Aurender X100L Music Server Review


Music and the way it is listened to has become a passion of mine over the last few years and finding new ways to enjoy this passion has literally become an obsession. I have an ever growing library of media that is stored on HDD. It has grown to a size of nearly 4TB which also includes rips of my old CD collections and high resolution downloads that I have amassed over the last few years. These include 24bit recordings and the now higher DSD bit rates which take up considerably more room on your HDD than normal. I have tried and still use several different media type players to stream my music but is this the best way to enjoy your digital media? That is a question I have been pondering over for quite some time and looking around at the varying music servers out there. There is a fair amount of choice now but which one fits my bill for the serious high end audiophile? This is where Aurender steps in nicely as they have been making high end music servers for a number of years now with their top of the range W20 coming in at a whopping £17,000, but this is something for someone who has the necessary kit that could appreciate the W20 not me, I could not afford that sort of price range and in comes the new X100S and X100L the latter which I am reviewing here.

I will go further into the details of each player's differences in a moment but first let me just say a little bit about AurenderAurender as a company design all their products and market them in California USA but they are built in Korea, the team of designers has a philosophy of building high-quality audio products for both audiophiles and music lovers who want to enjoy operational convenience, simplicity and excellent sound quality. This philosophy sure seems to be getting noticed in the high end audio community with its bigger brother the W20 being used in many money no object systems. As I scan through a lot of the Instagram photo's and Facebook photo's that are posted on my site, you will notice an Aurender being used in quite a few of these amazing systems. So they must be on to something. Rather than just using an iMac or JriverMedia Centre to stream from a PC, this may suffice for the casual listener but for the more serious audiophile in the search for the very best sound and the easiest way of dealing with their digital media, they would want the best that they could possibly afford. With the Aurender W20 out of reach for most of us the X100S & L models come in at much more reasonable £2,995 for X100S and approx £3,500 for the X100L model. A much more reasonable amount to digest than the W20 model is.

Features and build quality.

The aurender X100L is beautifully built being crafted out of aluminium for the casing, it is a solid piece of engineering which feels and looks like a high end component, it weighs in at hefty 7.5kg. The X100L comes with 2 x 3TB HDD compared to the X100S which only has 1TB of storage capacity, This is the difference between the two otherwise they are identical in feature set. It has a switch mode power supply which has no fans to keep it cool, instead it relies on heat sinks to do that job. This is important part of the design though as it is meant to keep the unit as noise free as possible, so all the critical parts like processors and power supplies are cooled this way. 4GB of RAM is allocated to the aurenderwhich is plenty to shift files and data transfer. It runs on a Linux based OS, and when it comes to computer based audio systems it seems to be the prefered option as it is a much faster approach for programmers to operate on and work with. What makes the X100L special and indeed great at playing your music is the way it handles your files, this is done by caching the files from the HDD to a 120GB SSD which it will then play from so the HDD can stop working and the music is all on the SSD which which eliminates jitter, latency and electrical and acoustic noise from spinning hard drives. It is a brilliant approach to how a great music server should be and transport your files as efficiently as possible. On the back of the unit their is quite a few connections but only one way of transporting your files to a DAC and that is by the dedicated USB Audio Class 2 socket which also has noise free power circuitry protecting your delicate audio signal. There's a gigabit ethernet port to connect to your network and 2 x USB data ports for extra storage, plus your mains connection but that is it. Nice and simple but everything you need to get your music transported to your DAC. The HDD are also damped for noise suppression which shows how much R&D has gone into these units to make them as good as they possibly can be.

Moving files from your NAS drives to the X100L could not be easier as once plugged up in Windows you will see the Aurender X100L show up in your Network screen as another computer and you can then access the drives and literally move the music files across on to the X100L internal storage drives. All of the major music file types are supported by this player that includes DSD (DSF, DFF), WAV, FLAC, ALAC, APE, AIFF, M4A and other major formats at native bit and sampling rates.

Controlling the Aurender X100L and the Conductor iPad App

This is where all the magic happens and where so many others fail. The main purpose of having a music server is to keep all your music stored in an orderly fashion and with some common sense and functionality added to it. With the Aurender on the front of the unit you get a great 3.3 inch AMOLED screen which displays all the necessary information to tell you what is going on, or playing in this instance. Because it is an AMOLED screen you can get different options from VU meter to normal display which gives album, song, Bit rate and length of song playing and to the right you get four navigation buttons which can control the unit but an iPad is really an essential part of playing the X100L. This is where the wonderful Conductor App comes in and it is one of if not the best bit of software I have used on any media server as it is just so efficient at what it does. It takes a little while to get used to the App and what everything does but once you figure it out, you will be creating playlists and putting together a nice collection of your favourite music. The App has nice touches like tabs with DSD and 24bit so that it will pick out all your music which is say DSD or 24bit so it kind of streamlines it for you, so as you can get to your music more quickly. Everything about the App just oozes quality just like the X100L player, and as much thought has gone into the design of the App as it has to the design of the X100L Music Server.

I was lucky in that the X100L came mostly preloaded with lots of music of all different types but I still ripped some of my old favorite CD's and transferred some high resolution music across to test. I have already told you how impressed I am by the Conductor App for the iPad and how well it works as it is an extension of how well the X100L works in its flawless operation. When selecting an album you can just type in the album name on the iPad and it will find the album and bring up all the tracks of the album, if you then hold your finger down on the first track it will bring up a box which will bring up a multitude of options, Add all Tracks, even a Wikipedia button to give you the album and artist Biography, which is great for looking up your favourite artists history. There is just so much that this App can do that they have thought of everything and it is so well presented, other manufacturers take note please, this is how it should be done.

I cannot praise this enough as I am just so impressed by the quality of this piece of software and how well it works, it is just brilliant and I strongly suggest that anyone who has problems with their current music servers, really need to look at this one.

Sound quality and performance

The sound quality of my system has improved over the last year or so since getting some major upgrades in the speaker department, this is thanks to my Wilson Audio Sophia 2 Speakers which are just pure reference when it comes to sound and what comes out of them I am constantly trying to improve as they show up any weaknesses in any other part of my system. Even down to the matching of the cables matter in how they sound and thankfully I have some Transparent Cables connected which help convey every musical nuance accurately. It is a great system for showing up differences especially when different kit is introduced as it shows up the slightest changes and most importantly when it comes to sources.

On to how the X100L sounds and this is where I am totally blown away by the difference it makes over running a normal PC with Jriver Media Centre and streaming from my NAS servers, the sound is transformed and I know their maybe some people who are sceptical and say that this is just a server and a way of transporting the music to the DAC, but it is the way it is done that is making the difference and there is a difference in sound quality. The sound floor is completely silent and you notice this as the music suddenly appears from the center of the soundstage out of the inky jet black canvas, it has a more refined and cleaner sound that hits you straight away. Its like hearing a high resolution sound for the first time and you notice the difference in quality as the whole sonic image has been cleaned up and is presented in a way that is much more pleasing to the ear, all the detail and imaging are intact but improved with more focus in the system. Nothing is too overly blown and the bass is nice and tight and the highs are smooth with no harshness to them at all, everything about the music is just right with an even tonal balance across the spectrum. It is total enjoyment to sit back and listen to your favourite music with total control via the iPad App. I switch back to the JRiver Media Center on my PC and it is if the whole noise floor level just upped and the ink jet black canvas is colored by sound that was not there when using the Aurender and sound appears but less focused than before, so I immediately switch back to the Aurender and all is OK again. It is the best way I can describe the difference the Aurendermakes to my system, it is if the Aurender is totally silent and cleans up the sound and signal and does a much better job of transporting the music than just the PC/software and NAS drive does.

I put on an album that I have ripped to the Aurender, well I transfered it from my NAS to the Aurender and then updated the files on the X100L to incorporate the new album. It is a favorite of mine and an all female voice CD from the Late Lounge stable of CD releases and the first CD track one is by Sarah Mclachlan called Angel which is a beautiful song. Hearing it on the X100L is like hearing it for the first time as the piano deep bass tone just plays so eloquently and Sarah Mclachlan voice is as soothing as ever, it is a perfect rendition of this track and one that I can listen to over and over again as it never tires me, and listening through the X100L is as good as it gets unless you have a higher end CD player. It just so happens that I have the Metronome Technologies CD 8S Player and I give it a whirl on this player and it is not far behind but the MT has it beaten for outright dynamics and performance but then again it is a £8,000 dedicated CD player so it should do. But I think that the Aurender does a splendid job of producing a sound which is most certainly high end and sits nicely alongside any other high end audio component in your rack.

This all changes when you switch to playing DSD as this player excels at playing this sort of material and I put on Patricia Barber Companion in DSD64 track 3 Like JT it sounds sublime with such a fast tempo and groove that keeps you fixated to the sound as it plays so beautifully with the percussion performing some of the most outstanding drumming heard on any album. And all the detail is in their too, you can hear everything as it is recorded in a club and any tiny nuance is picked up, like glasses clanging or the plates, I even picked out the knives and forks clashing from one of the tables in the crowd, these tiny details but not distracting from the brilliant music that is being played.

It seems to be at home playing any kind of digital music but excels at the higher bit rates and giving you the best possible listening experience as a transport possibly could, I think the only weakness in my system now could possibly be the DAC that I am using as I would love to hear this unit plugged into something like a Debussy DAC from dCS as I think it will really shine and the full potential of my system could be unlocked hearing it through this sort of real high end DAC. 


Conclusion and Final Thoughts

So I really love what this Music server can do, it is head and shoulders above anything that I have previously experienced in its operating and also its sounds quality. Aurender are building some of the best quality Music Servers for the high end audio market and with the X100L it opens up the doors for more people to get a slice of their ingenious technology and also their brilliant Conductor App for the iPad (an Android version will be available soon). Now I finally know what all the fuss is about with these beautiful aluminumboxes, it might not be a W20 but it sure is an excellent option for all those people who cannot reach those dizzying heights.

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