Innuos PULSAR Network Streamer | REVIEW

innuos pulsar

“It’s for people who just want to stream,” the folks from Faro told me when I first listened to the Innuos PULSAR network streamer.

“You mean people like me?” I asked, and they nodded in the affirmative.

I’m getting to the point in my journey through digital audio where I understand I will need different types of products at different times. A few years ago I was deliriously happy with my AudioQuest DragonFly, a pair of headphones and my laptop. (I still believe this is one of the best ways to dip your toes into digital.) Then I started reviewing DACs, and after a few false starts (and a steep learning curve) I realized yes, I really need a DAC in my system at all times. Then I reviewed a network streamer, and streaming from Qobuz took on a new, effortless glow–better sound, smoother operation, more flexibility.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

Music servers, on the other hand, may still be off in the future for me. Before the Innuos PULSAR arrived, the only Innuos product I’ve tested was the ZENmini Mk3 with the LPSU option. By that time, I was starting to scowl at the ever-growing piles of CDs in my house, and I was intrigued with burning the discs and selling all those silver discs on eBay and taking the money to purchase said music server–until I realized that was illegal. So I evaluated the ZENmini Mk3, built an exquisite playlist, explored all of the features, gave everything a huge thumb’s up, and when the review was over I sent it back to Innuos and realized hey, I wish I had kept that playlist. It was the bomb. So was the ZENmini MK3.

Since then, a steady flow of digital transports and players from Sparkler Audio, McIntosh Labs, Audio Research, CEC and Audio Note UK have convinced me to hold onto my CD collection a little longer. I’ve been quite happy with redbook CD sound lately, and a good digital transport and/or DAC can make a big difference. Still, I felt bad for not scooping up the ZENmini  Mk3 and its external power supply–it’s affordable, and did a fantastic job. So when Innuos announced their new PULSE line of network streamers a couple of years ago, comprised of the Innuos PULSAR, PULSE and PULSEmini models, I said yes. The Innuos PULSAR looks like the Innuos product designed for me. (At least right now.)

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Inside the Innuos PULSAR

When it comes to the actual inside of the Innuos PULSAR, this is an occasion where I’ve actually seen the insides. That’s because I visited the Innuos factory in Faro, Portugal, last October and I witnessed a high-tech factory following stringent protocols to ensure a perfect product every time. I’ve gone on and on about the anti-static procedures and those cute little yellow strips around my shoes as I walked around that ESD clean room, but I haven’t gone into great deal about examining OCXO clocks and circuit layouts that looked like beautiful sculptures, elegant in both complexity and sheer organization.

As I mentioned in my factory tour article, electrostatic discharge is a great enemy of such precise technological parts and causes eventual system failures over a certain period of time, or as Innuos’ lead designer Nuno Vitorino says, “electrostatic discharges are silent killers.” Nuno and Amelia Santos, both engineers who happen to be married to each other, run this company in pursuit of perfection, and that includes making products that are both upgradeable and incredibly reliable over a long lifespan. What’s notable about the precautions Innuos takes is that it isn’t their claim to fame, or a way of elevating an ordinary product into something better. It’s an additional, important step to protecting a very advanced machine with impossibly tight tolerances. I’ve been in Nuno’s office and work space, and he’s working on some very intriguing new ideas about digital playback–in fact, I was sworn to secrecy. (And I took no photographs.)

The Innuos PULSAR ($7,999 USD) is the flagship product of the PULSE line. Other models include the PULSEmini ($1,449), which is a basic network streamer with no USB reclocker, and the PULSE ($3,799), which adds a bit more memory, as well as the RECAP2 power supply and increased connectivity options. With the PULSAR, you get the USB reclocker and a host of other features designed to extract the best possible performance while streaming.

The Innuos PULSAR is brimming with tech, so much so that it makes sense to stick with the information from the company on its features:

“Beneath its sleek exterior, the PULSAR is packing a custom ARC6 module (Active Rectification with six Capacitors) with active rectification, over 130000 µF of Mundorf capacitors followed by a large inductor and a massive 300VA audio-grade toroidal transformer with an epoxy-filled center for dampening vibration, and magnetic screening with coated SYN-SHIELD copper tape between windings and wrapped in black Mylar Tape.

“PULSAR features an optimized USB output to take sound quality to the PULSE line’s highest level by incorporating a PhoenixUSB Lite Reclocker. The reclocker is powered by a custom CX Regulator Module.

“The SSD hosting the innuOS Operating System in PULSAR is also upgraded to a SLC (Single-Level Cell) module, as opposed to the more common TLC (Triple-Level Cell) for the best durability and lower operating power noise.

“Just as with the PULSE, asymmetrical feet are installed on PULSAR to support the player while also being strategically placed to help dampen vibration from the sound system during playback. It’s the little details like this, combined with larger ones like the power supply and integrated PhoenixUSB Lite reclocker that make for unforgettable playback.”

Two things about this Innuos PULSAR description caught my attention. First of all, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing how extensive noise suppression technologies are key when discussing the advantages of an isolated digital component like a streamer or a server. But I’m also impressed when one of these products includes a USB reclocker, which can also make a huge sonic difference–just like noise and vibration control and proper grounding. When the data stream is reclocked, I hear a musical presentation that’s more organized and easily absorbed into my brain.

Secondly, those asymmetrical feet on the Innuos PULSAR really work. Over the last year or so I’ve had numerous isolation devices on hand from such companies as Les Davis Audio, Fern & Roby and Carbide Audio. While these isolation devices and footers are very effective with most high-end audio components such as digital transports, preamplifiers and even loudspeakers, they had zero effect on the performance of the Innuos PULSAR. This network streamer is built to exceptional tolerances, and it is “built like a tank.” The PULSAR is relatively small, but it is dense and heavy at over 10 kg–it feels like a solid billet of aluminum with no sense of internal workings. Solid, in fact, might be an understatement. (For the record, the Antipodes Oladra server was built to a similar high standard, but for considerably more money.)

The Innuos PULSAR addresses power isolation in a thorough and thoughtful manner. The PULSAR contains three independent power rails, one for the USB reclocker, one for the main board and one for the SSD. It’s an incredibly quiet box, adding to that illusion of a solid billet–the PULSAR makes no noise, and the only light on the front is a recessed power light under the bottom of the faceplate. There’s a point where you stop thinking about the box completely–the PULSAR, after a while, seems to exist only on your smart phone.

The Innuos PULSAR operates in two basic modes–Standalone and Endpoint. Standalone allows you to simply stream from a service, or listen to internet radio, or play music stored on an NAS. Standalone mode is accomplished through the Innuos Sense app, which is easy to learn because it’s so intuitive–it seems to know your personal preferences in advance, and refines those preferences over time. Since I’m the guy who “just wants to stream,” I chose this option. The other mode, Endpoint, allows you to use the Innuos PULSAR with any music server that employs a Logitech media server. In this configuration, the PULSAR allows you to browse ‘n’ play through another server app.

Amelia Santos had this to add:

“Regarding the Endpoint mode, we offer 3 options: innuOS, HQ Player and Roon. On innuOS mode, it allows to connect to an existing Innuos Music Server and you can use the Sense App to control both the music server and the endpoint – you just choose which player you want to use on Sense. On HQPlayer mode, you need a HQPlayer Server. On Roon mode, it will connect as a Roon Bridge to a Roon Core. It’s currently undergoing Roon-Ready certification.”

Connectivity is achieved through a choice of two RJ45 bridged gigabit ethernet ports, as well as four additional USB 3.0 ports. The Innuos PULSAR handles up to 32-bit/768 kHz through the USB output, as well as MQA. and the PULSAR also supports DSD512 (native) on compatible DACs. The CPU is an Intel Quad Core N4200, and the memory consists of 8GB DDR3 Low-Voltage RAM (4GB Dedicated for RAM Playback).

And, if you’re interested, the PULSAR comes in either silver or black anodized high-grade aluminum, all bead-blasted and anodized. (My sample came in silver.) If you look carefully at the angles of the faceplate, you’ll realize how hard it is to machine this type of box–as Nuno confirmed.

back panel


Through no fault of the Innuos PULSAR or its seamless interface, it took me a while to get everything up and running. First, I moved right after I brought the PULSAR home from the 2023 Pacific Audio Fest in June. Second, it took a while to get internet to my new home–it’s in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t have a plethora of connectivity options available to me. Finally, I needed a DAC. The last DAC I’d been using before the move, the internal DAC in the Audio Note UK Cobra integrated, had just been shipped back to the manufacturer.

Fortunately, Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida came through with a stunner of a DAC, the new Merason DAC-1 Mk. 2 ($8,500). Later, I was able to use the Computer Audio Design 1543 ($15,000) for a brief time until the new Mk. II version is ready. With all the pieces of the digital puzzle finally in place, I commenced.

Oh, I might have had one little obstacle along the way. I kept forgetting about the little light under the front of the faceplate. There’s a power button under there, which activates that distinctive little light. Once or twice I had one of those moments where I had plugged in something new and forgot to pay attention to that little light–especially since I kept depending on the flashing lights on the back panel where the network connections are made. Always look for the little light in the front before you troubleshoot!

marc phillips system

Innuos PULSAR Sound

The first thing I should tell you about the sound of the Innuos PULSAR is that the last of the famous A/B comparisons I experienced in an Innuos exhibit room at a high-end audio show was conducted between the PULSAR and the flagship Innuos Statement, which costs around $20K. I could hear a difference between the two, but man it was close–especially considering the PULSAR costs about one-third of the Statement.

You get that amazing music server with the Statement, with all that storage, and after spending a few months with the Antipodes Oladra I now understand that a great music server does more than give you a CD ripper, data storage and a bunch of menus. As I’ve learned over and over in the last couple of years, each device in a digital playback chain–as well as the rest of the system–is another platform for providing noise suppression and a stable power supply. (Your laptop server ain’t doing the same thing.)

What the Innuos PULSAR does, perhaps better than any other digital audio product I’ve used, is provide a quiet–dare I say silent–platform for the music. Nothing should get in the way of that wonderous stream of music that flies at you, no glitchiness, no fading, no strange noises that come out of nowhere and obviously don’t belong. With my favorite DACs (so far) I hear that stability, that solid footing, that seems like such a leap forward in the way we’re currently listening to music.

innuos pulsar

Listening Sessions

Once again I’ve fallen into that trap where I’ve spent so much time with the Innuos PULSAR in the system that I can’t quite narrow my impressions down to two or three songs/albums. I do know this: streaming on Qobuz has never been so user-friendly, so suited to my needs. I hate to criticize an excellent company while their future is unsure, but I never got hooked on Roon because I never put in the effort to make it second nature. As I started listening to network streamers from companies like Aavik and Naim and now Innuos, I realized that most companies use their own version of library software which offer an alternative to Roon. I’ve also learned it’s a matter of taste–you just get used to using one system or another, just like PC and Mac.

Innuos uses their new Sense app to operate the PULSAR. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I still had the older Innuos app on my iPhone from when I reviewed the ZENmini Mk3–and that was more than a couple of years ago. When I clicked on the Innuos icon, it automatically updated to Sense. Suddenly, I was listening to the same track on Qobuz as the last time, Thurston Moore’s “Hashish” from By the Fire. 

For a guy who can only enjoy Sonic Youth in relatively small and apoplectic doses, I love Thurston Moore’s last few solo albums. I have both Rock and Roll Consciousness and By the Fire on LP, but to state a sad truth, those pressings are a bit noisy. I listen to songs such as “Hashish” and “Turn On” and “Aphrodite” on Qobuz all the time, but hearing these same songs through the Innuos PULSAR added more clarity to the sound–so much so that I could easily hear the difference between the noise of electronic devices plugged into my house and the noise of electronic devices back in the recording studio. (The Innuos PULSAR and other noise suppression devices I use made that former type of noise almost non-existent.) That became the basis for my experience with the PULSAR, that I’d hear more pure music from Qobuz than I’ve heard before, other than the Aavik S-280. I’d say there’s very little difference between the low noise floors of both streamers since they seem to be approaching the same absolute of silence.

marc phillips system

Innuos PULSAR Conclusions

After nominating the Innuos PULSAR for Product of the Year for 2023, I realize that this conclusion has been telegraphed, gratuitously so. But this was the product that proved to me that I need a dedicated network streamer, especially if I’m going to review other components while using my laptop as a source.

I will readily admit that my trip to Portugal influenced my enthusiasm for this product, and not just because of the sublime hospitality of Innuos. (I’ve got Portugal on the brain now, and I want to go back soon.) What I remember most about Innuos is their dedication to making everything the best it can be. While one part of me is still deeply connected to analog playback and conventional loudspeakers and tube amplifiers, a newly formed part of me, still in its infancy, realizes that the road to digital perfection is in the tiniest of details. The Innuos PULSAR is made by a company that knows there’s always more to learn and ways to make things better. That’s why the Innuos PULSAR earns my highest recommendation.

pta reviewers choice

innuos pulsar

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  1. I’ve been using the PULSAR for a few months and I am extremely happy with the streamer and the Meitner MA-3 that I upgraded to. Out of curiosity, what USB cable are you using with your PULSAR?

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