Music in the Round #85: Nimitra, exaSound, Baetis, Roon Page 2

Because the e38's competitors in the consumer market for multichannel DACs are more limited in their capabilities (miniDSP), more expensive (NADAC+), or more cumbersome (eg, a stack of three Mytek DACs), for me, the exaSound really has no competition. Sure, some will cavil at the lack of support for DSD512 or higher, but as yet there is no source material for those resolutions, and in my opinion, upsampling to them isn't worth the effort. The exaSound e38 is not so much revolutionary—it doesn't need to be—as it is an expression of the applicable state-of-the-art and a valid and valuable enhancement of my favorite DAC.

Baetis Prodigy X music server
In my September 2015 column, I reported on the coincidence of my reference DAC, the exaSound e28, and my reference music player, the Baetis XR2, being updated at the same time, respectively to the e28 Mk.II and the XR3. Well, lightning has struck the same places again. Above, I describe the evolution of the e28 to the e38—and now I get to report about a new, smaller, more advanced Baetis server, the Prodigy X. And, with even more bells and whistles than the XR3, the Prodigy X costs less!

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The Prodigy X's base price is $4995, but the configuration of my review sample has a faster CPU ($200), 32GB of RAM ($180), and AES/EBU outputs, in addition to S/PDIF and USB. Baetis has added SOtM's USBhubIN ports with independent clock board ($790), as I did to my XR3. In addition, there is an HD-Plex linear power supply ($1550) with separate power for the SOtM board, and silver DC cables for the main and SOtM boards. All that adds up to about $8010 (footnote 2)—about the same as my XR3 at $7995—but the XR3 didn't have the SOtM boards, the HD-Plex power supply, or all the silver cords.

Setup consisted of connecting the included CyberPower UPS (footnote 3) to the wall outlet and to the HD-Plex, and the HD-Plex to the Prodigy X. I set the HD-Plex's auxiliary output to 9V and connected it to the SOtM board. Video monitor, keyboard, and mouse were next, though most of the time the Baetis can be run headless with an iPad. Finally, I connected the USB output of the Baetis to the exaSound e28 and its AES output to the Mytek Brooklyn. After I'd powered up the Prodigy X, I had JRiver Media Center scan my library, which, even with 20TB worth of files, took less than an hour!

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I don't have much to say about this excellent component, which represents another evolutionary step in an already distinguished line. Like its predecessors, the Prodigy X is a fully configured music engine with all the software needed to rip CDs and BDs, and to play any music-file format from directly attached or networked sources. Except when ripping, it was dead quiet in my listening room. There's nothing for the user to install, and Baetis includes handholding tech support when needed.

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Evolved, but . . . better? Well, yes. There was marginally less noise at speaker outputs with the Prodigy X than with the XR3—to hear it at all, I had to put my ear within 6" of the tweeter of one of my Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 speakers. It also seemed a bit tighter at the bottom end. There was also greater overall clarity but so subtle that it was realized only when I paired the older exaSound e28 with my older XR3 and its OEM brick of a power supply, and compared that combo to the new e38 with the Prodigy X and its hefty HD-Plex supply and silver cables. Even then, the new guys sounded sweeter, though not by much.

I am unrepentant. The Baetis Prodigy X is more compact, equally capable, and less expensive. If it's a little better, too, why argue?

The Road to Roon
I'll end this month's column with a teaser. The Roon Music Server ($119 for a one-year subscription, $499 for life) is a flashy and fascinating product with a good bloodline. The minds behind it developed the Sooloos Music Server System, which became the Meridian Sooloos and blew many of our minds. I've played with the Roon software on and off since its release in 2015, but found it unintuitive in many ways. That surprised me—I'd thought that the original Sooloos system was the epitome of logical and intuitive operation. But the world of music streaming has changed. Our experiences and investment in music streaming have raised our expectations and, perhaps, strengthened our biases.

Now the situation has again changed. Earlier this year, v.1.3 of Roon was released, and it supports multichannel and DSP. I dove in and installed it on the Baetis Prodigy X. Multichannel worked beautifully for attached and networked sources and outputs. I'm still not comfortable with Roon's horizontal scrolling (panning) for scanning through albums/artists/genres and would like to see better use of screen real estate—but almost everything else is smoother, faster, and more coherent.

And in mid-April, with the release of Build 116 of v.1.3, Roon has answered the prayers of DSD fans with a collection of unique features almost too good to be true. Here are just some of them, quoted from the announcement:

• Support for DSD512 and 768kHz output for devices that support it.

• Support for processing DSD content natively without performing a PCM conversion . . .

• A setting that allows for signal paths performing DSD output to use multiple cores for processing. . . . [I]t makes high rate DSD output practical on some systems where it otherwise wouldn't be.

• Significant performance optimizations to the sample rate converters and sigma-delta modulators (needed to make DSD512 practical).

• New SDM filter options, developed using the CLANS (closed loop analysis of noise shapers) method.

• New SRC filter choices: Smooth vs Precise filters. . . . "Precise, Minimum Phase" is the new default. . . .

• Multichannel files work when convolution is enabled.

I haven't yet tried it all, and am working out the best way to get my room EQ into the DSP options, but so far, it all works. For those of us who've found it necessary to use multiple programs—JRiver Media Center, Dirac Live, HQPlayer, etc.— Roon might now be one-stop shopping! More to come.

Coming Around in the Round
My long-promised report on Playback Designs' Syrah server and Merlot DAC in multichannel.



Footnote 2: At press time, Baetis announced further changes to the Prodigy X. These include upgrading from the sixth-generation iCore CPUs and their associated H170 chipsets, MB, and ALC1150 HD Audio codec to the seventh-generation CPUs with H270 chipsets, MB, and ALC1220 codec. The latter are supposed to effect a significant improvement in AES and S/PDIF performance. Baetis tells me that these updates are provided at no increase in the Prodigy X's base price.

Footnote 3: According to their website, Baetis requires that buyers of certain Prodigy-series models also purchase from them a CyberPower CP850PFCLCD uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which the company says "improves audio quality, not degrades it."

COMMENTS
kursten's picture

I keep my movies and music separate but together: I use a Marantz AVR and a Musical Fidelity (MF) integrated stereo amp and run interconnects from the Marantz pre-out to the MF. Since the MF has an HT Direct option which shuts of the pre-amp, I can have strong mains in a 5.1.2 setup, but don't have to deal with running any music through the AVR. Music goes directly to the MF. I wish more amps had the HT Direct option so people wouldn't have to make compromises by running music through an AVR (never ideal) or having two totally separate systems.

itsratso's picture

i have all my cd's ripped onto my computer that I play back with jriver. I sold the physical cd's years ago and love just browsing my cd collection from my couch. I would love to do the same with all my multichannel discs, but have yet to find an easy way to do this. How do you rip multichannel discs to music files and play them back? Would you consider doing a tutorial piece explaining how to do this? I think it would be very helpful for us multichannel fans.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Playback is easy because all you need is the appropriate music player software for your computer (PC/Mac/Linux). I have discussed many of these in the column although I have pretty much settled on JRiver for my own use.

You will also need a suitable device on which to play the files but HDMI out to an AVR is the simplest way. The other option is a multichannel DAC. There are only four of these (miniDSP, exaSound, NADAC+, MSB) in the home audio market plus Mytek's and PlaybackDesigns' stacking of 3 stereo DACs.

Unfortunately, ripping of multichannel discs is different for each type of disc. What types do you want to rip?

itsratso's picture

probably like most, i've got a little of everything - dvd-a, blu-ray audio, sacd, the whole shebang.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I think I can assume you have a computer but DVD-A and BD ripping requires suitable drives in that computer. The rest is software.

For SACD, you need a particular early PS3 or Oppo 103/105 or some selected other players with the same MediaTek chips as in the Oppos. You also need (free) software.

https://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=107791.0

https://newtoolbox.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/sacd-ripper-primer-v4-0.pdf

Douglas_Harrison's picture

To me, the desirable feature is the ease of connectivity. Next and the most important is the SQ. Combine these with personal support from the designer means Oppo level support on a unique, flexible piece of gear. I'll continue to do research but Nimitra & Keetakawee Punpeng seem like a perfect solution for me.

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