Taiko SGM Extreme Hi-Res Music Streamer Review
Oh Snap! Did he just say that in the title? Did he use the "best" word as a reviewer? I didn't think they were supposed to do that....
A'yup. I did. But I qualified it!
SGM has been evolving for over six years, changing development, changing production sources, and changing core processes of implementation. When Taiko, with Emile Bok at its' helm, fully took over SGM development and production, they raised the bar with an attitude of going stratospheric or going home. Emile made it clear to me during our conversations that he wanted to do it right, from layout to implementation, without concern for cost or limitations in manufacturing techniques or pretty much any obstacles that stood in their way. One look at the exterior and you're seriously impressed.
Take A Look Inside
As good as it sounds, and it does sound insanely good, it just never exuded that sense of pride in ownership and obsession to fabrication detail that I felt it needed to squeeze that last ounce of performance out of my digital bits and pieces. It also requires a full understanding of computers and Windows to get the most out of it, and is far from easy to operate; I always consider it the turntable equivalent of digital requiring a bit of care, love, and attention to get the most out of it. That said, there is a new and improved Memory Player that is due to hit the market with an easier user interface and a significantly improved construct, but exactly when it will arrive and what it will look and sound like I do not yet know. The Taiko is here now, and has been for some time. It is Faberge construction and NASA engineering.
It is fantastic!
Development Time, Lots Of It!
Emile has spent an enormous amount of time and money in developing a windows system combined with touchpad controllers that fully and completely overcomes any complaints previously voiced regarding Windows servers. The iPad app reliably and seamlessly links to the Extreme every time I use it, and when utilizing Roon, it is as flawless as any typical iPad app. This seamless implementation is a massive accomplishment and makes the Extreme as easy to use as an Aurender or Lumin.
Yes, someone from Taiko does have to remotely get on the first time to set the system up in your network environment, but that process was seamless and, including uploading the proper DAC driver, took only minutes and needs to be done only once. Once that is done, the Taiko shows up on your network and you can upload files to its internal PCle module hard drives (2 to 64 TB) connected directly to the CPU with minimal effort from your primary computer anywhere in your home.
Great Support Too!
Natively, servers are optimized to give superior performance from stored files. Emile focused his entire hardware and software design on also optimizing streaming files and utilizing Roon. Considering the hardware, I will be brief and concise as you can read detailed explanations of their accomplishments on their website. The enclosure is fabricated from aircraft-grade aluminum secured with huge heat sinks to let the massive processing breath. The top alone is machined with (I was told) 6000 waveguide holes to attenuate emissions and reduce resonance.
The passive (no fan noise) cooling system is entirely in-house designed and fabricated, and uses solid copper heat sinks to leach heat away from the massive processors. The result is bit-perfect output with low latency (processing time), reduced jitter, and essentially no noise floor. Speaking of output, they have developed their USB output board to optimize the connection between the server and DAC. Even the footers are custom designed and bespoke for the Extreme.
This is not a standard setup and requires the purchase of HQ player and time to set it up. I will pursue that at some point in the future... Why didn't I try it during the review period you ask? Well, firstly I didn't want to bother the guys at Taiko to sample a software solution they don't overtly support. But also because Emile showed me how to use their native server software, TAS (Taiko Audio Server). As fantastic a user interface as we all know Roon is, TAS sounds better. It is cleaner, with a more natural presentation; quieter, and more organic.
Yet, TAS reduces the user interface experience significantly. In the end when critical listening, I used Roon to find my music, and TAS to listen to it. When more casual listening, I stuck with Roon as it was still insanely good. If TAS is a Ferrari SF90 Stradale, Roon on the Extreme is still an F8 Tributo! And to continue that analogy, most would prefer to every day drive the F8 over the SF90. My assumption is the same for most users, I expect Roon to be used most frequently and TAS to be used when critical listening or showing off the system.
So what does the F8, I mean the Extreme, sound like? Well, certainly better than the F8 and its passion-sucking twin turbos. Let's be real, nothing sounds better than a naturally aspirated Ferrari! That 458 tone is just sublime! Eh hem; Sorry. Got a bit distracted.... In a single word, and I know I'm going to be lynched for this, the Taiko Extreme sounds Analog. No, not wow and flutter, even-order harmonic distortion, vinyl pops and clicks analog silly. I mean the magic that comes off of a vinyl disk or reel to reel analog. The Extreme isn't at all the best digital I have ever heard, it's the least digital I have ever heard!
OK, it's also the best digital I have heard. The Extreme surpasses the concepts of CD as best digital source and finally allows the listener to rely on streamed files without feeling they are compromising. And that's all with Roon.
As a Digital source, its neutrality of tone is expected. Yet its ability to define the colors of that tone and the passion of those colors is delightful. The presentation is entirely lacking of any digital artifact or awareness there are zeros and ones buried in the waveforms. Without painting poetic pros of unrestricted highs and fathomless lows (you see what I did there?), the Extreme is in fact a paintbrush, not a printer.
Tracks flow into albums and albums into extended listening sessions, awash with brushstrokes of energy and palettes of emotion and harmony. The system with the Extreme in it (along with the majestic Wilson Alexx V's) was so superior to anything I had heard previously in my room that I frequently caught myself laughing out loud, or crying quietly. Mostly I sat there shaking my head in astonishment that reproduction of this level can be achieved with a digital source, or any source, in a room, from a recording.
The Best I've Heard
But... the best?!? Well, I have conveyed to you that I have never heard a better digital source in my room, and I have heard many. I have not heard the Wadax Reference DAC and server (over $100,000 each). But personally, I'd rather buy the Taiko Extreme and have money left over for that F8 Tributo.... If you are looking for a digital source and can afford it, I can not recommend the Extreme more highly; it's that good!
Digital Sources: Taiko Extreme (in review), Laufer Teknik Memory Player MP64, Pilium Elektra DAC, Light Harmonic Davinci 3, and DCS Vivaldi One (on loan from DCS).
Pre-Amplification: Pilium Alexander Preamplifier
Amplification: Pilium Achilles stereo amp, Lamm Industries ML2 SET monoblocks, and Manley Neo-Classic 500 monoblocks.
Integrated Amplification: Dartzeel CTH-8550 model two, and the Octave V80SE with Super Black Box Integrated.
Speakers: Wilson Alexia 2 and the Laufer Teknik The Note (plus Raidho TD 3.8 Floorstanders in this review of course)
AC Power: Dedicated Square D 125 amp panel w/10 gauge runs to each outlet, Furutech GTX-D-NCF Rhodium outlets, dedicated circuits for each outlet, Environmental Protection EP-2750 ground filter on each circuit, and EP-2050 surge protection/waveform correction.
Power Conditioning: Shunyata D6000, Richard Gray 400S, and Torus RM20BAL.
Rack And Shelf Support: Custom TimberNation rack, Adona SR4 racks, Symposium Ultra shelves, Symposium Rollerblocks 2+ doublestacks, HRS Nimbus, Shun Mook Giant Diamond Resonator, IsoAcoustics Titan Cronos (on the Timber Nation rack), Gaia 1 & 2, and IsoAcoustics Orea Bourdeaux.
Interconnect Cables: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream 1.0m XLR, Analysis Plus 1.0m Micro Golden Oval XLR, Shunyata Anaconda S 8.5m XLR, Cable Crystal Connect Reference Diamond 1.5m RCA phono w/ground cable, AudioQuest Wind 7m RCA, and Wind XLR 1m.
Digital Cables: Light Harmonic Lightspeed 20G USB, AudioQuest Diamond 0.75m RJ/E Ethernet, Diamond USB A-B 5m, Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB, Empirical Audio 1.0m S/PDIF, and Crystal Connect 1.0m Monet Ethernet.
Speaker Cables: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream 2.0m (spade to banana), AudioQuest William Tell Ag 8' (banana to banana), and Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval 2.0m (spade tospade).
Power: Shunyata Z-Tron NR 15 Ampere, Shunyata Z-Tron NR 20A, Enklein DAVID 15A, and Clarus Power Hi-Current 15A (12').
Vinyl LP Cleaning Machine: VPI
Acoustics: Dedicated room, Vicoustics, GIK, Acoustic Wings, and Auralax.
Room: 15'1" wide x 18'5" long x 9'2" high
Weight: 99 lbs.
Dimensions: 483cm x 455cm x 18cm (WxDxH) including feet.
Color Options: Silver or Black.
Price: $32,000 on up depending on options / configuration