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Innuos Zenith Mk3 VS Auralic Aries G2

Southeastern

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I've had the lucky opportunity to have these two on demo for a couple of weeks, and boy I am somewhat torn on which one to go for. They are feeding an Aqua La Voce S3 DAC.

Aside from the obvious differences - Zenith has SSD and CD slot, Aries has neither (but both can be added), The Aries has a screen and different outputs, not just USB like the Zenith, Aeries has Wifi, Zenith just ethernet. They are both exceptional streamers. I genuinely thought that my previous NAIM ND5XS2 could'nt be better until these two arrived. Comparing any of these three to say a StrawberryandcustardPi has made me realised that I never had to dislike listening to digital music, I just needed a good streamer. I have a used G2 and brand new Zenith (120 hours burn in on it currently), both on good deals, so the price between them is only a couple of hundred quid. Originally, at retail prices, when the G2 was sold it was £3899 and at the time, the Zenith Mk3 was £2999, now the Zenith is £3499 and the new G2.1 is £4199. 

Both of these units give a very different presentation. I use Roon on both to avoid OS software discrepancies.

The Aries G2 (not G2.1) has this very solid sound, with a real thump in the lower regions. It sounds 'perfect' but borders on sound too perfect, you can hear that it is digital, very much 'controlled'. It has an amazing control of voices, but the top end can be over overshadowed by the bottom and can be aggressive at times.

The Zenith Mk3 has a more relaxed analogue sound, but can at time really overcook it on the top end and has a lack of low end thump, it can often sound 'all symbols'  and no body but does give a bigger more expansive sound width. It has a little sibilance on voices, but it can be enjoyed for longer, and it does soften poor recordings. The Aries does not soften a thing, you get it raw, but with that, a more prominent 'wow' factor.

Both of them are very smooth and non fatiguing, but the Zenith is softer and smoother overall. The Aries is much more raw.

Both of them benefitted from a good mains cable, the difference was remarkable between using a freebie, which I then replace to a Naim Powerlite (barely any improvement), and then to a cable I picked up years ago for about £80, a Argentum Acoustics Proteus-12, which was a great match for both of them. Im using an EWA USB cable, and have a Shunyata Venom coming this week. The EWA cable tends to be a top heavy and low bass cable based on EWA's others in the range, so I'll be looking forward to trying the Shunyata.

The Zeniths symbol addiction can melt my brain, as can the Aries low end dominance.  It's almost like I want a hybrid of them both!  When you plug back in a Pi unit, its like going back to a Sony Walkman.

Any thoughts/experiences of these units would be very welcome!

 
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sgee

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Interesting, I see that you use Roon on both. Understand that to try to give an even handed comparison between the 2 units.  What Innuos software version are you using on the Zenith mk3?  Suggest you upgrade to the new Innuos 2.0 software which will give improved sound on that item.  Surely when comparing 2 items, is it not better to have each unit performing to the best it can rather than limiting the output? 

 
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Southeastern

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Interesting, I see that you use Roon on both. Understand that to try to give an even handed comparison between the 2 units.  What Innuos software version are you using on the Zenith mk3?  Suggest you upgrade to the new Innuos 2.0 software which will give improved sound on that item.  Surely when comparing 2 items, is it not better to have each unit performing to the best it can rather than limiting the output? 
I havent used the Innous or Lightning software, but I do have the 2.0 software on the Innous.

As I am using Roon, and I won't stop using Roon, ideally its the best to find what has the best SQ through that.

But I do agree, it's worth it to see how much Roon is negatively affecting the sound. I will definitely try the Innous on its own software over the weekend to see what the differences are - its a bit of a ballache having to 'turn off' Roon in the Innous app, to be able to use its native software though.

Currently leaning towards the Auralic though I have to admit. The Zenith just dosen't have any body and I can't understand why. 

 
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Interesting, I see that you use Roon on both. Understand that to try to give an even handed comparison between the 2 units.  What Innuos software version are you using on the Zenith mk3?  Suggest you upgrade to the new Innuos 2.0 software which will give improved sound on that item.  Surely when comparing 2 items, is it not better to have each unit performing to the best it can rather than limiting the output? 
Agree with all you say. Why strangle the Zenith with Roon when Innuos 2.0 is available and sounds better.

But I do agree, it's worth it to see how much Roon is negatively affecting the sound. I will definitely try the Innous on its own software over the weekend to see what the differences are - its a bit of a ballache having to 'turn off' Roon in the Innous app, to be able to use its native software though.
It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to swop over.

 

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The Zeniths symbol addiction can melt my brain, as can the Aries low end dominance.  It's almost like I want a hybrid of them both!  
Sounds like neither is for you - look elsewhere.  Can't have liquid brain on the carpet. 😉 Regards Andrew 

 
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Southeastern

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Agree with all you say. Why strangle the Zenith with Roon when Innuos 2.0 is available and sounds better.

It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to swop over.
I use Roon for various reasons. No interest in swapping over and using different interfaces etc, but I will definitely examine it with its native software.

 

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I use Roon for various reasons. No interest in swapping over and using different interfaces etc, but I will definitely examine it with its native software.
To be fair I keep Roon in the kitchen system for it's ease of use and for when the kids come back although last weekend they seemed perfectly happy with using the Innuos 2.0 app when I tried it out with them. It has a fantastic search mechanism and excellent user interface so Roon may also bite the dust in the kitchen system as well.

 
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Sounds like neither is for you - look elsewhere.  Can't have liquid brain on the carpet. 😉 Regards Andrew 
lol, It's possible, but I am leaning towards the Auralic more and more. I am starting to feel like I got a bad Zenith, after asking around, it seems theres been quite a few reports of recently purchased Zeniths having the same opinion formed of them. Wondering if its a Chinese 'swap out' on some of the components on the motherboard. The Chinese factories are notorious for doing that to drop their costs.

 

Southeastern

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Well, I just found how to disable the Auralic volume control...now, there is less emphasis of the bass and it all sounds so much more natural.

 
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Agree with all you say. Why strangle the Zenith with Roon when Innuos 2.0 is available and sounds better.

It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to swop over.
With regard to the Zenith sounding better using InnuOS 2 compared to Room. Is that because Room degrades the sound in some way. 

 

Southeastern

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With regard to the Zenith sounding better using InnuOS 2 compared to Room. Is that because Room degrades the sound in some way. 
I believe Roon does, I used Audirvana before and it was a better SQ than Roon. The native NAIM app on my previous ND5XS2 was also better than Roon on SQ.

I feel though, with Roon being an extremely arrogant company, this probably won't change, so I am definitely going to play around with InnuOS 2.0 this weekend.

 

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I’m using the Aries G1 into a L Scala dac with great results and I presume the G2 is even better. But the biggest improvement came with using a Shunyata Delta power cord. Go figure….

 

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I've owned the Zenith MK3 for about 18 months now and love it... it goes through a Luxman DA 06 DAC and to my ears, sounds perfectly balanced

Which speakers do you use?

Mac

 

Southeastern

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I've owned the Zenith MK3 for about 18 months now and love it... it goes through a Luxman DA 06 DAC and to my ears, sounds perfectly balanced

Which speakers do you use?

Mac
It's definitely not my speakers, as everything else works fine with my system :)  But they are Q Acoustics Concept 300.

The results are..

The Zenith is back in its box and going back to the dealer.

The Zenith does sound more 'analogue' like, but it was too devoid of bottom end and too frantic in top end. This dosent mean harsh, it was anything but,  it has an incredibly smooth reproduction, but it was just too 'busy' for me, it lacked control and could at times just sound a complete mess if lots of things were happening in the track. Over longer listening periods, this began to grate on me and gave me a headache. For slower stuff, it was very impressive but lacked a real low end rumble, which at first didn't matter, but overtime, for me, I just felt like it was lacking, and it was annoying me. There is sibilance in voices, nothing major but its there, and I had a choice not to have it, so I went that way.

The G2 although being a little 'darker' in its presentation, just worked so much better. It has control and precision and a big bottom end and midrange warmth, it works very well with my setup. It's instrument placement may not be as realistic as the Zenith, but it manages to create a defined soundstage that one becomes at 'peace' to listen to. The casing also feels much more substantial for the price tag, the Zenith and its folded panels felt a bit cheap.

Power cable changes was a big step up on both routers, but more noticeable on Zenith - without a decent cable it had a slight harshness (noise) to the lower treble, and lacked midrange even more.

The best way to think of it is  the Zenith being on the front row of a live concert, and the G2 being in the treated engineers studio room. 

I do use a valve amp and R2R DAC, so it could be that the blend of those with the 'analogue style' of Zenith was 'too much' for me. I feel like the Zenith is a great streamer, and matched to say a solid state system, I can see where it would really shine, when the G2 might just be overly precise and become robotic. However, the step up in SQ from either unit over my already impressive NAIM ND5XS2 was pretty big, which was already massive over a Bluesound Node and rPi. I feel like I have digital now an enjoyable experience like my Turntable without any real annoyances.

I did try the Zenith on its native App instead of Roon, and SQ was better. Much like when choosing the native Naim app on the ND5. It's very clear to me that Roon does have a more 'processed' sound signature, where as InnuOS 2.0 and Naim was much natural. I imagine the die hard Roon fanatics on their forum prefer that, but I preferred the native apps. It won't stop me using Roon though, as with the G2, it sounds better with Roon than the Zenith without.

For fun, I put the rPi back in after having the G2 on for a couple of hours...and boy, the difference was spellbinding. Even with a fairly decent system , it really proved that the source is equally as important as say the speakers. The rPi, just sounded so bad. Harsh, no spacial magic, also like an arcade game style sound signature, one dimensional and robotic. Obviously the price difference is mega, but it's definitely imo worth considering stepping out of the linear rPi rhetoric if you want better sound quality...and power supplies are a huge part of this.

 
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DomT

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It's definitely not my speakers, as everything else works fine with my system :)  But they are Q Acoustics Concept 300.

The results are..

The Zenith is back in its box and going back to the dealer.

The Zenith does sound more 'analogue' like, but it was too devoid of bottom end and too frantic in top end. This dosent mean harsh, it was anything but,  it has an incredibly smooth reproduction, but it was just too 'busy' for me, it lacked control and could at times just sound a complete mess if lots of things were happening in the track. Over longer listening periods, this began to grate on me and gave me a headache. For slower stuff, it was very impressive but lacked a real low end rumble, which at first didn't matter, but overtime, for me, I just felt like it was lacking, and it was annoying me. There is sibilance in voices, nothing major but its there, and I had a choice not to have it, so I went that way.

The G2 although being a little 'darker' in its presentation, just worked so much better. It has control and precision and a big bottom end and midrange warmth, it works very well with my setup. It's instrument placement may not be as realistic as the Zenith, but it manages to create a defined soundstage that one becomes at 'peace' to listen to. The casing also feels much more substantial for the price tag, the Zenith and its folded panels felt a bit cheap.

Power cable changes was a big step up on both routers, but more noticeable on Zenith - without a decent cable it had a slight harshness (noise) to the lower treble, and lacked midrange even more.

The best way to think of it is  the Zenith being on the front row of a live concert, and the G2 being in the treated engineers studio room. 

I do use a valve amp and R2R DAC, so it could be that the blend of those with the 'analogue style' of Zenith was 'too much' for me. I feel like the Zenith is a great streamer, and matched to say a solid state system, I can see where it would really shine, when the G2 might just be overly precise and become robotic. However, the step up in SQ from either unit over my already impressive NAIM ND5XS2 was pretty big, which was already massive over a Bluesound Node and rPi. I feel like I have digital now an enjoyable experience like my Turntable without any real annoyances.

For fun, I put the rPi back in after having the G2 on for a couple of hours...and boy, the difference was spellbinding. Even with a fairly decent system , it really proved that the source is equally as important as say the speakers. The rPi, just sounded so bad. Harsh, no spacial magic, also like an arcade game style sound signature, one dimensional and robotic. Obviously the price difference is mega, but it's definitely imo worth considering stepping out of the linear rPi rhetoric if you want better sound quality...and power supplies are a huge part of this.
Great write up and very informative. I have also found that a streamer that sounds good in one system might be ‘too much of a good thing’ in another. 

 
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Southeastern

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Great write up and very informative. I have also found that a streamer that sounds good in one system might be ‘too much of a good thing’ in another. 
Thanks Dom, yes it's exactly that, the Zenith would be a dream in some systems. I can imagine me going back to it one day if I ever change things around.

 

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