Compared to Roon, you will primarily miss the content-rich support that accompanies most albums. But if that's not a critical aspect, you can happily pocket Roon's monthly fee and call it a day. That said, the app is not perfect. I wish it allowed deleting and moving files which requires connecting to the Aurender as an external drive via computer. That negates a little the idea of convenience the Conductor app is so keen on. The app also doesn't allow for an external USB DVD drive to connect to the A10 to rip discs directly to its hard drive. One either has to rip discs on a computer and transfer the files later or choose Aurender's ACS-10 model and forego the A10's included DAC. With Aurender's current state of business, one can either rip or decode but not both. I was also disappointed that the app provides absolutely no status update on file transfers from external to internal drive. Once you start the process. it just tells you that transfer is still ongoing. The front LCD gives you a message once transfer is completed. That proved to be a very slow process. It took close to a day to transfer 1TB of data from a super-fast external SSD to Aurender's internal drive. Ouch! You see why a status update would have helped calm my mind into knowing that everything was working rather than had hung up.

The A10 is designed to be simple, foolproof and convenient for folks who do not want to be bothered with files and networks and it really delivers a worry-free experience. The only downside is that you simply have to trust it to be doing the right thing. If you are OCD when it comes to your file management, the A10 is not the most convenient solution. That's simply not what it was designed for.

Convenience is a great thing but if sonics don't match, you really don't have a thing. The A10 delivered on that front too, in fact far beyond what I expected. I first tested it strictly as a file player versus my trusted Auraliti PK90 via Aurender's dedicated USB output into both the SOtM and Lampizator DACs. I must confess that I went into the comparison with the pretty well-formed opinion that my Auraliti with dedicated Unix-audio OS, upgraded linear power supply and top-line SOtM USB audio card would walk all over the Aurender which just had to be compromised as an all-in-one. One of the two was walked all over, just not the one I expected to be. As a file player, the Aurender was simply in a different league especially when playing from its internal drive which caches music to SSD for playback. The differences were not subtle. The Aurender had a far lower noise floor, broader deeper staging, far more tonal nuances revealed by the reduced noise and a lower sense of grit. Grit can be good when it conveys a greater sense of authenticity but in this comparison it was the difference between the Aurender's refinement and Auraliti's more mechanical sound. So much for my long-held belief that a well-executed file player contributes very little to the end result as long as it keeps jitter to a minimum. I am not sure why the difference was so striking but I really felt like resurrecting the old reviewer cliché of blacker backgrounds allowing far more of the music to come through. I can't remember another assignment when the difference was so striking. The fact that a digital file player made such a difference really shocked me.

The level of impact was different between SOtM and LampizatOr DACs probably as a function of their own upper limits. With the SOtM the improvement felt like a small step forward like what you'd hear going up a level in a manufacturer's line of DACs. With the LampizatOr Golden Atlantic, I suddenly felt its full potential was revealed, with music virtually exploding beyond the speakers and the tonal palette of instruments suddenly going up a few levels in saturation yet at the same time passing far more textures. The most striking example must have been Gershwin's American in Paris with the New York Philharmonic under Bernstein. That 24bit/44kHz recording downloaded from Qobuz suddenly took on a new life. It's always been a favorite but I had never heard the music occupy my whole room and jump at me so perfectly as if the speakers simply did not exist. It was the same file as the day before yet it wasn't. The day before I listened to reproduced music. With the Aurender and LampizatOr DAC, I was suddenly surrounded by music which felt more real and had more substance than before.

With DSD these differences seem to shrink a little between the two players but the Aurender retained a clear lead. Bernstein again and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony made the point clearly, the difference not being so much the size of the image and its tonal textures but one of more layering and separation between the various sections of the orchestra. This was more like the kind of difference I am used to hearing between good and excellent digital playback. The space between musicians becomes more clearly defined and they gain greater substance and definition.

For the Auraliti PK90, the final kiss of death was the Aurender's ability to stream Tidal. I'd sprung for the premium membership which allows access to higher-quality files but one can't argue the value of accessing tens of thousands of records for the price of one DSD download a month. It is quite liberating to try new music at no risk, play one track and dive into the album or move to the next. Who knew that I would actually like Green Day? American Idiot strikes far too close to home for comfort but I would never have listened to it if hadn't it been for Tidal. I am still a classical and opera nut but certainly broadening my scope!