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Let's do a little bit of benchmarking and pressure test the assumption that this one-box solution from Aurender is actually competitively priced versus some well-known options which more or less compete in the space. On the streaming side of things, an oldie but still reliable file player is my Auraliti PK90. At $1'350 with linear power, it would seem to trounce the Aurender on value but the Aurender user interface is a dream to use and not limited to just playing files off an attached USB drive. From a feature and convenience standpoint, the two players are worlds apart. Add the difference in convenience, the need for an after-market USB cable to connect the PK90 to a DAC (add $500) as well as two 2TB SSD low-power drives to match the storage and sound quality of the Aurender. Now the total is much closer to $3'000 which happens to be the same as the NH100 which the A10 is built from. Yet that $3'000 spent on the PK90 did not yet add the ability to stream Tidal and Qobuz or to conveniently stream from a NAS. Neither did it give you any search function or automatic artwork retrieval function. Game set and match. On functionality alone, the Aurender goes way further for the money. As we'll see later, it also and more surprisingly gave the PK90 a run for that money on sound quality.
Probably the most competitive streamer would be Wyred4Sound's MS Music Server. With the exception of MQA, the MS supports all file types with higher sampling rates than the A10 while providing very similar ease of use although with a somewhat less polished and complete user interface. At $2'700, it is one of the most complete and cost effective options I'm aware of and coupled with one of their DACs via the I²S connection, it creates a system that performs far in excess of its price point.
A quick look through our archives quickly shows that there aren't many other full-featured streamers in that price range. Those that do exist require Roon memberships and more complex set-up with a Roon server, client and NAS. I am sure it is somehow possible to build a setup that will have competitive features and better sound for $3'000 but honestly, that's not who the A10 targets. An A10 customers doesn't want to go through the pain of figuring out network integration, servers and clients, switches and relays, NAS and software plus cable choices. Even the SOtM sMS-1000SQ starts at $3'500 without any internal storage and in my experience does not offer near the level of convenience unless used with Roon. The closest match I know of would require a Lumin D2 player with its L1 file storage buddies. On features and convenience, they would be very close, just represent different philosophies when it comes to internal storage (Aurender) or external storage on a NAS (Lumin).
The second half of the Aurender A10 equation is its DAC. My aging SOtM sDP-1000EX DAC matches the A10 closely on converter features albeit without support for MQA, then adds fully analog volume and true preamp functionality, making it by far the more flexible of the two. On the other hand, it also costs $3'500 so quite a bit more than we had allocated for the DAC in our 'virtual A10' scenario. If MQA is a key feature, the best options would likely reside with a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ which for $2'200 offers all the A10's DAC functions plus the ease of a true analog preamp and volume control. At a similar budget the Wyred4Sound DAC-2v2 brings a multitude of digital inputs and support for DSD256 but gives up MQA.
The purpose of this little exercise was to show that there aren't many options to build a front end which matches the A10's features and quality for less than $5'500. It is possible but requires that you bring multiple components together with all the related questions of compatibility, synergies, cables and tweaks. And unless you used Roon, most of those won't bring near the ease of use of the A10. Even with Roon, managing a NAS, server and client is beyond most people's appetite. The only close alternative I am familiar with would be the Lumin D2/L1. They try to deliver the same type of ease with a different approach where one could endlessly debate the sonic benefits of removing the hard drive from the player versus the added cost and complexity of using two components where one could be enough.
That's why the A10 is a rather rare animal and one which truly piqued my interest. It finally looked like that one component which would take away all the headaches without sacrificing much if anything on performance. Obviously I have mentioned Aurender's Conductor app already and rightly so. In my mind the Conductor is half the reason why one would want to choose Aurender in the first place. Especially when one comes from the quirky and unstable front end of the Auraliti PK90, the Conductor is a breeze and joy to use. It automatically indexes all your music uploaded to the internal drive, allows you to search by any keyword you care for or by file quality. The app integrates Tidal and Qobuz including MQA streaming from Tidal and even allows you to bookmark your favorite online music to avoid having to search for it every time.
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