The Aurender A200 is a music server, streamer, and DAC. It is the upgraded replacement to the A100 which I reviewed in late 2019. Priced $2,100 higher than the outgoing model, what improvements and upgrades do you get for that sizable chunk of change? I wanted to hear exactly how it stacked up against its predecessor which has served as a reference streamer in my system since its review. Come along with me as I dive into the feature set and specifications of this full-featured music playback machine.
Description & Details
The most notable change to the A200 is that the 2TB internal drive is gone. Now, you might be thinking the same thing I did: “Wait, I’m paying more and getting less?” The design logic here is that if you are only using the device as a streamer, you won’t want to pay for the storage you won’t use. Additionally, the internal 2TB HDD on the A100 was not user upgradeable. This meant if you wanted to upgrade to a 4TB HDD, the unit would have to be shipped back to Aurender’s US headquarters for servicing.
Learning from customers’ feedback, Aurender has now placed two user-installable 2.5” drive bays on the rear of the A200. These removable drive bays use thumbscrews and are so easy to use that I didn’t even have to remove the A200 from my rack to install a few drives. The experience was user-friendly and effortless. I wanted to compare the sound quality of locally stored files from both an SSD and an HDD. I had a hunch there wouldn’t be a difference, thanks to the internal 240GB SSD used to cache each song before playback.
Other changes and improvements over the A100 include a new 6.9” IPS full-color LCD screen, a 2x isolated gigabit LAN port, an upgraded Intel N4200 Quad-core CPU, and a newly designed Linear Power supply with a Super Capacitor based UPS.
Sound Quality & Aurender Conductor
There are two facets of the Aurender A200, its sound quality and the experience of using the Conductor app. There’s no denying that the cost to enter the Aurender ecosystem is high. However, the rewards are the Conductor app’s intuitiveness, polish, and speed. It is the best music streaming and controller app I’ve used. Its layout is logical and intelligent. Everything is where it needs it to be and there are no unnecessary animations cluttering the user experience. Most impressively, the app never crashed a single time during the two months I spent with the A200. The Conductor App’s stability matches the cool-running appliance-like reliability of the A200; both are rock-solid.
The overall sound quality and presentation share many of the same pleasurable attributes I reported on in my A100 review. This didn’t surprise me since both devices use the same highly regarded AKM 4490 DAC chip. The A200 successfully conveyed the Aurender house sound which is neutral and balanced, without any artificially hyped frequencies. Instead, its strengths are a remarkable amount of inner detail and subtlety, which allowed me to hear further into my favorite music.
While it does lack some horizontal soundstage expansiveness and 3D imaging effects compared to my Auralic Vega G1, the A200 offers a deeper and more introspective look inside each song. Tonal colors and accuracy are spot-on, conveying a high degree of realism. The pristine clarity along with the dynamic range demonstrated admirable agility and speed. All frequencies are well represented without any smearing or overlap. Lastly, there is absolutely no digital glare or harshness.
This natural and even-keeled presentation meant the strengths and core characteristics of my speakers were fully showcased. I heard their true capabilities, without the streamer applying rose-colored glasses during playback.
Memorable Musical Experiences
When listening with the A200 in my system, I came across several songs whose musical attributes exceeded the sum of their parts. Playing these compositions through the A200 went beyond simply “sounding good,” and instead conveyed a deeper musical message. Beyond the subjective sound quality and technical specifications, the A200 is capable of an emotional connection that shows the true measure of its worth. Here are three songs that resulted in memorable musical experiences:
Ritual – Moments of Comfort: This is four minutes and thirty-six seconds of exactly what makes drum ‘n’ bass so impactful. The striking contrast between the subterranean bassline and the spooky and ethereal flowing vocal sample was entrancing. The A200 perfectly preserved the forward momentum and rhythmic structure of this intricate song. It grabbed and held my attention so closely that by the time it ended, I immediately hit replay.
Steve Hackett – Joie De Vivre: A song without lyrics relies on instrumental prowess and musicianship to successfully convey its message. In Joie De Vivre this is simply Steve Hackett playing solo guitar, but in doing so he weaves a complex and heartfelt story about life. As I listened to his guitar’s strings and the resonance of its body, I heard joy, pain, success, defeat, beauty, and serenity. The A200 coherently guided me through this multifaceted composition which conveys so much, all through one musician and his guitar.
Allen Toussaint – Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further: Along with Allen’s satisfying center-locked vocals, this song has an impeccably recorded grand piano. The A200 nailed the tonality, richness, and realism of his instrument. The sound quality and spacious presentation made me feel like I was at a live concert, instead of simply listening to a recording at home. The A200 is succeeding as a music playback device if it can provide me with this type of emotionally engaging listening experience.
A200 Specifications compared to A100
- Upgraded Replacement of A100 with Intel N4200 Quad CPU
- Stereo AKM 4490 Full-Decode MQA DAC
- PCM up to 768kHz / 32bit. DSD up to 256
- Single-ended Analog Outputs / USB Digital Output
- Full-Color 6.9″ 1280 x 480 Wide IPS LCD display
- Storage ( user installed ) 2 x 2.5” Tray for SSD or HDD
- Increased SSD Cache to 240GB / System Memory to 8GB
- 2 x Isolated Gigabit LAN Port
- 1 x SPDIF Optical x 1 and Coaxial x 1 Digital Inputs
- Linear Power supply with Super Capacitor based UPS
Aurender A200 Caching Music Server Review
Conclusion & Final Thoughts
The A200 runs cooler, boots up faster, and has a larger screen than its predecessor. It offers two user-installable drive bays for large libraries of local files, while also offering excellent performance as a streaming transport. Like the A100, it conveys the Aurender house sound thanks to the AKM 4490 DAC. Reliability, musicality, and tonal accuracy are the standout attributes of the Aurender experience.
Regardless of whether I played songs from HDD, SSD, Tidal, or Qobuz, they all take advantage of Aurender’s caching-before-playback approach to digital music. This resulted in no variance in performance regardless of which media format the song originated. With the A200, there is no audible detriment to storing your music on an HDD when it is cached to SSD before playing.
The A200’s dependable stability and exceptional sound quality, combined with the flawless operation of the Aurender Conductor app make listening to digital music a thoroughly rewarding experience. Having an app that is snappy, responsive, and never hangs or crashes goes a long way toward achieving what we’re all after in this hobby: pure musical enjoyment. Aurender has succeeded in creating a device that combines a local music library, streaming transport, and DAC all inside one elegantly machined aluminum chassis. If you can afford the steep cost of entry, you won’t be disappointed by the A200’s performance.
Shipping Weight & Dimensions: 29 lbs, 19" x 20" x 10"