• Auralic Aries ... So Far

    The Auralic Aries is perhaps the most talked about HiFi product in recent memory. The Computer Audiophile Community is probably more responsible for this chatter than most other outlets combined. It only makes sense that we would talk about, and hype, the Aries as the product is right up our alley. An Ethernet to digital audio interface, software driven and upgradeable, and an ambitious iOS application are items for which some computer audiophiles live. The Aries includes all three. I've had the Aries in my system since early July and it's time to deliver an update to the CA Community. In the early beta days I had my share of issues with the Aries and Lightning DS iOS application. I've used the Aries in combination with several UPnP servers, UPnP control points, and DACs since its arrival. Over the last few weeks the system has become increasingly stable and enjoyable to use for all my local and lossless streaming music needs.

    Creating a new product such as the Aries with its corresponding iOS application is a huge undertaking. Most manufacturers won't even touch such an ambitious project. They will use ready-made hardware solutions and applications to deliver a portion of what Auralic delivers with the Aries. Auralic is different in that it has the engineering ability to build this product from the ground up. Since its initial beta release the Auralic team has doubled-down on improving the Aries / Lightning DS combination and this hard work shows in increased functionality, stability, and ease of use.

    Here is a bit about my experience using the Auralic Aries and Lightning DS application up to this point.


    The Auralic Aries, like all other network based products, requires a stable Ethernet or Wireless network to function properly. The network doesn't have to be enterprise class, but it must be robust enough for high resolution audio. If a proper network is running in one's home, the Aries can be dropped in place and the Lightning DS app can start cataloging one's library without any troubleshooting. Assessing one's home network isn't rocket science. However, we all have our areas of expertise and I realize networking may be foreign to many readers. Fortunately this is where a good audio dealer can make the Aries experience as seamless as possible. Making sure one's network hardware and configuration are up to the task of high resolution streaming is as simple as asking a few questions and running some tests using free software as needed. If an audio dealer isn't up to this task, readers may want to move on to a dealer who can support the products it sells now and in the future if problems arise.

    In my system the Lightning DS application running on an iPad (3rd generation) had no issues seeing the Aries and my UPnP servers. My network consists of a couple Gigabit switches, router, modem, and three wireless access points, all connected via AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable. Each device handles the single job it does best. That means my wireless access points are only wireless access points, not routers and switches at the same time. I use Apple AirPort Extreme AC models just for the wireless capability. Using an AirPort Extreme as a router, switch, and wireless access point may work just fine, but it's less than ideal. Over the next few weeks I will test the Aries' wireless ability, but for now I have the unit connected via wired Ethernet simply because it's available and wired connections always work.

    The second part of this equation is the UPnP software. UPnP requires a server, control point, and renderer to function properly. The Aries is the renderer and the Lightning DS app is the control point. I tried other control points running on my iPad, but using an app other than Lightning DS defeats the purpose of the Aries. Lightning DS enables the user to integrate a local collection of music and a Cloud collection of ~25 million albums and stream them through the Aries seamlessly. Plus, Lightning DS cache a local copy of the library and album art, making the music navigation experience much better than that of Linn's Kinsky application. Auralic is also working hard to enable Lightning DS to function with all popular UPnP server software such as JRiver Media Center, MinimServer, and Asset UPnP, among others. Lightning DS doesn't force the user to browse through folder view, like other applications. if using a different UPnP server.

    The UPnP server software I've settled on at this point in my Aries experience is MinimServer. Before the full review is written I will circle back through JRiver Media Center, but for now I'm sticking with MinimServer. Installation of MinimServer on Synology NAS drives is now simple through the Synology Package Center. Manual installation and jumping through hoops of fire is no longer required to install MinimServer on Synology. I am also using MinimServer running on a Windows 8.1 computer with local storage. Installation on Windows is pretty straight forward. The MinimServer website has a detailed page of instructions for installation on just about every relevant operating system. As of Aries firmware 1.7 and Lightning DS version 1.2 I've only experienced one UPnP server issue with MinimServer. When viewing albums or viewing my library by artist the artists' name was listed twice. An email to Auralic support enabled me to resolve the issue quickly. The resolution is to change the MinimServer tagCustom property from the default to "Composer.displayRole={artist}." After this change I rescanned my MinimServer library, deleted the Lightning DS app, and reinstalled the app to get everything to appear correctly. There is probably an easier way to do this, but I elected to use the sure-thing shotgun approach as I knew it would work. Shortly before publishing this article Auralic release version 1.3. This newest version resolved the MinimServer double artist issue automatically.

    One note: When Lightning DS is importing the library and album art I highly recommend leaving the app alone. I experienced all kinds of latency issues on my iPad, including the app completely freezing, when it was in the middle of the initial import. Once the initial import is finished the app works as designed. Users with newer and faster iPads may experience different results as well.

    Thus far my experience with Aries and Lightning DS has been good. Excluding the very early beta period, my experience has been great. The current Aries firmware 1.7 and Lightning DS version 1.3 accomplish what I need in a UPnP renderer and control point respectively. Plus, I've been using WiMP and Qobuz lossless streaming with great success. Lightning DS has made finding content in the Cloud pretty easy and after a couple early firmware tweaks playback has been flawless. Using the Aries as a UPnP / OpenHome renderer is terrific and functions how all renderers should function. Gapless playback of anything I throw its way simply works. I have albums with cover art that's several Megabytes in size and the Aries has no issues playing this gapless, unlike my experience with the Linn Akurate DSM player. A few days ago I was listening to Shelby Lynne's Tears, Lies, and Alibis album when I noticed the Lightning DS app displaying 96 kbps as the bit rate. This is incredibly lossy considering the lossy content from the iTunes store is 256 kbps. Thanks to the Lightning DS app I had the information I needed to contact WiMP and ask why my lossless streaming wasn't lossless. The answer had to do with how Shelby Lynne delivered her content to the streaming service (very lossy) rather than anything to do with the Aries or Lightning DS application.

    There are still a few minor issues with the Lightning DS app, such as search results in WiMP suggesting an artist has zero albums available, but selecting the artist reveals several albums, and the fact that albums unavailable for playback in specific geographic locations through WiMP still appear as playable. Selecting one of these albums places it in the queue, but playback never commences. This issue lead me to believe Lightning DS had severe issues, until I tried other albums and figured the content wasn't playable in my location because the record label hadn't cleared its use as of this date. Again, these are minor issues that don't impede my listening experience and will be solved with small software / firmware updates in the near future. According to Auralic, these issues stem from the WiMP API returning incorrect parameters. and Lightning DS version 1.4 will address the issues.

    I suppose the CA Community wouldn't let me hear the end of it if I finished this article without briefly mentioning the sound quality of Aries. So far so good. I really like what I've heard through the Aries and several different DACs. I've tried its USB output to the Auralic Vega with great results driving the Pass Labs XA160.5 mono blocks directly. I've also had the Aries connected via AES/EBU to the new Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS with great results. I have much more listening and experimenting to do in the weeks to come and I look forward to reporting back to the Community in a full detailed review of the Aries.








    Comments 40 Comments
    1. woodford's Avatar
      woodford -
      nice write up Chris. two small points. WiMP (and other streaming providers such as Deezer, Spotify, 7Digital, etc) use tags to denote which tracks are playable in which region. this regional tag data is likely not available via the API, so it's not clear auralic will be able to fix this. I've experienced similar issues using Qobuz via LMS.

      also, you state the auralic application can manage ~25M albums. this equates to ~250M tracks, which is likely greater than the number of tracks in existence. for reference, the Gracenote DB has metadata for ~180M tracks. perhaps you meant the aualic app can manage 25m tracks?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Thanks for the correction! Yes, 25 million tracks :~)
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      "so far so good"? I guess this means the sound quality is not day and night between a computer or CAPS server?

      I see the wifi card is socketed. Probably a good thing. Is that memory in the other socket or a CPU or something else?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by labjr View Post
      "so far so good"? I guess this means the sound quality is not day and night between a computer or CAPS server?

      I see the wifi card is socketed. Probably a good thing. Is that memory in the other socket or a CPU or something else?
      I wouldn't generalize on my "so far so good" comment.

      The WiFi card is 802.11n, in case anyone was still wondering about ac support. WLE350NX

      The other socket is the SoC or System on a Chip that holds the CPU and RAM and likely the pins for i2s etc...
    1. Distinctive's Avatar
      Distinctive -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      The WiFi card is 802.11n, in case anyone was still wondering about ac support. WLE350NX
      I asked Mr. Wang if the hardware would change for us early adopters and he said no.
      So then I guess there will be no ac for the conceiveable future - bummer!
      I had a hope for an external I2s port on the Aries, but it will remain in the SoC I assume.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      The wifi card can be updated. Good planning.
    1. jtwrace's Avatar
      jtwrace -
      Quote Originally Posted by Distinctive View Post
      I asked Mr. Wang if the hardware would change for us early adopters and he said no.
      So then I guess there will be no ac for the conceiveable future - bummer!
      I had a hope for an external I2s port on the Aries, but it will remain in the SoC I assume.
      It does support "AC" as bplexico has pointed out that he uses it.
    1. bengl3rt's Avatar
      bengl3rt -
      Has anyone tried the USB output with an Oppo BDP-105D updated to take DSD-over-PCM?
    1. Distinctive's Avatar
      Distinctive -
      Quote Originally Posted by jtwrace View Post
      It does support "AC" as bplexico has pointed out that he uses it.
      It doesn't say so in the specs:
      'The iWavePort WLE350NX is a IEEE 802.11a/b/g' wireless adapter'/n wireless adapter
      I hope it can be replaced easily by the owner.
    1. Geardaddy's Avatar
      Geardaddy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Distinctive View Post
      It doesn't say so in the specs:
      'The iWavePort WLE350NX is a IEEE 802.11a/b/g' wireless adapter'/n wireless adapter
      I hope it can be replaced easily by the owner.
      Its current iteration can stream every format known to man. I am not sure what the advantages are of AC in that regard? I can stream DSD without any issues. I know that the AC protocol (at least in Mac routers) has reduced network transmission or penetration of a physical space. I have experienced that to some degree in my office.
    1. jtwrace's Avatar
      jtwrace -
      Quote Originally Posted by Distinctive View Post
      It doesn't say so in the specs:
      'The iWavePort WLE350NX is a IEEE 802.11a/b/g' wireless adapter'/n wireless adapter
      I hope it can be replaced easily by the owner.
      I stand corrected...it's is NOT "ac" compatible.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Distinctive View Post
      It doesn't say so in the specs:
      'The iWavePort WLE350NX is a IEEE 802.11a/b/g' wireless adapter'/n wireless adapter
      I hope it can be replaced easily by the owner.

      It's a Mini PCIe card like in a notebook computer. Just unplug the antenna leads and pop it out.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by labjr View Post
      It's a Mini PCIe card like in a notebook computer. Just unplug the antenna leads and pop it out.
      If only it was that easy. You'll need drivers and possible config changes.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      If only it was that easy. You'll need drivers and possible config changes.
      Well that's a given. Auralic would need to supply a firmware update at the same time with new card which they did extensive testing on. I don't imagine anyone will be experimenting with swapping wifi cards for kicks.
    1. jtwrace's Avatar
      jtwrace -
      Quote Originally Posted by labjr View Post
      Well that's a given. Auralic would need to supply a firmware update at the same time with new card which they did extensive testing on. I don't imagine anyone will be experimenting with swapping wifi cards for kicks.
      They have no interest in having an ac option since the current version works fine and isn't limited to distance. That's what I gather at least at this point.
    1. labjr's Avatar
      labjr -
      Quote Originally Posted by jtwrace View Post
      They have no interest in having an ac option since the current version works fine and isn't limited to distance. That's what I gather at least at this point.
      I understand. Was just saying it's a standard mini PCIe card if something better does come along.
    1. grinner's Avatar
      grinner -
      Chris,

      How does this compare with the SOtM sMS-100 Mini Server ?

      There is a considerable difference in price (more than 2x I think).

      I'm particularly interested in how these products handle streaming services (WiMP, Spotify and so on).

      Many thanks as always for your insightful comments and, even more so, your dedication to computer audio.
    1. rhmmmm's Avatar
      rhmmmm -
      Is there a list of DACs compatible with the USB port on the Aries? Curious to know if it will work with either my Meitner MA-1 or iFi micro iDSD - any idea?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by rhmmmm View Post
      Is there a list of DACs compatible with the USB port on the Aries? Curious to know if it will work with either my Meitner MA-1 or iFi micro iDSD - any idea?
      A general rule is if a DAC works with OS X without drivers it should work with the Aries. The Meitner should work fine.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by grinner View Post
      Chris,

      How does this compare with the SOtM sMS-100 Mini Server ?

      There is a considerable difference in price (more than 2x I think).

      I'm particularly interested in how these products handle streaming services (WiMP, Spotify and so on).

      Many thanks as always for your insightful comments and, even more so, your dedication to computer audio.
      The sMS-100 doesn't work with WiMP (now rebranded Tidal) or Qobuz.