Q&A With Xuanqian Wang of AURALiC
Since this is such a unique and interesting product, I thought a Q&A with AURALiC's President and CEO, Xuanqian Wang, would be of interest so we can find out more about the ARIES. I'd like to thank Mr. Wang for taking time way from his busy schedule to devote to this Q&A.
You call the Aries a Wireless Streaming Bridge as opposed to a network player. How is the Aries different from other network players on the market?
We would like to emphasize the ‘bridge’ function from ARIES. It connects the customer’s existing quality DAC to music files kept on a DLNA server or Internet streaming services without using a computer. With a very affordable price ($999/$1599), people can add on most advanced streaming functions (not just boring uPnP) into their existing system without replacing their favorite DAC. This is the design principle of ARIES — Just like our advertisement slogan: “This is not a streamer, it turns your DAC into a streamer”.
I received a review sample of the Auralic Aires a few weeks ago, prior to the launch of the public Lightning app. I got to see a few iterations of the Lightning app and it's currently much more stable than previous versions. Do you consider the current version complete?
Software is not like hardware — regular updates and such are quite common with software-driven systems. There are still things that need to be improved in the current version of Lightning DS, due to unanticipated bugs. I would say it needs an additional two months to be absolutely bulletproof, without even considering new functions. As you can see, the newest Version 1.2 of Lightning DS has brought a lot of improvement and has received very positive feedback from our customers. Our software team is is constantly improving the software.
Like all software makers, one can beta test like crazy, but when put into the field there are always some bugs in regular use that are not anticipated. Some of the early bugs reported we could not reproduce in our labs, which makes it harder to correct before the product hits the market.
For software, it will be great if the initial release version is close to perfect, but the more important thing is if the company behind the software can keep improving the software, bringing more innovative ideas, and then make it happen. AURALiC is a company that will make everything happen.
Is there new functionality for the Aries and/or the Lightning App that you plan to roll out in future releases?
Yes, we have a lot of fresh ideas coming out every day; the team members discuss these ideas through a weekly meeting. Some of them are pretty innovative and it just takes time to make them happen. Our software roadmap has been well scheduled till the end of 2015, filled by different kinds of new functions. For Lightning DS, we are seeking more streaming supplier integration into Lightning DS like Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn right now. For ARIES itself, USB disk read is the most recent function we are working on which will be available pretty soon. DSD Upsampling and HD quality Songcast are already on the roadmap with confirmed timelines. Additional enhanced functions such as room acoustic compensation are in the advanced research stage.
In developing the Aries, what were the most difficult aspects of its design?
For the hardware side, the most challenging job was to use a very distinctive molded plastic case. Since ARIES uses WiFi with a 3–piece antenna design, we didn’t want to use an external antenna (like everyone else), which forced us to use a plastic case that wont block the WiFi signal. We had some difficulty during initial production of the casing, with its high precision plastic injection mold; the initial rejection rate too high.
Talking about software, the App (Lightning DS) is very complex software; it is essentially like designing a mini iTunes on your iPad so the entire interface design and coding took a very long time. I know people are comparing Lightning DS with Kinsky and Lumin. I would say they are quite different in functionality. What Kinsky offers is just the ‘Folder View’ function inside our program; this is about 30% of the functionality of our software. We also offer seamless integration of WiMP, Qobuz streaming, Songcast, AirPlay and Internet Radio inside our App, which Lumin doesn’t have.
The Aries comes in two models; the Aries LE and the Aries. Can you describe the differences between them?
ARIES LE is focused on customers who already own Sonos connect, Logitech Sqeezebox or similar product, ARIES LE offers much better sound quality and enriched functionality than these devices. The ARIES is more for the premium audiophile market with non-compromised power supply design, dual Femto Clocks and external linear PSU. The software functions are exactly same for both models, but ARIES will sound better in a High End system.
The Aries price at $1599 is nearly equal to the price of a computer or laptop. Why would someone choose the Aries over a full blown computer?
The problem with CAS is that it cannot bring constant sound quality because different computers sound quite different. The reason for this is because of the hardware and software environment of a computer. People who want to get the best sound quality from a computer usually spend a lot of time learning how to optimize their computer on both hardware and software. Some of them just gave up because it is too complex.
In contrast, ARIES is offering consistently better sound quality as compared to CAS solution, and all you need to do is plug AIRES into your DAC, start Lightning DS and everything will sound best. I can say ARIES is offering superior sound quality as compared to an optimized Windows PC or OS X, while ARIES LE can surpass a regular computer without special optimization.
Of the Aries digital outputs that include USB, Coax, Toslink, and AES/EBU, do you feel that one outperforms the others in terms of sound quality?
It is quite difficult to compare different outputs since they are working under totally different principles. Different DACs also have quite different input design on each input stage so even if those outputs are designed with the same performance, they still sound quite different on the same DAC. For working with VEGA, I always recommend that our customer stick with the recommended USB connection.
The Lightning App provides users with the ability to stream from Qobuz Hi-Fi and WiMP. Are you planning to add any other streaming services?
Yes, Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn are already in the planning stage but none of them are offering CD quality lossless streaming like Qobuz and WiMP. There is nothing especially difficult from the technical side, the only thing is to negotiate with each company; some of them are quite hard to approach.
The display on the Aires, which shows track information, makes a buzzing noise when active. If you disable the display, the noise stops. Are there plans to eliminate this display noise and also are there plans to add to the types of data it displays?
Yes, we are working on this, the noise can be reduced quite a lot though firmware adjustment according to our internal test. Since everything is upgradeable in ARIES through software, we will be sure to add more display options in the future.
What's next for Auralic?
We will concentrate on improving the Lightning platform for now. The Android and desktop versions of Lightning DS, plus all the new functions we talked above will take time to develop. By the way, we will add DSD256 support for VEGA at the beginning of next year though a software update, and for ARIES too.