As I was one of the last people on Earth to buy a CD player, on purely personal musical grounds, I could never be accused of being an early adopter where new technologies are concerned. It has taken over three decades to get high-end CD players to the quality I am hearing lately, and the arrival of streaming and file storage has been playing only a bit part in my listening for the past few years, so you won’t be surprised to have found me at the back of the queue with a rather unconvinced look on my face during that time. When, somewhat in frustration that I wasn’t sharing in the euphoria, I asked respected friends in the hi-fi business in which direction the land of milk and audio honey lay. I was directed toward the Aurender W20. Wise words indeed, as I discovered when I managed to secure a loan of this remarkable device. Earlier last year I got my hands on the dCS Vivaldi, a digital playback system that for me had pushed the art forward to a new level and dCS, being the UK distributor for Aurender, clearly shares many of the same values. In a sense, this made the challenges the Aurender faced even more daunting, especially considering its premium price. Vivaldi sets the musical bar extremely high and any streaming device at this price that doesn’t compete musically with the best that CD has to offer is going to be a big disappointment.
The W20 has all the hallmarks of a high-end audio component. Build quality is as good as I have seen, being incredibly impressive inside and out, with each section of the machine located in its own ‘room’ and separated by thick aluminium walls. The front panel display is a model of clarity as it is easy enough to read from across the room, and the information is scrolled across the large screen. I cannot tell you how much I like this after a succession of micro readouts, illegible from more than a few inches, that illogically seem to adorn so much high-end audio these days. The panel can also be set to display a pair of large coloured output meters, which is rather retro, but interesting.
Internally, Aurender has gone to great lengths to reduce noise. The audio board is both mechanically isolated and powered separately by a pair of dedicated lithium iron phosphate batteries. These have automatic alternating charging cycles, which mean that neither battery is allowed to run so low that it might affect audio performance. This also eliminates any mains noise that might otherwise find its way into the audio side of things. Battery replacement? I hear you ask. Forty years at eight hours a day, every day, says Aurender.
The W20 is available in two versions, and these relate to the size of the HD’s in each. The model I had utilised two 3TB drives, though there is a version that increases this to twin 4TB drives. When you think that the smaller version can store up to 15,000 CDs, the 8TB version might be gilding the lily for most listeners.