The second challenger was Auralic's Aries streamer. This purist network player without DAC or hard drive must be bundled with a NAS to compete but that combo should still be ~25% less than the Portuguese. Now the blatant gap against the laptop was no more. The Aries is a very good machine. Still, judged by the book, the Innuos had the edge on a few points. Its micro resolution was a bit higher, sounds had more body, the depth perspective gained a tick, bass got grippier and rhythmically more assured. True, I could hear some argue that "though the Aries painted instruments and voices with a bit less grip, it did them bigger and closer up which involved me more". This I follow in theory but not personally. Rephrased, the sonic offset between Auralic and Innuos was subtle to transcend the purely objective and play to different listener tastes.

Very much the same happened against the Audiodata MusikServer MSII. On price and concept a virtual stand-in, the sonic differences were a replay of the above. Some will favour the half-step forward perspective of the German and its slightly wider if shallower staging. Others will champion the resolution gains, tauter timing and greater focus of the Innuos. This I would call like I did the Auralic. Whilst subjective preferences differ, judged by the book I'd call the Innuos first.

Conclusion. With their flagship Zenith MkII, our newer firm Innuos has a music server/player that's very solidly made, attractively styled, super fast due to its SSD and a poster child for user friendliness and intuitive use. Particularly the browser interface makes chores like tags, rips, imports and backup scheduling easy as pie. This should be the gold standard. The playback apps I sampled followed suit, including integration with Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz. The integral UPnP server supports multi-room and streaming configurations from Naim, Linn, Moon Mind, B&O, Denon Heos & Co and one button press can even sync the Innuos library with Sonos. Many audiophiles will predominantly rely on player mode as the direct USB connection with a DAC. That interface was executed very well. And... an additional coax and/or Toslink would be lovely. From a sonic perspective, as part of a quality system that's transparent and highly resolved, a digital transport to stream audio files from makes a difference. Here the Zenith MkII did a terrific job as a career audiophile of purist leanings: tonally neutral, ultra resolved, rhythmically in the pocket and spatially dimensional. At its price, I'm not aware of competitors which objectively would be "more correct" – merely those that do it different if no better. Chapeau time! Where total packaging is concerned (fit'n'finish, ease of use, sheer access speed and sound), the Innuos ties it up with a bow. Trials and auditions are in order. Given 30-day return privileges, there's zero involved risk.

• Category: Music server/player
• Dimensions & weight: 70 x 420 x 320mm HxWxD, 9kg
• Trim: black
• i/o: 1 x USB 2.0 (DAC), 1 x USB 3.0 (backup), 2 x RJ45/Ethernet (LAN and streamer), 1 x VGA (service only)
• Format support: PCM to 32bit/352.8kHz, quad DSD, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, AAC, MP3
• Power consumption: circa 10 watt at idle
• Other: dealer network under development as of 3/2017, direct sales via maker or Amazon possible
• Warranty: 2 years

Innuos website