The Sonore microRendu falls on the less expensive end of the price spectrum for streaming music players, but still brings remarkable capabilities to the audio enthusiast. It handles PCM files up to 768kHz and DSD512, all for $640 without a power supply, and will work with virtually any power supply producing at least 1 amp at 6 to 9 volts DC. Assembled in New Hampshire, the tiny microRendu (2.2" by 0.7" by 3.5") can easily be held in the palm of your hand.
The microRendu doesn’t physically or functionally resemble any component I’ve encountered. Unlike most music-file playback devices, it is not a server. It takes files sent by an external server, which you must also provide, and plays, or renders, them, which means it converts digital music files in the usual variety of formats to a bitstream a DAC can handle, and that DAC, of course, must have a USB 2.0 input. The microRendu is not a Windows device, so no driver is needed for the USB input. Most current DACs do have a USB input, nearly all a USB 2.0 version, which is needed to play the highest-resolution files. The microRendu’s small size and weight allow it to plug directly into the DAC’s USB input, using a USB Type A to Type B adapter included in the box instead of a USB cable. Even though the microRendu is very light, Sonore advises that you to support its weight somehow and not let it dangle from the DAC’s USB jack.
As noted above, the microRendu needs a separate server program running somewhere on your network. It works with several different server programs, or apps if you prefer: SqueezeLite, ShairPort (an AirPlay emulator, whatever that is—Apple users will know), MPD/DLNA, HQ Player NAA Output, and possibly the most familiar, Roon. For Roon, a Roon server should run on a separate computer, which can be located somewhere outside the listening room. For MPD, a server like MinimServer should be running on your NAS. I liked that option best for several reasons, which I’ll cover later. ShairPort would probably appeal to Apple users, which I’m not. Some think Roon is a bit pricey: $119/year, or $499 for a lifetime subscription. One of the reasons I like MPD is that it can use Linn’s Kazoo as the controller, which is free and nicely designed. I didn’t try the HQ Player; I’ve heard it sounds great, but it is not for the faint of heart.
So what’s the advantage of this kind of component? Adrian Lebena, Sonore’s Vice President, explained: “Over-the-counter computers were not designed to be audio players. They have all sorts of hard drives, clocks, and power supplies firing off in all directions, creating noise that translates into a minimizing of critical spatial or soundstage cues.” And Sonore’s President Jesus Rodriguez further amplified: “The idea is that you use a pre-existing computer or NAS as the server and just have a small footprint device (electrically and mechanically) in the listening room isolated from the rest of the gear over the network.” I asked if the added complexity involved in separating the renderer from the server degraded the sound, and Rodriguez replied “There is no basis for assuming it degrades the sound. Trust your ears and just listen to it...let us know what you think. BTW I would keep the unit on so the built-in oscillator can warm up and stabilize. There are some things you do without a server active. For example you can run Tidal from the Internet.”
The Sonore website lists nine power supplies recommended for the microRendu, the least expensive being one by iFi Audio at only $50. For this review, Sonore sent the standard version of its own 7-volt DC Signature Series linear power supply, which sells for $1399. The Colorado-built power supply measures 12.75" by 3" by 10.25" and weighs 10 pounds. If it seems goofy that a power supply should cost nearly twice the price of the player, remember that the power supply contains much heavier components, is housed in a larger, fancier case, and is usually the primary factor in how a component sounds. The microRendu comes in silver finish only; the power supply has silver or black faceplates. The review unit had a silver one, whose only feature was a small blue LED pilot light and a label.
I thought the microRendu was unbelievably cute, but I’d need to do double-blind testing to be sure of that (joke). It’s hard to believe, but inside its tiny chassis is a whole computer optimized for audio playback. There’s only one signal input, an Ethernet RJ45 jack, and one output, a USB 2.0 output. And of course, there has to be a power input jack. Inside, there’s an industrial-rated ARM dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. The microRendu uses an 8GB microSD memory card to hold its operating system (open-source Linux), so if there’s an upgrade, popping out the card and replacing it with an updated one should update the player. During the review period, there was a minor upgrade to some of the software, so I popped in the new card and restarted the microRendu, and voîlà! there was version 2.5 of the SonicOrbiter operating system. The only difficulty was handling the tiny microSD card, thanks to a case of fumble-fingers. The updated operating system shipped on the microSD card sells for $20, a fair price.
In addition to the standard Signature power supply that I used, there’s an Upgrade Version that retails for $1589, which adds two Synergistic Black Fuses and a small tweak. Then there’s a Max Power Supply, selling for $1899, which includes a specially designed Mercury Magnetics EI transformer along with the Synergistic Black Fuses.