Which method obtains the best audio quality

Having only just purchased the Aries Mini and with Streaming being very much a new subject to me I would appreciate a little general advice.

I obviously don’t yet have a NAS (or whatever it’s called) so currently employ AirPlay to get the content from iPhone to the Aries/HiFi System, which I must say sounds very good.

Being a long time Apple user I’ve collected content on the Mac and always synced same to iDevices, but I do keep backups on external drives.

So, considering the above what options do I have, how does the quality differ (and why) and how simple/involved is the management process, to get music playing out of the Aries (other than AirPlay or Bluetooth).

I have read that a Usb Stick filled with content can be plugged into the back of the Aries and the Lightning DS app used to point to that location, but others have commented that employing either external or internal Hdd can degrade the quality when compared to “streaming” methods due to interference, does that also apply to usb sticks?

Apologies in advance if some of this is basic, but any pointers will be greatly appreciated.

I have an Aries Mini and I am using an SSD hard drive that is installed in the Mini to play and store my music. When I first got the Mini, I plugged a USB hard drive into the Mini to play the music. As I recall, the SSD drive in the Mini sounded better than the mechanical USB hard drive.

I like having the hard drive in the Mini. Whenever I get new music, I first load it onto my iMac and then copy the music to the Mini as the Mini hard drive appears on my iMac. With setup, my music collection is backed up in a couple of places by my iMac.

Using a NAS might sound a bit better, but I really don’t need a NAS. In my opinion, the biggest sound improvement that you can make with your Mini is to get a linear power supply.

I certainly like the idea of placing a drive inside the Aries, but it’s the way you get content on said drive afterwards that puzzles me.

I haven’t yet tried operating the iMac while the Aries is on, so can’t say if anything pops up in Finder or not.

Are you saying when a drive is detected by Lightning DS (in Aries) it’s also visible on the iMac as well, or do you have to enable some network/sharing option on the latter.

Think I saw a link or discussion talking about two ways of getting content on to an internal drive but only partly understood one of them, namely putting the content on a usb drive and plugging it in the back to let Lightning DS do it’s stuff, I’ll have to find it again and try to give it another read to see if it makes more sense now.

When a disk is installed in the mini it appears on your finder under macOS as a samba/cifs share.

You can copy from your Mac to the mini.

A NAS is useful to have backup strategy and to store other stuff on it (videos, documents, photos …). It is also easier to add storage to a nas (with a 4 bays for example, when starting with 2 disks, you can add 2 more disks (the storage will be reduced of 1 disk if your are using RAID 5). The read/write is also faster with a Nas compared to Mini.
It really depends of what you need.
Sonically a nas will be better because you draw less power and cause less interference without a disk in the mini.

Does that same principle apply to anything connected to the Aries, for example USB sticks plugged into one of the external USB ports.

Or because they are “external” and generally draw less power (I assume) they would have less of an impact on degrading sound quality.

Yes same thing apply for USB

Thanks for confirming that, might be slowing catching on to how it all works now, just started iMac while Aries Mini was playing some AirPlayed content and noticed “Auralic…” appeared under the Network section of Finder’s sidebar.

It contained a folder which had a readme file talking about management of content in USB and HDD folders that only appear when said devices are connected.

I assume if/when such a device is connected then dropping content in the associated folder that appears will transfer it over to said device.

Thanks for the help.

After you dropped the content, you need to go to your ARIES MINI music library setup and click ‘Rescan’ button at the ‘additional operations’ interface in order to let the machine pick up new content.

Thanks, I can see the USB folder in iMac Finder once USB stick has been plugged in to the Mini, but I decided to put content on stick while it was plugged in to the iMac instead thinking it would be faster (65Gb took about 4 minutes to copy over).

I then plugged stick into back of Mini and selected “add music library” and “setup lightning server (can’t remember exact sequence) but once I confirmed usb drive it scanned and found the files, shortly after loaded artwork and displayed albums.

I’ve been playing content off stick most of day and all appears to be working fine.

Will note the use of “Rescan” though if and when I “add” further content.

Thanks again.

I think the discussion above doesn’t cover what, for me, is the critical point. Which is that the nature of the source music file should be the starting point. There’s not much sense in playing iTunes mp3 files through your Aries Mini, unless convenience is your primary objective.

You might want to explore accessing and using a different file format called FLAC (look it up). Flac can carry many different qualities of music, right up to that of studio masters, which are available to purchase online, or to stream from a subscription service such as Tidal (there are others). You can also convert CDs to FLACS reasonably easily in your computer. DB Powerblaster is a good conversion app, and purchased or streamed FLACS, at various quality levels, can be even better.

My own set up is that I stream FLACS via a subscription to Tidal HiFi (£20pm with a fabulous range of music) to my Aries Mini, controlled by Auralics Lightning DS app on my iPhone. The Aries’ analogue output is connected via good quality leads to my hifi amp and speakers. No one who has heard it has not been impressed.

I do have FLACS on a hard drive connected to the Mini’s usb socket, but the scope of Tidal is so good that I rarely use it. Tidal MQA quality is particularly good as a source, even when produced from jazz recordings made in the late 1950s. With digitally recorded material, MQA is astonishing.

I think that is what the Aries Mini is really for and as such is incredible value.

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Thank you, comments and observations are very much appreciated and I fully concur that file type is ultimately critical to quality, and I really like the idea of a quality subscription service now I’m getting the hang of how it all works.

But, as I’ve said I’m new to streaming and history prior was and still is Apple. Over the years I’ve collected mp3, aac and alac which probably makes up 70% of my content, plus it’s already on all my iDevices, the remaining 30% being flac and some aiff stored on external drives mainly as cdr backup.

As I’m dipping my toe so to speak in streaming waters I’ve started out by what to me is the quickest and simplest, AirPlay, which has surprised me by how good it sounds. Yesterday though I decided to load same content on to a 64Gb stick and play around with deleting and adding files via iMac Finder over the Network (just to get used to the management side of things).

This morning I’ve started moving some of the flac over and this afternoon took the time to sit and really listen, let’s just say the Mini will not be going far any time soon, it really does sound very nice through my system.

I suppose I was getting distracted by comments regarding how quality can vary depending on how content is served up to the Mini, but having listened to what’s possible via usb with decent files I’m a little more relaxed about it. It’s been a steep learning curve especially trying to understand how LDS/Mini operate together, but now I’m getting a little more comfortable I think going flac on an external drive is the way forward (for me anyhow).

Just to finish, Mini is cabled to Naim 202 Pre/200 Power via Chord Crimsons which I’ve found to be very similar in nature to the standard Naim dins, speakers are Spendor A6.

Again, many thanks for the help and advice.

Simon - hi

I use Tidal HiFi merely because the shop where I bought my Aries Mini recommended it - there are plenty others. If you go the Tidal route a tip is to subscribe via the Tidal web site; if you subscribe via The Apple App Store, Apple add a monthly surcharge. I think Tidal is marvellous. For example, I read a biog of Miles David and I was able to dip into every album mentioned via Tidal.

My show-off piece is "Nigel Kennedy meets Gershwin” on Tidal Masters - even my cynical other half said it sent shivers down her spine.

I still buy lots of CDs on Ebay - at ridiculously low prices, and a) play them in the car and b) convert them to FLACs. I have a portable audio player that plays FLACs but sadly you can’t download to it from Tidal. I use it w B&W bluetooth headphones.

Your system is a step (or two) above mine - happy listening.

Colin

I think this subscription service lark is going to be another new experience for me and an area that previously I’ve largely ignored, mainly I suppose because I’ve never had the need or interest.

I’ve been perfectly happy with the traditional sources of vinyl, cd and tuner, supplemented by Apple for AirPlay (streaming) and portable audio.

But I’ve always wanted something to get the Apple side connected to my main system, largely for background music. The Aries Mini fulfils that role nicely but now opens up several others (which I didn’t anticipate), namely hd streaming and hd subscription!

I’ve also been playing around with the Radio side of LDS and added a few 320Kbps and flac stations, so I suppose going to a subscription will/could be the finally step.

But I will take my time, play around with what I’ve currently got and make sure streaming is the way forwarded (for me), that’s why I limited my spend to the Mini even though the system deserves and could accommodate better.

Saying that, it’s nice to find the Mini punches well above it’s category, yes it’s no match for my CDX2 but that’s a £3.5k player, but what it does it does well and it bounces along in a very Naim like manor.

Again, thanks for all the advice and taking the time.

Congratulations on entering the world of streaming! A few thoughts, can you stream from your phone and Mini via wifi rather than Airplay? I think that would provide a nice increase in sound quality.

Also as far as subscriptions go, be it Tidal or Qobuz, both are great and are lossless, don’t be afraid to try it. Both services offer a free trial so there is no upfront cost and to me this is the best part of streaming.

Imagine tens of thousands of albums at your fingertips. Perhaps reading a music review or seeing a piece of music mentioned in an audio review turning to LDS and searching finding and playing the music you were just reading about.

For the price of say one or two cd’s a month you open yourself up to whole new worlds of music. Sorry to sound like an advert but I am indeed a convert. Whatever you decide have fun and happy streaming!

Hi Jond, thank’s for the post and your thoughts, I have in fact now moved over from AirPlay to storing the content on USB stick and using LDS to stream, as you say it’s a nice all round improvement if you use the right file type as Colin advised.

I chose a 64Gb USB stick because firstly it was readily available and second it appeared to be the easiest to setup, don’t have much flac content at the moment but what I have got sounds very good in deed, it’s making me feel why didn’t I do this years ago!

Since Colin’s post I’ve been reading up on subscription services and in particular reviews on how they compare on sound quality, service performance and variety/content on offer, surprise surprise not much difference in cost!

While doing this I still wanted to experience more of what higher bit rate streams could bring to the table and thought (again) the easiest way was to employ Radio and add any flac stations that were available to the “My Stations” section, currently listening to Absolute Radio, JB Radio2 and Radio Paradise.

Funnily enough the primary reason for getting the Aries Mini was to improve the quality of getting AirPlay content in to the hifi setup, and to learn a little about what makes streaming tick. I’m now finding there’s more on offer which could be taking me in a different direction, higher bit rate and subscriptions are very interesting but will need time for me to consider what’s best.

The reason I say that is I come from a traditional hifi background of years playing vinyl, cd and fm radio, that’s not going away overnight and I just want to make sure (for me) streaming is not going to be an overnight fad.

The other surprise is I’m finding all this very enjoyable and how easy it is once you overcome the initial learning curve and have it setup.

Anyhow thanks again.

Another idea to consider is using Roon to stream your library through. Since you have ALAC files, you are losing resolution when using airplay. Roon can access your iTunes files, and you can use it to explore Tidal and Qobuz. It will stream directly to your Mini in high resolution.

So many options, as I said in my last post “I’m now finding there’s more on offer which could be taking me in a different direction”, and that’s certainly becoming more apparent as time goes on, and all from a £400 box!

But, I believe I now need to catch my breath a little and spend time just enjoying what’s currently on offer, Roon is certainly something I’ve not considered and similar to a lossless subscription service (as suggested by Colin) will require a little reading before I can make a decision.

Also moving all my current content on to USB (which is about 400 albums, not a lot compared to some I know) has made it possible to use LDS and therefore push AirPlay in to background for the time being.

It’s becoming obvious there isn’t really any practical limit to what I may wish to do in the future, be it improving my content quality (ie. aac to flac), use alternative ways to push that content to Aries Mini (ie. AirPlay, LDS, Roon) or get the content from outside sources (ie. Tidal, Qobuz).

But (as I said before) I do want to avoid getting too carried away at the moment because I’m starting to concentrating on the tech side to the detriment of listening to and enjoying what I currently have, I fell into that trap years ago with the hifi and found it was all to easy to start listening to the black boxes for the next upgrade rather than to the music itself!

So, thank you for the suggestion but at the moment I’ll file away Roon for future consideration.

Hi,
Don’t forget that with Roon you will have to keep your PC/Mac on and running…

With LDS it’s easy. You will have access to you content in NAS, or internal hard-drive or USB key AND Tidal and Qobuz in the same application. You can try for free Qobuz for one month and I think you have the same with TIDAL, so no complexity here.
Using AirPlay is limiting you to only 48Khz format and nothing more. And i’m not sure that the airplay feature is an official one so it can break at some moment :slight_smile:

Thanks to everyone for all the comments, much appreciated.

Think I’ll stay with LDS at the moment, primarily because that’s what’s currently up and running and happy with how things are working, even with the slight connection glitch on wake up!

The requirement for keeping iMac on whenever I want to listen to music is also somewhat off putting, and I certainly don’t want to get involved with NAS just yet.