Disclaimer: Aurender sent this review sample to me for the purposes of this review. The FLOW goes for 1295$.
FLOW though it may be dubbed, the V1000 is in no way a smooth-operator. Sure, it plugs and plays with a variety of equipment, and it is natively compatible with all your digital formats. And, if its batteries are properly topped up, and you have a camera connection kit, it works flawlessly with iDevices. Hell yeah, it’s effing awesome!
But in no way is it a smooth-operator. Merely changing its digital filter can be sort of like putting HAL9000 to sleep.
The skimpy user guide is woefully inadequate for a device whose operation isn’t immediately clear. And the on-screen prompts are head-scratchers. The FLOW is capable. Totally. Check out the FLOW English manual page to see what it can do. You’re a damned fool to not.
I’m a fool. I waited about a week before heading to the English-language manual. I was just happy that Aurender spent time and money on getting their photos sparkly.
That meant that I missed most of the cool stuff of which the Aurender FLOW is capable. One of the coolest things is its packing an interface to mSATA hard disks. Yep, if you’re handy with a screw driver (and Aurender include a very nice one), you can pack something like 1TB inside the FLOW’s cola-machine body, which means you can have access to ALL of your tunes, no matter whose computer you steal.
Of course, you’ll still be limited to optical or USB input. Where’s coaxial input? No clue. At least both input options are plug and play. Better yet, the controls: play/pause, track forward, and track back work pretty well with iTunes, somewhat well with Audirvana, and flawlessly with an iPhone. Pretty damn cool.
What’s not cool is this: track forward (at least judging by the directional carrot on the play/pause button) actually tracks backward. And track backward actually tracks forward. That’s an error that shouldn’t have left the factory. At least it’s better than HiSound’s famous swapping of L/R channels in the Rocco.
HAL9000’s big round eye is actually a digital volume control. Aurender call it Velocity Sensitive Volume & Playback Control. I call it a twirly knob. It twirls. Volume changes. Certain options can be adjusted. It’s neither smooth, nor does it really speed up operation depending on how fast you twirl it. The marketers pulled a fast one on us.
The PCM and DSD digital filters sort of turn the FLOW into several differently-flavoured DACs at once. My favorite setting? PCM0, a fast roll-off that attenuates highs well before 20kHz.
Aurender reckon you’ll get 7 hours from a single charge. I reckon that number is closer to 5, or 6 hours, and it depends on so many things. You can leave the FLOW in one of three charging modes: no charge, charge all the time, and charge only when not playing music. To get all functionality from the FLOW, you’ll need a funky Nikon D800-style USB cable. It’s a horribly ugly, horribly kinky cable, in no way fitting for an otherwise handsome body which I keep expecting to welcome me to a game of chess before killing Frank Poole.
Incidentally, the included screwdriver is awesome. It’s a Vessel, from good ol’ Japan. It’s magnetized, and has a great grip. It perfectly matches any muscular torque, and has a strong tip. Why is this a feature? Well, every idiot has a plus-driver in her house. If a company just has to Ikea a tool with your latest audio purchase, at least make it one you don’t want to toss. And this driver is the type of driver you’d go out to buy. Yep.
By the way, if you want to see what it looks like with the Synergistic Research HOT attached, check this out.
Package and Accessories
I’ve been having a hard time deciding where to start. For one, the bloody box: a cardboard slip, a hard-shell cardboard box in two pieces, form-fitting hard-core foam package inserts, and how they all fit, is perfect. Remember Hidizs’s awesome AP100 DAP? Remember how it was packaged in a self-destructing mess of cardboard and paint chips?
FLOW comes wrapped in what I feel is a benchmark. It is done so well I’m afraid all DACs, amps, and more I review from now will have to stand up to it. That is, until it comes to the non-screwdriver accessories, which are rather cheap. They are: USB cable, micro-micro USB cable, the aforementioned USB3 cable, toslink cable, 6,3mm-to-RCA cable. The worst is the pleather pleather carrying case which for some reason don’t got ports for any of the FLOW’s ins or outs. That means that you have to take your 1300$ DAC out of its only protective covering in order to use it.
Seriously, a protective case should have holes that make it usable whilst out and about. Or, if it ain’t gonna have holes, it should be made of real, Italian leather by a real Italian. At least there are four silicon feet at the bottom to protect the FLOW, and your desk, one from the other.
While this section has me singing bittersweet, let me say this: Aurender could have done much, much, much worse. And other companies could do much, much, much better. Most don’t go as far as Aurender have done. They make you feel that what you bought is somehow unimportant to both the maker, and to you.
Sound and performance impressions after the jump: