A dedicated streaming music server has but one overriding purpose: to enable the discovery and delivery of digitally encoded music— and then get out of the way. Ideally, it performs like the best of servants, keeping everything in order, noting items worthy of attention, doing exactly as its master wishes, and then bowing out without drawing attention to itself.
For probably the majority of music-lovers, an all-purpose computer, used for pretty much everything except washing dishes, serves as their music server. Some use a dedicated computer reserved solely for music playback.
Typical computers, though—dedicated or not—aren’t optimized for music playback; because they run all sorts of processes irrelevant to audio, and, because noise usually doesn’t affect nonmusical functions, they are saddled with noise—not the directly audible kind, but the kind that pollutes audio signals and makes them sound worse, in a variety of ways. The noise comes not just from apps working in the background—antivirus software, word processors, and a host of nondefeatable, automatically updating programs—but also from ports and pathways designed for multiple functions and not engineered to keep polluting EMI away from precious music signals.
Enter the dedicated high-end audio server, a class that includes the Innuos Statement music server/streamer/ripper ($13,750 and up), the flagship server from a Portuguese company that makes nothing but. Innuos was founded in 2013 by software engineers Nuno Vitorino and Amelia Santos, who met in 1994 as university students and, later, got married. Seeds for the company were planted in 2009, when Vitorino assembled a music server in his garage, offered it on eBay, and sold 200 units in six months.
“When I started Innuos, there was nothing available for people who were not technologically savvy,” Vitorino explained in an interview via Skype. Seven years later, thanks in no small part to Managing Director Santos’s INSEADhoned business skills,1 the company employs teams of software and hardware developers and is expanding to new headquarters with a sound room exceeding 500 square feet. Building that room was essential for the couple, whose two children, ages 5 and 9, frequently commandeer the home system to watch Paw Patrol.
“We own the company 100%,” Vitorino said. “We wanted to do our own vision and remain independent of investors or private-equity companies who might alter our approach in order to get their investment back fast. The good thing is that we’ve always been profitable.”
Innuos unveiled a prototype of the Statement at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and launched the product in early 2019. At the 2019 RMAF, they launched the PhoenixUSB reclocker. Expected next is PhoenixNET, an Ethernet reclocker, which Vitorino likens to an audiophile network switch. In 2020, Innuos intends to completely revamp its software while also expanding the company’s reach beyond Europe and North America, to Asia in particular.
I first met Vitorino at RMAF 2019, where I briefly auditioned several of the company’s servers. It quickly became clear that, as the most transparent of the lot, the Statement was the most appropriate Innuos product for use in my reference setup. I set up a review.
The two-box Statement’s “power unit” connects to its server via two short umbilical cords. The boxes are intended to be stacked, with the power unit on bottom, to keep the umbilical lengths short—shorter lengths presumed to be less susceptible to noise pollution than longer ones. Longer cords are available for users who must, or prefer, to put the two boxes side by side or on different shelves.
The power unit box is reserved for coarse AC/DC conversion. Eight cable pairs, each containing a power wire and its ground, carry otherwise untreated DC power to the top box via the two umbilical cords. Regulation occurs in the top box.
Once regulated to “nice, clean, steady power”—Vitorino’s words—this direct current travels over very short cable lengths, soldered point-to-point, to the server unit’s individual component blocks. “We don’t give the power a chance to get polluted again,” Vitorino said. “If we located the entire PS in the bottom box and did the regulation there as well, the clean power would have to go through cable connectors, external cables, more connectors, and then internal cable. Along the way, it would pick up all sorts of . . . interference. You can shield it, you can protect, but it’s never 100% perfect. Our arrangement allows us to send cleaner power to the server’s different components.”
The DC emerging from the bottom box comprises eight separate supplies: three for each voltage of the motherboard, one for the CPU, one for the SSD storage device, one for the Ethernet Reclocker board, one for the USB Reclocker Board, and one that feeds only the USB clock. (The Statement uses OCXO clocks—oven-controlled crystal oscillators, which are large because their mass allows more carefully controlled internal temperature, hence superior stability, to the oscillator. There are separate clocks for the USB and Ethernet boards.)
Regulators, which are intended to ensure stable power, can themselves be a source of noise. Which is why “there are no switching regulators on our USB board,” Vitorino told me. “Switching regulators are quite efficient, but they create a lot of noise because they oscillate a lot.” Instead, the external supplies provide the board with the three voltage levels it needs, each voltage level stabilized by discrete, low noise LT3045 regulators. “The objective is low noise and a better-timed signal,” Vitorino told me.
Vitorino also told me that the normal precision of an oscillator on a computer motherboard or USB board is about 30 parts per million. “Ours is 3 parts per billion,” he said. “Our clocks, handmade in the US, are the kind used in missiles and aviation because they offer less noise and greater precision. To get as much precision out of our clocks as we can, we use two independent clocks at the right frequencies, 24MHz for USB and 25MHz for Ethernet. The clock signal travels directly through the board without using cables. The better timed the signal is that you send your DAC, the less work the DAC has to do to interpret the results.”
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