Network Audio Players/Servers

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Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 16, 2019
hfncommendedThis 'music server' is rather more than it might initially appear, and you can apparently use it alone, or with another music server model, the CX. So what's that all about?

One soon comes to realise that, in the new world of computer-based music playback, nothing is quite what it seems. What's more, the terminology used to describe the products designed to make it possible seems almost wilfully imprecise.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 26, 2020
hfncommendedPacked with proprietary technology, this network bridge is the obvious partner for Aqua's own DACs. But does its appeal extend beyond a one-brand digital set-up?

Never let it be said that AQ Technologies is either a follower of fashion or a taker of the easy route: the Milan-based company behind the Aqua range always does things its own way. And while that might sometimes seem like an exercise in making life difficult for itself, the policy typically pays off in the performance, as we discovered when reviewing the Aqua Formula xHD Optologic DAC [HFN Apr '20]. Under the Nextel-finished anti-resonant aluminium casework of that model – one of three DACs in a total Aqua lineup of five products – is a galvanically-isolated resistor-ladder converter of novel design.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 23, 2020
hfncommendedBased on Arcam's 'FMJ' CDS27 CD/SACD disc spinner and network audio player, is the more affordable CDS50, complete with new DAC, the brand's best kept secret?

CD players, along with integrated amps, have long been such a mainstay of the Arcam product catalogue that it comes as something of a surprise that the CDS50 we have here, selling for £699, is now the sole silver disc spinner in its lineup. This, after all, was the company responsible, in 1986, for the first CD player both designed and manufactured in the UK, just four years after the format hit the shops and at a time when Linn and Naim were both sticking to their 'no good will come of this' guns.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 14, 2020
hfnoutstandingArcam's flagship integrated amplifier combines Class G amplification with features including network streaming, AirPlay 2 and offboard Dirac Live room correction EQ

Arcam is still headquartered in Cambridge, from where it took its original name, but the audiophile marque is now part of Samsung's global consumer electronics empire, through the latter's acquisition of Harman International, which had added Arcam to its portfolio in 2016. And amid these management-level changes, Arcam's product line has also undergone a refresh. The brand has withdrawn, for the time being, from the peripherals market, jettisoning its R series of docks and DACs.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 18, 2021
hfnedchoiceTouted as the 'world's first multi-DAC DAP', Astell&Kern's premium portable takes tweaking-on-the-move to a new pace. We run to keep up with the features on offer

Once upon a time there was just Astell&Kern, the company building its reputation on superior digital audio players (or DAPs) aimed at those for whom playing music from their phone just wasn't enough. In an era when the multifunctional pocket device is designed to take over every task you could imagine, from browser, emailer, camera, music player and – well – phone, the idea of carrying a dedicated audio device around may seem like something of an anachronism. 'An MP3 player, grandad?'.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 26, 2022
hfncommendedWith powerful battery pack and styling inspired by the Mars rover, the CA1000 aims to squeeze the performance of a full-sized 'digital' headphone amp into a portable player

The new Astell&Kern ACRO CA1000 desktop player/DAC/headphone amplifier, selling for £1999, has a raft of functionality built-in – and yet I'm still not quite sure who it's for… Of course, this is far from the first step beyond its core expertise in high-quality pocket music players taken by the company. After all, it's already given us the extraordinary AK500 stack system [HFN Apr '15], active speakers and the chunky ACRO L1000, its first desktop headphone amp/DAC.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 26, 2023
hfnoutstandingNow benefitting from the latest updates to Auralic's Lightning streaming platform, the 'starter' Altair DAC also features a raft of mechanical and detailed design improvements

Although Auralic (promoted as AURALiC) only launched the Altair G1 in 2020, the Chinese brand already has its G1.1 update available. It appears together with the Aries G1.1 as the new and more affordable options within their respective tiers, with the Altair and Aries G2.1 [HFN Oct '21 & Feb '21] being the more expensive models. However, as all Auralic products share a very similar chassis design and carry names that aren't very descriptive, it's sometimes difficult to discern which box does what.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 11, 2021
hfnoutstandingBuilt as a 'box within a box', and promising a slicker all-round performance, Auralic's G2.1 series now extends to the fully-fledged Altair streaming DAC/preamplifier

We've commented previously on the similarity – at least in styling – between many of the products in the Auralic range, and here's another head-scratcher in the form of the Altair G2.1. It's only a little more than the Aries G2.1 'Wireless Streaming Transporter' [HFN Feb '21] – £4599 plays £4199 – yet this model, designated a 'Digital Audio Streamer', is a much more comprehensive product. It comes complete with onboard DAC, a preamp that allows it to drive a power amp or a pair of active speakers directly, and there are even analogue inputs – a line level and MM phono – to reinforce that role as a complete system hub.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 10, 2023
hfnoutstandingBased on the Tesla G2 platform used in Auralic's premier G2.1 range, but lacking the box-in-box build and some circuit detailing, the Aries G1.1 remains a top-flight streamer

Yes, the £2699 Aries G1.1 is another one of those similar-looking Auralic components that will blend seamlessly with its brand partners, even if we're never immediately sure what box does what... In this case, we have a network player without onboard digital-to-analogue conversion, designed to be used straight into an external DAC. In this guise, it brings the niceties of Auralic's Lightning Streaming Platform, and its Lightning DS control app, to owners of third-party DACs. This also includes amps or preamps with digital inputs, which can be fed via USB or optical, coax or AES.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 15, 2021
hfnoutstandingNow housed in a 'chassis within a chassis', featuring an uprated USB interface and slicker Lightning OS, Auralic's G2.1 series kicks off with the Aries streaming transport

At first glance, Chinese company Auralic's range looks baffling, such is the choice of similar-looking units – and it's becoming more so with the arrival of new 'second generation' G2 models, confusingly distinguished by the addition of a '.1' suffix on its product designations. In the new lineup there's the Vega G2.1 streaming DAC, at £5999, the Sirius G2.1 upsampling processor at the same price, the £7999 Leo GX.1 master reference clock, and the product we have here, the £4199 Aries G2.1, described as a 'Wireless Streaming Transporter'.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 24, 2020
hfnedchoiceThis high-end digital music machine is a comprehensive package offering ripping, storage, streaming and a built-in DAC. Is Aurender's flagship player master of all?

For many hi-fi enthusiasts, the idea of 'computer music' is still an alien one, not least because what's claimed to be a simple way of accessing music can seem to be extremely complex. After all, unless you're going to listen to everything via online streaming you need a means of ripping your existing discs, a way to tidy up the metadata tags used as signposts for indexing and search, and of course somewhere to store all the music files. And that's before you even think about how to play it.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 28, 2022
hfnoutstandingIn raw form this is a digital streamer/network bridge governed by the Conductor app, but add optional SSD storage and the N200 becomes a fully-fledged music library

Music storage: it can be a thorny subject, not least because those network products offering internal capacity for your library tend either to have fixed, non-expandable storage, or offer the option of dealer-installed drives. The cost of such storage is usually high, too – okay, not 'adding capacity at time of ordering your new Apple computer high', where an extra Terabyte can cost you £400, but still at prices to have you looking at HDDs on the likes of Amazon and scratching your head.

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 17, 2023
hfnoutstandingAurender's flagship two-box network music library isn't the traditional PSU/player you might expect. Instead, the functionality is elegantly split between data in and data out

Look at any multi-box component and you can usually work out what's going on: CD transport and DAC, preamp and power amp(s), for example. But just as often those two boxes are an 'audio product' – phono preamp, headphone amp, DAC or even a digital audio transport – plus an outboard power supply. The rationale for these latter two-boxers is clear, for by isolating the electrically noisy parts of the system away from delicate audio signals, interference is minimised and signal purity maximised.

John Bamford and Paul Miller  |  Dec 16, 2011
The first in a new breed of ‘computer transports’, WideaLab’s Aurender S10 employs a Linux-based OS and solid-state storage to render your music collection via digital outs. Aurender music servers are new to the UK. Made by WideaLab, a specialist subdivision of Korea’s Wonik Corporation, they are designed for pure audio replay of a lossless digital music library – aimed squarely at audiophiles who care passionately about sound quality. That’ll be us, then!
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 13, 2023
hfnoutstandingPitched as 'the music server against which others are judged' and featuring a battery supply, 4TB SSD storage, a 1TB cache and custom upsampling, this is no idle boast

You're on somewhat shaky ground when reviewing a big-ticket music server, especially one with no onboard digital-to-analogue conversion. The scythes and flaming torches of the 'digits is digits' brigade might appear at any moment on the path up the mountain on which such devices are perched, and there's always the nagging doubt that the choice of partnering DAC will have more impact on the final sound.

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