Music in the Round #100: Multichannel & Merging Anubis Page 2

Alternatively, if you're interested in sophisticated DSP functions such as upsampling, downsampling, equalization, room correction, and so on, at high sample rates, you're going to need a faster box. Choose a computer with an 8th or 9th Generation Intel i7 or i9 processor (or the equivalent AMD Ryzen CPU), with fast RAM and a solid-state drive for storing the OS and programs. You can buy a so-called silent or quiet PC from the Internet, build your own, or buy a purpose-built computer constructed by a specialist for dedicated audio use. That last option is the easiest way to assure that your playback hardware will perform as intended, but it's also the most expensive (footnote 2).

MUSIC PLAYER SOFTWARE: Choosing software is complicated, if only because there are too many options. Just make sure that the software explicitly supports discrete multichannel files in PCM and/or DSD. Many say they have multichannel support but in fact support only compressed formats like DTS or Dolby, which target the home theater market.

Try as many programs as you can, using free-trial options where available; although it's debatable whether any real sonic differences exist, some will have more subjective appeal than others. Play with their display screens, search functions, and playlist options, as this is how you will interact with them. Pick what you like and know you can always change to another. I like JRiver Media Center and Roon. They offer complementary virtues.

GETTING THE SOUND TO THE SOUND SYSTEM: There are myriad ways to get files from your server to your system, and they fall into four general categories. The first, which should be avoided if at all possible, is to take the signal from the motherboard's sound outputs—a poor-sounding alternative, especially if the outputs support only direct output via the operating system. A better idea is to take the output from a computer soundcard: Audiophiles may reflexively sneer at this idea, but John Atkinson has favorably reviewed a few consumer/gaming soundcards, and a number of professional/studio cards can be presumed to be suitable. Better still—even if compromised, as already mentioned— is to go from an HDMI output to an HDMI input on an AV receiver or preamp-processor, which is easy to do and can work well: If you have an AVR, I suggest you try it—the caveat being that the resulting sound quality will depend on the processing and D/A conversion in the AVR. With rare exceptions, they do not compete with what one can achieve with an external DAC.


The fourth and best option is to send the output via USB, Ethernet, or I2S to an external DAC. (Any of those three types of data link is fine.) Yes, there are really only three multichannel consumer DACs on the market today, but the miniDSP U-DIO8 multichannel interface—a $299 box—lets you hook up any three or four stereo DACs that suit your taste and pocketbook.

Merging + Anubis Multichannel Monitor Controller/DAC
From Merging Technologies comes a new product that will fill a gap in the multichannel DAC market (footnote 3). The only catch: The Anubis doesn't fit precisely into any common category that readers would easily recognize. Merging designed the Anubis to serve as a monitor controller in an audio-production studio and to interact, via the RAVENNA/AES67 audio-over-Internet protocol, with their Hapi or Horus processors, which encompass up to 128 audio channels and many hundreds of additional I/O channels. The Anubis comes in two variants, Pro ($1599) and Premium ($2099), which differ only in the formats and sample rates they support; the Pro supports PCM up to 32/192, while the Premium supports PCM up to 32/384 (including DXD352.8) and DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256.


Since this doesn't directly relate to what the audiophile/music lover needs, why did I jump on the Merging team to send me an Anubis Premium? Bearing in mind the above-mentioned format throughput, I noted that the Anubis will accept an 8-channel stream via Ethernet, has outputs that can be configured for up to eight monitors, and has a volume control. To me, that says: multichannel DAC!

But that's not all. The Anubis has two stereo headphone outputs and two pairs of analog inputs, one of which is configurable for microphones. That means you can feed in two stereo sources of your choice (phono preamp, FM tuner, etc.) and enjoy them on speakers or headphones. Thus the Anubis can be at the core of a multichannel audio system where multichannel and stereo sources converge, and control the output to amps and speakers. All this in a package that's about the size of three Blu-ray disc boxes!


A bright but dimmable multitouch display and a large encoder knob that functions as volume control, as well as for multiple trims and settings, dominate the top of the Anubis. Below the display, from left to right, are buttons for Home (main menu cycling and settings access), Speaker A (selects a preset monitor configuration), Speaker B (ditto), Headphones 1, and Headphones 2. On the right top is the Mute button and below it is the Talkback control that accesses a small omnidirectional microphone positioned between the Home and Speaker A buttons. I cannot think of any home use for this function unless you want to warn everyone within hearing that you are going to play something loud !


At the back, we see the power switch, Kensington security slot, and DC power jack clustered at the left. Next to those are a locking Ethercon network connector, a pair of jacks for MIDI and GPIO functions, 2 TRS ¼" jacks (Line 3-4 outputs), 2 XLR jacks (Main 1-2 outputs) and, finally, two combo XLR/TRS inputs for mike/line sources. Looking at the front, the Headphones 1 jack is on the left and next to it is a pair of ¼" line-level jacks; on the far right is the Headphones 2 jack. There's also a microphone stand socket (European thread) on the bottom of the Anubis and low-noise fan vents on the two side panels. (The fan's not just quiet: At its Mid and Low settings, it's pretty much silent.)

My plan for putting the Anubis to work: connect its Main 1-2 XLR outputs to the FrontLeft and FrontRight inputs of my Audio Research MP1 preamp; connect a pair of 0.5m-long ¼" TRS-to-XLR adapters from the Line Outputs 3-4 to the Center and LFE preamp inputs; and connect a 0.5m-long ¼" TRS-to-Dual XLR Y-adapter from the Headphones 1 jack to the SurroundLeft and SurroundRight inputs (footnote 4).

Finally, I plugged in the LAN Ethernet cable and attached the power supply. The Anubis powered up. Having used the Merging NADAC+, I knew to install Merging's ASIO driver on my server and configure both JRiver and Roon to use it. JRiver and Roon saw the driver and, indeed, tried to send out music, but the Anubis just sat there. I knew it was alive (it lit up!) and that it was on the network, because I could use my browser to access its webpage and adjust the settings—but the silence was deafening. I called for help.

It took about 45 minutes on Skype and VPN for Dominique Brulhart, Merging Technologies' head of software development, to guide me through the setup. The procedure turned out to be not too difficult, but there is no simple menu or guide. As the Anubis comes from the factory, its inputs, outputs, and internal processes are not connected, and one must use Merging's Audio Network Manager (ANEMAN) web app to route the signals to and through the Anubis. After a bit of clicking on the ANEMAN graphic display (accompanied by explanations), the channel routing worked as I had planned above. The flexibility gives the Anubis much power, but it demands more setup effort than a typical home product.

According to Brulhart, the Anubis is "targeted to the pro (broadcast, recording, mastering) and music (live bands, home studio) markets. However, the quality of the headphone amp and D/A makes it a very nice choice for home/audiophile users, and we're considering this market too, with potentially dedicated features (like RoonReady, DLNA, MQA, etc. . .), but in a second stage."

The DAC chip in the Anubis is an ESS ES9026PRO. That's the least expensive chip in ESS's current PRO series but, in terms of performance specs, it's only marginally less impressive than the others. On the other hand, the flagship NADAC+8, which I reviewed in the March 2016 Stereophile, utilized the now relatively ancient ES9008 so, while the chip itself is not the sole determinant of audio quality, it is not unreasonable to expect much has changed since then. Technical specs for the Anubis are impressive, especially so given its small (and quiet!) package. Merging's output noise measurements suggest that it's suitable for high-end domestic purposes. Running it through the MP1 and the Benchmark AHB2 amps, the noise levels were dependent on the MP1; running directly to the power amps, noise was inaudible. I also loved the silky smooth and silent operation of the large volume control.

I'm delighted with the sound of the Anubis. From the first note, there was a sense of natural balance and smoothness. It's hard to point out felicities when the overriding characteristic is that nothing is out of place or out of proportion. In the Goldilocks analogy, everything was Just right. This was immediately apparent on a beautiful recording of music for violin and orchestra by soloist Margaret Batjer with Jeffrey Kahane of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (SACD, BIS-2309), auditioned from a download at 24/48, the resolution at which it was recorded. From the vaporous, wispy opening of Pierre Jalbert's Violin Concerto emerged a soulful and resolute solo voice, calling to mind the opening of the Sibelius concerto, had it been written in this century. As the music progressed through this and other works, the sound was sweet, detailed, and remarkably dynamic, especially in the naked transparency of the scoring of Arvo Pärt's Fratres, an often-played piece but one rarely heard as clearly as here.

Sticking with violin but moving to more extravert concerti, the Anubis revealed all the splashy colors of Paganini's First and Vieuxtemps' Fourth concerti with soloist Ning Feng and the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias, conducted by Rossen Milanov (24/384 download, Channel Classics/NativeDSD, footnote 5). I played this and heard Feng's brilliant and resonant violin front and center with the orchestra blazing behind him and the hall surrounding my perch on the couch. The power and tonal quality of the timpani were notable.

Is the Anubis suitable for a multichannel playback system of the highest quality? Heck, yes! I wish I could compare it side by side with the NADAC+8, but swapping it in and out against the exaSound e38 Mk.II was a tossup in sound quality. The e38 was a bit more incisive in the midrange and treble, but without brightness or emphasis. On the other hand, the Anubis seemed reticent, with a suggestion of softness in the same range—but A/B comparison did not reveal any loss of exquisite detail. The differences between the exaSound and the Anubis were subtle and virtually insignificant.

The biggest distinction, then, is that the Anubis sits face-up on the table-top, provides a physical volume control knob, and accepts two additional analog stereo sources, whereas the e38 Mk.II has a traditional front panel, two up/down volume buttons (as well as an Apple Remote Control), and accepts additional digital inputs. Choosing between them depends on personal habits and system configuration. The Anubis's silky volume knob suits me just fine because I select my music while standing in front of the computer display—and it obviates the need for a preamp.

There's no telling what additional Anubis configurations Merging will develop in the future. But as it is, the Anubis is a superb multichannel DAC that can redefine your entire system.

Footnote 2: I have had good experiences with specialist players from Baetis and Wolf Audio.

Footnote 3: Manufacturer: Merging Technologies, Le Verney 4, 1070 Puidoux, Switzerland. Tel: +41 21 946 04 44. US distributor: Independent Audio, Inc., 82 Gilman Street, Portland, ME 04102. Tel: (207) 773 2424.

Footnote 4: The three adapter cables cost me a total of $30. In this arrangement, the rear channel outputs are not balanced; I have not yet pursued the option of using both headphone jacks to provide balanced outputs for the rear channels. Other options are to expand the output to eight channels for two additional subs or to leave the Headphones 2 for its intended purpose.

Footnote 5: At the time of this report, the Anubis's support for DSD was still in beta release, and my review sticks to what is officially released. I have no doubt Merging's commitment to DSD assures its formal release by the time you read this.


tnargs's picture

You are right, Kalman: "Even in Stereophile, Music in the Round is a niche: too easily passed over and possibly beyond the notice of many readers."

So easily overlooked, in fact, that I briefly overlooked it when I once criticised Stereophile 5 years ago for its lack of multichannel coverage, and got promptly put in my place by JA, citing Musing in the Round as proof of how wrong I was.

At least now, its utter inadequacy is being acknowledged (just like I said back then) and acted upon. But waay too late.

How ironic that JA will now find himself doing tests and measurements of equipment that was, he insisted to me, covered all along. (As an aside, I wonder how he will choose to test the performance of room correction?)

Good on you, Kalman, for carrying the torch for so long in a magazine that, in the broad, had its back firmly turned towards your field, until now. You did a great job. And I hope the reviewers turn to you as Chief Consultant for their reviews: you know so much more than them.


John Atkinson's picture
tnargs wrote:
As an aside, I wonder how he will choose to test the performance of room correction?

I examine the lower-frequency room correction offered by Dirac LE in my forthcoming review of NAD's M10 integrated amplifier, scheduled to be published in the January 2020 issue of Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JA1 could also review, one of the Devialet Expert Pro integrated amp models with SAM (speaker active management) technology? :-) .........

Jim Austin's picture

hope the reviewers turn to you as Chief Consultant for their reviews: you know so much more than them.

But Kal himself will, in many if not most cases, be the reviewer.

Why is everyone assuming that Kal is leaving?

Jim Austin, Editor

tnargs's picture

I didn't assume he is leaving.

I assumed his words, "It may even result in other reviewers venturing into multichannel", were serious. Otherwise he will simply be overloaded, having said he is currently pressed by the cycle of publication deadlines. Or his reviews will be more sparse than ever, since he wants to write about other topics more now.


Jim Austin's picture

"It may even result in other reviewers venturing into multichannel."

I'd say that's perfectly stated. Currently, none of our regular reviewers are equipped with multichannel systems, except Kal and Tom Norton, whose multichannel system is, I believe, optimized for cinema.

The best way of thinking about Stereophile's coverage of multichannel music, going forward, is that we will cover it in proportion to its importance. In determining that, I will weigh both the popularity of the medium (or media) and sonic merit, with an emphasis on new developments. As there are some new things happening right now in the multichannel-music realm--much music being released in Dolby Atmos; new "spatial" and "immersive" technologies popping up--I'd expect some decent amount of continued coverage, but we'll see.

Jim Austin, Editor

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you (JCA) could go for somewhat less expensive option ...... Sony's new '360 Reality Audio' and the 'Dolby Atmos' audio, via headphones/IEMs, intended for audio only, not for movies ....... See S&V website ....... S&V reports that there is a Sony demonstration going on right now in NYC :-) .........

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yes, at AES. Just back from there.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Looking forward to your (KR) report :-) ........

Kal Rubinson's picture

Thanks for the encouragement.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

S&V also mentioned that the '360 Reality Audio' is also being demonstrated at the Sony Square show room in Manhattan, from Oct 16th to Oct 20th ....... They may have extended hours and days than the AES convention :-) .........

Kal Rubinson's picture

I know but I am hoping to get more nitty-gritty because the currently available implementations are not appealing. I am more interested in higher quality audio devices, aren't you?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yes, yes, of course ....... I didn't know all the details ........ 'Dolby Atmos' could be different/better :-) .......

Glotz's picture

And this was one of your best columns yet! Thanks for the goodbye primer.

I think streaming holds a lot of promise for multichannel.

The Anubis looks like a killer value dac/preamp and looks like a joy to play with! I would think a revised Anubis with removed 1/4' jacks on the front and requisite changes to the rear jacks would be a successful variant in this area of the market.

And sadly I think mc's stagnation can be laid at other well-known high-performance audio manufacturers that could effect great change to an industry that always needs more innovation and forward thinking.

Kal Rubinson's picture

"And sadly I think mc's stagnation can be laid at other well-known high-performance audio manufacturers that could effect great change to an industry that always needs more innovation and forward thinking."

I am not so sure. There were several "well-known high-performance audio manufacturers" who jumped in at the dawn of SACD/DVD-A and lost a lot. Streaming does hold a promise.

Capitanharlock's picture

It’s not clear to me which mch protocols are supported by the Anubis.
DTS, Dolby digital, Atmos, what else?
Is there any way to use a central channel for a movie?
It looks too complicated and limited compared to a good Av processor.

Kal Rubinson's picture

It’s not clear to me which mch protocols are supported by the Anubis. DTS, Dolby digital, Atmos, what else?

None of the above. PCM or DSD.

Is there any way to use a central channel for a movie?

If you feed it a center channel (as I did), it will play a center channel speaker.

It looks too complicated and limited compared to a good Av processor.

Yes but by the same logic, it is too complicated and limited compared to a television or an automobile. That's because it is just a damn good multichannel DAC.

ssmaudio's picture

Dear Kalman, thank you for continuing to review surround sound stuff. I don’t know why there aren’t more of people like you. I watched with interest the video of the RMAF 2016 talk about multi channel audio. 

I’ve been a multi-ch enthusiast for many years. And an-audiophile-at-a reasonable-price. Mainly classical SACDs.  However, now with so many multi-ch DSD downloads available, my problem is how to play DSD files. One issue in the talk that didn’t get addressed is all the obstacles to playing and streaming multi-ch. 

Take my case. For various reasons, I currently have a Yamaha Rx880 receiver (that natively decodes DSD) and a Sony SACD player connected over HDMI. (I also have a Yamaha S1000 player for stereo CDs.) This works great for SACDs but not for playing DSD files. 
1) the receiver and the Sony SACD don’t do multi-ch DSD over usb. 
2) I can’t connect an external DAC (like the Exasound) because the receiver doesn’t have line inputs. Also I’m not sure I want an external DAC because (I think) it’s better if my receiver does the room correction and bass management. 
3) I guess I could buy a used Oppo and go the usb stick route but I’m hesitant to buy something old and the company not in business. 

So I’m stuck. I’d love to be able to stream multi-ch DSD from the comfort of my couch, but it’s not easy. 

Any suggestions? Is my only alternative to buy a receiver with surround line inputs (which seems to be free anyway and what about room correction) and an Exasound? What am I missing? Thank you. 

Kal Rubinson's picture

I guess I could buy a used Oppo and go the usb stick route but I’m hesitant to buy something old and the company not in business.
You can stream MCH to the Oppo and output that to the AVR by HDMI.

Is my only alternative to buy a receiver with surround line inputs (which seems to be free anyway and what about room correction) and an Exasound? What am I missing?
Mebbe. However, you would not likely get RC because, afaik, most prepros/AVRs will not redigitize the surround line inputs.