After a few years with a basic Vortexbox appliance feeding a Squeezebox Touch, I decided to up my digital game and add higher res capability and Roon. Since I had been happy with the products and service at Small Green Computer (SGC), I looked into and ultimately purchased one of their bundles. Mine included a SonicTransporter i5, the UltraRendu player, a power supply and later an UltraDigital. Initially I used the Ultradigital to convert USB to S/PDIF for my legacy DAC. Later, I upgraded to a Pontus II DAC by Denafrips. The Ultradigital is now used to convert USB to I2S over HDMI, a signal transfer protocol which sounds the best to me. This review is of the SGC bundle, with a focus on the UltraRendu.
The remainder of the signal chain is: Pontus II via single ended Morrow cables to McIntosh C220 preamp to Arion Audio S500 amplifier, to Vandersteen M5HP crossovers to Vandersteen 2Wq subs (one for each channel) to a pair of Ohm Walsh 2000 speakers.
The best way to describe the sound I get from the UltraRendu is detailed, neutral, with a slight touch of warmth. The sound is very clean, with no distortion or glare. It does not mask poor recordings, but allows good recordings to really shine. Still, even poor quality recordings are at least listenable in most cases. Great extension at both frequency extremes. The soundstage is very source dependant, but on recordings with good width, the sound can extend well outside the speakers, and height reached my 6’ ceiling easily (it’s a basement man cave). While I never have been good at hearing depth, I occasionally can hear some front to back layering.
But the proof of this digital upgrade’s success is that I am much more eager to listen, as a destination activity, than I was with the previous digital chain. Roon is awesome. However, I have to work on resisting the temptation to read some of the vast information Roon provided. When I do that, I really don’t listen as intently. I am training myself to pause the music when reading.
For those reading this who have not taken the music servers plunge yet, you should know that I love vinyl. I am running a modified Thorens TD166 MkII with a Denon 160 high output pickup. But the convenience of having thousands of albums, not counting the millions of albums I can get with Qobuz, means my turntable is used mostly for digitizing LPs (using a Sweetvinyl Sugarcube SC-2).
Whether music from my own library (on a SSD mounted in the i5), or from Qobuz via Roon, my system sounds detailed, yet never harsh, spacious, full sounding and just a bit "bottom up" in character. I love it! My biggest challenge is finding time to listen!
I feel the SGC products and the Sonore products they sell are incredibly high value. You can spend a lot more on flashy boxes with screens and big advertising budgets, but I can’t imagine you will get sound that is significantly any better. Highly recommended, and SGC does offer a return option, so there is little risk in auditioning their products in your own home; always the best way to go about upgrading your kit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a free update to my UltraRendu, a $29 value, in exchange for this review. I fully stand by my impressions.