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Aurender N20 Ultra High Performance digital output network transport Review

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The initial article regarding my search for a new digital front end concluded with a recommendation of the Aurender A20 (see review) as an excellent choice for those wishing to obtain great sound for a streamlined HiFi featuring a digital front end. This past week I spoke with an older industry insider who a couple years ago began downsizing. He started by selling his big Harley Davidson cruiser. This year he downsized from 200+ pound, six-foot-tall speakers and large monoblock tube amps to one component, an integrated streamer, preamp, and amp, which feeds his new bookshelf speakers and subwoofer. He boasted that his system lost more than 750 pounds. If only we could lose belly fat so easily! Now, his wife is not intimidated to use the equipment and he is surprised at the sound quality versus his previous two-decades old system.

I am not at the point of downsizing but may be in about five years. Thus far, most of the systems I build with dedicated components outperform integrated components, but the experience of an integrated product outperforming separates is increasing in frequency. I trust (because I have verified it so many times) that if a company indicates they make a higher quality purpose-built component, I will desire it versus their integrated. Didn’t I say in the A20 review that I am just about done with more complexity in systems? Yes, I did. But Ari Margolis, Aurender’s Director of Sales and Business Development, mentioned that the N20 is a superior streamer and that I would much prefer it to the A20 if I had ancillary equipment (DAC and attenuation) to build a more upscale rig. He was right, and I am pleased that I can experience a higher level of performance from Aurender. This article is about taking the next step with the N20 Digital Output Network Transport, a dedicated streamer with file server capability.


Improvement in kind

When we find a product we like, one that works for our needs and interests, we are tempted to conclude that it is the best possible solution. Objectively, that may not be true. Were we to try a more advanced model, we might conclude that it is holistically superior and that we would stretch to obtain it. It still does not answer the question of whether it is the best product in its class. Only extensive direct comparisons can (perhaps) answer that question.

I recently upgraded my laptop computer and I find the screen more engaging and readable than the six-year-old unit I had been using. It also incorporates touch screen functionality. Both pleasure and ease of use have increased. The new laptop is evidently more sophisticated than the old one.

When it comes to cars, I am an economical, loyal customer in that my last five cars have been the Toyota Camry LE. I do not care to spend more than I must to get the features I wish to use, and I want rock solid dependability long term. I have no doubt that were I to test drive the Toyota Avalon, I would be smitten and want that model. The Aurender A20 is analogous to the Camry, perhaps the sportier SE version. It was seemingly all I needed. But then I began using the N20 and quickly realized it is akin to the Toyota Avalon, an upscale experience.

Most consumer electronics promote the expectation that additional functionality provides a better experience. Hi-Fi products tend to militate against that expectation by focusing on dedicated functionality and higher parts quality to achieve superior sound.

When I was a newbie, I didn’t believe it. Reviewing equipment proved to me that it was true, that the focused approach is usually the path to better sound. One of the challenges I have in this article is to convince you that I am experiencing better sound from a product from the same company, a product that has fewer features and costs more. When I say challenge, I do not mean that I must describe the N20 as having better sound. I have no skin in the game, as I am not paid to write, nor beholden to any manufacturer to conclude, positive things about their products. I do not write to please manufacturers or dealers but to explain my experiences for the benefit of the public. The challenge is purely to distinguish between two products with similar functionality from the same maker.

The N20 is an intensification, an extension of the attributes exhibited by the A20, so it is challenging to describe how it differs. It would be easier to discuss different manufacturers’ products because they are more likely contrasting in character. What is to distinguish the N20 when the A20 is in the same product line? I am reminded of the Old Testament account where the Lord led the prophet Samuel to anoint the second king of Israel. The prophet went to Jesse’s home where seven of his sons were paraded before Samuel, but none was the chosen leader. David was the youngest and was out tending the sheep, but he was the chosen one. David had character traits that made him a better choice than his brothers. He appeared to have extraordinary zeal to please God.

With no disrespect or diminishment to the A20, there are characteristics of the N20 that make it a more desirable product for building an upper end system than the A20. It is intended by Aurender to fulfill that purpose. As I use it, I naturally react with greater zeal to listen to and appreciate the beauty of music. It is a sibling product to the A20, but advanced sonically. As with David, the difference is inside.


Function and form overlap

Many of the functions and the aesthetic aspects of the A20 discussed in the earlier review apply here, so the curious reader should look to that review for such information. A notable advanced feature the N20 has which the A20 does not have is the Word Clock input, which allows an external clock, such as the Aurender MC10 or MC20, to be used with the N20. This is a decidedly upper end solution for the discerning audiophile. Some of the finest digital sources in the industry utilize external word clocks. The prospective buyer of either the A20 or the N20 is strongly encouraged to compare the units’ features and settings to gain confidence regarding a purchase decision. Dealers of Aurender products would be a good resource for such comparisons. A good follow up to this article would be to explore the internal storage and USB attached storage capability of the N20, and one of Aurender’s external clocks.

Another important consideration is whether a hardware remote would be desired. If that is a necessary element of your system, beware the N20 does not offer one and you would have to implement it through a different component. The Conductor App, Aurender’s proprietary management software, is used as a remote for both units. You may wish to peruse the Aurender user’s site or audiophile forums to explore the user experience.

These Aurender units are strictly for audio, but each has a generous full color display. To put metadata from a music service onto an even larger screen, one must work around the A20 or N20. As discussed above, if the performance merits, I prefer a dedicated audio component, and if Aurender were to include video functionality it would add considerably to the cost.

The two units depart considerably regarding their available settings for user selectable contouring of the sound. The use of the N20’s USB output restricts settings that were selectable on the A20, or might be used with the other digital outputs, such as AES/EBU or Coaxial (SPDIF). When using the USB output, as I did for the bulk of this review, there are a few settings that can be selected from the Settings menu under Advanced settings. For this review I used the following Advanced settings:

Playback delay to allow DAC to adjust to new sample rate: 2 seconds

Play/Pause Option: Use Fader In/Out

DSD Output (DoP/Native DSD): Use native DSD Output on USB

Critical Listening Mode: Enable

7 Responses to Aurender N20 Ultra High Performance digital output network transport Review

  1. Don Mallet says:

    I consistently enjoy your reviews, analysis, and dedication. As you, I am digital only, with a limited budget and a preference for simplicity. Thus I have an Amber 4 DAC pre from Lampizator, an innuos Roon server/streamer, Pass XA25 power amp and DeVore O/93 speakers. I would love to see you review some of these. Obviously the Pass with its low wattage would not power your speakers. I am a long time Roon user and love the information and ease of use it enables, and Aurender does not play with it.

  2. Dan,
    God’s Peace,

    Thank you for the kind words!
    I have reviewed several Pass Lab Amplifiers, and the First Watt B1 Buffer and the J2 Amp. The speakers closest to the Devore that I have reviewed are the Daedalus Ulysses or perhaps the Tannoy Glenair 15. Over the years I have tended to move toward dipole and OB designs. I have not abandoned speakers with cabinets entirely, as I use the Wharfedale Opus 2-M2 and the Legacy Audio Whisper, which is a hybrid dynamic with the midrange and tweeter elements in a sealed cabinet.

    I am now committed to higher power amplification, as speakers like the Kingsound King III require it. I also have applications that require 3-4 channels of amplification per side, so lower powered stereo amps are not on my radar. I tend to diminish the cabinet resonance when possible, so dipole is a go to technology.

    I usually review what I hear at shows that impresses me. That is a common method for reviewers to find equipment to review. I am a self-starter in that I seek and obtain gear for review.

    One of the reasons I have not reviewed speakers akin to the Devore O 93 is that imo they cannot achieve the scale of larger speakers. I do not wish to argue about it, but I have used many smaller form factor speakers and I find a gulf of performance difference between speakers having more prodigious bass, both in terms of output and frequency extension and scale of the presentation. At this point I am not willing to spend much time on products that cannot produce those dimensions of music playback.

    I own a large bookshelf speaker, the Wharfedale Opus 2-M2 for one reason, the 3″ soft dome midrange. It’s a beautiful driver and has unique properties I do not hear from other midrange drivers. As regards the scale and dynamic capacity, it does not have the characteristics I described above relative to larger speakers. I own it despite these shortcomings just to hear the soft dome midrange. In reviewing speakers, I do not wish to spend further time with products which have those attributes compromised. That is not to be taken as disparagement of Devore speakers; it is true of all brands’ more diminutive products.

    I made sure to alleviate any deficit in the low end by purchasing the Perlisten D212s Subwoofers after the review. Super-clean, powerful bass below 20Hz is awfully tough to give up when it is a daily staple of listening. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that bass is exceptional (unless constrained by budget) in the 30-40Hz range. My criteria for SOTA bass is at a minimum down to 25Hz +/-3dB, and preferably below 20Hz +/-3dB. Extension of the bass into that range is transformative of all genres of music.

    I happened to send a review proposal to Innuos this past December and while I do not wish to disparage the company, I do not believe I received a reply.

    Douglas Schroeder

  3. Techylist says:

    Excellent review! I’m very interested in the Aurender N20 and its high-performance digital output capabilities. As an audiophile, I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology to enhance my listening experience. Your in-depth analysis has convinced me that the N20 is worth considering. looking forward to reading more of your reviews!

  4. TechyList says:

    I love how this review dives deep into the performance of the Aurender N20, providing detailed information on its ability to transport digital audio signals. The tests conducted and the results shared in this post are very informative, and I appreciate the reviewer’s attention to detail. I’m particularly interested in how the N20 compares to other network transport devices on the market, and I appreciate the side-by-side comparisons provided in the review. Overall, this post has given me a better understanding of the N20’s capabilities and has piqued my interest in learning more about it.

  5. Excellent review! I’m particularly interested in the section on audio quality. I’ve been using the Aurender N20 for a while now and I’m blown away by the level of detail and nuance it can reproduce. The way it can bring out the subtleties in my favorite recordings is truly amazing. Great work!

  6. Jeep Diva Blog,
    God’s Peace to you,

    Thanks for the compliment! The N20 is a classy, extremely capable component that should provide excellent sound quality for a great variety of systems. I’m not surprised you love it.

    Douglas Schroeder

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