Reviewer Hears Best-Ever Sound From Esoteric Audiophiliac Equipment
Aurender ACS10 Server/Streamer – $10,999
Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC/Hub – $17,999
Who wouldn’t want to listen to the best sound they can get? RICHARD VAREY submits to the charms of two pieces of esoterica par excellence in his Aurender ACS10 and Ayre QX-5 review.
The selected range of audiophile components available from Eric Poon’s Auckland-based Soundwe NZ includes the exotic and the downright intriguing Aurender ACS10 server/streamer. As well as the Ayre QX-5 DAC/hub, which I jumped at the chance to audition. So let’s get started with this Aurender ACS10 and Ayre QX-5 review.
The Aurender ACS10 Server/Streamer audio renderer is a complete audiophile alternative to a PC for storing and playing digital music files. It’s a music server/streamer with USB output, automatic CD ripper, dual hard-drive storage, meta-data editor, and file/album library manager. IT components have been banished. The ACS10 simply plays music files from the internal hard drive, a NAS, a USB drive, or directly streams from Tidal/Qobuz.
Out Of The Box
Out of the box, this is far from a lightweight. In fact, this configuration weighs 12.9kg. The front panel gives only partial clues to the functions of this machine: a lit on/off switch button, a 4-inch LCD display, a USB socket, and a disc drive tray. On the back are two USB sockets, and three LAN sockets. The USB 2.0 audio port is filtered and isolated. And there’s a USB 3.0 port for copying files from an external drive.
I didn’t use it this way. But it can also be mated with other Aurender components in the (the A10, N10 and W20SE) via the isolated LAN ports, to add functionality and capacity to those units. Control is via the front panel and Conductor and ACS Manager apps. The standard storage configuration is RAID 1 mirroring for file security. All major file formats are supported, with PCM up to 786 kHz 32-bit, DSD up to 256 (DSD over PCM), and Native DSD up to 512. There’s an option to add MQA decoding.
The unit runs with a built-in linear, uninterruptible power supply. And has a ‘critical listening’ mode. Which closes down various functions to conserve system resources for pristine sound quality. All Aurender machines play music from the SSD cache rather than from the hard drive. Which is switched off during playback.
The Aurender Conductor app is designed for quick response and ease of use. This runs on an Apple iPad, and the new Android equivalent has just been released. A recommended third-party 100-disc auto-feeder can be connected for bulk disc ripping sessions.
The set-up guide is quite rudimentary in its presentation. With little concern for design niceties. And the absence of a printed user manual is disappointing at this price. But actually, the online Manual at the Aurender website is very detailed. And it covers installation, file management, menus, streaming, and more.
My listening to the wealth of high resolution files loaded by Eric on the internal drive was an exceptional experience.
Aurender Inc. product planning and specification decisions are mainly done by staff in the USA. Engineering and manufacturing are done in Korea. The team has rapidly carved out a distinguished reputation for innovation and audio performance, with lots of awards since their beginnings in 2011.
The output from the server was sent to the Ayre QX-5 Twenty Digital Hub. This DAC/digital headphone amplifier/preamp/network player is also something special.
With options for connecting up to 10 digital sources, and exceptional resolution and natural sound quality, the QX-5 is a very attractive contender for the centre of the audiophile’s digital world. The front panel smartly carries a logo, an elegant display, a couple of function push-buttons. And a circular controller (they call it the “control ring”), and three headphone output sockets.
It’s worth noting that two 3.5mm sockets on the right side are for a balanced connection and have to be used together. They don’t work as single ended connections. The QX-5 Twenty is designed to drive one headphone output at a time (of the two sets of single ended on the left and one set of balanced on the right).
XLR and RCA
XLR and “legacy” RCA outputs are provided. On the back are two XLR/AES inputs, three S/PDIF inputs, three optical inputs, a USB audio input, and an Ethernet input. Three further USB sockets are for USB host and firmware update functions, and two further sockets are for AyreLink (their proprietary component communication system).
Music can be fed to the hub from a thumb drive, direct from the local network, from a Roon Core in the same network also via the LAN port, or through the other input sockets.
My audition listening time was divided between USB and Ethernet inputs, with RCA line level output. Pristine playback was effortless, clean and dynamic, with my USB connection delivering a marginally preferable sound quality. The USB input handles files up to 384 kHz and DSD128, whereas the other inputs will play up to 192 kHz and DSD64. This hub effortlessly handled output from the Aurender for a couple of weeks, then playback from my PC with JRiver Media Center 25.
The build quality is without question. And the front panel finish is very nice. The printed owner’s manual is clearly structured and nicely presented.
With the hub was a packet of three small Myrtle wood blocks and a leaflet suggesting that they be used under the cabinet as alternative footers. This I did for a week, after listening to a wide range of music over more than a week. I didn’t hear any change in sound quality.
Ayre Acoustics was founded in 1993. And designs and manufactures in Colorado, USA. They are renowned for audio and video innovations. Several of which are found in this hub. A notable design of theirs was the output circuit for Neil Young’s ill-fated PonoPlayer. Which attempted to promote high-definition music for the mass market. In a 1997 interview for Stereophile, company founder (the late) Charley Hansen stated his intent: “We want the gear to make beautiful music that is compelling and captivating, and we want the stuff to boogie and be maintenance-free and we want to do all that at a fair price”.
The QX-5 Twenty Digital Hub can be fitted with or without the USB input module and/or the network module (the network module works as a Roon endpoint, provides wifi connections capability, and can run the Mconnect app which can play from a thumb drive or stream from Tidal directly). Hence, there are four models:
– The Base model (no USB or Network modules) $14,999.
– The Base + USB module $15,999.
– The Base + Network module $16,999.
– The Full model (including both USB and Network module) $17,999 inc GST (this is the one I auditioned).
Conclusion – Aurender ACS10 and Ayre QX-5 review
This pair of high resolution components has delivered a quite outstanding experience during this Aurender ACS10 and Ayre QX-5 review – especially in their simplicity of use, fast response, and silent operation. And perhaps the best sound quality I’ve heard in my home listening room: exciting dynamics, clarity, and tonally convincing instruments.
They are expensive. But I have no doubt that the sophisticated conception, design and build quality make these stand-out devices for the serious digital devotee. My time with them has quite simply been a big “wow!” sonic experience.