It's here! The Aurender W20SE has arrived!
The best music server from Aurender is now on display at Pearl Audio!
Pearl Audio has been Oregon's Aurender dealer for many years and we have always loved these excellent-sounding servers, beginning with our very first one, the N100. Like many things, we had our initial N100 in for audition and immediately heard that it sounded better than our hot-rodded Mac Mini computers, and we signed up as a dealer. Not only did the Aurender sound better, but we also liked the simpler and robust interface and enterprise-level reliability that these brought to digital audio.
A year or so after we got our N100, I (John) attended CES 2017 where I met up with my longtime friend John-Paul Lizars from Aurender. I'd known John-Paul from his days as a digital music guru with Sumiko, Wadia, and McIntosh and have always been impressed with his excellent ear and deep knowledge of computer audio. At CES he was so kind as to give me an A/B demonstration of different Aurenders. These demonstrations are valuable for me so I can in-turn recommend to clients where money is best spent. We listened to the N100, analog-output A5, the CD-ripping ACS10, the N10, then the W20. I could easily hear that each step up brought about a a higher level of performance and came to the conclusion that the N10 brought about 90% of the performance of the then top-model W20. I felt that for most people the N10 would be a good performance standard with the W20 appropriate for no-holds-barred reference systems.
Over the years Pearl Audio has sold many Aurenders in combination with high performance DACs from Ayre, McIntosh, Audio Research and Berkeley Audio Design. We've been extremely happy with how reliable these have been and the excellent level of support from Aurender. Aurender, with customer permission, will actually log into a customer's Aurender and repair or update anything that may be amiss. They even do it at night so you don't have to miss a moment of listening.
Over the years we added the newer N100C, the high performance N10, the ACS10 (cd ripper), the A10 (built-in DAC), but always wanted the big guy: the W20. Every time we went to a high-end show, we'd look longingly at them in the big-rig high-end rooms. I once spoke with a major distributor, who was putting on several rooms at CES, all with W20s, and she said they were simply indispensable for bringing out the highest performance and the battery-powered mode made a huge difference even over the N10. If you want proof of the W20's ability to make a system shine, look no further than high end audio show reports - you see the W20 in most of the no-holds-barred rooms.
Then, earlier in 2020, the W20 was replaced by W20SE which sports a CPU linear power supply, metal-encasement 'vault' for the hard drives, an upgraded clock, upgraded FPGA phase lock loop, quieter LAN port, and a 100% solid state storage array. It also has a new PCM upsampler which upsamples 44/48 2x, 4x, or 8x up to 352/384kHz, useful with streaming services such as Qobuz and Tidal. Most intriguing.Then, like most of our enthusiast friends, we too read the October 7, 2020 W20SE review by The Absolute Sound's Chief Editor Robert Harley where he did a direct comparison of his outgoing personally-owned W20. Robert Harley has long used the Aurender W20 and Berkeley Reference 3 with Magico Q7 and M6 for his reference system. That got me thinking. We do love things that are the best here at Pearl Audio, and we did just order a Berkeley Reference 3.
Then, one of our customers, who earlier this year had bought a trade-in N100 for his little system, and a new brand-name-not-mentioned $5000 server for his big system, came out of the blue and decided he wanted a W20SE. He had just upgraded his Audio Research Reference electronics and Sonus faber Homage speakers so he wanted to maximize performance. I offered to bring our N10 out to hear and made sure he liked what he heard, but he said he didn't need to hear it - he just wanted a W20SE, right away! We ordered it and a few days later it arrived and we installed it. A week later he wrote me with his impressions. I've known him for seventeen years and know that he has an extraordinary ear and so I was quite impressed when he emailed the below report,
"I wanted to keep this short, but communicate something about the W20SE. From using various different streamers over the last ten or fifteen years for my headphone and main system and on theoretical grounds I had decided that streamers were not the highest priority in overall system performance. You have to have a decent one, but the DAC would be the primary determinant of the sound from the digital end. I was completely wrong. The streamer is as important as the source on the analog end!
The brand-name-not-mentioned Music Server, I believe is a good streamer, but I never compared it with the N100 I have. I will say that I had a central noise and image congestion problem on my soundstage. The images would conflate and the noise was not a hiss or anything you hear directly… something I have learned to hear over decades.So, I put in new Aurender. Absolutely and utterly changed the system immediately and completely in the first moment. Way deeper soundstage with meatier images separated by black dead silent background. The dynamics improved, soundstage widened. Greater detail, but at the same time the instruments more natural. Not at all detail with greater treble. Of course the central congestion and noise completely gone… leaving and open center with distinct images. This was not a jump of one level but a couple. This is an expensive device.. But holy cow is it worth it!
Obviously one needs a certain caliber of associated equipment to bring out the value in this thing. But if you find anyone like me that had some doubts on the value of the streamer… I am happy to attest the streamer is critical and the greater the investment the greater the reward… and more so than most other digital components.
Also, I have switched back and forth a few times between USB and AES… while I could not put my finger on a difference, I would immediately switch back to AES. I assume there is a difference that I could evaluate over time… but given my reaction that is probably just a waste of time. So I'm just going to listen to the AES.
Stuff needs to be broken in. There are multiple components not fully broken in on my system. I can't imagine how it could get better… but it might. If you need a reference for someone thinking of buying one… I would be happy to talk to them."
I guess that says it all, so then that was the last straw, and we couldn't take it any longer, so end of December we ordered our own W20SE to go with our soon-to-arrive Berkeley Reference 3 DAC. Over the years I'd heard W20s with the earlier Berkeley Reference 1 and 2, and considered those in their day, to be highest echelon of digital playback.
Well now the W20SE is here and it's magnificent! Our gorgeous new Silver Aurender W20SE is gracing our big listening room and I can honestly say that it's worth its weight in gold. The upsampling feature is a world changer - you can listen to our N10 then the W20SE no-upsampling, then the W20SE with-upsampling and even ramp that up 2x, 4x, 8x. The upsampling is a monster of an upgrade, particularly for streaming music services.
If you ever wish to audition the W20SE just stop by as we are open regular hours. That said calling ahead is always a good idea with our ever-changing configurations.
We also have other Aurender's on display - the N100C, the ACS10 (with CD-ripping), the N10, and A10 (with built-in DAC). If you ever want to know what 'just changing the server' can do, Pearl Audio is very happy to demonstrate, including showing the improvement in performance over a computer. We have DACs from Ayre, Audio Research, Berkeley, and McIntosh. The newly released Luxman DACs will be arriving in the next few months.
John, Russ, Connor & Tara.