What if I told you there's a little computer specifically made for audio. It acts as a Music Server, Roon Core, NAS Drive, and Streamer, is sleek, carries the power of a Mac Mini with cool and silent operation, and is solely controlled by a mobile app? Too good to be true? Not anymore, I found my new source, and I can't wait to tell you all about it!
When Silent Angel approached me about doing a review, I almost sent it to spam because I get a lot of companies sending me offers for products to review, which usually end up being cheaply made, poor-performance products. I am staying away from things like that. Far, far away. Something told me, though, to open this email. I am so glad I did. I quickly discovered that Silent Angel is a brand created by Thunder Data Co. Ltd. A tech company that focuses on the increasingly popular networking and streaming audio niche of Hi-Fi products since they come from an IT background. If the digital revolution continues as it has, this is a massive market for them. Most audio enthusiasts have gravitated toward streaming and ripping to FLAC, which saddens me because I am a fan of the Compact Disc. As with everything in HiFi, I was skeptical if this source would live up to their hype, so I agreed to look at a few of their products to get a better feel for the brand. I love when parent companies manifest projects in the HiFi sphere and specialize in products that complement their particular skill set. Just as Thunder Data focuses on networking devices, it took that passion and now provides audiophiles with several solutions within the products' streaming, power, and networking classes. Today we will focus on the Rhein Z1 V2, their flagship Music Server.
After unboxing the unit, I noticed it was exceptionally well built and came in a heavy-duty, what Silent Angel calls "an aerospace Industrial grade aluminum alloy enclosure." Sounds thrilling. It's definitely built like a tank. I love this one bit in their marketing copy on their website; they call it as firm as a fortress. I love it—firm as a fortress. I can get behind that. The metal alloy is CNC'd beautifully with a smooth top featuring their cool logo. I don't see any screws or bolts to enter the unit, though. I am only guessing these are cleverly hidden underneath the rubber surround provided on the bottom of the unit to give it support where it sits. The sides have a creative ridged design that sets it apart from the boring flat plain boxes we are accustomed to. They use a fanless technique that utilizes the whole upper case as a heat sink. On the rear of the unit, there's a 12V power input for the included adapter; however, I am to test their F2 linear power supply to see if it improves the noise floor. As it comes, I feel this company, by name alone, is very centric on reducing noise. An Ethernet port is provided since this unit can only be hardwired, so I put my TP-Link Travel Router to good use since it piggybacks off my home's wireless connection to create a wired output. Luckily, I have blazing fast internet, the one utility I don't mind paying a premium for.
My unit came with a 250 GB SSD drive, mainly to house the operating system called VitOS. You do have the option to select 1TB and 2TB SSD drives for data disks. There are also several upgraded variations to choose from as well. You can run up to two simultaneous zones for multi-room streaming applications, and it also can function as a NAS (Network Attached Storage). It came with 16GB of ram, which is more than enough to run VitOS. VitOS is a custom Linux-based operating system designed specifically for music players, so it's safe to say the gigabyte ethernet speed, fast hard drive, and robust operating system is an excellent combination for music performance. Silent Angel claims the Ultra-low CPU power consumption (at 6W) reduces electrical noise from the central processor and makes the signal transmission more stable. I feel like they built an absolute powerhouse in a brilliant design to optimize the Rhein Z1 V2's strengths. I can imagine this engineering resulted from the many years in the IT industry that the creators of Silent Angel bring to the table. The unit is visually attractive and looks impressive on paper. However, the question remains, how did it perform from start to music. And is it worth the $2,499 price tag when people can go out and buy a NUC or other mini pc for a fraction of the cost?
First things first, I downloaded the VitOS app to my Android phone. Once I was online via the provided ethernet cable, I fired up the app. Within maybe a minute, I controlled the whole thing with the mobile app. I updated the firmware, which did take a little time. After that, I was ready to connect it via USB to the Holo May DAC. As an aside, I recently dove into researching USB cables to discover which are best when connecting a PC to a DAC. After studying the measurements available and discussing the subject with a couple of friends in the IT field, I felt it proper to go with a regular USB cable at the shortest length possible, reducing the chances of inaudible noise. The Z1 has a pristine and crisp sound when streaming through Qobuz. What I thought was interesting is that this unit is a Roon Core and Bridge. This is ideal for me because I actively use Roon. Next, I attached my thumb drive holding most of my FLAC files. Roon played them flawlessly. If you are interested in DLNA, it offers the technology via the built-in MiniM Server software. What is DLNA, you may ask? Digital Living Network Alliance or DLNA-certified devices allow you to share content between devices around your house over your home Wi-Fi network. For example, you can set up your PC or Rhein Z1 V2 as a DLNA server and access music on capable devices. Many companies make various DLNA-certified devices, such as Blu-ray Disc players, televisions, computers, smartphones, and tablets. It also offers Spotify Connect and Apple Airplay 2. So, to say this device works well as a streamer and a solid Music Server is an understatement. I found the mobile app to be very easy to use; it's not flashy, it's simple, and sometimes keeping it simple is just better. Now, it doesn't control the music; it allows other apps to do the heavy lifting, which is fine because I am just now getting the hang of Roon and how it works, so for me, not having to fiddle with yet another app is fine by me. The sound quality through the Holo May and Denafrips Pontus 2, into my Lyngdorf TDAI 1120 Integrated Amp, and finally through a pair of Dali Oberon 3's is pure magnificence. The noise floor on this machine is virtually non-existent. I did read some people had issues with noise in their DACs; I never had that problem. The music was just clean, crisp, and beautiful. As the official ambassador of Compact Discs, I never thought I would fall in love with the Z1. This machine does what it's meant to do and does it exceptionally well. I am sure many of you out there reading this are still like, Mike, why $2499 when I could buy a NUC or a Micro PC that will do the same thing. The Roon Nucleus could compare to this at a lower price point. However, think about it, if you individually purchase all of the components for all the tasks that this unit can do individually, you are getting dangerously close to Rhein's MSRP. This unit was specifically engineered and designed to play music. Every component was hand-picked to provide the best musical experience in mind. Now, I know people who scoff at using a USB cable to listen to their music, and I am here to tell you that this machine will outperform most streamers I have heard in, around, above, and below its price class. Just remember, get a solid DAC, and this bad boy will play those DSD256 files with elegance and authority. For that reason, I am awarding this unit the Audio Arkitekts Gold Standard Award for overall excellence in design, engineering, innovation, and performance. It exceeded all expectations and will now be a staple within my signal chain.
I am looking forward to adding Silent Angels Network Switch and Linear Power Supplies into the system to see if it makes a difference in performance. I can tell you how it sits right now; I am happy with the results. So, we will leave this on a to-be-continued status, and I will report back to you on the other components and how living with the Z1 improved my quality of life….