Benchmarks. Noun: a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed.
Ask your audio friends what products or brands represent benchmarks in different categories of gear and you are likely to receive a lot of answers. To discover what the audio industry considers a benchmark, go to a few audio shows and see whose gear is in lots of other manufacturers rooms and that will tell you what the industry truly feels. In the Streaming/Server realm Aurender is the clear chosen benchmark as some recent shows have seen upwards of thirty rooms featuring Aurender gear. Aurender offers two lines defined by output type; the W and N lines with all digital outputs and the A line with analogue outputs. The N10 offers high-end quality digital out alongside the W20SE as the digital flagship have been available for a few years and continue to be seen in high end rooms throughout any audio show. The A10 as the analogue out high-end device has been another mainstay of the audio show sources.
The A30 took its place as the flagship analogue out member of the Aurender line in 2019 and joins its W20SE digital out sibling in many high-end rooms including this February’s 2020 Florida Audio Expo’s Von Schweikert/VAC room featuring a system priced at over $1,000,000 USD and that for many (myself included) represented Best Sound in Show. Poor performers and industry non-benchmarks need not apply when paired with the mighty Von Schweikert Model 11’s and VAC top of the line electronics.
So, what is the story of the A30? First it could rightly be referred to as the James Bond Aston Martin of audio products. Its full moniker would be the A30 Caching Music Server/Streamer/CD Ripper/HDD Storage/Full MQA Decoder DAC/Headphone Amplifier. I did check twice to see about martini server, but no luck shaken or stirred.
In essence in one box the A30 offers four distinct pieces of high-quality gear.
First a server; A default 10TB 3.5” drive plus a 480GB SDD for caching to store your CD library. The CD ripper offloads a CD to the on-board storage in WAV, FLAC or AIFF formats via its TEAC manufactured CD-ROM. The A30 can be paired with an Acronova Nimbie CD Autoloader that can load and rip 100 CD’s consecutively for curating large CD libraries. (Autoloader not included).
Next a DAC; The A30 has a Dual Mono DAC featuring the flagship AK4497 DAC chip operating with dual mono power supplies to manage non MQA files. PCM is supported to 768kHz/32Bit, DSD to 256 DoP and 512 for Native DSD. Jitter is managed via FPGA based clocks to under 100fs. Regarding MQA the A30 is a full decoder and can stream MQA and MQA Studio Master recordings via Tidal at the quality of the original master tape. If you prefer to specify a particular upsampling you can set the non DSD files to 705.6/768 directly to the analogue outputs or allow the DAC to handle the process!
Also, a streamer; Tidal and Qobuz are among default options during setup. The A30 is able to add other services via the Aurender Conductor app to allow seamless streaming between your physical HDD storage and online services.
Finally, a Pre-Amplifier/Headphone Amplifier; The A30 can output directly to your amp via Balanced XLR or Unbalanced RCA connections removing the need for a dedicated pre-amplifier should the A30 be your single system source. The A30 offers volume control via the volume knob of the front panel, its remote control or from the Conductor application on your tablet or phone. There is also a high-quality headphone amplifier that has a ¼” unbalanced, XLR Balanced and 4.4mm jacks on the front. I tested this with my Sennheiser HD800’s, Audeze LCD-X’s, Mr. Speakers Ethers and HiFiMAN Edition X v2’s and found it to be a solid entry into the headphone world. Planar and Dynamic headphones were all driven easily and with wonderful fidelity.