Auralic Aries Part 2
I'm not going to re-type all of details of the Aries and Lightning App but you can get them in my initial review linked to above. The Aries price remains the same at $1599 and the Aries LE at $999.
Here's a list of the major firmware upgrades to be found in v2.4:
- Added WiFi Access Point mode to allow initial setup without using LAN cable.
- Added resetting of device display function so user can correct display update error without need of special firmware.
- Added limited DSD256 file decode support (will only output though USB).
- Added reconnect function to avoid playback interrupt (jump to next track) when remote server closes data connection. This will improve the stability of streaming TIDAL, WiMP when network connection is not ideal. This may also fix the problem that ARIES stop play after a long pause with particular DLNA server (server close connection after a period without data transfer).
- Device now allows mixed playing queue from local music files and streaming (waiting for new Lightning DS V2.0 to enable this function).
- Device will report serious playback error to AURALiC server to help our staff support customers.
- Lightning Server can now use samba network path as source and switch between USB and Network mode. No 3rd party uPnP server will be required in the future (waiting for new Lightning DS V2.0 to enable this function).
- Lightning Server will now ignore multi-channel audio files as device wont play them.
- Lightning Server will now ignore certain folders during initial scan, such Windows recycle bin folder to speed up scan.
- Lightning Server will report disk status in music library list such as 'No Disk', 'Disk Error' so user can know if the USB drive they plugged can be ready by Lightning Server.
- Improved compatibility with USB drive.
- Improved file verification rule by allowing files with size error (actual file size does not match with metadata info) and some other errors inside id3tag for Lightning Server.
- Reduced Lightning Server error reports that been sent to AURALiC server to allow faster scan speed.
- Device will try to power down USB drive in standby.
- Device will download new firmware at background even when machine is standby.
- Added message notice function: User will receive instant popup message on Lightning DS when certain operation is successful or failed (waiting for new Lightning DS V2.0 to enable this function.
The two most important new features for me are the ability to stream from Tidal and the ability to stream from Tidal. You can also add tracks or albums from Tidal to your Playlists that also include tracks or albums from your NAS or USB storage. That last feature, the ability to read from USB storage, is also new to me and a big plus for some users. Another plus in the plus column is the display is now much quieter than it was when I first reviewed the Aries. All good.
The added feature of the WiFi Access Point is also very convenient for those users who will only use the Aries in WiFi mode and don't have an Ethernet connection handy. Think no plug yet play.
Listening to the Upgraded Aries
Buying a hi-fi component and having it improve over time with new features and potentially even improved sound quality without having to send it off to the dealer or service center, is simply fabulous. No? Since the Aries automatically knows when a new firmware rev is ready, all you need to do is say "Yes" to take advantage of the improvements offered. If you've been following the PS Audio DirectStream DAC story, improvements in sound quality can be fairly dramatic with firmware updates. And all of these pluses are free. Life is good and getting better.
I mainly leashed the Aries to its sister, the Auralic Vega DAC, for the majority of my listening time and listened via WiFi. I also used the Burson Virtuoso DAC since I'm in the process of reviewing it as well. But let's focus on the Aries/Vega combo since the Vega can handle everything the Aries can throw at it.
As regular readers know, the Auralic Vega is my reference DAC and I continue to enjoy it after two years of very regular use. Its combination of strengths makes listening to music a delight. With the Aries serving up the tunes, music was once again presented with the ease and naturalness I heard the first go-around. The Aries outperforms the MacBook Pro in every important sonic measure. It is more dynamic and more fluid with a lower perceived noise floor presenting a much clearer sense of scale and drama.
I connected my La Cie Blade Runner USB drive, which contains a complete copy of my entire AIFF library, to the Aries and it initially took a few minutes for it to scan my library. Once complete I spent some time listening to music from the La Cie and compared some of the same music played from my NAS. The verdict? I preferred the Ethernet connection from my NAS over USB storage. Music from the NAS seemed to be a bit more crisp, more precise in terms of image specificity, and generally easier to follow individual players within the sound image.
When I reviewed the Aries the first go around, I compared it to the Moon MiND (see review). I did the same thing again but this time I compared the Aries USB and AES outputs to the MiND's USB and AES outputs. What I found was I preferred the Aries to the MiND when run via USB, and the MiND over Aries when running AES. Of course the MiND maxes out at 24/192 and also does not offer access to Tidal so on a functional basis, the Aries comes out on top for my preferences. Owners of other Simaudio products will certainly appreciate the ability to control all of their devices from within the Sim App.
In terms of the Lightning App, I found no hiccups or functional issues whatsoever. I also preferred using it to using Apple's free Remote App. As I've said in the past, I'm not a Playlist builder and prefer listening to albums at a time but even scrolling through my NAS' contents seemed more fluid with less stutter when compared to iTunes. The ability to quickly and seamlessly jump to Tidal or Internet Radio within the same app are also major advantages and for me and this feature is becoming a must-have for any controller app since I listen to all of these sources on a daily basis.
I also have had the opportunity over these past two years to hear the Vega with a number of different partners including some very musical music servers like the Aurender S10 (see review) and Antipodes DX (see review). In the very big scheme of things, and on a purely sonic level, I find these servers offer very compelling performance, which in some ways better the Aries albeit at greater expense. I still have the Antipodes DX server in the barn and will be reporting on the difference between using DLNA and direct-mounting my NAS (that didn't sound right ;-) shortly.
On a purely sonic level, the Antipodes edged out the Aries in terms of the musical image's solidity. Things felt a bit more physical in a musically satisfying way through the DX. There was also a perceived lower noise floor with the Antipodes which also added to my musical engagement and enjoyment. That being said, the Aries more than held its own and I would not feel the need to mourn if I owned the Aries. With the Antipodes costing $6500 and currently maxing out at 2TB of internal storage, the Aries presents a very compelling alternative at a much lower price.
I have to say, I love, love, love the idea of getting my MacBook Pro out of my hi-fi. For one thing, and I know this reeks of OCD, I do not like using a fraction of a computer's abilities. It strikes me as wasteful. Add in the fact that to my ears the Aries outperforms the MacBook in any and every important sonic category and the decision becomes that much simpler. Add in the fact that Aries allows you to play most any file format including 24/384, DXD, and DSD128 [footnote 1], means you don't have to go through the process of creating proxy files as you do if you use iTunes as your library manager along with Pure Music or Audirvana. For me that's another big plus in Auralic's ever-expanding plus column.
While $1500 is for most people a serious investment, the Aries offers a full suite of playback options representing access to a goodly amount of today's existing music sources including NAS, USB storage, streaming services, and Internet Radio all from within the same user-friendly app. I liked the Auralic Aries the first time around, I like it even more this time around. It also now takes up a very deserved first spot on our Favorite Bits List for network players. Bravo!
Footnote 1. Auralic just announced the Aries and Vega will soon support DSD256.
Also in-use during the Aries review Part 2: Simaudio Moon MiND, Antipodes DX