The best integrated server
Music Playback and Storage Solution
The CD player aside and concentrating on the streamers at hand, I had a hard time choosing between the Aurender-USB-PWD MKII combo and the Meridian Sooloos combo. The former is more lively and more dynamic, with real slam, power and excitement. It sounds much like a Wadia and it is a familiar sound, one that I like a lot. The latter is more forgiving in nature. Treble is smoother and more gentle, midrange is richer and less shouty and the bass a little thinner, but more nimble and agile. Lastly, the latter combo manages to create an even bigger, more intimate soundfield. I can understand how one well-known English hifi magazine came to the conclusion that Meridian Sooloos sounded slightly rounded or soft. But the same is true of my Levinsons and many other CD players. With many CD's, having a forgiving CD player is no bad thing. Nevertheless, there is a lot to say for the Aurender sounding more accurate. But I'm not hearing any more detail with the Aurender than with the Meridians. It's more about Meridian being more continuous versus the Aurender being more start-stop.
Choosing an overall winner is difficult. Although I am biased towards the Meridian because of its gentle, full, fluid, always-engaging sound, I also enjoyed the heck out of the Aurender-PWD MKII combo. If money was no object then I'd probably keep the Aurender around as an alternative to the Sooloos combo. It seems silly to combine the 6000 euro Aurender with the 5200 euro PWD MKII and not even use the latter's streaming capabilities. But together this is still less than the Meridian combo costs, and it adds so much flexibility that I could almost recommend them as natural partners. Don't forget that the Aurender offers tremendously user-friendly operation, rivalling Sooloos and bettering it in a couple of aspects. This is something that cannot be achieved with a home-made server, not to mention that it probably wouldn't sound as good either.
But I'm sure that there will be other USB DACs that are a good match. The Ayre QB9 for example would likely make for a superbly detailed and open sound. But there are so many USB DACs around and you're bound to find a really good one at under 2500-3000 euro. If you manage to find one that sounds as good as the PWD MKII, then you have a winning combination that challenges the best that Sooloos has to offer for considerably less money.
Now, considering that spdif always seems to take its toll, I'd advocate trying to avoid it if you can and use USB instead, as long as the DAC has a good SUB implementation. This makes me think... if only the Aurender was available in a USB-only version, without the presumably expensive soundcard, and 1000 euro off, then it would be even more irresistible! Hang on - something similar already exists, in the shape of the Aurender A10. It has similar specs but no oven-controlled clock. I'd be curious to find out if it performs just as well as the S10 with USB. For now, the S10 is the best integrated server that I have come across.