The analogue world figured out that the source is the most important part of the chain nearly fifty years ago when Ivor Tiefenbrun unleashed the Linn LP12, inarguably the best marketed turntable in the world ever. In the CD era the emphasis moved away from that philosophy with digital to analogue converters becoming the centre of attention. Now that streaming is in the ascendant it has become clear that the source is still crucial if great sound is to be achieved. I’m talking about streaming from locally stored files here rather than the Cloud, the latter may be where it’s at in the mainstream but it has yet to catch up in sound quality terms.
About this time last year I got hold of Innuos’s limited edition Zenith SE network server, at the time it was the most ambitious server the Portuguese company had made with a custom designed power supply and lots of attention paid to keeping noise at bay. It completely blew me away with transparency, timing and dynamics the like of which had eluded digital audio since time immemorial. Inconveniently for the audio connoisseurs of the world Innuos only made a 100 Zenith SEs and they sold out last year. But the company could see that there was an appetite for a genuine high end server and have created something more extreme in the Statement, a two box server with absolutely no holds barred in its design and execution.
As with the Zenith SE Innuos brought in Sean Jacobs to design the power supply, this time it’s spread it over two chassis. The larger enclosure contains the first stages of the supply with a transformer and multiple rectifiers and capacitors creating eight isolated power rails that are sent to the server proper. It’s there that each of the regulators is mounted very close to the element that they supply in order to keep noise at a minimum. We asked Sean to explain how he has done this in greater depth and you can find his explanation here.
The smaller of the two Statement cases is where the serious business of music serving goes on, this is where the SSD memory sits (available in three different sizes up to 4TB) alongside the processor that manages data transfer out of the server. Innuos has commissioned a motherboard that resists/is shielded from EMI which they have identified as a major source of corruption within audio electronics. Their philosophy is that the less noise gets in to the system the less distorted the emerging signal will be, an approach in which they are hardly alone but one where their efforts appear to be bearing particularly juicy fruit. Only one other company makes as much noise about, er, noise to my knowledge and that’s CAD, who have a pretty serious server of their own as well as ground cleaning devices.
The Statement has a dedicated USB output for DACs with its own 5V power line and reclocking by a high accuracy OCXO clock, the latter is also provided for the ethernet output. This extra clocking was introduced to improve the quality of music services such as Tidal and Qobuz as much as anything where the sound quality has always been below that available from locally stored music files. Contrasting Tidal with my own files on the Statement there is still a difference, with the external stream not being quite as relaxed as the local but it’s a lot cleaner than usual and a clear upgrade on what’s available by more conventional routes. Which in the case of streamers is direct from the router or a switch. Innuos servers have always incorporated a switch with a far cleaner power supply than those found on peripherals.
The method of getting music files onto the Statement is as per other Innuos products, you can rip discs with the onboard drive or import files from alternative locations via the my.innuos online dashboard. The latter has been improved since last year and makes it easier to quickly add files and to add artwork where none has been found by the server, there is an ‘import history’ pane that’s quite handy and the option to import from different sources: NAS drives, USB drives or from a PC on the same network. These work fairly seamlessly so long as you get your path naming correct and your files are fairly organised, that said it isn’t difficult to edit metadata once it’s on the drive.
As things stand Innuos does not have its own control app to send signal to USB connected DACs, I get the impression that this will happen one day but it’s clear that Statement and the mk3 Zen/Zenith range absorbed all the company’s R&D efforts last year. For now you can use iPeng on Apple devices and Orange Squeeze on Android ones, I used iPeng for the most part and found it to be pretty solid and reliable. I also used Roon because Statement has the option to run Roon Core which is a major bonus and means you don’t need Roon running on a PC nor a Roon Nucleus.
The arrival of the Statement coincided with my move to a new listening room which always takes a bit of adjustment and this combined with my expectation that it would do what the Zenith SE did again, which was to raise the bar so high that nothing else came within reach, meant that I was initially a bit underwhelmed by its performance. However, with time it became apparent that this is an astonishingly revealing server, one that is clearly superior to the SE and thus far and away the best example of the breed that I have heard. It is in the first instance unfeasibly quiet, the noise floor has to all intents and purposes disappeared so that you can hear the very quietest sounds in a recording. This means you get incredible levels of detail and the most open and expansive soundstages ever encountered, and, equally important, even more scorching guitar. Or you do if you spin ZZ Top’s ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ (Tres Hombres, Warner Bros).
The reason that it burns so hot is that the hash between notes has been removed leaving the leading and trailing edges as clean and clear as the artist and engineer heard them in the studio. Separation with this server is extraordinary, between instruments, voices, notes, you name it, it is nearly always possible to differentiate all of the sounds on a recording. Some music deliberately blurs these boundaries but where several or more musicians are playing lots of notes this clarity is a transformation, and the denser the music is the more obvious the benefits of the Statement’s ability to present it coherently. It opens up space both in imaging and timing terms, this is a quality you get with great turntables, an unfolding of the recording to make the time for the notes to form and trail away at whatever tempo they need to. This the Statement does with utmost ease and the better the accompanying streamer and or DAC the easier it is to appreciate.
I particularly enjoyed the image scale that the Statement revealed, it’s not the bloom/halo effect you get with some tube amps because the size and nature changes with every album or track played. Beck’s ‘Heart Like a Drum’ (Morning Phase) usually sounds big, but here you can tell that the reverb has been turned up to max and then some, it’s not natural but it is nice to have the room filled with coherent sound in a fashion that Dolby Atmos and the like can only dream of. Regardless of whether you use the USB to DAC or ethernet to streamer outputs the resolution is astounding, pieces you thought you knew reveal new facets and depths and it’s impossible not to be drawn into the music. The other very appealing characteristic is that everything sounds so relaxed and effortless, I thought that the Zenith SE was good in this respect – it is – but Statement takes another layer of grain away. This is what eliminating noise in the source means, a more natural, less digital sound that seriously competes with the best turntables. In fact where bass is concerned you’d have to have a top flight turntable, arm and cartridge to get near it. And I’m a vinyl enthusiast with far too many records to prove it, but with a great streamer like the Naim NDX2/XPS2 the dynamics and low frequency coherence makes me wonder if time has not come to change my ways.
Contrasting the Zenith SE and the Statement is interesting, you get more space, more detail and less grain/sweeter cleaner treble with Statement, but the timing remains pretty much the same. It’s essentially a lower distortion version of what was already very, very clean sound. And the sense of space is extraordinary, I’ve not encountered imaging like it nor have I heard digitally sourced highs that on the one hand are shiny and vibrant but on the other are relaxed. It really is a best of both worlds experience. As you can see from the list below I tried a number of streamers and DACs with the Statement and each brought something different to the picture, but once again the streamers had the upper hand in terms of musicality. The Statement’s USB output has narrowed the gap however, the result I got with both the ifi and CAD DACs was the best I’ve ever encountered with this connection.
The longer you let the Statement settle in the better it sounds, it’s like a Naim component in this respect, and by the end of the server’s far too short (month long) tenure I was getting seriously addicted to it. Whether streaming Ryley Walker on Tidal or Bugge Wesseltoft from the drive it has a beguiling transparency and openness that is dangerous to get used to, especially as it has inevitably to go back. The Statement is a more subtle source than most, its qualities are those of omission, it leaves out the distortion so that the music can come through. In this and all other respects this Innuos is a genuine state of the art component, put it on your ‘must hear’ bucket list straight away.
Source: Innuos Zenith SE server
DACs: CAD 1543 MkII, ifi Pro iDSD
Streamers: Auralic Aries G2, Naim NDX2/XPS2
Amplifier: Townshend Allegri passive pre, ATC P2 power
Loudspeakers: PMC fact.8, Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3
Stands & supports: Townshend Seismic Bases and equipment racks
Signal cables: Townshend Fractal and Naim Super Lumina interconnect and Fractal F1 speaker cable
Power cables: Isotek, AudioQuest, Russ Andrews