Aurender N10 Music Server Review Page 2

Associated equipment

In day-to-day use I engaged the USB output of the N10 almost exclusively as I found it to be the most practical implementation as not all all the DACs I have sent to me include an AES/EBU input, but they do all include a USB input, plus it allows for the highest file resolution to be used (and my laptop only has USB out for comparison in this review). I’ll also wonder aloud how long manufacturers will continue to implement other connections which max out at 24-bit/192kHz. The review system consisted of a McIntosh C2600 Tube Preamplifier and MC611 mono blocs feeding a pair of DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X. The N10 was on my network via LAN and all digital, speaker and RCA or balanced cables were a mix of TelluriumQ Black, Ultra Black, Silver or Diamond. Clean power was provided by a PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 and AC5 cables. DACs used ranged from the Naim DAC-V1, dCS Rossini and Bartok, Audio Note DAC 5 Special (this was the one non-USB DAC I used via coaxial, and the sound was breathtakingly good, but to be fair the Pallas digital cable costs almost as much as the N10, so I’m not going to get into it for this review) and LampizatOr Pacific to the totaldac d1-direct.

Listening

For my baseline I used the USB-out and the latest version of Roon running on a dedicated-audio MacBook Air 11-inch with the latest OS and software updates available.

A very cool operating function of the N10 is the fact that if a song, album or playlist is already cached to the 250GB SSD, then the 4TB HDD doesn’t even spin-up – it remains asleep – eliminating any possibility of acoustic noise emanating from spinning discs. The fact that everything in the N10 is also optimized for the quietest audio playback possible – it has no extraneous hardware or software-processing overhead – contributed to an instantly noticeable drop in the noise floor; this is the “black background” reviewers love to chin-wag about and I won’t let you down here. Regardless of file played, the background haze I hadn’t really noticed was there was lifted through the Aurender and when this happens, regardless of how it happens, it’s like the window into the recorded event has suddenly been wiped clean: It’s impossible not to hear it once it has occurred. There was also a dynamic and rhythmic uptick to drive in music playback. I wish I had a Roon Nucleus to compare the N10 to, but I’m still waiting for my review sample, as I feel that’s a more fair comparison. That said, I think it is the most logical and applicable choice to use my laptop for comparison as the bulk of potential buyers of an Aurender (or other music server) would be migrating from a PC or laptop as their digital-audio source.

Digital files are like LP pressings of the same album in that no two seem to sound identical… a DSD64 file of Neil Young’s Live At Massey Hall does not sound the same as a 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC off TIDAL nor does it sound like a lossless ALAC CD-rip. There are some more obvious artefacts off more compressed files that contribute to sonic interpretation too, but the MP3 files I did listen to off the N10 sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them and that’s what using a music server should be about: better sound quality.

Whether I was comparing a locally-stored 24-bit/96kHz FLAC of Beck’s Morning Phase, a DSD64 file of Nat King Cole’s Love Is The Thing, a 192kHz MQA TIDAL version of J.S. Ondara’s Tales of America, an MP3 mix by AudioStream resident music master Scott Eastlick or an 88.2kHz PCM of Nick Bärtsch’s Awase there was an edge in perceived mass and muscle to bass plucking, drums end electronic percussion, an increased textural context to hammers hitting piano strings and the nasal honking and blaat of trumpets and saxophones, voices took on intonation and tenor of chest emanation as opposed to throat emanation. All of which added up to a more visceral playback experience – regardless of DAC connected. These differences between laptop playback and the N10 were sometimes subtle and other times less so, but regardless of these disparate parts which I’ve noted, the result was always the same: a more analog experience. The whole sonic landscape seemed to hold together with more realism, color and harmonic shadings than when the N10 was not in play. Could I chalk this up just to a lower noise floor, blacker blacks if you will? I think partially, but like the rest of the playback I was hearing, it seems to come from the choice of the heavy-duty, shielded chassis design, high-quality parts insulated from RF/EMI and dedicated, multiple power supplies along with an SSD cache-drive circuit architecture all designed to work together and eliminate vibration and external interference with a focus on delivering the bits to a DAC unmolested… something a laptop or PC is simply not specifically designed to do.

Conclusion

Is it necessary to have a dedicated music server in your system to get great sound from digital or computer audio? No. You can use a laptop or a PC and still great sound, especially if you focus some spending on higher-quality aftermarket LAN, USB or digital cabling and/or have enough operating system prowess to disable non-essential background functions which can somewhat attenuate software/hardware shortfalls inherent to a laptop or PC. That said, most users don’t have that ability to go going around in a computer OS. So, if you were ask me ”Will I get a better, more resolved and emotionally-involved playback experience than using a laptop or PC if I were to use a music server like the N10? Then my answer would be a wholehearted Yes. Utilizing the Aurender N10 Music Server in comparison to laptop-based computer audio playback opened my eyes yet again to what audio design focused on noise elimination form the circuit path is capable of accomplishing. The more resolving your DAC is, the more resolving your system is, the more you will get out of adding the N10 to your mix and the more thought provoking and engaging your listening sessions will be.

Editor’s Choice Award Winner 2018/2019

Specifications

  • Compatible Formats: DSD (DSF, DFF), WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, M4A, APE and others.
  • Bit and Sample Rates: SPDIF: Up to 24-bit, 192kHz (PCM); 1-bit, 2.8MHz (DSD64), USB: 32bit /384kHz,  1-bit, 2.8MHz (DSD64); 1-bit, 5.6MHz (DSD128)
  • User Software: Aurender Conductor iPad App, Android App (Lite Version)
  • Solid-State Drive: 1 x 240 GB, Hard Disk Drives: 4TB/8TB (optional)
  • SPDIF Clocking: FPGA-based All Digital Phase Locked Loop
  • Audio Clock: OCXO
  • Digital Audio Outputs: 1 coaxial, 1 optical, 1 AES/EBU, 1 BNC, 1 USB Audio Class 2.0
  • Digital I/O: 1 Gigabit LAN, 2 x USB 2.0
  • CPU Board: Proprietary Aurender Board
  • Main Memory: 4GB
  • Finish: Silver or Black
  • Dimensions: 430mm x 83mm x 353mm/16.93in x 3.27in x 13.9in
  • Weight: 12.26kg/27.03 lb
  • Power Consumption: Play-(27W), Peak-(37W), Standby-(3.1W)
  • Price: $7,999 USD

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