If you visit enough audio shows, it becomes apparent that a number of high-end manufacturers have embraced AURALiC’s full-size ARIES wireless streaming bridge ($1,599) as their preferred vehicle for adding streamer-like/server-like capabilities to most any DAC-equipped system.
But RMAF marked the US debut of AURALiC’s impressive new ARIES MINI ($599), which can be viewed as a dramatically cost-reduced version of the bigger ARIES, but with several important twists: in contrast to the original ARIES, the ARIES MINI incorporates a built-in DAC, add Bluetooth connectivity and an improved tri-band Wi-Fi interface, supports an expanded range of streaming services (including Tidal, WiMP, Qobuz, Deezer, Pandora, Rdio, SiriusXM, SoundCloud, Spotify, and more), options for adding internal HDD/SSD music storage, and even comes with a free 1-year subscription to Tidal (a $240 value). In short, the ARIES MINI offers a huge amount of functionality for not a lot of money.
: UK, European, and other international Hi-Fi+ readers will want to be aware that the free Tidal subscription offer mentioned above applies only for AURALiC ARIES MINI units sold in North America.
In practice, users can create simple and highly cost-effective audio systems by combining a music library storage system (for example, a NAS drive or USB drive) with an ARIES MINI and a nice pair of self-powered speakers—dramatically reducing the entry-price for access to legitimate high-end sound quality
Aurender was showing two of its newest music servers at RMAF, the upscale N10 ($8,000) and more affordable and surprisingly compact N100h ($2700). Both models, and in fact all Aurender models, exude a certain fineness of fit and finish that only serves to reflect the careful attention to detail that Aurender lavishes upon the insides of the units.
Ayre chose to highlight its versatile new Codex preamp/headphone amp/DAC ($1,795) at RMAF, creatively configuring its demo room to look something like a recording studio control room. Then, Ayre use the Codex as the centrepiece of two systems: one set up to drive a pair of compact KEF LS50 monitors (as if at a studio control console) and the other set up as a headphone station. My sense was that the Codex offers sonic sophistication that belies its comparatively modest price—a brief observation I would like to put to a longer test, perhaps in a future Hi-Fi+ review.
Boulder bowled over RMAF attendees with its gorgeous, ultra top-tier model 2120 DAC ($65,000), which both looks and sounds terrific. In simple terms, the 2120 is Boulder’s challenger for top honours in the unspoken competition for the title of ‘best DAC on the planet, ever.’ Can it deliver the sonic goods? Only time will tell, but it certainly sounded promising at this show.