Digital is digital. A 1 is a 1 and a 0 is a 0. Period. Right? Well… partly. And in the ideal world where jitter and noise are not a factor, they will be. But we don’t live in the ideal world. (Unfortunately we don’t in a lot of ways). And that makes that there is a (sometimes significant) audible difference in digital sources. Today we look at and listen to the luxurious Aurender N20.
The Korean producer Aurender – founded in 2010 under the name Widealab by Harry Lee – has been producing streamers, music servers and even wireless speakers for about 10 years. Now there are numerous brands making these types of products. However very few manage to operate at the top of the industry for a decade without losing the innovative edge. Aurender can do that. And that is incredibly impressive.
In those ten years Aurender has not only marketed beautiful all-in-ones, such as the Aurender A10, A100 and the newer A30; they have created a complete ecosystem. A system with central storage (including ripping capabilities: the ACS10 and ACS100), streaming bridges – N10, N20, W20SE – and even a usb-dac with amplifier. In short: it is a product range that has been well thought out. A complete package. Not many brands imitate them.
The reason we see so few total solutions where the whole works as an ecosystem, is not so much that the hardware is complex. In fact, in the year 2021 it is not that complex. Basically, an Aurender is just a computer with controllers, a handful of interfaces and a nice box and oled display (it really is a nice display, by the way). Of course Aurender has worked hard to address issues such as noise and clocking. With success, as you will see in the pictures.
But in fact it is the software that is complex. All those devices must stay stable, work well together and be user-friendly. In short: at the end of the day it all has to add up. And we now know that there are also (very) large companies that just don’t get it right.
Now to the new Aurender N20. This is not the successor to the N10 as some enthusiasts may think. The N20 is a new model. And with a price tag of just under 13,000 euros, it is above the N10 and below the W20SE. Note: the N20 does not have a built-in d/a-converter (as the A series does). You will see no analog outputs on the back. What we do see on the back of the Aurender N20 is a whole series of digital outputs: USB Audio, AES, optical, coax (cinch) BNC and a wordclk connection for an external clock. This can be useful if the d / a converter also has it, because then you can use a masterclock to clock the whole thing synchronously, which is very nice in terms of sound. Furthermore, we find two USB-3 ports for storage and two 2.5-inch slots for an additional hard drive or SSD. In short: enough possibilities for connectivity and storage.
We haven’t talked at all about the build quality of the Aurender N20. Funny, because the device looks great. Minimalistic, stylish and tightly finished. Of course, what immediately stands out is the large display. With ultra-high resolution: 1920 x 480 pixels on such a small surface provides a beautifully sharp image. In addition, it is AMOLED, which also contributes to the high contrast. The housing is made of thick aluminum and also internally segmented. This should prevent interference with the PCBs. We would almost put such an Aurender in the rack because it looks great.
Power supply, power supply
Sometimes we might ramble on a bit about the basics of a good audio system. But then again: it concerns us that people think about stuff like that. The basis of any hi-fi system is power: energy. It seems Aurender sees that too. Thank goodness for that. The power supply of the Aurender N20 is simply incredibly seriously executed. We see a beautiful, linear power supply under the hood. Each vital component in the N20 is separately powered. Think of the clock, the processing board, the display and the storage. This way, a hard drive or ssd cannot affect the sound. These are again the advantages of a seriously built hi-fi device.
App and Roon
When we go to the Roon server, we do see the Aurender N20, but only as an Airplay device. Not as a RAAT device. In short: ROON is not fully supported. Some users will find this unfortunate, but others will be fine without it, since ROON again requires a server. Aurender does that itself, which also has advantages. Some users will even argue that streaming directly through the Aurender sounds better, because there is less conversion. And there is a grain of truth in that too.