• 2011 California Audio Show Report

    The 2011 California Audio Show was a blast. First and foremost I enjoyed meeting several Computer Audiophile readers, answering their questions, and thanking them for being so loyal. Seriously if every show was like this I'd attend them all! In general I was enthused by the high level of knowledge of the show attendees. Maybe there's a reason the Bay Area has the highest population of Computer Audiophile readers in the world :~) The California Audio Show couldn't have been more opposite from the Newport Show in June. The Newport show was full of physical media on CD or vinyl. The CA Show was full of computers and music servers. I only saw a few rooms without computer based audio of some sort. In addition to meeting people and seeing a plethora of computer audio systems I found what could easily be my 2011 product of the year.





     



    WideaLab Aurender S10

    Hands down my product of the show, and possibly product of the year, is WideaLab's Aurender S10link 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 Recordslink 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.
             



     


    Magicolink, Spectrallink, and MITlink 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 Consultinglink put on a show within a show. Tim brought in industry veteran recording engineers Bill Schnee of Bravura Recordslink and Michael Bishop of 5/4 Productionslink 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 Audiolink electronics, Magicolink loudspeakers, and digital audio workstations from Merging Technologieslink (Pyramix) and The Super Audio Centerlink (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.
       

             



     

    Mbllink of Germany continued its use of a Sonore serverlink built by Jesus of Simple Design.


     


    Audio Image Ltd.link produced a really nice sound with the Magicolink Q3 loudspeakers, Audio Researchlink Ref 250 amplifiers and 40th Anniversary preamp, Berkeley Audio Designlink Alpha DAC, and an Auralitilink L1000 file player.
           



     

    Pure Musiclink was on display in Tim Ryan's SimpliFi Audiolink room with the Resolution Audiolink 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 Designslink using a Mac with Pure Musiclink 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 Studiolink 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.
     


     

    Misc. Photos









     


     


     


     
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. plakey's Avatar
      plakey -
      <br />
      What's the price point of the Aurender S10? And where can we buy it?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Priaptor - It all comes down to funding. That's the only hold up.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Plakey - The S10 <s>is likely to cost around $5,700. WideaLab is working on US distribution right now. It may be available via Amazon as well</s>. <br />
      <br />
      UPDATE: The US price is $6,995 and the Aurender S10 will only be available through authorized dealers.
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      that there may be support for USB on the S10.<br />
      <br />
      Is that something they talked about or a presumption of yours?<br />
      <br />
      One other question. There has been some "buzz" about Audio Research releasing a new "reference" DAC in October, with similar technology to their CD8 Reference Tube CD player. Curious if you heard any such rumors?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Priaptor - I talked to WideaLab about USB audio output. It's something they have considered and continue to consider for Aurender products. <br />
      <br />
      No comment on the ARC rumor. <br />
      <br />
    1. gmgraves's Avatar
      gmgraves -
      Enjoyed seeing you at the show, Chris, and I especially enjoyed the Blue-Coast Records seminar on DSD. I downloaded a couple of the DSD demo pieces from their website (www.bluecoastrecords.com) and transferred them to my Korg MR-1000. Very impressive. Not only were the downloads faster than PCM but they sounded better than any so-called "Hi-Res" PCM downloads that I have bought from the usual suspects. I think that they might have something there, and I suspect that I'm going to have to buy a Sony Blue-Ray player for my audio system (don't care about Blu-Ray video). <br />
      <br />
      Also, I enjoyed the fact that the show wasn't so crowded (at least on Sunday) that I had to squeeze between bone crushing crowds to gain access to the rooms in which I was interested. I also enjoyed almost unlimited access to the personnel manning the rooms. I don't know how the show did economically, but from an attendee point of view, it was super. Looking forward, already, to next year
    1. bernardl's Avatar
      bernardl -
      The widealab solution sounds good for those guys looking for an idiot proof solution, but the price sounds way too high for me.<br />
      <br />
      I am not sure what you get compared to an external fanless disk + mac mini + ipad 2 + Weiss Int202, but you pay more than twice as much. <br />
      <br />
      I would also not want to internalize mass storage since a HD is basically a device bound to fail at some point of time. I much rather have external disks connected through USB since this will make the replacement much easier and also doesn't give me a false sense of security.<br />
      <br />
      Besides, the mac mini is a full blown computer that you can connect through HDMI to a flat screen as a real media hub.<br />
      <br />
      Finally, the need to rip CDs on another computer connected through the network makes the Widealab not that idiot proof after all.<br />
      <br />
      My view is that if you are able to put together the ripping infrastructure, then you'll probably not mind going the extra step to build a mac mini and buy a Weiss int202 (if you are looking for the best) or a cheaper USB dac.<br />
      <br />
      Among such players, I feel that the Weiss man202 is doing a better job at making life easier for idiots since it does take care of the ripping also in a single box. It does also come in 2 versions, with or without DAC depending on your remaining system.<br />
      <br />
      Anyway, just my 2 cents.<br />
      <br />
      Cheers,<br />
      Bernard<br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Different horses for different courses as they say. <br />
      <br />
      To many people a Mac or Windows PC is an unacceptable solution.
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      Expected retail prices for Aurender Music Players are as follows:<br />
      Aurender A10 - 4,600 USD <br />
      Aurender S10 - 6,100 USD <br />
      Aurender S30 - 7,500 USD <br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      In terms of SQ only, the killer feature of the Aurender is the feature that loads the play list files on the SSD and then turns off the spinning HD storing the library while play is going on. This is something the competition doesn't have.<br />
      <br />
      I'm not sure (and I went to their Web site to read it)what else is going on there that would give better sound than competing units like the Sonore or the Auraliti. Perhaps their clocks - if they are really as good as claimed on the Web site and significantly better than clocks in a unit like the Auraliti or the Sonore.<br />
      <br />
      The more expensive Aurender devices also have relatively large SSDs that are very pricey. That, together with the screen and the appearance, I think, accounts for much of the price. Perhaps the high end clocks are also very expensive - I think they tend to cost tens or even hundreds of dollars each.<br />
      <br />
      But like in most audiophile products, the cosmetics may be responsible for as much as 70% of the final retail price of the product. (That figure, by the way, comes from Anthony Michelson of Musical Fidelity).<br />
      <br />
      If Jesus or Demian were willing to comment (and if it's not forbidden) I'd be interested in hearing what they have to say on the value of better clocks vs their cost, and the difficulty of setting up a feature like the Aurender has that loads the music in the SSD (or RAM) and then shuts down the spinning disk during play. That sounds like a worthwhile feature to me.<br />
      <br />
    1. bernardl's Avatar
      bernardl -
      <i>In terms of SQ only, the killer feature of the Aurender is the feature that loads the play list files on the SSD and then turns off the spinning HD storing the library while play is going on. This is something the competition doesn't have.</i><br />
      <br />
      Well, my Mac mini is equiped with a SSD drive and connected to an external fanless USB2.0 HD.<br />
      <br />
      When using the memory play feature of Puremusic, the song is loaded from the external USB disk to memory and there is no data transfer nor sound produced after that.<br />
      <br />
      So it is very close to what you have with the Aurender. In practical terms, it is the same.<br />
      <br />
      Cheers,<br />
      Bernard
    1. 1audio's Avatar
      1audio -
      Beyond some speculation based on the pictures I could not make any meaningful comments. However here are some meaningless ones: The pictures show 3 oscillator modules. One is an ovenized 12.828 MHz that is probably pretty good. The other two are in standard sockets, one at 22.5792 MHz (for 44.1 KHz clock chains) and the other at 49.152 MHz for the 48 KHz clock chain. The ovenized oscillator is used in some other way, possibly to stabilize the other two if they have a voltage control input. It may be possible to figure out the vendors and look up the oscillators.<br />
      <br />
      Clocking is one place where improvements can be made in digital systems. But a good clock that is not well executed in the system won't make things better. At the highest performance levels the power supplies need to be exceptionally good as do the buffer circuits. The rest of the system chain needs to be addressed as carefully. We selected our platform because it doesn't have PLL based clocks, something we felt we would do better without. We can't say our oscillators are the best possible and we are looking at ways to improve them in our systems. Really good clocks are very expensive and need care in execution to get the benefits, also costly.<br />
      <br />
      The value of buffering to an intermediate drive would depend a lot on the overall system design. The singular value here is to shut off the spinning disk during play, which will make the system quieter. However the response time will be slower when the buffer needs to be replaced. There is no "right" answer, it all depends on the system architecture.<br />
    1. vortecjr's Avatar
      vortecjr -
      I'm going to pass on that bone I try not to look sideways and I do what I think is right for my customers. I would be happy to discuss some new projects I'm working on though....<br />
      <br />
      Jesus R<br />
      www.sonore.us <br />
      <br />
    1. f1eng's Avatar
      f1eng -
      The manufacture and assembly of an enclosure made from machined plates and with nice engraving and concealed fasteners can easily account for over half the manufacturing cost of such an item.<br />
      If you want something looking nice in your home which is made in small volume the pirice will be high...<br />
      Frank
    1. barrows's Avatar
      barrows -
      Looks like they have a nice server product there for those looking for that kind of thing. Decent sheilding for the SPDIF output section/clocks, with a decent linear PS. Looks like they should consider adding an I2S output, as it is a shame to deal with SPDIF after all that effort to keep jitter low... A PS Audio standard balanced I2S on HDMI woudl be a good addition.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Barrows - I received the Aurender S10 yesterday and have been using it nonstop. This is quite a product.<br />
      <br />
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      The obvious thing we want to hear...how does it sound compared to the Auraliti or Sonore?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks,<br />
      Danny
    1. Valvefan's Avatar
      Valvefan -
      Is there any difference between playing files from an SSD vs playing files from memory (as in Jriver media centre)?<br />
      <br />
      Valvefan<br />
      <br />
    1. Brian A's Avatar
      Brian A -
      Quoting The Computer Audiophile on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 23:07:<br />
      <br />
      "...First and foremost I enjoyed meeting several Computer Audiophile readers..."<br />
      <br />
      I sure wish we had taken a moment to all congregate somewhere just to shake hands and meet the person behind the Screen Name. <br />
      <br />
      An ideal time would have been immediately after the DSD Seminar. (FWIW, I was the tall skinny guy who almost got the tranquilizer dart shot at him at the Sunday DSD Seminar.) I wish I had known how many of us were in the room, I would have just jumped up (again) and suggested it.<br />
      <br />
      ... Something to think about for next time.
    1. cookiemarenco's Avatar
      cookiemarenco -
      Thanks for taking the time to come to CAS and co-moderating the DSD panel on BOTH days. Much appreciated. You did an incredible job representing your readers.<br />
      <br />
      The followup response to DSD has been overwhelming, to say the least. We're working on editing the video of the panel and transcribing to text. I'll let you know when that's available.<br />
      <br />
      Thank you for the photos of our Blue Coast World room, as well.<br />
      <br />
      Can't wait to see what next year CAS offers.<br />
      <br />
      Cookie Marenco<br />
      Blue Coast Records<br />
      bluecoastrecords.com<br />
      <br />
      ps.. free dsd downloads from the live recordings are still available at<br />
      http://bluecoastworld.com/