For those of us who have digital music collections, the venerable compact disc is only part of the picture these days. Apart from legacy collections of music on such discs, we now have higher resolution PCM music files available along with even larger DSD files (the equivalent of SACD) all of which are now readily available and which add a whole new dimension to the enjoyment of music reproduction.
This means that a CD player alone is no longer enough to allow access to all these delights – we need a new kind of up-to-the-minute digital device that will deal with everything we can throw at it. Enter the Innuos Zen family.
These British designed and Portugese manufactured units have been around for a while but they have recently been updated to Mark 3 spec, so the time is right for a reappraisal of these innocuous looking but supremely versatile boxes. The reason they are so versatile is because of the way the four main functions have been integrated.
All the versions have a built in CD drive which, although it cannot be used to play CDs, will allow ripping of an inserted disc to either .flac or .wav format files. This process can be carried out whilst you are using the device for playback as well, so you can start ripping your existing CD collection as a background task whilst still using any other functions as required.
These ripped files are then stored on an internal 3.5'' hard drive which is available in a range of capacities from 1Tb to 8Tb; the higher range models can be fitted with solid state drives up to 4Tb.
Once the files are stored on the unit, and the unit is connected up to a network, the files can be served out to any network attached device that needs to access them.
Last but not least the unit can be connected to your system as any other source component would be, and this will allow you full playback access to the contents of the drive. In addition to this, any of the units will give you full internet radio functionality along with access to external streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal or Qobuz.
To access these functions, there are two methods used. Firstly, once the unit is connected to your network, accessing 'myinnuos.com' on any browser will take you to the setup and config pages. These have options to control disc ripping and file imports, view your existing library, set up backups etc. Most of these pages are 'set and forget', so once you have configured your unit as you like, you shouldn't need to revisit them very often. What you will need for day-to-day use is a method by which you can access your library to view and play, and this is accomplished with an application. There are excellent options available for iOS, Android and Windows platforms and any one of these will allow you to start interacting with your music collection, as well as giving you access to all the other built in features.
One of the things we often hear from customers as that they like the idea of an actual item such as a CD which they can pick up and handle, but what people often don't realise is that using one of these superb control applications will, to a degree, keep the tactile and visual part of browsing your collection alive. As long as you take a small amount of care over ensuring that the downloaded track data and artwork is accurate and free of errors, the apps will give you a very nice, customisible browsing experience which in many ways is superior – no more stiff neck reading the spines! With regard to storage space, a 2 Tb drive will enable you to store around 3500 albums in their entirety, and of course if this is insufficient then you can specify the internal drive up to 8 Tb at purchase time. This should be enough even for King Crimson completists.
The Zen range consists of four models. The Innuos Zen Mini (1-8Tb, pictured) is the base model; the Mini Mk 3 now includes stereo analogue outputs alongside the USB and S/PDIF outputs so you can get it up and running with full functionality straight out of the box – of course the addition of an outboard DAC will really make it sing (we recommend the Chord Electronics Qutest as an ideal partner). This version comes with a switch mode power supply as standard but Innuos also sell an upgraded linear power supply to improve its performance; if you buy a Mini with a upgraded power supply you will get a £50 discount on the combined price. The next model up in the range is the Innuos Zen Mk. 3 (1-8Tb standard or option of Solid State drives) which comes in a full width case with an integrated linear power supply. Bear in mind that neither this model, nor any models further up in the hierarchy have any analogue outputs; they all require the addition of an external DAC or amplifier with a USB digital input to make sounds. There are also dual isolated Ethernet ports (remember this is network connected but does not include Wi-Fi so requires an Ethernet connection) along with other mechanical improvements over the Mini. Next up is the Innuos Zenith (1-8Tb) which includes a trick PSU, Mundorf capacitors and a custom solid state drive and at the top of the tree is the mighty 2 box Zenith Statement (2-8Tb plus Solid State Drive option) which turns everything up to 11 for the best possible reproduction of your precious files.
The tried and tested server underpinnings of this unit mean that once it's properly configured and set up on your network, you no longer have to worry about file formats and such like. PCM up to 192 kHz? No problem. Native DSD files? No problem. Tidal masters with MQA encoding? No problem. All you have to do is connect it up to your network and your playback system, and the world is your oyster.
Why not come and have a listen to it in our newly refurbished demonstration rooms.
Innuos Music Servers and CD rippers are available from the following branches of Audio T: Brentwood, Bristol, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Enfield, Manchester, Online, Portsmouth, Preston, Reading, Southampton, Swansea, Swindon