Sonic performance provides a nice, meaty, and full sound
N100H Review - Audiostream
The N100H is a pleasure to use and its sonic performance in-system provides a nice, meaty, and full sound, dare I say on the warm side of the sonic spectrum. If I can think of a server that would act as the Aurender's sonic foil, it would be the Melco N1A (see review) which still strikes me as one helluva nicely priced and solid-performing package. This would also place the Melco on the 'cool' side of that same sonic spectrum but I'd add that the Melco appears to offer up a cleaner, crisper sound. If it helps, think of a big dial that reads "Aurender" on one end and "Melco" on the other; turning the dial toward "Melco" puts the sound picture into finer focus while losing some of that nice, meaty, and full sound.
While we're in the comparative ballpark, I also leashed up the Auralic Aries mini ($549) to the dCS Rossini via USB just to see what I would hear. Playing Miles Davis' Jack Johnson, Billy Cobham's kit became smaller and thinner with the cymbals sounding more splashy when the mini took over serving duties. The band overall sounded less full-bodied and less...funky. Of course this not a very relevant comparison price-wise but I think it helps put the Aurender's performance in a greater context.
Stepping up the price laddar, I also connected up the Bluesound Vault 2 ($1199), which also houses 2TB of internal storage. The Vault 2 offers S/PDIF output (Toslink & Coax), no USB, so take that into account. Using the dCS Rossini DAC, the Bluesound also sounded less full bodied as compared to the Aurender; Sturgill Simpson's heavy voice was less physically present with the Bluesound and the rest of the band also sounded more light weight. I'll be doing a full review of the Bluesound Vault 2 as well as the Auralic Aries mini where I'll get into the strong points of both devices. On a purely sonic scale, with price, connectivity and cable concerns aside, the N100H leads this small pack with its ability to deliver a rich and meaty physicality to music. For me this equals more fun and more engaging music.
I spent a month or more listening to the N100H and its combined strengths add up to a compelling proposition for those looking for a music server with 2TBs of internal storage to connect to their USB DAC. I did not hear a difference worth mentioning when playing back from internal storage or from my NAS so expansion beyond 2TBs is certainly an option, albeit at additional cost. The Conductor App is, in my experience, one of the better apps out there but falls short of Roon/Tidal's seamless integration, the N100H's overall build quality and industrial design are very much to my liking, and the sound quality is certainly a clear and important improvement over my MacBook Pro (I'm getting tired of typing that line).
It's also worth noting that while we can certainly describe the differences between music servers as subtle, especially when A/B'ing, listening over time can turn subtle into important.
On March 2nd, Aurender came out with version 4.5.58 of their system software. This update adds the ability to stream from your Qobuz account and "Smart Copy" which allows you to copy files from your NAS or USB storage to the Aurender from within the app, no computer required. There were also some bug fixes included.
Aren't We A Pair?
The list of available purpose-built music servers seemingly grows by the day. Beyond the obvious consideration of price point, other items for a shopping checklist should include output options, file type and resolution support, the control app's user friendliness, streaming services support, internal storage size, build quality and industrial design, and sound quality. The Aurender N100H checks off everything on that list for me with one exception and one caveat; I want at least 4TB of internal storage and sound quality is a matter of personal preference.
If I've been at all successful in describing the sound of my system with the Aurender N100H in it, you should have an idea of whether or not to put one on your audition list. I'd recommend you do.