Sonics. Juxtaposing Soundaware and SOtM was an exercise in visual and sonic sameness. Within the limits of my hearing acuity and attention focus, I heard no changes in soundstaging, no shifts in the usual sonic parameters. Still, things felt different. The Chinese card reader—I don't use its network facilities—seemed fruitier. This dealt with how sounds blossomed into space. With the South Korean network player, they felt a bit edgier, sharper and just a tad agitated. Over the SD card reader, they were calmer, rounder and softer. I had the same tracks on endless repeat on both. I could switch between them instantly via input toggles on the Formula DAC. That sorted the sameness bits. Playing a track beginning to end, then switching, dropped into the sensory offset. The physical carriers of card vs. thumb drive probably weren't decisive. The most likely cause was that the Soundaware didn't connect to the worldwide web via our router; nor my HP work station hanging off the same router. Whatever heroic noise reduction measures SOtM implemented might not have been quite as effective as not exposing the signal path to these noise emitters in the first place?

SOtM's inline RJ45 purifier with short CAT6 umbilical on sMS-200ultra input.

That said, the experienced reader recognizes that whenever a reviewer resorts to invoking musical feel as the sonic decider, one typically deals with very narrow differences. Anything broader spills over to affect other more obvious aspects. If it's down only to subjective energy states of the musical gestalt, we're counting pennies, not €100 bills. But with media players, access convenience plays a huge part. Here the sMS-200ultra with its browser interface played to completely different user happiness than Soundaware's small display and basic IR remote. For modcon shoppers, the networked featurization would utterly outshine my small sonic difference. And yes, this access relies on being online. But then, very few shoppers in this category share our household's aversion to the connected rule. After all, if Tidal, Spotify & Co. are your primary music providers, you're a connected type. Now it should be a major surprise and big deal that SOtM's petite sMS-200ultra with outboard power supply and inline filter could perform this close to a disconnected device. That and not fruitiness is the relevant takeaway!

Pitting sMS-200ultra against PureMusic-controlled iMac buffering music files to 32GB RAM to spin down the FusionDrive gave a small nod to the network player. It was for essentially the same reason. Now it was simply the iMac which suffered minor spittiness; that sense of musical tones as more nails on glass than playful cat paws on soft fabric. One is more mechanical and rigid, the other more fluid, organic and elegant. It reconfirmed why for serious listening, I drop a playlist to SD card. But with the sMS-200ultra, I wouldn't have to. I'd enjoy its exploded functionality (Internet radio, Tidal, Spotify, Roon) as I could on the iMac plus a sonic advantage over Mister Apple. With most prospective clients already owning a laptop and smartphone, SOtM's decision to rely on those devices for nav duty, not reinvent them, was astute. You only pay for the sonically relevant bits, not IT tech you already own. The same thinking favoured smaller cheaper chassis; and a multi-tiered upgrade path. There's the companion external power supply; the companion USB decrapifier between network player and DAC; and potentially two Ethernet filters on either end of your CAT5/6/7 link. It's bonsai audio for the 21st century that should even keep the computer audio tweaks happy.

For those who need a more integrated solution, Kamal of Crux Audio who provided my sMS-200ultra loaner also handles the Nativ server. That can house up to 4TB of SSD and sports an 11.6" touch-screen display. We'll look at that next. But today belonged to SOtM whose target audience for the sMS-200ultra is the more network-savvy computer user who might demand root-directory access to customize the associated software. With their Eunhasu interface, SOtM have made their small network player plugin city. You're not locked into a given feature set as you would be with a fully integrated solution. You retain control over what two external USB drives you connect. None of it is built in. Something crashed or died? Unplug, replace or repair it. Easy. Require a mondo display? Get a 27" to 34" monitor. Most likely whatever computer or laptop you own already has a bigger screen than what most all integrated network players rock. That then is really the essence of SOtM's sMS-200ultra. It's an advanced PCfi building block. You decide what assembles around it. You determine what other software to run on it or interface with. It's really a freedom device. Hey, it only took me four pages to figure that out. Okay, so some of us didn't grow up around networked IT but coil-wired telephones and clunky typewriters. But even our kind can catch on; eventually. We just take our merry good ol' time. SOtM for Sad Old-timey Men? Absolutely!

US/AU/NZ distributor's website
SOtM's global website