Portugal is not a country that gets on the audio map very often so it’s great to find Innuos, a company with a Portuguese founder and an assembly and distribution base in that part of the world. However, in fact, Nuno Vittorio’s company began in the UK in 2009 as LIV Technology Connected and launched the Innuos brand five years later. Now, Innuos makes all things streaming from servers for audio and video through music and media players (renderers) down through hard drives, DACs, network switches, and cables. This is an unusually broad array that suggests an inclination toward the custom installation market, but which has also resulted in a range of three ZEN music servers. These all feature the stealth style casework seen in the top ZENith MkII model that’s the focus of this review. The smallest ZEN Mini starts at £599 for a 1TB HDD while the ZENith starts with a 1TB SSD at £1,999.
At a glance this server is not dissimilar to the Melco N1-A that I use as a reference. Both have a USB output for direct connection to a DAC as well as a dedicated Ethernet output that can be connected to a network player/streamer without the need for a switch. And as computer grade network switches are a source of high frequency noise and mean another pair of Ethernet cables, avoiding them is highly desirable. Effectively the ZENith incorporates a switch with a linear power supply; such things can be achieved outside of a server, but at a cost of over £200 and yet more boxes around the system. Where the Innuos differs from the Melco is that it has a built-in CD ripper that extracts data from CDs and saves that data as uncompressed FLAC files, and more significantly runs an operating system that appears to be based on that developed by Logitech for its much loved Squeezebox products (the network players that got many audio enthusiasts interested in streaming in the first place).
Server application software is what makes or breaks anything to do with network streaming. If the OS doesn’t file your music in a way that makes it easy to find and play then you are not going to want to use it, regardless of sound quality. Linn and Naim figured this out early on and have developed streaming systems that sound good and are easy to use. Sonos maxed out on the easy to use route, which is why it is the byword for network audio: the Hoover of the streaming world. Innuos’ take is to use a web-based music management system that takes most of the complexity out of organising a library. It is effectively an intelligent filing system that, when partnered with one of the control apps that the company recommends, makes music streaming an activity that even allows you to keep your hair intact.
Including a USB output also means that you don’t need a streamer in the system. Instead, you just need to connect the server to the network (wired only) and the DAC, install the appropriate app on your smartphone or tablet and, once you’ve loaded music, you’re away!