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Sonore microRendu software update adds Spotify Connect

We all want the same things. So reckons the Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. His songs document interpersonal relationships, not those that exist between man and his audio machinery. Do audiophiles all want the same things? Not by a long shot.

The vinyl-or-die brigade’s idealism conveniently sails past the hard truth that no two turntables, tonearms or cartridges sound alike. The same can also be said of the digital world where everything from the D/A converter to the streamer (and its power supply) to the file format used to encode the stream make a difference to what we eventually hear.

The digital audio world also has its fair share of idealists. For some, DSD is the only way to go. Until real life says otherwise – 99.9% of the world’s recorded music remains unavailable in the bitstream format. Ditto MQA and its pre-cursor, hi-res PCM.

File format coverage only starts to become properly comprehensive once we drop down to lossless audio e.g. FLAC/ALAC etc. This is otherwise known as CD-quality and is audiophile sweet spot for quality and, most importantly. availability. Digital libraries can be built by ripping yesterday’s physical media collection onto today’s hard drive but we can’t own everything – it’s just not possible. We must use the likes of Tidal and Qobuz are to ‘flesh out’ our collections. Streaming services fill in the missing 90%. Let that sink in for a minute.

Consequently, music streaming service support is a factor when choosing a hardware streamer. We ask: “Does it to Tidal?” or “Does it do Qobuz?” because we know that our FLAC collection will never be as comprehensive as a streaming service’s library. Tidal and Qobuz are akin to having unfettered access to a CD store.

One of the better-sounding hardware streamers is Sonore’s microRendu (reviewed here). Converting its Ethernet input to USB output, the Sonore serves as an endpoint for local network streams – it will play catch on data dispatched from MPD/DLNA, Squeezebox and HQPlayer servers. However, only one operational mode gives us access to the cloud: Tidal via Roon. In Roon parlance, the microRendu is Roon Ready.

Roon’s popularity in part stems from its near-seamless integration of cloud and local storage. Like Sonos, we’re not forced to switch control app in moving between our two zones, even with search.

We live in a streaming age – hi-res PCM, lossless and lossy are all available – and vinyl’s presence looms large once again. The pragmatic audiophile might dabble in a range of formats because it’s fun or because he’s not a die-hard audiophile at every waking hour.

The flexibility afforded by a more pragmatic approach might see our audiophile’s qualitative baseline vary over time and according to circumstance. Late at night, dim the lights and spin a well-worn favourite on vinyl. Or fire up Roon and stream a few hitherto unheard new releases. On the morning commute, Spotify goes where Roon cannot.

Getting FLAC files from LAN server to a smartphone is a finicky process compared to Spotify’s one-click offline listening. Spotify? As an audiophile? Yup.

Once the background din of the train or plane is factored in, is the qualitative shortfall not offset by the convenience of a one-click process? The same could be asked of house-bound activities like cooking and housework where Spotify’s use of lossy Ogg Vorbis is more than good enough for background music. Spotify’s UX is better than that offered by 99% of audio manufacturer supplied control apps. Roon gets closest of all. AURALiC’s Lightning DS gives it a good shot.

Off-setting its SQ dip, Spotify has a more extensive library, especially with modern electronic music. For this user, Spotify fills in Tidal’s blanks. And it’s UX is the same, uniformly superb green, black and white whether streaming content directly to a smart device, playing offlined content on that same smart device or when using it as a remote control for another network-connected streamer. This latter feature is otherwise known as Spotify Connect.

Spotify Connect doesn’t work in the same way as Airplay. With Airplay, music must first travel through one’s phone or tablet. Turn off the phone or tablet and the music stops. Being an Apple technology, Airplay is baked into iOS and OS. Windows and Android users must install additional $oftware. Spotify Connect pulls music from the cloud directly with any PC/Mac, smartphone or tablet (with Spotify installed) acting only as a remote control. Turn off the control device and the music keeps playing.

If a) we don’t own a given album as a download and b) Tidal or Qobuz doesn’t have it, our we are automatically driven into lossless territory. Now Spotify Connect moves from background listening into the foreground.

Remember those idealist audiophiles? This is the point where they jump in with their lossless-or-die polemic. We don’t all want the same things. Spotify is relevant to the pragmatic audiophile, myself included.

Because its allows me to offline an album (like Craig Finn’s latest) with a single click, because its interface is almost unsurpassed and because its library size far exceeds that which I will ever own, Spotify is what I use on an iPhone 6S Plus in tandem with Audeze’s Lightning-connector ‘phones whilst out on Berlin’s streets and its U-Bahn. If Spotify moves to lossless as it has been recently hinted it might, it will become an even more essential audiophile service.

Several reasons why Spotify addition to the Sonore microRendu this week might be seen as a Big Deal™. As one part of a v2.5 update to the Small Green Computer-developed Sonicorbiter operating system and de/activated via its web interface, the microRendu now offers an additional output mode: Spotify Connect. A win for pragmatists (like me) who bowl in through the front door and want to cut their iPhone-headphone listening immediately over to the main rig.

Those wanting to get their hands on this update (which also brings with it some more idealist-friendly features – see below) can do so via snail mail only. US$20 paid to Sonore gets a microSD card with v2.5 preloaded sent anywhere in the world. Anyone who purchased a microRendu within the last 30 days gets a free microSD card.

Pop out the old card, pop in the new – easy. This old school approach to a software update was likely implemented so that Sonore could sidestep the tech support calls generated by inviting end users to a download an image file and write it to a memory card.

For those taking the twenty-dollar plunge, the benefit is two fold: 1) The microRendu user need no longer switch over to a separate Spotify Connect-capable device; 2) the Sonore device’s SQ-smarts are brought to bear on Spotify streams.

In my experience, getting the digital hardware right is just as important as the file format. We don’t tend to hear differences in rigidity and/or suppleness (aka a sense of ease) between formats as we do between DACs and streamers. On the other hand, more revealing systems expose a lossy codecs frayed edges. Some might sooner hear Spotify Extreme’s 320kbps played via a dCS stack than a FLAC run through an AudioQuest DragonFly Black.

This latest software update allows the microRendu to lay out the middle ground so that we might decide for ourselves because, as audiophiles, we don’t all want the same things.

Further information: Sonore


Sonicorbiter v2.5 release notes:

1. The base operating system and kernel has been updated.
2. All the pre-configured applications have been updated to the latest release versions and or stable versions.
3. DSD playback now supports Native DSD with pop-free PCM/DSD transitions.
4. New devices have been added that support Native DSD playback.
5. Spotify Connect has been added as a new output mode. This new output mode can be controlled by your computer or tablet running the Spotify application. The application can be installed and uninstalled from Software Manager. This application is based on librespot – an open source client library for Spotify.
6. A SongCast receiver has been added to the existing MPD/DLNA output mode. This new output mode accept streams from your computer running Linn Songcast. The application can be installed and uninstalled from the Software manager. The application is in Beta form.
7. This version also contains other bug fixes and enhancements.

Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

33 Comments

  1. great to hear it..esp if/when spotify offers lossless and tidal loses alot of their client base.
    then to see if Spotify will allow Roon access….

    • however i do ask: why should be current MR be charged? most other developers of software upgrade for free…so why should we be dinged?

      • Because the microSD card is shipped to your door for reasons outlined in the post.

    • If Spotify goes lossless and especially MQA Tidal is done.
      I actually don’t think the Spotify interface is very good. Right now I pay for Tidal, Pandora, and Apple Music.
      If Sonore could do MQA that would be really great. I’m really only looking at buying products these days that fit with MQA, Roon, and my Kef wireless.
      By the way I don’t think Ogg is an especially great codec and 320k Ogg does not sound as good as Apples 256k AAC. I dropped Spotify not long after Apple Music came out as Apple Music offers me a lot more. My years of iTunes Music co-exist with streaming in one interface and all plays well with my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, and Apple TV.

  2. This product seems like a great one, but with a major flaw that all seem to have… only 2 channels. My media room has 8 speakers. My PCM and DSD collection consists of over 6,000 tracks of multi-channel (more than 2) music. I would like to take advantage of all of the speakers that were intended. Most of my multichannel audio is 6 channels. Why is there only 1 product (playpoint by exaSound) that handles this?

    • I can’t relate to your seeing the lack of multi channel support is as a flaw, especially when the likes of Bluesound and Auralic don’t support it either. I’d wager that multi channel DSD is too niche for even the mid-tier streamer manufacturers. An absent feature, yes. A flaw, no.

      That said, multi-channel listening sits beyond DAR’s purview.

  3. So do I still have to pull up the web interface first to kick the Rendu into this mode before switching to the Spotify app? Or will it advertise its availability on the network all the time and kick itself into this mode when the Spotify app tries to connect to it?

    • You have to kick it into this mode as per Roon or Squeezelite, as shown by the screenshot in the above post.

  4. The microRendu does in fact have multi-channel support. Information on it can be found here: https://www.computeraudiophile.com/forums/topic/30621-sonicorbiter-multichannel/

    This is not a paid software update and that is not our business model. We have been updating the Sonicorbiter operating system almost on a continuous basis and have made everything available for free with the click of a button. That is our business model. In this special case what you are paying for is the delivery mechanism and the logistics to produce and ship the new Sonicorbiter 2.5 operating system. If we could simply update Sonicorbiter 2.3 and achieve the main goals of this update we would. This is a complete new operating system and we are not going to take the chance to brick your unit in the field. We have given this a lot of thought and this is the best way to assure that this update is successful.

  5. “However, only one operational mode gives us access to the cloud…”

    Actually you’ve been able to stream from iTunes / Apple Music via AirPlay using the SharePlay mode on the MicroRendu.

    • I’ll update the post to say “only one operational mode accesses the cloud without recourse to the remote controlling device’s internet connection”.

      • If I shut down or restart my Mac while streaming music from Tidal via Roon, the music stops in that case as well (I just tested it to be sure).

  6. On Android you can access Tidal + local network music from one control app – BubbleUPNP (server installed on microRendu, app installed on phone/tablet). I do this currently. Possibly can be done with the Lumin app for iOS as well (again with BubbleUPNP server installed on the mR, but don’t hold me to that because I’ve never tried it…

  7. Also worth mentioning are the other apps you can download through the web interface. One that is already available for the current version is Shairplay which allows Apple Music (or any iOS AirPlay compatible apps) to play through the microRendu using the iOS apps interface. Since it isn’t provided by default it is often overlooked, but only a download click away.
    In other words Apple Music streaming is supported in the same way as Spotify is discussed in this article. It works now with the current microRendu version. Just download Shairport in the microRendu web interface, make it active and airplay to it.

    • Shairport was covered in the review but it’s an endpoint for Aiplay devices. That means 1) the music first travels through the sending device (e.g smartphone) before reaching the microRendu; 2) it isn’t wholly compatible with some Android devices or Windows PCs. Spotify Connect doesn’t work in the same way. It turns the sending device into a remote control – no music passes through it. The microRendu pulls music directly from Spotify servers which means it works with Spotify running on ANY device: Windows, Android included.

    • I wasn’t aware that was possible – thanks for letting us all know that it is! 🙂

      • John,

        Assuming you have the 2.5 OS installed – which version of Squeezelite is now being run?

        I am interested in trying out LMS upsampling. There is a handy plugin to assist with this, but it needs a newer version of Squeezelite .

        The SQ of Q. obviously depends on the quality of the source files. At its best it is very good.

        Thx,

        M

  8. As far as I know the core principle behind Airplay has always been that the destination Airplay device becomes the player not the iOS device that controls it. This is for all AirPlay devices and I would assume Shairport also. When you ‘Airplay’ audio or a movie to another device, the device it is sent from merely passes the source address to the destination device and the destination device does all of the streaming and playing. The device it is sent from merely acts as a controller and does not travel through the source device as you describe. When using Screen Mirroring, the playing is done through the source device, but not AirPlay

    This is how how you describe Spotify Connect working but it is also exactly how AirPlay and Shairport work.

    And yes AirPlay is biased towards the Apple Eco System, but if you have iOS deices it opens up streaming access to Apple Music, which is a substantial library and an extremely slick interface to it. And it works seamlessly through Shairport.

    • Hmmm. Are you 100% sure on this? If I use Airplay/Shairport to send music FROM my iPhone TO the microRendu and then turn off my phone, the music stops, even with Spotify streams. This is also true when I stream via Airplay from iPhone to Apple TV. Or from Macbook to Apple TV.

      If I do the same with Spotify Connect running on the microRendu and then I turn of my iPhone, the music keeps playing.

  9. For me, the pragmatist way of streaming includes a wireless connection, as I don’t have LAN available in my living room. I therefore prefer the combination of Chromecast Audio + SPDIF-Reclocker (+DAC) for discovering new music. Whenever a new album enters my personal “Hall of Fame”, I go out and buy the CD or LP (sometimes used, sometimes new).

    I would be interested in trying out the MicroRendu, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the hassle (would need to invest into a wifi bridge to connect it to my system).

    • This is exactly my setup and approach as well (except I only buy vinyl). I’m just not convinced that the MicroRendu would provide a superior experience proportional to the associated additional cost and hassle.

    • I have similar thoughts. My amp + speakers together cost less than the mr. Thus, I just ordered a raspberry pi to use with ipower and ione nano through the usb. I read some posts on the internet that there is some settings configuration for raspberry pi that gives extremely good audiophile results. The ione will do the reclocing/regenaration of usb signal and work as a DAC. I might never reach the mr audiophile abilities but that is not the point. I will be more than happy if I manage to reach the sound quality of my laptop through usb to ione which is the best I have achieved in my budget system so far. This will just add convenience and it is also for fun. Obviously, no Roon due to cost considerations. No hifi berry or similar since the spdif input of the ione is reserved for the TV.

    • Network over Powerline maybe an option? Believe there is an adapter that lets you connect Ethernet to the chromecast. Not seen it in action though.
      Used to use the powerline way and worked pretty darn well though for the fussy audiophile (ok i’m getting there) its considered bad news :o)
      Taking it to the next step I now use hard wiring ethernet into a micro rendu equivalent the SOTM SMS-200. Consensus says it sounds as good as the MR but its about 200 pounds less

  10. Hi,

    From where can I order the 2.5 firmware. I do not see any link in sonores’s web page.

    Tks,

    Jorge

  11. I just got my sd card update. I can say it’s quite a revelation. No one told me how good Spotify could sound. The sonore microrendu sounds like noise has been completely eliminated. The sound so complex and involving, no longer flat pancake like that it normally sounds to me.

  12. I don’t know how I missed this article but I’m really excited to give this update a try 🙂

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