REFERENCE AUDIO – WITHAM ESSEX
BOB’s Review Series - No 66 – The Innuos Statement Versions Compared. Next-Gen and Original Versions Come Together
Ask any audiophile what a streamer is and you are likely to get several different answers and many different opinions. Ask them why some of us spend more (sometimes much more) than £500 on a streamer and you will open the floodgates. So here is my opinion, you may or may not agree.
An audiophile music streamer is an internet connected device that searches for, finds, streams, and manages music files in such a way that they can be served to a compatible DAC, whether that be an on-board DAC or an external device. There are multiple ways in which this can be done including using a computer or laptop, but dedicated audiophile streamers attempt to do this as their sole raison d’etre. Dedicated streamers are built for a single purpose, to stream from music service providers such as Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify and also from music stored on built-in hard drives or external network attached storage drives whereupon they again serve those data files to a DAC. Nothing that a computer can’t do but they do it without all the other functions working in the background that can and will degrade the sound quality.
There are many types of dedicated streamer, some have a wi-fi connection and some only have ethernet wired connections, but all must have access to the internet, even if it is only to have access to album artwork and metadata.
Some streamers have built in storage, and some don’t but whichever option you choose they all basically do the same thing, they find and play music data files. To do this they are controlled via apps on a smart phone or tablet. These apps can be designed by the streamer manufacturer or by third parties and Innuos have their own in-house designed app called ‘Sense’ which is free to use and it’s one of the best I have used. Roon is one of the best independent management tools but its needs to see a Roon Core somewhere on your home network which can be on a computer or a separate dedicated device such as a Roon Nucleus. Innuos streamers have Roon Cores built in making Roon an ideal solution to manage your virtual library without needing extra boxes.
It’s possible to purchase a dedicated streamer for under £500 (under £100 if you are determined) and I can fully understand why that might be an attractive proposition, no matter your budget. Connect any £500 streamer to a more than half decent DAC, a Chord Qutest is a good starting point, and you will have a genuinely good source component. Will it rival CD or vinyl, I doubt it, but it will be a great alternative giving at least 80% of their performance and way better ease of use. The consensus in parts of the audio world these days is that the quality of the DAC makes a bigger difference to the performance you get from a streamer than the quality of the streamer itself. DAC manufacturers would say that wouldn’t they? My own listening experience tells me that there is more to it than that. It’s why I and many of our customers have invested in high quality dedicated purpose made streamers from a variety of specialised manufacturers such as Pink Faun, Ideon, B.audio and Innuos rather than use a computer as a source. Go to any Hi-Fi show 5 or 10 years ago and everyone was using a laptop to stream files for demos, what used to be called the Mac and DAC solution. But ask yourself why this has changed and why do we see more dedicated streamers being used at shows, because they sound better perhaps. This brings me back to the question at the heart of this review, just how good is the Innuos Statement Next-Gen?
Good question you might think, but before I dive headfirst into answering it first let me explain why I spent so much time trying to explain what I think a streamer is and why dedicated audiophile grade streamers are so popular by telling you about a recent conversation I had with a customer.
The customer had just purchased a well-regarded DAC and upsampler from us that together retail new at around £14,000. Out of interest I asked him what streamer he was going to use to connect to his new DAC and he told me he would be using his smart phone as a wireless streamer connected directly by a suitable link cable to his new DAC. Why I asked would he spend big on a high-quality DAC and upsampler and then expect his wireless smart phone to do it justice? He had clearly done a lot of research into DACS and streamers, probably on internet forums, and he answered my question by saying it didn’t matter what streamer he used because a streamer is just a streamer, that sends data to a DAC and a wireless connection was all that anybody needed to stream and forward such data. In fact, he told me that a streamer is only a proper streamer if it is a wireless device i.e. not tethered to an Ethernet connection. I have to say we agreed to disagree on this point, but it got me thinking again why some of us spend so much on audiophile grade streamers if indeed a smart phone is all we need.
I always prefer to listen with my ears than to other peoples views on audio equipment and In my mind the system into which you would drop a dedicated streamer is almost as important as the streamer itself, but it needs to be sensibly assembled for you to be able to appreciate the difference before parting with your hard-earned cash. Good systems today tend to be much more balanced in terms of spending across components than was promoted in the 80’s and applies very much to the symbiosis between DAC and streamer. Spending too heavily on one and not the other does not lead to a well balanced and great sounding system.
The Innuos Statement Next-Gen is top of their current product range, it doesn’t have an onboard DAC, its only output is on USB and it doesn’t have a display screen. It comprises two boxes, the slightly larger bottom one is the power supply, and the top box is the server/streamer. It’s not the most expensive streamer we sell but it is one of the very best and I must confess to having owned one of the first-generation Statements (which are still available) for the last couple of years. The purpose of this review was to find out if the Next-Gen Statement upgrade improves on the reputation built by the original Statement. Let’s find out by first considering what are the technical differences between Standard and Next-Gen Statement’s.
All the changes and upgrades to the Next-Gen are internal and mostly to do with the power supply and power regulation, externally both Statement versions are visually identical with no changes made to the two box 10mm aluminium casework although there are some minor internal casework modifications. The only way to tell you have a Next-Gen product (apart from the cost) is the small label on the base plate of the PSU that gives the game away. Audio friends and visitors will not be able to tell which version you have unless you tell them, even the system page on their Sense App doesn’t give the game away unless it’s possible to tell from the serial number. Internally however much has changed with virtually all the PSU internals updated. As far as I can determine both the Standard and Next-Gen Statements weigh the same as they are both specified by Innuos at 21.6kg but the Next Gen feels heavier than the standard version as I would expect with those additional vibration treatments and twin chokes installed. Perhaps if anyone from Innuos reads this they could clarify this point for me.
The Next-Gen unit I used for this review has a 4TB hard drive installed but unless you have thousands of CD’s to rip or hundreds of purchased hi-res data files to upload then a 1TB version is more than sufficient for most music collections. I have over 1400 CD’s ripped in lossless Flac and many downloaded and purchased hi-res files and when I uploaded all of them to the Next-Gen 4TB internal SSD drive, it tells me that it’s just 13% full. On a 1TB drive that would still be just 51% full, see what I mean? So don’t think you need go spending big on internal drives unless you really have a large collection of CDs to rip, or plan to have one someday.
The unit as reviewed currently retails at £19,900, £900 of that is the cost of specifying a 4TB SSD over a 1TB version. A Standard 1TB Statement retails at £14,200 with an upgrade route for existing owners to Next-Gen spec costing £4,800 but it means both boxes being returned to Innuos for the upgrade which tends to take several weeks to complete. I understand there has recently been a waiting list for the upgrade.
The changes from Standard to Next-Gen Statement’s are mostly to the power unit but there are also changes to the server head unit that means you can’t mix and match Standard and Next-Gen boxes, the only common parts are the two umbilical leads connecting the PSU to the head unit which haven’t been changed in the Next-Gen version. The principal changes made to the power section and server sections are as follows:
- Power supply upgraded in consultation with Dr Sean Jacobs, their preferred consultant.
- Almost everything inside the lower power unit has been ripped out and replaced, even, I believe, the large transformer but I wasn’t able to confirm this.
- The power unit now incorporates twin AR66 AC/DC modules that are mounted on new Adaptive Vibration Control (AVC) isolation boards fixed to the casework internally that incorporate a combination of Panzerholz wood and a gel layer. These boards don’t exist in the Standard version.
- Large twin chokes are also now included where the Standard version had none.
- The number of capacitors has been reduced from 8 to 6 per channel but the replacements are significantly larger Mundorf Caps meaning they have almost 4 times the capacity of the standard version. This is said to help with speed and dynamics.
- The server section now provides up to 15A of current to the CPU and new Audio Note KAISEI caps are used benefiting the mother board, USB and Ethernet Reclocker.
- All inputs and outputs remain identical to the Standard version.
Although I’ve lived with a Standard Statement for the last two years and listened to the Next-Gen many times in our showroom this was my first opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of the two versions, I’ve just never had both versions in the same room before.
I used both the Standard and Next-Gen Statement’s in Roon Core mode and using their own ‘Sense’ app which is almost as good a Roon for ease of use, and it’s free. I streamed from both Tidal and Qobuz and from ripped and purchased files transferred to their internal hard drives. From experience I find that any components with USB and/or Ethernet Reclockers in them take up to 3 days to warm up and stabilise and I left them turned on for several days before serious listening commenced. I did of course have a quick listen right from the get-go and this confirmed that yes, they do get better after a few days warm up, significantly so. Like many audio devices they can sound a bit bright and brittle when cold. My initial impression before warming up was that the Next-Gen was lit more brightly than my Standard Statement but after a while this resolved itself into a performance with more dynamic range, quieter backgrounds, higher resolution, more fine detail and a far more enjoyable and emotional listening experience. Not brighter after all, just with better definition and control of dynamics. I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Letter To You’ on Tidal via both Statements and on the Next-Gen his gravelly voice was so well reproduced, the stop/start dynamics on this recording came through more clearly, punchy and well defined especially on percussion and strings. Saxophones also come through with greater realism on tracks which feature them whereas the Standard Statement sounded a little flatter and less 3D like. This ability for the Next-Gen to expand imaging, add dynamics and bring more life to a performance happened on everything I played. No matter the bit rate or frequency, whether streamed or ripped, the same improvement over the Standard version was present.
You can skip this bit if you want to read my conclusions first but if you have the time, please indulge me whilst I take jump into my home-built TARDIS and go back to late 1979. There are no smart phones, no mobile phones, no personal computers or laptops, no iPads, only three channels available on TV, no interweb of all things, no email, no social media and CD was still at design stage. Back then we all relied on Vinyl, FM radio and Cassette for our music. TV’s weren’t smart and a 24” screen was considered big and they were too big to lift, many of them still incorporated valves! ELP disbanded in 1979. John Lennon had just over a year left of his life on planet Earth, Marc Bolan and Elvis had been dead for only two years. Supertramp released Breakfast In America. The Berlin Wall still had a decade of life before being ripped down in late 1989. Makes you think doesn’t it.
If you lived in the late 70’s then, like me you are probably thinking “where did that 45 years go”? If you are of a younger generation, you probably think us oldies are not far removed from when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and wonder what we did all day. It was however a great time to be alive and on 30 November 1979 Pink Floyd released The Wall and I think I bought a copy the same day. I was a student at the time and was living in a semi-basement flat in Cheltenham and listened to The Wall on vinyl every day for months on end.
Why this is important to my review of the Innuos Statement Next-Gen is because in 1979 I thought it couldn’t sound any better and audio memory being what it is I really don’t think I have enjoyed The Wall so much since then as I did via the Statement Next-Gen. Back in 1979 we already had hi-res audio in the form of the vinyl LP and reel-to-reel tape, good luck reproducing that high quality today via a smart phone. Sometimes moving forward is moving backwards in disguise.
Is the Next-Gen worth almost £5k over a standard Statement, well only you can tell if its value for money for you and whether it sound better in your system but in my system, yes, it’s worth the outlay because of the way it draws me further in and keeps me listening (and takes me back to 1979). Is it better than a £200 streamer, of course it is and I can say this with confidence because I have heard a couple of those cost effective streamers and they just don’t deliver that in the room 3D musical experience that the Statement Next-Gen is capable of. I used to be a Mac & DAC user before flirting briefly with something from Naim and before discovering Innuos. Starting with a Zen Mk2, progressing to a Zenith Mk3, the Statement and hopefully when funds allow a Next-Gen Statement. With every streamer upgrade my DACs have also changed to keep pace with the source, and overall performance has always improved.
It didn’t much matter what I played, because having the opportunity for a direct A/B comparison I am convinced the Next-Gen is a big improvement over the Standard version, it just sounds so much more entertaining and more grounded in its ability to always impress. Is it worth 100 times the price of a £200 streamer, well only you can answer that question for yourself but for me, yes, it’s worth it, in the right system and with the right DAC.
The Standard version is still a first-class streamer that will satisfy all your listening needs and can be updated to Next-Gen status later but once you hear the Next-Gen, then there is no going back.
The only time I use a smart phone is in Bluetooth mode when I want to listen to catch up radio via the BBC app. For this it’s a great tool for what it does but is it audiophile? No way.
Bob – Team Reference Audio