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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, PureMusic 1.89g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files up to 24/192; Audirvana 1.5.10 in Integer mode 1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2
Preamp/Integrated: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, Crayon CFA-1.2, Bakoon AMP-12R, Gato Audio DIA-250, Clones Audio 25i [on loan]
: First Watt SIT1, Goldmund/Job 225, AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Speakers: soundkaos WAve 40 + Zu Submission, Boenicke Audio W5, AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, German Physiks HRS-120
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event,
KingRex uCraft and Light Harmonic LightSpeed and Zu split USB cables, Van den Hul AES/EBU cable, Tombo Trøn S/PDIF cable, AudioQuest Diamond Toslink
Artesania Audio Exotyeric for front end, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Powerline conditioning:
Vibex Three 11R on front end, Vibex Two 1R + GigaWatt power strip on amps
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review component retail: €15'000

Prologue. Servers.
I've mostly stayed clear of the breed altogether. Maloik. Yet diligence demands I check back in. My first reluctance? Purely personal. My wife and I hate wifi. It gives her migraines. My brain too feels badly assaulted by the microwave radiation whenever our Internet router is set for wireless. Hence it's not. My iMac's wifi is disabled too, my work mouse and keyboard are hardwired to bypass Bluetooth, the cellphone hides in the car for pure emergencies. I did buy a basic iPad Mini as iTunes tablet remote since I adore the functionality. But until I find more effective solutions to combat its radiation and that of the even nastier router, I can't use it with my wife home nor for long periods on my own.

My second resistance? Cost. What does a server do which my iMac doesn't do as well or better? For less than €3'000 my fully loaded Mac has a 2TB HHD, 256GB SSD, 16GB RAM and a built-in DVD/ROM drive. Via PureMusic or Audirvana I bypass iTunes for sound quality and use memory play and other optimization features to spin down the drive and defeat certain computing processes. I connect to the web via Ethernet. Should I need to edit meta data I've got the magic mouse and physical keypad. Music purchases from Qobuz & Co. are a few mouse clicks away. Finally there's that huge beautiful display and two backup drives connect via Lightning for truly rapid file copies. And zero wifi. Peace.

When Aurender's Charles Kim unwittingly entered this no-fly zone about reviewing their W20, he did confirm how their machine couldn't really be navigated properly without an iPad. It thus needed wifi. He also didn't know of an existing way to use my iMac's display instead. With screen sharing common between computers today, my feeble techno peasant brain can't grasp why not. Yet everyone confirms that it can't be done. Which ends my tour of hostility towards the music server genus. Down to business for the huge majority of wifi lovers apparently blissfully immune to its ill effects.

South Korea has become quite the industrial giant. Think Samsung and Hyundai/Kia for just two. The former are Apple's only real adversary in the giant war on cellphone dominance. The latter's cars have developed an enviable reputation for cost/performance ratio. Hifi too has its Allnic Audio, April Music, Bakoon Intl., Calyx, Emillé Audio and SOtM. On scale those stay close to high-end audio's usual boutique model. Aurender's original maker Widealab Inc. meanwhile was absorbed a year ago by TVLogic Company Ltd. who in Korea enjoy an 80% market share of high-performance HD video monitors. That spells enviable resources for both engineering and distribution. In fact on my wired tablet plea Charles had said that "it's technically possible of course but our software engineers are always very busy with ongoing projects. I think they almost finished the latest iPad version of our Aurender App and are working on the Android version. They have to add features and improvements to the system and application software plus develop new products. But I'll pass your feedback along and try to send back theirs. It's true, more people are beginning to worry about too much electromagnetic radiation in modern life."

For their top Aurender W20, the core specs parallel my iMac's with 2 x 3TB HHD (more), 240GB SSD (nearly identical but can be optionally doubled), 4GB RAM (less). Then things transcend the Mac. Aurender's 100-watt SMPS for their in-house developed CPU is fanless whilst the audio circuitry runs off 24/7auto-cycling LiFePO4 battery banks. A third bank protects against AC power failures to safely shut down the device, avoid crashes and run flash recovery. The operating system is Linux based. For file compatibility there's AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, M4A, APE and DSD64/128 via DoP. My iTunes library should thus export without issues. On i/o socketry I'd get coax, Toslink and BNC, 2 x AES/EBU, a custom XMOS class 2.0 USB output with defeatable power and a word-clock BNC input.

Aurender's hard drives are rubber suspended, encased in damped chambers, used only for music storage and advertised as running completely silent. Playback caches in SSD as a memory buffer like my PureMusic and Audirvana software players do it. Clocking is handled by an oven-controlled crystal oscillator and an FPGA. The twin AES/EBU outputs support the DualWire 96kHz+ dCS Vivaldi system and equivalent converters from Esoteric, MSB and TotalDAC. Physical dimensions are 430x106x370mm WxHxD. Weight is a solid 22kg. Finish is black or silver. On hardware and features the W20 really does read tweaked for the very top of the high-end game. Which comes at a concomitant price. The €15'000 buy-in eclipses my iMac by a whopping five times. Murder she wrote. For that it would have to really kill my computer. Send flowers to its funeral. And water them weekly.

250GB Samsung 840 Series SSD

Er, wait. You can't even rip discs with the W20 because there's no drive. Should you connect one to a USB data port, you're limited to FLAC whilst metadata are retrieved with FreeDB via a live Internet connection. "But we don't promote this feature because it's better and easier to use a computer due to the need for editing incorrect metadata." Cough. No wonder my digestive system goes into total convulsions the moment I smell music servers. Okay, no more of that. I'd focus on the always alluring promise of better sound. I'd prepare myself for a revelation. Would I—better late than never—become a music server believer and join the song of those who claim that regular computers are bad for audio? Or was this dog too old to learn new tricks?