Aurender W20SE Review: The ideal source for a modern system

Aurender W20SE
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The Aurender W20SE is a truly reference-level device, in the creation of which all measures were taken to eliminate all types of interference that affect sound quality. It appeared in the fall of 2019, replacing the discontinued model W20. And in fact, the Special Edition is not just an improved version of it, but a modern media server of a much higher class.

For starters, the SE variant HDDs have been replaced with 4TB solid state SSDs. Such storage is much more reliable, absolutely silent and does not create vibrations. As in other Aurender models, data received from storage and via UPnP from external sources goes to the cache memory, from where it is retrieved with clocking using the ultra-stable temperature-compensated OCXO generator. This is the most reliable way to eliminate jitter in the received data stream. The amount of cache memory in the W20SE is colossal – 1 TB. All discs are housed in a closed aluminum box to protect against interference (pictured on the front right).

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The central processor running under Linux is now powered not from an impulse, but from a linear source with a low noise level. Sound processing circuits, as was the case in the W20, are powered by LiFePO4 batteries, and two sets are used – while one supplies voltage, the second is charged.

A new feature of the W20SE is PCM upsampling from 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz by two, four or eight times (up to 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8 and 384 kHz). An integer multiplying factor is easier to implement schematically, and this, as the developers assure, has a beneficial effect on the sound. A signal with frequencies of 352.8 kHz and 384 kHz can be transmitted to the output only with a two-wire connection to the DAC via two AES / EBU interfaces. Upsampling is possible on the AES / EBU, TosLink and SPDIF outputs using a PLL system on a programmable FPGA.

The central processor running under Linux is now powered not from an impulse, but from a linear source with a low noise level.

The W20SE’s unique architecture allows the user to select the output sampling rate when converting DSD to PCM (88.2, 176.4 or 352.8 kHz) and the cutoff point of the low-pass filter when playing DSD (24, 30, 40 or 50 kHz) … The FPGA on which the filters are built is also responsible for this process. If you do this, as usual, in software, the processor has to simultaneously calculate several thousand values, and the accuracy of the final results is low.

The Special Edition model is also capable of native DSD output up to DSD512, and DoP up to DSD128.

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MQA decoding is now standard rather than optional, and the output resolution is increased to 88.2 or 96 kHz for non-MQA DACs. If the DAC is MQA compatible, the signal will be sent to it as is.

The W20SE has a BNC input for receiving clock pulses from an external generator, which also reduces jitter when processing the input signal via the SPDIF inputs.

And finally, I note that the Gigabit Ethernet port now has a double optical isolation to cut off the noise coming over the twisted pair.

MQA decoding is now standard rather than optional, and the output resolution is increased to 88.2 or 96 kHz.

The new media server is controlled via the Aurender Conductor app for IOS and Android platforms. All the settings described above are available through it, as well as the streaming services Qobuz and Tidal. Moreover, links to content found in these services can be added to the playlist and to the main file library.

In addition, the Aurender Conductor makes it possible, if necessary, to directly contact the technical support service. Submitting a remote support request allows technicians to quickly diagnose and fix problems over the Internet.

Aurender W20SE 05

The system components for testing the media server were selected of the appropriate class: Mytek Manhattan DAC II DAC, SPL Director preamplifier, SPL Performance m1000 kilowatt monoblocs and giant MartinLogan Neolith speakers . The music was streamed first from Tidal and then as hi-res files from the local Synology server.

And so, online content. You kind of understand with your mind that music comes from somewhere far away and not in the highest resolution, but this is not at all obvious by ear. Even files encoded in MQA, which usually sound with noticeable synthetics, are revealed in a completely different way through the W20SE. There is more life here, the volume of space is clearly felt, in the upper range there is absolutely no dryness. And when you understand that there are not even insignificant trifles in the sound that can distract, spoil the impression, somehow you immediately relax and completely go into the music. Steve Howe, “Love Is” is a wonderful lineup, the backing vocals are really in the background. Huge electrostats create a picture in which you do not find a single flaw typical for streaming. Bach, “Goldberg Variations” – not only is the harpsichord natural size, so in its sound there are still so many nuances, vibrations and after-sounds that you can only wonder. And what is interesting, the pauses are absolutely clean, “black”, as they say in audiophile circles. Sounds arise out of nowhere, and smoothly dissolve in space. Harmonic cymbal loops on “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo” by Bela Fleck hang like a cloud in the air as if performed live.

Even files encoded in MQA, which usually sound with noticeable synthetics, are revealed in a completely different way through the W20SE.

The abundance of shades also revives the brutal, energetically charged genres. Paradise Lost, “Beneath Broken Earth” – heavy, convincing and unexpectedly beautiful. At least, not as primitive and unambiguous as on budget technology, if you listen carefully, you can find a lot of interesting nuances.

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Now – high cuts from the local server. And here you can already talk about how engineering solutions turn into listening emotions. I am ready to admit that with proper implementation (as in our particular case), playback of correctly digitized music from network storage leaves no chances for either CD, SACD, or the most perfect analogue. Such a flawless analog has never existed – well, if only in the studio on the original master tape. But where are we and where are these tapes. Here you can select any musical masterpiece with one move of your finger. And get it with a quality that most music lovers simply have no idea about. And I’m not talking about the technical aspects of the sound, but about the level of perception and emotional empathy. And all because that flawlessly engineered hardware is capable of creating an equally flawless copy of the actual event recorded during recording. It is clear that most of the tracks are written in parts and then edited, but the final result, i.e. the version of this event as presented by the producer – it is before us. Concert releases are, of course, out of competition: at the violin concerts by Anna Sophie Mutter, originally published at Deutsche Gramophone, the very fact of reproduction ceases to be recorded by consciousness. It would be possible to bring the volume to a concert level, but this requires a room three times larger. out of competition: at the violin concertos by Anna Sophie Mutter, originally published at the Deutsche Gramophone, the very fact of reproduction ceases to be recorded by consciousness. It would be possible to bring the volume to a concert level, but this requires a room three times larger. out of competition: at the violin concertos by Anna Sophie Mutter, originally published at the Deutsche Gramophone, the very fact of reproduction ceases to be recorded by consciousness. It would be possible to bring the volume to a concert level, but this requires a room three times larger.

This is because flawlessly engineered hardware is capable of creating an equally flawless copy of a real event.

The qualitative potential of the flagship Aurender seems completely unrealistic, this device is an ideal source for a modern system of transcendental level. And from this point of view, the price of the W20SE seems to be quite adequate.

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