Taiko Audio SGM Extreme - red pill and blue pill!

Lately, however, I turn around, somehow more than often the topic refers to digital audio complexity. I'm getting more and more inquiries about the different aspects of setting up the digital front-ends and the related paraphernalia. As I have written many times lately, we have reached a point where everything that has to do with the reproduction of music through digital consumption is important. And not just on the periphery.

It is no longer a matter of trial and error. Many of us who have been involved with computer audio in one way or another started out playing with different combinations of built-in, or off the shelf or aftermarket parts. The results were of varying degrees, for many of the reasons. Many lost their interest in the search for perfection, but a few discovered some degree of sonic nirvana. As you can read on, it takes an enormous amount of time to reach the sonic sweet spot, and with all of the unknown related to software, it takes even longer to contain it. 

As has been proven recently, having the basic or even deeper knowledge of computers and parts is no guarantee to build a high-end audio server with a satisfactory result. Those who are more closely connected to the SGM Extreme or Taiko Audio know that a number of computer-savvy hardcore audiophiles ended up with the SGM Extreme even though they have built their own over specced and state-of-the-art music servers. But why...
If someone has taken the time to play around with Roon's, Clock Master Priority where everyone, regardless of the server, seems to hear the difference easily, then afterthoughts about the software influencing should not be too controversial. 

The trigger for this special article was a recent software tweaking of the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme music server. 

A few days ago I followed Bok's tip and tried different settings of the Ethernet. What at first sight seems to be a causal adjustment of little or no importance, has turned out to be a major sonic shift. I dug deeper but felt lost in an endless universe, and Bok came to my rescue with his established and sonic proven settings. 

The difference in sound was in the order of magnitude of the change from one type of preamplifier to another. Think of the level of a solid-state preamplifier compared to a tube preamplifier. Two different, not exactly opposite settings caused the variance that amazed me. How can an Ethernet network setting affect the sound this way! Even theoretically, it shouldn't be what you would say about the sonic effects in the real world... But to stay sane, I have done a lot of critical listening. Again and again. No placebo effect!

This, of course, opens up new territory and clearly points to something peculiar: the software! We are already mentally prepared and acceptable for the hardware changes and the resulting sonic differences. But software!?

To a certain extent, some of the audiophiles and music lovers have explored different playback software, software plugins, etc. But this might rather fall under the label of the general software agenda associated with various apps and programs. 

Here we enter the nth degree area and deal with the Russian doll phenomena of several Pandora Boxes that are inside the Pandora Box! Every time a new layer is revealed, more questions and baffling findings are waiting to be discovered. 

The main question remains on how to address, address, and record all these non-subtilities and objectively verify them. How can they be relativized and brought into a sustainable form? This is far above curiosity on both fronts; from the reviewer's point of view and a manufacturer, technological perspective. 

Bok follows his logic from past IT experience by following the rules of the scientific methods. All scientific observations require serious data point collection. I can't even imagine how much time and effort Bok and his team have spent alone researching the Ethernet settings and collecting the necessary data to firmly conclude two "factory" recommended settings, which I half-jokingly referred to as the red and blue pill. 

Obviously, we're still missing some pieces of the puzzle and a clear explanation of what makes sound quality in a product as complex as the SGM Extreme server. What is known and what is a fact is that with every positive sound quality improvement we learn something about what really matters in the digital/computer domain. 

A general observation. We can't say that analog and turntable R&D has stopped. There are many products on the market that take analog to extremes. However... It is a fact that everything that has to do with computers (and basically music servers are computers) works in completely different dimensions. In the computer field, technology is not only driven by a consumer market, but also by the utterly demanding professional IT industry, where the demands for progress in solving complex tasks and solving real everyday computer problems are of utmost importance. Not just ones and zeros for solid audio handicraft :).

What Bok and Taiko Audio do with SGM Extreme's music servers falls into the reverse engineering modus operandi, so to speak. By reversed action, they try out hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities, and take what seems to be an endless stream of memos and find a nodal point where different settings provide a reproducible sonic benefit. 

The more data points are collected, the better it is understood which effects influence the sound quality in which way. A sum of several findings forms a final product which - whether you like it or not - is voiced! As heretical as this may sound, especially in the digital domain and even more perplexed within the computer-based environment, this is a proven fact. So does Taiko Audio work on the fringes of science? Yes and no. What makes Emile Bok and Taiko Audio different is his heritage. As he is both an IT expert and an extreme audiophile, many discoveries address both poles: the technological and the sonic. With Bok's track record on both sides, the balance seems more than right in terms of market acceptance. 

The analog should not be seen as an opponent. It took decades, more than a hundred years to refine and bring vinyl reproduction up to the state of the art. With digital audio, we are finally entering an era in which rapid development has enabled a necessary technological breakthrough and it seems how we are only scratching the surface of what is possible.

Here I see my role as an assessor. To report on these discoveries and share these discoveries that are beyond me or Taiko Audio. They are important for our still niche industry development.

To all those who have either asked me or commented on the SGM Extreme price tag, I would like to take this opportunity to pass on part of the answer to those who actually want to hear it. Recently, one of the more accomplished, computer savvy audiophiles roughly translated the SGM Extreme built-in parts for his friend, who considers himself a computer illiterate. The conclusion was quite a surprise. In the computer world, there is no substitute for high-quality parts in terms of price. The top-end processor, the abundance of RAM, the high amount of high-quality disk storage, custom parts, licenses, etc. Add a custom chassis and the voicing part, with the above-mentioned Ethernet customization being just a small part of the equation, and you quickly start to scratch your head. Yes, not much room for the usual triple plus margin for the dealers or distributors...

Unlike many of the high-end audio products, where the built-in parts and proprietary technologies can often be of unclear origin, the high-end computer-based audio servers have a different kind of value standard when it comes to the final price. Have you ever tried to buy a really fancy game machine or a new Apple Mac Pro? Reaching the 50k mark is a pretty fast affair...

This was an unexpected write-up, but it felt like it was worth standing in solitude. This text will also be included in the final editorial of Taiko Audio SGM Extreme when I finish with the music references. I have been pressured several times, so don't worry that it will be released in the not too distant future. 

Roon has already proven its success story as a universal platform that provides hours of music enjoyment where the user can easily lose track of time and space due to Roon's unique ecosystem and unique meta-tagging algorithms. Taiko Audio SGM Extreme simply picks up where Roon leaves off on the software side, and further cater to the fantastic music exploration with the utmost sonic potency. 

The future is now! There has never been a better time to enjoy the music if you love music for what it is. My crazy correspondence, which has only intensified in the last few months has revealed how not only strictly digitally oriented music lovers and audiophiles ask me about the upper level of digital reproduction. It's more than interesting that hard-core analog lovers are seriously considering or already adding the latest upper echelon digital front-ends. As I already wrote in the first Taiko Audio SGM Extreme article. Maybe it's time to stop the meticulous search for the shortcomings, and start appreciating the varieties and enjoying both to the fullest.•

Matej Isak