We started this decade at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, where manufacturers were just getting on board with Asynchronous USB interfaces. Wavelength, Ayre, and dCS all had them before anyone else, but at CES Mbl, and Resolution Audio introduced their own async interfaces and many manufacturers were working on deals to license async technology. Shortly after CES we launched the first C.A.P.S. Server. The success of the C.A.P.S. project was beyond anything I predicted. Readers must also consider the reasons for this success. The major one for me was that HiFi companies were still twiddling their thumbs wondering if this new era of digital audio was going to pan out. In the years since 2010 we released several C.A.P.S. designs before manufacturers kicked things into gear with offerings of their own.
Doing its own thing way back in 2010 was Linn, which eschewed USB interfaces for Ethernet before most companies even thought about either. UPnP / DLNA was great even back then, until it wasn't. Universal Plug and Play is the most non-standard standard, and any early adopters found this out the hard way. Sure tech geeks had Linn systems running smoothly, but the same can't be said for everyone.
Digital HiFi was a bit sketchy back in the early 2010s. Roon was still Sooloos and I first saw the initial Aurender S10 music server at the California Audio Show in 2011. Since then, many products and manufacturers have come and gone as the options grew and competition heated up. At the end of this decade we have countless ways to play our digital collections, much better quality, and we even have access to high resolution music streaming at the tap of a finger. Seriously, it's a dream come true for music lovers and those of use who also like great sound quality. Overall it has been the best decade ever to be a digital audiophile.
It's time to give credit where credit is due. No long drawn out cliffhanger word salad. Here are the Audiophile Style Products of the Decade for Hardware, Software, and Music.
It's nearly impossible to think about all the products that I've heard and used over the last ten years. Many of them were and are fantastic in all important categories such as sound quality, ease of use, build quality, customer support, and value. However, one series of products stands out to me as the biggest game changer in addition to checking all the right boxes. I'd love to hand this award to a single product, but as you'll see, it only makes sense to award the Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for hardware to the Rendu series of products from Sonore.
It all started with the microRendu in 2016. This was a product that nobody had previously built. What's more, the team at Sonore and Small Green Computer, with engineering by John Swenson, took this product to a level that wasn't just necessary or sufficient, it was extreme. A custom tiny computer with a custom operating system wasn't even on the radar of most audiophiles. In fact many had to be educated on why they'd want or need such a product.
Prior to the microRendu most audiophiles had Windows or Mac computers connected to DACs via USB. This is a great way to playback a digital collection through a HiFi system, but many people wanted something different. Once the microRendu was announced, the game was changed. It enabled HiFi enthusiasts to turn any USB DAC into an Ethernet capable DAC with features that no DAC with built-in Ethernet has even to this day.
After the microRendu, Sonore released the ultraRendu, Signature Rendu, opticalRendu, and my current favorite the Signature Rendu SE Optical. Sonore didn't limit updates to only hardware. It released several software updates to the Sonicorbiter operating system that brought new capabilities and features. The Sonore team is so versitile, it can turn on a dime with software changes and upgrades long before the topic has even gotten out of committee at large manufacturers. I know this because I've talked to Sonore partners who praise everything about the company.
The Rendu series of products started a movement and class of products that has been copied by several high end manufacturers, but has yet to be duplicated.
Music library management and playback software has come a long way this decade. I remember opening Foobar2000 and thinking I could do my taxes and listen to music simultaneously. Cheers to its developer Peter Pawłowski for keeping the product free, as in beer. For some reason many of us in HiFi latched on to MediaMonkey in the early days. I still don't know why, especially when we have JRiver Media Center as a far better alternative. Oh well, live and learn.
By far the single product that has taken HiFi by storm the quickest and has produced the largest number of fans is Roon. Roon was a game changer for many in HiFi and is the Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for software.
Since its spin-off from Meridian in 2015 the Roon Labs team has continually updated the app by adding feature after feature. While the app has grown a bit more complex over the years, it's only because the Roon user base has demanded it. In addition to consumers, the number of manufacturers who've jumped onboard the Roon train, and the speed of adoption, has been amazing. It really seems like every manufacturer in HiFi has either Roon Ready or Roon Tested devices available for purchase.
Like all products, Roon isn't perfect and isn't for everybody. Its' subscription pricing model is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the app. In addition, some audiophiles have what I call a starter home network. Running Roon Ready endpoints on such a network can be a recipe for disaster, leading some to abandon the app altogether. That said, the vast majority of Roon users have fallen in love with the app. I use it almost every day, but I also use many other platforms almost every day.
Roon has become the app by which all others are judged and the app that generates the most feature requests to competing manufacturers. I look forward to what the Roon Labs team has in store for the next decade and to see what the competition has up its sleeve.
This selection may be a little controversial given its recent entry into the US market, but this company started in 2008, only one year after Audiophile Style opened its digital doors (as Computer Audiophile). I challenge anyone to find a better product, with more potential, and better customer service than Audiophile Style Product of the Decade winner for music, Qobuz. Everything about the Qobuz streaming service is better than the competition, with the exception of its coverage area. Members of the Audiophile Style community in Canada are chomping at the bit to start streaming its true pure PCM high resolution audio.
Qobuz has so much going for it that the other services can't currently match. It's embedded into apps from Lumin, Aurender, NAD, Bluesound, Roon, Auralic, and more. In addition, its desktop and mobile apps are head and shoulders above the competition. The fact that we can stream bit perfect high resolution music up through 24 bit / 192 kHz and view the PDF booklet for many albums is a dream come true for many of us. This is a service created by music lovers and it clearly shows.
Above all else, the one aspect of Qobuz that the others will never match is its customer service. The Qobuz team is here on Audiophile Style answering questions daily. When there's a problem with any part of the service from music metadata to a complete outage, the team responds promptly to let everyone know what's going on. Try getting service like this from Amazon, Tidal, Apple, Spotify, or Deezer.
The Qobuz catalog in France and other European countries is currently a bit better than in the US, but I don't expect this to be the case for too long. After all, the rights holders of the music want to make money from their investments. Plus, much of the paperwork has been done with labels already appearing on Qobuz in other countries. For many it's just a matter of signing-off on the new territory
Congratulations to the entire Qobuz team, in the US and France, for winning our Audiophile Style Product of the Decade for music.