Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Aurender N10 Music Streamer


Aurender of Korea is definitely at the forefront of development of high quality music streamers. The S10 was groundbreaking in many ways, and each Aurender model released since has upped the ante for it's competitors. Aurender's approach has been quite unique. It is one of the few manufacturers to use an in-house designed motherboard. You also won't find any onboard DAC - Aurender prefers to concentrate it's effort on streaming performance.  


The N10 slots in just below the flagship W20. For us mere mortals, the N10 carries a significantly lower price tag. You lose some of the W20's features like the battery power supply, external word clock connection and dual-wire AES outputs.

Physically, the N10 shares the same indestructible build quality as it's siblings - that means copious amount of aluminum in those thick and solid panels. While the N10 is slim and quite compact at 430 mm x 83 mm x 353 mm, it tips the scale at a bruising 12 kg.

The internal power supply is a dual linear type.  

Internal storage is specified at 4 TB across two hard drives. A third drive, a 240 GB SSD is used to cache the music for playback. This reduces the need for the spinning hard drives to power up, and cuts down on unnecessary electrical, acoustic and mechanical noise.

A wide range of digital outputs are provided, with a dedicated USB Audio Class 2.0 output, and four SPDIF outputs (BNC, AES / EBU, coaxial and toslink). A gigabyte ethernet network port and two USB 2.0 ports are provided for network connectivity and backup / expansion purposes. The N10 is not wi-fi equipped.

The dedicated USB Audio output is shielded to prevent external noise interference and boasts an ultra low noise power circuit. You can even disable the +5V power supply if this is not required by your DAC.

Jitter is minimised by an FPGA based all-digital Phase-Locked Loop System and oven-controlled crystal oscillator.

For non-DSD capable DAC users, the N10 is also able to perform real-time DSD to PCM conversion.

In the unlikely event you have problems, you can even contact Aurender technical support for troubleshooting over the internet via Conductor (see below).

Help is only a button away.

Setup and Operation

Setting up the N10 is relatively straightforward for anyone with basic computer knowledge. A comprehensive quick start guide is provided, and should have you transferring your music files and playing your music in under 30 minutes (30 minutes would do the trick to transfer a few GBs of files for testing purposes. Huge libraries would take much longer, most of the time being taken to transfer data to the Aurender's internal hard drives). This assumes that your have a home network and wireless router all properly setup.

After downloading Aurender's Conductor App, you are good to start on the setup proper. Note that Conductor is only available for the iPad. An Android beta version is available, but with limited functionality.

Using either a Mac or a PC, you are able to access the internal drives of the N10, and transferring music files is a simple drag and drop operation. You can also play content directly from a USB thumbdrive or harddrive, or copy the data into the internal drives. The latter requires you to match the file directory structure precisely with the internal drives, and I believe that most users would simply use a computer to transfer the data.

It is also possible to connect the N10 to read data from a NAS. This can be done via a rudimentary navigation of the NAS file folders, or more elegantly using Aurender Media Manager ("AMM"), a Mac only program that scans the contents of either a NAS or external drive, and creates a database (giving full navigation / search via metadata tags, and with album art etc). Note that AMM can only scan and create a database for one external drive only).

Using the Conductor App is a joy - top marks for user experience. I especially liked the ability to sort albums by sampling rate or format (e.g. DSD).

Customisable settings for the Aurender

The AMOLED display has 3 settings - displaying a level meter (in either blue or yellow), or track data. It can also be switched off.

Sound Quality

The N10 was paired with my Totaldac D1-Dual DAC, connected via USB. Cabling included the JCAT Reference USB cable, and a Furutech FP-Alpha 3 power cord (terminated with Furutech FI-11 plugs). A generic Cat 6 LAN cable hooked up the N10 to my home network. I had no problems with either PCM or DSD playback.

As the N10 I received was fairly new, serious evaluation started after some two weeks of burn-in time. Slotting the N10 into my system (replacing my Auralic Aries LE powered by a Plixir DC power supply), the Aurender quickly established itself as the superior unit. The N10 had astounding bass authority, with considerable heft and a deeply extended, yet tuneful response. There was a certain richness to the N10's tone, with a liquidity and inner glow that was almost tube-like (for want of a better description). Nobody would accuse the N10 of sounding cold and harsh.

The N10 delivered good lateral rendering of the soundstage and decent depth, with very fine placement of instruments and vocalists. Resolution was very good, although the tonal balance of the N10 sacrificed a slight amount of detail for smoothness. 

Things got really interesting when I switched over from the USB output to AES / EBU (cabling courtesy of a modestly priced, but over-performing DH Labs D-110 cable). This proved to be a more ideal match with my Totaldac, delivering additional speed, more bite and a more extended high frequency response with a modest trade-off in bass extension, and midrange fullness. Although, imaging and staging were not as precise, there was more air, harmonics and life around instruments and the human voice. I happily did the rest of my listening via the AES / EBU connection. Normally, this would require you to give up DSD playback, but the real-time DSD to PCM conversion feature saves the day. 

By now, the N10 was pushing all the right buttons for me - dynamics, resolution, speed, , great imaging / staging, good tone, and most importantly - a great time listening to my music collection. In my system, this produced the more realistic rendering of instruments and vocals, with the right weight, attack and decay from the piano, and ideal balance between bite and refinement of the violin.

I switched out the N10 for both a Melco HA-N1A (an audiophile NAS that can connect directly to a DAC via USB - review in the works) and my Auralic Aries. The Melco sounded more polite and with less presence, authority and definition. The Aries had more attack, but overall less refinement and transparency. The improvement in performance brought by the N10 was quite substantial - and well worth the money in my opinion.


The Aurender N10 is easily the best streamer I have heard to date. Cynics who think that computer audio is inferior, cold, flat and lifeless, should really give the N10 a listen.

I will not try to make excuses for the N10's price tag. It is pricey gear, and even more so if you factor in the cost of a partnering DAC of commensurate quality. However, for top flight systems, it is money well spent. For more modest systems, Aurender has much more affordable models. This just leaves me with one frightening thought - how good is the flagship W20 ?

Highly Recommended

The review unit was kindly provided by X Audio, distributor for Aurender in Singapore.

List Price : S$ 12,000  

X Audio Pte Ltd
1 Jalan Anak Bukit
#01-01S Bukit Timah Plaza
Singapore 588996

1 comment:

Elderberry said...

Thanks for your post. Have you answered your own question yet- how good is the W20, especially compared to the N10? And, have you had the opportunity to compare any of the Aurender units to the AudioAanZee Reference? Thanks!