Aurender W20SE Preview

Improving on a product that already deeply impresses with its performance capabilities can be a daunting proposition for a company, but when a manufacturer decides that the time has come to improve on a lauded design – and not in some incremental manner, rather – with a full-blown re-tool from the ground up, it’s hard not to take notice.

So much more than just a re-badge.

A case in point is the Aurender W20SE, not just a re-badging with ‘Special Edition’ appended to the model name, but a complete re-examination of the design from the chassis screws on up according to the company, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued at what they had improved upon in the previous Aurender flagship caching server, the W20.

Massive, silent, squat: the Aurender W20SE.

I had just got off the phone with the always smiling John-Paul Lizars from Aurender and after requesting one of the company’s entry-level N100SC digital music servers for review (I wanted something comparable to a Roon Nucleus+ for reviews, as I often get asked about Roon alternatives), he not only agreed to help facilitate something, he asked if I’d be willing to take on an W20SE for review – without me even bringing it up, talk about coincidence.

I’d recently written a piece on the company’s former flagship model – the W20 caching server – so comparing it to the new SE version only made sense. Having two $20k music servers to compare is no small task, and is an assignment, I have to say, I’m really looking forward to carrying out. If the W20SE builds on what the formidably-silent W20 offers then Aurender will have truly set a class-beating bar for ‘black-hole’ digital. A term I used in describing the utter lack of noise floor in digital-file playback from the W20.

Slight I/O changes on the rear panel help define the internal changes and upgrades of the SE over the W20.

Weighing roughly five pounds more than the considerably weighty 42-pound W20, the SE version packs-in a huge amount of new tech. Some of which includes a new linear power supply (replaces the switch mode power supply –SMPS) that is used to operate the non-audio related circuit topologies (battery-supply recharge system, SSD/HDD power, AMOLED screens, various powered-on lights, physical control buttons on the chassis, etc.). According to Aurender, an SMPS can sometimes have a detrimental effect in terms of radiated noise on other associated components in the audio system. The SE adds an extra LiFePO4 battery bank which acts as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect the system in case of a sudden power outage, the other banks handle the delicate audio circuitry for all playback on the W20SE (as it was also done on the W20). The SE also adds-in a new ‘Double isolated Gigabit Ethernet’ and a ‘dedicated next-generation USB Audio Class 2.0 output’ as well as an 4TB SSD drive for storage an 1TB SSD Cache drive for playing back local files and for streaming content. There’s a new OCXO oscillator, and all new boards and board layout with greater attention to grounding, to once again, further reduce noise.

Practically identical external form factors conceal the many design and circuit changes within the chassis.

On the file-support front the W20SE now can handle up to DSD256 (DoP) and PCM up to 768kHz. Native DSD512 is also good, whereas the W20 was limited to DSD64. PCM upsampling via AES/EBU with single wire is now 192kHz/dual-wire 384kHz, and the MQA Core Decoder is factory installed as opposed to the $50 USD remote upgrade available via the Conductor App for all other Aurender models.

According to Lizars, the “W20SE represents an all-out assault on noise of every variety,” and looking at these new specifications, and taking into account my previous experience with the W20, I couldn’t agree more with what he says. Check back in the near future for a full review.

Massive heat-sink cooling fins line the sides of both units.

Aurender America Inc.
20381 Lake Forest Drive, STE B-3 , Lake Forest, California 92630, USA