Computer audio is hard. This is a gong I’ve beaten on before, so it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still hitting it. Hard, you say? What’s so hard about it? You just [insert list of steps that you would never write down to hand to your mother-in-law], and “it works!” Ta da! Yeah.
The fact is that there is the set of people that are more-than-computer-literate and the set of people that are audiophiles. Those are not necessarily the same, mind, but I suspect that there is some significant overlap. But there are a good many of folks left out — and the idea of buying a Windows PC and tweaking the living daylights out of it, much less installing an audio-specific Linux distro on it, working out all the drivers and scripts necessary to have it actually sound good instead of just make sounds, is more than a little daunting. Just is. Sorry.
Which is exactly why companies like Aurender are out there. And why they’re thriving.
While they weren’t necessarily the first to market with an “audiophile-grade” music server, they are one of the most respected. There’s a reason — the servers are bullet-proof, relatively easy to use, and they sound incredible. And yes, using one actually does change the sound of your system. In my case, the change was rather dramatic. I guess that makes me a fan.
South Korea’s Aurender has a couple of new things coming out at CES, to supplement their existing line of audiophile-grade music servers. The first thing that caught my eye was the new Flow, a battery-powered headphone amplifier/computer audio digital-to-analog converter. If you’re thinking “Chord Hugo”, you’re spot-on; this is a direct competitor to the UK brand’s class-leading offering. And at $1,295, it’s almost half the price. Hmmm. More details:
- User-installable mSATA slot for up to 1TB of SSD storage, making entire music collections portable
- Very low noise floor for ultra sensitive custom IEMs
- Ability to power even the most hard-to-drive headphones
- 6.35 phi standard headphone jack
- 32bit/384kHz, DSD64/128 DAC
- 0.5dB velocity-sensitive volume & playback control
Did you catch that first bit? Yeah. MicroSD is so over. I can slap an SSD hard drive in this bad boy and get almost 10x the storage — to go. Sweet!
Want more? Catch Nathan’s review over at Headfonia.
In a strikingly sideways move, Aurender was also showing off their newest toy, the Cast-Fi 7. For $399, you get a “Hi Quality HDMI Docking Speaker”. If that doesn’t make sense, think of Google’s Chromecast, or Roku, or any of the other HDMI-dongle services that deliver video streaming directly to your TV, all without the need for a computer or disc player. So, yes, the Cast-Fi 7 is a TV. Sort of.
It sports a hi-res 7″ Samsung LCD screen, and the color and motion are quite good. There’s a credible bi-amped 2-way speaker built-in, with a 3″ woofer. It’s also the cutest little thing! 8 lbs, solid aluminum, and it sounds pretty freakin’ great. Of all the things I saw and heard at CES this year, this was the only one I was seriously tempted to buy on the spot. No, seriously. Fine, I really have no idea why it’s so tempting, but being able to watch videos on my desktop (maybe for binge-watching Archer episodes from NetFlix, as a possible completely-random example), or play music streamed directly from Pandora, without having to touch my laptop … I dunno. It’s really nifty. I can imagine having one in the kitchen. At my desk. In the can. At my desk in the can. TMI? Anyway, yeah. Yeah, I’m getting one.
But that’s not all ….
Aurender was also showing a network-streamer version of the computer audio server that John Grandberg was so taken with, called the N100. It is, to all appearances, a X100 without the spinning local storage — all content is pulled from the network, either in a streaming service (like Tidal HiFi, where native support is rumored to be perhaps “coming soon”) or a NAS. At $2,499, this marks something of a bargain related to the $3,499 of the X100L, so if you’re savvy enough to pull the drive, this might be a marvelous way to seriously upgrade your in-rack computer audio requirements.
But that’s not all ….
Also shown was the X725. Also offered at $2,499, the X725 is a DAC + digital amplifier! Paired with the X100 music server, Aurender is offering a fully in-house solution for those that might value synergy … and a shared aesthetic. Want a second system? Here you go. Some features:
- Designed for quiet operation
- USB interface for high quality audio
- Auxiliary optical SPDIF input (useful for connecting additional audio sources, including CD players.)
- Supports all major high resolution audio formats
- Plays up to 24/192kHz, DSD64/128 in native mode
- Power rating : 100W per channel at 8 ohms, THD+N 0.01%
- IR remote controller
The X725, with the matching X100L or N100, can be purchased separately, of course. But! It can also be purchased together in a bundle. The X-PAC bundle, which features a X100 with 6 TB of on-board storage, for $5,999. Opt for the network-only N100, and that N-PAC price would be $4,999. Okay, not much of a saving, but it’s convenient.
I have some Aurender products now, so expect some reviews in the months to come.