The Aurender N10 Music Server & Audio Note DAC 4.1x Balanced Signature Reference: Streaming through Tubes

I had been curious about the Aurender N10 music server for a very long time. Unlike a streaming DAC, the Aurender stores your music files on its built in fixed drives. Then it “clocks out” the musical information in “bit-perfect” fashion using an SSD (Solid State Drive) to any compatible DAC that you want. By “clocking out” a “bit perfect” version of your music files, the N10 provides your DAC with the digital information to convert to an analog waveform just exactly as it’s stored on the Aurender’s internal fixed disks. Yes, it’s basically a computer with a bunch of fixed drives, an OS (Operating System), and a user interface provided over your LAN (Local Area Network) through an iPad-specific App. You copy the music files from a more conventional computer onto the N10. The original files come from downloaded music files and/or from CDs that you have ripped all the way from MP3s to Quadruple DSDs in many formats including WAV, FLAC, ALAC, and AIFF. You can back the N10 up to any number of data storage devices; however, you have to make these backups from the N10 manually. Aurender currently provides no backup software.

My interest in the N10 mostly centered on the very fine performance I get from Aurender’s smaller and less costly N100H music streamer, which has more limited fixed drive space (nominally, 2TB compared to 4TB) and its use of a USB interface alone. You see, the N10 has, in addition to a USB output, a more traditional S/PDIF output so that it can be connected to “legacy DACs”, or DACs that have no USB input, one of the limitations of my Audio Note DAC 4.1X Balanced Signature (although I seriously doubt that Peter Qvortrup, the founder of Audio Note UK, would call it a limitation). Although the main signal-processing chip used in the DAC 4.1X can theoretically accommodate a 24-bit/96kHz PCM signal, Audio Note has optimized all of their DACs for playing CD-resolution, or 16-bit/44.1kHz signals, based on subjective analysis. The Audio Note DACs use no oversampling, upsampling, or explicit filtering of analog output signal, relying on vacuum tubes, transformers, and lots of silver wire to produce the most emotionally-engaging music.

 

Aurender-N10-Black

Aurender N10 (also available in silver)

For me, that works; although, I remain very fond of my Simaudio MOON Neo 280D streaming DAC, which supports USB and Ethernet inputs (the latter by way of the MiND networking module) as well as RCA, COAX, and TOSLINK inputs. Plus, the Neo 280D does sound very good, particularly for less than 1/10th the cost of the Audio Note DAC 4.1x, and supports high-resolution PCM plus Quad DSD with the personally-preferred Ethernet input limited to 24/192 PCM or Single DSD because of network bandwidth limitations (i.e., speed of file transfer limitations over my LAN). So, essentially, I compared three different ways of playing digitally-encoded music:

  1. Playing CDs from a CD transport (an RCA-style S/PDIF digital output on the back of my vacuum-tube Audio Note CD 3.1X/II CD player) going through a Stealth Varidig Sextet digital cable into the DAC 4.1X
  2. Playing CD-resolution files copied onto the Aurender N10’s fixed drives going through the same Stealth Varidig Sextet digital cable into the same DAC 4.1X
  3. Playing up to 24/192 PCM or Single DSD files over my LAN into the Neo 280D via an AudioQuest Vodka CAT7 Ethernet cable among other things (not, in my case, over Wi-Fi, because it has even more speed limitations)

I found the N10 simple to setup. It did require a couple of kickstarts to get it to not stop streaming in the middle of an album; but I think that’s an anomaly. My N100H has worked flawlessly since day one. I backed up some music from the N10 to my MacBook Pro to send to the previous user. Then I used the Aurender “clone” function found in the Conductor App to mirror the contents of my N100H to the N10.

N100H.jpeg

Aurender N100H

 

That process worked flawlessly and I suddenly had control of the content of two different Aurender music streamers plus TIDAL HiFi via the same iPad using the Aurender Conductor App.

Using method 1 mentioned above (a CD transport), I had to manually load and unload CDs, but I never had to download, copy, or rip anything. Using methods 2 and 3 (the N10 and 280D), I could remote-control my music library plus play TIDAL HiFi using the Aurender Conductor App or the Simaudio MiND App, respectively. (I could not, of course, play TIDAL HiFi using method 1 because my CD transport doesn’t support steaming).

I first put Jerry Garcia’s and David Grisman’s Shady Grove into my Conductor App playlist (remembering that I’m only evaluating CD-resolution files because of the limitations of my Audio Note DAC right then), a kind of vocal and acoustic string collection of traditional folk songs in a similar spirit to The Pentangle but with higher fidelity and more masterful playing.

I have to confess that the album sounded lovely, nearly as tonally neutral  as my 1/2-track, 15 ips reel-to-reel tape of Garcia/Grisman, with almost as much detail as the reel-to-reel tape. However, the N10/DAC 4.1X combination didn’t sound quite as open with as much air or ambience as simply inserting Shady Grove into my CD transport using the same exact Stealth digital cable and Audio Note DAC4.1X.

Next, I wanted to hear how TIDAL HiFi sounded through a higher-end music streamer like the Aurender and the Audio Note DAC combined. When I got my first streaming DAC (the Simaudio MOON Neo 280D with [the] MiND), I listened to Lemonade by Beyoncé about a million times, and had purchased the physical CD. The CD played via my transport sounded the best, but streaming Lemonade at 16/44.1 via TIDAL HiFi sounded amazing for the type of service I associate with mobile phones and MP3s. Therein lay the true strength of the Aurender N10 and Audio Note DAC 4,1X Balanced Signature, I believe.

Sadly, I had to send the N10 back to Aurender not because I “settled” for my 280D, a great device itself regardless of its relative cost, but partly because I would have needed three boxes not including my Audio Note DAC: the N10 for local streaming, the DAC 4.1x to make bits into music, and the 280D specifically for its excellent TOSLINK connection that I use with Sony UltraHD SmartTV in a two-channel home-theater arrangement. Someday My Prince Will Come though, according to Miles Davis …

Advertisements

Author: Andy Schaub

Software Developer/Designer, Technical Writer, English Major

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s