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February 2021

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Orchard Audio PecanPi Streamer Ultra
An excellent value for money with very useful touchscreen too!
Review By Clive Meakins

 

Orchard Audio PecanPi Streamer Ultra Review

 

  A while back Ron Nagle reviewed the Orchard Audio Starkrimson Class D amplifiers implemented with Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology. The owner of Orchard Audio – Leo Ayzenshtat – has a very strong design background, you can check him out on LinkedIn. Leo developed a DAC for the Raspberry Pi which is available as a board only or you can buy it embedded within either of the two streamers Orchard Audio produce plus the USB / S/PDIF DAC they make. The two streamers are the PecanPi Streamer and PecanPi Streamer Ultra (ULTRA). It's the ULTRA I'm test driving here. The most obvious difference with the ULTRA is that it includes a 5-inch TFT screen on its front panel, not many streamers come with such a screen – this is a welcome addition. Both streamers include the Orchard Audio DAC integrated directly with the Pi motherboard via an I2S connection.

 

All-In-One
Putting an entire streamer together in one-box eliminates a whole pile of grief with USB or S/PDIF outputs feeding receivers in a DAC and then worrying about the cables between streamer and DAC. I'm very much in favor of reducing box-count along with interface complexity. The streaming computer in the ULTRA "knows" what it will be feeding – it's the Orchard Audio DAC so there are no compatibility issues with unknown DACs and their equally unknown jitter & noise rejection capabilities.

 

Orchard Audio PecanPi Streamer Ultra Review

 

There are a good number of streamers on the market though not all come with an integrated DAC and far fewer include a screen. There is the possibility here to have a two-box system with ULTRA as the source directly feeding a power amplifier. This is how I ran the ULTRA for a lot of my listening. The 5-inch screen – how useful is it? Surprisingly so in my view. It's a touch screen – TFT and 800 x 480 pixels; it is very possible to control the streamer solely from the screen. Personally, I prefer to use a tablet to control the music I'm browsing and listening to but at times the on-board screen is a blessing. Certainly, when using internet radio, it makes good sense to use the screen. Sometimes it's quicker to touch the streamer screen than pick up the tablet - use the fingerprint scanner - go into the app so yes, I like the ULTRA's screen.

The software I ran on the ULTRA was Volumio, this was the option I requested; it was configured and supplied by Leo, just as it would be for any customer. Volumio was my preference as it's what I'm most familiar with. Other options are moOde, picoreplayer, and Roon. With Volumio you can use IOS, Android, or Windows devices to access the streamer. I subscribe to MyVolumio to provide access to my Qobuz account; TIDAL and Spotify are available too.

The best way to access Volumio is via the IOS or Android Volumio app available from the App Store and Play Store respectively. Volumio can also be accessed via a web browser, which is handy if you want access from a PC.

 

Connectivity
Leo eschews Wi-Fi for his streamers, even though the Pi comes with Wi-Fi as standard. Every Ethernet-capable streamer works more reliably via a wired Ethernet connection. Having less WiFi induced RFI swimming around the chassis can only be a good thing. For those who can't hook-up with Ethernet, there are a couple of nifty TP-Link devices that Leo recommends, they receive Wi-Fi and output Ethernet.

I used Volumio on the ULTRA with my Qobuz subscription, Internet Radio, USB-connected SSD, and DLNA-served files from my music server. I even used the USB CD drive Leo supplied, this worked especially well in that the software picked up track listings from the internet automatically... this was so much better than just seeing a list of track numbers. All my music sources worked as I hoped they would and it was all without a hitch.

Connecting the ULTRA to an amplifier can be achieved either via RCAs to an "unbalanced" amplifier's inputs or via the XLRs to the inputs of a balanced amplifier. If connecting directly to a power amplifier you will need a volume control – the Volumio digital software volume control is all you need and is perfect for the job. I have a soft spot for DACs that are fully balanced which is fortunate as this is the case with the Orchard Audio DAC. The DAC uses a pair Burr-Brown PCM1794A DAC chips, these are their flagship DAC chips. When used balanced via the XLRs you get to use the DAC in its higher specification, ie fully balanced.

Theory suggests the unbalanced mode measures slightly less well but this should not be a perceptible difference. I also have a soft spot for Class D amplifiers running in fully balanced mode – an example is the Lindemann Power 500, this only accepts a balanced signal via XLRs. The ULTRA connected via XLRs to a balanced power amplifier just seems so right and so simple! I would have loved to have heard the ULTRA connected with the Orchard Audio Starkrimson GaN XLR equipped monoblocks. I should mention that the DAC output stage is also fully balanced, utilizing OPA1612 silicon on the outputs, and for headphones there are OPA1622 drivers as well.

Finally, I want to mention the boxing of the ULTRA. There's high-quality black gloss paint job for a start. The chassis has what I would position as slightly utilitarian US-style design-language coupled with a unique and interesting form factor. It's rather compact, it will sit well in many living rooms and living-kitchen situations, not just on a hi-fi rack.

 

 

Usability
Are you in the sweet spot for buying a streamer such as the ULTRA?

The hardware inside the ULTRA is based around is the Raspberry Pi 3B. Anyone who uses Volumio or mOde on a Raspberry Pi needs some ability to cope with everyday technology. Generally speaking, 99% of the time you'll switch on the ULTRA and after a couple of minutes you'll be able to use it via the 5-inch screen or via the app on a tablet / phone. It's the 1% of times when something unexpected happens; most people considering a streamer are likely au fait enough with resolving IT issues when they crop up. Most times any issue will be to do with the internet connection not the ULTRA itself.

There are extra-simple ways to use the ULTRA / Volumio that may work for the more technologically challenged. Internet radio used via the integrated 5-inch screen will be super-easy, USB attached storage will be fine too. In reality, most people nowadays will use some form of streaming. Likely enough this will be Spotify, Tidal, or Qobuz. This isn't a big deal – I'm simply trying to explain why someone such as my 85-year-old mother-in-law wouldn't be a suitable user. Anyone familiar with modern technology will be fine with it, I'm confident this covers most of the Enjoy the Music.com readership.

 

Listenability
Perspective is a great thing. I should start by giving my perspective on source components for hi-fi systems. Whilst I don't call myself either an objectivist or subjectivist ideally, I prefer my sources to be neutral sounding and technically close to perfect. When I want to add character to produce the sound I want, I do this via the power amplifier and loudspeaker combination. Sources to my mind should be as universal as possible in that they should match any amplification and work consistently well with all equipment. I find this approach works well now that most sources are digital. However, I'm not completely fixated on source neutrality; music is for enjoyment and if you desire some euphonic assistance then so be it.

I focused on two systems when auditioning the ULTRA. One system was using a Class D Ncore-based power amp - a Lindemann Power 500 feeding MarkAudio-Sota Tower speakers. The other system is more away from the mainstream, it uses 300B SET power amplifiers into Bastanis Sagarmatha Open Baffle speakers. I had a good correlation of results between these two very different systems so the ULTRA gave me great confidence in its abilities and applicability to "normal" and slightly "out-there" systems.

With the 300B / Open Baffle system I used the ULTRA's RCA (unbalanced) outputs, these connected to a Lindemann Musicbook Source used as a preamplifier.

First impressions – silence – no hum or obvious RFI pickup, this is always a good sign into speakers with a 102dB/W/m sensitivity. From the off it was clear the ULTRA throws a great 3D soundscape – music flooded the room in all directions and with good depth; a lack of depth is in my experience where lesser digital front-ends all down so all was good so far. Resolution / transparency was good too, a cut above the norm for sure. I also had no qualms about dynamics. What was obvious was that the ULTRA was helping me very clearly hear the differences between the mastering quality of the albums I was listening to. This can be a pain at times but such clarity and truthfulness to the source is important... unless you want all your music to sound the same due to a lack of neutrality.

As is usual for my reviews I lived with the equipment for several weeks. I then moved into analytical mode, making comparisons using some of the playlist of tracks I have for this purpose. Here's a list of a few of the tracks to give you a flavor of what I used:

The Who – Behind Blues Eyes

Winton Marsalis & Eric Clapton – Corrine, Corrina

Nils Lofgren – Keith Don't Go (Unplugged)

Barber - Adagio for Strings (various versions)

Diana Krall – Girl in the Other Room

Nanci Griffith – Lone Star State of Mind

Karen Mok – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Sonny Rollins – Moritat

Oscar Peterson – You Look Good to Me

The Prodigy - Firestarter

 

Orchard Audio PecanPi Streamer Ultra Review

 

Initial impressions were very positive so my curiosity turned to locating the best synergy with the two systems I was using. Both unbalanced and balanced connections worked well; in theory, balanced has a noise advantage (i.e. there's even less inaudible noise!). In practice I preferred balanced but not because of any theoretical advantage, it was because I was able to remove the preamp. Employing the Volumio software volume control and connecting the ULTRA via XLR cables directly to the balanced power amp inputs brought a useful lift in performance. I've moved to an era of simplification with my HiFi systems (of which I have too many); so deleting the preamp was a good thing and I felt it gave me a more robust and confident sound.

The difference was minor but I felt it worked well. Of course, there are plenty of reasons for using a preamp, running a vinyl source being one of them. I'm not anti-preamp, it's more that the simplicity of ULTRA + power amp worked so well and it was such a neat and simple system. Don't let me sow any seeds of doubt... the ULTRA works superbly into a typical pre-power combination or an integrated amplifier.

Again, I was seeking the best sound so I tried out some of the Volumio upsampling options. These are a software option, so it's not implemented via hardware. My personal conclusion was that upsampling to 88.2kHz gave a more open and airy sound but front-to-back depth was reduced or appeared reduced – this could be an artifact of the increased openness. Upsampling I found to work well with more opaque or darker mixes but in general, my preference was for not using upsampling. It can work... but I've heard more successful upsampling when it is executed in hardware. The software upsampling option is part of Volumio so it's something you can try for yourself.

Focusing back on native sample rates sound I found the ULTRA to give a clean sound with no artifice or added euphonic lushness. I could easily hear the structure and inner detail of the music. The portrayal of music was vivid and spacious with good transparency.

The ULTRA is intended to be used in both loudspeaker systems and with headphones. I gave the headphones a go via the adapter lead which I connected to my Philips Fidelio X2HR phones – admittedly these are at the budget end of the spectrum but the sound from the ULTRA was if anything even more impressive than via speakers. The excellent Fidelios are unbalanced headphones, as are many; the ULTRA is also able to be work with balanced headphones via the XLRs, this should give even better performance with a quad of headphone driver OpAmps in-circuit. What an amazing single box streamer / headphone amplifier!

 

A Duo Of Comparisons
To help scope the quality of the ULTRA I ran a couple of comparisons. First up was the Asus Tinker Board S running Volumio over USB into a Chord Qutest DAC. The Tinker Board has the same size, form factor, and socket configuration as the Pi used within the ULTRA. The Tinker Board + Qutest gave a little extra body and attack to the sound but the flip side of this was a splashy treble on some music which resulted in a tiring sound. The ULTRA gave a much more balanced and more complete sound. My belief is that the Tinker Board USB connection to the Qutest falls far behind the I2S connection between Pi and DAC in the ULTRA.

Next, I hooked up the Lindemann Musicbook Source, this is an all-in-one streamer, balanced preamp with a phono stage built-in too. It comes in at around four times the price of the ULTRA. Some of the extra cost of the Source goes towards a very swish chassis. As you'd expect, the Source performs very well indeed, it takes everything up a notch. Its upsampling is executed in hardware; this is part of the recipe which gives a fine result. The ULTRA was not totally out-classed; switching between the Source and the ULTRA didn't result in disappointment, rather it's a musical result that bears comparison. Certainly, at a quarter the price of the Source the ULTRA does not remotely disgrace itself.

Compared with the Tinker Board & Qutest combination, I place the ULTRA ahead. The Qutest itself is double the price of the ULTRA though I feel the issue here to do with the USB feed from the Tinker Board – this does however highlight the risks of DIY combinations versus well-tested integrated product (i.e. the ULTRA). Without a doubt, the ULTRA performs very well indeed. It produces a very even and balanced sound that is highly transparent, spacious, and without obvious foibles.

The ULTRA represents excellent value for money and very usefully includes a touchscreen to help with control functions. The ULTRA is well configured in terms of electronic configuration, software setup, usability, and form-factor. Sound quality is very good; the ULTRA can easily be used as the primary source within many systems. It's such a neat device that when partnered with a small power amp I can envisage ULTRAs being sprinkled around homes wherever music is wanted.

Aside from being a great digital source, the ULTRA makes a great standalone headphone system for both balanced and unbalanced headphones - it's so darned versatile and adds to its' looks - which diverges from the boringly typical - the ULTRA has one heck of a lot going for it.

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

 

Specifications
Type: High-resolution digital music streamer
The streamer is available with the following software options:
Volumio
UPnP/DLNA renderer
Jriver, Plex, foobar2000, BubbleUPnP
Other DLNA/UPnP media servers/players
AirPlay renderer 
My Volumio
Native TIDAL, Qobuz, Amazon Alexa, and HighResAudio.com integration
moOde Audio
piCorePlayer
Interfaces with Logitec Media Server (LMS)
Roon end-point
PecanPi DAC is Roon Tested

Balanced XLR Output
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 130dB (A-weighted)
Residual Noise: 1.6uV (A-weighted)
Dynamic Range (DNR): 125dB
Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise (THD+N): -110dB or 0.0003%
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 22kHz @ 48kHz sample rate
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 44kHz @ 96kHz sample rate
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 88kHz @ 192kHz sample rate
Output Voltage: 5Vrms (+16.2dBu)

Unbalanced RCA Output
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 124dB (A-weighted)
Residual Noise: 1.6uV (A-weighted) 
Dynamic Range (DNR): 122dB
Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise (THD+N): -110dB or 0.0003%
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 22kHz @ 48kHz sample rate
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 44kHz @ 96kHz sample rate
Frequency Response: DC (0Hz) to 88kHz @ 192kHz sample rate
Output Voltage: 2.5Vrms (+10.2dBu)

Stereo Balanced Headphone Output
Power into 32 Ohm: 1.56 Watt peak
Power into 150 Ohm: 333mW peak
Power into 300 Ohm: 167mW peak
Power into 600 Ohm: 83.5mW peak
Damping Factor: > 210

Standard Unbalanced Headphone Output
Power into 16 Ohm: 781mW peak
Power into 32 Ohm: 390mW peak
Power into 150 Ohm: 83.5mW peak
Power into 300 Ohm: 41.6mW peak
Damping Factor: > 230

Input Power
Input Connector: Barrel Plug, 2.1mm I.D. x 5.5mm O.D. x 9.5mm
Input Voltage: 9VDC
Input Power: 20 Watts

General
Sampling Rates: PCM up to 192kHz
Bit Rates: Up to 24-bit
Formats: Supports all formats.
DSD is converted to PCM before playback.

Dimensions: 7.7" x 4.75" x 4.25" (WxDxH) 
Price $849.95
Optional Headphone adapter $9.95
Optional CD Upgrade (Volumio) $199.95

 

 

Company Information
Orchard Audio
Assembled in Succasunna, NJ.

Website: OrchardAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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