The Innuos Zen MK.3 music server offers class-leading performance and some outstanding features. But most importantly, its sound quality is just superb!
While high-quality Audio CD’s are still a constant in today’s digital replay, digital streaming is now becoming an ideal way of listening to and evaluating the enormous amount of program material being produced by the plethora of music companies, with the music of all genres. The current list of streaming services is growing daily and as of the end of 2019, the share of music revenues is as strong as ever. According to a year-end report from the RIAA, revenues from streaming services grew nearly 20% in 2019 to $8.8 billion, accounting for 79.5% of all recorded music revenues.
On the other hand, If CDs are now just a memory of times gone by then a top-quality music streamer will give you the chance to hear some exceptional audio reproduction in your home for the subscription service(s) you may choose as well as your precious, lossless file music collection. Currently, people are using Spotify, Tidal Qobuz or some newer excellent classical only services. Most of us will then just buy our various titles and have them imported and stored on your preferred server/storage device and delivered right to your listening room. In the case of the Innuos Zen Mk.3 server, this product is quite an effortless choice to make to help you do all of this. The Zen Mk.3 music server is an exceptional streamer/music server that will transmit some of the most superb sound reproduction available to music lovers and audiophiles
Innuos was founded in 2009 in the United Kingdom by Nuno Vitorino and Amelia Santos. The Innuos designs include a range of streaming products designed in the UK and built-in Portugal. The vision they had in mind was to extract the highest quality, audiophile reproduction possible while offering the convenience and enjoyment of Digital Music streaming from your home audio system.
It’s interesting to note that Vitorino assembled is first music server in his garage, offered it on eBay, and sold over 200 units in six months. Any audio enthusiast that has recently cruised the internet on Innuos will notice that at the Zen Mk.3 at its current price point, is currently the talk of the town in the audiophile world!
Quite uncommonly, the most gracious Vitorino spoke to me over the phone about the setup procedures and options available with the Zen. Anyone who does purchase an Innuos product will be in the finest of hands here as far as support and product inquiries go.
The Innuos designs include three Zen models of audio servers with a built-in disc drive. The Zen Mk3 is the middle model in the line between the Zen Mini, and the Zenith MK3 Their top of the line model, the Innuos ‘Statement’ is a two-box design and sells at a higher price point. This 3rd incarnation we are evaluating here is the Zen Mk.3 and it is truly a product for the audiophile enthusiast that contains several improvements as well as a jump in sound quality over their Zen mini server.
Feature-wise, the Innuos Zen Mk.3 and ZenMini players are offered with 1-8 TB of HDD capacity options, while the ZENith is offered with 1-4TB of SDD storage. They all have both USB and network outputs so you can use a USB DAC and more importantly, dual-ethernet ports with isolation transformers to filter noise significantly and improve sound quality. One port for the incoming data on ethernet, and the other for connected streamers. (You can bypass your router and connect an additional streamer directly to the Zen via the second ethernet port, which offers up a much quieter signal when compared to a direct router connection if your circumstances require. (eg. Lumin, Naim, Auralic, Linn, etc.)
The Zen Mk.3, as with all of their music servers, is solidly constructed and excellently designed cosmetically in black or anodized silver and display a reserved yet beautiful appearance on your audio shelf. The Mk.3 is said to contain a solid progression in quality and audio reproduction over the previous Zen MK.2 that are based on some of the technology that was incorporated from their recently discontinued, yet award-winning Zenith SE; some of which include:
● Custom motherboards with custom firmware on all servers
● A newer Dual-Linear PSU design ~ The Zen MK.3 uses a linear power supply design with ultra-low noise regulators (40 uV). Its IEC mains input are of medical-grade quality.
● Asymmetrical Anti-Vibration feet
● In-Memory Playback ~ The ZEN uses 4GB for memory playback while it has 8GB total RAM
The ZEN MK3 loads your music directly to memory for playback so that it doesn’t need to engage the hard drive. This should give an even greater increase in sound quality.
● Dual Ethernet Ports for LAN and Streamer with isolation transformers
● Ultra-low Noise USB Audio Outputs
EASIEST SET UP
After connecting the Zen Mk.3 to your router or directly to your cable line, you will go to my.innuos.com in your smartphone or desktop browser to access the InnuOS control panel. The plethora of options will be obvious; including a handy CD ripping interface, mode selection, backup routine, and music file import.
Most importantly, if you are not paying for Roon, ( the Zen can optionally become a Roon endpoint0) , the Recommended Remote-Control App, iPeng 9 will work quite well with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Very recently, Innuos has just started recommending the Squeezer app for Android phones, which is free! Orange squeeze or Squeeze control works particularly fine with Windows 10 .
Using the iPeng9 on my iPhone, was a good, fast, and simple experience. Having recently bought a subscription for Qobuz, the Zen made the connection in a snap and I was set to go. The Zen Mk.3 will instantly connect to some of the most popular streaming services available, (e.g. Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz) but eventually, it would be nice to see some full classical services added such as Primephonics or Adagio.
It was most fulfilling to learn that Innuos also allows you to download any purchased music from online stores other than the streaming service you may have a subscription to. The Zen will import the music files directly to your specified storage areas on the server’s hard drive. Although I did not have a hands-on experience here, Innuos states that this can be used with Linn Records, HD tracks, iTunes Amazon, and many more.
It might be worth mentioning that these types of files are generally considered “hi-resolution” because they are better or equal to CD-quality. Arguably, in many cases, an audiophile with a high-quality system may only need a sample rate of 44.1kHz!
THE NEXT STEP
After connecting The Zen via ethernet directly to the Internet. I inserted the Mad Scientist’s’ “Black Magic” USB cable from the Zen into either a Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary DAC or the excellent DAC section from my Peachtree Audio (2019) 300 integrated amplifier. It would have been nice to have had one of Audio Notes separate DAC’s on hand, but alas, only the CD3.1X/II CD player was available.
In theory, streamed audio should be identical to audio sent via a hard-wired ethernet connection. This allows you to have fast, reliable, low-EMF internet access without having to connect via WiFi. This is typically done with your modem, an ethernet switch, and ethernet cables. (Note: this is not the same as Bluetooth “streaming,” which I believe has some accepted degradation issues owing to the compression scheme used). My listening room has a direct ethernet wall plug connection to my cable line, so this was extremely simple to set up.
The Zen Mk.3 was evaluated for about one month and during that time, it offered me some of the most exceptional musical enjoyment I’ve recently experienced. The gratification of being able to just visit any piece of music available on Qobuz with all the genres of music it offered was supremely satisfying. As I delved into an abundant amount of different high-quality music files offered by the service the Zen allowed me to import to my 1 TB hard drive review sample some of my favorite stored computer music files in various formats that included FLAC, WAV, or AIFF.
The left and below referenced playlist was just a trifle of music that was played on the Zen Mk.3 and with the iPeng9 app on my iPhone 8.5 downloaded, it was immensely simple to jump to different popular music tracks or in my case, full concertos, symphonies, and choral pieces.
Initially, I had little doubt that there would be some small but discernible differences between the music files I had stored and/ or ripped from CD, or for that matter, files I had ripped to CD-r. Boy was I wrong! Listening to the Innuos sound reproduction was quite simply heavenly! All the musical pieces above were reproduced with a glorious impact and magisterial quality with the highest standard of sonic fidelity of which I had been used to.
There were no stereo image phase problems or fuzziness to the performers on the music sources. Quite strikingly, the accuracy of the reproduction of the streamed music pieces was as distinctly as close to what I had remembered from the finest quality recorded CD’s or indeed– computer files that I had made from various prime online music download stores.
I wanted to find out a bit more about the exact reproduction quality of the Zen Mk.3 and so a few casual tests were undertaken. On a couple of my music files listed above, I bought and downloaded the files from Qobuz after having played them numerous times through the Innuos player. Having transferred them to the Zen file storage, I was able to make virtually an exact comparison between the streamed files and the stored files.
For the most part, they were indistinguishable. The sound was, lush, smooth, dynamically neutral in all areas of the frequency spectrum. Excellent detail and transparency were preserved in its midrange response and it kept all previously observed qualities of my system intact. Stage width, depth, stereo image preciseness, and instrumental tonality— (naturally dependent on the program sources) were exceptionally reproduced with this streamer. Tight mid-bass and voluptuously deep bass orchestral drums were transmitted without a trace of hangover or loss of quality. If this is not a music server/streamer to relish than I surely don’t know what is!
Furthermore, and a bit unexpectedly, I was very impressed with how responsive and secure ZEN Mk3 proved to be. The unit was bouncing into action as soon as it was turned on. This was a confidence booster and showed how the quality of its build and steady performance attributes let me just listen to music and forget about everything else going on.
Although the Innuos does not have a fancy display screen like models such as Auralic or Aurender, I say quite personally, “forget about it”! The Innous is more impartial on balance and produces a much greater sense of overall lucidity in its musically smooth and luxurious sound presentation.
In the current world of premium, highly-priced enthusiast audiophile components, it is somewhat rare to work with a product like the Innuos Zen Mk.3 as it just does its job so wonderfully well and uncomplicated– indeed, you may be a bit flabbergasted at what you are getting vis-à-vis its price. ($2599 USD For a 1TB version). It does just about everything you will ever need combined in a neat, lovely, and self-effacing package.
Along with its ripping drive, fully embedded Roon platform, broad deference with other components, effortless operation, and extremely competitive price, The Zen Mk.3’s quality, and overall stability are firmly established.
Most importantly; it reproduces music and sound with the utmost authority, naturalness, and “live’ performance characteristics while exhibiting a sense of ease and distinct listening gratification. This music server simply puts a smile on your face as you listen to it perform. What else can anyone ask for? A spectacular value!
REVIEW SYSTEM: Digital -Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary DAC / Peachtree Nova 300 DAC section/ Amplification ● Peachtree Audio Nova 300 (2019 (preamp) / PS Audio Stellar M700 monoblock amplifiers / CIA Audio C. 100S stereo amplifier ●Loudspeakers •Audio Note (UK) An-E/D / Spendor BC1/ Quad ESL 63 USA, Sterling LS3/6 loudspeakers ● Cables Conditioners: Mad Scientist “Black Magic” USB cable/ Inakustik AC-3500p, LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord/ Silversmith Audio ‘Fidelium’ loudspeaker cables/ Wireworld Eclipse 8 interconnects & Electra 7 power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord.
Innuos Zen Mk.3 music server ~ 1TB $2599 USD
Innuos, The Venture Centre
University of Warwick Science Park, Sir Williams Lyons Road,
Coventry, CV4 7EZ
Phone: +44(0) 2475 200 210
WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !
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