Digibit

REFERENCE MUSIC SERVERS - the ONLY Music Server to support an UNLIMITED NUMBER of EXTENDED METADATA FIELDS making it Ideal for SEARCHING CLASSICAL & JAZZ etc music files - from Spain
Sometimes Dreams Come True

Leading Computer Audio: Our goal is to provide the great music lovers without computer skills all the advantages that bring digital music technologies.

Introduced to the US at the 2014 AXPONA audio show, the DigiBit Aria, made in Spain, has several features that distinguish it from other music servers. Although its most immediately noticeable feature is its appearance -- its case appears to be an untidy pile of aluminium plates -- its true distinction is its software. Most server software lets you display recordings by album title, or by the name of the recording artist. While that works for rock or pop, it makes it hard to navigate large collections of classical recordings.

A typical classical album can be characterised by the composer of the music, the names of the individual singers or instrumentalists, the name of the conductor, or the name of the ensemble. If the work is an opera or oratorio, you have the names of the vocal soloists -- sometimes many, any of whom may be the item of chief interest to the listener, as may be the name of the choral group. You might also want to sort a collection by period: early music, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, modern -- or by solo instrument: piano, violin, cello, etc. Vanishingly few server programs offer enough metadata fields to let you manage a classical collection. To a lesser extent, jazz recordings are also poorly served. The designers of the Aria’s library-management software have made a worthy effort to meet the needs of the serious classical collector.

SOUNDSTAGE - Vade Forrester reviewers comment:
I’ve tried many other servers, and have never encountered one so easy to get up and running. But that would be of only academic interest if the Aria didn’t sound good, and it sounds splendid -- its built-in DAC is especially good. And the Aria looks as good as it sounds. For me, the Aria’s features easily justify its cost. It gets my highest recommendation, and is a Reviewers’ Choice.

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AR 02 MS PIC2H D
NZ$ 4,495.01 ea (incl. GST)
• Easy to use - just open your tablet and start playing music• 100% silent operation• 2TB (HDD)...
Introduced at Hi-End Munich in 2013, aria are a family of music servers designed for people for...
AR 11 MS AR 2S
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 3,900.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 8,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 5,095.01 (incl. GST)
Digibit's awesome Aria Music Server is supplied with 2TB SSD hard drive.  also available extra are optional internal DA converter and an External Linerarem Power Supply LPSU. The Aria is a...
Solid aluminium chassis without fanInternal stirage in this version - 2TB (SSD)Absolutely quiet...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Introduced to the US at the 2014 AXPONA audio show, the DigiBit Aria, made in...
AR 14 MA AR 2SP
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Digibit's awesome Aria Music Server is available with 4TB HDD or 2TB SSD hard drive.  also available an optional internal DA converter and an External Linerarem Power Supply LPSU. The Aria is a...
Solid aluminium chassis without fanInternal Storage on this version - 2TB SSD (4TB HDD optional)...
AR 15 MS AR 2SPD
NZ$ 10,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Digibit's awesome Aria Music Server is available with 4TB HDD or 2TB SSD hard drive.  also available an optional internal DA converter and an External Linerarem Power Supply LPSU. The Aria is a...
Solid aluminium chassis without fanInternal Storage 2TB-SSD sipplied or  4TB-HDD...
AR 17 MS CDROBOT
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
RIP YOUR CD COLLECTION SUPER FAST:  The CD-Robot you can easily self and super fast can rip your CD music collection without the CD must be inserted sequentially into the PC or Music Server. The...

Reviews

The Aria’s extended treble let me hear more detail from the percussion instruments than I’d ever heard. .....at the other end of the audioband, the Aria delivered extended bass and impact from the subterranean bass drum. I can’t remember having heard this
Vade Forrester
REVIEW SUMMARY: Bottom line - DigiBit’s Aria music server has three compelling features: 1) it’s remarkably easy to set up, 2) its software is refreshingly friendly to classical music, and 3) except to download audio files and gather metadata, you don’t need a computer. it’s hardly cheap, but DigiBit has other options that bring at least some of the Aria’s features to a lower price level: The Aria Mini looks like an iPad stand; and DigiBit’s kit of expansion boards that fit inside an Oppo BDP-105 or BDP-105D universal Blu-ray player can convert those players into servers using Oppo’s built-in DAC. I haven’t tried those, but they sound interesting. 

I’ve tried many other servers, and have never encountered one so easy to get up and running. But that would be of only academic interest if the Aria didn’t sound good, and it sounds splendid -- its built-in DAC is especially good. And the Aria looks as good as it sounds. For me, the Aria’s features easily justify its cost. It gets my highest recommendation, and is a Reviewers’ Choice.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Introduced to the US at the 2014 AXPONA audio show, the DigiBit Aria, made in Spain, has several features that distinguish it from other music servers. Although its most immediately noticeable feature is its appearance -- its case appears to be an untidy pile of aluminium plates -- its true distinction is its software. Most server software lets you display recordings by album title, or by the name of the recording artist. While that works for rock or pop, it makes it hard to navigate large collections of classical recordings.

A typical classical album can be characterised by the composer of the music, the names of the individual singers or instrumentalists, the name of the conductor, or the name of the ensemble. If the work is an opera or oratorio, you have the names of the vocal soloists -- sometimes many, any of whom may be the item of chief interest to the listener, as may be the name of the choral group. You might also want to sort a collection by period: early music, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, modern -- or by solo instrument: piano, violin, cello, etc. Vanishingly few server programs offer enough metadata fields to let you manage a classical collection. To a lesser extent, jazz recordings are also poorly served. The designers of the Aria’s library-management software have made a worthy effort to meet the needs of the serious classical collector.

The Aria’s can come as a base unit with no internal DAC or storage and with the standard power supply. The review sample came with a 2TB hard-disk drive, the optional linear power supply, and the internal DAC. The most expensive option replaces the hard drive with a 2TB solid-state drive. 

The server plays PCM files of up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution, and DSD128 files, as well as DXD (32/352.8). The PCM file formats supported are WAV, AIFF, FLAC, and ALAC -- all of the commercially available files of interest to audiophiles as of this writing. DSD256 files have begun to appear -- but if you download one, I hope you have a fast Internet connection. Playback of all files is bit perfect, which these days we take for granted. The Aria reads files into its memory before playing them, which should minimise jitter.

The Aria measures 16.8"W x 2.5"H x 14"D and weighs 26.4 pounds. Its striking case, made of precision-machined plates of 6mm-thick aluminium (silver finish only), was designed by Ochoa y Diaz-Llanos, a well-known European design house. The fanless Aria is completely silent during playback.

Have you ripped all of your CDs to your hard drive? I haven’t -- too many CDs, too little industriousness. The Aria understands, and makes ripping as easy as possible: Insert a CD in the industrial TEAC optical drive, and the Aria automatically rips its contents to its own internal hard drive as FLAC files, and saves metadata about the recording it’s found on the Internet. When it’s finished, it spits out the CD. I don’t know how ripping could be much easier. The dealer can reset the ripping software to produce other PCM formats, though DigiBit cautions that the WAV files don’t and can’t include metadata, which would negate the Aria’s advanced handling of classical-music information.

The Aria software comes with 18 metadata fields that you can use to describe your recordings; you can add as many other fields as you wish, or delete any you don’t need. Be aware that most CD-ripping programs and most download sites probably won’t automatically fill in these fields for you. The Aria’s ripping program does populate those fields as best it can, and it did a pretty good job. It has access to the AccurateRip database used by dBpoweramp, and the premium databases AMG, freedb, GD3, MusicBrainz, and SonataDB (Classical) -- you’ll have a hard time finding a CD the Aria won’t recognize. You may recognize some of those databases as commercial, but worry not -- the Aria comes with licenses for their use.

The Aria’s all-important free control app, iAria, runs on iPads and iPad Minis. Apps for other platforms are in development. Since iAria is the only way to view recordings stored on the Aria, it needs to -- and does -- show all metadata fields, including custom fields. iAria includes an onscreen tagging tool with which you can edit metadata from your listening chair. Most programs offer minimal tagging support, and that only from the main computer. If you’ve had problems with other servers’ remote-control apps establishing contact with their servers, iAria is said to be effortless: just download it from Apple’s App Store, start it up, and it should automatically contact the Aria server. In other words, it’s plug-and-play, which should be the norm; in my experience, such ease is unique to the Aria.

I thought the iAria app looked very familiar, and then it dawned on me -- it’s a version of JRemote, the remote-control app for JRiver Media Center, the server software I use on my laptop. That flattened the learning curve. iAria differs from JRemote in some ways -- for example, a command to delete a file from the hard drive, which JRemote lacks -- but more important, iAria just works. Unlike some remote apps I’ve used with certain other servers, you don’t have to poke a control several times for it to work.

On the rear panel of Arias that lack the internal DAC are the digital outputs: coax RCA and BNC, XLR, USB, and I2S. There’s no official I2S interface standard, but DigiBit and several other manufacturers use RJ-45 jacks. There’s also a standard IEC inlet for the power cable. Arias that include the internal DAC have only a USB output. The Aria’s internal operating system is Windows Server 2011, so you’ll need a driver for your DAC.

The black front panel is pretty simple: on the right are the drawer of the optical drive and an eject button. On the left is an on/off button. A blue light tells you that the Aria is on. A small window to the left of the disc drawer shows the type of input (PCM or DSD) and the sampling rate. That’s it -- all other controls are on the iAria app.

The thick top panel is engraved “Aria.” On the bottom are four feet that look capable of absorbing vibrations. Also on the bottom panel is the serial number, which you’ll need if you ever need technical support, which is provided remotely from Spain. The serial number lets tech support find your Aria via the Internet.

I like the part of the warranty that reads “full support and after sales service.” So many manufacturers apparently think their customers have degrees in computer science; it’s refreshing to see one that recognises that its customers might need some help.

Setup and use

The compact Aria slid easily onto a shelf on my equipment rack. I connected it to my PS Audio DirectStream DAC with a Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB 2.0 cable. The DAC output was connected to an Audio Research SP20 preamp via Clarity Cables Organic unbalanced interconnects. A Clarity Cables Vortex power cord provided the Aria with AC.

Installing iAria on my iPad 3 was easy and straightforward -- just like every other app I’ve used. However, except for the downloading of high-resolution audio files, and connection to a network for Internet access to retrieve metadata for its rips, the Aria is unlike every other server I’ve used in not requiring an external computer. Many audiophiles still lack computer skills; the Aria should eliminate their objections to computer audio. Essentially, iAria does everything a computer would do.

I copied music files from a USB flash drive by plugging it into the USB input (labeled HDD) on the Aria’s rear panel, and used iAria to manage the copying. DigiBit warns against using portable hard-disk drives -- the Aria may not provide enough power to run a portable hard drive, but it shouldn’t (and didn’t) have a problem with a flash drive. You can listen to music through the Aria while copying music files to its hard drive; I did, and could hear no degradation.

To avoid filling up the Aria’s internal drive, you can link the contents of an attached USB or NAS drive to the Aria’s library, and iAria will display those albums as if they were stored on the Aria (though it doesn’t copy the music to the Aria’s drive). I couldn’t distinguish music recordings merely linked to the Aria from those actually stored on its internal drive. You can use iAria to delete files from the hard drive, or to unlink albums, in case you remove an external USB or NAS drive.

Albums are added to the Aria’s library one at a time. If you’re adding a lot of music at once, such as the contents of a new NAS, that can be tedious. For example, I have nearly 400 albums on my NAS; adding them individually would be a royal pain.

The Aria comes with a lengthy user manual and a single-page installation guide. The latter is a model for such documents, well illustrated and easy to understand. I’ve had experience with several music servers, and can attest that getting them up and running can range from straightforward to incredibly hard. I’m dumbfounded by how much expertise some manufacturers expect from their users. Maybe dealers do all the setup work for customers, but doggone few do so for reviewers -- go figure.

It took me about ten minutes to connect the Aria and play music. That’s amazing. Often, it takes hours of futzing around with the app and getting the settings just right before being rewarded with music. The Aria essentially set itself up -- there were even some sample recordings preloaded on the hard drive, so I didn’t have to wait to hear music. The fact that iAria only has to work with Aria servers eliminates a lot of setup options.

After cleaning several CDs with my fave cleaning system, Essence of Music, I ripped them to the Aria. Each disc only took two to four minutes to rip, then another one or two minutes to index, or retrieve metadata from the Internet. Sure enough, the promised, expanded metadata were available in the Aria’s database. Amazing! The Aria’s database has fields for album title, artist, genre, period, instrument, style, composer, conductor, orchestra, soloists, label, and sample rates. While ripped CDs had all the information shown in these fields, CDs ripped using other programs, and downloads, didn’t have all those fields. You can insert this information manually, but it’s a lot of work. DigiBit is working on a program called Auto Tag, which will go through your collection and fill in the missing fields, but that’s not yet available. You can use the Aria to play music while ripping CDs to it, but you probably wouldn’t want to; the CD drive is pretty noisy.

Manufacturers’ recommendations for break-in are usually the very minimum needed for best sound, so I try to follow them -- I figure they know their equipment. DigiBit recommends 350-400 hours of break-in for the Aria, so that’s what I gave it.

Since the review sample had an internal DAC, its only digital output was a USB port. With the help of DigiBit’s tech support, I was able to use both my PS Audio DirectStream DAC and the Aria’s DAC, using iAria to switch between them by changing Zones (which is what DigiBit calls the Aria’s output sections). DigiBit had to install in the Aria the appropriate Windows driver for the PS Audio, which they did from Spain via the Internet. We indeed live in a global society. I had another chance to experience DigiBit’s excellent tech support when I had a problem with how iAria displayed the music stored on my NAS when linking music over the network. In two days, the DigiBit folks developed a software modification and downloaded it to the review sample. I wish all manufacturers were as responsive.

Sound

I evaluated the DigiBit Aria with its own internal DAC and with my PS Audio DirectStream DAC. I expect that most people who might buy the relatively expensive Aria would already have a DAC, but there are times -- such as when shelf space in an equipment rack is limited -- when a built-in DAC would be preferable.

I ran my evaluation of the Aria’s internal DAC twice. The first time, the Aria had had perhaps 300 hours of break-in; the second, around 400 hours. After the first session, my notes boiled down to, essentially, “bright with attenuated bass.” After another 100 hours, the sound was very different. The comments that follow reflect what I heard in the later session.

Listening to “Spanish Harlem,” from Rebecca Pidgeon’s The Raven (24-bit/176.4kHz FLAC, Chesky), I heard a very open sound, with detailed enunciation from the singer. I fancied I could visualise how Pidgeon vocalised each syllable. Bass extended fairly deep on the first track, “Kalerka,” with excellent detail. As usual, the recording was squeaky-clean -- not analytic, just free from distortion.

Reference Recordings’ new sublabel, Fresh!, has issued recordings of Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 and Janáček’s Symphonic Suite from Jenůfa, with Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (DSD64/DSF, Fresh!). It sounded splendidly open and bright, with lots of instrumental and harmonic detail, and hard-hitting orchestral climaxes. The Aria’s DAC was clearly capable of reproducing lots of information from this DSD64 recording -- when the PSO reached a climax, the Aria conveyed the full measure of excitement. Only Honeck’s fondness for exaggerated tempos in the last movement of the Dvořák keeps this performance from topping my list of favourite recordings of the work. It’s great to have the PSO recording again, especially in such good sound.

Folia Rodrigo Martinez, from La Folia 1490-1701, by Jordi Savall and his ensemble (16/44.1 AIFF, Alia Vox), displayed sharp leading-edge transients when the opening cascabels (sleigh bells) were sharply struck. The Aria’s extended treble let me hear more detail from the percussion instruments than I’d ever heard. They play continually in the background but are usually buried in the mix; the Aria kept them audible throughout the piece and revealed the ebb and flow of their microdynamics, all of it adding to the excitement of this performance. At the other end of the audioband, the Aria delivered extended bass and impact from the subterranean bass drum. I can’t remember having heard this recording sound better.

Another old fave, Allegri’s Miserere, performed by the Tallis Scholars (24/96 FLAC, Gimell), exhibited a huge soundstage, with good portrayal of the depth of the recording venue. The small group of soloists well behind the main chorus had excellent detail; the reverberant field that tells us that the two groups are physically separate was present, but not over emphasized, as it is with some components. The voices sounded a bit bright, but not peaky.

Comparison

I compared the sound of the Aria and its internal DAC with the Aria feeding an external DAC, and with a different music server and DAC.

My usual reference server is JRiver’s Media Center 20 software, which runs on my Hewlett-Packard dv7-3188cl laptop computer, connected to my PS Audio DAC with a Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB cable. Files were stored on the same QNAP NAS used by the Aria. Unlike with the Aria, which must be connected by an Ethernet cable to my home network, I streamed files wirelessly to the laptop, using JRiver’s JRemote iPad app to remotely control Media Center. Media Center’s metadata fields are limited to album name, artist, and genre (though JRemote adds a composer field).

The bass of Folia Rodrigo Martinez extended just a smidgen deeper, but with a smidgen less impact. Although plainly audible throughout the piece, the wood blocks were now just a little less emphasized than through the Aria and its built-in DAC. By a small margin, JRiver seemed to throw a wider, more open soundstage.

Allegri’s Miserere sounded a little less bright through JRiver. The sense of depth was depicted similarly: neither server produced the smear that often occurs when the more distant group sings, only a bit of the echo generated as the sounds of their voices make their way to the microphones.

With the Aria’s USB output connected to the PS Audio’s USB input with the same Wireworld cable, the sound was similar to that of the JRiver laptop server. That shouldn’t be a surprise -- the Aria uses a proprietary version of the JRiver software, and was connected to the same DAC using the same cable. The sounds weren’t identical -- the laptop had more detail and resolution -- but the Aria’s USB output had had much less break-in time. Since I couldn’t simultaneously use the outputs of the Aria’s internal DAC and USB, I spent most of the time using the Aria’s built-in DAC. I’d probably played the Aria’s USB output less than 50 hours, and have already described the considerable difference that breaking in the internal DAC made. I suspect that, with more break-in, the Aria’s USB output might have sounded better.

I was surprised at how good the Aria’s internal DAC sounded -- PS Audio’s DirectStream DAC costs nearly six times as much as the Aria’s DAC, and I had found the PS Audio to be a top performer. While I very slightly preferred the PS Audio for its slightly flatter-sounding highs, the Aria came very close to it -- which makes it by far the better value.

Bottom line

DigiBit’s Aria music server has three compelling features: 1) it’s remarkably easy to set up, 2) its software is refreshingly friendly to classical music, and 3) except to download audio files and gather metadata, you don’t need a computer. it’s hardly cheap, but DigiBit has other options that bring at least some of the Aria’s features to a lower price level: The Aria Mini looks like an iPad stand; and DigiBit’s kit of expansion boards that fit inside an Oppo BDP-105 or BDP-105D universal Blu-ray player can convert those players into servers using Oppo’s built-in DAC. I haven’t tried those, but they sound interesting.

I’ve tried many other servers, and have never encountered one so easy to get up and running. But that would be of only academic interest if the Aria didn’t sound good, and it sounds splendid -- its built-in DAC is especially good. And the Aria looks as good as it sounds. For me, the Aria’s features easily justify its cost. It gets my highest recommendation, and is a Reviewers’ Choice.

. . . Vade Forrester

As a way to add flexibility to a system, multi-room capabilities, and some backup and redundancy to one’s music collection, the Aria Mini would certainly meet my needs..... the Aria Mini got closer than most
Steve Dickinson

This suggests to me there is no clear-cut ‘winner’ in a straight fight between CD-quality and high-resolution audio. In my opinion, the best works on a case-by-case basis. This also suggests the Aria Mini is capable of genuinely excellent performance, and to my mind it comes substantially closer to the sound quality I can get from my high-end CD player than any other computer audio system I’ve yet tried. And this was with the standard-issue wall-wart power supply. (upgradeale to bring even better quality)

If you’re new to music servers, as I am, then I commend to you the DigiBit Aria Mini. Partly, that’s performance based, of course, but a goodly chunk of my approval stems from the fact that setting it up is barely any more taxing than it is for a conventional CD player. 

The Aria Mini, junior sibling to the Aria, offers a significant percentage of the bigger product’s performance. DigiBit has eschewed the Aria’s fancy, and weighty, casework in favour of an unconventional, upright case of interesting, asymmetric profile (it looks a bit like one of those awards big companies will give out to the Southern Regional Salesperson of the Year). It also doubles as a place to rest your iPad, which you’ll be needing to control the unit. DigiBit has made some other savings in shrinking down the Aria – most notably the use of a wall-wart switch-mode power supply and fewer outputs – but the electronics hardware, and software remains pretty much the same for both units.

On opening the box, the first thing a new owner sees is a roughly A3-sized sheet of printed card with basic setup instructions. The legend “Enjoy music in a few minutes!” is the encouraging opening line, followed by  a clear step-by-step guide. As a long term Windows PC user, you will imagine my scepticism that this could possibly go to plan, and my consequent surprise when it did exactly that. I estimate that from unpacking the unit to hearing music took me perhaps 10 minutes, and every stage of the quick setup guide worked exactly as described.

Technically speaking, the unit comprises a low power consumption, industrial-grade motherboard, and features a Windows operating system that has been stripped back to essentials to minimise disruption to sound quality from extraneous processes. There is an onboard DAC capable of handling PCM to 384kHz at resolutions up to 32 bits, or DSD 64 to 128, outputting analogue via conventional phono connectors, or a USB digital output to an off-board DAC of your choice. The review unit contained a 2TB hard disk drive, but a 1TB solid-state disk is an option. The chaps from DigiBit pre-populate the disk with a small selection of music, mainly to help get you started straight out of the box, but ripping your own music is obviously the order of the day. 

Streaming from an external NAS drive or from online sources is available via the LAN connection, which you’ll also need to connect to the Internet for control of the Aria Mini, and to download metadata for your ripped disks. The unit also supports Apple Airplay, and streams quite happily via the ubiquitous iPad.

The Aria Mini doesn’t have an inbuilt optical drive, so ripping discs requires the use of an external USB drive. This is optional, but a small Asus DVD unit is recommended and was shipped with the review sample. The power supply is also external, and in this case a wall-wart; a linear power supply, as fitted internally to the Aria, is said be expected soon, as an optional upgrade.

Like setup, ripping was a doddle, and can be done in the background while listening to stored or streamed music. A typical CD takes perhaps five minutes to rip; the drive starts automatically when you load a disc and spits it back out again when finished. Having ripped the disc, the Aria automatically searches various online databases depending on the genre of music being ripped, downloads the cover art and other metadata (at no cost to the user), and presents you with the finished article in your music library. I only managed to flummox the unit once: the Graham Fitkin album Flak [Factory ] ripped without any problems, but the Aria Mini failed to locate the cover art or metadata, presenting me with just an icon in my music library. The album plays just fine, the track listing is correct, and I could easily manually add artwork and metadata. The metadata can be edited and extended, custom fields added as the user chooses, and these can be used to categorise and catalogue your music collection. Track data can also be edited. The Aria rips to FLAC by default, and cleverly can be set to output hi-res files down-sampled to whatever your DAC can handle if needs be. The stored music is presented in various different ways, sorted by metadata fields such as artist, album, genre, composer, period, or bit rate. DigiBit’s first great success was the Sonata music server program, which is commonly considered to be the best system for those of us who listen to a lot of classical music, thanks to its enlightened metadata wrangling and search facilities. It’s clear that the company has classical enthusiast’s interests at heart, and that is enough to endear the DigiBit Aria Mini to many still clinging to their CD collections.

The unit also supports multi-room playing. You can have various zones each playing different music simultaneously. This isn’t something my home is equipped to test with any rigour, but streaming one file to my iPad while playing another through the system was trivially easy.

So, how does it sound? 

Straight out of the box, via its own DAC and into my Focal 1028Be’s via Albarry’s preamp and M1108 monoblocs, it sounded very good indeed. Fundamentally, the music played through the Aria Mini has vitality, decent dynamics, and timing. It majors on clarity rather than body and substance. Fitkin’s Flak is a powerful and rhythmically complex piece for two pianos and through the Aria Mini’s own DAC it is entertaining, although the pianos are a little harder and more aggressive in tone, and there is less sense of energy in the louder passages (they are merely louder compared to my reference point). This, it must be said, is an unfair comparison, because that reference point is a dCS Puccini CD player with its own U-Clock: a dedicated CD/SACD player that is considered one of the best in the business. You could also buy seven Aria Minis for the cost of one Puccini/U-Clock combination, so it should be better, but what impresses about the Aria Mini is how much of the core of the music is retained even in comparison. The rhythmic complexity is well portrayed on the Aria Mini, even if the subtle timing cues, and the way the two parts work together and against each other, is rather glossed-over.

What’s more, I think a lot of the sonic gap between these two devices falls to the on-board DAC on the Aria Mini. This allows some considerable room for improvement, where if the server part of the deal hobbled the player, improvement would be fairly limited. Another track from the same Flak album, the imaginatively-titled ‘Piano Piece Early 89’, relies on a series of chord progressions which never quite resolve as the listener expects. This piece is all about delayed gratification and the build up of expectation, so that when it does finally resolve, the rewards for the listener are magnified. This is not teased out as well by the Aria’s DAC and the music makes less sense as a result.

The onboard DAC and output stage is certainly good enough to make differences between 16/44.1 PCM and higher resolution files abundantly clear, but the extra resolution and body in the hi-res files cry out for a better DAC (which is an option you can add anytime using the USB output in the future if desired).

It was time to try the Aria Mini via USB to an off-board DAC, so I connected it to the Puccini’s DAC via the asynchronous USB input on the U-Clock. The sound quality was immediately significantly elevated. The dCS’ familiar agility, detail, and texture was there, and timing had that ‘locked together’ feel that I think dCS does so well. All of which is entirely expected, of course.

Except that it’s not quite that simple. I tried various USB cables, from freebies (briefly!), through mid-priced Nordost Blue Heaven, which gave very good results, before eventually settling on the excellent £500 Linus cable from The Digital Music Box. This exercise got me progressively closer still to the performance I’d expect from the Puccini player. Ultimately, I preferred the sound of a CD played live through the Puccini’s own transport to the ripped versions of the same on the Aria Mini, but the differences weren’t quite as massive as the price differential between them might imply.

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ from The Bad Plus album These are the vistas [Columbia] was, when played directly from CD, more purposeful, with more drive, energy and emphasis, particularly from the bass and percussion. The ripped file was a touch aimless in comparison, bass and percussion not being quite as ‘locked-in’ to the music. And, to the extent that any Bad Plus track can be accused of having a tune, the rip was not as tuneful as the CD. At the opposite end of the jazz spectrum, the more contemplative tones of the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble in ‘The Swirl’ from Restored Returned [ECM ] was sinuous, the vocal was intimate, dark and almost conspiratorial, there was a strong sense of intrigue – a very noir vibe.

Comparing hi-res files against ripped Red Book CD on the Aria, I found that with the hi-res files, there was a greater sense of solidity and definition to instruments and performers, which tend to coalesce into their own space more distinctly. This happened whether listening via the Aria’s own DAC, or through the dCS Puccini at 24/96 resolution (I haven’t upgraded my dCS Puccini for DoP replay yet). But again, it’s not quite as simple as you might expect.

Interestingly, I found the difference between high-res downloads through the Aria Mini and the CD played through the dCS to be less than clear cut. Diana Krall’s ‘Lets fall in love’ from When I Look Into Your Eyes [Verve] was, through the hi-res (20/96) file, blessed with creamy smooth vocals, but cursed with a subtle impression that things had been airbrushed. No surprise that many dismiss the delectable Ms. Krall as easy listening… The CD had more swing, snap, and flair, with more texture to the vocals, and the piano playing was much more nuanced and expressive. Similarly, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss ‘Killing the blues’ from Raising Sand [Rounder Records ] gave, via CD, more sense of how the two voices work together. The bass had more weight and solidity and the overall impression was of a more tuneful rendition, while the hi-res file was, in comparison, not really conveying how the two singers modulate their voices to work in partnership. Conversely, a 24 / 88 file of Billy Joel’s ‘An Innocent Man’ was more solid and convincing than the CD, with more ‘snap’ to the finger clicks and the harmonics played on guitar were more subtle.

This suggests to me there is no clear-cut ‘winner’ in a straight fight between CD-quality and high-resolution audio. In my opinion, the best works on a case-by-case basis. This also suggests the Aria Mini is capable of genuinely excellent performance, and to my mind it comes substantially closer to the sound quality I can get from my high-end CD player than any other computer audio system I’ve yet tried. And this was with the standard-issue wall-wart power supply.

Late in the proceedings, a development linear PSU arrived and I had the opportunity to replace the standard switch-mode PSU for a few days’ listening. This had a significant and positive effect on performance, bringing a greater sense of ease and naturalness to the proceedings. It will not make the difference between ‘like’ and ‘not like’, but it does turn ‘like’ into ‘like a lot’. It looks likely to be available quite soon as an extra cost option on Aria Minis and I’d urge purchasers to try it as it does raise the Mini’s game quite usefully.

In conclusion, then, I really liked the Aria Mini, for its ease of setup, the simplicity and efficiency of the ripping process, and the simple, flexible, and intuitive user interface. The abilities of the onboard DAC are good, on a par with a respectable CD player, but to really get the best out of it an external high quality DAC is going to be necessary. Doing that, the sound quality is elevated much closer to the potential of whatever DAC you’re using. While there is still something which holds back ultimate performance, in musical terms, compared to a CD played through a first class player, in a more price-sensitive context, the Aria Mini fares very well.

As a way to add flexibility to a system, multi-room capabilities, and some backup and redundancy to one’s music collection, the Aria Mini would certainly meet my needs. I may be a bit of a Luddite in still preferring CD, but the Aria Mini got closer than most, and I don’t see any obvious gaps to the Aria Mini’s portfolio and I’d be very happy to use one. I suspect most people would feel the same
........Steve Dickinson

The wide varieties of search parameters alone are unlike any other system currently known.
Introduced at Hi-End Munich in 2013, aria are a family of music servers designed for people for whom a powerful and easy-to-use music library management tool is crucial.  “aria servers series are the only ones on the market to support an unlimited number of extended metadata fields for any music genre” the company’s most recent press release tells us. Users can sort and view their music collection in multiple ways such as: albums from the romantic (Period) for piano (Instrument), played by Maurizio Pollini (Soloist).

aria piccolo music server

aria piccolo, is a ripper, streamer, multi-room player and DLNA server which has been designed for budget conscious users and sets a new reference in price/performance ratio for an all-in-one system. It incorporates a fanless design with ultra-low power consumption, so it can always be keep on and ready to play your favourite music. aria piccolo is available in the two storage configurations: 2TB HDD or 1TB SSD, additional capacity can be provided with an external HDD or a NAS. The model can also be specified without DAC or with an internal DAC supporting up to 32bits-384KHz and DSD256.

New for the aria piccolo is the support for Bluetooth 4.0, wifi 802.11.ac and a new semi-custom computer board from intel with a new powerful Celeron processor.

Its external optional DVD-R drive allows fully automatic ripping, providing fast rips and error-free data retrieval. It has “the best metadata retrievals on the market, thanks to automatic access to three premium databases: Rovi, GD3 and SonataDB, and two additional open access databases: FreeDB and Musicbrainz”.  Its optional built-in DAC supports the latest technologies such as DSD256 and up to 32bits-384KHz PCM (DXD) formats provide high resolution audiophile sound quality”.

On the software side, aria mini brings the unique extended metadata fields capability of DigiBit’s music server product line, error-free ripping, bit perfect retrieval, gapless playback and support for the most common digital audio formats: WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, MP3 and AAC.

aria piccolo can play different music programs in different rooms by streaming to Airplay™ and DLNA™ compatible devices. You may also listen your music collection with headphones streamed to your control device. Furthermore, you can stream your favorite internet radio or music services available on your device to the aria piccolo server.

The free multil anguage iOS and Android apps that controls aria are extremely easy to use and very powerful with unique music library views, playlists management, intelligent search engine and tagging capability. The wide varieties of search parameters alone are unlike any other system currently known.

We shall miss it when it’s gone.

REVIEW SUMMARY: Flawless and intuitive operation, highly intelligent networking, a solution for high-res storage, ripping CDs, and serving all that music in a great many ways, simultaneously if necessary. 

And if you already have a good DAC, standalone or in an amp, then the DAC-less Aria Piccolo looks a particularly attractive option. We shall miss it when it’s gone.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The CD may be sliding slowly away into a silvery grave, but what of the collections we have amassed since its arrival 30 years ago — all that music, all those discs in the attic, their pits slowly rotting, is it all to be lost? Of course not. Music fans the world over have spent the last decade ripping those discs into computers for playing direct from file, and loading onto smartphones. With music downloads also spiralling southward as people switch to subscription music services, these files and discs may the last bastion of actual music ownership, short of the black stuff.    

But how best to rip CDs? And how best to store the files? The Aria Piccolo, from Spanish company Digibit, aims to offer a neat solution, and it turns out to be positively festooned with clever abilities.

Equipment
The is an attractive box, clearly high-end, yet adorned with just a single button, which turns it on. Inside is a hard drive, available in two storage configurations — with either a 2TB HDD or a 1TB SSD — but additional capacity can be added with an external HDD or a NAS. You fill the hard drive with your music, then you play it, controlling the Piccolo using its tablet-sized app for iOS or Android. 

Sounds simple? Ah, it always does, but such networked servers often turn out to be bewilderingly complicated. The Piccolo could have been especially so — it doesn’t only play music in one room, it can send music out through the home network to several zones at once. So what impressed us initially with the Piccolo was that everything just worked — we were playing, loading, ripping and even DLNA-pushing tunes around the house without even picking up the manual (which turned out to be excellent, with two versions for iOS and Android). And the app proved not only effective and attractive, but highly versatile. This is, believe us, most unusual.

As the price indicates, this is also a unit designed using high-quality construction and audio tech. For a start the casework is luxuriously all-aluminium, and fan-less, so where a NAS drive often has to be kept away from the music room lest it wheeze all over your music, the Aria is entirely silent. The Intel Celeron motherboard inside is labelled “industrial grade”, while the optional DAC section is capable to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256, outputting through analogue RCA sockets. 

There is, however, an option to have no DAC inside, with the Piccolo serving music digitally either through your network or from its digital outputs into an external DAC — there are USB, optical and HDMI digital outputs. So with the different drive options, that’s four variations in all.

Performance
As noted, we were up and running in no time. We gave the Piccolo an Ethernet connection to our home network, which required no setting up at all, along with maximum reliability. Distributor Absolute Hi End had kindly pre-loaded a nice selection of FLAC, high-res PCM and DSD albums, and it was delightfully easy to add our own, via a variety of methods. The Piccolo’s drive popped up on our Mac via the network — we dragged in a high-res copy of David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’, refreshed the app display, and there it was, ready to play. We also used the app to add music, navigating to a NAS drive, selecting albums and watching them copy over the network — again, immediately ready to play. There’s also the choice to link to the music, but not copy it over.

Finally we attached the supplied CD drive, a slimline ASUS model, to the rear USB sockets and shoved in a CD. We went through the app looking for a ‘rip’ button — you could choose the format (we chose Apple Lossless), but the app could see no music on the drive. Just as we were pondering this, the CD ejected — it had done all the ripping automatically. There’s helpful. You can also set it to rip to somewhere other than the internal storage.

Notably, everything arrived impeccably named, with artwork showing, and a host more information too, including artist bios. One of Aria’s strengths is that it not only uses AccurateRip, which promises 100% error-free rips by adjusting CD offsets for each specific drive model, it then accesses multiple premium music databases including AMG, GD3, SonataDB, Freedb and Musicbrainz, and merges metadata results from each of them, thereby promising “the best metadata results in the industry”. 

The app. That metadata, of course, feeds directly into the versatility of the app here, which is called iAria. It is up with the very best of its breed, having some lovely functionality such as the ability to pinch and zoom to change the size of album artwork (and therefore number of albums showing per screen), but most particularly in terms of information. Thanks to all that metadata, you can filter not only by artist and album but by genre, period (right), instrument, composer, conductor, soloists, even sampling rate — anything, in fact, for which there is a metadata field. And by going to an album and pressing the ‘i’ button, you can edit the metadata, even adding your own fields, apparently without limit. Geek heaven, then, and of particular value for classical music lovers — to rip a CD and have all this information instantly at your fingertips is a joy.

You add music to a queue (Aria calls it a playlist) by track or album — and again here, unusual versatility. You set your usual preference (e.g. ‘play next’, or ‘add to playlist’) so a quick tap on a song or album will do that, but press and hold brings up a longer menu, including the crucial ‘clear playlist’ option, and a Play Doctor, which has a crack at picking a connected playlist from your mass of metadated music. Playlists can be edited, saved and reloaded later.

Aria PiccoloNote that the app has an iPad version, Android tablet and phone versions, but none yet for iPhone — the free MConnect app for iPhone will control the Aria and even push from it to other devices, but MConnect is not a patch on the the quality of iAria (and it tried to sell us window shutters). 

Output 
We could go on about the app, but enough — it’s great. How does the Piccolo sound? Excellent. It proved highly friendly across filetypes from low-level MP3s and AACs up to CD quality and beyond in WAV, FLAC, Ogg, Apple Lossless, AIFF and DSD to DSD256. We began listening through its analogue outputs from the Piccolo’s optional DAC stage. Remembering this DAC stage adds around $750 to the cost of the digital-only Piccolo, it presented a good powerful and well rendered image, but things were definitely lifted a level when we exited digitally via optical into our regular standalone DAC (around three times that $750). What joy of exploration to have such easy access to high-resolution files so superbly rendered. Our high-res collection tends to sit on a NAS drive left for special occasions; the Piccolo brought it all to our fingertips and had us hunting through these acquired delights, from the 24/96 Zeppelin FLACs that came with the recent boxsets to the rapid-fire dynamics of the Blue Man Group, endless high-res audio jazz and (Aria’s great strength via that metadata) classical selections. But information aside, it really had no genre weakness, it just served the data precisely as required.

Aria PiccoloMultiroom
Indeed it is quite the whizz at data serving — the other huge ability here is that the Piccolo doesn’t just play music in one zone, it can easily send it beyond. Bottom left of the app you select either ‘Analog Dac’ or ‘Optical’ or ‘HDMI’ to indicate which output you are using. But you can use all of them, either linked or playing independent playlists (running concurrent playlists can get confusing, however). That’s potentially three zones going at once from the back panel alone. 

But it’ll also serve over the network. Also listed under this panel of the app were two other networked devices we had under review at the time — a little $250 Bush radio streamer, and a Moon Neo Ace. Both of these are DNLA capable (Aria should also see AirPlay devices, and vice versa), and could not only see the Aria as an available server, the iAria app could actually push music to them. The Moon seemed rather taken aback to have AC/DC suddenly thrust upon it from the network, but out came Angus, rich and raw, as if directly connected. If a rendering device can’t handle certain file types, the Aria can transcode files over the network to a lower stream rate. 

And one final trick. Know how you can’t listen to FLACs and other high-res stuff on your iPad? The Piccolo will stream over the network to your tablet, and you can listen on headphones. Even without transcoding turned on, our iPad apparently rendered high-res FLACs, presumably with the iAria app’s help. Sit in bed with iPad and headphones, streaming from the Aria. Nice.  

Aria PiccoloAnd, importantly, there’s an easy back-up procedure available, detailed in the manuals.

We ended up with a single niggle. App control is excellent, but there’s no alternative here. A small play/pause remote control, or a pause button on the unit itself, would be helpful when the phone rings. PC/Mac software would be reassuring for the longterm — will an app always be available for every device you might own in the future, for decades to come? PC control or browser-based software is more likely to work forever.

Conclusion
Flawless and intuitive operation, highly intelligent networking, a solution for high-res storage, ripping CDs, and serving all that music in a great many ways, simultaneously if necessary. 

And if you already have a good DAC, standalone or in an amp, then the DAC-less Aria Piccolo looks a particularly attractive option. We shall miss it when it’s gone.

Testimonials

Great stereo lives on.”

“Terry guided me towards the Aria Piccolo music server, and what a choice. It is everything he said it would be…a doddle to rip CDs, internet radio works via the Aria so easily, and the sound quality is superb. As he said, a key thing is the quality of the app and I would say there are none better. This really adds to the whole music listening experience.

 

“Great advice, great service…thanks Terry. And I love just ambling around your showroom. I’ve been checking out stereo gear for a long time and it’s the most interesting range of quality equipment I’ve seen/heard in this country by a long way. Better known elite brands are mixed with some amazing stuff from the cutting edge companies out there. (I’ve certainly never seen so many tubes in my life). Great stereo lives on.”

........Chris Rattue

Videos

Aria music server and iaria app demo

Aria Mini Music Server and iArai AP demo

iaria app: Extremely easy-to-use, just open app and start playing music

Ripping: Fully automatic CD Ripper (insert & rip).