• SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE with Audiophile Optimizer Review



    Over the last several years Korea's SOtM has continued to gain traction in the HiFi world. More recently, Switzerland's Highend-AudioPC has become a major player in the high end computer audio market with its Audiophile Optimizer product. It seemed like a match made in audio heaven, that I couldn't resist, when the two companies paired up to produce the sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition music server. Add to that the SOtM sPS-1000 linear power supply and Roon from Roon Labs, and I was off to the audio races. But, I wasn’t simply looking for a good solution that I could use, I was looking for a solution that combined many items from which a typical audiophile might shy away, namely a custom computer, add-on USB card, custom internal clock, Windows Server software, and Audiophile Optimizer (that ships with a sixty page user manual by itself). The sMS-1000SQ WE ships with all of the above pre-installed. I can already hear many members of the Computer Audiophile Community grumbling because they have recently assembled all the parts to build a custom computer and read the entire AO manual in preparation for a challenging and time consuming installation process, when maybe they should have considered purchasing the SOtM sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition.



    The Details


    Before I get into the details of the server hardware and software, I want to quickly cover a good use case for the sMS-1000SQ WE. Many audiophiles currently using a standard computer for audio playback in a high end system are interested in something better than what’s offered by Apple with its Mac Mini or commodity PC hardware running an unruly Windows operating system. These audiophiles are also interested in a component that looks the part, when placed in a rack with other expensive audio components. In addition, the idea of a network interface and the rare but possible problems that can arise with streaming audio from a NAS aren’t appealing to these folks and they’d prefer a more all-in-one unit with local storage. Last, there are many audiophiles who’ve heard great things about Audiophile Optimizer, but have no ability or desire to build a custom computer, install Windows Server 2012 R2, and configure Audiophile Optimizer. It’s not rocket science and I submit that almost anyone can do it, but I completely understand the resistance. There are other solutions that fit most of this bill, but only the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE really nails it with the hardware and software combination that checks all the boxes for which some audiophile are looking.

    Executive summary: If one wants custom hardware and highly customized software, and a nice looking component, and isn’t capable or doesn’t want to go the DIY route, then the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE should be considered.

    Note: There are other reasons why this server may be necessary such as a DAC that doesn’t work well with Linux and need for DSD512 that may require a Windows driver, among other things.







    Hardware


    The sMS-1000SQ WE is built on an Intel based 64-bit motherboard with an Atom N2800 1.8 GHz CPU and 4 GB of RAM. It ships with a number of storage options including a mix of SSD sizes for the operating system and music storage or up to a 4 TB spinning drive for music storage. Connection to a USB DAC is done through the pre-installed tX-USBexp PCIe card, what SOtM considers an audio grade USB 3.0 port. This card has an external power input jack, USB power on/off switch, and supports output of the highest PCM bit depth and sample rates (32/384) and DSD up through DSD512. The input voltage of the tX-USBexp PCIe card is +6.5V ~ +9Vdc at 2A maximum (5.5mm OD, 2.1mm ID DC adaptor jack), while the output voltage is a standard USB +5.0V. The review unit I received also came with the sCLK-xxxx Series Clock Ultra Low Noise Clock Upgrade.

    The sMS-1000SQ WE requires +19Vdc for the power input (maximum of 60W). My review unit shipped with the SOtM sPS-1000 linear power supply capable of powering both the server and the tX-USBexp PCIe card. This power supply is built like many HiFi components, using an Ultra Low Noise Regulator circuit and a built-in Noise filter to block the noise coming from AC power line.

    The sPS-1000 features three separate power output ports, one each for high, mid, and low output. Within these three outputs, there are four selectable voltages. This is a really nice feature because it enables the user to connect the power supply to countless devices from SOtM and any number of manufacturers.


    • Output one is for high voltage levels such as 18Vdc, 19Vdc, 20Vdc, and 21Vdc (maximum 4A). This is usually the output that powers a music server and is the one that I used for the sMS-1000SQ WE.
    • Output two is for medium voltage levels such as 9Vdc, 10Vdc, 11Vdc, and 12Vdc (maximum 2A). This output is capable of powering a component such as the sDP-1000 from SOtM. This is the company’s DAC / preamp.
    • Output three is for low voltage levels such as 5Vdc, 5.5Vdc, 6Vdc, and 7Vdc (maximum 1A). This is a perfect output for the SOtM tX-USBexp PCIe card in the sMS-1000SQ WE server.


    Both the sMS-1000SQ WE and sPS-1000 are housed in nearly identical chassis. The build quality is very nice and not something one can obtain going the DIY route. Both units looked right at home in my system with Constellation Audio, Berkeley Audio Design, and Mytek Digital.








    Software


    The SOtM sMS-1000 SQ WE run the Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system. I remember when I first read that people were using this operating system for music servers and I thought it was major overkill and a bit ridiculous. However, it’s part of a formula that also enabled Audiophile Optimizer to do its work, and leads to impressive results. As of this writing, AO is about to be published for both Win2012 Server and Windows 10. I’m unsure if SOtM will be able to take advantage of this fact and use Windows 10 with AO on future versions of the sMS-1000SQ WE, possibly reducing the cost of the final product. For all intents and purposes the end user shouldn’t really care what OS is running on this server because the magic is done by Highend-AudioPC’s Audiophile Optimizer. Plus, there is nothing to configure in the OS, so the user doesn’t really interact with the OS for anything and especially not music playback.

    What Audiophile Optimizer is all about it whipping the computer into shape and controlling every bit and byte that traverses the system. AO fine tunes the OS with such items as sound signatures and digital filter modes that remain bit perfect but, "change the way the operating systems handles the running tasks and their priorities as they relate to the operational state of the CPU." The digital filters shouldn't be mistaken for what many audiophiles consider digital filters that run inside a DAC or in software such as HQPlayer. Other features of AO include Kernel Streaming, automatic registry optimization for memory and CPU management, power settings, network tuning, and many other items. The list of things tweaked and tuned with AO is far longer than we have time for in a review of the SOtM products under discussion, but I encourage everyone to both read the user manual to take a look at what I'm writing about, you may be amazed (or not), and to try AO for yourself. If installing the OS and AO looks like a bridge too far for you, then simply cut to the chase by auditioning the SOtM server and power supply combination.

    Two other items to note about using Audiophile Optimizer on the sMS-1000SQ WE. 1. The SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE runs like an audio appliance because AO is installed. Traditional installations of Windows require maintenance with updates. In fact some versions of Windows make it nearly impossible for a layman to disable automatic updates. With AO installed there is nothing to do to the server and nothing that's automatically done behind the scenes. It's like the server is in a frozen state. This is really nice for nervous audiophiles who suspect any fluctuation will cause a change in sound quality. 2. Even though the sMS-1000SQ WE comes pre-installed with AO, users should make sure they have support from the dealer, SOtM, or Highend-AudioPC before purchasing the unit. There may be times when a little help is needed. For example, I couldn't get the driver for my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB installed on the sMS-1000SQ WE, no matter what I tried. Phil from Highend-AudioPC connected to the server remotely and had the issue solved in flash.

    Music management and playback on the sMS-1000SQ WE can be accomplished by a number of applications including Roon, RoonServer, RoonBridge, Tidal, Qobuz, Foobar2k, JRiver Media Center, and many others. This server will not be powerful enough to run HQPlayer and take advantage of all its sample rate and filter features. I was successful in running NAA on the sMS-1000SQ WE with HQPlayer running on a more powerful machine elsewhere in my system. I had no problems sending DSD256 through the server to a Mytek Brooklyn DAC. Even with listed support of several applications, the real issue comes down to control of the apps for playback and library management. Sure, it's possible to install the Tidal desktop software on the server, but using Remote Desktop to control the application isn't my idea of fun. During the review I focussed mainly on the sMS-1000SQ WE running RoonServer and JRiver Media Center.



    In My System


    I connected the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE and sPS-1000 combination to my system in two configurations. In the first configuration I used the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB between the server and my Alpha DAC Reference Series 2. In the second configuration I connected the server directly to the Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC via USB. I used a Constellation Audio Inspiration PreAmp 1.0 and Inspiration Mono 1.0 Amps, with all Wire World 7 Series Platinum cabling. The loudspeakers used were my TAD Labs CR1s, that have remained in my reference system since 2011. I used the sMS-1000SQ WE mostly as a RoonServer and controlled everything with an Apple iPad Air 2. Readers should note that even though RoonServer is much less resource intensive than the full graphical version of Roon, when running on the sMS-1000SQ WE the Roon iOS interface is a little slow. For example executing searches within Roon can return results several seconds slower than Roon running on a very fast computer. The difference is between a nearly instant search result and one that may take 2, 3, or 4 seconds. This delay was completely acceptable to me during the review period, but like everything in life, each user will have to decide for him or herself if this is OK.

    I've had this SOtM combination for a few months and in that time I've listened to way more albums than one likely cares to read about. Lately I've been playing a steady stream of Jack Johnson, Miles Davis, Rage Against The Machine, and Bob Dylan. The best sound quality I heard while listening to albums from these artists was while I played Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Girl From The North Country sounded very engaging and natural. Bob's harmonica, that can frequently sound too loud and a bit annoying on this track, was just a touch softer than normal. I could certainly live with this minute bit of softness as it made the track more enjoyable and less painful. Those familiar with this track will understand what I'm talking about when I describe the harmonica as painful, even though it's a fabulous song. On Down The Highway, the opening of the track with Bob's acoustic guitar and pure vocal, the sound was again very natural and perhaps just a skosh tube-like. The sound was a bit rounded on the edges, but nicely so. The overall sound quality I heard while listening to this album was really good and had a character that many audiophiles will find very enjoyable and satisfying.

    Sticking with political messages, but switching the tone of those messages up as much as possible, I'll move on to Rage Against The Machine. The band's original release of its self-titled debut album was mastered by Bob Ludwig with pretty decent dynamic range for a recording of this style. The track Killing In The Name had plenty of punch and power through the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE and sPS-1000 combination. Clicking over to Take The Power Back, the opening kick drum and bass notes had a nice realism to their sound while the strange guitar sounds coming from both channels revealed a bit of delicacy. That could be the first time someone has described anything done by Rage Against The Machine as delicate.

    Finishing up with what I consider the best album ever created, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, the 24/192 version remastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios in 2013. The sound of this album reproduced by the SOtM combo was really nice, but may not be for everyone. For example on Flamenco Sketches, Miles' trumpet was softened more than I am used to and the overall sound was a bit more laid back than what I normally hear through my system. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, rather it's a distinction between the SOtM and other sources and a difference that is apparent in my system. Depending on one's entire system and desired sound, this may be exactly what some readers need to get their systems to the next level of reproduction that increases their level of enjoyment of music and this wonderful hobby.



    Conclusion


    The teamwork of Korea's SOtM and Switzerland's Highend-AudioPC has produced the sMS-1000SQ WE music server. SOtM handles the hardware and Highend-AudioPC handles the software with its Audiophile Optimizer. Until now, the only way for audiophiles to get the combination of similar hardware and software was to go the DIY route. The DIY challenge is a bridge too far for many in this hobby, and that's understandable. Fortunately, these two companies saw the demand for such a product and filled this gap. In addition, the sMS-1000SQ WE, with its near universal support for high PCM and DSD sample rates and DAC drivers, will enable users to bypass the limitations of current drivers for Mac and Linux platforms. The sound quality from this hardware and software combination is very nice and distinctive from other source options. Those seeking a natural and smooth playback sound that may eliminate some of the harsh realities of our favorite recordings should certainly consider the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE server running Audiophile Optimizer and the SOtM sPS-1000 power supply to fit their system needs.






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    Product Information:













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    Comments 11 Comments
    1. sdolezalek's Avatar
      sdolezalek -
      Chris: For those of us who are looking to find a good computer front-end for a DSD512 solution like the T+A DAC8 DSD, it isn't clear from your description whether the sMS-1000SQ WE could provide that solution. At the moment using HQPlayer to do the upsampling and then sending that through a Sonicorbiter or microRendu is limited by the Linux configuration of the NAA. Presumably the Windows-based sMS-1000SQ WE addresses that problem, but it isn't clear whether you can run HQPlayer on that machine or whether, in your configuration, it has the horsepower to handle DSD512 upsampling.

      Any thoughts?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by sdolezalek View Post
      Chris: For those of us who are looking to find a good computer front-end for a DSD512 solution like the T+A DAC8 DSD, it isn't clear from your description whether the sMS-1000SQ WE could provide that solution. At the moment using HQPlayer to do the upsampling and then sending that through a Sonicorbiter or microRendu is limited by the Linux configuration of the NAA. Presumably the Windows-based sMS-1000SQ WE addresses that problem, but it isn't clear whether you can run HQPlayer on that machine or whether, in your configuration, it has the horsepower to handle DSD512 upsampling.

      Any thoughts?
      Good question. This server will not have enough power to satisfactorily use HQPlayer converting to DSD512. It will be able to run NAA and accept a DSD512 stream and output it to the DAC.
    1. sdolezalek's Avatar
      sdolezalek -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Good question. This server will not have enough power to satisfactorily use HQPlayer converting to DSD512. It will be able to run NAA and accept a DSD512 stream and output it to the DAC.
      That makes it a pretty expensive NAA... You wouldn't want to hazard a preference from a sonic performance standpoint between the sMS-1000SQ WE and the microRendu (when each are only behaving as an NAA)? I fully understand if you choose not to...

      Overall, I think we are approaching a really interesting juncture in choosing between very powerful (but noisier) copmputer hardware/software front ends that upsample everything to whatever works best in our DACs but connect to them in a NAS/Switch/NAA/USB reclocker configuration and more purpose built (and presumably quieter) computers that we put into our listening room and direct-connect to the DAC (thereby eliminating the NAS/Switch/NAA/reclocker).
    1. mrvco's Avatar
      mrvco -
      Did the Berkeley and Mytek configurations deliver the same results?
    1. phusis's Avatar
      phusis -
      Quote Originally Posted by sdolezalek View Post
      That makes it a pretty expensive NAA... You wouldn't want to hazard a preference from a sonic performance standpoint between the sMS-1000SQ WE and the microRendu (when each are only behaving as an NAA)? I fully understand if you choose not to...

      Overall, I think we are approaching a really interesting juncture in choosing between very powerful (but noisier) copmputer hardware/software front ends that upsample everything to whatever works best in our DACs but connect to them in a NAS/Switch/NAA/USB reclocker configuration and more purpose built (and presumably quieter) computers that we put into our listening room and direct-connect to the DAC (thereby eliminating the NAS/Switch/NAA/reclocker).
      In a sense I'd regard Mr. Connaker's preference as irrelevant (not that I wouldn't want to learn of it), but you could choose to interpret it nonetheless through his sonic descriptions; the sMS-1000SQ as having the overall nice, slightly laid-back, pleasing and "distinctive" sonic feature (which in my reading is imposing a subtle element of character, even "filtering"), versus the impression formed of the mR-implementation as the more transparent, "objective," ultimately resolving and closer-to-the-music solution. The way I see it you'd be more inclined to reveal your preference through sheer excitement rather than talk of signature and something being "nice"..

      Perhaps I find the review of the sMS-1000SQ surprising even given its slightly reserved nature, and could put into perspective the impact of the mR (or its "kind") as a new reference(?) compared to the more powerful and complex server solutions - i.e.: the juncture you're pointing out. Myself I've held out a bit on purchasing the sMS-1000SQ (or similar) precisely because of this, from a progressive interest in the smaller, tailor-made solutions like the mR and SOtM sMS-200.
    1. Elberoth's Avatar
      Elberoth -
      Quote Originally Posted by sdolezalek View Post
      That makes it a pretty expensive NAA... You wouldn't want to hazard a preference from a sonic performance standpoint between the sMS-1000SQ WE and the microRendu (when each are only behaving as an NAA)? I fully understand if you choose not to...
      +1

      Chris, it would be with great benefit to your reviews - and I think that is the view shared by many of us - if your reviews contained comparisions to competitive products, or at least the gear you are using (which is pretty constant).

      The lack of direct comparision to the Sonore product (both SOTM and Sonore can work as NAA), reviewed just 2 week ago, is the most obvious.

      Soundstage does that, Stereophile in the 90's used to do that.

      I can understand politics, income from the advertisers, but still ...
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      Read between the lines. Re: the SOTM, "the sound quality...is very nice." The microRendu has his system sounding the best it ever has. It's like parsing letters of recommendation to sort out what they really say about the applicant.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      With all due respect, you guys sure like to read into things. There are no lines to be read between. I stated exactly what I think.
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      Chris, I don't for a nanosecond doubt your sincerity and the fact that you evaluated each system separately and without making any direct comparisons. On the other hand, astute readers will evaluate reviews, be they online or in print, with a critical eye, looking for indicators that may give them information as to what they might best choose when it comes to spending their hard earned money(and limited leisure time). In fact, that is why we read music/book/movie/audio equipment reviews in the first place. I'll conclude this post with some of your own written words verbatim without any editing bias, italics or boldface type interjected and forum readers can refer to them and draw their own conclusions:

      SOtM

      "I've had this SOtM combination for a few months and in that time I've listened to way more albums than one likely cares to read about. Lately I've been playing a steady stream of Jack Johnson, Miles Davis, Rage Against The Machine, and Bob Dylan. The best sound quality I heard while listening to albums from these artists was while I played Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Girl From The North Country sounded very engaging and natural. Bob's harmonica, that can frequently sound too loud and a bit annoying on this track, was just a touch softer than normal. I could certainly live with this minute bit of softness as it made the track more enjoyable and less painful. Those familiar with this track will understand what I'm talking about when I describe the harmonica as painful, even though it's a fabulous song. On Down The Highway, the opening of the track with Bob's acoustic guitar and pure vocal, the sound was again very natural and perhaps just a skosh tube-like. The sound was a bit rounded on the edges, but nicely so. The overall sound quality I heard while listening to this album was really good and had a character that many audiophiles will find very enjoyable and satisfying.

      Sticking with political messages, but switching the tone of those messages up as much as possible, I'll move on to Rage Against The Machine. The band's original release of its self-titled debut album was mastered by Bob Ludwig with pretty decent dynamic range for a recording of this style. The track Killing In The Name had plenty of punch and power through the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE and sPS-1000 combination. Clicking over to Take The Power Back, the opening kick drum and bass notes had a nice realism to their sound while the strange guitar sounds coming from both channels revealed a bit of delicacy. That could be the first time someone has described anything done by Rage Against The Machine as delicate.

      Finishing up with what I consider the best album ever created, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, the 24/192 version remastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios in 2013. The sound of this album reproduced by the SOtM combo was really nice, but may not be for everyone. For example on Flamenco Sketches, Miles' trumpet was softened more than I am used to and the overall sound was a bit more laid back than what I normally hear through my system. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, rather it's a distinction between the SOtM and other sources and a difference that is apparent in my system. Depending on one's entire system and desired sound, this may be exactly what some readers need to get their systems to the next level of reproduction that increases their level of enjoyment of music and this wonderful hobby.

      The sound quality from this hardware and software combination is very nice and distinctive from other source options. Those seeking a natural and smooth playback sound that may eliminate some of the harsh realities of our favorite recordings should certainly consider the SOtM sMS-1000SQ WE server running Audiophile Optimizer and the SOtM sPS-1000 power supply to fit their system needs."

      microRendu

      "The Sonore microRendu is the hottest piece of hardware in HiFi. It's versatile while avoiding the jack of all trades moniker. The mR was custom designed and built to deliver USB audio in the most pristine way possible, and it accomplishes this goal magnificently. Versatile software with uncompromising inflexible hardware is a great combination. There is one way in and one way out, Ethernet to USB. Don't like it, move on. Those willing to try the microRendu will likely be as impressed as I am. With the mR in my system, I'm getting the best sound I've ever heard in my house. That said, it may not be the best "source" available because all components are user and system dependent. Users seeking local storage, network-less audio, and a software/hardware solution from a single vendor must look elsewhere. Everyone else should seek out the microRendu without apprehension. The ultra low noise bespoke design of this unit, a micro computer designed for audio only, has lead to some amazing listening experiences for me over the last several weeks. From the beautiful distortion of Hendrix to the simplistic vocals and whisper soft trumpet of Chet Baker, the microRendu enabled all the music to shine in its best light. I don't believe I've had a sonically better source connected to my system at any time."
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by esimms86 View Post
      Chris, I don't for a nanosecond doubt your sincerity and the fact that you evaluated each system separately and without making any direct comparisons. On the other hand, astute readers will evaluate reviews, be they online or in print, with a critical eye, looking for indicators that may give them information as to what they might best choose when it comes to spending their hard earned money(and limited leisure time). In fact, that is why we read music/book/movie/audio equipment reviews in the first place.
      Thanks esimms86. I hope to provide some useful information to help people make those decisions. I think you nailed it when you said "limited leisure time."

      I hope my exact words help people make decisions, whatever those decisions may be. I don't intend to force people to read between the lines. In the two reviews mentioned in the comments here, I hope I made it clear that each component has a use case and a raison d'etre. For the most part, I don't see the mR and the sMS as direct competitors - feature for feature. If someone wants to place both units in NAA mode or similar, then they get a bit closer, but there are still feature differences to discuss in addition to sonic difference.

      I completely understand the desire for more information, it's something I consistently want as well. My fear is that I would be offering a disservice to readers if I suggested that one product is better than another, when clearly the two products are quite different. Sonically I prefer one over the other and I think my direct language is pretty clear on this. However, I tried to state the sonic differences in a way that people who prefer something other than I do, can use this information. I covered the features of the sMS more thoroughly in this review because it offers quite a bit more than something like the mR. If for example we go back to placing both units in the NAA mode, the sMS is going to have much more universal support because it runs Windows and will enable DSD512 playback into a DAC like the T+A DAC8 DSD. If this is important to you, than it's a showstopper for the mR. Anyway, there is so much more to each product than a head-to-head comparison can deliver, within the context of a single product review. We may be able to get somewhere if the two products were the mR and the SOSE.

      Thank again for your follow up and for your contributions to CA since 2009.
    1. esimms86's Avatar
      esimms86 -
      Well stated Chris. And thanks for the kind words.

      Esau