Media Servers

WideaLab Aurender S10 Music Server

ARTICLE INDEX

The WideaLab Aurender S10 Music Storage and Playback Server In Use

My unit came pre-loaded with a ton of music, some of which was also in my CD collection. Again, I loved how attractive album art looked, and how easy it was to construct playlists. A simple touch of the finger cued music up, and playback began rapidly after hitting play.

WideaLab initially asked me to keep the Aurender S10 for only two weeks. For a reviewer who writes for well over a dozen publications, and is constantly juggling deadlines while making allowances for the spouse, this was most unreasonable.

Matters were further complicated by the fact that I had never before used an iPad, let alone an iPad/music server/wireless router/wired modem/computer interface. The default middle person who reluctantly ended up assisting me with all this – WideaLab does not have an 800 number for support, let alone an easy solution to the continental divide between the West Coast and Korea – detests guiding people through computer basics, and resorted to screaming over the phone like a certified madman. My mother has been dead 29 years; I do not need another, thank you.

I eventually got through the rough spots, but it was not pretty. The experience certainly contributed to short-term S10 approach/avoidance syndrome that required me to keep the unit a few weeks longer.

Once I got everything up and running, I made basic decisions about review procedure. Although it was extremely tempting to avail myself of the hundreds of titles that had been uploaded to the S10's HD, including a lot of delicious jazz from the likes of Bill Evans, Betty Carter, Miles Davis, and other greats, I realized that the only way I could accurately evaluate sound quality was by working with titles familiar to me.

Hence I ignored the temptation of all those pretty album covers and luscious tracks, beautifully displayed on the iPad, and instead used my Macbook Pro to load some of my old standbys to the Aurender. These tracks included the first movement from Reference Recordings' Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, both in 16/44.1 and 24/176.4 configurations; the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, as conducted by Ivan Fischer; Handel sung by mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Schubert sung by soprano Elly Ameling; and some luscious sax, bass, and percussion tracks from the latest release by jazz wizard Charles Lloyd.

The S10 does not have its own music ripping software; music must be added to its HD via a USB key, flash drive, or eternal computer. I wanted to add many more tracks from CDs I was in the process of reviewing, but I could not always get the computer HD/wireless router/iPad/S10 interface to work seamlessly. I'm sure, had some non-condemnatory support or a few more weeks been available, this would not have been a problem. Nonetheless, my experience confirmed the widely held opinion that, for those who can afford it (count me out), nothing beats a Meridian Sooloos for ease of operation.

Another advantage of using familiar tracks I had ripped from CD was that I was able to compare the sound of CD and aiff file playback from multiple sources: a Macbook Pro equipped with the latest version of Amarra, and connected to the Theta via a Nordost Blue Heaven USB cable, Wavelength Audio Wavelink, and Nordost Odin BNC digital cable; a prototype Auraliti L-1000 music server, supplied by Ray Burnham and Demian Martin, smf connected to the Theta in similar fashion; and the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport, upgraded by Reference Audio Mods, and connected to the Theta by the same Nordost Odin USB cable that I used to connect the Aurender S10 to the Theta.

Great care was used to insure that cabling and equipment supports were consistent throughout the process, that everything had adequate time to warm up between cable switches, and that power cables were isolated from one another. I also ensured, in the case of computer playback, that playback was quietest by operating from battery, and turning off my internet connection, Spotlight search, and widgets. In short, every piece of equipment was set-up and optimized for maximum sound quality.

I found the sound of my PS Audio PWT, especially after it went through a second set of Reference Audio Mods, different from but as satisfying as computer file playback using Amarra. That, I hasten to add, was before Amarra launched its 2.3 version upgrade, whose sound I love. Amarra 2.2's tendency to slightly exaggerate lower midrange information and soften the top has been corrected in Amarra 2.3; it is definitely the most natural sounding Amarra release to date.

Sticking only to my three sources for file playback – the Macbook Pro/Amarra/Wavelength Wavelink interface, Aurender S10, and Auraliti L-1000 – I easily established a sonic hierarchy. The most satisfying sound, with the greatest color differentiation and three-dimensionality, came from the prototype Auraliti L-1000.

Next up came my Macbook Pro outfitted with Amarra 2.2. (Stay tuned: after CES 2012, I plan to compare the sound of the completed L-1000 with the sound of the Macbook Pro/Amarra 2.3 interface).

Finally came the Aurender S10. It was not that the S10 lacked musicality, or that, in the absence of other sources, it was anything less than extremely satisfying. But, for example, when I played the Mahler, I could not fail to detect a slightly gray background around instruments and between notes. As I switched to computer/Amarra playback, then to the L-1000, the noise floor dropped progressively, and instrumental colors emerged with greater vibrancy and saturation. It was as if I were watching the same Technicolor movie, first in a version that had been circulating a bit, then in a new print, and finally in a new print in a state-of-the-art theater.

The Aurender S10 is the only music server, other than various iterations of the long-in-development Auraliti L-1000, that I've had in my system. Given that the L-1000 is only a player, and relies on external storage, the S10 is also the only server I've used that includes an internal HD for file storage. I cannot help but wonder if the L-1000's reliance on external file storage contributes to its superior sound.