Innuos Zen Mini - a Journey into Streaming Audio

@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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For future reference, found these threads on the same topic …

Happy Sunday listening…
Currently listening to latest from Peter Gabriel “ i/ o “ , (2023)
Streaming from Qobuz, via Roon, in 24 bit / 96 kHz format. Very nice :grin:

KR
R

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Thankyou @ratrat; I have enjoyed thoroughly the thread you have here!

Like a few readers I may have followed links from other community pages (Investigating cables as an example) .

Cheers for putting some experiential journey into the pages and qualifying well with great parallels and ‘checks’ throughout. (Yes this requires WORK, but it doesn’t feel that way when we are chasing ‘better sound’ / ‘on the journey’)

Thankyou.

I wasn’t going to comment (even though it has taken me three days of off again / on again reading to read this post from start to finish); but then I feel baited by your last line and the random setup of the universe playing with/through my mind regarding ‘topic’. Why am I mused to write:?

Peter Gabriel I/O, having been a play through streaming platforms for me this last week, and for my friend (who holds a ‘reference system’ that I get to enjoy too).
Both of us wanting to own it (Peter Gabriels new album), and both using digital streaming until we lock down our digital discs (I am booked to return to my mates place on Thursday when we have ‘silver’ discs to spin)…

So (no pun intended?), (“So” is our benchmark ‘Gabriel’ to “VS” against!!), I have had the joy of ‘hi res’ through inferior transports.
I know this as, my ‘go to’ is a Fiio M11+, highly tweaked (turning off all sorts of Android sensors etc to keep it ‘pure’, and Apple Music, but once started: ‘offline’ (no wifi/no bluetooth etc), and I have found, previously, that running through a Digital Recorder the I/O (pun certainly intended) gives the FiiO M11+ a reclocking and that has allowd Apple Music via the Fiio Digital Audio Player to sound near equal/‘equal’ to twenty five year old ‘mid tier’ CD players [i]as a ‘transport’[i].
Sure my ears are ‘a little picky’ (and I have owned some incredible top of the tree transports), so I found it super interesting, by random ‘luck’ to go around to my mates place the same fortnight he has added a streaming device to his setup (and for “I/O” to be the fourth and final ‘stream’ we played).

He had me check his screen, and it was 3000kB (or 3000 ‘somethings’) and certainly saying it was a 24/96 feed.
I have ZERO doubt a CD version (lowly 16bit 44khz using 150KB per second) will FLOG the rendition of sound that I heard at his house yesterday.
What I couldn’t believe was how far back from my version of the same album playing yesterdays playback was!

I had to ask a quick few questions like ‘what power supply’, what connection method to your data source/DAC etc?..

Amazingly I missed so many of the ‘callback’ beats and rhythms found on the album.
(that match up with earlier Gabriel’ works and really ‘up the power of the songs found herein’)
The playback lacked stage depth (massively),… although it still had ‘width’ it was a lower key playback experience overtly.
To many pundits of ‘digital is digital’ I couldn’t believe how ‘in my face’ this ‘downgrade’ was, to me, vs ‘lowly Apple music’ (not reclocked)…

If we hadn’t spun it ‘last’ I would have accused his’ tubes having been not warmed up or someother reason for the smaller soundfield and ‘overly smooth’ rendition.
This disc, as I had heard the day before in my own den setup, smashed my back wall and sidewalls and was studio mastery… every out of phase ‘flick’ and controlled positioning of audio point sources- it sounded like something that needed a 5.1/‘surround’ system to achieve (whilst being decidedly a two channel affair).

Would I suggest that streaming boxes can make a big difference on the resulting sound?
In theory, ‘yes’.
In practice; “YES!

Had I not have experienced the playback yesterday I would simply go on believing that my M11+ rendition is ‘average’.
No I KNOW it is ‘far from average’; and certainly something that many people are not fortunate enough to experience.

Whilst I do look forward to spinning the same (sans ‘hi res’) from a silver disc; it was very eye opening to see first hand the subject of much of this thread play out right before me.

Having played familiar recordings prior to that (Fleetwood Mac and even Florence (and the Machine) Unplugged, amid ‘others’), whilst I was denigrating his (new) source vs his ‘very capable’ dedicated CD transport, we did experience a huge variety in soundfield size across each recording he played back.
There was still a ‘good quality’ transport at the heart of his rig (/the ladder DAC was very capable of being tolerant to jitter that Delta/Sigma designs would baulk at), but the stream version of the discs he was playing just didn’t compare in the slightest to the digital versions of ‘the same’.
It got to the point where I was offering to stand up and do the disc swaps for him so we could listen to the ‘silver’ (/or in some instances ‘gold’) spun through his ‘good’ transport (a dedicated CD transport with no ‘analogue’ output)…

The FiiO M11+, configured well, was easily 3x the quality (a few tiers higher performance) than my friends newly installed ‘streamer’.
Like recent thread posts here have identified… having the rest of the system sorted first means that seeing the full extend of the changeup that can be made to ‘streamers’ is ‘a thing’.

I believe my friend will be trying out some of the info I offered with regards to changing power supply etc…
The journey is joyus, and -
‘everyday is a school day’
(theory of digital would implore me to believe that his ‘streaming box’ should have been an equal experience to ‘my streaming box’)(‘No!’)

Dammit… why is everything so ‘experiential’.
Can’t we all just read spec sheets and know what to expect?
smiles with’

(Cheers, too)

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If you like I/O by Peter Gabriel, please try “New Blood” also by PG.

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Just posting a series of thoughts - first published elsewhere in the forum - but seem relevant to this thread and this journey…

Repeating here, for reference, in this journey too.

Happy Listening
R

p.s. currently listening to The National : “Laugh Track”, (2023). It’s being played a lot, in our house, these past few weeks since it was released.

Things learned along the way…

Several elements to a well rounded system, with music streaming at its heart. Streamer - server - external DAC - amplifier, maybe an integrated amp. Also user interfaces for access and navigation and the internet music streaming platforms. Power supplies too, if you wish to get into that. (Maybe not PSU’s . So, leaving that for another day).

At the budget end of the streamer market, there is a plethora of offerings. Most are mentioned in other threads, in Streaming Audio. All offer something interesting. However, with a modest, more generous budget, thoughts would start some where else instead. On balance, spending on source first, as a priority with the budget.

Here are a few thoughts about what I’ve learned over recent years - experience and experiments ….

Digital sources : Reference points
Just focussing on sound quality only, here are a few reference points …

  • Naim NDX2 is better than ND5 XS2
  • ND5 XS2 + nDAC is better then bare NDX2. (Can be achieved for half the cost of NDX2). Albeit two boxes, instead of one.
  • Also, ND5 XS2 is better than (streaming component only in ) NSC222
  • ND5 XS2 is better than Innous ZENmini + LPSU, (when using their respective internal DAC’s)
  • ND5 XS2 and Innous ZENmini + LPSU - both used as transport with nDAC - both almost equal. ND5 XS2 edges it. Just.
  • Innous ZENmini + LPSU is better than ZENmini bare.
  • Innous Pulse is better than Naim ND5 XS2. Same or similar costs. ( Note : Pulse is streaming transport only. No internal DAC. So needs to be partnered with a decent external DAC ).
  • I am told, (not auditioned this myself) Innous Pulsar is equal to NDX2. Innous costs less.
  • Chord Qutest performs same or similar as Naim DAC. Maybe slightly different presentation, it’s subjective. Qutest has limited number of inputs, compared to nDAC.
  • Chord Hugo TT is better than nDAC and Qutest.

Now let’s look at whole solutions…
So, looking at Naim system ideas. (After all, this is a Naim forum).
[ Note : Suggested prices, from Nov 2023 ]

A recommendation
My opinion FWIW, putting all that together.
With what I have learned and know, would probably pursue one of these two solutions. Both are three boxes.

(1) ND5 XS2 + nDAC → SN3 ( Budget around £5,500 )
Note : There is some redundancy here, as the streamer has an internal DAC which has been paid for, but isn’t being used. This idea leads to another option…
(2) Innous Pulse + Chord Qutest → SN3 ( Budget around £ 6k )
Note : At this price point, probably the best streaming SQ out there, right now.

TBH, think the nDAC and Qutest are interchangeable in this regard. Select the one that suits you best.

The all Naim option 1 has the aesthetic appeal of being all same form factor.

Another way forward, with this option, is to take your time. Start with ND5 XS2 and SN3 for maybe around £4,500 for now. Later, add an external DAC for a nice upgrade, when you are ready. nDAC’s appear to changing hands for around £1,000 at the moment.

If you don’t so much mind mixed items, from different brands, maybe think seriously about the Innous Pulse, which is so seriously good. With any decent DAC, like the nDAC or Chord Qutest, with a SN3.

Diminutive shoe boxes
When funds allow, add the ubiquitous Innous ZENmini. It’s an absolute darling. Transfer your CD collection archive across. The ZM can become your server, for the whole house. Also offer local streaming, in one room, for any playback deceive. One nice idea is the UQ2. (If you wish, go on a journey with the ZM and add LPSU and external DAC over time ). In the meantime, add the natty NAP100 to a Uniti Qute 2 for a perfectly formed shoe box system. The ZENmini is the obvious choice to match with Naim UQ2 + NAP100. Perfect matching form factor.

If you can afford better, maybe stretch to full size better sibling Zenith mk3. Skipping the mid placed Zen on the basis that ZENmini with the LPSU gets close anyway.

At this point, it is worth noting an advantage here for the user, if both digital sources are Innous the result is a single UI - Sense - for both devices.

Think about UI
Think about user interface. FWIW, my opinion is Naim App is good. Works perfectly well. Innous Sense is better. For me, Roon is best. Maybe look at Roon further down the line.

Knowledge is good
Take time. Do lots of research research.
Go look at alternative products and ideas, with Innous and Chord products, in particular.
Look for opportunities to use some of the items you’re not familiar with. Particularly the user interfaces.

Maybe sign up for the free trials with the music streaming platforms (Tidal, Qobuz, etc) and see how they work too

Good luck

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Tried the Innous Pulse, a few weeks ago…
And the result was interesting …

Mentioned this experience briefly in a recent report, earlier in this thread.

As a result, I’m thinking about that.
There may yet be room for a Pulse in our future path. Maybe :thinking:

One idea is to send our ND5 XS2 sideways and use it with a spare NAIT XS2 + HC2, to start a system for a third room. Then, insert a Pulse into our main system, with nDAC, etc. It’s just an idea at this stage. But this loose idea is maybe further down the list of immediate priorities. There are one of two other things we wish to add to main system first.

Background & context
Been interested in this product for a while. Since the Pulse mini - Pulse - Pulsar line was announced Berlin 2022. It’s taken Innous a while to get these out into dealers. The neat thing about the Innous Pulse - stand alone streaming transport - is that it has SPDIF digital out, which allows it to be connected directly via DC1 into our nDAC. The higher end Innous items (in fact, most recent DAC’s ) require USB. Which requires an extra thing (to convert) and is maybe not so elegant. It a reason why I didn’t demo’ the higher Pulsar. Which I now assume is better still.

For the Pulsar, would go a different route and add a decent DAC from the Chord line. Maybe Hugo TT, connecting via USB.

If interesting to learn anymore about Pulse or Pulsar, you might like to chat with Ryder35, who has recent experience of owning both, used with nDAC and Hugo TT. He’s commented on this in posts above. Relevant bits are quoted below…

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

“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” …

The other thing to note (we already have Innous ZENmini server / streamer, which is a mini marvel ) is access to the well thought through and easy Innous Sense UI. Maybe better, more intuitive UI, than Naim App. FWIW, Roon is best.

Anyway, over the summer, got a great deal on a ND5 XS2, so went that route. No regrets at all. We are delighted with it. Also, the perfect aesthetic fit - form factor - with our other Naim pieces. We love it.


Image : Perfect partners : ND5XS2 - nDAC - SN3

In summary…
Innous are doing some interesting things, worth watching.

My observation is the Pulse is a viable option to consider, if you already have an nDAC (or similarly decent DAC) and are thinking about streamers. Innous Sense UI, by itself, is also worth considering. Plus, maybe don’t mind mixing differently brands and size of boxes, etc.

Hope that helps anyone thinking about a decent streamer, or streaming transport.

Best wishes
R

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Thinking about items further up the Innous line, for example their Zenith or even Statement combined server / streamer…

Having thought about “how to get the best from it” , think there are maybe two ways to go…
Both ideas involve beefing up the external DAC used, if using as a “stand alone” source, etc…

(1) Use the best USB DAC you can find or afford.

Thinking about Chord, the M-Scaler + DAVE is currently the best of their bunch.
Even the more modest HugoTT2 is a fine option.

(2) How about a Naim nDAC

Although nDAC isn’t a USB DAC, work arounds can be employed, to convert from USB to SPDIF, (lots of options out there).

It also has the advantage of partnering with an external psu, to improve SQ further. ( Naim XPS or higher 555PS or DR variants of both ).

Consider adding a psu to the nDAC, for a nice uplift

Just thoughts and digital doodles…

A follow up, to that last post…

Chatted with a good friend who has Innous Zenith mk3 and has some experience, experimenting with external DAC’s. Also, the new Innous streamer products. We discussed alternatives to the various Naim Streamers.

Thinking if decided instead - to stream from a Zentith or Statement - across a network - to a stand alone streamer. Using that streamer as the source connected in an audio system ,etc…

Innous streamers + Chord USB DAC’s,
Maybe consider the following alternative options:

PULSE & HugoTT2 against NDX2 or NSS 333

PULSAR & DAVE vs. above Naim options with XPS or NPX

ND555 probably sits out on its own.

You could also add M-Scaler to any of the Innuos + Chord options too

ND5 XS2 is a stalwart
Circling back to ND5 XS2 → DC1 → nDAC.
This presents as a capable streaming solution. But also as remarkably good value. When you consider the streamer might be found pre loved for c.£1,800 and an nDAC for around £1,000. Allowing a little more for a DC1 cable, all can be had for GBP £3k. or less.

It’s the VFM that makes this combo’ so intriguing. (Considered to be same or similar to NDX2).
Then, maybe adding a psu to the nDAC takes it higher.

If you already have one of the two, adding the second item seems a no brainer.

[ Note : prices quoted approximate, current for Nov 23 ]

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Wonderful posts @ratrat and I will study them more carefully later. Just a quick reaction to one thing you wrote in the first post: From my own experience the DAC-V1 is also a lovely machine.

So one can also substitute UQ2 with the DAC-V1 and the NAP100 (also the NAP200). That would give the Innous shoeboxes Pulse Mini and Zen Mini (the latter possibly with its PSU) a dac uplift as well.

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Completely agree
Thanks for adding that idea.
R

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I am now through most of the great write-ups @ratrat.

Another quick thought on my side, I believe some/all Innous products don’t work via Wifi.

The ND5 XS2 and NDX2 streamers excel in that regard, their predecessors not so much. For people like yourself with a good wired home network that may not be a relevant subject at all. But it is in my home, a rented apartment where one can do only the best possible via good Wifi.

May be relevant to others as well so perhaps good to mention this.

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Thanks
All material that has been posted elsewhere before.

Thought to include here, as it seems to follow a few ideas in this thread too.

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You are very welcome.
Glad you enjoyed reading everything and maybe got something positive. It’s a compliment that you’ve said something (out loud) and maybe makes all the effort worthwhile. Thank you.

To be honest, always felt it’s a bit of pay back. I’ve been a forum member for while, including with the old forum. Over time, have enjoyed reading and following other journeys. Along the way, having learned so much. It’s the least I could do to share some of the things I’ve learned, as a help and reference to others too.

Pay it forward…
(Sometimes known as “serial reciprocity”)

Seems Mr Gabriel has been in my life since the 1970’s. His music is played a lot in our house. His latest album “ i/o “ is still being processed, in the sense that it seems something new, whilst still being familiar too. Guessing you’re a fan too.

Definitely feels like he is being reflective…

And I would certainly agree HiRes recording can be variable quality.

As for the boxes, I’m also discovering the joy of different technical implementations and the audio presentations that result. Like you, maybe we have to go on a journey in order to discover all this stuff.

That sums it up nicely :+1:

Surely that would spoil all the fun.
I mean, isn’t the very point of all the work and hardship, the learning from the journey itself. :wink:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts
Keep the faith. It’s all about the joy of music.
R

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You’re welcome, but I just realised some of the economics in that don’t work out.

For example, if you have to acquire a new Pulse Mini plus a used DAC-V-1, you’re close to a pre-loved Uniti Atom HE. When you acquire a serviced NAP200 to go with that you’re approaching prices of a pre-loved Uniti Nova. It’s likely the newer machines are then preferable.

It’s a different case with an Innous Zen Mini (with or without PSU) of course, it being also a ripper/NAS. With a DAC-V1 and a NAP100 (serviced) one then creates a special shoebox system.

There are simply many options, and one has to look carefully for the ones that really make sense.

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Hello…:smiley:
A very interesting read,.but you almost completely leave out the Innous Zen mk3,which is in the same price range as the Innous Pulse.

Have you had the opportunity to listen to it against the Pulse,.it has similar functions to the Zenith mk3 but is in the Pulse’s price range.

Below is what a friend,.who has Innous Statement and who has listened to all Innous models wrote
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“Zen is an ounce warmer in tone compared to Pulse.”
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