Audio Streams #4 Page 2

Listening to the MiND was pretty much pure pleasure. I connected it to my network switch with a length of AudioQuest Diamond Ethernet cable, and to the Auralic Vega digital audio processor via AES/EBU. The Vega was in turn connected to my Pass INT-30A integrated amp, which powered a pair of DeVore Fidelity The Nines speakers. Compared to my stock MacBook Pro running Pure Music 2 or Audirvana, the MiND appeared to offer a lower noise floor—there were greater senses of microdetail and dynamic contrast in Tom Waits's Alice (CD rip, Anti-). There was a newfound purity to the sound of my NAS-based music that made possible a more musically engaging experience.

When I tried the MiND's WiFi connection, I found that I could play without problem files of resolutions up to 24/88.2, but higher resolutions had frequent dropouts. Because 24/176.4 and 24/192 files are part of my regular playlist, that makes the Simaudio MiND a wired device for my purposes. But WiFi performance is notoriously site specific; your mileage may vary.

The MiND delivered my music with a nice sense of body. Even relatively simple fare, like Muddy Waters's Folk Singer (24/192 from HDtracks, Chess), revealed and reveled in the MiND's greater sense of physicality and detail over the MacBook Pro. There was simply more there there.

Auralic Aries Wireless Streaming Bridge ($1599)
At its debut, at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, the Auralic Aries caused a stir by showing off its ability to stream up to double DSD (DSD128) via WiFi. To stream DSD64 and DSD128 over WiFi, Auralic recommends using a router with 802.11n MIMO support—and if you plan to run multiple Arieses around your home, they recommend bumping up to an high-end router such as the Netgear R6300 or Nighthawk R7000, or the ASUS RT-AC68U. I use an ASUS RT-AT66U, and it worked without a hitch with Aries's most recent firmware update (v.1.6). And because the NAS also must support DSD, I loaded the MinimServer software on my Synology DS412+ NAS.

The Auralic Aries houses a Quad-Core ARM Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz with 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB of internal storage. The Aries supports the OpenHome standard as well as UPnP, the former permitting more ambitious multiroom options, including shared on-device playlists. Inputs include dual-band WiFi, Ethernet, and USB that Auralic says will, with a soon-to-arrive firmware upgrade, accommodate reading from USB storage. The Aries supports PCM formats up to 24/384, DXD, and DSD64 and 128. Supported file formats include AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV, and WMA. The Aries also supports gapless playback.

Like the Simaudio MiND, the Aries has no DAC. Its digital outputs are USB, TosLink, coax S/PDIF, and AES/EBU. The Aries's curvaceous body is made of injected-molded plastic, partly because Auralic wanted to do away with WiFi antennas—they're built into the body. Up front is a display that shows limited information, including the number of the track currently playing and the number of tracks in the current playlist. The review sample's display made a slight buzzing sound that was audible only when my ears were within a few inches of it. Auralic reports that this noise will be lessened with a future firmware upgrade. In the meantime, users can disable the display entirely, and thus the noise.

The Aries had no trouble finding my NAS devices. The Aries supports Songcast, which allows you to stream content like Spotify from your computer to the Aries. It also supports the lossless streaming services Qobuz and WiMP/Tidal, and my time with it coincided with my trial subscription to Qobuz. I covered Qobuz in detail in the September 2014 "Audio Streams"; here I'll say only that the notion of buying a hi-fi component and getting immediate access to a multi-million-album library in CD-quality sound lights my fire. Norway's Tidal service, based in Oslo, came to the US at the end of 2014 (for about $20/month)—and while I'm on the subject, Deezer, another lossless-streaming service, announced a deal with Sonos to deliver CD-quality streaming to the Sonos system. I see lossless streaming as a big part of our musical future.

Auralic's app for controlling the Aries, called Lightning DS (v.1.3), is currently available for iOS devices; an Android version is in the works. Lightning DS is playlist-based; you can view your library by Library, Folder, Collection (think Favorites), or Playlist. You can also browse in various sort orders: Album, Artist, Composer, Date, Genre, and Tracks. I stuck with Album in Library view.

To play music, you just touch and hold your finger over the desired album cover or track. A window pops up offering options: you can Add your selection to Collection, Queue, or Playlist. If you just want to play it now, select Queue. Another window opens, with the option to Play Now. You can also add a selection to the current playlist, to be played next (after the current song) or at the end of the playlist.

I used the Aries's USB output to connect it to the Auralic Vega; the rest of my system remained unchanged from the Simaudio MiND setup. I tried wired and wireless connection; in this case, WiFi worked fine for all of my music, even DSD128, so I did most of my listening via WiFi.

The Aries presented a seemingly lower noise floor than my MacBook Pro. There was a sense of greater resolution, and an increase in dynamic snap similar to what I'd heard with the MiND. While I found that the Simaudio offered a slightly fuller-bodied sound, the Aries won in terms of services, I find lossless streaming to be a must-have option for a network player these days, and some people may prefer the Auralic's more straight-ahead and resolute sound.

I played all manner of music through the Aries. Something like Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (24/192 mono, Columbia/Legacy/HDtracks) sounded particularly lovely. Each player was given his own space, and the tone and voice of each instrument shone through loud and clear. With more challenging and dense music, such as the electronica of Lucrecia Dalt's Commotus (Human Ear Music), the Auralic's deft unraveling of all of the sounds made for an engaging trip. John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (DSD64, Impulse!/Acoustic Sounds) was pure energy, DSD delivering the dimensionality and natural sense of flow and dynamic swing that it tends to do so well.

Picking a Network Player
Lossless streaming is a must-have item on my personal-network-player checklist, and in this two-player race, the Auralic Aries wins my heart and mind. If you'd be happy playing just PCM data up to 24/192 and streaming from Internet radio, as well as having full control over your entire Moon system via the MiND app, Simaudio's MiND is a great choice. If you want the whole enchilada, with DSD128, the Qobuz and WiMP/Tidal lossless-streaming services, and Internet radio, the Auralic Aries is a greater choice.


RaoulJ's picture

Well, wait a minute.
I'm an automation engineer, specialized in real time networking... and I also do live sound with Digital mixer, using Dante network protocol.
If you ethernet cable does have an impact on your sound, seriously, change your sound networking protocol!
If the protocol looks even remotely like a professional protocol, it will never allow any ethernet cable or device to have an impact on what you hear !
Just my 2€cents...

bernardperu's picture

So there are "superior" ethernet cables? Maybe so, but...

1) Why are the opinions of highly regarded manufacturers who claim that expensive cables make no difference systematically ignored by the Hi-Fi press? I have personally received this feedback from Schiit, BAT, Sanders. I bet Paul Barton is on the same boat and so is Magnepan. Ask them on an interview; it is the least you can do.

2) Why don't you hire an assistant for minimum wage to switch the cables while you stay blind and comfortable? $40 buys 4 hours of assisted blind listening, so you can have a comfy test.

Highly expensive cables might make a difference (or not), but not addressing the above two points takes away a lot of credibility away from the Hi Fi media.

If you want to continue this conversation I can send you links to non-hate-filled opinions and studies that suggest that cables make no difference. I am talking about opinions of manufacturers and audiophiles who ought to be respected and accounted for.

bernardperu's picture

Now...would you be so kind as not to ban my comments? I have never used hate language, I try to argue my points properly, and it is nice and healthy to disagree.

michaelavorgna's picture

...between Ethernet cables so I do not need to explore this issue as you suggest. Further, I do not feel that blind testing provides relevant test results when related to listening to music on the hi-fi.

Michael Lavorgna

Andrew's picture

So these things just handle the media? No storage, no DAC? I guess they have a slick app, but it seems to me for that kind of coin you would be better served buying a dedicated computer (eg Mac Mini) and run that via your iPad. Great looking things though.

bernardperu's picture

I am also a subjectivist who highly enjoys the subjectivist hi-fi media. I am not here to antagonize you.

I firmly believe that the Hi-Fi media would increase its credibility if they addressed the two points I expressed in my previous post (which you chose to ignore).

1) Comfortable and long blind tests can be done with the assistance of someone on minimum wage.

2) The opinions of highly regarded Hi-Fi manufacturers cannot be systematically ignored. Many of them have not heard any difference between good enough cables and very expensive cables after long listening sessions done over long periods of time. They have highly trained listening skills and you already love their products.

Just add a blindfold and an assistant on minimum wage to your own controlled listening environment. Do it for 4 hours. We will trust your findings. Whatever you tell us they are (we are already trusting you and that is why we read you).

Just ask the manufacturers you admire what they think about very expensive cables.

It is not too much to ask. I am a loyal Stereophile reader.


spacehound's picture

It's an utter nonsense. Those that say it is possible don't have a clue how 'digital' actually works. And that is the MAJORITY of so called 'computer audio experts', including well known audio industry ones, though you have to bear in mind they are trying to sell us something so may be introducing deliberate falsities. "The leading edge of the pulse" is a good one, as is 'accurate reference voltage".

Noise? No. an Ethernet cable is isolated both ends. There is no path for noise. This MAY be why such streamers can sometimes sound better than USB. But varying 'noise' between different types of Ethernet cable is ridiculous.

Do they think computer designers know nothing? The effects of stuff as sloped leading edges, inaccurate reference voltages, noise on the signal, etc, were totally eliminated (and I mean 'totally eliminated', not merely reduced) right from the world's first digital computers in the 1940s. They would not have worked at all otherwise and nor would modern ones. If such things affect the 'audio industry' stuff it just proves their designers cluelessness.

Streamers? Don't buy a hundred dollar one and don't buy a five thousand dollar one. The cheap one will be rubbish in all sorts of ways and the 'digital' industry moves so fast that your expensive one won't be as good as one a fifth of the price in a years time.

musicmaniac22's picture

A device like the MiND allows you to extract music from your computer, NAS, tablet, etc. and stream it over your computer network to a DAC, digital preamplifier or all-in-one audio box. The App controls the whole process, and also allows you to organize your music into playlists. A dedicated computer with something like J-River is a different means to a similar result, but there is no iPad/iPhone App to wirelessly control the playback. I guess its different strokes for different folks ;-)

michaelavorgna's picture

Do you know the secret subjectivist handshake?

Of course I'm joking but I find the whole subjective/objective debate to be long in the tooth and irrelevant. I'm also not into blindfolds but whatever floats your boat.

As far as polling manufacturers, I'm not here to report on what other people think when I write a review, I'm here to talk about what I hear. Besides, if I waited to get industry-wide consensus on just about anything to do with hi-fi before I wrote something, I'd produce exactly nothing.

So, yes you are asking too much ;-)


corrective_unconscious's picture

They would make sense if they contained DACs and storage, but they only do in some instances, and those instances don't get called "streamers."

I don't understand who is the market for "streamers."

Also, regarding the other reply to your post, there certainly are apps which interact with a computer (Mac) to permit wireless playback of media from a dedicated Mini, for example. They've been using the Apple Remote to do this even before the iPhone was on the market, I believe.

jmsent's picture

had an online server, a local media server that imported your library from virtually any media player, a huge amount of customization ability, the ability to easily sync multiple players, a free app and an even better third party one, and so on. And they sold for about $300, oh, and they had a built in DAC. And it was a very good one at that. But Logitech pulled the plug on it due to poor sales. I see no point to these "high end"streamers as they're being marketed. Their utility is very limited given their price. And I also have to wonder what software support, which will be imperative, will be like. You can do more with an Apple TV or Airport Express, using an Ipad or Iphone with Air Play.

bernardperu's picture

I get it. It is your words and your bytes. You own your column and we should be able to live with that.

Unfortunately, the subjectivist vs. objectivist debate has been contaminated by many, especially objectivists, who use ill conceived language and are believers of "science has an answer to everything" (as if we had already cured cancer). Just like when it comes to getting rid of cancer, science is in diapers when it comes to understanding how we enjoy and internalize music.

If the "very expensive cables" vs "good enough cables" debate had not been contaminated by the real audiofools, then, we would have had a calm debate about it.

I still believe that the subjectivist media would highly benefit from my two suggestions: 1) comfortable assisted blind listening tests and 2) when interviewing manufacturers: ask them if they are "believers".

I own Maggies 20.1 and based on their rear speaker connectors, I am nearly positive that Magnepan just doesn't believe in very expensive speaker cables. If Magnepan is a "non-believer", then shouldn't we at least try to respect their opinion (at least by acknowledging it)?

michaelavorgna's picture

What we appear to be in disagreement about is what is the proper context to discuss certain issues like cables. I agree that this discussion has its place, I just disagree that I need to include alternative viewpoints regarding cables in a review about network players wherein I mention the fact that I've heard a difference between Ethernet cables.

bernardperu's picture

I have 3 squeezebox touch devices. they sound much better with wyred4sound remedy, which is an extra 400 dollars.

After listening to the remedy, i know for a fact that streaming quality may vary and the extra $$ may be justified.

jmsent's picture

but I never said you can't improve on it or you can't hook up one whose sound you prefer. I've got an older Theta DAC and have done comparisons between a CD over my Theta transport vs the same CD, ripped onto my Mac and then streamed to my SB Touch via WiFi. Both the Touch and Theta CD drive digital outs feed the Theta Gen V DAC . When I sync up the files and switch between them, I can't hear any difference at all between the two. That's good enough for me.

michaelavorgna's picture

These devices are not for everyone, what in hi-fi is?, and each offers a different set of features that will appeal to different users. While delivering the ability to play music from network-attached storage and streaming services are their main purpose, there are also features that will appeal to specific users. For example, owners of SimAudio systems may value the fact that the Sim app allows control over their other components. The Auralic Vega allows you to stream high res PCM and DSD over wi-fi which solves a connectivity issue for some people.

While there are others solutions, including using a computer with a remote app, some people would rather spend their money on a dedicated device that delivers a specific set of features and is designed, from the ground up, as an audio device.

Michael Lavorgna

bernardperu's picture

I agree with you on all counts, except on the methodology to evaluate the Audioquest ethernet cables.

Audioquest has 5 different ethernet cables, so they are asserting that we should be able to tell the difference among 5 gradual changes of ethernet cable quality. Once you start adding all cables I use in my system, Audioquest's business model asserts that a trained listener should be able to tell the differences among at least 50 gradual changes (and I am not even accounting for combinations or cable length - Audioquest claims speaker cable should have the same length-).

Audioquest's business model may not be a scam, but certainly smells like it, and this scam business model is the strongest hypothesis (unless you can look at someone in the eye and assert that you can tell at least 60% of these dozens of gradual "improvements").

Audiophiles tend to be far more educated than the average person. Most of us can tell that all these "gradual improvements" are nearly impossible to tell. No way I could identify all gradual changes Audioquest's claims I should be able to identify. Neither can the audiophile with the goldenest of ears. No way. Sorry I am such a positivist, but no way.

corrective_unconscious's picture

It's also a DAC and I believe a preamp, and thus is exempt from the several comments about streamers as a category. Same for the other, unspecified streamers which offer other features.

Not every preamp is for me, but I understand what a preamp is and why someone would pay for one. Streamers (the ones which are only streamers,) on the other hand, are more puzzling.

michaelavorgna's picture

...I did review their Ethernet cables which included some comparisons between different models as well as a standard Cat 5 cable: AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet Cable and Diamond Ethernet Cable.

michaelavorgna's picture

...and it does not contain a DAC. There are no analog outputs, only digital outputs. The Aries is also not a preamp as it does not offer a volume control. It is meant to sit between your network and your DAC.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I guess that's great if people will pay that much for such narrow functionality as just a streamer. Great for the manufacturers.

I should have been more careful with my search on that product. Thanks for the correction.

skris88's picture

Michael, you can't insist you can make a claim and refuse to put it to the test.

As a certified network engineer it's simply illogical to me there could be a difference between Ethernet cables unless one perhaps is rated Cat 5 and the other Cat 6.

Perhaps there really IS an improvement between 2 similarly rated cables, I'm open to learning about that.

So, take up the challenge, don't simply brush it away.

Thanks in advance!


bernardperu's picture

And I hope I am fulfilling my goal of spreading the word that some further credibility when (blind) testing cables and when acknowledging the opinions of manufacturers regarding cables will definitely help the hi-end media.

michaelavorgna's picture

...I do not believe double blind testing is an appropriate means to determine perceived differences in hi-fi. It is simply an unnatural and tedious exercise as opposed to something which is rooted in the enjoyment of music.

If I were to "take up the challenge" every time someone questioned what I wrote about hearing, whether that be a difference between DACs, file resolutions, cables, software, servers, and on and on, I wouldn't have time to listen to music.

Michael Lavorgna

skris88's picture

I guess you've just proved it Michael. The Internet is still in Wild West mode with snake oil salesmen rampant everywhere.

1,000s of people every day are sold $200 HDMI cables instead of $20 ones exactly because of people like you. It's just business? No, it's fraud. Especially since it's not the wealthy who get sucked in to your outrageous claims, but the struggling poor.

I guess I don't have to read your articles any more, and I won't.

".....we will be held accountable for every word that we use or misuse."

michaelavorgna's picture in Wild West mode but this has nothing to do with the fact that I have repeatedly and clearly heard a difference between Ethernet cables.

QSYSOPR's picture

Dear Editor,
I always wonder why the most sophisticated laboratories in the world get fast and correct results although they use standard ethernet cables.

John Atkinson's picture
QSYSOPR wrote:
I always wonder why the most sophisticated laboratories in the world get fast and correct results although they use standard ethernet cables.

As long as it transmits data packets without error and as long as those packets do not carry data that will be used to reconstruct an analog signal, then the quality of the ethernet cable is immaterial.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile