Founder and CEO of AURALiC is one Xuanqian Wang, 32; a more determined and self-motivated audio bossman you’ll never likely meet. You should see Wang’s travel itinerary. He attends more audio shows than yours truly – no mean feat either when you’re based in Shenzhen, China where getting to somewhere else almost always involves a long-haul flight.
The upside for this commentator is that I almost always take showtime to chat to Wang about his company’s developments (here, here, here and here), sometimes making suggestions of my own: Vega MKII, anyone? Vega Black, anyone? One on one time with Wang has also proved useful in tracking AURALiC’s twists and turns as his company tackle software development. Firmware and the Lightning DS app drives the company’s range of Aries streamers, most recently the Aries Mini (reviewed here).
However, with this site’s comments section taking enforced leave just as the ARIES Mini review went live, readers were unfortunately robbed of an an opportunity to raise follow-up questions. Many readers want to know “What’s the deal with Roon Ready being restricted to the Aries?” and “How about MQA?”. Rather than speculate myself, I conversed with Captain Wang via email as he recuperated from a trip to Scandinavia.
JD: In a short few years, AURALiC has developed a solid reputation a manufacturer of digital audio hardware like DACs and streamers but recently there seems to be more and more talk of software, specifically Lightning DS (LDS). Are you slowly changing gears?
XW: We have been a bit slow in refreshing our hardware line this past two years but have you ever thought that software is also a kind of ‘product’? If you treat hardware and software equally I think you will discover that AURALiC is very active in pushing new ‘product’. Software can not only bring a better user experience but also improve the sound quality – we did that more than once with ARIES firmware updates. Most of the software upgrades are free. LDS was a big challenge for this manufacturer and we at least made it. For the hardware side, we will have quite a lot of new things coming this year starting at AXPONA.
JD: Software as powerful as hardware. We see that from companies like Devialet. As well as sound quality improvements, one can also introduce new features, right?
XW: Yes, we have introduced new features on both firmware and control app sides of software. Soon after the ARIES Summer 2014 launch we added USB storage playback by November 2014 then extended this to share-ability on the home network to make it a server. We also added new file format support and other features such as Roon Endpoint to selected devices. Oh, I almost forgot, we were actually the second manufacturer that bring TIDAL integration to end user. This story dates back to October 2014 as well. If you look at this link, you will find out how many changes we have introduced.
JD: Talking of 2014 – at that point in time was your software development team in-house or contracted?
XW: The firmware team has been in house since the very beginning – back to early 2013 – and they are the key members of our entire software team. The App and other server program teams were created by early 2015; the iPhone version of Lightning was actually the work of our own iOS team. You have not yet seen any result from our server (web) team so far, but their work will be going online very soon as well.
JD: So how many software guys did you start with and how many do you have now? And do they work at AURALiC HQ or elsewhere?
XW: We started with just two software guys, going up to fifteen in middle of 2015 then downsizing to ten after the Android team was dissolved. They all work at our HQ in China.
JD: Who is the target market for the ARIES Mini – is it aimed at Mums and Dads or audiophiles or somewhere in between?
XW: It’s for people who are not satisfied with the sound quality of Sonos connect or want to replace their vintage Squeezebox. It’s also for those who want to try a streaming solution but don’t want to invest a lot of money. It’s not explicitly aimed at audiophiles even though the Mini’s sound quality is really for audiophiles.
JD: How does this differ to the bigger ARIES’ target market?
XW: The ARIES and ARIES LE do not have an analogue output. They must be connected to a DAC which means they are designed just for audiophile market. The ARIES Mini is designed for people who will use analogue output most of the time. I use an ARIES Mini in my home and on my desk at work where it is connected to a pair of Paradigm active bookshelf loudspeakers.
JD: So what’s the thinking behind keeping Roon Ready for the ARIES only (and not the Mini)?
XW: That’s purely a commercial decision.
JD: And are you at liberty to tell us anything about how MQA implementation on the Mini is progressing?
XW: Due to the NDA we have signed with MQA, we are not allowed to discuss this topic.
JD: Got it. So – what plans lay ahead for AURALiC this year? And what can you tell us about the development of a desktop control app for the Aries streamer series?
XW: We are going to launch a series of new products this year to fill the gap between existing product and what customers want. That will commence at AXPONA in April. As for a desktop version of LDS – that’s in development already and progress is going well. We don’t have a clear timeline but everything is on schedule.
So that’s the official word on those issues. My advice (as with any software-flexible product): buy an ARIES, LE or Mini for what it does right now and not for what it may or may not do down the line.
Further information: AURALiC