Never heard a music server that sounds better

N100H Review - Soundstage! Hi-Fi

I switched back to my computer server: a Hewlett-Packard Envy laptop running Windows 7, with Roon server software. I used the same cables I’d used with the Aurender N100H, with the computer’s power supply plugged into an Audience aR6-T power conditioner. Roon has proved to be a good-sounding software notable for the unusually high amount of information it provides about the music you play. It’s relatively easy to set up, and very flexible in the availability of remote-control programs to control the server. I have a second copy of Roon on a Toshiba laptop that serves as a remote control for the main version of Roon. When I’m writing review notes, I can switch from Microsoft Word to Roon, and use the Toshiba to control the music as I write.

My biggest quibble with Roon is that it lacks a Folder view, which would allow me to select individual files of the same name but different encoding. On the other hand, Roon automatically identifies and displays new albums I load onto my NAS. Roon isn’t perfect -- no app in my experience is -- but it found noticeably more album covers than Conductor. I preferred Conductor to the Roon remote for the iPad; it seemed easier to find albums when they were displayed by name. But the Roon remote running on my laptop computer seemed to equal Conductor. However, the laptop’s battery life was far shorter than the iPad’s, so for overall ease of use, Conductor was the winner. It also offered several more ways to sort albums. Nonetheless, Roon remains unparalleled in the amount of information it provides about the music in my collection.

Roon completely integrates music streamed from Tidal with music in your local collection. In Roon, music from Tidal appears right beside music in your local collection; there’s no need to switch between the local library and Tidal. The Search feature works on both your local collection and Tidal -- type in what you’re looking for and Roon displays items from your local collection along with items from Tidal, the latter marked with a small Tidal logo in the upper left-hand corner of the album cover.

Between the Roon and Aurender servers, differences in “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” were slight but generally favored the N100H. While the Roon-based setup was eminently listenable, the N100H sounded slightly more relaxed, with harmonic structures that were a bit richer. And while the Roon setup sounded slightly less dynamic than the N100H, it was scarcely lacking in this regard. However, bass extended just as deep, with as much impact, and the soundstage was as expansive.

Frottole: Popular Songs of Renaissance Italy seemed a bit less detailed via Roon, sounding more “hi-fi” -- still excellent, but the N100H sounded more realistic. Microdynamic swings were very evident, and there was plenty of air around musicians. In Just a Little Lovin’, Shelby Lynne’s voice was equally detailed, but sounded slightly more mechanical through Roon, more digital than analog. The bass was deep and powerful, a Roon strength. In Miserere, the soundstage was as expansive, but performers were a bit less precisely positioned on it. However, the solo group was just as far back. The sound had an ever-so-slight mechanical character, and less of the warm, organic sound of the N100H.

When I switched back to Tidal and the solo-piano recording of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, the story was similar: I heard the same vivid microdynamics, but a smidgen less of the N100H’s natural, organic sound.

Bottom line

Aurender’s N100H, like their S10 server I reviewed several years ago, sounds terrific. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a music server that sounds better, and maybe none as good. It stood out for its bass extension and impact, as well as its natural reproduction of midrange detail. Its looks are as classy as those of any component I’ve had in my system. I began to describe it as audio jewelry, but then realized that the phrase often means “gaudy” -- and the N100H isn’t. Although I had some quibbles about how Conductor worked with files stored on my network drive, if you store your music files on the N100H’s internal drive, there’s no problem. If that’s how you use the N100H, it’s flat-out outstanding.

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