SOtM Experience sMS-200 Mini Neo vs sMS-200 Ultra Neo Network Audio Players Review
For this review I am working with Elite Audio UK who are the UK distributor and exclusive retailer for SOtM please contact them for more details.
A little more than I bargained for
When the package arrived from Elite Audio UK containing four different SOtM HiFi products I was excited to try them all but soon realised I had a real task to assess all of them both individually and combined. Fortunately two of them are very similar doing exactly the same thing, working in exactly the same way but are still quite different and at very different price points.
The sMS200 Neo, also called the “Mini” for obvious reasons and the sMS200ultra Neo are both Network Audio Players and Elite Audio thought wanted me to listen to the two of them to see how they compare. Both of them have the same connections on the rear, they have network cable in, USB Audio out, two USB ports for other things like a WIFI dongle or USB storage, power and a reset button. You can see a micro SD card which holds all the operating system data so don’t take that out.
Both of the SOtM players are controlled in the same manner, connect them to your network, open a web browser and type either their IP address of or you can type other things to gain access, these are listed in the instructions and will give you access to your Eunhasu Music Player control menu. This is a very important stage because you have to select the music player service you want to use from the options available, you can only select one at a time and the options are Roon, Squeeze Light, MPD & DLNA or UPNP, HQ Player and lastly Shairport which is a way of getting an Apple Airplay connection.
There are 3 different server options installed as standard LibreSpot, Minimserver and Bubble UPNP and you have some configuration options for each – I didn’t touch any of that.
There are also the main system options for rebooting or shutting down and doing firmware updates. One thing to bear in mind is when you make a selection you have to wait, its not fast changing between different players or entering into the menus. This does all feel a bit clunky and cumbersome but just be patient with it, it does all work in the end and you wont be making changes here often so its not the end of the world.
sMS-200 Neo “Mini”
I started with the “Mini” and I am very happy to report that I think it is one of those rare HiFi products that is essentially “perfect”. That doesnt mean I think it cant be bettered, of course it can, but for what it does, for how it looks, its build quality and the overall form factor with a footprint barely larger than a mobile phone; definitely how it sounds for what it costs £449.
I am sure there will be some of you immediately think a Raspberry Pi is cheaper. One of the first things I wanted to test was the sound quality of the 200 Mini from its dedicated for audio USB output compared to one of the normal USB ports. I wanted to see if SOtM had done anything clever here to give their network players an edge over products like the Raspberry Pi and I think they have. The sound from the dedicated USB for audio is noticeably better sounding. SOtM say they use any ARM processor board that is designed with sound quality in mind in their network players and this is part of what separates them from cheaper equivalents. The dedicated USB output is there for a reason, it definitely sounds better and I would suggest this is a comparison you do for yourself as it will instil you with confidence why you have paid more for SOtM design experience.
The 200 Mini requires 9V power and it comes with a simple smps power supply that we expect to see with all products of this nature.
I think one of the great features with the Mini is the simplicity of it, one small unit as our main HiFi source. I decided to keep the review HiFi system simple too, I fed USB from the Mini into the Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 DAC acting as a Preamplifier as well into some ATC SCM50 active speakers. Simple yes but not low performance, its a very revealing high end HiFi system which would really expose any flaw in the SOtM products and to my surprise the 200 Neo Mini sounded fantastic, absolutely fantastic.
It presents music in a mostly clean overall way, with good timing and very good flow. Its sound is quite relaxed and easy going, dare I say “musical” and I think that this is largely because it presents music with a full, fleshed out and solid manner. It’s the quality and solidity of sound where you could walk into a HiFi dealers and they could playing a very nice system with a big sound and if they told you this tiny box was the music source you wouldn’t believe them, I wouldn’t believe them either.
I am not claiming the 200 Mini sounds perfect, because it doesn’t but its been very cleverly designed and tuned so that its sound flaws form part of its overall sound character adding themselves to the music in a pleasing way rather than making music sound harder or a harsher in an attempt to do too much. That makes the 200 Mini very easy to listen to and very non analytical but there is still enough clarity and quality to keep music interesting; as I said it’s a perfect HiFi product for what it is and what it costs.
Mentioning flaws in how it sounds is a bit harsh as you may never notice them, but as I had the sMS200ultra Neo here and 2 other products from SOtM these all helped to show me more of what was really going on. Before I move onto the Ultra Neo I want to talk to you about the other 2 SOtM products because they make the overall situation very interesting from a performance to price situation.
iSO-CAT6 Network Isolation Transformer
The first of the other two SOtM product I tried was the iSO-CAT6 Isolation transformer which is a passive or non powered inline filter for your network that connects between your router and your 200 Mini or your 200 Ultra or any network based HiFi product for that matter. It comes with a short Cat 6 network cable ensuring the cable quality from the iSO-Cat6 to the player is at the quality SOtM want and its an interesting cable because it feels nice quality but its extremely stiff which is something to bear in mind. The iSO-CAT6 costs £350
Installing the iSO-CAT 6 before the 200 Mini made an interesting difference to the musical presentation, everything grew up, everything got bigger, more solid and the main elements of the sound stage popped more from the background. Its a very noticeable difference and shows the Mini on its own maybe sounds more reserved than it can or should do. I also noticed improved clarity with the edges of notes or the transient clarity being better pronounced but most importantly the overall balance of sound, the more full and musical sound stayed very much in tact which I appreciated.
If I had one complaint about how the 200 Mini sounded now it would be I could notice a little bit of roughness around the edges to how the music was being presented but again in isolation this would not have been so obvious but as I had other SOtM products here to compare this stood out.
sPS-500 Power Supply
That is where the fourth SOtM product becomes of interest, it is the sPS-500 power supply which is an up to about 50w power supply that provides DC power at 4 different selectable voltages for one product at a time. SOtM don’t explain what power supply technology it is, I don’t think it’s a linear power supply but SOtM do say its designed to remove mains noise and provide a clean and stable DC power to your component. The sPS-500 costs £550
Its got a little bit of a quirky design, you power it on and a green led glows on the front so you think its on, but its actually only on in standby and you have to press the top of the green LED indicator as the button to engage the power to the component, this caught me out initially.
Listening to the 200 Mini with the iSO-CAT6 and the sPS-500 power supply was clearly the best sound of all. The sPS-500 helped to smooth out and round off the rough edges I mentioned and also improve clarity even more and make the overall sound feel more open and wider in its sound stage but again without changing the sound balance of the 200 Mini, the fuller sound that makes its very musically engaging to listen to stayed.
Obviously, the price of this three product combination has now shot up from £449 to £1340 but the sound quality significantly improved justifying the additional cost. Buyers can start small with just the sMS-200 Neo Mini and be happy with that, but if they want to they can add the other SOtM products over time to get better sound and I think this is great. Some may want to jump in all at once but when you consider the £1340 total cost that is when the sMS-200ultra Neo grabs your attention because it costs £1200 and does it sound better?
Straight away you will notice the obvious size difference between then Ultra and the Mini, the Ultra is much bigger but its still very compact in size. SOtM say its been designed to include their sCLK-EX clock but I am sure there must be more going on with the Ultra due to the form factor difference.
Listening to the Ultra you might automatically assume it will be like the Mini but on steroids or maybe its like the Mini with the iSO-Cat6 and sPS-500 but its really quite different sounding or it sounds like its been tuned with different priorities in mind. Listening to the Ultra using the included power supply it sounds crisper than the Mini with both of the iSO-Cat6 and sPS-500, its less thick sounding, more open, more precise, more analytical and more upfront. Some of that I found definitely for the better and I think depending on what system your using it could all be for the better. I did find the overall sound of the Ultra to be tighter but noticeably leaner and less substantial in the bass compared to the Mini. The downside of this in my system the Ultra could sound a little shouty with certain music whereas the Mini never sound shouty, but it also didn’t ever sound as open or as precise.
What about the extras?
I added iSO-CAT 6 and interestingly it had a similar but slightly different effect on the Ultra. With the Ultra it helped to solidify the sound more, not so much in the bass, bass quantity was about the same but with mid range, vocals, instruments and all the main elements of the sound stage were presented with more more density, more full in scale and timbre and this helped to relax the sound of the Ultra some so wasn’t as detailed centric sounding, sounding more pleasing and more balanced. I found the effect of adding the iSO-CAT6 so dramatic in terms of an improvement I would say its an essential to use with the Ultra or definitely something to put at the top of your shopping list.
Lastly adding the sPS-500 power supply to the Ultra with the iSO-CAT6 was like the icing on the cake, again helping to smooth the sound, improving clarity by reducing the odd bit of overly thick sounding element. You can hear where the Ultra with the other two SOtM products gives a technically better overall presentation than the Mini does with them but its not the same overall sound.
Trying to differentiate the main sonic differences between the SOtM 200 Neo Mini and Ultra Neo is not difficult, the Ultra is trying to get you closer to the music, to give you a more vividly detailed wider and more open sounding window into the music. The Mini on the other hand is not trying that hard its simply giving you a musical presentation that you can kick back to and enjoy, but with enough quality to keep things interesting.
Both of these could be used in your main HiFi system, or one could and the other could be used in another room as part of a multi room sound setup. There are other products that SOtM sell that I am sure would improve both of these network players even more, I personally would have liked to have used the Ultra with the sPS-1000 SOtM £1000 linear power supply, I feel like that might be a very nice combination
The great thing here is the SOtM range are easy products for you to try at home in your own system and none of them are exclusive to SOtM so if you like the sound of the iSO-CAT6 for example you can use it with any networked HiFi component and I really like that. There are also Special Edition versions available if you want more still.
Serious Bang for Buck Award is granted in recognition of a products stand out high performance being significantly greater than its perceived price point. The SOtM sMS-200 Neo is very much deserved of this award
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential. The SOtM sMSultra Neo, the iSO-Cat6 and sPS-500 are all well deserved of this award.
For the full Specification of the SOtM products
See the website here