Bluesound Node 2 vs. Auralic Aries Mini


Anyone have experience with both the Bluesound and the Auralic? Specifically, the user apps and their capabilities. I'm thinking about replacing my Squeezebox Touch to gain some newer technologies that allow higher bit rates and improved WiFi technology. My main concern is the WiFi and management capabilities, not the DAC as I'll use the digital out to drive an external DAC. I just want something that cleanly moves files from my PC library of primarily Apple Lossless ripped music and plays internet radio. I'd also like to be able to dabble with hi-rez formats, although I haven't taken much of a plunge there, yet. Streaming is not a big deal for me, but if the abilities are there that's no loss.

So, seems to me that the Node 2 and Aries Mini would both fit the bill. So it probably comes down to a matter of user experience with the control apps. Appreciate any thoughts!
dogmcd

I have the Node 2. I am not technically proficient with routers, computers, etc.  I had no problem installing the Node 2 and its Bluos app.    My router has line-of-sight access to my Node 2.  I rarely experience a dropout streaming internet radio, cd quality or MQA files from Tidal.

The Bluos app has the TuneIn internet radio service built in and it has so many stations from all over the world listed by genre that I can't imagine it not being all that anyone needs.

I do not use a NAS so I can't help you there. 

I would use a computer instead. Its cheaper and easier. It also gives you a lot of options. If you don't like one music player, you can just get a different one.
I use the Aries Mini and stream from my Synology NAS wirelessly and it works perfectly. No dropouts and it can play any file I throw at it. It can stream Tidal, Quobuz, and WiMP. I believe the Node 2 does all the same things never owned one but there are many threads on it here. Also I really like the Auralic Lightning DS app. Either way you will probably be very happy.
I just went through this decision and finally decided on the Node 2. It's basically splitting hairs though from what I read. I leaned towards the Node 2 as it has Roon support if I go that route, MQA support and it seems a larger customer base in case I need to compare notes/troubleshoot. It also looks like it would work better as a stand alone preamp if I ever move it to another room. I got mine from Crutchfield for about $430 shipped (after eBates and 3 months of Tidal HiFi free). I might add a Pangea 14SE MKII power cord to it as well. Anyone have any experience here if it's worth it over the stock cord?
I have enjoyed my Node 2 for nine months now. It has an excellent OS and fantastic support. By all accounts the Aries Mini is outstanding as well.

I have mine connected by Ethernet and have never had a drop-out but I can't give an assessment of its wireless capabilities.

I will say that what I have enjoyed the most about going to a steamer is how much it improved the sound quality. Using my iMac connected by USB to my dac produced adequate sound but was plagued by a bit of a hard, flat presentation. Going to s streamer has resulted in better sound.

Cheers,

Scott


Thanks to all for the great feedback. Seems my initial thought was correct in that either may be a good choice, might just come down to which I can get the best deal on! :) Sounds like both have decent control apps.

On the subject of "just using a computer", that's not an untenable idea, just not my cup of tea. In my line of thinking, a streamer like the Node 2 or Aries Mini actually becomes an extension of my computer that's already set up and running. All I need that streamer for is to get the data I want from the computing environment and out to my DAC. Plus, if I were to go computer only, I'd get constrained by disk space (I have about 3 Terabytes in a RAID 5 set on my current PC/Server) because most of the pc's that I would deem quiet enough to be close to my system have solid state drives that aren't quite adequate in size. On top of that, I'd get sucked into the entire USB cabling debacle, which probably contains more snake oil than anything in the history of audio.... oh, and all of those silly, megabuck USB cables have potentially been rendered obsolete now that Apple has released all of their latest PC's with USB-C ports. Rest assured, the rest of the industry will follow.
@dogmcd Very good point on on computers/drives in the listening room, with the Mini I have my NAS in my office and my system in the living room streaming wirelessly with no issues at all. I would personally not want computers or drives in my listening environment either.
I owned both and compared them directly over an extended period.  They sound surprisingly different.  The Bluesound is considerably warmer, and the Aries Mini is faster and more incisive.  That basic difference was present whether using the internal DACs or not, but of course using the digital out closes the gap slightly and highlights whatever you have downstream.  

In my system the Aries Mini's sound was the better fit, but I also strongly prefer Lightning DS in its current form over Bluesound's software.  That was the clincher for me.

If you don't need the built-in DAC, consider the SoTM SMS-200 or Sonore Microrendu.
@lousyreeds1 Thanks for that it's the first time I've seen an actual user comparison between the two! May I ask what Dac you're using with the Mini? And did you upgrade the power supply? And agreed I love Lightning DS also!
I used them both with a Red Wine Audio Isabellina and a NuPrime DAC-9, both of which are on the warm side.   I do use an upgraded power supply (HDPlex), and to be honest I heard less of an improvement than I expected, both when using the Aries as DAC and streamer only.  Others have had different experiences - I'd recommend checking out the Computer Audiophile forums for more detail.

I wouldn't say I love Lightning DS, as it's still a little buggy for me, but I've found it to be the most user-friendly app aside from Roon.  
@lousyreeds1 Thanks for the info I use an Audio Note Dac-3 Signature which is certainly on the warm side. I also have the Sbooster power supply which I thought made a nice difference in sound quality. Lightning DS can be buggy at times, my only prior experience is with Sonos, but overall I like it and find it very user friendly. Cheers!
Great info folks, and many thanks for the comments on the direct comparison. Not sure I would understand the mechanism of one sounding better than the other via their digital outputs and not their DAC's, unless one actually has some sort of anomaly in how it transfers data, which is entirely possible. I have a Nuprime as well, the DAC10H, so I'm guessing my experience may be similar. Also interested in the other streamer suggestions, so I may investigate them as well... happy listening!
I wish some company would make a great streamer without a DAC, and pass on the savings to the customer. 
AURALiC Aries Mini is only a streamer (without a DAC).
@audiofreak32 
Sorry but I must disagree.  The Mini has a Sabre DAC.  See info at link here...

http://www.audiostream.com/content/auralic-aries-mini#ByVpvErih8LxZ5hx.97
Was able to pick up an Auralic Aries Mini for an exceptional price. Does exactly what I was looking for and the Lightning DS interface works exceptionally well. Had a couple of hiccups with initial setup, but that was not due to the Aries Mini, it was an issue with some file protection settings back on my PC ( I know, just get an Apple for my file server and let it do the work :)  !). I am, begrudgingly, trying some USB cables to connect to my Nuprime DAC10H, but not are fancy, high end varieties - my snake oil meter goes off at low levels - and plan on comparing those to my usual Acoustic Zen Absolute Digital. By the way, the Auralic absolutely contains a DAC no plans on using it in my set up, but it's definitely there.

That said, I'm very impressed with the Auralic. Does what it's supposed to and sounds exceptional.
@dogmcd what were you using for digital audio before?  FWIW from my experience, if you are discerning enough to bypass the dac in the Aries and use the Nuprime dac - you would probably enjoy the difference a better quality USB cord would make. 
@dogmcd

Very cool. I bet that AURALiC Aries Mini sounds fantastic going into your NuPrime DAC10H/ST-10 combo.

When I was using USB I did find an improvement in sound when I used a WireWorld UltraViolet USB cable. It wasn’t anything drastic, just seemed to make music a touch more refined. Although for me I never found the music very satisfying using USB from my computer to my DAC.

Btw, love the NuPrime gear. A few weeks ago I purchased a NuPrime IDA16 and it is outstanding.

Cheers,

Scott


Really like the Auralic after using it for a while. I was using a Squeezebox Touch before and it just seems that the Auralic does a better job, probably due to newer technology wireless and data transfer components internally, and I do like the Lightning DS app. Like any software, you have to get used to using it and figure out its little idiosyncrasies, but the Lightning app is intuitive and works very well. 

On the subject of USB cables, I still have some skepticism about one "sounding better" than others. Not to say that can't happen, but if and when it does are we actually hearing something "better" or just "different"? Keep in mind that I spent over 30 years in the computer industry, so I'm not just shooting blindly here.... USB, whether 1.0, 2.0 3.0 or the new USB "C" are industry standards that were created and defined by the computing industry starting back in the '90's. Now, since it is a standard, cables must conform to it, so no matter the materials  used or the construction techniques applied, that base standard must be adhered to or it can't be called USB. The original intent of USB was to carry data, NOT music signals. However, we've transformed music signals into data via digital technologies (another debate all on its own) and made access to music faster, more ubiquitous and cheaper. Since USB was the standard available on the computers everyone was using for computer audio it made sense for the audio industry to embrace it for transfer of data from point A to point B. 

IF (and its a big IF) a USB cable properly transfers a data stream, USB power, and clocking signals from one device to another (here's where the audiophiliac claws will come out...!) THERE IS NO WAY A DIFFERENT USB CABLE WILL IMPROVE THE SOUND. Remember, I said "IF" everything is correct and in a USB data stream from device to device that level of precision is rarely met. So, the standard includes lots of error correction to "rebuild" the data packets crossing the interface to an acceptable level of usability. With music, especially hi-rez, data rich packets, that aforementioned correction, along with proper clocking, all become critical. Plus, the " bits is bits" argument is not really true because I can tell you from experience that some bits can track their voltage too high and some too low, and in each case, that will cause anomalies in the bit stream that must be corrected. And, here's the rub with audiophile USB cables - most do the same thing as some of the generic brands out there because they MUST be built to the standard to be called USB! Remember, the standard says you have to be able to move the data stream within an acceptable level of error and loss from point A to B and the rest the magic happens down stream from the USB world in receiver chips, DAC and output amplifiers within the realm of a digital device. So, my suspicion is, when people claim that they hear "differences" in USB cables, what they are hearing is a product of the data transfer and correction needed with each of those different cables. What that says is that some cables are transferring data and clock signals, all at the proper voltages, better than others because that's the only thing that can make a difference. So, considering that cables must be built to a standard and once that cable's signal transfer characteristics make everything correct, you're done. I fear that what we hear as "better" may just be "different" - possibly "worse" - if a cable is not up to par and causes more error correction or clocking errors than another. However, getting that data stream to be correct can be achieved for a pretty nominal cost, but it's very easy for us to succumb to hearing improvements when we're told we will and we put down money for that improvement, whether it's there or not. Our brains will trick us into believing the angels are signing louder in direct proportion to the amount of money we spend regardless of actual performance differences. IF A USB STANDARD CABLE GETS IT RIGHT, IT GETS IT RIGHT, PERIOD. It's about a data stream that gets transformed into something else, and if that data is right, it's right. No amount of fooling around with wire type or insulation or connectors, or whatever marketing hype or pseudo science you want to add will make a difference because it can't, UNLESS it can actually improve the data transfer parameters.

So, my personal sensibilities regarding USB cables is to tread with caution. I find if hard to believe that a USB cable that costs hundreds, even thousands of dollars is going to have the ability to change the data stream in a way that it's actually worth that much more than say a Belkin Gold or the like. And, I have yet to see any kind of demonstrable science or evidence showing how one cable compares to another in actual data transfer characteristics. I also think to myself that the snake oil quotient is extremely high with USB cables because if a manufacturer sells more than one cable and their highest price cable is the "best" - one that hits all of the needs of the data transfer 100% let's say -  that means they are producing inferior products below that level, some that may not even conform to the standard. It's also a possibility that we hear things with USB cable changes that may be more pleasing to the ear because they are actually diminishing the signal rather than improving it, like a filtering effect at some frequency extreme or the like.

All that said, I am at the end of the day a red-blooded capitalist, and if someone hears a difference, perceived or real, and wants to spend their dough to get that difference then by all means the manufacturers should take their money! I for one remain skeptical and tend to be wary of whatever hype is poured out, especially by the high-end rags, on the cable of the moment. In my experience, cables do make a difference in a high quality system, but the laws of diminishing returns are higher with cables that with any other piece of the audio chain. Oh, and don't give me that junk about ," well, you just don't have a high enough resolution system to hear the differences". The arrogance of that makes my blood boil. Yes some folks have systems that may not be as highly resolving as our own, but let's take the stance of trying to help rather than trying to diminish someone else to make our own egos happier. I will continue to experiment with USB cables and see what comes of it. And, just to muddy the Watters further, our friends at Apple have gone to USB "C" in their products and that new standard will slowly but surely become ubiquitous making all of our expensive audiophile USB cables useless and enabling all of the big boy cable companies to... sell us all new cables! :)

Happy listening!
Let us not forget that in computer-to-computer data transfers, data is checked and replaced if faulty. In audio streaming, it is a one-way street.  I have played with more with the Ethernet cables recently, and some are sold as "the best" but I would give up the hobby if i has to actually keep them in my system. So, until you try a few, I'd suggest you really don't know.
Hmmmmm... in audio streaming, it is not a one way street. USB protocol is USB protocol and there's just as much error correction that happens whether it's music or a Microsoft Office document. Computers don't know the difference. Now, if you're talking about S/PDIF, or ethernet network signals (and with the latter, there's still standard error correction protocol) that's a different matter, but with USB it's ultimately a matter of correct data at the receiving end, clocked in at the proper time. Once that is achieved, a cable cannot "improve" the data. It may change it and make it different, but it won't improve it.
Hi wgutz: Which Ethernet cables have you auditioned/compared? What were their sonic characteristics?  Thanks in advance, Jeff
wgutz : Here's a link  I found regarding top Ethernet cables. https://audiobacon.net/category/cables/digital/ethernet/ . Do these findings agree with your experience?
Hi yoby,

I’m not wgutz (wish also to hear from him/her), but I found that article/review an excellent resource for comparing Ethernet cables and accruements. It lines right up with my perceptions of the sound of WW Platinum and the SR Ethernet Active SE cable (excepting mine has the UEF tuning bullets which I find to be a significant improvement over the Enigma bullets used in the audiobacon comparison). Will be hearing the SOtM Cat7 cable this weekend, so I can comment on that afterwards.

dogmcd,

My recent comparisons of the sound of three top USB cables between my Aurender and various DACs produced convincing audible differences that run counter to your statement, whether related to data transmission variables or something you are not accounting for I cannot say.

My experience is that the sound character of various USB cables varies widely as well as their individual compatibility with different DACs. Actually trying these things rather than cognitively disqualifying such possibilities is the way to go IME.

Dave
@dogmcd I am in the same situation. Using SBT strictly as a streamer. Also found a used Aries Mini with Sbooster PS. I use it via Coax only. What are your thoughts on the sound quality between the SBT and Mini? Thanks.

P.S. I currently use LMS server from Rpi3. With the Mini, will I be able to run everything from it? I only do Tidal-Hifi. 
Celo,

I've found that the Aries Mini does seem to sound better, more detailed and more extended. My guess is that it's due to advances in network chips and clocking causing fewer errors and better data throughput. The SBT was a cool product that Logitech decided to abandon, so it never was updated any further. Still perfectly viable, but I think newer technology like the Aries Mini is better. The only constant in the digital world is change, and that change happens much faster than we usually like or expect!

dlcockrum,

Let's be clear, I am not discounting the fact that different cables can sound different, what I'm trying to discern is why that would be the case. Keep in mind that the operative word is "IF".... IF the data structure is exact at both ends of a cable, IF the cable allows said data to clock in at the proper time, IF the cable ensures that data voltage levels are consistent and correct, then no other cable can improve on the audible results. If the data is correct, it's correct. Differences can be had past the receiver/transmitter chip in whatever device you use, like in a digital filter, DAC, oversampling system, etc., but a digital cable can't change the sonics UNLESS it's changing the content of the data in some way. That said, it's very possible that is happening, but it's interesting that there are so many different manufacturers with different USB cables at different price points; how are they manipulating that data stream to get different results? That's my question. And, how do we know when a cable does get the data right versus when it doesn't? Are we really hearing "improvement" or just something "different?

By the way, this question should be the same with any digital transmission standard, be it USB, CAT5, CAT6, S/PDIF, whatever. A digital signal being transmitted must ultimately be converted back to an analog output at some point when we're talking about audio. Each of those has an industry accepted standard that must be adhered to. Now, are the standards themselves not able to hold muster with the data they are transmitting, or are we playing with bit streams within cables to "filter" for a particular sound profile? In practice, no digital transmission is without error, that's why there's error correction all over it. But, in the end, how do we ensure that have the best way of ensuring that a digital data stream is as bit perfect as it can bee at the input of a DAC? That's what matters.
Dogmcd,

Glad you found something you like! You are correct, the equipment on offer today is much better than the SBT. I had one too and would find it hard to go back since so much has changed. I was the first one to be surprised at the resurgence of vinyl. With how far digital technology has come I would have thought that record albums would not last.... boy was I wrong! But in the end what is the problem with all the different flavors of audio coexisting? From the Bose Wave radio to MBL audio systems, I say there is room for it all. I mean to say, in the end, we all luv music therefore we might better serve ourselves by listening more to the music....  and getting enjoyment out of what we are using today.

We cannot be sure that we will get bit perfect digital data streams, but we may get enough to enjoy the music.


I try to avoid calling out products just because they didn't sound good in my system. I do think my system is incredibility accurate and telling, but that doesn't matter as it isn't the same tuning as your own. 

But I do have a tidbit regarding Ethernet cables: In discussions with my personal cable builder (that my associates help support), it was found that CAT 7 & 8 use a shield on each of the separate wires running through the cable. We believe that this causes more inductance and combined noise. And my personal testing of CAT 7 and the one CAT 8 make me believe this is true. CAT 6 uses only one shield for the whole cable bundle.

So we build our own CAT 6 with a late version of the product that has naturally good "sonic" attributes. It is cyro treated  with our own specifications as it takes a lot more knowledge to accomplish than just getting the material adequately cold. The connectors are special too, costing about $40 wholesale (each end), minimum order of 10 for each end at the same time/order.

I don't sell cables myself and our little "club" of local Denver audio nuts is a bit different. But based upon what I know, I wouldn't spend real money on CAT 7 or 8.  I do think it is interesting that a cable can carry video data at double the rate of the highest resolution TV, but is effectively awful for digital music, at least in my system. Bill
Hi dogmcd,

I appreciate your clarification of your questions concerning the causals for audible differences in digital cables. I will try to stay with what I have learned from cable masters so far.

Re: Ethernet cables, the ultimate speed of transmission and the elimination of data loss/corruption is the key, as well as the elimination of RF/EMI noise riding on the signal. This is true of not only the wires but also of the connectors used. Some top manufacturers use networks (SOtM for example) to eliminate noise from the signal.

Re: USB cables, if the data packet is corrupted when it reaches the DACs asynchronous USB input, the packet is simply dropped and data is lost. Efforts are made to reduce causes of data packet corruption in the better designs.

Also, the way that the 5v power conductor associated with USB cable technology is isolated also plays a key role, ie the quality/effectiveness of isolation of the 5v signal from the wires carrying the digital signal to avoid transferring noise from the former to the latter. Galvanic isolation is frequently used for this purpose.

Purist Audio even uses a "specially selected" Ferrite choke in the 5v wire (not the actual signal cable as that is a no-no IME) to further eliminate stray noise from the 5v power lead reaching the actual digital signal by soaking it up while still in the 5V conductor path.

Elimination of RF/EMI penetration to the signal in USB cables is also a determinant as in the ethernet cable above.

Hope this helps.

Dave
Also, within DACs there is a process where the 1) noise, RF/EMI, etc coming in on the digital data stream and is (hopefully) cleaned up a bit and 2) the bits are reconstructed to simulate an analog waveform in order to output an analog signal to the downstream analog audio gear. If there is data loss detected during the digital-to-analog waveform reconstruction process, algorithms are applied to try to interpolate (artificially replace) missing data in order to complete the affected slice of the waveform.

The more of 1) that the DAC has to deal with, the more that will slip through (nothing’s perfect) and effect the signal in the DACs digital/analog circuitry, thus degrading the sound.

The more of 2), the more artificial interpolation due to data loss upstream. This is an imperfect process and can audibly effect the sound quality that results.

Re: "the difference in sound character" of different digital cables can be influenced by the metallurgy of various metal conductors, the dielectric chosen, shielding (or not) and cable construction techniques to further eliminate noise, the integrity/efficiency of the binding of conductors to connectors, and perhaps most importantly IMO, the resulting impedance match/mismatch imposed on upstream and downstream components.

Dave