Innuos Pulse Mini is a network player, or what we often call a streamer, that comes from a reputable brand with plenty of experience in this particular field. Abatidly, Innous is known mostly for their Hi-End devices that cost considerably more, but will some of that experience trickle down to Pulse Mini? There’s only one way to find out.
Build and Features
Innuos Pulse Mini features an all-metal build and no display or visible signalization on the front. One hidden LED will cast a light spot beneath the unit to let you know it’s powered on and that’s it. Things are more interesting in the back. There you can find a LAN port to connect Pulse Mini to your home network, an Ethernet port as an auxiliary network output, and four USB inputs that can be used for storage but also as a digital output to your external USB DAC. Talking about digital outputs and external DACs, you can also use optical and coaxial SPDIF outs. The USB connection will support Hi-Res music up to PCM 32-bit / 768 kHz, DSD256 DoP, and DSD512 native. SPDIF connection is more modest, as usual, with PCM up to 24-bit / 192 kHz.
Finally, if you want to use the internal DAC based around the Texas Instruments PCM5102, you can do that by connecting to RCA analog outputs. It’s worth noting that internal DAC is also limited to PCM up to 24-bit / 192 kHz. I never really see true music released in resolution higher than that when it comes to PCM, so that’s fine with me. However, if you’re music library consists of DSD files too, this internal solution won’t do.
The unit doesn’t have a remote or any controls on itself for that matter. You just power it ON with a hidden button below the front panel, and from there you use the app or web browser to control it.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Innuos Pulse Mini is controlled through UI. It’s called Sense UI and it can be accessed either through your web browser or by using a dedicated Sense app on your phone. Both Android and iOS are supported, and also Kindle Fire. I used the Android Sense app myself, and all my impressions are coming from there.
Sense app works well, it’s well organized and looks clean. It manages your music collection fine, has a good search, etc. So all of the essentials are there and working properly. Most popular streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz are supported too and work well through the app’s interface. One detail I didn’t particularly like is that Sense UI often loads and reloads the page while browsing through your library. It’s said that more expensive models don’t exhibit this behavior that often but it is noticeable on Pulse Mini. I recorded it for my YouTube review so I’ll link that part of the video: YT link. Aside from that slight annoyance, I can say that the software is fairly mature and runs as you would expect it to.
Innuos Pulse Mini can also be used as an endpoint for UPnP, Roon, HQ Player, and any Logitech Media Server based server. In this case, you don’t even have to use Sense UI, but my experience showed that using Sense provides better sound fidelity than alternatives.
Sound (Digital Outs)
First, I used Innuos Pulse Mini as a digital streaming platform only, with its digital outputs feeding an external DAC like Gustard R26 and my own DIY Lampizator tube DAC. Pulse Mini proved to be a well-balanced performer. The sound was very resolving across the frequency spectrum, bright and open. The bassline is tight and nimble, able to reveal plenty of inner tone detailing. The midrange is not different in that regard, tones are rich with details and crisp at all times. All in all, we’re talking about a tonally open and slightly brighter-sounding device. Pulse Mini can develop a decently wide and airy soundstage but without much depth and three-dimensionality.
Sound (Analog Outs)
Moving to the analog outputs and using Pulse Mini as a streaming DAC creates a similar result. We’re once again talking about a very resolving and open sound. The midrange is rich with details and positively crunchy. It’s not only able to convey clear tone edges but also those inner textures, and it’s doing it in a way that I don’t think many streaming DACs at this price point can pull off. The soundstage is once again quite wide and airy, but depth is still on the modest side of things.
But to fully access this DAC’s worth, we’ll now dive into a few comparisons.
Eversolo DMP-A6 – is more affordable, has a nicer build, and has more features too. But what about the sound you ask? Well, I’ll have to divide that into two parts depending on what are you using it for.
Digital Outs – when used with its digital outputs, Eversolo DMP-A6 sounds on the same level as Pulse Mini if you use UPnP protocol. But switching to Roon, and especially Eversolo’s app will lift the performance of DMP-A6 even further. Now it becomes fuller sounding, with more palpable tones, and more threedimensionality. So that’s it, DMP-A6 sounds better as a digital transport.
Analog Outs – Once we switch to analog outputs, the story changes a little bit. Eversolo DMP-A6 sounds very clean and has slightly stronger dynamics. The part about dynamics is especially noticeable if you can utilize balanced outputs of DMP-A6. Innous Pulse Mini on the other hand has a richer midrange, with equally crisp tone edges but more inner tone details. And I’m sure that at least some of you would prefer that very clean and punchy sound of DMP-A6, but to me Pulse Mini sounds slightly richer and more natural.
To cut this story short, I would go with DMP-A6 for build and looks, and digital outs. When it comes to analog outputs, if you can utilize a balanced connection, DMP-A6 is still a strong contender, but once we move to RCA outs, I would give an advantage to Pulse Mini.
Gustard A26 – is a bit pricier but features much nicer built quality and a different set of features. It’s a DAC with a renderer. That means it’s not truly a streamer and it doesn’t come with its own UI and software. Instead, you can use it as the UPnP or Roon endpoint. Gustard A26 also doesn’t have digital outputs, so it can’t be used as a digital platform only. Instead, it has digital inputs so you can use it as a standalone DAC. As you can see, the features of these two overlap to some degree but are not the same. But you know what features you need, so let’s talk about the sound difference.
The overall tonality of these two devices is very similar. They both go for crisp and clear tones, with bright and open sound signatures. That said, Gustard A26 has a much more capable analog section or DAC section. Because of that, the overall sound of A26 is in a tier above Innous Pulse Mini. The soundstage is bigger and airer, layering is better, and there is more clarity across the board. That’s it. If a network renderer is all you need, I find the A26 to be the more capable device.
Gustard R26 – Everything said about the features of A26, and it being a network renderer, no digital outs but digital inputs instead, etc. All of that is the same with R26. The only difference is in its sound signature. R26 sacrifices a small amount of high-frequency details for fuller and bolder sound, with a noticeably deeper and more three-dimensional soundstage that Innous Pulse Min just can’t match. All tones inside that soundstage are presented with more meat on their bones, and more threedimensionality too. So once again, if a network renderer is enough for you. R26 is a pricier but more capable device.
Innous Pulse Mini is a good-sounding and well-performing device. If you come from something like BlueSound Node, you should be able to notice a considerable uplift in performance that justifies its price tag. While I can find more accomplished digital streamers at this price, it’s not that easy to find a better DAC implementation. For that, you have to go to pricier devices like Gustards mentioned above.