I believe all of us hear differently—partly because of our individual audiology, and partly because of what we pay attention to. Each of us values what he hears differently. I have at least one friend who likes a lot of bass from his hi-fi system, and another who once told me he feels bass is vulgar (!) and doesn’t like it at all. Needless to say, those guys’ systems don’t sound a lot alike. So when I review a component, I like to invite several audiophile friends who are familiar with the sound of my reference system to listen to it also, so I can get other viewpoints. Here’s a comment from a very experienced audiophile when he heard the system with the microRendu installed: “When I come here to listen, normally some things sound excellent, and some just good. Today (with the microRendu playing back an assortment of music files, some high-resolution, some CD rips), everything sounded excellent.” Isn’t that the whole point of the audiophile hobby?
Using Roon with a Roon Server Running on a Windows 10 Laptop
It’s a challenge to review gadgets that claim to create better sound by doing things we’ve always done but doing them slightly differently. It might test my reviewing acuity: Will I be able to tell the difference or is the change, if any, so subtle as to escape my perception? Or could it be a hoax by the manufacturer—blessedly uncommon, but not unheard of? Fortunately, with the microRendu, that wasn’t a problem; the difference was plainly audible. Excuse my invoking a worn-out reviewer’s cliché, but the difference was like someone pulled back a curtain back from across the sonic picture. Detail became clearer, the presentation more realistic. Here’s a musical example: Neil Diamond’s Dreams (192/24 AIFF, Neil Diamond/ProStudioMasters) exhibited a reality enhancement: a classic case of scrims being drawn back from in front of the (sound)stage, blah, blah, blah—but doggone if it didn’t sound like Diamond was singing better than on recent recordings and was easier to understand. Were the improvements hard to detect? No, I could tell the difference in the next room. It just sounded more like a person in the room singing. Wait, let me translate that to audio reviewer blather: the music’s harmonic structure was portrayed with increased precision and accuracy, transient events became more accurately delineated with better timing and flow, and performances were delivered with stunning nuance and shading. Wow, I’ve gotta write that down—oh, I just did. It sounded like Diamond was a real person, y’know—breathing and stuff. Even his guitar sounded better; it usually sounds rather jangly with mostly string sound, very little body sound. Maybe he likes it that way. Through the microRendu, it sounded like a musical performance was taking place. Okay, you get the picture; I’ll quit flogging the poor horse.
On Jackie Evancho’s album Two Hearts (44.1/24 FLAC, Tidal), the microRendu reproduced the song “Pedestal” with absolutely crushing bass, which pressurized my office three rooms away from my listening room. That’s never happened before—I almost took defensive cover. Evancho’s voice, in my view one of the loveliest in pop music, was reproduced with detailed texture and dynamics, emphasizing its expressiveness.
Switching to the old favorite “Folia: Rodrigo Martinez” ripped to AIFF format from the CD La Folia 1490-1701 (Alia Vox AFA 9805), I again encountered robust bass reproduction, particularly the midbass where there’s a lot of detail. Instrumental harmonics were accurate and complete; however, the performance seemed ever-so-slightly less energetic than I’ve heard it. With the best player/DAC combinations, the dynamic envelope comes across as if the sound coils up like a spring, then releases like a spring being released from captivity—if that makes sense.
Switching to another standby album, The Tallis Scholars’ Allegri’s Miserere & Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (96/24 FLAC, Gimell/Gimell), the track “Miserere” is performed a capella by a small choral group in a church (it was intended to be performed in the Sistine Chapel), with a main group at the front of the soundstage and a small group of soloists located some distance behind the main group. The microRendu rendered the main group with tons of detail, though without any etch or peakiness, so that I could make out the texture of individual voices. The distant solo group sounded less separated than I sometimes hear, although I could easily detect the reverberation in the chapel that tells me that the group is behind the main group. Sometimes, the solo group is portrayed as being awash in a smear of reverberation that creates an impression that the distant singers are performing in a high school gym, but here the reverberation was under control, and seemed more realistically connected to the performers. A solo tenor in the main group performs a narrator role; the microRendu reproduced his voice with tons of detail, so that it sounded more human than I’ve ever heard it.