Got a USB DAC that you'd like to put on your network? Been looking for a network DAC that supports a plethora of sample rates and protocols? Want to remove a Mac or traditional PC form your listening room? The Sonicorbiter SE may help you with these first-world problems. The Sonicorbiter SE isn't a DAC but it can breath new life and capabilities into almost any DAC available.
The Sonicorbiter SE is an Ethernet to USB (or TosLink) converter. It uses software developed by Andrew Gillis of Small Green Computer / Vortexbox fame, that runs on unmodified Cubox hardware. Sure the tiny ( 2" x 2" x 2") Cubox is a neat piece of hardware, but the Sonicorbiter SE is all about software. This is where the real value lies. It's possible to duplicate much of the Sonicorbiter SE's functionality on one's own by purchasing a Cubox or Raspberry Pi based solution, but let's get real. Nothing is more expensive than our time. If people want to spend countless hours trying to duplicate what's already available, then more power to them. I however, highly recommend outsourcing this work to Sonore by purchasing the Sonicorbiter SE (likely sold out as we speak). Plus, as of right now Joe Sixpack or Joe Bloggs can't create their own RoonReady device without working with the Roon Labs team to get the license and to get the product certified. Sonore had those boxes checked before any other company in the world.
I've been using a Sonicorbiter SE for a few weeks and totally love this little device. What's not to love about a $300 network endpoint? Well, there are a few items but I don't believe they are show stoppers. Again, this thing is $300! In this hobby that same $300 won't buy you one meter of cable.
Not A Full Fledged Review, Just A Quick Spin
Briefly, the Sonore Sonicorbiter SE is a network audio solution for SqueezeLite, ShairPort/AirPlay, MPD, DLNA, HQ Player NAA, and is RoonReady. Many of these options have been discussed for years around here, and all are still very valid ways to send music over one's network. However, I'm most interested in using the RoonReady capability of the Sonicorbiter SE. Once connected to the network, via wired Ethernet only, users can select which of the aforementioned modes they'd like to use. My unit came with RoonReady already selected, but I could have just as easily opened the Obiter's webpage and selected the RoonReady icon. There's no real configuration required and there are only a couple options. If one is using a DSD capable DAC he can select the DSD option. One option to note is the RoonReady volume control. It's possible to select Hardware, Software, or None. Based on my experience, it's best to select None. When I selected Hardware, thinking I only wanted my DAC to control the volume (hardware) the Sonicorbiter SE wouldn't appear as a RoonReady device within the Roon application. As soon as I selected None, it appeared instantly.
Since I received the Orbiter I've connected it to several DACs including my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS / Alpha USB combo, emm Labs DAC2X, Mytek Brooklyn, and many others. The Sonicorbiter SE turns these DACs into network capable devices for $300. Mark my words, the concept of the Sonicorbiter SE has legs and will become even bigger in our hobby. Plus, this specific device is only a precursor of what's to come with the Sonore microRendu. But that's a story for a later date. In my system right now, I'm running Roon on a MacBook Pro, controlling playback with an iPad Air 2, sending audio to the Sonicorbiter SE2 that is connected to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC via USB. I can't wait to simplify this setup even further when Roon releases its software to install on QNAP NAS units. Then I will use an iPad to select music on the NAS and it will be sent straight to the Orbiter. Again, that's a story for a later date.
With the Sonicorbiter SE in my system, I sent PCM audio up through 24 bit / 352.8 kHz and DSD audio up through DSD256 to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC without an issue. Gapless 24/192 and DSD64 was also a breeze. The sound quality of the Orbiter is pretty good, especially with the iFi iPower supply that's an option when purchasing the Orbiter. Readers must keep in mind that the Cubox hardware used for the Sonicorbiter SE isn't built for low noise, it's built for low price and small size.
A couple issues I ran into with the Sonicorbiter SE aren't showstoppers. First, the TosLink port requires a special adapter or cable in order to fit in the port. This is because the optical port is recessed in the plastic case. This has been the problem with Cuboxes since they were first introduced with an optical port years ago. It's nothing Sonore had control over, but I believe Sonore's Jesus Rodriguez is researching a solution for his customers. Second, I ran into a very strange problem that has taken three days to troubleshoot (as of this writing) with the Roon Labs team. The CA readers who also frequent the Roon forums will likely have seen my long thread about sending audio to the Sonicorbiter SE form Windows based Roon computers. Fortunately, the issue has been duplicated by Brian at Roon Labs, and it's not an issue that only effects the Orbiter. I found the same issue when using Auralic's Aries as a RoonReady endpoint. Two issue, that really aren't issues of the Orbiter alone, and will likely be fixed soon.
I also want to touch on Roon licensing and certification. This is a critical piece of RoonReady devices that shouldn't be overlooked. Roon doesn't use, what I consider the most non-standard standard, UPnP/DLNA, to send audio from point A to point B. Roon uses its own UDP based secret sauce for end to end control. Thus, to manufacture a RoonReady endpoint a company must work with the Roon Labs team to license its software and provide a hardware sample for certification. The software that is being licensed was created by Roon Labs and is installed on the third party manufacturer's device. In this case RoonReady software is installed on the Sonicorbiter SE. When users send audio from a Roon server to a RoonReady endpoint, they are sending it from Roon-to-Roon. This controlled environment can be considered the Apple to UPnP's Microsoft. Closed and works, versus open and should work. The certification step to being RoonReady is equally as critical. In fact, when I ran into problems with Windows based Roon servers sending audio to the Orbiter, the Roon Labs team was positive that the platform I was using worked and it even had the device in its lab for trying to replicate my problem. I know we aren't talking about sending missiles across the globe and nobody on Earth absolutely 100% NEEDS this stuff, but the whole licensing and certification process makes my music listening life much easier.
The combination of RoonReady and the Sonore Sonicorbiter SE is the beginning of something special. This tiny device can turn a "simple" USB DAC into a network capable powerhouse with more features than almost any high end DAC alone can offer. If you want to get in on the RoonReady bandwagon while it's on the ground floor and it's still inexpensive, I can't recommend the Sonore Sonicorbiter SE enough. It may not be the height of living when it comes to absolute sound quality, but at $300 I doubt it's too rich for anyone's blood. Pick one up and give it a spin. It's a great device.