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About a day
for transferring* my library turned into a full two. By the morning of the second the prior night's mass transfer had stalled a few GB into the process because one track had failed. To avoid a repeat, I now transferred about hourly batches as shown below. I again entrusted the remainder to the second night—nothing ventured, nothing gained—and by next morning it was all done. Of course I could have just exported a short but tweaky playlist for review purposes. I'd have been done in an hour. But I did want to document what awaits the prospective owner with an already sizeable library (mine is a mix of ALAC and AIFF). This export will be a one-time enterprise. Then it should be smooth sailing. Or nearly.

* Aurender's director Harry estimated that their Gigabit Ethernet port should have only taken 5 hours to transfer 823GB. "Something may be wrong with the way the network was set up, the hub may not have been a Gigabit hub or there was something wrong with the cabling." My 'hub' was the Internet router our local IT provider Swisscom had installed. Cables were two 10m runs of generic Ethernet, from W20 to router and iMac to router.

Exporting had dropped a number of album covers presumably because they exceeded allowable size. Whenever I must manually import covers into iTunes, I go for the biggest versions I can find. Those look best in FrontRow mode but don't migrate into my Astell&Kern AK100. Nor apparently the Aurender app. If you like complete covers—I do—this could mean some cleanup. All non-standard meta data glyphs like ä, æ, ç, é, ñ and even rarer ones from the Turkish alphabet posed no issues though Greek was out. They also showed fine on the W20's front display.

Coming from iTunes, a small learning curve with the Aurender app could be having to create playlists. One can't simply select an album, hit 'play' and expect to hear it beginning to end. It'll play the first track, then stop. That's because the entire album must first be moved into a playlist. I found this counter-intuitive and inconvenient but it's certainly easy to learn. iTunes too probably took some getting used to. It's simply been a few years. I don't remember it now.

What I couldn't figure out? How to switch between W20 outputs. After hooking up USB, I found that the manual stated not to use it for audio. Now I connected my BNC/BNC Tombo Trøn in parallel. Switching inputs on my Metrum Hex, I couldn't get sound from BNC even though its signal lock light came on. Only once I unplugged the USB cable did I suddenly get sound on BNC. Investigating a bit more, the manual should have specified that out of the three USB ports only the upper one designated 'USB Audio' is to be used for data output. It has "special power circuitry and shielding to prevent noise in the digital signal". The lower two USB 2.0 ports are only for data input like file migration, not listening. Now I switched my USB cable to the proper audio-approved port but still no joy. Whilst Aurender's Charles Kim confirmed that all digital audio outputs were simultaneously live, my DAC couldn't switch between them.

I ran on-the-fly comparisons like this: W20 --> BNC --> Metrum Hex / iMac --> USB --> SOtM --> AES/EBU --> Metrum Hex. The very morning I started my first A/B, both decks cued up to the same tracks, I read that the W20 had won Stereosound's prestigious 2013 prize (shared with the Linn Klimax DS/K, both 15 points) for best music server above ¥1'000'000. The follow-up Playback Design MPS-5 had only managed 8 points, the TAD-D1000 7. With such a decisive victory for the W20—the Linn was slightly costlier still—my expectations were necessarily way up in the clouds. My brain simply felt fried from WiFi radiation, my wife had duly fled our flat for the nearby town of Vevey.

I wasn't impressed when certain input commands on the iPad caused single but pronounced clicks in the W20. This mundane mood persisted for sonics. Whilst they were indeed slightly better than my PureMusic-optimized iMac which proponents of audiophile servers so love to malign, I heard absolutely nothing that'd compel me to trade up. For €15'000 extra (remember that a computer remains necessary to upload new music!), the small sonic difference didn't even factor.

Yet there it was, the difference - not just different but better. My reviewer's job was far from over. To do it properly I simply had to deal with my radiation poisoning first. Thinking it over, I saved a compilation playlist to the W20, then composed the same in my iMac track for track. Before shutting down the iPad completely and disabling the router's WiFi, I also set the Aurender to one-track repeat. Now I could A/B each track in the playlist at length, then use the front-panel back/next controls to do the same for the next track.