RMAF 2018: Aurender wants to kill your computer (more) with the new ACS10, A100S

Who hates social media? Answering emails constantly? Web-surfing rabbit holes? Let’s be real, computers are both ruining/creating the world, but the ‘being there’ of life experience seems to be waning. Are they necessary? Yes, the 21st-century world is as deeply intertwined with silicon as it is carbon, but to be honest, and largely unbeknownst to the general audiophile populace, your PC is probably diminishing your audio experience far more than you realize.

No, I’m not a 19th century oil-smeared, cap-wearing Luddite whose sleeves are rolled up and toting a giant 45-inch pipe wrench who wants to smash the levers of capitalist computer power… but I do think the time of the dedicated laptop/desktop/headless Mac Mini, etc. for serving files to a digital-based audio system or NAS (Network Attached Server) is fading more quickly than tribal tattoos from the ‘90s.

This isn’t really news to anyone whose experienced listening to their digital-music library via a dedicated audiophile NUC (Next Unit of Computing) from Intel (or a variety of third-party vendors) or now Roon, etc. These are computers that are specifically designed and optimized for audio/music reproduction applications – not as an afterthought of a thousand other computing functions a laptop or PC was designed to handle with audio lumped in like unstirred gravy with all the other operating system capabilities inherently demanded by a personal computer.

When I first experienced swapping out my dedicated MacBook Air and AudioQuest ethernet cable from which I was serving up Roon to my network with an Aurender N10 music server I was more than slightly taken aback at the increase in sound quality and the staggering drop in noise floor which allowed so much more of the music to make it through to my ears.

So, what was Aurender highlighting at Rocky Mountain Audio fest this year? Let’s get down to brass tacks and get you in on the 411.

ACS10 chassis and internal cutaway.

First up was the Aurender Content Server ACS10 (shipping now) shown with an Acronova Nimbie AutoLoader (not included, but available HERE). The ACS10 is designed to get your audio-computer gear up for sale on Craigslist, clear some space and a shit-ton of cables from what I’m sure is an already overcomplicated computer-audio rig. The ACS10 performs key tasks including CD ripping (FLAC, WAV, AIFF) from a TEAC CD-ROM drive using AccurateRip software along with Aurender’s proprietary ripping engine for bit-perfect, error-free file extractions, contains NAS-type storage and backup, Metadata editing and advanced tools for music-library management.

For those with a big CD collection looking to make the jump to a server, the Arconove Nimbie AutoLoader can manage the automated ripping of 100 CDs. The ACS10 incorporates software to function with the Nimbie and it’s connection is through a USB port. Just plug n’ play. Metadata is automatically sourced and the album art is shown in full-color on the front panel display. When ripping is finished, the file exists within the ACS10’s internal HDD and can be played back immediately.

So, no more separate computer, specialized playback software or NAS drives – which, if you talk to computer-audio diehards are known to have their own sonic signature – another pain in the ass if your trying to curate a baseline, holistically-curated system as hardware variables are the real killer in any hifi system IMHO.

The ACS10 does it all and in one box which can be used as a standalone USB output server/streamer or as a companion to an existing Aurender unit. The ACS10 uses dual internal 3.5-inch Enterprise-grade HDDs and is factory set for RAID 1 mirroring (wherein one drive is the dedicated music storage library, the other a mirror image). Depending on your drive-failure paranoia, the storage can be reconfigured to Parallel-mode where both drives are utilized for the total storage capacity of the combined HDDs.

There are three factory-fitted versions available upon ordering: 2 x 4TB ($5,600 USD), 2 x 8TB ($6,000 USD) and 2 x 12TB ($7,500USD). One of the most cutting-edge features of Aurender architecture in their server/streamers is that playback caching is accomplished via a separate SSD. This results in zero lag in my experience. SSD caching drives range from 240 GB to 480 GB in capacity.

Software is a whole other story so I wrote to Aurender’s Director of Sales and Marketing John-Paul Lizars about what exactly the company had put together to make the user experience as easy, smooth and intuitive as possible.

John-Paul Lizars: “A comprehensive software suite is embedded into a second app called ACS Manager. The main programs are: Settings/Ripping & Tagging History/SmartCopy/SmartTag Editor. Settings is where you select various parameters and behaviors as well as view informational system status data. Ripping and Tagging History gives you a report on all ripping and metadata modification activity done by the user in chronological order.

“SmartCopy allows access to digital content residing on your network on computers, NAS drives, etc, to be identified and transferred into the ACS10 therefore creating a central depository for content. This is a simple act of selecting a Source and Target folder in which to transfer from and to. SmartTag Editor lets you easily modify any field of tagging to your liking. With the ACS10, users are empowered to fix or change metadata right from your iPad tablet.

“Frustrated by the artist sorting of Mozart because some recordings are named WA Mozart or W.A. Mozart or just Mozart? Easily and permanently fix it with SmartTag editor. Works equally well with cover art, album title, album artist, composer, conductor, etc. The SmartTag program can be used while listening and is simple and intuitive to operate.”

A100S chassis and internal cutaway.

The second piece of hardware Aurender had on display was the A100S Streamer/DAC ($3,800 USD) which should be shipping in December. It is a stripped-down version of the current A10 (no internal storage, only single-ended outputs, stereo DAC as opposed to the dual-mono design implemented in the A10 and a smaller chassis) which was developed to bring a more cost-effective alternative for those consumers looking to focus on high-res streaming services like Tidal, Spotify or Qobuz.

Both the A100S and A10 feature a full-unfolding (decoding) MQA certified DAC, a preamplifier function or constant output and optical input. The A100S can play files using external storage devices like USB HDDs or a NAS HDD, however, Lizars said that the best practice would be to use the A100S as the "head unit” for an ACS10.  

Check back for continuing coverage of RMAF on AudioStream.

Aurender America Inc. 17911 Sky Park Circle Suite H Irvine, CA 92614 USA
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Everclear's picture

Is this the beginning of the end for the conventional computers in the music business? :-) .........

Everclear's picture

Sony had a similar concept before ........ They came up with a similar type of unit several years back with 1 TB built-in internal HDD storage ........ Stereophile reviewed that unit ......... For some reason, they did not pursue further .......... Now that Aurender is doing it with better units, everybody else is gonna jump in and want a piece of the action :-) ...........

Rafe Arnott's picture
Budget is a big one, many people don't mind spending $3,500 (or more) on a cutting edge laptop or PC when it has multiple uses, but doing the same for a dedicated audiophile music server seems to be a more difficult proposition for many in the hobby.

As well, it really depends what your main source for tunes is... CD, LP, or streaming, if streaming is a minor player in the context of your system that's a tough sell. If streaming is the top dog for delivering content to your hi-fi, then a dedicated server makes sense as an investment, and there are many that are far cheaper than an Aurender, but as in most things: you get what you pay for when it comes to SQ.

Everclear's picture

Aurender ACS-10 comes with a built-in CD ripper and up to 24TB or 12TBx2 (RAID1) built-in internal storage ......... ACS-10 is not any bigger in size than any external DAC box ......... ACS-10 is a great idea and design by Aurender :-) ...........

Rafe Arnott's picture
It's an all-in-one solution that should please many!

On a different note, the comment you referenced about the CD-ripper in our posts, you were correct, I was referencing the A10 – I need coffee.

Thanks Everclear!!!

Everclear's picture

Waiting for the review of Aurender ACS-10 and A-10 :-) ............

Rafe Arnott's picture
I'll be reviewing the N10 first, then W20. The others... we'll see if I can a hold of them!
Everclear's picture

NAD has a similar product like ACS-10, with 2TBx2 (RAID1) ......... That NAD unit was reviewed by Stereophile :-) ........

PAR's picture

I have been keeping an eye on this type of streamer from Aurender, Melco and Innuos over the past two or three years. Irrespective of their merits I am dissuaded from buying any of them .

They are , of course, ultimately just computers in a nice case. Yes they may have nicer power supplies , better storage, noise ( mechanical and electrical) suppression. Great stuff. But they all cost a significant amount of money and lack flexibility.

Not one is compatible with all of the non-disc based digital sources I use. ( local files, streaming services , online radio). Whatever permutation of applications that any of these boxes offers I am always left having to use a PC for at least one of the remaining sources. Even if a class of source is catered for generally that does not mean that any specific source within that class is actually going to be available.

Unlike many high end audio products they are not designed to be hardware or firmware upgraded (there is the odd software upgrade). All of the companies release a new generation every year or 18 months.

So I am being asked to buy a nice box that will go out of date within eighteen months and which still leaves me needing to use a PC for part of the time as it won't cater for all of my needs, all of which should technically be within its compass ( it's a computer !). And I am expected to pay several thousand dollars/ pounds/ euro for this.

As the old cliche goes; nice try, no cigar.

Audio_geek_00's picture

"There are three factory-fitted versions available upon ordering: 2 x 4TB ($5,600 USD), 2 x 8TB ($6,000 USD) and 2 x 12TB ($7,500USD)". Is it just me that thinks this is a bit ludicrous?

Rafe Arnott's picture
...for different folks. What, specifically, is your issue with it? Price, or the R&D, technology and what it offers to do in a one-box solution?

Because if it's price, bringing a new product to market ain't cheap my friend.

Audio_geek_00's picture

You are correct about bringing a product to a hi-end market. As to technology, well there are alternatives to a $5600.00 base line computer that plays music only, albeit at a arguably higher level and more convenient way. Of course that requires the DIY spirit, and this isn't the place for those, which I found out once I cruised the site. I'll find other sites that are closer to reality for us 99% leaguer's.

Rafe Arnott's picture
It also rips CDs, has built in HDDs and streams from any cloud-based music service. It's got a dedicated UPS power supply and plays PCM up to 786kHz/32-bit. DSD up to 256 DoP. Native DSD up to 512.

I totally agree that there are alternatives at differing price points and isn't that what makes this hobby great. But dissing a product simply because of its price isn't much of an argument for DIY.

Again, it depends on what you want and what your budget is. It also depends on how seriously you take SQ. Because putting together a DIY solution that does everything the ACS10 does that sounds as good as every other Aurender server I've heard wouldn't be something done on the cheap.

No, this isn't a DIY site and it's not for the one per cent either, nor do I come close to believing that the other 99 per cent are just DIYers.

AudioStream is for everybody and it's mostly about sharing reviews, information, news and having a good time doing it.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I saw that. Nice but no multichannel and, apparently, no opportunity for room EQ, convolution, active crossovers, etc.. Guess some will still need a PC.

Rafe Arnott's picture
You're missing the point of what an Aurender does. It's about replacing an audio-only dedicated PC, not a PC that's running everything to make (what sounds like) a DIY system possible. That's the opposite of Aurender.
Kal Rubinson's picture

I understand your point but all of the functions that I listed are "audio-only" functions. Unfortunately, most mainstream dedicated music players and audiophiles have not yet recognized these functions as useful or necessary.

However, if you take a look at today's advanced music player software packages (Roon, JRiver, Audirvana, etc.), they do incorporate all of it and, if one is not into DIY, there are companies that offer ready-to-go hardware/software packages. Baetis Audio and Wolf Audio are two with which I have had hand's-on experience but there are many others.

This is not a criticism of Aurender; their products are capable and elegant. It is meant to point out that there is much more going on.

Rafe Arnott's picture
A lot more going on out there for a dedicated solution to replace a PC that requires software to run DSP, active crossovers, etc. But again, this is not the provenance of Aurender, it was designed to focus on serving up digital content in the quietest, most sonically-transparent manner their engineers could develop. DSP, room-correction and EQ, active-crossover manipulation are all either software or hardware-specific functions and consume an inordinate amount of CPU cycles – something Roon specifically warns about in its 'Minimum Requirements' for a processor and RAM. I doubt any dealer or distributor would recommend an Aurender to someone looking to run all that background processing overhead.
Kal Rubinson's picture

Well, no sane person would make such a recommendation simply because the Aurender is as incapable of running those functions as most single-purpose proprietary players. My original response was to your headline which I still find misleading. You define music streaming more narrowly defined than I do but we seem not to have any fundamental disagreements about what is going on.