Innuos Pulsemini network streamer
The Pulsemini which is the first dedicated streamer from Innuos, a brand that has been making servers and other streaming components for what must be nearly a decade and are now established as a frontrunner in the field. There are two full width Pulse models in the pipeline, the Pulse which is due in December and Pulsar that will be available next year.
The Pulsemini (pronounced as two words: Pulse mini) is indeed mini, this keeps the price down to just below £900 but does not compromise quality of build or tech which is high and up to the minute.
The Innuos Zen servers have streaming tech within them albeit usually this is limited to a USB output, the Zenmini also offers analogue outputs, but as a rule separate streamers outperform those built into servers 99 times out of 100. The Pulsemini has an onboard DAC which is good for data rates up to 24/192 which covers 99.999% of all music, those wanting to play DSD or higher resolution PCM will need a partnering DAC. This unit has two SPDIF digital outputs alongside USB, and there are four of the latter.
I assumed that the multiple USB ports were for adding USB drives that the Pulsemini could play music files from but that’s not the case, this streamer is designed to stream from NAS drives or dedicated audio servers. Apparently the ports can be used for multiple DACs should you wish and Innuos may add the option to play files from a USB drive in future . Of course many prefer to stick with streaming services and these can be accessed with the impressive Innuos Sense app, software that competes with the best when it comes to ease of use and quality of interface. Sense offers access to Qobuz and Tidal streaming services and will get Deezer and Highresaudio services in future with dedicated classical service Idagio a little further down the line. At present there is no onboard MQA decoding provided for Tidal Masters but this is being developed for a future software update.
Net radio enthusiasts can use the Tunein internet radio service with a preset system to store favourite stations, Innuos get you started with a preset for the popular Radio Paradise stream. As we discovered on another streamer there are some issues with Tunein at present which limits access to certain channels, this is because the premium version allows recording which has incurred the wrath of a multinational music corporation. Innuos are looking at adding the Airable radio service as an alternative.
Sense is a bit like Roon inasmuch as the artist listing is populated with artist images wherever possible, you get some unusual pictures but they are generally the right person or band. The search function is better than most and will look at any music storage that’s attached as well as any streaming service that you are signed into, it will even search the playlists of internet radio stations.
Pulsemini can be connected to your network with ethernet but not over wi-fi which is a little surprising given the multiroom potential of this streamer, Innuos say that this is because cables are more reliable and provide better sound quality.
I like the fact that although the Pulsemini is the least expensive model in the range it still has an artfully machined facia, and unlike the Zen products this has a concave point which is much harder to achieve than the usual convex variety. This stealth dimple is subtle but stylish and something to look at while you try to find the on/off button, this is small and hidden underneath the facia, a single press prompts a round white light to appear on the surface below.
Inside the box is a custom motherboard with quad core processor and 4GB of RAM for the InnuOS which runs the server software and manages the processing of network signals. The power supply is an external switching type that provides 16V to the Pulsemini, at present Innuos do not have any plans to offer a dedicated linear power supply but you can use the one they make for the Zenmini server for £699.
Pulsemini sound quality
When setting up the Pulsemini it will automatically send signal to the analogue output, it’s only when a DAC is connected by USB that this digital outputs take precedence, which is logical once you know but can confuse the unwary (reviewer). The Sense app has a volume control that you can operate from the listening seat but this is a slider that’s difficult to make small changes with, tapping works better than dragging though and the next update will add plus and minus buttons to make it easier.
The internal DAC gives a pretty sophisticated result with plenty of fine detail and nuance that makes background sounds easy to follow even if they are masked by a voice or lead instrument. It is tonally strong too with plenty of flesh on the sonic bone but no thickness or extra richness added to give a false sense of polish. As ever with Innuos the timing is great, precise and well measured, Meshell Ndegeocello’s version of Who Is He (And What Is He To You) is controlled and solid, the music working its way slowly into your psyche and spreading good vibes.
The guitar on Beck’s Paper Tiger is superb, the Melody Nelson influence on this piece as clear as day which is no bad thing of course. I also tried a DSD version of the same track via an iFi Pro iDSD DAC and that worked a treat, with timing better than this format usually delivers alongside all the finesse expected of it. The CD rip was notably coarser and less detailed and didn’t have the timing advantage that it usually does, which suggests that the Pulsemini is doing a fine job with the 1-bit format. It inspired me to play the original Melody Nelson (Serge Gainsbourg) and it sounded cracking, the deep tone of the bass and knife edge of electric guitar nearly as rich as the gravelly vocal. Gil Scott heron’s voice on I’m New Here was visceral in its realism, its sense of presence in the room positively palpable, modern recordings have a clear advantage in this respect even if they don’t have the relaxed analogue character of older ones.
The Pulsemini is notably open and articulate via its USB output, bringing murky mixes to life and letting you hear an awful lot of what’s going on both in and out of the spotlight, DAC allowing of course.
The Innuos Pulsemini is not inexpensive but it has a strong feature set and a good pedigree as well as very high build quality. Anyone looking to get a good start with streaming should consider it and likewise anyone with a decent DAC will be surprised at what it can deliver. It competes with entry level models from the big brands by keeping the casework compact and devoid of displays with the money spent where it counts. The Sense app is excellent too and an a clear upgrade on the apps found with some of the more established brands in this game. All in all the Pulsemini is a streamer that can deliver high resolution musical entertainment to an impressive standard for its price.