I also heard a warmer, richer, and more densely colored bass. The tonal balance is identical to that of the original W20, but the SE has greater definition, body, and textural complexity. The bottom-end definition was readily apparent on Anthony Jackson’s innovative bass work on the Steve Khan album Eyewitness.
To assess the upsampling option I had to use the W20SE’s AES/EBU output rather than my usual connection of running USB from the Aurender to a Berkeley Alpha USB. This small outboard box takes in USB and outputs SPDIF or AES/EBU, reclocking the signal and isolating the DAC from any noise. The Berkeley Alpha DAC Reference Series 3, my reference DAC, lacks a USB input. I’ve found that this setup delivers the best performance, but does require an additional digital cable and a power cord, not to mention the box itself and its $2k price tag.
But upsampling 44.1kHz files to 176.4kHz produced startling improvements across the board in resolution, clarity, and transient performance. The first 44.1kHz file I upsampled was from a CD I had ripped of the band African Guitar Summit. The layers of intricate percussion were far better resolved when upsampled, with each instrument sounding more realistic in timbre and in the sense of existing independently in space. Upsampling better resolved the body of the percussion instruments, giving each one a richer and more nuanced tonality. The soundstage moved forward slightly (I accounted for the precise level difference when upsampling is engaged, with 0.1dB precision), but not in a forced way. Overall, there was a greater sense of musical coherence in the way the complex rhythmic layers were woven together. On a direct-to-two-track recording I made of a jazz quintet recorded at 44.1kHz (the highest resolution available in 1988), upsampling brought out the life and air in the top octaves. Conti Condoli’s flugelhorn had greater textural liquidity, more like burnished brass with less metallic sheen. By comparison, no upsampling sounded thick and veiled. Buddy Guy’s acoustic guitar in the great track “Done Got Old” from his groundbreaking album Sweet Tea became more vivid, present, and alive. These impressions were consistent over a wide range of recordings. The upsampling feature is in my view the most important improvement offered by the W20SE. After hearing standard-res files upsampled, you won’t want to go back.
The Aurender W20SE is a significant advance over what was already a reference-quality music server. It’s not only better sounding, but much more capable in its handling of DSD. Most important, PCM upsampling vaults the SE’s performance into another league. This feature alone is, in my view, worth the price of the upgrade from the W20.
As I wrote in my original review, Aurender’s Conductor app is outstanding. A music server’s music-management app is a vital part of the product; it’s the interface between you and your music and makes the difference between constant frustration and delighted satisfaction.
Specs & Pricing
Storage capacity: 4TB SSD
Integral streaming: Tidal, Qobuz (subscription required); Internet Radio
Formats supported: DSD up to DSD512 (DSF, DFF), WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, M4A, APE, and others
Outputs: AES/EBU (x2, single-wire or dual-wire mode), USB 2.0 (dedicated audio output), USB data ports (x2), TosLink optical, Ethernet, coaxial (RCA), coaxial (BNC)
Inputs: Clock on BNC
Dimensions: 16.93" x 4.17" x 14.57"
Weight: 46.5 lbs.
Aurender America Inc.
20381 Lake Forest Drive, STE B3
Lake Forest, CA 92630