Auralic Aries Mini as "Endpoint": one experience

I’m not really a blog kinda guy. But I thought it might be helpful to others if I related my experiences using a Auralic Aries Mini as an “Endpoint” to my hifi system. I strongly suspect that we’ll be seeing Auralic modify the Aries line (along with possibly the Vega DAC) to function as Roon endpoints. If so, the Mini may become one of the “go to” endpoints due to its apparently good sonic bang for very few bucks.

Disclaimer: I put endpoint in quotes because - as of this writing - Roon Labs only refers to “endpoints” as things that are a part of systems using Roon software. And Meridian and AirPlay “endpoints” do not run Roon endpoint software. I’m not really sure what to call them, but they do play Roon music (with limitations), so I’ll refer to it as an endpoint for now.

As of this post date - Dec, 10, 2015, the Auralic Aries Mini cannot play Roon content except through its AirPlay emulation. That means that while Roon can send music to it, said Roon music is limited to Apple AirPlay limitations; 16/44.1 playback, and only PCM (no DSD). So the Aries Mini will not be a good endpoint solution - long term - unless I am correct in my assumption that Auralic will modify their firmware to make it a true Roon endpoint soon. If not, I’ll sell it. And right now, the price in the USA includes a 1 year subscription to Tidal Hi-Res content, a $200 value. I was going to pay that anyway. So to my mind, the Mini really only cost me the price minus $200. I’m just paid up a year in advance on Tidal now. :wink:

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Why an Endpoint?

I’ve got RoonServer running on a NUC with no monitor. And since I plan on using the Aries as an AirPlay device, that implies that either 1) I’ll be connecting to the Mini over WiFi, or 2) that I’ve got the wired Ethernet to my hifi rack. So I could just put the NUC there, connect to my DAC over USB and save the money and complexity.

First and foremost, I fall into the camp of people that want as little AC electronic noise and EMI around their audio equipment as possible. I’ve got the entire audio playback system on its own, dedicated, AC circuit to keep the power clean. And hospital grade sockets. Putting a PC in my rack could undo the gains from that in one fell swoop. Many will argue this point. But I will not. Not putting a PC in my hifi rack. Simple.

Second, I’ve had bad experiences with USB audio. Which is why I own a Schiit Wyrd “Decrapifier”. It is one musical transport that I’d rather avoid if I can. With the Aries Mini S/PDIF Coax and Toslink (technically also S/PDIF) are the only alternatives for connecting to a DAC. I know there is the “Don’t use S/PDIF” camp. But when my alternative is USB, I’m inclined to take my chances.

Finally, couldn’t one argue that an Aries Mini is just a PC in disguise? You could, but you’d be somewhat mistaken. It is a low power computer (when not using SSD or USB storage, or its DAC). But it is not electrically architected like an Intel based PC. And - like all DACs - it is a computer has been specifically designed to play well in an audio reproduction environment. Does that make it as benign as - for instance - a good preamp with outboard power supply? No. But it’s probably still a lot better than an Intel PC (or a Mac for that matter).

Setup Woes

As has been pointed out in on-line reviews, the mini came packaged well, in a nice box. All without so much packaging sophistication that you feel like you spent all your money on a really fancy box (think Apple here). No manual supplied. But a Quickstart Guide provides a very, very cursor view to set up. But since I like to know what’s going to happen before doing it, I used one of the two provided URL’s for information. And it did not work. It just redirected me to the main Auralic site. The other link did work, but did not provide any details on setup.

The QuickStart Guide has a few sequential instructions, including hooking up to your DAC, powering on, waiting for boot-up, and finally using the Auralic Lightning DS iPad app to configure the unit. So I did all that, then loaded Lightning DS on my iPad. And when the app came up, it proceeded to instruct me to do all the things the QuickStart guide had already walked me through. (Note to Auralic - this causes confusion, needs to be worked out better. You might check your URL’s too).

One thing that I only knew because I had previously read it in an on-line Mini review, is that before you start Lightning DS the first time - and after the Aries Mini has booted - you need to go into the iPad settings and switch your Wifi network to an “Aries Mini” network SID that you’ll find the unit is broadcasting. Which I did. At some point during setup, I was asked to switch back to my normal wifi network and continue the install. Why the Aries Mini can’t just boot using wifi, ask me to select a wifi network SID, solicit security credentials, and use DHCP like everything else out there is a mystery to me. Why do something easy when you can make it complicated I guess…

During the setup process I got this screen.

I freaked.

Why would I get such a screen unless I had been sent a used device that had already been registered when someone else set it up? This suspicion was compounded by the fact that when I bought the Mini, I also bought another small audio product. It was the first time I had used this - not going to name them here - vendor. And the other product came in a box that had clearly been opened/closed many times, and had a bent AC plug. IMO that means “used”, sold as “new”. And now this!

Hitting the back button, and letting it try again (twice) brought the same result. In desperation I hit the back button multiple times to a very early point in the install process. That fixed what ever problem there was, and this problem went away. Wow - much to my relief. But that was not the end of the install troubles…

The installation process got to a screen that basically said, “I’ve downloaded the new firmware, and am ready to reboot. Almost finished.” And I figured that was a good time to take a break for dinner. But maybe not. Because when I came back a couple of hours later, the app rebooted the unit, and then could not find it again. So I hit the back button. No luck. Power cycled the unit. No luck. App still could not find the unit. So in some online digging I found that holding down the left and center front buttons for 5 seconds performs a hard reset. So I shut down the app, and power cycled the unit. After 90 seconds or so, restarted the app, which said something like, “Hey, I found an Aries Mini, but someone did not finish configuring it. Would you like to do that now?

I answered in the affirmative, and setup completed without any additional hitches. Shoulda’ been easy. But the process was a bit of a PITA.

Post Setup Configuration

After the formal setup process was complete, there was still a bit of configuration to do. A quick look at my router’s configuration web pages showed me that rebooting the Mini with an Ethernet cable in it did not get it to switch from using Wifi to the wired network.

And every time the Lightning DS app starts, it displays an “Oops! Something went wrong. We can’t find your Music Library!” screen. And that’s right because I never told the Mini where it is during setup (skipped that step), and don’t intend to. It’s only purpose is to move Roon music from my network to my DAC. No need to complicate things by pointing it to music that it will never play.

Once the full app loads, there’s single AirPlay icon on the primary screen, that allow a quick enabling of AirPlay. When I did that, Roon saw it within seconds, and a few seconds after that was streaming music to it. Awesome!

After that a quick click on the gear icon leads to the actual configuration of the Aries Mini itself. And a quick click in the Network Connection panel switched it from Wifi to wired. Again, awesome!

Having hooked up the Coax, Toslink, and USB connections to my DAC, I was looking forward to listening for differences. And I thought that would be easy since my DAC has a button to quickly cycle through those three inputs. Coax played great, as did Toslink. But no sound from USB. I futher found that in the Lightning DS configuration screens there is a Output Channel field, with two options. One was ARIES Outputs. That had been selected by default, and worked for everything but USB. So I guess it makes sense the that other option was the name of my DAC model. Question is, why is it handling USB differently? Why is it not an ARIES Output too? That’s going to take some research. This CAN’T be insignificant.

Switching to my DAC’s name for the Output Channel selection produced no sound. After a lot if fiddling, I found that whenever I change the selected Output Channel on the Mini, I’ll get no sound until I go into Roon’s Audio Setup settings and disable the Mini zone. Re-enabling it after that gets the sound going again. Looks like a Roon bug. May submit it when things slow down for them. Right now it’s just an inconvenience since the workaround is so easy.

So with that all that done. Setup is finally complete. Again, awesome! :slight_smile:

First impressions

I gotta say, using the Aries Mini as a Roon endpoint (16/44.1 limit not withstanding) sounds d* man good. Now this is a first blush listen. But I’m delighted to say short of serious comparative listening (vs. just listening an enjoying one’s self) it sound great.

I’ve listened to many CD ripped tracks. At the moment I’m toe taping to the Charlie Watts Quintet’s “One from Charlie” CD and wondering, “How could this get any better?”

Granted, this does not mean that the Aries Mini is the bee’s knees. But I’m willing to go out on al limb, and say that using it as an AirPlay device, fed from a NUC RoonServer - over wired Ethernet - pulling music from an SSD cached QNAP NAS - does NOT suck.

In fact, it sounds pretty spectacular! :smile:

Such a statement - of course - begs the question, “How would you know? How can you hear “spectacular”?”

Fair question. But since all of our acoustic abilities are typically subjective, I’ll stick with the objective. What can my system resolve?

So on to my next post…

System Resolution

I’ve got Magneplanar speakers. So by definition that means I’ve traded the pinpoint imaging and earth shattering bass possible in some point source speaker for decent imaging and merely good bass. So I cannot speak to system resolution with regard to precise imaging, nor cranking bass. But in every other way I’d like to think my system’s sonic resolution is pretty good. You can get better – sure – but not without a pretty big pile of money. For examples of resolution, I’ll give two.

I’ve got a Santana Abraxas CD and some DSD files that were made from the same master recording. Before I had Roon setup, I ran DSD files through a Logitech Media Server setup. Both that, and my CD player (used as a transport only), connected to my DAC. So once the two digital signals hit my DAC, they ran through the exact same audio chain. When played in a A:B fashion, the differences between the CD and the DSD file were far from subtle. The DSD file was crisper/tighter across the board, and the space and “air” around the instruments opened up significantly. Everyone that I did A:B comparisons for could easily hear the difference. In fact, I had an audiophile friend that I performed a blind test with. I played the CD of “Oye Como Va” for him (he did not know which source it was), and then put on the DSD version. It played about 10 seconds when he said, “Steve, you can stop. This is the DSD. It’s obvious because…”

As another example of resolution, playing Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman on their Rumors album. In that song it is clearly audible that Stevie Nicks was being recorded in a different space than the instruments. You’d have to hear it, but it’s kind of weird listening to a song where there are two totally different sets of reflected sound being played simultaneously. That’s not an end-all, but it is resolution.

I could give many examples. I guess the point I’d make, is the resolution is not bad. I should be able to hear if the Aries Mini – used as a RoonReady device – sounds any good or not.

Just got to tell you I love this series…

Don’t leave us hanging here… On to the next installment! :slight_smile:

Thanks Rene! :slight_smile: I’m glad it’s amusing. That’s what I was hoping for.

At the risk of providing too much information, I thought a more full description of the playback system might be helpful. So…

Hifi Gear

I’d like to think of my overall 2 channel playback system as “mid-fi”. It’s clearly not high end. But at the same time it is a set of very carefully collected - on a budget - quality components, and should be able to resolved whether or not the Aries Mini (playing music from Roon) is any good. Going backwards from my ears to the sound source, we begin with the speakers…

Magneplanar 2.7 QR’s - Recently factory refurbished, then augmented with a large, quality custom crossover. They are on Myesound stands, that help appreciably by increasing rigidity. NOT your typical 2.7 :smile:

Nordost Blue Heaven LS speaker cables running back to the amp.

Aragon 8008 amp - not the newest version I’m afraid. But still no slouch at throwing a bit of current when required, at 400 wpc into 4 ohms.

Two REL T5’s - Set up as an alternate speaker pair to on the 8008, they take the high level signal from the 8008, yet draw almost no power from it, using it for and unaltered signal. That’s so the signal to the Magneplanar 2.7’s do not get run through sub woofer crossover. After receiving that low-current-drawing signal from the 8008, it acts as a typical powered sub woofer. Except - of course - it’s not really a sub woofer. It’s just a very musical woofer.

Kimber Kable Hero cable - connecting the pre-amp to the amp.

Aragon 24k, with external IPS power supply - a truly wonderful antique component. Constructed by Mondial - in their heyday - it’s a classic quality preamp design that could actually be afforded by the common man.
While I rarely turn the volume up more than ½ way (TOO loud), in a test the other day I paused the music Roon was playing, and turned the volume up all the way. Put my ear to the speaker. Silent. Absolute silence. Sweet. :slight_smile:

Kimber Kable PBJ - connecting all digital components to preamp.

Musical Fidelity MX-DAC - DSD playing successor/upgrade to their famous V90 DAC. I’m expecting even better performance with a newly arrived SBooster linear power supply. :slight_smile:

Aurelic Aries Mini – the topic of this blog – connected back to Roon over wired Ethernet, 100gbps. Connected to the MX-DAC (for now) by an AudioQuest Toslink cable for galvanic isolation.

NUC 4250U - Intel Core i5 8 Gb RAM running RoonServer on Windows 10 Home, with Fidelizer Pro. Wired Ethernet connection back to router.

Asus RT 68U – router. Pretty high performance router FWIW

QNAP TS 451 – NAS with around ½ TB SSD. The NUC regularly runs a process that reads every digital music file I have (all on the NAS), which causes them to be cached on the SSD. So when Roon pulls a music file off the NAS, it FLIES off.

iPad Mini 2 – Running Roon IOS app

Room acoustics a - square 20’ x 20’ room. Normally a bad thing, unless the square room has a 15’ vaulted ceiling – and the speakers produce line source sounds, as the maggies do. It’s a live end - dead end - room with normal walls behind the speakers, and a rough surface stone wall behind the listener. There are large sound diffusion panels on the front wall behind the speakers at the first reflection point. Were these not planar speakers, they would need to be on the side walls. But for rear firing speakers, they are positioned right where they need to be.

Power - the entire analog audio system (and DAC and CD player) are all on a dedicated AC circuit on my breaker box. Nothing else is on that line to add electrical noise. And every socket on that AC circuit has been upgraded to hospital grade sockets. And running a Sunyata Venom Defender to clean things up further.

There’s other stuff of course, lots of analog gear, and of course a CD player. But this is about Roon, right? So that stuff is somewhat immaterial, except to say I enjoy my LP’s more than any of my digital music. But that’s a different discussion…

With everything hooked up - connecting to my DAC over Toslink - now I need to find time for some critical listening.

Testing Preparations

When I started thinking about testing, I had a BFO (aka Blinding Flash of the Obvious). Since both my CD player (used as a transport) and my Aries Mini both lead straight into my DAC, comparison A:B listening will be EASY. Since the CD player only outputs digital over coax, and since my DAC has two coax inputs, I’ll just need to make sure I have the Mini hooked to the DAC over coax.

I pulled out a number of CDs (plain old Red Book variety) and decided to re-rip them. I use Exact Audio Copy with AccurateRip for that. Normally if it reports a reasonable % confidence from it, I keep the rip. But today I re-ripped everything to make sure every track yielded a 100% confidence of accuracy. Needless to say, a number of the CD’s I pulled out had to be excluded from the test. But I got 100% confidence on all track from the following:

Midori: Live at Carnegie Hall
Eric Leinsdorf: Sheffield / Leinsdorf Sessions, Volume I
Kate Bush: The Whole Story
The Cheiftains: The Long Black Veil
Steely Dan: Aja
Patricia Barber: Cafe Blue
Santana: Abraxas

But just having clean rips was not enough. I then pulled out a few test CD’s I’ve got in my library, and played test tones - first over CD, then from Roon - and monitored a couple of different iPhone real time analysers. My primary objective was to ensure that playback volume was the same across a reasonable frequency between the two. And I was pleased to see that except for a decibel (or occasionally two) the volume remained consistent across playback mechanisms. That’s good, as I believe I’ve read that generally speaking, the same music played back at two different levels - assuming both are comfortable levels - the louder of the two is often viewed as better SQ. So it looks like I’ll be avoiding that.

This will not be the final test for me (I hope), since this will be the Mini emulating ApplePlay. I want to do this again when (fingers crossed) Auralic makes the Mini RoonReady.

Now I just need time for some critical listening…

Thanks for the review @scolley. I’m sure those Maggies with the REL’s are quite impressive. I couldn’t be happier with my single T-5 paired with some Harbeth C7-ES3s.

Glad you are happy with the Mini. I was really looking forward to buying one but was put off in the differences between what they originally stated a few months ago and the price change/drop in android support at release.

I have a question about your NUC. Have you had any problems with it crashing on Windows 10? I had the same model and ended up returning it for a gigabyte version due to what looked to be a problem with the BIOS.

Kevin, I suspect we are both in a happy place. Having great speakers (without being CRAZY speakers) that just need a bit of help on the bottom end. And - of course - we’re both subject to potential flames for having the temerity to even suggest that our speakers might need a BIT of help on the bottom end. :wink: Not sure about the Harbeths, but that BIT of help really is that for me. Got the crossover set at 50 Hz, and - though not quantitative per se - only turned up 8 clicks on the T-5’s 40 click scale. A little goes a long way with the T-5’s. But I have no doubt that you already know that.

Well that happiness is preliminary. To be tested further, but at first blush they sound great! But you gotta put that in context… I think my normal system sounds great. But make no mistake… I’m THRILLED that my preliminary listening does not subtract from the normal excellent sound that I’ve come to expect. At the Mini’s price point… frankly I’m shocked. In a GOOD way.

I guess I’m stuck between the delight that my hifi still sounds so good with the Mini in the loop, and the objective understanding that only A:B listening can determine its impact. That said… IMO the best thing that can ever be said about the Mini is that it takes away nothing. It’s NOT a value-add component. It’s only passing musical information along. The more invisible the footprint the better.

I did not post about it, but I had a brief listening session the other night. It was late, music was loud, and was after an evening of merry making. So I thought my observations were less than objective. :wink: However I did retain one written note, on the pad I was holdingat the time, “Listening to ‘The Chieftains’, ‘The Long Black Veil’, song ‘Dunmore Lassies’, and my back teeth are rattling!

LOL - Going to have to go back and give that another listen. :slight_smile:

I’ve got to admit ZERO issues with the NUC. Granted it’s a dedicated machine, nothing installed but RoonServer, Fidelizer Pro, TeamViewer 10 to get into it from another PC, and the driver for my MX-DAC. And - of course - we have not compared memory and SSD’s used. But it just works for me. Lucky I guess. Sorry your mileage varied. Good luck with the replacement.

8 posts were split to a new topic: Squeezebox and SqueezeLite Observations

OK, to begin an update, I want to thank Carl for moving a number of posts from this thread to this thread.

I was delighted by the new version Roon build 88 supporting Squeezebox players, and thrilled to have my little Linux Squeezebox emulator running as an endpoint substitute for the Aries Mini. IMO it’s BETTER than the Mini, if you want DSD or higher than 16/44.1 support. Details in the linked thread. Granted if Auralic decides to make the Mini RoonReady, that differentiation will go away. After that any comparisons would be sonic, ease of use/setup, and economic vs. the feature advantage Squeezebox support has now.

Now the bad news… I sat down tonight for a serious listening session tonight. One comparing the Mini over coax to the DAC vs. my CD transport over coax to my DAC. And generally speaking - after a number of selections - I was hard pressed to hear a difference. But I wanted more music to convince myself - or not. And then the unexpected happened. My CD transport went belly up. Cannot read CD’s any more. At all.

Granted, this might be a transient problem. Maybe if it cools down it’ll work again. But for the purposes of this comparison, we both know that it is understood to be performance flawed. So any comparison would have to be regarded with suspicion IMO.

So now I’ve got to decide if I even want to invest in a new CD player, in this day and age. All my digital music is either sourced over the Internet, or ripped from a CD on the drive on a PC. I still buy CDs. I just don’t play them.

I guess that means - Sorry Folks - not sure if I’ll be continuing this comparison. Got to go see what a quality used CD player costs. I know I’m not shelling out a lot for a quality new one. No faith in the long term viability of the medium. Sorry.

My CD player - that I was using as a transport - that bit the dust was an old Acurus ACD-11. Fortunately I was able to find the exact model for sale on Audiogon. Have won the bid for it, and will be picking it up the middle of this week. So should be able to continue testing later this week.

As a side note, I’m sure everyone has seen the fact that Aurelic has released a RoonReady upgrade to the Aries and the Aries LE, but not the Aries Mini. Hopefully that will be rectified in the future. In the interim, I’ll clearly be continuing my tests comparing the Mini over AirPlay to CDs.

Just an update… If a sad one.

I picked up a cosmetically flawless replacement CD player today. Supposedly little used - even the original box was flawless. But playback of the problem CDs was worse than with my old CD player! So something’s not right here… CDs in question are either practically new, or maticulously/professionally rebuffed/repolished.

So sorry about the comparison delay. But have a little sleuthing to do.

OK. This problem with old CD players not working is making me nuts. I don’t have the time/patience/money to have them fixed. So I ordered an Oppo BDP-103. Not too fancy. But for CD’s I’ll just be using it as a transport. And I don’t use CD’s much anyway - everything it ripped. AND it plays SACD’s. So should be able to start comparing again soon…

Got the Oppo CD player. Both it, and the Aries Mini, have coax outputs. So I can hook them both up to my DAC, and continue a fair apples-to-apples comparison of Roon music over the Mini vs. the original CD. But I’m not. I don’t see the point anymore, because…

As everyone knows, Auralic recently upgraded the Aries line to being RoonReady EXCEPT they excluded the Mini. Frustrated at not being able to listen for the improvements RAAT might bring, I purchased a SonicOrbiter SE (SOSE). It’s nice, inexpensive little RoonReady network endpoint, with linear power supply and a USB connection. I should mention that I purchased a new USB cable, because when I hooked the SOSE - with the new cable - up to my wired network and my DAC, I started playing digital music from Roon that sounded better than ANY digital music has ever sounded on my system. Really. Hi-res content - in particular - sounds glorious. :smile:

So, with the Aries Mini being restricted to AirPlay emulation if I want to play tunes from Roon, I honestly don’t see the point of using it. When (if?) Auralic finally upgrades the Mini to being RoonReady, then it might be time to compare the Mini’s sound to the SonicOrbiter SE. I’ll make that decision when (if) Auralic makes that upgrade. But in the interim, I’m retiring the Aries Mini, and enjoying the awesome sound that Roon (and the SOSE) is producing now.

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Thanks for sharing your journey - really interesting and useful. Regarding SOSE, care to share your setup? I am interested in this litter bugger and may just be my entry to the Roon world. Cheers.

Have you heard anything further about the Mini becoming RoonReady @scolley ? I was disturbed to read this recently in John Darko’s review of the SonicOrbiter when talking about available RoonReady devices:

The exception proving the rule is the already suitably equipped AURALiC Aries which starts life at US$999. The Aries Mini misses out, presumably because AURALiC don’t want sales of their entry-level streamer cannibalising those of their more deluxe offering. Fair enough.

It’s speculation by John, but I had presumed the delay with the Mini was a technical issue likely to be resolved shortly. If there is some commercial rationale for the delay I would be very disappointed in Auralic. For some reason they seem to think that they need to protect the “market share” of Lightning DS, a free program that generates no revenue for them. They seem to believe that HQ Player and Roon are somehow competitive with Lightning DS (even though no one substitutes these programs for one another). I hope they eventually realise that their true competitors include inexpensive multi-input devices, like the SonicOrbiter, and that being RoonReady and an HQP NAA are necessary selling points on which consumers are basing purchase decisions.

I just can’t see someone interested in the Aries Mini deciding to upgrade to the Aries or LE because it’s RoonReady. I would think it far more likely that they’d go to a SonicOrbiter or similar device. That’s what I’d reccomend.

I understand the original philosophy for the Aries was to “do it all”. I think they’ve lost sight of that.

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