Not your old laptop
Call me arrogant, but it constantly amazes me that there are people that are out there that haven’t made the effort to invest in a high-quality music streaming service. It’s like a whole world is opened up – every artist and album at your fingertips. The Shazam and Spotify era has changed us forever.
And since we are name-calling, call me a snob, but there are streamers, and there are Streamers. The subject under review today is a capital S Streamer – the baby of the Aurender range, about as close to bit-perfect royalty as it comes.
The are three models in the recently revised N100 range. The N100h under review has a USB output only and comes with either no storage (the adaptors are supplied so you can add your own), or a 2TB HDD. The N100C is supplied with a 4TB HDD and adds an SPDIF coaxial digital output. The N100SC has a removal HDD tray, which allows users to interchange storage easily if they wish, as well as coax output.
The hard drives mentioned above are purely for storage of your existing music library – in pretty much any format (this makes the N100 more than just a streamer – it is a music server too). In addition to these drives there is a small 120GB solid state drive which allows the Aurender to cache music. This wizardry allows for instant playback of Tidal or Qobuz tracks that have previously been played and creates a stream that eliminates dropouts and latency.
The N100 has all of the features consistent with a $3 000 machine. Notably, the linear power supply and simply gorgeous build quality put it head and shoulders above other similar streamers. A large-ish front display (unfortunately not large enough to serve a purpose to my ageing eyes from the listening seat) displays track information or makes a cheesy attempt at a mono VU meter. Useful buttons on the machine’s front panel allow for basic control.
Connecting up Is a breeze (assuming you have a decent USB connection to your DAC), and initial setup is logical and easy. Loading Tidal details is quick and reliable but dumping music files on the hard drive requires a little bit of technical knowledge – you have to find the Aurender on your local network and transfer files across). Notable omissions include Roon compatibility as well as wireless networking – both for good reason, according to Aurender. The ability to stream directly to the Aurender from the Spotify App on a smartphone makes up for this somewhat and allows an easy way to get started on the Aurender, involve guests in the experience, or simply put on some background music.
The iPad version of the Conductor app is brilliant. Logical and robust – it does require some learning, but it is exceptionally powerful and searches are immediate. The iPhone version – Conductor Lite – was middling. A little buggy, expect occasional freezing, and less-then logical flow at times. I have no doubt this will be sorted out in future releases, though.
OK – the sound. It’s all bits and zeros, right? The Aurender will sound the same as my old laptop, right? Wrong and wrong! The difference between digital sources has been well documented, and the N100h underscores this emphatically. It has a rhythmic solidity to its presentation that I have never heard in another streamer. Tonally, there is a notable absence of harshness or digital glare, and decay seems natural. The spatial representation seems larger than my Volumio-based mini-PC, as well as my audiophile-tweaked Apple Mac.
Compared to the Limetree bridge – an exceptional little streamer that impresses immensely at its price point, the N100h has a more authoritative sound. Bass notes hit harder, voices have more body, and instruments have more solidity in the soundstage. Interestingly, when I had the opportunity to compare the Aurender N100h against the older Aurender S10, the newer, smaller machine showed it a clean set of heels, with the now-discontinued S10 having a slightly brash sonic approach that I didn’t enjoy.
Overall, if you are shopping for a streamer, I would strongly recommend that the Aurender N100 series is on your shortlist. Its high-end appeal surpasses its price tag, and I am convinced of its ability to satisfy must users’ demands for many years to come.
Quality of sound, build and features makes this a truly high-end performer. iPad version of the App brilliant.
Smartphone App a little rough around the edges at this point. The price is consistent with the N100h quality – this isn’t for everyman.
Lack of Roon compatibility will be a deal breaker for fans of the app, and the lack of wireless networking is an inconvenience.
Price as reviewed: R56 000 inc VAT – N100h with no storage
For more information visit N100 | Aurender – The Future of Sound
The Aurender N100h was reviewed alongside my reference system, over a period of months, with a variety of partnering equipment. No promotional consideration has been paid. Aurender is available in South Africa from Tweak Technologies – www.tweak.co.za