Have begun, but not yet concluded, my comparative listening between CD player - as transport only - going into my DAC, and Aries Mini going into the DAC. Same music for both. Both over S/PDIF Coax. I have started though. But as I engaged in this exercise, with the advent of the build 88 release, I find myself compelled to bring something up…
As you may know, with the release of Build 88 yesterday, Roon and RoonServer now support Squeezeboxes. I don’t have a Squeezebox, but there are MANY ways out there for emulating a Squeezebox. I’ve got a Cubox-i4 Pro running a trimmed down Arch Linux running Squeezebox emulation software called Squeezelite. That emulator runs on many platforms, the most popular probably being Raspberry Pi 2’s. Anyway, IMO such devices are now direct competition to Aries Mini’s emulating AirPlay devices, if you are DIY inclined.
Squeezebox does not have the same 16/44.1 playback limitations that AirPlay has, so higher-res playback is possible. Neither support DoP. So native DSD is out*. Though it is my hope that when (if) the Aries Mini is made RoonReady, DoP will be a part of its feature set. But in the interim…
When build 88 is directed to play DSD64 content to a an AirPlay device, it does a sample rate conversion (176.4 to 44.1), then runs the signal through a truncate process (24 bits down to the 16 AirPlay supports), then performs a dither process (stated as removing artefacts from the prior DSP) and then send that 16/44.1 signal on to the AirPlay device. That’s what happens to me when I play DSD64 tunes through my Aries Mini. But the Squeezebox is different.
When the same music is directed to a Squeezebox (or in my case, something that Roon can’t tell is not a Squeezebox), it performs does a DSD to PCM conversion (DSD64 to 176.4 kHz) then passes the signal straight to the Squeezebox. And let me tell you, the difference is “sit up in your chair and listen” significant. I tested those differences last night listening to Patricia Barber’s Café Blue.
I also compared the DSD to PCM conversion sent to my Squeezebox emulator (Squeezelite) and the same CD. Again, big, BIG difference! More spaciousness, more solid bass, crisper highs, and much more spaciousness (bears repeating). Everything sharper (in a good way), and vocals less harsh.
Granted, the intent of this thread is to evaluate Aries Mini as an endpoint, once (if) Auralic makes it RoonReady. In the interim anyone with one has to use it as an AirPlay device. If that’s where you find yourself, AND IF you have DSD content you want to listen to, based on my limited listening experiences, I’d strongly encourage you to look at one of the Squeezebox emulation options as a potentially sonically superior alternative.
*I know someone will take issue with me stating that Squeezeboxes do not support native DSD. Squeezebox Touches apparently can play it, but it’s not really “native”. It only works after work is done to wrap DSD in a FLAC file wrapper to trick the Squeezebox into playing it. Or so I understand it.