WideaLab Aurender S10
Hands down my product of the show, and possibly product of the year, is WideaLab's Aurender S10 music server. Finally someone has built a music sever like a true high end audio component. Internal and external build quality is the best I've seen in any music server to date. Externally the Aurender S10 is comprised of very solid aluminum top and bottom plates. The Aurender name is nicely engraved into the top plate. The left and right sides of the S10 have heat fins somewhat similar to the Pass Labs XA100.5 amplifiers. The front aluminum panel contains a stellar AMOLED display (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode). WideaLab currently offers three front panel display modes. Blue or yellow VU meters that display an analog-like smoothness unlike any other digital display I've seen and a simple text based display with artist, track, file format, bit depth, and sample rate shown in easy to read letters. All three display options can be dimmed or completely shut off via front panel buttons or iPad. It's my understanding the display options can also be updated without reinventing the wheel. The rear of the S10 contains AES/EBU, optical S/PDIF (TosLink), and electrical S/PDIF (coaxial) audio outputs. Ethernet and USB ports are available for connection to a network and loading music on to the internal hard drives. Currently USB audio output is unsupported.
Internally the fanless Aurender S10 is pristine. The aluminum chassis inside separates the sensitive audio output bard with OCXO Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillators and the linear power supply from the hard drives and the motherboard. Even the audio board and PSU are separated by a thick aluminum panel. The S10 photos below clearly show a spinning 3TB hard drive and a 64GB solid state drive. The Aurender S30 model can accommodate three 2TB drives and possibly 3TBs drives if internal testing goes well.
The Aurender S10 runs a highly customized Linux operating system. It's essentially a Linux computer taken to an audiophile extreme. The S10 supports 16 bit / 44.1 kHz through 24 bit / 192 kHz audio output via all three physical interfaces. All relevant file formats are supported such as FLAC, AIFF, WAVE, and I believe Apple Lossless (verification required). Loading files on to the spinning hard disk is done either via an external USB drive that copies the files to the S10 or via Ethernet. When my review unit arrives in around one week I will likely rip music with dBpoweramp directly to the S10 over Ethernet while simultaneously ripping to my NAS drive for backup. The S10's use of an SSD is very smart. When music is added to the playlist the S10 copies it to the SSD immediately and turns off the spinning drive.
The Aurender iPad application is the best software interface I've yet seen outside of a full Meridan-Sooloos system. I was very impressed at the speed with which search results were displayed. As I typed in Steely Dan the search results dwindled with every letter until only Steely Dan remained on the screen. Scrolling through the album art with the flick of a finger was as fast as any app I've seen. Literally there was no delay. Browsing by Artist, Album, Track, Genre was very intuitive. Search results can also be filtered by selecting Artist, Genre, etc. Upon locating an album or track for playback it's simple to press and hold a finger on the selection that causes a popup menu to appear. Options such as Play Now, Add to playlist, etc… are available from this menu.
I could go on and on about the Aurender S10 but then I'd have nothing to right about in my upcoming review. I did have a limited chance to hear the sound quality from this unit but under show conditions I was unable to render an opinion. However, a couple colleagues setup the S10 in another room connected to a very high end audio system and were very impressed with the sound. I respect their opinions greatly and can't wait to get the S10 in my system.
The Blue Coast Records room was hopping with activity throughout the show. I caught one live performance in this room. It was a blunt reminder how far we are from faithful audio reproduction in the home.
Magico, Spectral, and MIT put on a very nice display at the show. The Magico Q1 powered by Spectral DMA360 power amps produced a larger than life sound. The Magico Q1 loudspeaker is my overachiever of the show. This speaker must be heard to be believed. I've yet to hear a speaker this small put out such powerful and delicate sound, especially at an audio show.
Tim Marutani Consulting put on a show within a show. Tim brought in industry veteran recording engineers Bill Schnee of Bravura Records and Michael Bishop of 5/4 Productions to educate the audience and play some truly great sounding recordings. Bill played his 24/192 live to two-track recordings and Michael played his direct to DSD live recordings. the audio system was an all-out-assault. Constellation Audio electronics, Magico loudspeakers, and digital audio workstations from Merging Technologies (Pyramix) and The Super Audio Center (Sanoma) were on hand. The 1000 Watt Constellation amplifiers did cause the circuit breaker to trip a few times when driven hard by very dynamic high resolution recordings. With only a 20 amp hotel circuit and 7 amps in use while the complete system was idling it's no surprise the single outlet was over-taxed. The sound quality in this room was pretty good. I was present while a couple engineers worked after hours in an effort to battle the room acoustics. It's surprising this room had any detail in the lower bass region as the entire back wall became a large loudspeaker. The wall was pretty hollow and produced its own sound whenever music was played.
Mbl of Germany continued its use of a Sonore server built by Jesus of Simple Design.
Audio Image Ltd. produced a really nice sound with the Magico Q3 loudspeakers, Audio Research Ref 250 amplifiers and 40th Anniversary preamp, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, and an Auraliti L1000 file player.
Pure Music was on display in Tim Ryan's SimpliFi Audio room with the Resolution Audio Contata. The Cantata offers asynchronous USB input in addition to a very cool async USB to true Ethernet interface called the Pont Neuf.
The newest feature in computer playback was shown by Playback Designs using a Mac with Pure Music 1.8a. Pure Music streamed native DSD (Direct Stream Digital) to the Playback Designs MPS-3 Digital Music Playback System via USB. In this system there was no DSD to PCM conversion. The MPS-3 is capable of receiving up to 24/384 PCM audio and up to 6.1MHz DSD audio all via USB input.
I must apologize to the guys at Sonic Studio for the less than good photos of their room. An iPhone was all I had at the time. Anyway, I got a look at the new Amarra Mini user interface as well as a custom version of Amarra to be bundled with certain hardware. The new look is really nice and the sound in the room was really rocking.