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Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests:
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Source: Esoteric K-03, Apple iMac Lion OSX, Squeezebox Touch + Welborne Labs PSU, Audio GD Ref 5, Totaldac, Trends UD-10.1, MacBook Lion OSX with hiFace USB to S/PDIF interface
Amp/Preamp: Rogue Audio Hera II, SMC VRE-1 [on loan], SPL Volume2, Orpheus Lab Three M, Trends TA-10.2
Speakers: Vivid Audio K1
Cables: Skywire Audio 2020 digital cable, Naturelle Audio interconnects Live 8 MK2, Audio Art SC-5 SE speaker cables, Precision + speaker cables, Fluidita interconnects
Power Cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE, Furutech.
Stands & room: DIY stuff, Vicoustic panels
Review Components Retail: € 5.900

Widealab of Korea is about to release a new generation of audio servers. These are announced to deliver further performance enhancements over the existing multi-awarded S10. The goal of my review of the latter is thus neither to add more positive feedback to its wide acclaim over already more than one year nor to disseminate any comprehensive description of the machine’s key functionality (which is quite simple compared to the more complex and open environments of equivalent DIY or semi-DIY efforts).

My purpose is furthermore not exclusively linked to the Widealab model but the bigger picture of competing expensive audio-dedicated computers. My investigations have focused on the desire to spend comparative amounts of money on a dedicated audio source versus more conventional less costly solutions. Another question is longevity. After 18 months in the field and given the imminent release of replacement models, how can the Widealab unit possibly remain up to date and should it thus be considered any long-run or even mid-term investment?

As Chris Connacker put it in the Computer Audiophile web pages, "the speed of computer-based hifi component evolution is inversely proportional to the time between consumer component purchases". Beyond what the future may hold, the Aurender remains ensconced on the racks of many a trade-show exhibit and thus seems accorded the role of most desirable high-end digital source going. Is that still completely justified I wondered.

My choice of reviewing the Widealab unit was not only influenced by the highly positive feedback which it garnered throughout 2011 and 2012 but also by the opinion of Audionec’s founder who in France at least is considered an expert on state-of-the-art audio computing. According to Francis Chaillet the Aurender S10 is one of very few dedicated solutions he could live with even if it won’t deliver the ultimate sophistication of his own Audionec equivalent. Considering his high standards and poor opinion on many other contenders in this specific segment, the S10 to me seemed to be an ongoing reference amongst still relatively attainable options. Because the job has already been handled perfectly well by many of my talented colleagues, I will dispense with historical data on the Korean company and any in-depth technical description of their S10 machine.

For the briefest of intros, the S10 is a Linux-based computer seriously customized to enhance sound quality, aesthetics and ease of use. This leads us to a €6.000 sticker which at first glance seems steep for a Korean Linux-based PC-related product. Half-priced challengers from Sonore or Wyred4Sound obviously don’t pursue the same aesthetic demands where the Widealab server truly is a beautiful piece of industrial design like my Esoteric K-03. Pretty gear is costly but the beauty of the Aurender S10 is not limited to its silver aluminum casing or black aluminum heat sinks. It reflects internally with a superbly built custom sound card using oven-controlled crystal oscillators and custom-programmed FPGAs. The inner chassis is carefully organized and separated into three main sections to obtain the lower noise possible.