Innuos Pulsar: Elevating Digital Audio
Innuos, known for their exceptional audio equipment, has introduced a new addition to their lineup, the Innuos Pulsar, as part of the Pulse series. This series brings forth dedicated network players, and we’re here to explore the flagship model, the Innuos Pulsar, priced at €5,499.
A Solid First Impression
Unboxing the Innuos Pulsar reveals a substantial device that commands attention. Weighing in at over ten kilograms, this streaming bridge boasts a robust build quality. The housing is strikingly sturdy, featuring centimeter-thick aluminum side panels and an 8-millimeter case cover, all of which contribute to its hefty feel.
The exterior design of Innuos products is a point of pride, characterized by a minimalist and sleek appearance. The Pulsar is no exception, with a front panel that is solid and cool to the touch, devoid of any visible screws or clutter. Interestingly, there is no power button on the front panel; instead, it’s discreetly placed underneath. A small LED indicator on the front subtly conveys the operational status, while the physical power switch is located on the rear panel.
Well-Organized Rear Panel
Flipping the device to the rear panel, we find a neatly arranged array of ports and connectors. Here, you’ll encounter two RJ45 sockets, a dedicated USB audio output, a ground socket, and four additional USB ports, currently reserved for backups. While you may wonder about the need for backups on a network player, it’s not only about safeguarding audio files but also preserving metadata, user-defined “Favorites,” and playlists within the Innuos Sense/innuOS software ecosystem. It’s important to note that the original audio files stored on your local server still need to be backed up using the server’s built-in resources.
One might question why the Innuos Pulsar doesn’t allow USB hard drives to be connected for direct playback. Nuno Vitorino, co-owner and chief developer of Innuos, offers an explanation. First, integrating USB drives into the music library could compromise the performance of the user interface. Second, and perhaps more crucially, it could introduce unwanted noise into the system, affecting sound quality. While this stance may seem dogmatic, it’s also commendable. In the future, Innuos plans to enable music playback directly from USB storage media through a firmware update, although these files won’t be integrated into the library system. Furthermore, the company is working on additional digital output options, including AES/EBU and I2S modules. Currently, the Innuos Pulsar supports USB audio output exclusively.
Inside the Innuos Pulsar
Delving deeper into the Innuos Pulsar, it houses a complete device that enthusiasts might recognize—the Innuos Phoenix USB Reclocker. While the Pulsar’s reclocker, referred to as the “Phoenix USB Lite,” differs slightly from the standalone Phoenix, the distinction lies primarily in the number of power supplies: the separate Phoenix features two power supplies for the USB chip and the clock, while the Pulsar integrates them into one.
The Pulsar boasts an upgraded power supply unit, significantly larger compared to its sibling, the Pulse. The toroidal transformer delivers 300 VA, and the filter capacitances sum up to an impressive 130,000 µF. These capacitors, six Mundorf in total, represent “ARC6,” which stands for “Active Rectification 6 Capacitors.” This design ensures lower waste heat, reduced “ripple,” and a lower impedance in the power supply, all factors contributing to improved sound quality. The ARC6 module draws inspiration from the power supply technology found in Innuos’ flagship server, the Statement Next-Gen. Notably, the Innuos Pulsar features three separate power supply circuits—for the reclocker, the SSD (for the operating system), and the mainboard.
Innuos Software Expertise
In addition to crafting hardware, Innuos takes pride in developing its software, setting it apart from many competitors who often rely on third-party solutions. The innuOS platform, along with the Sense app, offers a powerful and intuitive music management and playback software package. While it may not offer the extensive feature set of Roon, it caters to audiophiles seeking simplicity and sound quality.
Standalone and Endpoint Modes
The Innuos Pulsar can operate in standalone or endpoint mode. In standalone mode, it serves as the primary controller through which music sources such as streaming services and NAS are integrated, consolidating them into a single music library within Innuos Sense.
In endpoint mode, the music server takes the reins, and the Innuos Pulsar becomes a playback zone or output device within the app controlling the server. This flexible approach allows the Pulsar to work with various music servers that run Logitech Media Server, HQ Player Server, or Roon software. So, even if you already have a Roon Core, the Innuos Pulsar remains a viable option for enhancing your audio setup.
The listening experience with the Innuos Pulsar is a journey into the heart of your music collection, where every note and nuance comes to life in a rich and captivating way. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the intricacies of the listening experience provided by the Innuos Pulsar.
The Innuos Pulsar offers a level of musical immersion that elevates your listening sessions to new heights. Whether you’re rediscovering your favorite albums or exploring new musical horizons, the Pulsar’s sonic prowess ensures you’re in for a treat.
- Soundstage and Imaging: The Pulsar creates a vast and precisely defined soundstage that extends well beyond the physical boundaries of your speakers. It’s like stepping into a three-dimensional musical landscape, where instruments and vocals are positioned with remarkable accuracy. This expansive soundstage breathes life into recordings, immersing you in a world of sonic wonder.
- Detail Retrieval: The level of detail retrieval is astounding. Every instrument and sound element within a track is unveiled with remarkable clarity. From the delicate plucking of guitar strings to the subtle brushstrokes on a snare drum, the Pulsar ensures that no musical detail goes unnoticed. This meticulous attention to detail allows you to rediscover your music collection, uncovering hidden intricacies and subtleties.
Tonal Balance and Expressiveness:
The Pulsar’s tonal balance strikes a harmonious chord between accuracy and musicality. It doesn’t impose a particular sonic signature but rather lets the music speak for itself, preserving the artist’s intended tonal characteristics.
- Tonality: The tonality of the Innuos Pulsar is faithful to the recording, ensuring that the character of each instrument and voice remains intact. From the warm, resonant tones of acoustic guitars to the crisp, sparkling highs of cymbals, the Pulsar maintains a natural tonal balance. It doesn’t overly emphasize any frequency range, allowing you to experience music as it was meant to be heard.
- Expressive Dynamics: Dynamic range is a key aspect of the Pulsar’s sonic performance. It effortlessly handles soft whispers and explosive crescendos, conveying the full emotional spectrum of music. This expressive dynamics breathe life into classical symphonies, jazz improvisations, and rock anthems alike, ensuring that every note carries its intended impact.
Engagement and Involvement:
What truly sets the Innuos Pulsar apart is its ability to engage and involve the listener on a profound level. It’s not just about hearing music; it’s about feeling it.
- Emotional Connection: The Pulsar excels at establishing an emotional connection between the listener and the music. It conveys the artist’s emotions and intentions with remarkable authenticity. Whether it’s the melancholy of a blues ballad or the exuberance of a pop hit, the Pulsar ensures that you’re emotionally invested in the music.
- Intimate Vocal Reproduction: When it comes to vocals, the Pulsar shines with its ability to reproduce them in an intimate and lifelike manner. It captures the subtlest nuances of a singer’s phrasing and articulation, making you feel as though the vocalist is right there in the room with you. This intimacy enhances the storytelling aspect of songs, allowing you to connect with the lyrics on a deeper level.
In summary, the listening experience with the Innuos Pulsar is a transcendent journey through the world of music. Its ability to create an immersive soundstage, retrieve intricate details, maintain a balanced tonality, and foster emotional engagement ensures that every listening session is a memorable and rewarding adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a passionate music lover, the Innuos Pulsar offers a level of sonic excellence that will leave you captivated and craving more.
Tonality and Character
The Innuos Pulsar’s tonality and character are crucial factors in determining its overall sonic signature. Compared to a neutral benchmark like the Antipodes K21, the Pulsar exhibits a slightly warmer and mellower tonal balance. This is characterized by a nuanced shift that includes:
- Bass Emphasis: The Pulsar introduces a bit more presence in the bass frequencies, adding weight and depth to the low end. As a result, instruments like the double bass in tracks such as “The Stuff” from Forniquette’s self-titled album exhibit a fuller, more substantial quality.
- Fundamental Tones: The emphasis on bass extends to fundamental tones across the frequency spectrum. This imparts a sense of physicality to various elements in the music, making voices and instruments come across as more robust and tangible.
- Upper Midrange Reduction: In exchange for the boosted bass and fundamental tones, the upper midrange experiences a slight reduction. This can be heard in the rendering of voices and instruments. While this doesn’t drastically alter their character, it does contribute to a mellower presentation.
- Violin Characteristics: The character of violins, such as those found in the album “Vivaldi: Concerti per violino X ‘Intorno a Pisendel,'” becomes a touch less airy and shimmering. This subtle adjustment may appeal to listeners who prefer a warmer and more engaging sound.
The Innuos Pulsar’s dynamic behavior is a critical aspect of its performance. It manages macro-dynamics adeptly, ensuring that the overall dynamic range fits well within its price range. Key points to note include:
- Controlled Dynamics: The Pulsar’s dynamic performance is characterized by control and restraint. It doesn’t exhibit overly sharp transients or aggressive impulses but instead maintains a balanced and unobtrusive dynamic character.
- Smooth Engagement: Innuos places importance on achieving a harmonious balance between flow, attack, and transient response. While some systems may lean towards a harder and more immediate attack, the Pulsar opts for a smoother and more engaging approach, enhancing the overall listening experience.
Innuos’ reputation for creating expansive soundstages continues with the Pulsar. The presentation of the soundstage is a significant contributor to its engaging character, and it offers a sense of spaciousness and openness. Key observations include:
- Front Projection: The virtual soundstage is notable for beginning slightly in front of the speaker placement, which contributes to an engaging listening experience. This frontward projection allows listeners to feel immersed in the music, rather than perceiving it as if they are looking into a closed “peep box.”
- Broad Soundstage: The Pulsar’s ability to project a broad and open soundstage is one of its standout qualities. It provides a liberating experience by placing the music freely in this expansive space, transcending the typical limitations of speaker placement.
- Engaging Sound Panorama: The presentation isn’t confined to a narrow stereo image but rather creates a captivating sound panorama. This quality enhances the overall sense of involvement and musicality.
- Comparative Precision: In direct comparison with the Antipodes K21, the Pulsar’s soundstage differs. While the Antipodes maintains a stoic presence on the stereo stage, the Pulsar offers a more engaging and open spatial representation. The choice between these two approaches ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Resolution and Detail
The Innuos Pulsar excels in revealing intricate details and nuances within music, setting a new standard for Innuos’ sonic performance. This enhanced resolution can be observed in various aspects:
- Vocal Intimacy: When listening to vocal performances, the Pulsar delivers an intimate experience. It presents voices with exceptional clarity and delicacy, creating a sense of closeness as if the microphone were positioned just a few centimeters closer.
- Instrumental Texture: On instrumental tracks, such as those featuring violins, the Pulsar showcases heightened texture and timbral differentiation. Violins, in particular, benefit from a more intricate and multifaceted rendering.
- Cello Richness: When listening to pieces with cellos, the Pulsar’s ability to resolve details enriches the listening experience. The timbres of cellos become more differentiated and multifaceted, offering a heightened sense of realism.
Room for Improvement
It’s essential to acknowledge that while the Innuos Pulsar performs admirably within its price range, there is room for improvement. Machines in a higher price category, such as those from Grimm Audio or Pink Faun, often deliver expanded functionality along with enhanced sound performance. These enhancements typically manifest in the final few centimeters of resolution, fine dynamics, and spatial transparency. However, this doesn’t diminish the Pulsar’s accomplishments; it remains a compelling option for its price point.
The Innuos Pulsar is a comprehensive package that combines premium build quality with intuitive software. Its sound signature is characterized by a pleasing warmth and a spacious soundstage. Furthermore, its impressive resolution sets a new standard for Innuos. While there are higher-end options available, the Pulsar delivers outstanding performance for its price, making it a top choice for those who value a musical and engaging listening experience.
In summary, the Innuos Pulsar impresses with its unique character and compelling sound performance. Its slightly warmer and mellower tonal balance, combined with controlled dynamics and an expansive soundstage, contributes to an engaging and enjoyable listening experience. Furthermore, its exceptional resolution sets it apart from previous Innuos offerings. While there are higher-end options available, the Innuos Pulsar stands as an outstanding choice, delivering exceptional value for those seeking a musical and involving listening experience.
Characteristics of Innuos Pulsar:
- Tonally balanced with a touch of warmth. Slightly more resonant in the bass and fundamental tone, slightly milder from the upper mids. But these are just nuances.
- Sorts itself dynamically clean into the price range. Some competitors model impulses even harder/sharper. Attack and sustain are balanced with Innuos.
- Great spatial representation: the sound image appears very free and open, goes a bit forward – and the Pulsar rolls up the sound panorama quite broadly. The spatial depth, on the other hand, appears normal. The edges of instruments and voices are precise but a little rounder and softer than is sometimes the case with other digital sources. The individual sounds come across as “tangible”; they are drawn slightly larger rather than smaller.
- The Pulsar offers a very good resolution, particularly noticeable when tracing sound textures of acoustic instruments and timbres.
- Very solid metal housing, first-class fit & finish.
- The simple Innuos Sense app is intuitive to use and cleanly implemented.
- The Innuos Pulsar can also be used with HQ Player Server and as a Roon player.
- Category: Network Player (Streaming Bridge)
- Price: 5,499 euros
- Dimensions & Weight: 42 x 29 x 7.6 cm (WxHxD), 10.2 kg
- Color: Black, Silver
- Interfaces: 2 x LAN, 4 x USB-A (for backups), 1 x USB-A audio output, 1 x HDMI (service only), ground socket
- Formats: PCM to 32 bit/768 kHz, DoP to DSD256, native DSD to DSD512, MQA compatible
- Power consumption: around 7 watts when idle
- Other: Player control and administration via web browser and Sense app; compatible with Innuos Server, Logitech Media Server, HQ Player Server and Roon; Streaming services: Qobuz, Tidal, Highresaudio
- Warranty: 3 years