ARYLIC S50 PRO / S10 streaming preamps
+ Affordable; easy to set up; supports major music streaming services; decent construction with aluminium chassis.
– No optical digital input; audio outputs are variable only, with no line level option; no LCD readout to display volume or function.
+ Very accessible retail price, ideal for a budget set-up; fuss-free operation; supports major music streaming services.
– Very limited connection options; no LCD to display volume; mediocre sound.
DIGITAL streaming services really came to the fore when people found themselves locked down at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether they were working from home or otherwise, digital television and music content was called upon to fill the void, so to speak.
Consuming television content is straightforward. Music content, on the other hand, is not quite so as most will have the service’s streaming app on smart devices only. Headphones use aside, a Bluetooth connection is always possible, presuming the audio set-up has such connectivity. But what if the main music rig is not so digitally-enabled? That’s where devices like China-based Arylic’s S50 Pro and S10 wireless streaming preamps come to the fore.
Both these devices are preamps only and will not power a pair of passive speakers. They need active speakers or can be connected directly to a power amp. A spare input on the preamp/integrated works too, but this will not be ideal as both units’ outputs are variable and there’s no option for a fixed line level.
The S50 Pro is only 3.7 x 11.3 x 12cm (h/w/d) and weighs a mere 400g, while the S10 is 2.2 x 11.6 x 6.4cm (200g) – easy enough to find space to place them on, even on cramped racks. Small in stature they may be, but they’re definitely big on features. Both support the major music streaming services – Spotify, Tidal, Qobuzz, Deezer and others, including Internet radio.
For file compatibility, they do FLAC, MP3, AAC, ALAC, APE and WAV files, up to a high 24-bit/192kHz resolution! On top of that, they also support Apple AirPlay, DLNA, UPnP, Spotify Connect and Qplay. Both are also WiFi-enabled and there’s also a free Apple and Android control app (called 4Stream) available. Also available are LAN and USB inputs (but for pen drives only, not HDDs) as well as Bluetooth connectivity (aptX HD on the S50 Pro).
Feature sets for both are similar and it’s the connection options which differ. The S10 only features 3.5mm minijacks for both the input and output (one each) while the S50 Pro (the more “audiophile” of the two designs) is better endowed with proper RCA jacks and two analogue inputs on top of an optical digital output.
After installing the apps on the relevant smart device and hooking up the Arylics to the audio component(s) of choice, the only small hurdle to cross is connecting them to the home network. There are a few easy ways to do this, and all are explained in the manual.
The absence of RCA connections on the S10 is understandable, as it’s more likely to be paired with smaller devices or computer speakers which use 3.5mm minijacks.
The RCAs on the S50 Pro, however, speak of its audiophile aspirations, added to the fact that it features an ESS Sabre DAC and AKM ADC chips within.
What really bugged me, though, was the absence of an LCD display to show the volume level. You can only see it on the app, but thankfully it “remembers” the last volume used for each input, so you don’t get any sudden surprises when switching. The S10 features a bank of four coloured LCDs to indicate the function, but on the S50 Pro, there’s a single dot matrix cluster that changes colour to show the input.
Physical differences aside, both devices are identical to work with. There’s a physical remote control provided, but save for easy volume adjustment, everything else is accessed through the 4Stream app. The app’s design and interface are not the slickest to use, but what matters most is that it’s perfectly functional. I did get “lost” at the initial stage trying to find all the functions, but some fiddling about with it will bring the familiarity needed to understand the ins and outs of the GUI.
Sound-wise, there’s not much to say about the S10 other than it works exactly as it should. To be frank, it’s hard to see audiophiles getting excited over this except for the fact that it “gives the smarts” to the hi-fi rig.
However, the biggest advantage is that streaming music using a direct connection to the Internet (Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, etc.) sounds vastly superior to a Bluetooth connection from a mobile device – this applies to the S50 Pro as well, of course.
Compared to the S10, there is a big step up in every performance aspect. But here’s the rub – does it approach standards that are acceptable to serious hi-fi aficionados?
Plugged into my main hi-fi rig, it gives hints of what the system is able to achieve. No, it did not achieve the synergy I’m used to hearing with the regular preamp, but it would be unfair to compare the S50 Pro with something multiple times its price.
There are some aspects of its presentation which are positive, you do get a semblance of a soundstage and imaging, but don’t expect it to be expansive or super-precise.
The midrange can sound a little thin at times and it does not reveal all minute detail nor give extreme insights into the bass and treble. It’s there but just not, well, magical!
Where the S50 Pro worked best for me was when doing stereo duties in the living room’s AV system. Connected directly to a power amp fed via RCA analogue from an Android TV box and WiFi for Internet, it found substantial use via Spotify Connect and enhanced the sound of every TV programme I was watching.
However, I find it odd that it does not have any digital input (neither Toslink nor RCA). That, I find, is the biggest omission as the high-grade ESS Sabre DAC could have come in play when connected to any other digital source – not just from the Internet.
THE LAST WORD
So what’s the final word on these two Arylic devices? Quite simply, there’s nothing available from established hi-fi brands that comes close to the low price these are going for. There are some compromises you have to accept but as is commonly said, you do get what you pay for.
If you’re looking for a cheap way to provide digital connectivity to any “dumb” system, then give the Arylic S50 Pro and S10 (they’re available direct from the website) a punt – your bank balance will thank you for it.
Sources: Minix Neo U9-H Android TV box / Amplification: Euphonic Research AMP-220; Odyssey Audio Kismet monoblocks / Speakers: Magnepan .7; Ho’s LS3/5A / Cabling: Rega SC42 and Clear Day Double Shotgun speaker cables, an assortment of pure silver interconnects and stock cables
Price: US$199 (S50 Pro); US$69 (S10)
Review unit courtesy of Arylic.