Innuous Zenith Mk3 and Phoenix vs Esoteric N-05XD

I own the Zenith and Phoenix, came from computer audio and was amazed at the quality difference these made, along with upgraded power cords, to transform my 20 year old system (which doesn’t even have my Krell amp in into a very pleasing sound. The downside of owning these (it’s only been about 6 weeks) is that after using Audirvana (with computer) the Innuous Sense app drove me crazy. I’ve been told that this is one of the better softwares for controlling music compared to man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. It drove me crazy and still has limited to no library management tools but it looks pretty with album cover displays and black background.
I’m being urged by a digital expert friend to trade that in for Esoteric 05-XD. He says it has world class DAC and i wouldn’t need to spend any more money. Scenario two is to keep the Innuous and spend at least 5,000 or more on new DAC (i am using 12 year old original PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC) My friend believes that even with new DAC and more money, that i won’t beat the Esoteric. For about the same additional money I could buy a Master Clock for the Esoteric and improve even more, he says. My problem is I can’t audition the Esoteric nor do I relish the idea of starting over on a new software wondering what it looks like, how it works and whether I’ll be as frustrated in the use of it as I was with Innuos’s Sense. Sound quality is number one for me but this recent experience of being so frustrated in making playlists as me wondering about usability along with sound quality. I would love the group's thoughts as all this is completely new to me, and is not my style to change something so quickly.


Why? I save 5,000 by getting the Esoteric which has the same DAC as its 20,000 dollar top of their line N-01XD.

Right about Sense as it is not Roon in terms of features etc…However, it sounds so much better.  Wish we could have Roon functionality with the sound quality of Sense.

@bossa : I have the N-01XD. Not the same DAC as the N-05XD. For sure. Great streaming DAC nonetheless.

I you only need a streamer, not a server (Zennith does both), then I would tend to agree that replacing the Zennith + Phoenix + your existing PS Audio DAC with the N-05xd is a good move.

I would keep the Innuos and get a better DAC.

I own the Innuos (Mini and Zen 3), and I find them very capable. Albeit, I use Roon and not the Sense app, so I don't know what you are dealing with in that case.

As far as DAC's go, the Ayre QB-9 Twenty, would be a great choice (I use it). And, can be had for less than $2K used.

My main reason for going with separates is that DAC technology is constantly changing/improving. By having separates, you'll be able to keep pace with those changes.

As far as the Innuos goes, I would look for the Phoenix units. The USB really improves sound quality, and the Ethernet one (which I just demoed today at Audioconnection) really, really cleans up the signal, as well. Yup, spend more money, but if you want to maximize what you own, these are great add-ons.

Lastly, if you want to just have an All-In-One, get the Aurilic G.1.1.

For $3.5K you get everything you need to stream, and get outstanding sound.

I listened to this today, as well, and was wowed.


Why? I save 5,000 by getting the Esoteric which has the same DAC as its 20,000 dollar top of their line N-01XD.

No it doesn't.  Go to the Esoteric website and do a little research.  It will explain the difference.

Let me through a big curve ball. I suggest that you try the MSB discrete with the renderer module. Add a gigafoilv4 with the ifi elite power supply.  This should run about $15,000 usd. This would allow you to get rid of all the Innuos gear and run roon on a Mac mini or nuc with more processing power and better interface and library management too. The renderer is also a roon endpoint. 

My friend and I compared both an MSB discrete and Reference with this setup vs the same dacs fed by the Innuos statement with Phoenix net. We both were shocked that the gigafoil setup sounded better and more real with less digital glare. This was on a system with Estelon X Diamonds, MSB s500 and a stromtank. I found the same results at home with my system with Rockport Atria II and Dan D’Agostino momentum M400s and Momentum HD pre. 

I am not sure if this is in you budget but if you are looking at esoteric it may be. 

The best way to make a decision would be to try the gear you're considering in your own system. However, that may not be easy to arrange.

I can see the lure of the Esoteric N-05XD as a streamer/DAC, but I'm not sure that DACs and streamers will evolve at the same rate, which would argue for separate components instead of a combined solution.

I can tell you what I have decided to do with my streaming system. I already have an Innuos Zen Mk3 and a PhoenixUSB, which I like a lot. Your Zenith plus PhoenixUSB should be slightly better than what I have. I also have a PS Audio DirectStream DAC, which I am trading in on the new Mk2 version of that DAC. You should be able to get a $2600 trade-in credit for your current PSA DAC, which means that you could buy the Mk2 DAC for about $5600. I would expect that the DS DAC Mk2, combined with the Zenith and PhoenixUSB, would sound great without costing you too much additional money. (On the topic of the Innuos Sense app, I can only say that I like Sense a lot and am confident that this app produces the best sound possible with the Innuos gear. I also use a Network Acoustics ethernet filter prior to the Zen, which cleans up ethernet noise coming in and improves the sound of the streaming system further.)

If you're wondering about the sound of the new PS Audio Mk2 DAC, check out comments from users on the PSA forum. Also, Audio Excellence just put out a video review comparing the Mk2 DAC to the DAC in the Lumin P1. The listeners much preferred the sound of the new Mk2 DAC from PSA. The Lumin P1 sells for $10K, and Robert Harley gave a rave review in TAS just a few months back to the same P1 DAC that Audio Excellence found inferior to the less expensive DirectStream Mk2. I think the Mk2 is likely to be a better value than many higher priced DACs, especially since you could get it for under $6k and with a 30-day trial period. And I definitely think a new DAC will improve the sound of your streaming system at a more reasonable cost than most other options.

I should have been clear. I don’t stream and have no desire to. I do have the Phoenix re-clocker and not the Net.  I was told i could just attach an 8tb SSD or HDD to the back of the Esoteric as its storage. My friend is very high on the DAC in the N-05XD.  I guess i was wrong that it's the same DAC as its more expensive cousin , but I;m told by two different dealers (yes they sell it) that it's a terrific DAC and would keep me from having to spend an extra thousands on new DAC..saves on power cords vs the two box Innuos, and saves an expensive USB cord too. I'm torn because it means starting over with new software, loading music, getting rid of existing Innuos. (friend just thinks better sound with Eso and no more dollars for Dac but maybe for new Master Clock)  I can't audition any of this.  I just have to make a decision.  I actually save a few grand by going the Esoteric route because i can save on one extra power cord not buying DAC.  I really do like the Innuos sound but i don't know what i don't know.

New car syndrome? The sound improvement will be marginal and the new software will have its own quirks and irritations. Buy a stand alone dac. 

Bossa, thanks for the clarifications. I thought that streaming was part of the picture for you, but I guess not. I still think that your choice of DAC is a very important decision. I have never heard any of the Esoteric DACs myself, but I have read online that at least one enthusiastic Esoteric fan prefers the new DirectStream Mk2 DAC to the DAC in the more expensive ($20K) Esoteric N-01XD streamer/DAC. His comments focus on greater resolution, clarity, and openness with the DS Mk2. Of course, this is just one user, and the N-05XD may sound different. 

Regarding the Innuos Sense app, I have never tried to include files from external drives in playlists. I have experienced no problems in creating playlists that combine files streamed from Qobuz and files stored on the Zen's internal hard drive. I do hear from other users that Roon has a more elaborate file management system than Sense does and can be used with Innuos gear (though perhaps with a slight drop off in sound quality).

I would still recommend a stand-alone DAC, as several others have recommended. Many people simply think it's a bad idea to combine a noisy streamer/display screen in the same box as a DAC. Since you don't want a streamer anyway, why pay for one? Good luck in your search for the right decision for you.


Sounds like you made up your mind. 

If you are not streaming then get the Esoteric.

You asked and people answered and you got your nickers in a bunch. 

Myself I prefer separates that are reference level DAC's Streaming and servers are separate. 

It’s knickers and they aren’t in a bunch. Isn’t the Esoteric a streamer? I got answers on both sides. I actually am leaning towards keeping the Innuous and spending more money on a new DAC. Still can’t decide because I can’t audition the Esoteric and it’s library software was called ancient/primitive by an Eso owner.


@bossa : may I humbly chime in and say you are confusing “server” and “streamer” terms? You will need to realize that playing your 8tb in local music files you have IS streaming. Not necessarily from a streaming service like Qobuz or Tidal. Accessing and playing your local music files in your network. Please read the reply I sent you to your PM. Your Innuos ZENith is a Server + streamer. You can go USB out from it to any DAC that has USB “B” input, that DAC does need to have any network streamer (read: network bridge) built in. Yes, I know it sounds confusing, but really it’s not.

My advice: take it easy and slow. Familiarize yourself with the terms. And your needs. It will save you time and money

it’s library software was called ancient/primitive by an Eso owner.

That was me. And I stand by by my statement every day. The Esoteric own app is indeed ancient ‘ primitive compared to my choice, Roon. But as I told you, it does the job. Meaning you can play your files. In the absence of Roon, it’s fine. 


@bossa received. But fyi Audiogon filters and strictly forbids sharing any contact information. I replied to you / your PM

Hi, I have the Innuos Zenith MK3 + Phoenix USB + Esoteric N05 (vía USB) and the sound is wonderful, change the PS for the old N05 or if you have the money take the regular model. You can use the entry USB connection of Esoteric and if you buy this you'll never have to look back again on the sound 

@bossa - If you don't like the Sense app you can always switch to Roon on the Zenith. 

I have a Zenith, with Phoenix USB, and prefer the sound of Sense over Roon. While not as feature rich as Roon, I find the Sense app meets my needs--and the UI is much better than a lot of other options.