Even with all the innovations made in the realm of digital audio, the issue of digital noise and EMI/RFI is pervasive and entrenched in many of our audio systems. Particularly for USB DACs, the signal path from our PC/media server is enormously susceptible to these undesirable effects. In addition, our placement of these devices is also limited by 5 meters of USB before massive sonic degradation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow transform our USB DACs into more of a music streamer device? We won’t be limited by distance and we won’t have to worry about noise emanating along the signal path.
Being a huge fan of the PS Audio P10 Power Plant, when I got word from PS Audio’s CEO Paul McGowan on a new USB device he was working on, I immediately requested a review unit. It seems like these USB conditioners are quite prevalent in the audio space now. I’ve recently reviewed quite a few of them including the Uptone Regen, Wyred 4 Sound Recovery, Audioquest Jitterbug, and iFi nano iUSB3.0. I didn’t expect to have the LANRover as part of that review but figured it was a worthwhile experiment. Turns out, even as a desktop USB conditioner with the sender attached directly to the receiver, it absolutely blew away the rest of the cast. For that reason I wanted to dedicate an entire review for this wonderful device.
As mentioned, these devices exist because they solve a pervasive problem in digital audio land: jitter and EMI/RFI. The PS Audio LANRover is bit different from the other USB solutions. It is an USB Networked Conditioner (UNC) that involves a USB connection on both ends and a wireless/Ethernet network in-between. UNC is an acronym I made up but I think it sums up what this device does. You could have your server in one room and play to a DAC in another room, as long as you have network coverage in that area. For all the server knows, the DAC is directly connected. The best part is the inherent galvanic isolation provided by the network. This ensures optimal audio quality without worrying about junk emanating along the signal path.
The LANRover “cuts the wire” in a sense and allows you to place your DAC and server anywhere in your home with the additional sonic performance to boot! Neat!
Here’s what PS Audio had to say about the goals of the LANRover:
By converting the USB data into packetized network data we get two major benefits. First, near perfect isolation cutting the computer’s crowd noise and jitter levels so effectively the level would be acceptable in a quiet library. And that has HUGE sonic benefits. Second, once converted to network audio, as opposed to directly connected USB audio, we can place a great deal of distance between the two boxes if we want to–the computer can be anywhere in the house and connect to your DAC anywhere else. We can do this even over WIFI. Imagine your computer’s no longer in the listening room, but upstairs in the office where it belongs. Bingo!
LANRover is a matched pair solution to the problems of USB audio. The first of the two devices connects to the USB output of the computer or server. Here, timing, noise, jitter, ground, and power supply voltages from the computer are abandoned, and a new individually packetized datastream is regenerated. Unlike USB audio packets, these new data are in a different format, one that does not suffer USB’s shortcomings. Data are regenerated in new form and sent over a Cat5 cable in the same format as music you might download from a distant server. Just as you can download and share high resolution music over the internet without compromising performance—and send it next door or around the world—this newly generated data is impervious to distance or cable types.
Something similar has been recently released into the market as well, the Sonore microRendu ($690 with power supply). It supports a multitude of streaming options, including Roon. I couldn’t get the LANRover to connect as a local device to my Roon Linux server so I ended up using my MSI GS40 laptop and Roon as the source.
The LANRover is in the upper echelon of USB conditioning so a comparison to the Sonore microRendu (mR) is fitting. I paired the mR with a beast of a linear power supply: The Utpone UltraCap LPS-1. This power supply has single-handedly elevated my system at least trifold (review coming soon!).
About a Girl – Nirvana – Bleach (US Vinyl – 1st Press) – (DSD128)
Take Five – Desmond, Paul – Jazz at the Pawnshop (DSD128)
Snowflake – Lara Ruggles (From Out of an Eggshell) – PS Audio Sonoma Master Series – One (DSD64)
Santo Domingo – Rodrigo y Gabriela – 11:11 (Bonus DVD) (48/16)
Love Song – Adele – 21 (Unmasters) (44/24)
I can’t stress how much better her unmastered 21 album is.
As mentioned in my review of the other USB conditioners, the PS Audio LANRover demolished the entire cast in the shootout. It wasn’t even close. Check out the raw notes in that review and you’ll get an idea of how amazing this device sounds. Now juxtaposing it with the microRendu and we have a fairer fight. Keep in mind the microRendu with LPS-1 combo does cost nearly double the LANRover at $1,035 vs the $599 of the LANRover. From my testing, the Ethernet cable used affected the sound enormously. I strongly suggest getting a SOtM CAT6 cable.
I did mention the significant improvement of sound when connecting the receiver and sender directly together. Obviously this will limit the distance but it could also be the cheapo Ethernet cable in the chain when used in the stated wireless configuration. The sound is still great but the loss in dynamics is noticeable. My guess is if that Ethernet cable is swapped out, all the dynamics will return as the cheap Ethernet cables tend to squash the soundstage and dampen the dynamics quite a bit.
When I first heard the LANRover my initial thought was “analog.” I didn’t hear any digital artifacts or obvious flaws in its presentation. It was very musical, very natural, and stupidly smooth. A side-by-side comparison to the microRendu and you start to hear some of the sonic differences. The mR has a more involved and engaging sound, pulling you into the action. It has a darker background, better separation/layering, more expansive soundstage, and just more vibrant. There is a bit more “grain” and a tiny bit of edgeness in the mids but overall a very fun and dynamic presentation.
The PSA LANRover is more laid back and relaxed. I’m just taken aback at how convincing performers sound and how the music just flows. Goosebump-inducing is an understatement. To be honest, this could be a matter of preference as I know some listeners prefer this analog sound over the more forward and energetic sound of the microRendu. Both the mR and PSA have a natural tonality and timbre and sound fantastic. Needless to say, the PS Audio LANRover blew me away, especially at this price-point.
Also I thought it would be fun to stack the LANRover on top of the microRendu.
For the price, I think the PS Audio LANRover is a no-brainer. It provides amazing sound with its stock power supply and requires no setup. It gives you the flexibility of placing your server and DAC in different rooms far apart and most importantly isolates the signal from the noisy computer/music server. The enormous improvements over the other USB conditioners (outside of the mR) is unequivocal. PS Audio has done a great job finding and tweaking this beautiful device and I’m glad to say their efforts will be well-rewarded as many of us audiophiles will benefit heavily from this technology. Keep up the fantastic work!
Equipment used in review:
Production run limited to 300 units, of which 100 allocated to North America Product Page… Read More