Aurender N10 Music Server Review

Noise.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear what’s really going on because there’s so much of it in our lives these days obscuring what we’re really trying to listen to.

I mean, do you have any idea how much electronic hash is being generated by your laptop or PC as it navigates millions of computational cycles in processing overhead while handling operating-system daemon sub-routines (computer programs that run in the background, not under user directive) while you are listening to music?

Of course you don’t and neither do I, you have to log into the ‘Activity Monitor’ on a Mac (or ‘Task Manager’ on a PC) to find out exactly what’s happening and I can tell you it’s a somewhat staggering amount of binary heavy lifting.

This is because a computer, its myriad, multi-sensory hardware appendages and slots (graphics card, sound card, keyboard, mouse, SCSI, USB, PCI, VGA ports, etc. and the operating system software designed to run the software layered on top of the OS is designed to handle all sorts of disparate processes from web browsers, weather, social media, graphic and multimedia apps to software updates… a computer is meant to serve us in as many ways possible as their designers can think of.

Not so a dedicated music server for audiophile use.

No, that is designed with a very narrow and specific task in mind when it was first conceived on the drawing board.

Design and Construction

Take the Aurender N10 Music Server for example. It is meant to take the place of your laptop or PC completely and run “headless” via an app you can run off an Android smartphone or tablet or on an iPad. Aurender has been focused on this type of product for several years and is dedicated to making the quietest, most design specific/appropriate hardware and software for music playback they are capable of producing. From the circuit and processing architecture and implementation, to the motherboard, board components, CPU, hard drives, power supplies, RF and EMI isolation, shielding and chassis design the N10 is an executed concept in isolating critical components from both internal noise and external noise generation. It is meant to operate in complete and utter silence and allow only the digitally-recorded event to pass through, unfettered, to whatever DAC you choose to connect to it.

The N10 features a 4TB internal hard drive for file storage and a 250GB solid-state hard-drive cache dedicated for file playback. It uses an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) for on-the-fly DSD to PCM conversion, dual linear-power supplies an OCXO (Oven-Controlled Crystal Oscillator) for “… long-term jitter reduction …” because of its dedicated thermally-regulated clock enclosure. According to Aurender OCXOs have proven to be one of the most stable/accurate clocks available, which they claim “are orders of magnitude more accurate and stable than commonly used ordinary crystal oscillators usually found in computers.” The company says that because regular crystal oscillations fluctuate with even subtle temperature changes and become less accurate over time, the OCXO clocks are inherently the superior choice because of their temperature-controlled enclosure.

The $7,999 USD N10 is more expensive than most laptops or PCs, and it is not light physically either, tipping the scales at almost 30 pounds with a chunky, but graceful aesthetic, excellent metal/rubber o-ring isolation feet, clearly designed button-operating layout and a very large (nine-inch diagonal), white-on-black AMOLED display that is easily legible (artist and song title anyway) from the listening position (it can also be set to mimic VU meters). It is equipped with enough digital ins and outs to keep binary purists pleased with BNC, coaxial, optical AES/EBU and USB 2.0 outputs (dedicated low-noise circuitry employed) and a Gigabyte ethernet port bookended by two USB 2.0 data ports for input. Format compatibility covers everything from ALAC, AIFF, DSD64/128 (DFF, DSF) and FLAC to MP3 and M4A among others, with SPDIF digital audio handled up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD64 and USB digital audio accepting 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD128 files. My silver-finished N10 was also equipped with the $50 USD MQA Core Decoding option which allows for software unfolding. “This first unfold recovers all the direct music-related information and sampling rate output will be 88.2khz or 96kHz.”

Conductor software

The Aurender Conductor app is easy to use and very intuitive to navigate and figure out all its myriad functions from playlist building and adding to your library to unit settings via a well-played out and logically-driven interface. The Aurender Media Manager collates everything allowing you to browse or manage through the internally-stored (4TB drive) or cloud-based library simultaneously via tabs that correlate to Song, Artist, Album, Genre or Composer. The app also allows search filters for sorting by recently added, file type, file resolution and favourites (Starred). You can log-in through the app to TIDAL, Qobuz (or even AirPlay) for streaming services (10 preset Internet Radio stations are also provided, including several BBC Radio channels and Hi On Line Radio) and you can fill up its internal 4TB drive with as many files and file types as you desire. The file type, resolution, sample rate and whether it is a local or streaming-service based file are all included along with cover art as part of quick-to-recognize information within each album’s info packet. You can either copy files over from a NAS drive, a USB drive or even over the network wirelessly from other remote drives – a neat trick I use often. While working on my laptop after downloading an album to it I can go in via the “Connect to Server” function on my Mac and transfer files to the N10’s internal drive over wi-fi. Is it Roon? No, but it does everything well enough with zero lag or wait times, is a snap to use, allows playlists and favourites along with clear navigation and myriad file-type handling abilities that most users will be happy with its level of interaction.

Aurender Media Manager (AMM) comes standard and software is available for both Mac (OS X 10.9 or later) and Windows7 (or later). The company says “ you can run AMM software on your platform of choice, please specify the location of your content on NAS then it will automatically find the Aurender in you local network and make a combining music database.” AMM ran flawlessly in the background constantly updating the music database whenever I added new songs or albums from TIDAL or Oubuz or downloaded new high-res, DSD, or Redbook files. There is also Remote Internet Technical Support which allows you to request help, troubleshoot or ask a question via the app to let Aurender engineers “quickly diagnose and fix problems over the Internet.”

COMPANY INFO
Aurender America Inc.
17911 Sky Park Circle Suite H, Irvine, CA 92614 USA
support@aurender.com
+1 (888) 367-0840
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Everclear's picture

A-30 next? :-) ...........

Rafe Arnott's picture
The W20 will be next from Aurender and I'll directly compare it to the N10.
Everclear's picture

Also, could you compare W20 with A30? ......... Both are appox. the same price ........ A30 offers more capabilities :-) .......

Rafe Arnott's picture
The A30 for review, but I do have the W20 and the ACS10, so I'll discuss those first.
Chuckles304's picture

Buried on this site somewhere is an article about a computer modification called "Audiophile Optimizer". Wonder how a music server like the N10 compares to an AO-modded PC......

AlaskaDave's picture

The Innuos servers are of great interest, at prices of $1249, $1898, $2599, $4299, and $13,750. Very complete functionality (Roon, CD ripping, import, storage) and, by all reports, excellent sound quality.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Looking forward to getting some in for review moving forward.
samson sherman's picture

I would be extremely interested in comparisons to Aurender's X100L that was reviewed by AudioStream in 2014. Comparing against their models with integrated DACs would be interesting, but not apples to apples like the X100L and W20 since they have the same function.

Rafe Arnott's picture
But I can compare the N10 to the W20. Which I will be doing for my next Aurender review.
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