………until I try PSM 156 ???

Glad you’ve made that connection. Because the wonderful ZENmini can be set up in so many different ways, depending on system and user scenarios.

It’s a server (c/w built in ripper)
It’s a streamer
It has an internal DAC. So, it is a complete “stand alone” audio source.
It has a digital o/p. So, it can be improved with any better external DAC’s
It can be improved with the better Innous seperate external LPSU.

For Olive Naim
In our Olive system - room one - it works as a stand alone audio source. The ZENmini is connected from analogue audio out, (using its internal DAC) to the NAC72 pre-amp controller. The internal DAC works okay for our modest needs in this system setting.

Further notes on original thoughts for ZM…
Our original requirement - for the ZENmini - was a means of accessing our 1000+ CD collection, from shoe boxes, to match - form factor - our lovely Olive shoe box system. To do this without breaking the bank. It’s possible to do this with just one box. We added the separate LPSU, because this makes a modest difference and we felt it was worthwhile. We also considered the bigger sibling ZEN, but settled on the ZENmini, (for this room). We also considered the Chord Qutest, as another option for external DAC. It’s small enough to tuck away out of sight and not be seen. Might still this do this, at some point. Because using the ZM with our nDAC has convinced us that any decent external DAC elevates the ZM even further. IMO, with external LPSU and a decent DAC, performance approaches its larger sibling ZEN. So, offers a means of going that route, in stages and over time, as budget allows.

For Classic Naim
In our Classic system - room two - we could have the ZENmini set up via our nDAC external DAC and then onwards to SN3, etc. This option provides the best sound quality playback, from the ZM.

Longer term, we will use just the ND5 XS2 + nDAC in this system (separate room). So, in this scenario, the ND5 XS2 does the streaming, including local streaming, over LAN, from CD archive within the Innous SSD server, elsewhere in the house.

Multi-room
Within the context of a two room or multi-room audio solution, the ZM provides access to SSD archive of CD collection, anywhere on the LAN. Also, provides for Roon Core duties too, for now. So, running Roon as user interface, for all home (a) control and (b) music devices…

Around the house
Another interesting distinction, with Roon, I understand you can stream from the Core to any iPad or IPhone too. So, that satisfyies the adult children in the house, who prefer access and play back on mobile devices :+1:

Both rooms have ability to stream from internet music platforms. In our case, we are set up for Qobuz. Additionally, ND5 XS2 can also access the CD archive, via LAN, on ZM SSD server, (in another location). ZM also operating as Roon Core, to provide UI. So, ZM also provides access for both Roon UI and archive music, to users anywhere in the house.

Apple Music (when needed) is available from any iPad or iPhone, which is introduced into our HiFi via Apple cable and to front USB on the nDAC. Works okay.

Quick word about user interface again…
IMO, Naim App is okay. Works perfectly well. Innous Sense App is better. Roon is best, (for me).

Roon allows you to see all sources (Qobuz, own CD collection) and flip between both. To be fair, so do other UI’s too. It also allows control of rooms (devices in each room) and flip between both. Also allows control of all devices, to stream any music to all device simultaneously (e.g. for a party).

Hope all this is helping ?

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Fab, thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail - I’ll reply later on this evening as I’m currently out and about visiting kitchen showrooms - got to have somewhere nice to house the Naim kit!

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Back at home now and have through read your reply properly - superb! Yes, this is a great help and just the sort of user experience and insight I was looking for. This gives me a rough blueprint as to how the Zen can work into more than one system and multi room set up here, so is something I’m now really curious about.

Lots to think about and digest, but It does look like I’m going to be enquiring further about the Zen.

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Latest step in the journey…

Recently spent some more time back at the dealer - @BasicallySound - exploring next steps.

This time, looking in more detail at adding a PSU to our nDAC. Also, found time to audition floor standing speakers again and one or two other distractions in the day too. First, here is a reminder of the last steps, back in March.

Since then, the ND5 XS2 has come into our house. As we move towards completing a second system, second room, etc. The Naim streamer arrived as a birthday treat over the summer. Also, following a good look at NC 200 series, deciding on Original Classic SN3 c/w HiCap DR too.

So current set up, for our other room, best digital source first, is now as a follows :+1:
ND5 XS2 → DC1 → nDAC → HiLine → SN3 + HC DR → NACA5.

The ND5 XS2 is currently being used more, in preference to our ZENmini, while we get to know it and how it works and sounds.

The ZENMini is still there, doing a job, performing duties as Roon Core and streaming from SSD server (for CD archive collection).

Anyway, back at the dealers and findings…

First off, we replicated our system at home, combining own pieces and their demo stock.

For this dealer demo’, various floor standing speakers were used, throughout the day. But, for the first part, PMC Twenty5 23i, which has probably become a reference point, or constant, when ever visiting BS showrooms.

After, tuning in with a few familiar tracks, went straight in to the main event, which was adding a 555PS DR to our nDAC. Spent the next hour or two exploring different types of music to test its metal.

Naim 555 PS DR is a glorious option
It becomes quickly obvious the combination of Naim streamer ND5 XS2 → Naim DAC + Naim 555Ps DR is stunning good.


Image : Current system, with 555PS DR (bottom shelf) added to nDAC

Honesty, it was such an exciting experience, sat in that demo’ room, playing favourite tracks, sounding so so good.

Here is an attempt to add some words to what is heard by adding a PSU to the nDAC. Going from my thoughts and notes, at the time…
The music becomes clearer, notes better defined. Easier to follow. More grip on everything, which is most noticeable with bass notes. In many ways, seems like less bass. But more like better defined, faster, quicker start and end to bass notes. More control, less mushy. The whole musical sound stage and coherence of everything improves, with better separation between musicians and instruments.

The 555 PS does that better than a XPS.

Relative judgements then spring to mind. One choice or option, relative to another.

Money no object, you would choose the 555PS, no problem. However, think the XPS PSU offers most of the gain, with adding any PSU. To put a number on this, maybe 75% of the gain. Something like that. In other words you don’t really get twice the improvement, matching the difference in cost between these two options. Maybe the difference in cost, will open up more, now that XPS will only ever be available as pre-loved.

The fact the 555 PS DR will continue - available new - for a few years yet, might be a deciding factor here, when we come to this future decision.

We shall see.
This choice might come down to what’s available at the time and what can be afforded. I’m now wishing for the 555 PS. But might settle for a XPS DR too.

The intention is to add new speakers first, with luck, perhaps in 2024.

With time to spare, then went on to audition some more floor standing speaker options. As that isn’t specifically about digital or streaming, maybe put that into a separate report, elsewhere.

Nice distractions
An itch that needed a scratch was to explore and understand what Innous Pulse streaming transport has to offer.

Now that BS has this item available on demo’, we substituted the Pulse into the mix. Swapping out Naim streamer for the Pulse → nDAC + 555PS DR.


Image : Innous Pulse streamer, also available in black

Which seems like a reasonable comparison, in terms of comparable price point and functionality. More importantly, been keen to examine this product for a while.

Straight away, it was obviously doing a better job than the ND5 XS2. Much more control, better definition, more space and air. Even the guys commented, from outside the room.

Shouldn’t have been surprised really. After all, unlike the Naim steamer, it‘s a dedicated streaming transport. So, although similar cost as the Naim, maybe has more spent on less electronics inside. No internal DAC. Maybe better streaming platform and also it’s internal LPSU, etc. Innous are doing some interesting things across their line right now.

That itch has now been scratched. So, now thinking about what has been learned.

Also had the lovely treat of a first listen to the new Rega Naia, which was memorable. Brief comment on this experience is elsewhere.

Test tracks
It’s always about the music and these were the test tracks used through out the day.
In no particular order :

David Sylvian, from “Secrets of the Beehive” (1987).

  • Orpheus
  • When Poets Dreamed of Angels

David Sylvian, from “Dead Bees on a Cake” (1999).

  • I Surrender

Paul Buchanan, from “Quiet City” (2021).

  • Due North

The Blue Nile, from “Hats” (1989).

  • Tinsel Town in the Rain
  • Headlights on the Parade

The Bad Plus, from “These are the Vistas” (2003).

  • Everywhere You Turn

Go Go Penguins, from “Everything Is Going to Be Ok” (2023).

  • You’re Stronger Than You Think
  • Glimmerings
  • Saturnine

Portico Quartet, from “Next Stop” (2022) - Qobuz HiRes

  • Captured Time
  • Next Stop

Public Service Broadcasting, from “This New Noise (Live)” (2023) - Qobuz HiRes

  • A Cello Sings in Daventry

Madonna, from “Ray of Light” (1998).

  • Nothing Really Matters

Nick Mulvey, from “First Mind” (2014)

  • Fever to the Form

Some stalwarts, that have served well for decades. Also, more recent ones, that have been getting a lot of play at home right now.

With thanks
As always, my sincere thanks to Tony and Graham @BasicallySound for putting up with me :joy:

It is always a delight to visit and have fun with these two great guys. Moving things around and adding insightful comments on what we hear. Coffees, teas, biscuit and cake. Lots of music and laughs too.

The benefit of going on a journey, over time, with a single dealer is the trust that evolves between both parties.

Thanks guys.

Kind regards
R

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Pulse is great. Pulsar is better but obviously not suitable for the ndac unless you use a usb to coax converter of some sort

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Sure.
Thanks for pointing that out for everyone.
And… Following your own streaming journey with great interest :+1:
Thanks again.

One of the attractions, (to me or anyone else with a nDAC) is the option of digital out on SPDIF, with the Pulse. (It’s unusual in the current market. Most DAC’s allow for USB and not a lot else). That was the primary reason for wishing to look at that particular streamer.

Happy Sunday listening.
Just listening to Arlo Park’s latest, “My Soft Machine”, (2023).

Best wishes
R

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Whatever transport you end up with, your conclusion about nDAC+555PSDR is one we can’t argue with. Is is a stunning DAC, very musical.

We love ours more every day.

Interesting the effect the transport had on sound.

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I am really struggling with dacs at the moment! I have 3, Hugo tt2 ndac and XPs dr and Brinkmann nyquist. Technically, running hq player at dsd 256 through the pulsar into the nyquist is the best option but there is something about the ndac that keeps me coming back to it. Even bought a topping d10 to use as a usb to coax adapter for the pulsar but it does not work through the phoenix lite usb output (no power), it does work through the usb 3 outputs though.

1 st world problems and all that :wink:

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From reading, I’m very aware of the opinion that 555 PS (non DR) is preferred by some, to the latest 555 PS DR variant of this psu. Particularly, when used as an addition to nDAC.

Can anyone help and explain how this is different, maybe even the subtleties. Very interested to hear thoughts and opinion on this topic ?

As always, happy Sunday listening to everyone.
Best wishes
R

p.s. Currently listening to Laura Viers “Found Light” (2019).

and also just for the record, no system automation between Innous streamer and Naim amp, if that’s important to anyone (thought I wouldn’t care for that much, but I happen to rather like it).

@ratrat again a great insightful review, it is very helpful to follow your journey!

Just out of curiosity, If the XPS is 75% of the 555PS, would the XP5 XS be like 25%? Admittedly some time ago, I did hear a mild uplift using the budget psu.
That makes a 3-box digital slimline system though (ND5 XS2, nDAC, XP5 XS with DC1, Burndy) :anguished:

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Maybe as a consolation, Innous Sense UI more than makes up for the loss of that one feature :wink:

Happy Sunday listening…
Currently listening to The National, “Sleep Well Beast” (2017).

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Sure, definitely aware for the option for XP5 XS. Which Naim originally conceived exactly as you imagine in your use case. Never had the opportunity to see or use one.

So, can only really comment on what I’ve read, over the years, from others here. No doubt to be found with a search with the right key words. Also, with the archive available from the old forum too.

Thoughts……
From memory, mixed reviews.
Many users saying it wasn’t worth it and being underwhelming, etc. Others, (to my memory fewer positive observations compared) saying it worked for them.

Oh dear, starting to sound like @frenchrooster with encyclopaedic memories for forum history and individual user details.
That’s a compliment. Well done to you sir @frenchrooster

In the spirit of being objective, don’t take it from me, maybe do those searches.
Hope that helps.

For me, such anecdotal things and lots of other evidence along the way, my mind is already made up for XPS or maybe stretching for 555 PS. (Note: Hoped for NC option, with NPX300, but that was ruled out early on, in discussion with the “main man” ).

It’s addictive isn’t it. Taking one step. Discovering so much more in your music. Wanting to go further and investigating possible next steps, small or large…

BW
R

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Yes there are some write-ups about that. I do think that when moving up the ladder to a higher level more things come into play that weren’t that essential before. What would Powerlines and Hilines bring, the difference Fraim(lite) can make, network vs wifi, and many more aspects.
To be honest that is out of my league, I am happy/relieved to have moved everything up to this level at the far outer ends of my budget, and yet everything seems to remain balanced. Just meant as a plead for others to keep the holistic system approach of all aspects, not the boxes only.
As next steps I should probably first find 4 levels of Fraimlite, one Highline, three Powerlines and the DC1 - adding up to more money than a black box upgrade - before contemplating any further changes, so I’m stepping off the upgrade train here.
Note: the biggest improvement to any of my turntables was a record cleaning machine to give you an example, and it wasn’t cheap and also a lot of work! Now buying a new one first.

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@daddycool

Reflections…
FWIW, lived for years with the nDAC partnering our Naim CDP. Which is the very good CD5 XS, used as transport. That’s how the nDAC originally came into our house. Actually, the nDAC offers a more significant uplift for the CD 5XS as transport, than with more recent design ND5 XS2.

That said, I would suggest ND5 XS2 → nDAC is enough for anybody. It’s a brilliant streaming solution by itself.
For me, It’s only now, getting into streaming, I’m alive to other new and better options, with the nDAC.

We all come from different places, different experiences.

Ultimately, just trying to get everything in the house up to a certain reference point. (Our experiences, our ears, etc)
Over the years, the best sources in our house have always been vinyl.
Currently, would probably say the LP12 is best from the two we have.

Having followed (and worked with) the technology over say 20 odd years. Finally felt streaming has matured to the point it becomes a reasonable alternative. The various streaming platforms and wider ecosystem, being part of that. Hence only recently jumping in and spending decent money on streaming.

Just to share one idea with you…
Think we are nearly there. Just maybe one more step, to get to parity.
Taking my time. Enjoying the journey. After all, its a hobby.
Yes. It is addictive too.

If I might offer thoughts on any process of change and ongoing improvements…
Take your time. Enjoy lots of music. Take it all in along the way. Let time go by and just allow the more sophisticated understandings to naturally develop.

Sincerely hope this last philosophical idea is useful, to the process.

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I demoed the nd5 vs pulse into TT2 and preferred the pulse. It is more airy and seems more detailed. Very much personal preference though, I would put them on the same level. Could be that the Naim streamer pairs better with the ndac, I would need to demo to be sure.

Edit: I see you already demos the 2 into ndac and came to the same conclusion

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Thank you for that @ratrat on this rainy Sunday afternoon.

Actually I find the LP12 upgrades the easy part, there are a few different ways to get there. Got the wall shelf right first try. Then it’s just a matter of spending more money with your dealer until you feel you’ve reached your end point, not much guess work but some experimenting helps.

Indeed, the nDAC on the ND5 XS2 was necessary to bring digital close(r) to the LP12 level here, and that’s not even a very exotic spec. Thank you for pointing me there, now happy.

So true, time to now enjoy things into the new year and having great music over Christmas!

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Sure. We chatted about that some time back.
Realised you had moved from ZENmini to Pulse.
I’ve only recently had opportunity to see and hear a Pulse. Actually, I was impressed.

So, I’m thinking about that.

You’ve obviously made another step to Pulsar. Which might be a step too far, in this house. I’m really trying hard to resist faff and fiddle with USB connections not working with our nDAC. The alternative is to bite the bullet and start again with another DAC, likely from the Chord collection. Start point for exploring what Chord do, probably being the Hugo TT2.

What persuaded you to move from Pulse to Pulsar?

KR
R

p.s. as I type this, listening to Go Go Penguins “Everything Is Going to Be Ok” (2023), on vinyl, playing on our LP12 and thinking does all this streaming stuff really matter when vinyl sounds this good :blush:

Mainly the recent price increase. I was looking at the phoenix net and my dealer mentioned the price increases so I tacked on the pulsar as well. At the time I was leaning toward using the nyquist with it. Curiosity got the better of me so I am working on getting the ndac hooked up. Bought a topping D10 which works with the usb 3 boards but not the phoenix lite output.

If I were you and you are happy with the ndac I would stick with the pulse.

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