The Aurender A100 music server ($3,900) is the company's entry level offering within its "A" series of Music Server/DAC combos, which also includes the A10 ($5,500) and A30 ($18,000). Compared with the A10, it foregoes the additional balanced analog audio output option, offering only unbalanced RCA analogue outputs. The A100 also utilizes a single 768 kHz/32-bit AK4490 full MQA decoder DAC chip (from Asahi Kasei Microdevices, or AKM) to decode both channels (single stereo design) rather than the A10's dual AK4490 chips (dual-mono design). The A100 has 2TB of internal storage instead of the A10's 4TB internal hard disk drive. Like the A10, the A100 also has a 120GB solid-state drive (SSD) cache for playback and is controlled by Aurender's Conductor app.
Looking at the front of the A100 from left to right, you'll find the Power On/Off button; a three-inch AMOLED display, with both song information and playlist display options; and four control buttons, including display menu, play/pause, play previous, and play next track navigation. There is also a rotary volume control with volume settings ranging from -90 dB to 0 dB attenuated in 0.5 dB steps. Volume can also be adjusted from either the included IR remote or the Conductor app. Around back, you'll find a pair of RCA analog audio outputs, an optical SPDIF digital audio input that can interface with a Compact Disc player or TV, a USB 2.0 audio port for sending signals to an outboard DAC, a gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 data ports for copying from external USB memory devices, an AC power switch, and an AC power socket.
The A100's DAC chip supports playback of PCM files up to 768 kHz/32-Bit resolution, as well as DSD64 and DSD128 files in DoP mode. When using the SPDIF Optical input, playback of music files is limited to a maximum resolution of 192 kHz/24-Bit.
In its design, Aurender focused on eliminating noise from entering the A100, which features a shielded, full linear power supply; a shielded, asynchronous USB audio output; and individual toroidal transformers for the music server, digital circuitry, and DAC.
The Aurender A100 is available in either a silver or black finish. My review sample came in the former finish options, but both measure 12.99 inches wide by 13.9 inches deep by 2.2 inches high and weigh a hefty 22 pounds.
Unfortunately, my review sample arrived without a stock power cord, which happens sometimes when samples pass through several reviewers' hands. So, I contacted the good people at WireWorld and they sent me a Silver Electra 7 power cord along with a pair of their Silver Eclipse 8 RCA interconnects for the review. Because the Aurender A100 comes with its own volume control, I chose to connect the unit directly to my reference Classé amp. While the Aurender can be connected through a preamp, I wanted to keep the setup as simple as possible.
After volume matching, it would also allow me to more easily make comparisons between the Aurender's sound and that of my Classé CP-800 preamp containing Wolfson DAC chips. The CP-800 is connected to a Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage) device via a Mac Mini with 256GB SSD acting as the music server. When performing comparisons, the Classé CP-800 was connected to the same Classé amp with the balanced version of WireWorld's Silver Eclipse interconnects. After making the cable connections, I next made a wired RJ45 Ethernet connection between the Aurender and an Apple Airport Express to connect to my LAN, since I don't have a wired ethernet connection available in my listening room.
Setting up the Aurender Conductor app (in my case on an iPad Pro) is pretty straightforward. After opening the app, you simply navigate to "Settings > Aurender" and select the Aurender A100 unit, enter the six-digit passcode that appears on the Aurender display, and that's it. After the initial connection is made, opening the Conductor app will cause it to find the Aurender automatically if the unit is powered on. After the initial connection was made, I went to the "Software Upgrade" section of the Settings menu, found there was a newer version of the software available, and installed it.
To prepare streaming music content, I logged into my Tidal and Qobuz streaming service subscriptions from the Aurender by selecting the "Streaming" section of the Conductor Settings menu and then entering my login credentials for each service. Doing so automatically loads your saved favorites from the streaming services into the app.
Next, I connected to my Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage) device by going to the "NAS Server" section of the Conductor Settings menu and tapping "Browse NAS Server" to find my NAS device. I selected my NAS from the list of servers found and entered my login credentials. Then I loaded some music files onto the Aurender's internal hard disk drive by connecting a USB drive to one of the USB data ports on the back of the unit. Once connected, I selected the "Folder" tab from the top row of buttons displayed in the app and then selected "USB." I then selected the folder I wanted to copy and tapped the "Copy To' button, tapped the desired target folder on the Aurender, and then hit "Select" to initiate the copy process.
If desired, files can also be copied from a connected NAS device to the A100's internal HDD by selecting the NAS folder in the Conductor app after logging into the NAS by the steps previously mentioned. According to Aurender, using the internal storage will deliver a better user experience because the system automatically scans internal storage for new content. Using a NAS is fine but a little more cumbersome. All in all, I found the Aurender setup and music file copy process to be straightforward enough that I was up and running in under 30 minutes.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...