Aurender Flow Review V1000 – DAC / Amplifier

Aurender Flow Review

DAPs, Insane DAC/AMP stacks, Desktop Rigs it’s good time to be an audiophile if you are looking for some high-end source components.  One of the symptoms of CD’s dying off was that source music, whether through poor compression or the necessity to squeeze sub-par components into increasingly smaller shells, was harder to find products that could reproduce music in a way that audiophiles demand.   

For years there have been some great high fidelity audiophile headphones on the market and a rather limited supply of quality source components to match them. Storage was an issue, hardware was an issue, and most importantly, user experience was, for the most part, dreadful.  Thankfully, in the past few years, we have seen an emergence in companies looking to tackle these sticking points.  Now though, it’s time for the Aurender Flow Review.  Is it the best desktop audiophile headphone amplifier and DAC we have seen yet?

What is the Aurender Flow V1000?

The Aurender Flow V1000 is essentially a portable, battery-powered (7hrs) Amplifier and DAC Solution aimed at the audiophile headphone market.  The Aurender Flow V1000 is designed to be used with audiophile-grade headphones, and it works with computers, devices (using the camera kits cable), or Android devices by way of OTG cable.  In addition to the functions outlined above, Aurender has come up with the rather clever idea of allowing users to install their own SSD hard drive (For the Aurender Flow Review, I used a 128GB SSD, but up to 1TB is supported) as a way of storing the often large media files that audiophiles are accustomed to owning. 

There is SPDIF (Optical) and USB input plus an output in the way of ¼ inch jack.  The DAC chip is the formidable dual Sabre ESS9018K2M DAC which can hand both 24bit / 192khz and 32bit / 382khz, respectively, and the unit features an OLED information display.  A volume control dial and hardware power, play/pause, menu, and skip buttons adorn the right-hand side, and all the above is put together in a rather unique-looking aluminum body.

Packaging and Accessories

As you would guess, with a product in this price range, the comes very nicely packaged with excellent information and clear styling on the outside.  The box itself is a well-finished, classy black cardboard effort, and when opened, you find the Flow sitting in its custom leather carry case surrounded by its packaging foam insert; it’s very safely packed, so no problems during shipping.  Hidden underneath the Flow is the rather comprehensive and high-quality accessory set, which is as follows:

1x USB3.0 Cable

1x OTG Cable

1x Optical Cable

1x Screwdriver (for installing hard drive)

1x Stereo RCA Cable

1x ¼ Jack to 3.5mm Adapter

I found the accessories to be of excellent quality, and everything you need to get started is included. I plugged it into my Macbook Pro Retina’s USB port, switched my audio output settings to the Dac, and I was up and running in under a minute.

Build Quality & Design

Many folks have been comparing the design cues to that of a washing machine, and to be honest, they’re not at all wrong from head-on. Quite honestly, though on a desk, this thing is still quite a looker with its cool metal exterior.  The OLED display is crisp, bright, and clearly laid out, and the circular dial is smooth as butter when adjusting the volume.  On that point, the wave you see at the bottom of the dial actually has an ergonomic property in that it allows you to rest your hand comfortably on the crest while tuning in the volume to your liking; not a big deal but a nice touch nonetheless.  The buttons on the side are also of excellent quality, and they have a nice solid click to them and are comfortably positioned on the top right-hand side of the Aurender Flow’s body.

One thing that caught me by surprise on first opening the box during the Aurender Flow Review was how heavy the DAC was (and the size somehow looks smaller in pictures).  The weight is nearing half a kilo, so it’s not something I would want to transport unless it was in a bag, but even then, I think it’s best left on a desktop either at work or home as opposed to carting it through airports, etc. 

That’s just personal preference, though, and I know plenty of people willing to carry around a bit of extra bulk for the good sound quality on the go. Compared to one of the other best audiophile DAC and amp units, the OPPO HA-1 is tiny.  Overall, the build quality is absolutely stellar. The Aurender Flow is all-metal with a MacBook grade fit and finish; I really can’t foresee any problems arising from the build.

Sound Quality

During the Aurender Flow Review, I observed the sound being put out is, by all means, exceptional. Testing side by side, I could see no advantage at all of spending the extra money for a Chord Hugo DAC to which many audiophiles will inevitably compare the Aurender Flow with.  Crisp, clear, detailed, and fairly neutral, it extends well at both ends of the spectrum but what will stand out most is just how big the sound is from the Flow.  As usual, we can take a more in-depth look at each area:

Highs – Highs are produced absolutely spot on.  No sibilance but a boatload of extensions that will keep treble heads very happy.  It’s a very detailed performer in the upper region. Nothing gets lost due to two other contributing factors, such as the black background (zero hiss) and high-quality separation between instruments.  Live jazz recordings and even the almighty 1812 Overture were used repeatedly as test tracks, and A/Bing were indiscernible with the Chord Hugo DAC and preferred to the OPPO HA-1 (marginally).

Mids- Again, it’s all about clarity, open sound, and realism.  Nothing I listened to seemed to be tuned, just presented, as it would expect.  Guitars, vocals, strings, you name it, all sounded smooth and clear.  But once again, it’s the background separation and soundstage that push the mids to be exceptionally enjoyable. By this point, it was becoming abundantly clear that the Aurender was going to be a product that did a lot of stuff well that contributes to another area to make an overall enjoyable listening experience.

Lows – Lows are crisp, fast, and punch with excellent decay and again realism.  Especially performing well in stringed instruments, it’s clear that the Aurender amp does an excellent job of not coloring the sound.

Soundstage – The sound that the Aurender puts out on most headphones is just incredible. It’s wide and deep and is maybe the biggest soundstage I have heard from a portable unit.  When paired with my favorite headphones, the Final Audio Pandora Hope VI, the 2 manage to work perfectly together, creating an absolutely mammoth presentation.

The Headphones I used for the Aurender Flow review, in order of preference, were the Final Audio Pandora Hope VI, Sennheiser HD800, and the OPPO PM-2.  All performed admirably and were driven to full capacity without any issue whatsoever.

Comparisons:

Note:  When you get into the top end of things, there’s usually very little I find differentiating SQ in these units (Chord Hugo, OPPO HA-1, Aurender Flow, and others). People profess to hear large & prolific differences, but that is just not true in practice.  You are more likely to see a bigger change in sound from switching your headphones than your DAC and Amplifier.  The big differentiators will be feature sets and User interface implementation.

Aurender Flow V1000 vs. Chord Hugo – Side by side with the Hugo, I am not ashamed to admit that I could hardly distinguish between the 2 units capable of putting forth truly top-end sound.  If you don’t need the extra connectivity and given the Flow’s lower price, I couldn’t see any advantage of grabbing the Chord. I’m reviewing the Hugo as well right now, and I have a hard time justifying it when it essentially does the same for far more money.  Hugo’s battery life was about 5hrs longer in real-world use, but it doesn’t have the SSD capacity, Volume knob, or Screen.

Overall Winner:  Flow

Aurender Flow V1000 vs. Oppo HA-1 – The sound on both is yet again excellent, with the Oppo being tuned slightly towards a more consumer sound (which can be a good thing) being a little bit warmer and richer.  The Oppo’s connectivity is incredible and can be used as a stereo preamp, and has a really tricked-out interface and remote function. Still, you pay the price with size and lack of portability.  It’s apples and oranges here.

Overall Winner:  Tie

Aurender Flow vs. Audioquest Dragonfly V1.2 – The Aurender takes it in the sound offering up a little better everything and a lot bigger soundstage.  In drivability terms, the flow wins, and the fact that the Flow can be used as a mass storage unit for your music and having multiple connectivity options makes it the winner by quite a margin.  The Audioquest Dragonfly cannot be beaten if its high sound quality is extremely portable, though I use it with my phone when on the go.

Overall Winner:  Flow

Summary

During the Aurender Flow review, I have been massively impressed.  The company has come from relative obscurity in the audiophile world to produce a portable DAC and amplifier, which I am sure about to light fire.  The Chord Hugo set the path last year for this sort of product, but Aurender has made something that sounds every bit as impressive, massively undercuts the former’s price by around $1000, and offers up what I find a more useful feature set.

The sound is excellent, matching many other larger high-end units, and the decision to include a slot for SSD up to 1TB is genius, especially in a world of paltry drives included with laptops.  Battery life might not be the greatest at just 7 hours, but it’s more than likely that you will be using the unit near a power source anyway as the size is just on the side of restrictive for pocketable use. 

All in its testament to the reality that high-end portable audio is growing fast, and after a fair amount of years living with limited options in portable source components, we are in the midst of a golden age.

Audiophile Onhttp://www.audiophileon.com
Audiophile On is a website dedicated to high-end audio products. With over 15 years as a reviewer, all articles are hand-written by one person to allow the comparison of products. Headphones, earphones, speakers, amplifiers, or DAC's we cover here.

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