With the A10 including Aurender's first-ever DAC, I didn't know what to expect for the sound quality from its analog outputs. I was well aware of the less-than-flattering Stereophile review so approached my audition with caution. Since that review, Aurender have implemented a quick fix to the digital filtering issues identified at the time: they simply disabled all user-controlled options. They remain visible and selectable in the app but trigger no audible change whatsoever, not even the typical drop-out one hears when switching upsampling on or off. In a way it felt refreshing to return to the days when one acquired a CD player based on the voicing selected by its creator, not based on a dozen digital filter options. Again, I thought it fit well with the intent to keep the A10 as pain-free as possible. Eere Aurender to ever develop a player with a more ambitious DAC, they will still need to sort out the issue of interactions between MQA codex and non-MQA digital filters.

As it stands, it seemed to my ears that they have selected settings which deliver clean fast sound without too much emphasis on the leading edge. The high-level result is a sound richer and with more bloom than the SOtM DAC yet with more bite than the LampizatOr while giving up a little bit on the latter's splendid timbre accuracy. In the end the DAC inside the A10 was a reviewer's nightmare in that it had no obvious sonic character. It was neither overtly cold nor warm. It was dynamic without excessively forward transients which allowed decays to linger without blooming out of control. Couperin's Tic Toc Choc played by Alexandre Tharaud provided that perfect illustration with the first impact of the note sharp and dynamic while the room acoustics developed fully after that initial impact without blurring or overshadowing the piano.

It is important to note that the A10 fell within the category of components which stay faithful to the recording rather than embellish the music. That was striking with DSD transfers of old master tapes. Streaming Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake suite played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Karajan from Aurender to LampizatOr yielded a very dense organic sound on a huge stage but with little separation between the musicians. It simply was a beautiful well-textured mass of sound. The presentation with the A10's own DAC could not have been more different. It had less density but far more separation between instruments, a much leaner view of the musical texture and far more obvious tape hiss clearly audible behind the music during lower-level passages. Somehow the LampizatOr elevated the music above that noise at the expense of ultimate resolution and insight into the recording while the A10 provided a clearer view into the recording at the expense of cohesion as the whole.

I am making the differences more extreme that they were for the purposes of illustration but they were clearly audible. The key thing for me was that neither were objectionable or detracting from my enjoyment. They just provided two clearly different flavors. I plainly don't enjoy overly analytical gear—never have and likely never will—and the A10 never crossed that line but without question was the more insightful on what's on a recording than the LampizatOr.

When reverting to PCM, the Lampizator more clearly took the lead, its ladder DAC showing that ability to be both accurate and natural. The SOtM showed the age of its delta-sigma chips by sounding the most mechanical and glare-prone of the three while the A10 sat in between but far closer to the LampizatOr than I expected based on price. Those AKM chips have come a very long way since I first heard them in the Esoteric D05 almost a decade ago. Back then their obvious merit was to avoid the treble glare that plagued many other chips. As implemented in the A10, they offered one of the most natural presentations outside of ladder DACs that I heard in recent years.

Those differences in character made the A10 a better fit for my system when I play the Triode Labs 2A3 integrated into the Rogers LS3/5a. That system already has all the body and tone it needs and clearly benefits from the added clarity, depth and layering the A10 brings. The result was even more thrilling when I replaced the Rogers with my Zu Essence speakers which can fully harness the added resolution and dynamics. On the other hand, the tiny but mighty Finalé Vivace mini with their very revealing midrange don't need that injection of extra truth and much preferred the LampizatOr fed from the A10 to not exceed that excessively analytical limit.

Wrapping up, I was really smitten by the Aurender A10. I‘d backed away from reviewing digital for the last few years due to work and relocation constraints but the field didn't stay still. The A10 leaped ahead of the Auraliti PK90 as a file player and streamer and offered a far more natural sound than the SOtM DAC. It showed how much digital playback on a chip progressed in five years to approach and in some contexts exceed my far more expensive LampizatOr, all with greater features, more convenience and the ability to stream endless Tidal and internet radio to discover new musical worlds at my finger tips.

All this comes at a fair price and with an ease of use that should win over most who fear converting to file playback because of network complexity. New streamers with or without DAC appear every day but even in that expanding marketplace, the A10 strikes me as one of the most well-rounded, convenient and superb-sounding solutions available to wrap up the year with a well-earned Blue Moon award.