SOtM sMS-100 Network Streamer – Review
From the moment I had the noise problem from my USB inputs, I’ve been thinking of solving the known “computer problem”. Considering it was mainly because of the 5V USB power, I’ve started looking into this matter and realized that the 5V output from the motherboard’s usb inputs isn’t usually linear.
If your DAC uses in any way the USB power, the sound will be affected. The USB input from MSB Analog DAC, is optically isolated, but it still uses the power from USB. I’ve got the new Hybrid split USB cable from Forza cables and a small linear power supply with usb output, supply which was powered from my PowerInspired AG500 power regenerator. A full review about this will be coming soon. Until then I can say this tweak improved the sound in a substantial way.
Ok, I solved the problem with the 5V usb power, but what about the signal? I know that the DAC is asynchronous and this shouldn’t matter, but what if it does? I was thinking of getting a C.A.P.S. PC, but the prices made me postpone my decision. Meanwhile, looking for alternative solution, I found this little guy, the SOtM sMS-100.
Being really curious about this product, I sent an email to the SOTM support and asked for a review unit. I was surprised to get a really fast positive answer. The quality of their support was a really pleasant surprise to me.
Introduction and Specs
What does this little fellow do? Well, it’s quite simple. It is a network streamer. It takes the signal from the network through a LAN input and then it has USB ports as outputs. So, basically it is like a small “PC”. Considering it has the option of being powered from a high quality linear power supply or even battery supply, it solves the noisy pc environment issue on both usb power and signal.
Besides this, it’s a very useful and cool gadget, especially if you have speakers. You just plug it in your network and your dac into it, and with your phone connected to your wireless, you can play your music by the touch of your finger.
So basically it is a Ethernet to USB converter. This little gadget enables you to stream your music through it to a USB DAC. sMS-100 supports USB Audio Class 2.0 compliant DACs as well as DACs from Mytek, Chord, M2Tech, etc.
You can find more about the product here .
It supports more streaming methods, but only one can be used at a time. You can select the streaming method from the web interface you can find on it. It also features gapless playback of the most important formats like FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, but it also supports DSD/DoP when used with a DoP capable server such as JRiver Media Center.
sMS-100 is a network player which supports SqueezeLite, AirPlay, DLNA/MPD, and HQPlayer NAA function.
- ‘SqueezeLite’ output mode: connect sMS-100 to Logitech Media Server (LMS) through a local area network and playback the music files listed in LMS.
- ‘AirPlay’ output mode: connect sMS-100 to compatible Apple devices (iTunes, iPad, etc.) through a local area network and playback the music files.
- ‘DLNA/MPD’ output mode: connect sMS-100 to DLNA server through a local area network and playback the music files shared by DLNA server. Also, connect sMS-100 to Vortexbox based music servers through a local area network and playback the music files.
- ‘HQPlayer NAA’ output mode: connect sMS-100 to HQPlayer through a local area network and playback the music files.
It has one Gigabit Ethernet input and 3 x USB 2.0 outputs.
It also supports 24bit/384KHz Max, DSD playback.
The sMS-100 is a very well built ARM based single board computer that has a Fedora Linux as operating system. The main software behind the scenes is named Sonic Orbiter and it is the brain of all operations inside the sMS-100.
From my perspective it has a pleasant design and a real sturdy build quality. However, the sPS-1000 linear power supply has a really appealing design with a nice finish and good looks, easily showing it belongs to the top line of products from sotm.
You can find more about sPS-1000 right here.
sPS-1000 is a high performance DC linear power supply to connect with audio devices using DC power to maximize the sonic performance.
It is designed to operate by linear circuits only it means it doesn’t use any digital circuit at all, so doesn’t generate any digital high frequency noise. Also it uses Ultra Low Noise Regulator circuit to minimize the faint noise occurred even from the linear circuit and it has the built-in Noise filter to block the noise coming from AC power.
For the stable operation, it has built-in ‘output short protection circuit’ and ‘over-temperature protection circuit’, and also ‘high performance audio components’ have been chosen through a number of experiments for the best fits.
sPS-1000 will present the rich and elegant sound with the increased resolution through the stable DC power, these features will cover the dry and rough sounds called as weakness of most digital audio devices have, and such these presentation will be the best feature of sPS-1000.
You will experience the incredible sonic differences when using sPS-1000 in your audio system, it will bring you a feeling of satisfaction as like using the higher level of audio device.
I find it wonderful that you can use this power supply with almost all the products from SOTM.
However, the sPS-1000 doesn’t come cheap, as you will have to pay 1000$ to get it. There is also a cheaper alternative for this, the MBPS-d2s, a battery power supply which goes for ~400$.
And if this seems too expensive, you can find any other linear power supply that outputs 7V-9V and plug it into the sMS-100 just as well.
If it was something that bothered me in this section, I would go with the screws from the sMS-100, which are TORX screws. You have to be extremely gentle with these screws if you want to open the box, or you will wreck the groove from the screw and the screwdriver won’t be able to do its work any longer.
Testing methods and gear
First thing I did was to test the improvements that this big linear power supply, the sPS-1000 would bring to the small sMS-100. The tests were very brief, as the results were quite clear. The sound had better details/resolution, better transparency, deeper and more detailed bass, etc.
1. sMS-100 vs PC, both with the same normal stock usb cable going into the DAC.
2. sMS-100 with normal stock usb cable vs PC with Hybrid Forza Usb Cable that takes the power from a linear power supply powered from the AG 500 power regenerator
3. sMS-100 vs PC, both with Hybrid Forza Usb Cable that takes the power from a linear power supply powered from the AG 500 power regenerator
All tests had very similar results, coming with the sMS-100 on top, with the exception of test No 2, which to be sincere wasn’t quite fair, the PC and SMs-100 being quite close to each other and both having very strong points. However, the test was favoring the PC, as the usb cable for the PC was better than the normal stock usb cable tested with sMS-100. This test would have been fair, if I had the normal non split version of the same Hybrid Forza cable.
Because I didn’t have that cable, I went with test number 3 which gave very similar results to test no 1, but with less stronger differences. Actually, the tweak I’ve done with the split cable and linear power supply, was close to the performance of sMS-100, but not quite there, as the the sound was even more detailed and holographic with sotm overall.
Besides the obvious tests, I also enjoyed some songs directly from my phone and it was wonderful. Imagine, just you and your phone near your sound system, without your computer. I really enjoyed the quiet made by the absence of my PC, which is kind of noisy.
I observed that files with very high bit-rate work flawlessly on a network cable, but sometimes have a glitch on wireless, but this may be dependent on your router and network use.
The player used for the tests was Foobar 2000 with this UPnP/DLNA component installed. Actually, I had some problems at some of its configurations, but the support from SOTM was wonderful and solved my problem in a timely fashion.
This foobar component has some bugs, but, in the end it was very easy to use and play with.
Let’s see how it performs on some songs.
The first thing I noticed was that the voices from the quire seemed to fill a larger room, showing a bigger soundstage. Mercedes’s voice had better texture with better extension. Overall the sound was clearer and more detailed.
The first thing I noticed was that the instruments were better outlined/delimited with sMS-100. The guitars from the beginning had a very nice sparkle, so nice and palpable that it gave me goosebumps. Also the bass was faster with sMS-100 with better control, detail and impact, making the drums in this song very enjoyable .
The difference was very clear and very easy to hear. The sound opened up quite a lot. The instruments had better extension and details, being very well separated from one another. Everything sounded more natural and holographic, making you feel the concert even better and closer to the real experience. The violins and actually all the instruments had an amazing extension and detail. What seemed interesting is that the sound was faster, as the decay wasn’t as slow as with the PC. In the same time it was accompanied by a strong attack.
The result was again in favor for the sMS-100, as the sound seemed to decompress. The guitar plucks had more energy with stronger attack, faster and more natural decay and wonderful extension. Also, the details were easier to observe on sMS-100.
Again the voice was better textured with better presence and extension. The instruments were easier to pick on and the guitars very well extended throughout the song tickling your ears from time to time. The bass seemed a little faster and punchier with sMS-100.
This little box is quite amazing. The differences are very easy to spot on since the first 3 seconds. The transparency of the sound is clearly superior with sMS-100. Leonard’s voice has a very detailed texture and the whole song sounded a lot more natural, gently flowing away.
The bass with sMS-100 is faster, more detailed, punchier and more controlled.
Mids & Treble
They both are superior with sMS-100. The instruments & voices have better extension, giving them a natural tonality in the same time. The treble has a wonderful sparkle but is not harsh at all.
Transparency & Details
This is one of the main improvements sMS-100 brings to the sound. Everything is clearer, like opening the window and looking straight to the subject, in this case, the music.
Everything is easier to pick on. The details are quite boosted by sMS-100.
Dynamics and Micro-dynamics
The sound is more lively and every instrument, even the farthest or the quietest ones have a good feeling and presence throughout the song.
Attack & Decay
The attack of the sounds is more explosive and the decays are faster and more natural.
Soundstage, Imaging & Instrument Separation
This is the first thing I noticed with the sMS-100. It was like the scene was decompressed somehow. Every instrument was better delimited. The layering and imaging are again something that benefited a lot from this little box.
Natural Tonality and Fluency
The sound has a very natural/analog fluency that makes the music flow in an effortless manner. The instruments / voices have are more life like having more palpable textures as well.
This little box impressed me a lot and it took me on quite a nice journey. Its performance makes me wonder about its bigger brother, the sMS-1000, which has some very useful and interesting features compared to its little brother, features like a hdd bay, automatically cd ripping, NFS server, more diversity in the outputs types, etc.
Besides the improvements it brings to the sound, I found it to be very useful as well. I loved how after inserting the sMS-100 in my network, I was able to sit on my couch with my phone and just select and play the musics directly from it.
I find the sMS-100 to be a very interesting and well done product. I am really glad I had the chance to listen and review it.
Overall, in the system I’ve got better results with SMS-100 than with other usb interfaces like Hydra or AP2.
Admittedly, these devices have another purpose and are for different use. You can’t use the SMS-100 with movies or any sound from your operating system, as it is not seen as a sound-card by it.
Considering the price and all the things it has to offer, I must say that the sMS-100 earned my wholehearted recommendation.
- Good build quality
- Very good sound-stage, imaging and instrument separation
- Faster, more controlled and detailed bass with stronger punch
- Better transparency bringing you even closer to the music
- Better resolution
- Better dynamics and micro-dynamics
- Natural/analog fluency and tonality
- Very good support from sotm
- Very good price(450$) for what it offers
- could do larger buffering for slower network configurations
- on some occasions I had to restart the streaming service from its web interface, but this may be a foobar plugin bug as well
- sensible groove screws