Aurender W20SE Network Audio Library Page 2

For all these changes, that 'just works' appeal of the Aurender concept has been maintained: it's easy to load content onto the internal storage via USB or a network connection, and the W20SE simply updates itself on the fly. Previously, my habit of updating the server in PM's listening room with my latest acquisitions had been frustrated by a seemingly endless wait for re-indexing, or system 'freeze', only cured by a shutdown and reboot. With the W20SE it's been possible to play music while copying over a network from my laptop, the tracks simply appearing in the library, alongside tens of thousands of others, as soon as the process finishes.

sqnote Taking Control
It's possible to 'drive' the Aurender W20SE using the front panel buttons and menu, though the fact there are only 'hard' controls for play/pause and two-way track skip means doing so is something of a masochistic endeavour. Better to use the Conductor V3 app, and better still on an iPad as the iPhone version is a bit on the 'lite' side.

The app integrates Qobuz and Tidal, for the smoothest possible interaction with these subscription services. It's worth noting, however, that Aurender's digital players are only minimally Roon-capable, so you can cast music to them via AirPlay, but not enjoy full compatibility with Roon's RAAT lossless network transport. Why? Aurender says Roon is too processor-intensive, and 'our servers are intentionally designed to be minimalistic where processing is concerned. Also, Aurender playback software is custom engineered and tailored for Aurender hardware. That synergistic link between the custom software and hardware would be broken if we enabled Roon playback software'.

Connected to your DAC, ideally via USB for the widest flexibility of format handling, the W20SE belies that old belief that the choice of digital-to-analogue conversion is the only determinant of sound quality in such a set-up. Indeed, as PM's Lab Report shows, the W20SE potentially brings more to the party with lesser DACs, while also proving an excellent source with high-end converters.


An isolated Gigabit Ethernet port [lower right] is joined by two USB-A 3.0 hubs for outboard drives and an external word clock input. Outputs are on USB-A 2.0 (384kHz/32-bit; DSD512), Dual-AES (DSD128 over DoP) and coax/opt (192kHz/24-bit)

As a result, the story with the sound here is not what this unit does, but what it doesn't do. Immediately obvious is the clarity of the sound it enables from a top-flight performer such as dCS's Vivaldi APEX [HFN Jun '22]. Bass is rich but taut and controlled, and possesses an extension and drive that's married to an openness with which even the most subtle of ambient clues are made apparent. That bombproof operation and the logic of the custom-designed Conductor V3 app is carried all the way through to an addictively enjoyable sound, whatever you choose to play.

Oh Vienna
Timothy Ridout's stunning recording of the viola arrangement of Elgar's Cello Concerto [Harmonia Mundi HMM 902618] was revealed in all its power and subtlety, from the wonderful fluidity and attack of the solo instrument to the scale and weight of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins. For devotees of the original work, this is a remarkably illuminating experience via the Aurender W20SE/dCS Vivaldi APEX combination.

Similarly – but somewhat differently – Rick Wakeman's live The Other Side Of... [Classic Media Group DVD5037X], with its solo piano versions of past keyboard excesses, had a striking combination of virtuosity and slightly scurrilous banter with the audience, the W20SE bringing out the ambience of the live event. That was also very much the case with the ever-reliable Vienna New Year's Day Concert, here in its 2023 version under Franz Welser-Möst [Sony Classical download]. Everything from the scale and sweetness of the Vienna Phil's playing to the clapping alongside the Radetzky-Marsch was delivered with real vibrancy. It may be a tradition, but again the complete clarity from the Aurender W20SE delivers the sense of occasion.

Souped-Up Sound
Everything this server/digital player sends to a DAC, it does so with astounding presence, leaving the rest of the playback system nowhere to hide, and that's in evidence with Mark Jenkin's score for his new film Enys Men [Invada Bandcamp download], with its ethereal, unsettling soundscapes. The W20SE revealed huge amounts of detail here, making the music every bit as eerie as the movie it underpins. But that doesn't mean it can't turn on the snarl when required; there's nothing polite or refined about the way it crashes out Rory Gallagher's 'Souped-Up Ford' [UMC download], with both the voice and the guitar rough, ready and delicious.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Aurender's W20SE is the finest example of a high-end digital component with no sound of its own! It simply deploys its technology to deliver the best possible digital audio output to a DAC, be that from locally-stored files or online streaming services, and does so with an attractive, intuitive user-interface. All this, plus a super-slick and confidence-inspiring app, puts the W20SE at the top of the digital tree.

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