The Sonica main screen is shown on in Figure 1.
In the left column are the Sonica’s various inputs. You can see that in addition to the physical connections, there are connections to Spotify and Tidal, so you can stream music from those services through Sonica. Of course, you’ll need an account with them to use those services. Below the streaming services are inputs from the mobile device you’re using (an iPad in my case), for network playback, for USB storage if you plug in a USB storage drive, from the Aux In for the analog input, and for a Bluetooth connection, like a smartphone. When I touched the Network Playback icon, I was invited to select several storage locations on my network: the network attached storage drive (NAS) itself, MinimServer (a DLNA server program running on the NAS), or the desktop (which didn’t have any music files). The screen shot in Figure 1 shows the result of selecting the NAS drive. To see the albums on the NAS, I touched the Albums menu item, and got the display in Figure 2. I also plugged a flash drive containing several of my most recently acquired albums into the front USB connector.
As you can see, compared to many other playback programs, Sonica is rather austere; its display in the right column is limited to an alphabetical list of the albums on the NAS, all 1720 of them. I kept hoping the generic folder displayed at the beginning of each album name would eventually turn into the cover art for the album, but it didn’t happen. There was no way to access an album except to scroll down to it. For the large number of albums on my NAS, that was a posterior pain, and I know my collection pales in comparison to that of many avid collectors. If you’re like me, you’ll probably resort to using the Search feature to locate albums you want to play. When you do that, you’ll find that Sonica searches everything that’s plugged into the DAC: Tidal, your NAS, your server running on the NAS, a USB drive plugged into the Sonica—and shows items matching your search criteria everywhere. The Tidal search items are plainly displayed, but you sometimes have to drill down a level or two further to get to a song on an album in your drives.
To play an album, first touch it to select it, then touch the Play All symbol at the top of the screen to play the album. You can also select individual songs to play, or compile a playlist. I miss a display where album cover art is shown in a grid to help you select what you want to hear, like most other playback apps provide (Roon comes to mind). On the other hand, I appreciate having a Folder view, which lets me view the contents of my music folder like I see it from my computer, which Roon doesn’t provide. I didn’t try Spotify, but Tidal looked and worked liked Tidal usually does. Touch the Exit menu selection to return to your local playback. I later discovered that Sonica’s limited display stems in part from enabling it to run on a smartphone. Most remote apps really need a tablet computer to work, but I was able to navigate the menus from my iPhone 7 just fine. If you don’t have a tablet, that can save you a boatload of money—they can be pretty expensive.
A 56-page guide to the Sonica app is available for download at Oppo’s website. Wow—that’s the first guide to an app that I’ve ever seen, though I’ve seemingly been lamenting their absence forever. Thanks, Oppo. The well-written guide is quite helpful, too.
I was most interested in how well the Sonica’s internal player worked, but since the Sonica’s DAC section accepts higher-resolution files than the player section, I hooked up the nifty little SOtM sMS-200 mini network player to the Sonica using a Wireworld Platinum Silver USB cable and played files up to DSD256, the fastest sampling rate files I had available. A great feature of the SOtM player is its available software, which includes Roon. Of course, some regard a Roon subscription as a bit pricey—but come on, this is hi-fi we’re talking about.
Since the Sonica is economically priced, I connected it to my smaller system, which uses a NAD C 368 amplifier driving KEF Q700 speakers. The NAD amplifier has an optional BluOS module, which allows it to act as a DAC and a player, similar to the Sonica except that NAD has decided not to support DSD but does support MQA—go figure. However, due to the limitations of its DAC, MQA is only supported up to a 192kHz sampling rate.