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  1. #1

    Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review July 2020

    linQ.jpg

    For starters, this review is almost as much about the SOTM Neo (+ capacitor upgrade) streamer + the Sonore LPSU combo as it is about the LinQ, allow me to explain.

    As we have all experienced some level of quarantining and social distancing our systems and good music becomes even more important, especially if you’re an audiophile. And with that excuse in mind, I was eyeing the next digital input upgrade - either a music server or a streamer/renderer. Not long ago I had purchased a SOTM sMS-200ultra Neo streamer/renderer (long enough name?) and a Sonore Signature Linear Power Supply with the optional Cardas DC3 output cable. The match yielded top notch sonics and bettered my Sonore ultraRendu + Sonore Audiophile Linear Power Supply. The Neo + Sig LPSU added a bit more clarity, more meat on the bones and slightly better dynamics. After reading about SOTM’s Neo available upgrades I decided to upgrade the Neo’s power supply cap, an option SOTM offers but with a lesser quality cap than I used (I used an Audio Note + ConneX silver hookup wire). The sound bloomed further with a slightly quieter background and tighter bass. Adding Stillpoint minis and IsoAcoustics Oreas to the streamer and LPSU was icing on the cake – a truly first rate and versatile streaming setup at a moderate price, especially if found on the used market. That was April and, seemingly like COVID-19, the upgrade itch never goes away.

    I heard about the LinQ last year, however no reviews were available. This spring I contacted one early purchaser who had no meaningful baseline for comparison, a stock Mac mini or laptop vs. adding the LinQ – surprise, it’s better than without. Finally, a review emerged comparing the LinQ directly to CH Precision gear and the results were quite positive. As a believer in I2S and its engineering – based and purported benefits, plus being an owner of a Formula xHD Rev. 2 DAC, it seemed a perfect fit.

    Finally, the review, please?

    I inquired with Mike of Suncoast Audio out of sunny Florida for a demo unit. He replied, “Can’t do a home demo since I can’t keep them in stock!” My thoughts were – if I really don’t like it, I can sell it at a reasonable loss especially if they’re currently selling so well. And so I told Mike to count me in for the June batch. Currently Roon or UPnP DLNA modules are available. I opted for the Roon module although I understand a HQPlayer – compatible NAA module is in the works. Given the choice I would have opted for the NAA module; it is simply sonically better than Roon in my system.

    As with the Formula the LinQ arrived double boxed and safely transported. It’s the identical enclosure to all Aqua gear with a thick aluminum front faceplate and an anti – resonant coated cover assembly. Simple. Stylish. Functional. The LinQ setup is incredibly simple – power, network and link to DAC and go! It linked to my PC’s Roon Server and was ready to play. After a few songs where I tried to not form any judgement (like it sounded a bit lean but with uber – fast transients) I let it burn in for about 180 hours.

    The review (about time)

    With a direct comparison to the Neo + Sig LPSU combo the LinQ’s sound stage width, height and depth know no boundaries. On certain well – recorded tracks the illusion of instruments not only placed inside and outside the speakers but from directly behind the speakers emerged. I’ve only heard that one other time in a Wilson XLF / Lamm / Continuum Caliburn TT – based system in a well - treated and balanced room.

    Furthermore, on Michel Camilo’s Triangulo, a fabulously recorded Telarc CD including uber performers Anthony Jackson on bass, Horacio Hernandez on drums and of course the piano prodigy Camilo on ivories instruments are precisely placed horizontally and vertically, more so than with the Neo/Sig LPSU combo. Less amorphous blobs and more coherent shapes emerged.

    triangulo.jpeg


    Also, the LinQ’s wider, more wrap – around sound stage puts you more convincingly in the audience. In terms of sounding more analog as folks like to say, the timber is closer to real instruments with the LinQ. Camilo’s piano attack and decay are astonishingly real as are the wood block initial “Ticks’ and following “Tttt Tttttt” decays. An affect the LinQ clearly pulled ahead vs. the less costly setup. Lastly this SACD reveals incredibly fast transients both leading and trailing. Any bassists and drummers not in sync and drummers not in the pocket are outed, for better or worse.

    In another exemplary recording and performance – Hugh Masekela’s Hope on DSD, several descriptors come to mind – realism and micro / macro dynamics. While at most audio shows or folks wanting to show off their system, they focus on the last track, Stimela, I highly encourage folks to explore the entire SACD.

    Hope_-_album_cover.jpg

    A stand – out track is Nomali, an excellent song that goes from laid back to punchy and hyper – dynamic with the LinQ. Sound stage depth, height and width are formidably expressed, more than with most music. It’s another “you are there” SACD and this one was indeed recorded live. Coupled with dual Wells Innamoratta amps, the Vivid Giya G2S2s simply sing and never shout irrespective of level and the LinQ shows the way more than I would have expected. It guides with confidence, prowess and never deviates from ultimate sonics.

    Remember when I said this review is almost as much about the SOTM Neo (+ cap upgrade) streamer + the Sonore LPSU combo as it is about the LinQ? Well it’s because for the clams the Neo w/cap upgrade + Sonore LPSU is no slouch. In fact, depending on the resolution capabilities of your system and your room treatment setup (or lack thereof) the delta may not be that much or worth the clams. After burn – in and listening to the LinQ for a few days I did an A - B rinse, repeat with both streamers simultaneously connected and with a simple flick of a source switch on the DAC and Pause - Play click a comparison with a five second delay was possible. Switching back and forth a few things stand out, the old removing a veil analogy, dynamics, and ultimate realism. We’re not talking tons of difference here and had I not heard the LinQ I’d be happy with the Neo/Sonore LPSU combo. But once you hear the difference (again if your system can realize the benefits) you simply cannot go back. I recall thinking, if I did this comparison on my office system with my NuForce DAC and amp and ELAC Adante monitors with minimal room treatment I’d probably keep the less expensive setup and spend the moola saved on a better amp. But I could be wrong.



    Conclusion

    The net of it is – this is one very transparent, highly dynamic, huge soundstage yielding, uber – dimensional and incredibly realistic – sounding streamer / renderer. Streamers like the ultraRendu and Neo with tweaks and great LPSUs can come close, in some systems. But if you have a revealing system that can take advantage of uber – dynamics, live – like realism, ultra - clarity (and be careful what you wish for folks) the LinQ is a no brainer. And with the hopefully to be released NAA module + a Synergistic Research Orange fuse + upgraded Stillpoints + better cables, even better sonics are on the horizon. A vaccine for audiophiles’ itch, just maybe! 😊
    4x20A circuits | Audioquest Niagara 3000 | Paul Hynes SR4T + HDPlex HD500 PSUs -> Music PC w/JCAT XE nic, HQPlayer, Roon, Tidal / Qobuz | HDPlex HD100 PSU -> OCX clock + EtherRegen | Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ streamer | Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula xHD Rev. 2 DAC | Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp | Audionet Max mono blocks | Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 | 4 JL Audio Fathoms | Echole ICs /SCs / Siltech Classic 550L jumpers, Shunyata PCs / ECs | Stillpoints -> components, Isoacoustics -> speakers + subs | Custom baltic birch rack and amp stands | Fully treated and dedicated 2 channel room

  2. #2
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Steve, fantastic review! Hopefully one day I’ll get to keep mine! Ha!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    My Systems: http://www.audioshark.org/showthread...481#post158481

    "We can hear everything we measure, but we can't measure everything we hear. Let your ears be your guide."

    Dealer for: Aqua Hi-Fi, Aurender, AudioQuest Cables & Power Products, Avantgarde Acoustics, Avid HiFi, Bakoon Audio, Berkeley Audio Design, Block Audio, Boulder Amplifiers, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), Bryston, Chord, Classe’ Audio, Degritter Record Cleaning Machines, Esoteric, FirstWatt, Focal Headphones, Franco Serblin Loudspeakers, Furutech, Fyne Audio Loudspeakers, GigaFoil, Harbeth Loudspeakers, Hegel, HiFi Man, ISO Acoustics, Keces Power Supplies, Kharma Loudspeakers and Electronics, Koetsu Cartridges, Kuzma Turntables, Lumin, Luxman, Magico Loudspeakers, MBL Speakers & Electronics, MSB Technologies, MySonicLabs Phono Cartridges, Naim Audio, Nordost Cables, Ortofon, Pass Labs, Quadraspire, Rega Turntables and Electronics, Shunyata Research, SimAudio, Stein Music Products, Stillpoints, VAC, Vicoustics, Viva Audio, Vivid Audio Loudspeakers, VPI Industries, WireWorld Cables.

    https://suncoastaudio.com/
    Phone: 941-932-0282
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Suncoast-Au...1105178279194/

  3. #3

    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Thanks for your assistance Mike, the LinQ is a keeper!
    4x20A circuits | Audioquest Niagara 3000 | Paul Hynes SR4T + HDPlex HD500 PSUs -> Music PC w/JCAT XE nic, HQPlayer, Roon, Tidal / Qobuz | HDPlex HD100 PSU -> OCX clock + EtherRegen | Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ streamer | Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula xHD Rev. 2 DAC | Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp | Audionet Max mono blocks | Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 | 4 JL Audio Fathoms | Echole ICs /SCs / Siltech Classic 550L jumpers, Shunyata PCs / ECs | Stillpoints -> components, Isoacoustics -> speakers + subs | Custom baltic birch rack and amp stands | Fully treated and dedicated 2 channel room

  4. #4
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Congratultions Steve! Nice review.
    _______________

    Mike

  5. #5
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    MSB Select Transport & DAC (33 clock ; Mono Powerbases)
    Bespoke Audio Ultimate Silver passive preamp
    Totaldac D1-Drivers (xlr version)
    MC2 S1400 mono amps
    PLiXiR and Furman balanced transformers
    Lessloss C-Marc Firewall64

  6. #6

    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    For anyone interested, after receiving the new HQPlayer Core module and about 150 hours of burn – in below are my impressions:

    Comparing stand – alone ROON to both ROON + LinQ HQP modules there is simply no contest. ROON imparts what I would call a smearing effect on instruments and vocals coupled with an added (and unnatural) mid – bass fullness slightly reducing micro details. The HQplayer modules leveraging ROON's front-end music and streaming management gives you the best of both worlds – excellent front - end software for music management with SOTA music delivery via the Aqua LinQ’s HQplayer modules.
    With ROON’s front - end music management and both LinQ HQP modules versus the ROON’s front - end music management and the LinQ HQplayer NAA module + my custom music server with HQplayer installed (omitting the LinQ Core module) yielded very similar results. Both provide ultra – clarity, tight accurate bass with a wall-to-wall sound stage (with the right song). If I had to pick I’d chose my music server, however I’m sure not all systems will likely be able to discern such a minor difference. Keep in mind – my DIY music server setup includes Win Server 2019 heavily optimized exclusively for HQPlayer and includes 4 high quality LPSUs. It is probably worth noting that I managed a performance analysis team at a major chipset designer for 5 years, so please believe me when I say that this music server is quite well optimized. Net is – My DIY heavily optimized setup has $4k+ invested and a lot of sweat equity, at < ½ the cost of the DIY server the LinQ Core module coupled with the NAA module is a no brainer.

    Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that the LinQ modules are not for the tweaker who wants to up sample or apply DEQ, it’s a set it and forget it turnkey solution. If you are OK with that and want excellent sound with ROON’s best of the best music management capabilities, it’s a great solution at a very affordable price. Aqua - keep the upgrades coming!
    4x20A circuits | Audioquest Niagara 3000 | Paul Hynes SR4T + HDPlex HD500 PSUs -> Music PC w/JCAT XE nic, HQPlayer, Roon, Tidal / Qobuz | HDPlex HD100 PSU -> OCX clock + EtherRegen | Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ streamer | Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula xHD Rev. 2 DAC | Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp | Audionet Max mono blocks | Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 | 4 JL Audio Fathoms | Echole ICs /SCs / Siltech Classic 550L jumpers, Shunyata PCs / ECs | Stillpoints -> components, Isoacoustics -> speakers + subs | Custom baltic birch rack and amp stands | Fully treated and dedicated 2 channel room

  7. #7
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Whataever happened to the enthusiasm for this unit. Availiability? Or a decrease in interest in Aqua's DACs?
    Buckeye Farmboy translocated to Boulder. Master and slave to my 8 year old twins
    System: Roon on Nuc, Synology, PS Audio Power Plant 3, Mola Mola Tambaqui, Audio Art XLR, Gryphon Essence Stereo Amp, Jorma 3 Speaker Cables, Rockport Atria ii's

  8. #8
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Quote Originally Posted by Ricky64 View Post
    Whataever happened to the enthusiasm for this unit. Availiability? Or a decrease in interest in Aqua's DACs?
    It doesn’t do Roon unfortunately. They had a public fall out. It’s a good unit, requires HQ Player or Other software (no Roon).

    Aqua DAC’s are still our favorite stand alone DAC’s under $10k.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    My Systems: http://www.audioshark.org/showthread...481#post158481

    "We can hear everything we measure, but we can't measure everything we hear. Let your ears be your guide."

    Dealer for: Aqua Hi-Fi, Aurender, AudioQuest Cables & Power Products, Avantgarde Acoustics, Avid HiFi, Bakoon Audio, Berkeley Audio Design, Block Audio, Boulder Amplifiers, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), Bryston, Chord, Classe’ Audio, Degritter Record Cleaning Machines, Esoteric, FirstWatt, Focal Headphones, Franco Serblin Loudspeakers, Furutech, Fyne Audio Loudspeakers, GigaFoil, Harbeth Loudspeakers, Hegel, HiFi Man, ISO Acoustics, Keces Power Supplies, Kharma Loudspeakers and Electronics, Koetsu Cartridges, Kuzma Turntables, Lumin, Luxman, Magico Loudspeakers, MBL Speakers & Electronics, MSB Technologies, MySonicLabs Phono Cartridges, Naim Audio, Nordost Cables, Ortofon, Pass Labs, Quadraspire, Rega Turntables and Electronics, Shunyata Research, SimAudio, Stein Music Products, Stillpoints, VAC, Vicoustics, Viva Audio, Vivid Audio Loudspeakers, VPI Industries, WireWorld Cables.

    https://suncoastaudio.com/
    Phone: 941-932-0282
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Suncoast-Au...1105178279194/

  9. #9
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    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    Thanks. My impression has been that it does do Roon, but isn't necessarily Roon endorsed. I suppose this makes it a risky investment re being compatible with ongoing Roon updates...
    Buckeye Farmboy translocated to Boulder. Master and slave to my 8 year old twins
    System: Roon on Nuc, Synology, PS Audio Power Plant 3, Mola Mola Tambaqui, Audio Art XLR, Gryphon Essence Stereo Amp, Jorma 3 Speaker Cables, Rockport Atria ii's

  10. #10

    Re: Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

    It does do ROON via its HQplayer NAA module. In fact it sounds better via HQPlayer compared to when they had the ROON module.

    Here's another data point one might find interesting - I recently compared my DIY music PC + the Aqua LinQ streamer to the Innuos Statement and my setup was clearly better. More specifically in terms of clarity, separation of instruments / spacial cue definition, depth, and a blacker background. The LinQ IMO is a bargain if you want a SOTA source to feed your DAC. And paired with the Formula is an incredible combination.
    4x20A circuits | Audioquest Niagara 3000 | Paul Hynes SR4T + HDPlex HD500 PSUs -> Music PC w/JCAT XE nic, HQPlayer, Roon, Tidal / Qobuz | HDPlex HD100 PSU -> OCX clock + EtherRegen | Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ streamer | Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula xHD Rev. 2 DAC | Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp | Audionet Max mono blocks | Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 | 4 JL Audio Fathoms | Echole ICs /SCs / Siltech Classic 550L jumpers, Shunyata PCs / ECs | Stillpoints -> components, Isoacoustics -> speakers + subs | Custom baltic birch rack and amp stands | Fully treated and dedicated 2 channel room

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Aqua Acoustic Quality LinQ Network Interface review - July 2020

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