AURALic Audio

Class Leading, Innovative DACs, Headphone amps, Pre Amps & Mono block amps
AURALiC, innovate technologies & inspire the music
 
The passionate commitment of Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang, the founders of AURALiC Ltd, is to create a series of user-friendly audio equipment combining modern audio technologies and sublime artworks. AURALiC products will provide music lovers a completely new way of enjoying music, free from the sophisticated traditional audio equipment. Let the music revive with greatest vitality and emotions at ease of use.
 
One co-founder, Xuanqian Wang, trained as a professional engineer in both electronics and recording engineering, has been working on digital audio electronics design and music recordings for many years. Besides, Xuanqian Wang is also an accomplished pianist through long years of training since childhood.
 
The other co-founder, Yuan Wang, studied sociology and management science in the United States. After graduation, he returned to China and started an enterprise of precision instrument manufacturing. The passion for music led him to work on music and audio promotion quite actively in his spare time.
 
In the year of 2008, Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang met each other during the Festival of Waldbühne Berlin. It was the shared love of music and the relentless pursuit of superior sound quality which brought the two young men together and inspired them to set up their professional partnership to design and manufacture audiophile products. So was born AURALiC Ltd.
 
Inspire the Music
 
AURALiC dedicated to designing, engineering and manufacturing the audio equipments that could truly reproduce the charm of music and hope to build up a fabulous music hall inside your sweet home, making your dream of having mind-to-mind contact with those famous musicians come true. As we all know, to perfectly replay the music, we not only need to dig and reproduce every tiny detail in recording process, but also represent those wonderful music masterpieces in an artistic way. What AURALiC design and manufacture are not simply electric audio equipments, instead, are the artistic media through which you could recreate the great music chapter together with the musicians.
 
Along with the dramatic change in modern science and technology, our products are endowed with a concise shape and user-friendly property. Our products are free from the sophisticated operational and tuning steps of traditional audio equipment and could be better adapted into the modern fashionable family life. What’s key to mention, the reproduction of music from our product has “qualitative leap” and will make you lost in the moment, intimately experiencing the musical delight brought by digital music carrier in the new age. 
 
During the long-term design and research, we’ve reached a conclusion that it is hard to build up a solid basis for development by solely relying on either instrument testing or attentive listening. Only with the discovery of the link between scientific data and auditory sense can we succeed in seeking reliable criteria of evaluation during the R&D process. As a result, we set up mathematician models between subjective auditory sense and objective testing data base at the very beginning of R&D, thus to expand all the research and design work based on such mathematician models.
 
Thanks to our chief designer, Xuanqian Wang’s years’ recording working experience, we could always succeed in approaching those outstanding recording engineers and musicians to hear their timely and professional feedback about our products. With taking their valuable advice into consideration, our design team then refines the design approaches according to mathematical models in order to achieve perfect yet rich artistic representation in terms of musical reproduction.
 
To reproduce those great pieces of music, AURALiC will never stop its steps in pursuing the perfect design solutions or discovering the harmonious synthesis of scientific data and the taste for music. With the mission of making you truly perceive the beauty of music as well as the musical delight, AURALiC has been always forging ahead along this journey of inspiring the music.
AURALiC Technology
  
In order to capture the details in recording as accurately as possible and to reproduce the restorative power of music as perfectly as possible, AURALiC offers multiple original technical solutions by managing to combine the advanced digital technology and the sophisticated analog circuit (see white papers on various aspect on AURALiC website)

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Featured

AC 01 AI POL
NZ$ 6,995.00 (incl. GST)
THE NEW POLARIS ST - a unique wireless Streaming Integrated amplifier with MM phono, an elegant ALL-IN-One solution.
HighEnd Wireless StreamingPOLARIS utilises AURALiC’s award-winning Lightning Streaming Platform....
AC 01 AI POL 1TB
NZ$ 7,995.00 (incl. GST)
THE NEW POLARIS-MS a unique wireless 1TB SSD Music Server /  Streamer, Integrated amplifier with MM phono, an elegant ALL-IN-One solution.
HighEnd Wireless Streaming / Music ServerPOLARIS utilises AURALiC’s award-winning Lightning...
AC 01 MS MINI
NZ$ 825.00 (incl. GST)
What would you consider to be a reasonable price to be paid for a network player capable of playing up to 24/384 PCM files, quad rate DSD, and Tidal's lossless streaming service? Let's also throw in...
Streaming ServicesLocal uPnP/DLNA library contentTIDAL, Qobuz and WiMP online streamingInternet...
EXTENDED REVIEW: It’s a little like the 1950/60’s TV show To Tell the Truth – would the real...
AC 03 MS ALT
NZ$ 3,495.00 (incl. GST)
• AURALiC Tesla Platform ALTAIR is powered by AURALiC's proprietary Tesla hardware platform that includes a Quad-Core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB system...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For the digital streamer and head-fier looking to go all in on an AURALiC rig,...

All Products

Integrated amplifiers

AC 01 AI POL
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
THE NEW POLARIS ST - a unique wireless Streaming Integrated amplifier with MM phono, an elegant ALL-IN-One solution.
HighEnd Wireless StreamingPOLARIS utilises AURALiC’s award-winning Lightning Streaming Platform....
Integrated amplifiers
AC 01 AI POL 1TB
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
THE NEW POLARIS-MS a unique wireless 1TB SSD Music Server /  Streamer, Integrated amplifier with MM phono, an elegant ALL-IN-One solution.
HighEnd Wireless Streaming / Music ServerPOLARIS utilises AURALiC’s award-winning Lightning...
Integrated amplifiers

DACs

AC 01 DAC VEGA
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 5,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 3,000.00 (incl. GST)
VEGA, the next generation digital audio processor, a 32/384 DAC-Preamp - is developed with the goal of 'seeking for non-compromised sound'.  With plenty of I/O ports and powerful function, it...
AURALiC Sanctuary Audio Processor Sanctuary audio processor, the heart of VEGA, is based on multi-...
Extended review:
DACs

Music / Media Network players, Streamers & Servers

AC 01 MS MINI
NZ$ 825.00 ea (incl. GST)
What would you consider to be a reasonable price to be paid for a network player capable of playing up to 24/384 PCM files, quad rate DSD, and Tidal's lossless streaming service? Let's also throw in...
Streaming ServicesLocal uPnP/DLNA library contentTIDAL, Qobuz and WiMP online streamingInternet...
EXTENDED REVIEW: It’s a little like the 1950/60’s TV show To Tell the Truth – would the real...
AC 02 MS ARIES
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
 AURALiC Tesla Platform
Streaming ServicesLocal uPnP/DLNA library contentTIDAL, Qobuz and WiMP...
Comments ROB D This is a contraption I’ve been waiting for. One more of its killer features (at...
AC 02 MS ARIESLE
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
AURALiC Tesla PlatformARIES is powered by AURALiC's proprietary Tesla hardware platform that includes a Quad-Core ARM Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB internal...
Streaming ServicesLocal uPnP/DLNA library contentTIDAL, Qobuz and WiMP...
AC 03 MS ALT
NZ$ 3,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
• AURALiC Tesla Platform ALTAIR is powered by AURALiC's proprietary Tesla hardware platform that includes a Quad-Core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB system...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For the digital streamer and head-fier looking to go all in on an AURALiC rig,...
AC 03 MS ALT 1TB
NZ$ 4,495.01 ea (incl. GST)
* AURALiC Tesla Platform ALTAIR is powered by AURALiC's proprietary Tesla hardware platform that includes a Quad-Core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB system...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For the digital streamer and head-fier looking to go all in on an AURALiC rig,...

Headphones & Headphone amps

AC 04 HA TAURUS
NZ$ 3,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
Begins from the pursuit of an extraordinary amplifier that can well match with modern top quality headphones, inspired by the soul of Rupert Neve's legendary design philosophy, bearing with modern...
AURALiC ORFEO Class-A Output ModuleInspired by Neve 8078 analog console’s circuit design, AURALiC...

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

AC 08 AM MERAK
NZ$ 8,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The AURALiC MERAK is an amazing mono block power amplifier born for the 21st century. 6MOONS Review - gives Merak their coveted BLUE MOON award It is the perfect combination of inspiring...
Hybrid Analog Amplify Technology AURALiC introduce a cutting edge technology: Hybrid Analog Amplify...
23 June 2012 16:38. "We will be able to ship Merak*1 units in small quantities to the media and our...

Reviews

Auralic Vega attains the coveted 6MOONS - BLUE MOON award (say no more)
Srajan Ebaen

If the Vega's subtext had escaped your attention, let's make it plain. Good riddance preamps! The Vega wants to be your link between magnetic or optical digital transport and power amp/s.

When I add up the evidence of sonic elegance, comprehensive featurization, excellent build quality and dual-format top-resolution compliance, there's only one appropriate response: rousing applause (pipe that in now in full DSD128 or native 24/384) and a very blue award. Or as the Wikipedia would remind us, "Vega (α Lyr, α Lyrae, Alpha Lyrae) is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, That's it - one of the brightest stars in the firmament yet relatively close to earth when it comes to coin. Hifi times are better than ever when one shops for substance not bling. With the Vega, ambitious company AURALiC has created the jewel in their catalogue's crown.

Despite having arguably enjoyed quite the meteoric rise, AURALiC saved the best for last. As co-founder Xuanqian Wang let on, they began working on today's Vega at the same time their first model launched more than two years ago. With their ARK MX+ DAC, Taurus and Taurus Pre headfi/preamps plus Merak high-power mono amps all reviewed here—there's even a second review of the Taurus Pre/Merak combo—the company had quickly achieved widespread recognition for original designs, high value and top-notch performance. 
 
Yet the Vega is their most ambitious launch yet. As does Wadia for their Intuition 01, today's DAC/preamp—AURALiC prefers digital processor—upsamples all PCM to 1.5MHz and 32-bit depth. This strategically bypasses their ESS Sabre 9018's internal upsampler. Claimed advantages include lossless digital volume, very shallow reconstruction filters, higher analog bandwidth and faster slew rates. 
 
To satisfy current speed and resolution demands, PCM supports 384kHz to include native 352.8kHz DXD files as sold by Norway's 2L label. There's also native DSD64/128 support at 2.8224 and 5.6448MHz. Socketry consists of twin coax, AES/EBU, Toslink and asynchronous USB 2.0 ports and for analog out RCA/XLR. There's no analog input however which would have required A/D conversion. Hence this is a purely digital preamp. There are six playback modes with AURALiC-written digital filters and clock-tolerance settings to optimize or personalize PCM in 4 modes and DSD in 2. Further buzzword compliance includes a 'femto' master clock with claimed clock jitter of 0.082 picoseconds and phase noise of  minus 168dBc/Hz.
 
Magic numbers continue with A-weighted dynamic range of 130dB and max output voltage of 4Vrms. There's a 1000mips Swiss Archwave processor called Sanctuary chip which handles active USB buffering and XMOS for USB's physical layer. There's a yellow-on-black Amoled display. And finally there are dual-differential class A output drivers the company calls Orfeo modules. All of this is contained in a low-rider profile just 2.6" high, footprint a compact 11" wide and 9" deep and mass a svelte 7.5lb. Power consumption is less than 2 watts in standby, <10 watts in sleep mode and 15 watts during playback. 
 
If the Vega's subtext had escaped your attention, let's make it plain. Good riddance preamps! The Vega wants to be your link between magnetic or optical digital transport and power amp/s. Vintage audiophiles will shudder. First the modernization police lobbied against their treasured LP and CD players. Now the same swines would have 'em dump their beloved exotic linestages with gleaming triodes and outboard power supplies. How could this be progress? Weren't digital volume controls evil? Didn't DACs lack proper grunt to be allowed anywhere near amplifiers? Surely this was but another fashionable ploy only greenhorns would buy into and a surefire recipe for lean whitish sound bereft of dynamics, resolution and body. But was it really? Or could it be 21st-century smarts that netted better sound for less coin and lower complexity? That's exactly what I meant to find out. 
 
To address our collective audiophile mind, I first had questions: What can you tell us about the R&D leading up to this launch? This was a complex ambitious project that much went into. Relative to digital volume, could you explain what exactly happens with your 1.5MHz upsampler and 32-bit bit-depth expansion? How does this eliminate resolution decimation, bit stripping and compression of dynamic range at high attenuation rates? How much attenuation is possible before resolution suffers? Relative to DSD, does Sabre have a DSD-direct mode without any further processing like the Cirrus Logic 4385/4398 and Wolfson 8741/8742 chips? There's much confusion about what exactly native DSD playback implies when pure 1-bit chips are no longer made except for the Xilinx FPGA coded by Meitner and Playback Design to operate as 1-bit converters. The better delta-sigma chips today are 2.5-bit '5-level' designs. How does this relate to native DSD streaming? Relative to amp-direct drive, what is the output impedance on RCA/XLR, slew rate, current delivery and max voltage-swing potential?
 
"The ARK MX+(revised, updated model due end 2013). was our first export product based on the domestic ARK MX model already selling in mainland China. In 2009 USB DACs were still new to most audiophiles here. Our market was dominated by Firewire products from Weiss. The only asynchronous USB DAC Chinese customers knew of then was the very expensive Ayre QB9. Into this scenario we launched our original ARK MX as an affordable 32-bit/192kHz asynchronous USB converter. It enjoyed great local success but the shortage of digital inputs did limit sales. We thus summarized the experience gained during its design, improved the circuit, added digital inputs and had the ARK MX+. As a product it still focused on USB. It thus avoided an input switch since we felt most people would use USB. It also lacked a sample rate indicator because we thought people would see that in our driver panel. But we did know that the functionality of the ARK MX+ was still too limited for today's high-end systems.
 
"The first prototype of the Vega almost coincided with the ARK MX+ release but still was very different from what we have today. Too many things changed in the intervening two years. We had to revise the design several times, a main reason being the new DSD-over-USB standard. The first Vega prototype used the AKM AK4399 with our Sanctuary interface, Orfeo class A modules, customized digital filter and present inputs. Between first prototype and final production we had altogether nine different versions. During this R&D evolution we changed to the ES9018 to support DXD and DSD128; and adopted XMOS for USB even though we still use the Sanctuary chip for our ActiveUSB buffer stage. XMOS has better compatibility with various computer operating systems. We also added the Femto master clock and beautiful OLED display.
 
"The DAC's power supply was revised several times to meet true bit-resolution requirements. The most difficult part during this development was figuring out how to best harness the ES9018. Its datasheet is an error-riddled nightmare with lots of vital information missing. We would like to openly thank everyone on diyaudio.com for their help on how to wring the most performance from this freaky chip. Another big event during development was the added support for DSD. It's actually no big deal to modify software code to support the format but hardware—especially analog circuitry—had to be completely redesigned to suit DSD's sonic character. From that perspective I very much doubt that any DAC which adds subsequent DSD support via a basic firmware upgrade will offer comparable sound. The Vega was designed from the ground up to optimize DSD playback.
 
"By using the Femto master clock, we also added clock options, a very important function. As the machine warms up, we can enable the additional 'fine' and 'exact' levels for clocking precision in the menu. This can create huge sonic improvements particularly over USB. Over the past few months we upgraded our internal firmware several times to create the perfect balance between secure data lock and best sound quality. With retail firmware version 1.3 and higher it allows most modern computers to run in exact clock mode without any dropouts. We thus consider 'exact mode' the Vega's true advantage though most people already were shocked hearing it in 'auto mode'. 
 
"I personally like our ARK MX+ (revised, updated model due end 2013). very much. A lot of our domestic customers however think it too neutral and detailed. It sounds great on good recordings but exposes bad ones. People here are looking for a DAC that plays music as beautiful rather than as precisely as possible. What's more, personal tastes vary a lot based on feedback. For these reasons we decided to introduce the FFM flexible filter mode technology. This accommodates various tastes. I mostly use mode 1 but many of our customers like one of the other three. That confirms the technology's usefulness. What makes FFM different from other manufacturers' filters are our algorithms for different sample rates within the same playback mode. Our filters are individually optimized for each sample rate.
 
"One ESS9018 advantage is support for externally upsampled signal >1.5MHz. Even if one doesn't use external filters, it upsamples to very high frequencies based on the master clock. For some sample rates we still use our Sanctuary chip as digital filter and upsampler. For others we run the ES9018's internal upsampler but program its digital filter for uniform performance. By upsampling to a megahertz level the analog reconstruction filter can be very shallow. This exhibits higher slew rates and more linear phase to sound more analog. 
 
"The ES9018 is a true 32-bit DAC with true 32-bit volume control. It won't compromise dynamic range like the earlier generations of digital volume controls did. Mark Mallinson already gave a detailed explanation of it in your prior Invicta review but I'll add a few things. First, to fully use the ESS volume control, the analog power supply of the chip must be an ultra low-noise design or the chip itself won't exhibit ultra-low noise. That degrades dynamic range. That's why we revised the DAC's analog power supply five times. Only the final version exhibited the extremely low noise which met our requirements. Such low-noise circuit design is very costly. Second, the post-DAC analog circuit too must be an ultra low-noise design or dynamic range in the preceding DAC is compromised yet again. To meet this requirement we changed the I/V and low-pass filter opamps from LM4562 to OPA1612. The latter's price duly tripled. In the final analysis I don't believe that current digital volume, even ours, compares to high-end analog types. But it's already superior to most ordinary preamps. If you're seeking true high-end sound or very steep attenuation rates, you're still better served with a well-designed analog preamp. Our Vega/Merak combo is deliberately based on the simpler-is-better paradigm for the highest possible value.
 
"The Vega's class A balanced output stage is the same as that of the Taurus Pre. It drives all manner of loads. Its output impedance is a low 4.7Ω with a max voltage swing of ±15V p-p and 100mA of peak current. This output stage easily drives 600Ω without any measurable distortion increase over a 10KΩ load. This is actually a dedicated preamplifier output stage, not merely a high-current DAC output. 
 
"About DSD and the ES9018, we're dealing with a multi-stage delta-sigma chip. I think it converts 1-bit DSD to a multi-bit version but not 24/32 bits. Direct 1-bit processing of raw DSD doesn't seem possible as any DSP operation during post production, even the simplest summing or gain change, will request that the 1-bit data be converted to multi-bit. However converting such 1-bit data to multi-bit doesn't equate to DSD/PCM conversion. I did check the final output of Sabre's chip on DSD. That signal exhibited text-book ultrasonic noise typical of DSD which meant that it hadn't been converted to PCM. I also compared the same music on DSD and PCM. DSD sounded better. In the end we won't fret over exactly how the ES9018 processes DSD. The only thing of concern is how good DSD sounds over the Vega. For converters in general I think the presently most advanced is dCS's patented 5-bit RingDac. By the way, here and here are some lovely DSD128 and DXD samples from Kent Poon's Design w Sound blog. Simply register on his website to gain access to some free downloads which allow anyone to compare DSD and DXD directly."
 
For a brief return to magic numbers, comparing the group delay figures of AURALiC's four PCM playback modes shows how for 44.1kHz data, it progressively lowers from 794μs in mode 1 to 725 to 176 to 49μs in mode 4 whilst 352.8kHz data starts out with a far lower 99μs in mode 1 and diminishes to 40, 22 and finally 10μs in mode 4 which Xuanqian's paper calls the mode that during R&D received the highest beta-tester score. With the Vega it thus makes sense to experiment with 352.8kHz upsampling in software like PureMusic. For Mark Mallinson's claims about Sabre's embedded digital volume control performance
 
To prep for the inevitable PCM vs. DSD clash, I collected material created by credible recording engineers to insure that all file formats would compete on equal footing. My first port of call was Morton Lindberg of Norwegian label 2L. Here one can download 24/352.8 PCM, DSD64 and DSD128 equivalents of the same DXD master to get acquainted with various sonic virtues.
 
"DXD is fancy 'branding' from Philips and Merging Technologies for what is ordinary linear PCM in 24bit 352.8kHz. For our session recordings, a DAD AX-24 converter makes a raw sampling at 5-bit 5.6448MHz. This raw stream can either be formatted by integer values to DSD (1-bit 2.8224MHz) or to DXD (24/352.8). We have chosen the latter for its abilities during post-production processing. This resolution is preserved all throughout the editing, mixing and mastering.
 
"From our DXD masters we run Weiss Saracon software to downsample to the popular music distribution formats of DSD128, DSD64 and high-resolution PCM." Some of Morton's PCM files are in WAV format which iTunes can play natively. Thus don't reformat such files to AIFF or 24-bit data will get automatically truncated to 16 bits. Others are FLAC. PureMusic makes iTunes import of FLAC and DSD child's play. You might however want to rename such files should they show up with you as the artist and 'download' or 'desktop' as album names. Your personalized renaming could end up looking and sorting like my above screen capture perhaps.
 
I also downloaded four samplers from Swedish label Opus 3, two in DSD64, two of the same music in DSD128. Then reader Ted Brady dropbox'd me three tracks from Massimo Gon's CD of Franz Liszt material in both 384kHz PCM and DSD128 because those tracks were recorded in parallel in either format to involve no conversion whatsoever.
 
Vega's display confirms formats. So does PureMusic (see small green writing above). But the player software can distinguish between native/resampled rates as created with its own 64-bit filter set to an upsampling mode or enforced downsampling when your DAC can't cope with a higher rate. For obvious reasons the Vega can't tell the native difference. It only sees incoming data, not what was done to it in preceding software.
 
In use Vega's menu navigation is as intuitive as the machine's industrial design is classy and minimalist. The critical 'exact' clock setting requires that the machine be on for an hour. But only the first time. If you select 'sleep' mode upon turn-off —press the single volume/selector control for 2 seconds to see the option come up—the clock remains at thermal readiness. Now it's available at extreme tolerance from the very start of the next session. And I deliberately didn't read the manual. Everything was perfectly self-explanatory. A balance control with full-scale 0 to 99 attenuation per channel and reassignation of the +/- volume buttons on the remote simply were unexpected if welcome surprises. This is a very mature and friendly interface. By using the oldest method of all (push to call up menu or select item, turn to scroll, hold in to power down), AURALiC delivers hi-tech for dummies. That's a major compliment!
 
Auto/coarse vs. exact. Company claims for audible superiority of their best-tolerance clock setting aren't hot air. The decisive difference is depth & space. There's appreciably greater recreation of the recorded venue which manifests as an enhanced depth perspective. More audible space also creates more performer body as a function of higher 3D contrast and less 2D flatness. If more precise clocking equals lower jitter, the upshot is that at least one effect of jitter suppression is superior ambient recovery. In use my quad-core iMac with KingRex 'biwire' USB cable produced no hiccups or dropouts from this setting. This suggests that AURALiC's firmware had been expertly tweaked to account for real-world latency figures of standard computer hardware and its operational systems.
 
Digital/analog volume. To create a best-case scenario for digital volume, I connected the Vega to the Thrax Audio Heros monos set to 4V input sensitivity. Those connected to 88dB Aries Cerat Stentor speakers with 30-part precision crossovers as my least efficient most reactive load in the house. This setup had standard listening levels between 50 and 60 on the Vega's 100-max display. I thus invoked between 40 and 50dB of signal cut in the digital domain. Swapping in my new Nagra Jazz preamp in 0dB gain mode with the Vega back at 100 became decidedly more dimensional, billowy, fluid and embodied. This demonstrated in completely unambiguous terms how despite fancy numbers magic, a truly superior preamp still retained a very significant advantage. At even lower levels (-70 to -80dB) the contrast was painful. Going DAC-direct sounded stripped, stark and flat. Audible space and all its connective tissue had collapsed and all prior tonal and textural elegance abandoned. Whilst theory would beg to differ, the age of preamps hasn't expired yet though digital converters with analog volume controls like Nagra's forthcoming 384kHz DSD-ready machine should arguably ring in the death knell.
 
As we'll see next, as fixed-output DAC it's major chapeau time for the Vega. It's sonically quite different from my reference Metrum Hex. This is an interesting comparison Aussie contributor John Darko too will investigate in full for his own publication whilst giving us a brief second opinion here. Former contributor Michael Lavorgna, in his review of the Metrum Hex for AudioStream.com, hinted at the same difference such: "... one really couldn't ask for a more opposite side of the DAC design coin... I'd say the Vega is equally if not more involving albeit in a very different manner. The Vega digs in deep to uncover every single subtle nuance of the music being made, a micro view that sounds like you're hearing every bit in the recording. In comparison, the Hex offers up less of the micro-picture while still sounding perfectly resolute. I will talk more about the Vega in its very own review but I thought it important to point out that two very differing paths can lead you to the same place, namely musical enjoyment." Quite so!
 
When coarse isn't enough. As a brief aside, like Burson's Conductor also based on the "freaky" Sabre 9018 chip, the Vega refused to play nice with my Cambridge Audio iD100 digital iPod dock. Never mind the costly Tombo Trøn digital cable between them and the coarse clock setting, there were dropouts as regular as church bells pinging quarter hours. The Metrum Hex digests iD100 digits all day long without a single hiccup. The Vega was fine with the equivalent Pure dock just as the Conductor is. The Cambridge's S/PDIF feed is simply too irregular to get any love from Sabre's finicky silicon. Not that it's likely someone would spend this much on a DAC and mate it to a low quality $299 iPod dock.
 
Digital and other filters. Not that this matters. These options specifically accommodate individual taste. What worked best for me might not for you. If it did though, my magic numbers were filter 4 for PCM, filter 6 for DSD. Since one may switch on the fly, the insecure or adventurous can become obsessively compulsive. Made of lesser stuff, I stuck with my favorites for the duration. For Maccies with both PureMusic 1.89g and Audirvana 1.4.6, I found the latter noticeably better—the Vega does integer—which was the exact opposite for the Hex. There I fancy PureMusic with 176.4kHz NOS upsampler. Why such things should matter is peculiar. Prior experience has simply taught that keeping at least two different players (I deleted Amarra as my least favorite) is good form. So is trying which plays happiest with any given review loaner.
 
Core appeal. Three key phrases for the Vega are vibrancy, minor sweetness and saturated tone. Where the Hex majors on timing and associated easefulness—two subversive qualities which don't produce quick 'wowie' responses during brief auditions but dominate the longer haul—Vega's tuning creates an immediate Whoa! reaction. Color temperatures are very high. So is an associated sense of ebullience. Like a dollop of cream atop that timbral ardor hovers the type of sweetness which distinguishes good DSD but here also applies to PCM. You might even say that PCM sounds as though it had been doused in DSD.
 
A very practical upshot is that an ultra-quick lean SETransistor amp like Tellurium Q's whose 3rd-order THD pentode bite and capacity for approaching glassiness and the tinkles benefits from an infusion of triode flavor when Vega ascends in its nightly sky. The amp became more generous of body. It also shaved off edge from its nearly-on-stage transient sharpness. If that very skillful beautification treatment of Sabre's 9018 sounds nothing like its street rep, that's an evergreen reminder. Chip identities alone presage precious little about the final sound of any converter. Just because the Resonessence Invicta and Burson Conductor rattle the same sabre shouldn't imply that they sound alike. They really do not!
 
Where the Vega cuts its very own path is with this cunning combination of vivacity and viscosity. A perfect image stand-in for the former is the flushed face of an athlete after a run. That's the exuberant color intensity of the AURALiC. An explanation for viscosity is easiest by saying what it's not - needling choppiness. Some machines lay bare rhythmic urgency like a filleted fish. As a brand Naim is perhaps most famous for it. Yet even on rhythmically complex fare (Vicente Amigo's flamenco compas on his latest Tierra album with Galician undercurrents perhaps), the Vega doesn't drum out the beat as though with long fingernails on glass. Instead there's more of a looser sense of swing.
 
Add up color richness, cohesion from our viscous temporal binder and a skoch of honey for that constant flavor of mellifluousness. It's fair fitting and inevitable to conclude that the Vega sounds... well gorgeous. In a hobby guided by magazines titled The Abso!ute Sound, HighFidelity and such, it's unpopular to conclude by saying that anything sounds beautiful. It's an effrontery to our honest-über-alles religion. Which makes one wonder. Why don't the majority of its churchgoers listen to active studio monitors? The fact is, mastering engineers use audio as microscopic tools for work. Home listeners (should) use audio as a vehicle for pleasure. With the Vega, AURALiC's two Wangs Xuanqian and Yuan pay homage to this hedonistic creed. I also think they deliberately voiced their machine to have PCM—which makes up the vast majority of commercial music—sound close to DSD.
 
Comparing various hi-rez PCM tracks to DSD whilst acknowledging that without trusted provenance it's anyone's guess what exactly happened in the process between microphone and final file, DSD to these ears tends to sounds softer, sweeter, wetter and often also exhibits the most intelligible spatial context. If that's really what distinguishes this format (my own exposure to it is very limited and based on present catalogues should remain so for the foreseeable future), the Vega sounds like it no matter what it's fed. I think here it squarely trumps the competing Invicta from the brother of ESS Technology's founder.
 
You'll have noticed that I didn't mention detail retrieval, soundstage breadth and depth and various other manner of check point items. That's because the Vega crossed them all off without any fuss. I focused on what stood out and which a portrait painter on a board walk would capture in a quick tourist sketch. What for the ongoing relevance of overpriced hifi I find scary is how fabulously advanced today's €3K field of DACs has become. I also had the €24.000 Thrax Maximinus on hand. I heard zero sonic advantages over the Hex other than selectable filter options. Otherwise I had essentially identical R2R sonics. So I felt smart for not having let the Hex get away when time came to pack up or pay up. With the Vega, AURALiC have authored a very smart deck whose only possible flaw is its plastic wand. But even here a planned machined-from-solid option will square off at a perfect 90°.
 
In an age where flashy effects vie for short-term attention to make macro-pixel resolution de rigueur, Vega's celebration of minor opulence and big'n'bold beauty seems quite like a throwback. It's the antidote to the pixilation and thinning out of tone which follow today's fashionably relentless chase for more resolution like a shadow. Whilst this deck resolves dense 24/352.8kHz material natively (that's four times the file size of DSD64) and A/Bs confirm that its pursuit of beauty brushes nothing beneath the table, the core quality really is a whiff of the voluptuous. AURALiC must have laboured very hard indeed to so very adroitly sneak in such an attractive aroma without veering off the straight and narrow into something that would even remotely reek of excess.
 
When I add up the evidence of sonic elegance, comprehensive featurization, excellent build quality and dual-format top-resolution compliance, there's only one appropriate response: rousing applause (pipe that in now in full DSD128 or native 24/384) and a very blue award. Or as the Wikipedia would remind us, "Vega (α Lyr, α Lyrae, Alpha Lyrae) is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky and after Arcturus the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. It is a relatively close star at only 25 light-years from Earth and together with Arcturus and Sirius one of the most luminous stars in the sun's neighborhood." That's it - one of the brightest stars in the firmament yet relatively close to earth when it comes to coin. Hifi times are better than ever when one shops for substance not bling. With the Vega, ambitious company AURALiC has created the jewel in their catalogue's crown.
the Vega runs with more vigor especially in the top and wow factor. - it makes one’s standard Redbook rips sound like they’ve somehow been beautifully remastered.
….John Darko
For the budget DAC owner the question ultimately arrives via mental mail. Why would I spend several thousand on a new DAC when my little Micromega, Schiit, Audioquest (insert equivalent) sounds just fine? I’ve been playing this very scenario with the $599 Resonessence Labs Concero and AURALiC Vega. Indeed the Concero sounds just fine, understated but assured, smooth and detailed. Its feature set and sound quality exceed price-point expectations. You’d want for very little if this were all to which you were exposed.
 
More sophisticated power supply delivery, USB wizardry, preamp functionality, DSD playback, Femto clocking, MHz upsampling and a truly beautiful user interface is what you get when you upscale your DAC expenditure to the three and a half thousand dollars commanded by the Vega. The sonic amelioration is not chin-strokingly subtle when flipping Concero for Vega. You won’t find yourself huffing and aaaahing about which is better. The AURALiC’s talents hit you right between the eyes with a much greater tonal colour palette, more textural information, better dynamics micro and macro and far greater transparency all delivered with silken repose. 
 
I ran through a Redbook rip of R.E.M.’s much underrated New Adventures In HiFi. The Concero’s take is completely acceptable and listenable but it’s the Vega that imbues proceedings with that epic wide screen feeling. I’ve alluded to it in the Vega coverage on my own website but it bears repeating here: the box from AURALiC makes one’s standard Redbook rips sound like they’ve somehow been beautifully remastered.
 
Too much information? I can see why not all listeners would dig this. Some people prefer very tender obfuscation, shadowy corners and the power of suggestion. For them the Vega might be too explicit with its aural message. It is explicit but such directness is articulated with elegance and clarity. Compared to the Cees Ruijtenberg Metrum Hex, the Vega runs with more vigor especially in the top and wow factor.... The Vega is better with layer separation and teasing out marginal details. One could argue that they have gone for a more high fidelity true-to-source approach. This is not a criticism. 
 
Boiling it down to bare essentials. the Vega is for those in need of a kick in the seat of the pants. It will slice through the humidity of more buttery tubular sounds just so. Alternatively, think of it this way: the Vega fine dining (tantalising and cultivated). Whilst the latter’s show turns the listener on with a complete physical and cerebral experience, t
 
….John Darko
A car analogy .... I would go with Porsche , everyday liveability with super car performance.
Terry, 
Thanks for the Auralic Vega DAC demo. 

Straight out of the box it had the sabre chip clarity and detail that we loved about the new wonder chip when it first entered our listening lives.  

There something more here though, a smoothness and greater sense of scale to the music. Kind of sabre grows up and gets friendly. It has true Super DAC performance in a smart package with user friendly features like full featured remote, a good volume control, filters to make those badly recorded tracks listenable and accepts the DSD format files to place it at the top of the new tech ladder.    

A car analogy .... I would go with Porsche , everyday liveability with super car performance.

.....DC
Now I had better give them back and start saving ...
Hi Terry,
Many thanks for letting me demo the new Auralic Merak mono amps.    

While listening to them I woke the tablet up and rad the 6moons review on them. A couple of quoted from the review that I thought were spot on. "modern high-resolution sound with just the right underpinnings of analogue vintage virtues"  

and 

"....That's where class D done right comes to the rescue. It runs 24/7 cool yet with humdinger power. It has ultra-low output impedance to 'get a grip' or 'come to terms' with the usual speakers. Then it adds utter freedom from noise whilst transcending the usual turbo lag of legacy muscle amps which didn't sound good at low levels. Finally there's compact physical size. It's a winning combination of virtues class    

A can't match. 

Yet AURALiC's Meraks are all that and priced competitively."    

A little artistic licence in there of course but I feel very true and very appropriate for these magnificent amps.    

I will resist the temptation to wax lyrical and leave it at that ;)

Now I had better give them back and start saving ....   

Much Thanks

….DC
The Auralic Vega is a must audition component...the rich tone combined with a terrific transparency make it a DAC for both serious and all day listening.
The Computer Audiophile

The sense of space around the instruments is terrific but it's the feeling of being in the room with the musicians that's over the top. 

Through the Auralic Vega all three sound wonderful.

Playing the track Words of Wonder through the Vega in my system was a real treat. The deep basslines were tight and the transient response to the percussion section was enthusiastically awakening at high volumes.

I entered the Auralic Vega review process knowing as little information about the DAC as possible. I had no expectations for the Vega. By the time I selected the first track for playback via an Aurender W20 music server I'd long forgotten the product announcement I posted last year and had since confused the Vega's specs with countless other DACs on the market. DAC confusion is a little known benefit when trying to judge a product based on sound quality and minimize the influence of specs and features. In fact I didn't know the price of the DAC until I started writing this review. Going in "blindly" turned out to be terrific. Throughout the entire review I focussed solely on the music flowing through the Vega rather than items like how its USB receiver chip operated or its method of up or over sampling. These technical details could easily be found later in the manual, a technical document, or by trial and error. I wanted to know how the Vega sounded. After several weeks of listening I conclude without a doubt the Vega's great sound quality, transparency, and very rich tone earn it a spot on the Computer Audiophile Suggested Hardware List (C.A.S.H. List ). The $3,500 Auralic Vega digital to analog converter is quite possibly the best DAC I've heard at this price.
 
The Auralic Vega Digital Audio Processor
 
The Vega is Auralic's follow up to its ARK MX+ DAC. The Vega isn't a small tweak or slight upgrade rather it's in another league above the ARK. This is one of few DACs I've had in my system to support all PCM and DSD sample rates contained in my music library. Cynics can view this as playing the numbers game but those of us with great music in both formats and at all sample rates welcome this wide format and sample rate support. The CA forum has no shortage of people supporting and opposing PCM or DSD playback. There are also people supporting and opposing higher sample rates within each format. As a consumer all the technical talk about which format is better or has less noise is meaningless. The only thing that matters is the format of one's favorite music. If Nat King Cole's albums are available in PCM and DSD I want the ability to play both and decide which one sounds best in my system. I can look at graphs and noise shaping statistics until I'm blue in the face but that won't tell me anything about how Nat King Cole sounds through a thousand dollar system or hundred thousand dollar system. Fortunately Auralic elected to support all sample rates up through 32 Bit / 384 kHz PCM and 5.6448 MHz DSD via the Vega's asynchronous USB input. Auralic enables the user decide what sample rates and formats to listen to as opposed to a company like Lavry Engineering that has decided 96 kHz PCM is the maximum frequency its customers need despite the availability of 176.4, 192, and DSD material. The Auralic Vega uses an industry standard XMOS USB receiver chip that enables playback of high PCM and DSD rates on OS X and Linux without installation of device drivers. Windows installations require the very stable Thesycon drivers provided by Auralic. The Vega's USB chip doesn't require power via the computer's USB bus. This allows users to disable power flowing to the DAC via USB when using cards such as the SOtM tX-USBexp . DSD playback via USB is supported through the DoP v1.1 protocol. This enables native DSD music playback without conversion to PCM. The DSD files are packed into PCM packets, transferred to the DAC over USB, then unpacked for playback. At no time is the DSD music converted to a PCM data stream. DoP is similar to someone wearing a jacket in cold weather. I put a jacket on before leaving the house in February, travel to my destination, then remove my jacket upon arrival. Packet or jacket, both keep the internal package safe during transport.
 
The Vega digital audio processor features a new femto master clock. Audio enthusiasts have been talking about clocks with femtosecond levels of jitter for several months. These clocks are currently rare in high end audio but I wouldn't be surprised if several manufacturers started using femto clocks in their next designs. The Vega's femto clock features an aerospace grade crystal oscillator, ultra low noise linear power supply, temperature compensation, and low phase noise of -168dBc/Hz to reach its stated 82 femtoseconds of measured jitter. Whether this femtosecond clock is necessary as opposed to a pico or nano second clock really is of no consequence. High end audio is not about what's necessary or sufficient to reproduce high quality sound in one's home. It's about pushing technology, seeking perfection, and above all the music that arrives at the listener's ears. 
 
In addition to a femto clock the Vega features a powerful ARM based Auralic Sanctuary Audio Processor, the ORFEO Class-A Output Module, six user selectable filter modes, and a precise algorithm that upsamples PCM data streams to 1.5 MHz at 32 bits. Individually none of the aforementioned features mean a damn thing. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts to reproduce great quality audio. Fortunately the Auralic engineering team harnessed the power of the Sanctuary processor and built a formula with filters, output modules, and creative upsampling that equates to one of the best DACs I've heard in recent memory. 
 
The Vega's Flexible Filters provide each user an additional method of selecting what sounds best in his system. Auralic offers four PCM filter modes and two DSD filter modes. These filter modes should not be confused with individual filters. The filter modes are differentiated by filtering techniques and algorithms developed by Auralic engineers. For example Mode 1 offers the "best measurement performance with flat frequency response ... This mode has very small in-band ripple and best stop-band attenuation performance." Whereas Mode 4 consists of minimum phase filters removing pre-ringing and reducing the echo effect. Within each mode are filters optimized for each sample rate. Users select the filter Mode while the DAC selects the appropriate filter for the current sample rate. This is very similar to how dCS filter selection functions on its new Vivaldi components. The filters are different, but the automatic selection of filters based on sample rate is similar. Auralic enabled filter Mode 4 for PCM and Mode 6 for DSD by default because it believes these are the all around best filters for music enjoyment. After testing the filters in my system I agree with Auralic. I settled on both filter Modes 4 and 6 for the vast majority of my listening. 
 
The front panel display of the Vega is unique in that it contains the only visible branding on the chassis. When the power is off there isn't an Auralic logo in sight. When powered up the display features a nicely lit and stylized Auralic logo. In addition the fine detail of illuminating a real USB logo when the USB input is selected is very nice. Display of the sample rate of the currently playing track is as close to a must have option as I can think of right now. It's far too easy to accidentally up or down sample music on its way out to the DAC. The Vega's display brightly identifies both PCM and DSD rates for the listener. On the far right of the display in large type is the volume level. Auralic was smart in making the type large enough to read from any normal listening distance. Getting cute with extra small numbers or number that look good up close but are impossible to read from any distance is annoying to say the least. Auralic also provides the user a number of display dimming options included the option to turn it off completely. One note about volume, when set to its maximum level 100 the Vega outputs 4Vrms via both XLR and RCA analog outputs. I listened to the Vega set at 100 and connected to my Spectral 30SS Series 2 preamplifier throughout the review. 
 
Auralic's Vega - A Rising Star
 
Astronomers have called Vega "arguably the next most important star in the sky after the Sun." I'm not sure what other writers have called the Auralic Vega but I call it arguably the best DAC under $3,500. The Vega's stellar sonic character enabled me to listen to an over four hour playlist from start to finish without interruption. Not only did the Vega hold my attention for the entire time, but the sound had a grip on me like a drug. I didn't want to do anything other than listen to music through the Auralic Vega. I'm grateful I can set aside a four hour block of time to do nothing but listen to music. However, some components make these listening sessions harder than walking my one year old daughter through a toy store. The Vega was a serious joy to listen through in a much different way than the Luxman DA-06 DAC or the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2. The Luxman is a feast of flavors and spices layered on one's favorite music. The Alpha is as neutral as the day is long with the slightest amount of thinness in the top frequencies. The Vega has a tonal richness to it somewhere between the rich Meitner MA-1 and the neutral Alpha DAC. 
 
My extended playlist is comprised of music in both PCM and DSD at several different sample rates. I don't order the tracks by sample rate or bit depth or anything like that. I want to listen to my music in any order I chose and the DAC should be able to respond accordingly. Some DACs go a little haywire when changing sample rates or pause for an extended period of time when switching between PCM and DSD material. The Auralic Vega handled all changes smoothly without an audible sound or skipping a bit.
 
One of my new favorite artists and albums is Cecile McLorin Salvant and her WomanChild release at 24 bit / 96 kHz. The track St. Louis Gal is at the top of my playlist for good reason. I love the music and I love the way it sounds. The Vega reproduced Cecile's rich voice in a way that sucked me into the recording studio and left me very interested to learn more about Cecile as an artist. 
 
Recently at the Newport audio show I heard Keith Richards solo album Main Offender for the first time. What a pleasant surprise. Great music and great sound. I ordered the album via Amazon Prime so it was awaiting my arrival home. Playing the track Words of Wonder through the Vega in my system was a real treat. The deep basslines were tight and the transient response to the percussion section was enthusiastically awakening at high volumes. 
 
I've been into John Hiatt since hearing him on the Adam Carolla Show a few years ago. My favorite Hiatt track is Learning How To Love You from his Bring The Family album. I own this album on CD, DVD-Audio, and SACD. Without a disc spinner in my house to play a physical format I also own the PCM 16/44.1, PCM 24/96, and DSD 1 bit/2.8224 MHz versions. Through the Auralic Vega all three sound wonderful. The best version in my system was clearly the DSD format. John's guitar sounded as realistic as I'd ever heard it in any system. Comparing the 24/96 PCM version to the DSD version using the Vega the PCM track had a synthetic sound that made me think John's guitar had "plastic" strings. Without the ability to compare these versions I would still have been very satisfied with any one of them. It's the ability to compare that brings out the best and worst of anything. 
 
In addition to my four hour playlist I downloaded and played Reference Recordings' new release There's A Time from Doug MacLeod at 24 bit / 176.4 kHz. This is one stunningly real recording made even better when played through a great DAC like the Auralic Vega. The sense of space around the instruments is terrific but it's the feeling of being in the room with the musicians that's over the top. 
 
Conclusion
 
The Auralic Vega is a must audition component for readers seeking a DAC that does it all and does it all well for less than US$3,500. The Vega's rich tone combined with a terrific transparency make it a DAC for both serious and all day listening. After spending hours on end with the Vega I didn't suffer one ounce of listener fatigue. I also didn't think about its internal components and how they operate because the Vega simply played everything in my library. It's nice that the Vega is built to a high standard with excellent internal components. A peek under the hood reveals an incredibly clean design that's eye candy for enthusiasts. It's even better than the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Sound quality and flawless operation of the Auralic Vega are the main reasons this DAC is better than the competition. 
 
I simply wonder if this DAC is simply too good, performing better than my aging ears allow me to hear.
Vincent Kars
Conclusions
Comparing the Vega/Taurus with the Benchmark using the headphone out of the Benchmark and the headphone out of the Taurus, the Vega/Taurus is the better of the two. Comparing the DACs using the same headphone out of the Taurus, the differences are subtle.  The USB implementation of the Vega is an improvement compared with the adaptive mode USB of the Benchmark.
Auralic VEGA
If you are used to modern electronics, the VEGA feels old fashioned with a weight of 3.3 kg.
A solid piece of metal in an esthetically pleasing enclosure.
 
A nice display (512*64 pixels OLED) telling you the source, the sample rate and the volume level. Brightness is adjustable. You can also set it to auto off.
The rotary switch doubles as a control for the volume and the settings.
Inputs
All traditional inputs, Toslink, SPDIF (2x RCA) and AES/EBU are there.
Having two SPDIF over coax inputs, I would have preferred at least one BNC input.
According to the specs 32 bit PCM from 44.1 to 192 kHz is supported.
 
This applies to the Toslink as well.
According to the standard 96 kHz is max but modern Toslink is capable of outperforming the standard.
Using the Toslink out of my iMac, 24/192 played without a problem.
 
Like all modern DACs the VEGA has a USB input and uses asynchronous synchronization.
The USB can do PCM up to 32 Bit/ 384 kHz and DSD64( 2.8224MHz) and DSD128(5.6448MHz) using the DoP protocol.
Outputs
Two analog outs
1*Balanced XLR (output impedance 4.7ohm)
1*Single-ended RCA (output impedance 50ohm)
 
One output I’m really missing is a headphone out.
As the XLR and the RCA can be used simultaneously, you can connect both a power amp and a headphone amp to the DAC.
I connected the XLR out straight tot my mono blocks and the RCA to a headphone amp (Auralic Taurus).
ActiveUSB
If you run a website filled to the brim with information about USB audio the first thing is to connect the DAC to the USB.
Windows will protest as this is a UAC2 (USB Audio Class 2) device.
MS simply don't support this 2009 USB standard.
Downloaded and installed the UAC2 driver from the Auralic website.
 
Set JRiver to WASAPI/event style and in a couple of minutes the unit was up and running.
Latency
 
If you see this, you know you are in for disaster.
This is my laptop and its latency is very high.
I know how to cure this, disable all network drivers, but no internet is a bit inconvenient on your workhorse.
Besides, all the audio is on the NAS.
Disabling the NVIDIA driver ins't an option either.
Playing audio on this laptop is simply listening to dropouts.
 
If a manufacturer claims to have ActiveUSB™, a trick to overcome the DPC latency, this laptop is the ideal test bed.
Couldn't find any information about ActiveUSB on the Auralic website.
My guess is that as in async mode the DAC controls the amount of data send by the PC, they use this feature to fill a large buffer.
I didn't experience any dropout with the VEGA connected to this laptop.
Highres
Most of my collection is plain redbook.
Have a couple of high res recordings but nothing in the 300 kHz range or DSD.
 
A good reason to visit the 2L website.
Their Test Bench HD audio offer Hires in all kind of formats.
Tried a DXD (24 bit / 352.8kHz), it played without a flaw.
 
Next a stereo DFF file in DSD 64, a single bit at 2.8224 Mbit/s.
JRiver protested, it didn't recognize this weird format.
That is inherent to DoP, they fake the USB audio by presenting the DSD as if it is PCM.
 
One needs to enable bit streaming in JRiver.
Once set the display of the Vega says DSD 64.
Likewise with DSD 128.
All these highres formats plays without a problem on this high latency PC.
Didn't had a single dropout.
 
Using the WASAPI interface, sample rate switching is done automatically.
Hearing no clicks when this happens.
Obvious a very robust USB audio implementation able to play even highres on a PC with a way to high latency.
Clock
You can adust the locking on the source.
According to the manual:
 
1.AUTO(default)
VEGA will use the best possible internal clock precision locking to any inputs.
This function provide perfect balance between sound quality and locking performance.
2.COARSE
VEGA will use higher input lock bandwidth, allow itself to lock on most digital
sources even with aggressive jitter. 
3.FINE (Available conditional)
Manual set the clock precision to high to improve sound quality. For digital
inputs, it may get harder to lock unless the digital source offers good performance(
less jitter). For USB input, you may experience drop off if the computer's
performance is not powerful enough or if too many software has been installed.
4.EXACT (Available conditional)
Manual set the clock precision to highest level for maximize sound quality. For
digital inputs, it will only lock to low jitter digital source, especially at higher
sampling rate. For USB input, you will experience drop off on any computer
without special optimization for music playback.
Even on my laptop the EXACT option worked up to 88.
When using a 192 the audio started to stutter.
Using my dedicated audio PC I didn't had that problem.
.
(Available conditional)  has nothing to do with the model or so.
The Femto clock is temperature controlled.
Probably the only way to have it run at is incredible low 82 femtoseconds intrinsic jitter level.
(A Femto= 0.000 000 000 000 001 s).
The DAC needs to run for about an hour to get the clock stable (or use sleep mode, this will keep the crystal at operating temperature).
Only then these options are available.
Filter
Four different types of filters are available.
The whitepaper [1} explains them nicely.
 
Mode 1 uses the same parameters for stop- and pass-band in relation to the sample rate.
It has a flat frequency response at the expense of a large group delay.
 
The table shows the impact of the sample rate on group delay nicely.
The higher the better.
This is typical for digital audio. The fundamental problems remain the same but the higher the sample rate the smaller they become.
 
Mode 2 is like Mode 1 with less delay at the expense of a slight roll-off of the treble.
Mode 3 minimize echo and pre-ringing at the expense of a more aggressive roll‐off at treble.
Mode 4 is a minimum phase filter.
 
This is I do think typical for filtering; if perfect in the frequency domain the time domain suffers and visa versa. 
It will always be a compromise.
It is nice to fool around with the filter settings of this DAC.
Gives you a taste what filtering does.
Thanks to the interface you can change the filter reasonably fast allowing for rapid AB.
Listening impression
Calling this an "impression" not a review is a deliberate choice.
Describing "sound quality" is by design a matter of perception.
Perception is highly subjective.
Another day, another mood and you perceive things different.
Beside if I would have called this a review, people might think I'm a reviewer.
As I'm a bit picky about my reputation, this should be avoided at all cost!
 
A lot of listening has been done using my IEM (Etymotic ER4P).
It isolates me perfect from the surroundings and my wife from a guy who is switching between filters like mad.
Talking perception: I call the ER4P transparent, a friend of mine call them harsh.
Different perceptions of the same characteristic. They are revealing anyway, give you that X-ray on the recording.
With this in mind, I can only say the VEGA is a very transparent DAC.
I heard no sharpness at all.
I do think it is very neutral. Good recordings sound good, bad recordings bad.
No sweet added.
The whole performance is most of all effortless.
 
Listening to this DAC/pre-amp over my speakers confirms this effortless character
My speakers (Apogee Caliper Signature) are the opposite of my IEM.
They throw a holistic sound stage (pardon me). They present the recording as a whole (pardon me again but I love them). 
Again everything simply sounds right.
Rapid AB
Rapid AB is my preferred method when listening to subtle difference.
 
I compared the Vega with my Benchmark DAC1.
If I had started to talk poetically about all the differences I heard, nobody would protest.
 
How to compare.
You like to have everything equal except the 2 boxes. I could connect both over the USB. However, the internet says not all USB ports are created equal. This would be comparing apples and oranges.
 
I could use the same port.
However, you have to swap cables and that is not rapid AB. Beside the Benchmark is an adaptive mode USB limited to 24/96. Of all of its inputs, this one has the lowest sound quality. I decided to connect the Benchmark over Toslink to the iMac.
 
I could have used the Toslink of the Vega too but again, swapping cables is not rapid AB.
I connected the Vega over the USB. This is my first apples and oranges.
 
The Benchmark has a headphone out, the Vega doesn't.
I connected the Vega to the Taurus headphone amp.
This means you have to swap the IEM between the two.
That is not rapid AB.
Anyway, there is an audible difference. The Vega/Taurus combo sounds more refined.
 
The Taurus has two inputs, a XLR and a RCA..
Connected the Vega over the RCA and the Benchmark over the XLR.
Finally I could do my rapid AB because one push on the button is sufficient to switch between the two inputs.
If you think 1 m of RCA or XLR makes the difference, this is another apple and orange.
 
Our hearing is very sensible to differences in loudness. 
The levels must be matched within 0.1 db. 
I don't have an SPL meter. 
Even if I had one, I wonder if it would work with an IEM.
Take out your voltmeter and simple measure the line out but XLR is about the double of RCA.
I decided to reverse the argument. If our hearing is so bloody sensitive, it must be easy to match the levels by hearing! Another apple/orange.
 
The Benchmark has a switch allowing you to bypass the volume control.
Gives you fixed line level.
The Vega doesn't have a fixed line out, it has digital volume control only.
The only thing I could do to match the two was turning up the volume of the digital volume control on the Vega until the loudness matched the Benchmark.
This was at 83 on a 100 point scale.
This is listening to a DAC with a straight line out and to one with digital volume control. 
Fortunately eating fruits is healthy, another apple and orange to add to the basket.
 
I set up two zones in JRiver.
Both configured the same (WASAPI event style, same buffer size and all DSP disabled including volume control).
Finally, I had my rapid AB between my apple and my orange.
 
The pushbutton on the Taurus toggles the inputs. 
It doesn't give you a positional clue about what is selected.
I took a small strip of Post-it and covered the sense lights.
No clue about what is playing.
Now I could compare my apple and my orange unsighted.
 
Unsighted tests are not recommended.
As you don't know what you are listening to you might hear no difference at all or even worse, prefer the sound of the cheapest of the two! This will be the undoing of your audiophile reputation.
 
I must admit, mine was at stake. With a lot of program material, I was really struggling.  Using recent recordings (a lot of my collection was bought in the late 80's/early 90's) I had more success. The trick was playing recordings with a lot of treble (I listen to classical and this is most of all midrange). The Benchmark is a bit more forward than the Vega. The Vega is the more refined of the two   

Conclusions:

Comparing the Vega/Taurus with the Benchmark using the headphone out of the Benchmark and the headphone out of the Taurus, the Vega/Taurus is the better of the two.
Comparing the DACs using the same headphone out of the Taurus, the differences are subtle. 
The USB implementation of the Vega is an improvement compared with the adaptive mode USB of the Benchmark.
 
I simply wonder if this DAC is simply too good, performing better than my aging ears allow me to hear.
 
MERAK attains coveted 6MOONS- BLUE MOON award - Street-legal muscle car with sedan comforts, brilliant handling, winning speed and zero noise emissions all for a Honda sticker.
Srajan Ebaen

the Merak monos exhibited a near ideal balance of minor warmth with stupendous detail density.

AURALiC's take on class D plainly achieves a more relaxed flow without sacrificing raw detail acuity. The striated wiriness I remember from NuForce Reference amp is gone. I in fact doubt seriously that anyone would/could peg these as class D by just listening. 

In audiophile lingo it's modern high-resolution sound with just the right underpinnings of analog vintage virtues. Considering the two high-performance competitors covered above, my nod for ultimate value & performance falls on today's AURALiC Merak. Of higher fidelity than the ICEpower integrated, not quite as brilliant but uncomfortably close to the Ncore equivalents which sell for nearly twice the coin, the Meraks have simply nailed that most attractive balance of them all...

23 June 2012 16:38. "We will be able to ship Merak*1 units in small quantities to the media and our retail partners by the end of July if you are interested." 
 
That was 王轩骞 or Xuanqian Wang of AURALiC. Harbouring ICEpower misgivings—not per se but having reviewed a number of such amps I was keen on different—he quickly set me straight: "ICEpower is old-fashioned, not friendly with different loads and the performance deteriorates at high frequencies. We run a heavily modified Hypex UcD module for much better performance than stock. The mod procedure is secret but we can provide a before/after test chart. That clearly shows how it now measures far better to also reflect on subjective listening.
 
"Most ICEpower boards integrate a switching power supply. That cannot be bypassed. An SMPS has less than ideal dynamics due to its natural limitations. Also bass will never equal a linear supply on extension and ease. Our Merak thus uses an expensive linear supply—500-watt low-noise Plitron mains transformer and over 56.000uF capacitance—to produce far better bass. We also integrate a Lundahl input transformer and our class A Orpheo module to overcome most the liabilities of class D. We have sent prototypes to several domestic reviewers. All of them were amazed when told that the Merak uses a switching output stage. They couldn't believe class D can sound this good. We also organized a party in our location using the amps on different loudspeakers including the most challenging kind. Feedback was terrific." 
_____________________________
 
*1 If you wonder about the name, Merak is also Beta Ursae Maioris, a star in the constellation of the Big Bear 80 light years from the earth.
 
"We have a pair of NCore NC1200 samples which sound very natural and overtake most <$10.000 class AB amps on the market if properly used. For the next 5 years NCore is a game changer! The only limit from a popularity perspective is price. I believe Hypex spent a lot of money developing the NCore module. I fully appreciate their pricing structure. But so far it is very expensive, far beyond what we can achieve with traditional class AB technology. I think that $10,000 is just a starter price for amps using NCore. If one goes beyond stock on the power supply and adds fancy casings, the price could easily escalate. NCore so far is only for flagships.*2 That module should be used with a linear power supply to really maximize its performance. This would demand a >1.200 watt linear supply. Properly done that gets extremely expensive. For the Merak and considering build cost and sell price, we thus opted for UcD over NCore to allow for a $5,000/pr sticker that's within reach of more people."
___________________________________________
 
*2 Acoustic Imagery and Merrill Audio have released $9.000/pr NCore-based monos and more enthusiastic endorsers of NCore and NCore-inspired UcD working on their own units are Paul McGowan of PS Audio and Jeff Rowland of JRDG.
 
"The new fully balanced Taurus Pre will become available together with the Merak monos. At the very start the Taurus preamp was simply an enhanced version of the original Taurus. It added remote control and more inputs but otherwise customer feedback on Taurus as preamp had been good. 
 
"During the evaluation stage however we found the sonics of the original which had been optimized for headphones not completely satisfying in preamp usage. In Taurus we had deliberately cut some treble because headphones are more direct. Their treble won't attenuate traveling long distance as it does with loudspeakers a few meters removed and facing a large room. 
 
"That contour was perfectly legit for the HPA but not for a preamplifier. Now we lost too much treble and soundstage dimensionality, hence the overall sound grew a little dull. Moreover Taurus circuit gain was too high for a linestage. 
 
"We thus redesigned the entire circuit. It is still based on the original architecture but has adjusted specific parameters. The input buffer now has even lower noise, the gain is lower, there is less distortion with superior treble and the Orfeo module runs on a different bias current. In toto Taurus Pre is better qualified as preamplifier but no longer the perfect candidate for HPA due to its much reduced drive. In our opinion a superior headphone amp must drive the two biggest current monsters—HE6 and K1000—but the Taurus Pre cannot. 
 
"If you forget about those two however, the Taurus Pre remains an excellent choice even if, perhaps, it sounds a little brighter than the standard Taurus. Its retail price with remote has been set at $2.099. Since we cannot achieve perfection for all applications in a single still affordable circuit, both Taurus and Taurus Pre remain in our catalogue for different customers." - 王轩骞
 
Twice the mono. Back to Merak. Power is 200/400 watts into 8/4Ω. With a twist. The mono amps can be mono'd once more. For ultra power, two Meraks strap together via the inverted XLR output of one. Redo cables and Bob's your rich uncle. The license plate on his Maserati Merak now reads 800 into 8. Got gas? Vroom vroom.
 
Actually, dedicated phase monos require just a tiny bit more. "I believe most of our customers won't need to because the standard Merak already exhibits very powerful drive. The 200/400w into 8/4Ω rating is continuous. Peak power is actually 280/900w into 8/4Ω. But for anyone who thinks that 200 watts aren't quite sufficient for an 8Ω speaker in a very large room, bridging two Meraks for one channel quadruples output to 800 watts into 8Ω continuous*3. This requires our bridge kit accessory (<$50). In addition to connecting the inv out XLR—simply a phase-inverted output with swapped pins 2 and 3—of one amp to the standard XLR input of the other via the included very short standard XLR link of the kit, one must install two more jumpers. Those connect the two hot and cold outputs. The -|- jumper simply establishes a shared ground reference. The +|+ is different. It inserts a small stabilizing capacitor for bridge mode. Now you insert the speaker cable's hot lead to the first amp and its cold lead to the second."
 
*3 As is common MO for bridged amps, the power increase trades for low-impedance stability. A bridged 800-watt pair of Meraks is meant for nominal 8Ω speakers, not 4Ω humdingers with serious dips.
 
"Merak also includes a defeatable signal sensor. That automatically wakes up the amp from standby with a valid music signal and returns it to sleep mode without. This is a very useful feature particularly with four bridged monos. You needn't turn them off/on one by one. The Plitron mains transformer is very expensive as it had to be very low in profile—less than 57mm in fact—but couldn't exceed a still acceptable diameter. The price for such compacted dimensions was about twice what a standard size equivalent would have cost. Relative to the overall circuit and the number of stages you asked about, the Lundahl transformer acts as input buffer for superior common mode rejection (always better than 100dB). The advantage of an input transformer goes beyond just breaking potential ground loops." 
 
It also eliminates EMI noise even when the preceding device—preamp, variable-gain source—suffers an output impedance imbalance. Such imbalanced inputs could result in serious CMR degradation with a transistor-based input buffer where in certain cases a just 1% imbalance can lead to a poor 40dB CMR value. Next we completely bypass the UcD 400 board's gain stage to use our own voltage gain stage plus the class A Orfeo buffer feeding the UcD's low-impedance switching stage. You could view this as a 4-stage topology with only the last stage using switching technology." - 王轩骞
 
The 56.000uF capacitor array represents an energy storage of more than 120 Joule to deliver 16 amps of peak current about equal to 900 watts into large power-hungry loudspeakers says AURALiC.
 
To recap, AURALiC's Merak introduces a transitorized twist on a theme Mark O'Brien's Rogue Audio Medusa [right] and Hydra amps sang at CES 2012. The two rogues mate a Hypex UcD 400 module with bypassed gain stage to custom tube gain and a linear power supply*4. Merak's tube equivalent becomes the class A Orfeo buffer preceded by a Lundahl input transformer. But the concept of exploiting UcD just for its switching output stage whilst avoiding an SMPS in favor of a burly linear power supply are shared. Merak thus becomes the rogue of Hong Kong. The catalogue of AURALiC now spans four half-width components: a DAC, two headfi/preamps and a pair of mono amps.
 
*4 There are also the ICEpower-based H2O Audio amplifiers from Mr. Ho which combine B&O modules with absolutely massive linear power supplies.
 
AURALiC mods. "This is the test result from the original Hypex module and our improved one. Whilst we did sacrifice THD by 6dB, we reduced all 4th to 9th higher-order harmonic distortion by a remarkable level. This is a key reason why Merak sounds different from other switching amplifiers." - 王轩骞
 
From the comfort of my arm chair I'd long wondered why the rise of ICEpower amps hadn't been challenged by Hypex competition. The latest D class Pacific Rim amp I'd hosted had been Simon Lee's ice'd Eximus S1. Competing for the same customer, AURALiC now suggested that we go Dutch with Bruno Putzeys' Hypex/UcD, albeit only partially and then clearly modified. In this steadily growing segment I was keen on hearing how the other half lived. 
 
"The only thing I should explain until the English owner's manual is back from the printer is about the automatic wake up/sleep function. Merak ships with this function enabled. To disable it, simply press and hold down the frontal power button whilst the unit is powered up. Once you see the LED flash, release the button. The unit will go into standby and this function is disabled. To activate it again, press and hold the button whilst the unit is in sleep mode. When you see the light flash, release the button and it is enabled again. The auto-off trigger is 5 minutes of no input signal. If you wake the enabled unit by manually pressing the button, it won't go to sleep automatically. What's more, if you put the unit to sleep by manually pressing the button, the unit won't wake up automatically unless the input signal disappears for a continuous 5 minutes. If you want it to wake up automatically immediately, you need to power off completely with the mains switch in the back and restart it again. This function is very smart and won't wake up the unit with anything but true music signal." - 王轩骞
 
Powering on the supremely sleek silver amps leashed to AudioSolutions' flagship Rhapsody 200, I was very impressed by how absolutely inaudible these high-power monos operated with my ear right on the tweeters. Mechanically a slight hum from in-rush current when the circuits first went live subsided to inaudible a few seconds later. Fabulous!
 
That particular f-word changed to another when one amp's core awoke from such laudably deep sleep to buzz loudly, then went properly asleep again as though I'd imagined it all. These snoring interludes would repeat at unpredictable intervals. I soon suspected UFO moments—unexplainable friggin' oops—related perhaps to intermittent DC incidents on the mains. That's a common cause of transformer hum after all. Of course with the second unit stoically immune, that was mere and perhaps even lame theory.
 
"If our toroids start to hum, it would be either from DC or overvoltage on the mains. Since the amps shut down above 240V the latter should be no issue. [GigaWatt's PC-3SE Evo conditioner with its voltage readout feeding my front-end components confirmed that my nominal 230V Swiss mains power never exceeded 237V - Ed]. We test extensively for DC mains effects. If the transformer hums loudly, DC has to exceed 4V. Though our toroids use narrow-band cores, Plitron assures us they are no more sensitive than others. In fact our Chinese mains supply isn't very good at all. Voltage is unstable, DC offset is serious with lots of attendant EMI. Hence we are twice cautious about any such conditions when we design all our products. It's exactly why we also implement the Purer-Power AC filter technology." - 王轩骞
 
During my review of the Polish powerline conditioner I'd asked its maker about filtering for DC. "Generally even the best and most expensive power toroids—especially high power above 500-700w—aren't resistant to hum from DC. We have huge experience in this area. It's why we resigned from transformers in our products. We used high-quality transformers before (700-1500w). Despite our best efforts we could never completely eliminate noise. Hum depends on many causes: AC sine wave distortion, slack in the transformer core (very often!) and DC current. DC filters can help but that depends on the build of a given transformer and other causes. For now our products don't eliminate DC because generally only a fraction of devices on the market hum. But we do plan to make such products in the future." Either way Xuanqian needed the unit back. If a slacking toroidal core or other mechanical failure was responsible, Plitron had to inspect the part to determine cause. I was impressed again with this very calm professional response and shortly after TNT whisked off the unit to China.
 
10 days later I had it back with a new transformer even though AURALiC couldn't replicate the behavior on their bench. For me it was problem solved as the new toroid was quiet. For them it meant forwarding the spotty transformer to Plitron for a post mortem to hopefully shed light on its intermittent hum. A day after the amp returned, Xuanqian dispatched the press release about their new €3.299 Vega, an ambitious product they'd started developing 18 months prior. The Vega is a fully balanced digital audio processor with remote-controlled volume. Built around the same multi-core ARM 9 based Swiss Archwave Sanctuary chip first featured in their Ark MX+ DAC, it upsamples all PCM input signal to 1.5MHz at 32-bit depth. 
 
This "creates a new Nyquist frequency which allowed us to design a brand-new analog circuit with higher bandwidth and faster slew rate." A femto master clock offers 0.082 pico-second clock jitter. Orfeo Class A modules once again govern the analog output stage. Data support includes DXD at 352.8/384kHz as well as native DSD at 2.8224/5.6448MHz in the established DoP V1.1 transfer protocol over USB. D/A conversion and non-lossy digital volume control are via Sabre's ESS 9018. Input socketry includes 1 x AES/EBU, 2 x coax, 1 x optical and 1 x USB with the firm's next-generation ActiveUSB™ "which separates the USB PHY into a discrete chip to reduce EMI from the computer". Specs include S/N ratio of 126dB A-weighted, THD+N of <0.0003%, dynamic range of 130dB, output impedance of 2.2/50Ω on XLR/RCA, max 4.2V output and a 512 x 64 pixel OLED display. 
 
Due to the Merak's very low noise floor and 'analogue' voicing, DAC-direct balanced drive should really guarantee similar S/N and dynamic range values to prevent resolution strangulation in the chain. That would make Vega the perhaps ideal companion. For this review however I'd still 'make do' with the Taurus preamplifier and wrap the assignment in a timely manner.
 
Now let's return to the first page where Xuanqian made a particular statement. I frankly lack the tech savvy to enter into any intelligent discussion on the relative merits and demerits of ICEpower versus UcD. Where I can and will weigh in is how April Music's Stello Ai700—and by extension the very similar Peachtree Audio Grand Integrated—differed in the listening seat. Having the Ai700 and a pair of Nc1200-based Acoustic Imagery Atsah monos on hand whilst the Meraks were in residence allowed for a sampling of latest-gen bridged ICEpower for 500wpc into 8Ω powered by B&O's SMPS; Ncore with its stock SMPS [right]; and today's modified UcD 400 with a linear supply.
 
To cut to the chase, ICEpower in these implementations was slower, warmer, fuzzier and thicker. Particularly the upper bass seemed emphasized—it got positively elephantine on the Rhapsody speakers with their deliberately lower Qms—whilst the treble was just a bit hooded. If I had to nutshell the effect, I'd call it a legacy paper-driver sound. If I could borrow from the recent Rhapsody review, I'd call it vintage Sonus faber voicing with an American rather than European bass balance. Think attractively physical, organic, warm and generous yet not the last word in lucidity, speed, dynamic jump factor or dimensional sculpting. When I learnt that Simon Lee had introduced his Ai700 to US audiences at RMAF 2012 with ceramic-driver Mårten Design speakers, I thought 'perfect'. Such a combination really would seem ideal. By extension I'd not say the same about leashing his integrated to the AudioSolutions or Serblin-era Sonus fabers. Such an overtly warm + warm combo sacrifices too much haute-cuisine resolution at the altar of comfort food.
 
As two apples fallen off the Putzeys tree, the delta between Merak and Atsah predictably was a lot smaller. Both assumed a counterpoint position to the Korean integrated. They were quicker, more lit up all over, more incisive, in higher front-to-back-and-everywhere-between relief, more resolved and more energetically charged. Where they differed was by degree. The Ncore monos—stock Hypex tucked into very fancy casings—were the most illuminated, lit, unconcealed or shadow-less. They best matched the opposite polarity of the Lithuanian Rhapsody speakers. My customary Aries Cerat Gladius loads its 12-inch Fostex woofer into a far smaller sealed air volume. Then it's augmented on top by a Raal ribbon to be inherently tauter, faster and leaner than the generous slightly underdamped dual-woofer dual-port bass alignment of the AudioSolutions speaker. This shifted my priorities. 
 
To build out a bit more textural density for the Gladius in fond remembrance of the just-departed Rhapsody meant that the Atsah monos now wanted my valve-buffered NWO-M DAC where the Lithuanians had had all the body I wanted with the $899 Asus Xonar Essence Muses Edition DAC in amp-direct mode. With the Merak monos splitting the difference though being far closer to the Atsah than Ai700, for the Gladius speakers I could revert to my usual Eximus DP-1 DAC. This again meant balanced DAC-direct drive to eliminate the costly NWO-M whose lack of volume control mandates a preamp.
 
Did this litany of gear have you lose track? Let's explicate. To some the prospect of 'digital' amps conjures up lack of tone to fret about what type of valve preamp counteractions might be required. Here the Merak is toneful all by itself. Unless your speakers need an extra boost—perhaps because they're teutonically bright—you needn't uncork any glass bottles. It's cheers going transistors all the way. With these amps there's dense detail and detail density. The soundstage is chock-a-block with musical detail. Unlike with earlier class D, this detail isn't edge-rimmed, bright or hyper focused however. It's undeniably there and is so en masse. But now it simply coexists with material gravitas. Call it the heaviness of substance. It's no longer a sharp-toothed piranha swarm in a feeding frenzy. It's a benign school of bigger fish passing by stately. This means edginess and subliminal agitation are gone.
 
As playback levels increase, this heaviness increases in lockstep. Because detail capture is immense, high volumes create a particular intensity. This can get nearly oppressive by how much virtual space it occupies. That's key with this amp as it was for its nearly twice-priced Atsah relative. It's what's different from my low-power class A FirstWatt amps or class AB Bakoon AMP-11R. Those are still more illuminated from within, more aerated and thus translucent. They also have the more effervescent top end. In that sense they're lithe-ankled ballerinas, not stout farm girls. Their damping factors are lower too. Perhaps as we ascend in frequency, less damping means more elasticity and liberty to ring out?
 
Flexibility.

AURALiC's clever input transformers meant no ground loops. Unlike with the Atsah monos I could fearlessly use my Nagra/Neutrik XLR/RCA adapters and run RCA cable with non-XLR'd preamps like the 12AU7-based Concert Fidelity and Bent Audio; or the RCA outputs of my ModWright and Esoteric without any noise. That said DAC-direct drive did have the edge in directness even over the €24.000 Japanese reader loaner. Finding a DAC with proper volume control (preferably analog to maintain resolution when playing very low levels) plus a legible readout to enable precise repetitions could thus be the next to-do item for a Merak shopper. Here AURALiC's own Vega would seem custom-made, its 32-bit 1.5MHz upsampling protocol a possible antidote to prior limitations of digital attenuation.

 
In these mostly digital days—for many listeners analog sources are already passé —the elimination of a preamp has become very viable. Naturally this dumps whatever additive virtues a preamp previously handled onto one's amp and/or source. It thus relies on circuits like the Merak to be tonally complete. Now the search is on for an input signal of the highest quality. With a noise rating of <50uV, here these powerful Asian monos won't throw away resolution. That's king on ultra-complex rhythmic fare like a quartet of cracker-jack Turkish darbuka hand percussionists establishing densely interweaving tattoos of staccato salvos whilst instrumental and vocal contributors surround them like ornate Arab lettering tendrils. Doing the magic with the typical girl singer on the piano is child's play by comparison (and exactly why that type of fare dominates trade-show demos).
 
Rating.

Whilst the Meraks gave up a sprinkling of lucidity to the Ncore amps, they countered with far superior value; immunity to ground loops for broader interfacing with non-balanced drivers; and a slightly more relaxed take. The Ncores had the more incisive bite which, all men on deck, can be bloody exhilarating. Equally it's higher maintenance when recording quality declines or ancillaries aren't up to it. Again, by splitting the difference between April Music's ICEpower and Acoustic Imagery's Ncore sound—in the middle of the half closer to the latter—the Merak monos exhibited a near ideal balance of minor warmth with stupendous detail density. Be it Ulrich Herkenhoff whistling his pan flute in the very top register to loosen dental fillings; the Balkan Messengers ripping through high-speed Bulgarian odd-metered rutchenitzas to pester your nerves; brightly recorded bubble-gum shaabi from Cairo for great vocals but bitchy sonics; equally forward Cuban brass screams; a massive steel-drum orchestra from Trinidad clanging away; Claude Chalhoub and his all-string orchestra doing massed spiccato mic'd closely; or other really challenging stuff... the Meraks had me neither flinch nor yawn.

 
Once you think about it, that's the master trick. We all want maximum emotional excitement but not relentlessness. Ratcheting up adrenaline factor with hornspeaker dynamics can get trying. It's why their usual remedy is valves. We want tonal weightiness to escape being surrounded by spectral electrostatic ghosts. Yet we don't want a quagmire of stickiness that renders physicality into artery-clogging taffy. How to negotiate the path with equal attention on both halves is the audiophile conundrum. When it comes to low-power amps and the speakers suitable to them, class A's special handling of the top end—tintinnabulation—and harmonic richness still has the advantage in my SIT1 monos from Nelson Pass. Once we get to speakers that require more power and damping however (the latter would apply to nearly all ported designs), class A quickly escalates on cost, size and heat dissipation. 
 
Combo appeal. That's where class D done right comes to the rescue. It runs 24/7 cool yet with humdinger power. It has ultra-low output impedance to 'get a grip' or 'come to terms' with the usual speakers. Then it adds utter freedom from noise whilst transcending the usual turbo lag of legacy muscle amps which didn't sound good at low levels. Finally there's compact physical size. It's a winning combination of virtues class A can't match. Yet AURALiC's Meraks are all that and priced competitively. Finally their linear power supplies won't have you worried about yet another in-house radiator of HF noise never mind whether it's audible. Health issues factor too. In my book less ultrasonic radiation is always preferable to more.
 
I don't know what AURALiC have done to achieve their documented reduction of higher-order THD. Its presence in the first place (one assumes) is due to copious negative feedback inside the Hypex module. But this is an example for where measurements correlate directly with subjective perception. AURALiC's take on class D plainly achieves a more relaxed flow without sacrificing raw detail acuity. The striated wiriness I remember from NuForce Reference amp is gone. I in fact doubt seriously that anyone would/could peg these as class D by just listening. This really is the next chapter similar to how Scott Berry's DAC 1543 under the CAD label combines no-oversampling no-filtering analogue virtues with 176.4kHz data processing, the very latest in power supplies and 16 paralleled chips to take USB DACs to the next level.
 
By intellectual makeup I'm generally predisposed against high-power amps. I find their justification dubious when the speakers are selected smartly to render them redundant. That said, the speaker market is dominated by designs which benefit from them. The ongoing appeal of small boxes with extended bass says it all. Since this appeal is very real—what average household wants monkey coffins—a high-fidelity amp solution for still sane coin is needed. That's AURALiC's Meraks. That they play it backwards too to enfold speakers fully coming on song with 5 watts is an extra bonus for contrarians like myself. There's absolutely nothing lumbering about these silvery low riders. A quick romp through Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg's Tribulations with some Grappelli-esque Jazz violin demonstrates that in a heartbeat. It's all très swingé in fact, light on its feet like a dancer.
 
Conclusion.

Street-legal muscle car with sedan comforts, brilliant handling, winning speed and zero noise emissions all for a Honda sticker. It's basic but fitting. In audiophile lingo it's modern high-resolution sound with just the right underpinnings of analog vintage virtues. Considering the two high-performance competitors covered above, my nod for ultimate value & performance falls on today's AURALiC Merak. Of higher fidelity than the ICEpower integrated, not quite as brilliant but uncomfortably close to the Ncore equivalents which sell for nearly twice the coin, the Meraks have simply nailed that most attractive balance of them all...

the Vega is the first sensibly-priced DAC I’ve heard that I could readily embrace as one of my primary digital source components.
Chris Martins

Breif summary:

The Vega takes discerning audiophiles and music lovers very far up the high-end audio performance ladder, providing them with a versatile and technically advanced digital playback solution they will not soon outgrow.

The Vega’s sound is every bit as revealing, crisply defined, and informative as any “analytical” DAC would be, but without the drawbacks (coldness, sterility, or a vaguely “mechanical” quality) that analytical products usually entail. Rather than dissecting or de-constructing the music, then, the Vega simply reveals musical textures, timbres, tonal colors, and dynamics, and then gets out of the way to let the music speak for itself.

Extended review:

AURALiC’s Vega Digital Audio Processor is a powerful and versatile digital-to-analog converter that can also serve as a digital-input-only, balanced-output-capable preamplifier. Specifically, the Vega supports all PCM files from 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution on up to 384kHz/32-bit resolution, while covering all sampling rate/word-depth combinations in between. Moreover, the Vega is DXD- and DSD-compatible and can decode both DSD64 and DSD128 bitstreams via the DoP V1.1 data transmission protocol. In short, the Vega is an ambitious, premium-quality DAC/preamp that aspires to top- tier performance. Does it reach this goal? I think it does as I will explain in this review, but first let’s first take a look at AURALiC’s company background and at the Vega’s underlying technologies.

 
As mentioned in my review of the firm’s TAURUS MkII balanced headphone amplifier in this issue, AURALiC is a Hong Kong-based high-end audio electronics company co-founded in 2008 by President and CEO Xuanqian Wang and his business partner Yuan Wang. Xuanqian Wang has had formal training as an electrical and audio recording engineer and is an accomplished classical pianist, while Yuan Wang has a background in sociology and management science. The common denominator is that both men share a passion for music and sound quality, having met (where else?) at a musical event—the 2008 Festival of Waldbühne Berlin. Not long thereafter, the men decided to launch AURALiC Ltd.
 
More than many DACs in its price class, the Vega is chockfull of advanced technical features, yet it is also informed by Xuanqian Wang’s thoroughgoing familiarity with classic analog-audio circuit designs. In practice, this means the Vega is a modern-as-tomorrow DAC with stellar performance specifications, yet one that goes the extra mile not only to measure well but also to deliver sound that, first and foremost, holds true to the sound of live music. As we survey the Vega’s rich set of technical features it is important to bear in mind that this is more a “music first” design than it is a “technology über alles” product.
 
As noted above, the Vega is a DXD- and DSD-compatible 384kHz/32-bit-capable DAC/digital preamp. The Vega provides five digital audio inputs: one AES/EBU, one TosLink, one USB, and two coaxial SPDIF. In turn, the Vega provides single-ended and balanced analog outputs, with volume levels controlled by 100-step digital controller said not to compress dynamic range at all.
 
Digital audio processing is handled by AURALiC’s proprietary Sanctuary Audio Processor, which the company says is based on a “multi-core ARM9 architecture” and provides a prodigious 1000MIPS (millions of instructions per second) of data-crunching power. Unlike many competing DACs, the Vega upsamples all incoming PCM audio data to 1.5MHz/32-bit resolution prior to decoding. Further, the Vega provides six user-selectable digital-audio filter modes (four for PCM formats, two for DSD formats). The PCM filter modes each comprise four individual filters optimised for a specific group of sampling rates. One can choose Filter Mode 1, a high-accuracy/high-transparency mode that offers the best performance measurements; Mode 2, which reduces group delay while imposing minimal amounts of treble attenuation; Mode 3, which minimises pre-echo and ringing effects but with a somewhat higher degree of treble attenuation; or Mode 4, which applies minimum-phase type and is said to allow “no pre-echo effect at all” with “very small group delay so as to eliminate ringing.”
 
Filter modes 5 and 6 are designed specifically for use with DSD files, and they address the problem of the very-high- frequency noise that DSD bitstreams can entail, providing strategically chosen levels of ultrasonic treble roll-off. The concept is to preserve the music intact while getting rid of ultrasonic noise that could potentially damage wide- bandwidth amplifiers or speakers.
 
Significantly, the Vega permits users to switch between its various filter modes on the fly to compare their subtly different voicing characteristics and overall impact on the music. Xuanqian Wang wisely observed that one’s choice of filter mode might depend to a large extent on the recording quality of the material being played. Great recordings, he says, often sound best through Filter Mode 1, while customer comments suggest that Filter Mode 4 is the best “general purpose” setting for day-to-day use with a mix of audiophile- grade and more commonplace recordings. The important point is that the Vega allows users to fine-tune the DAC’s sonic persona to fit the musical material at hand.
 
Another signature feature of the Vega is its Femto Master Clock, which yields a spectacularly low 0.082 picoseconds (or 82 femtoseconds) of jitter—a figure few DACs at any price can match. The Vega provides three master-clock control settings: the default “AUTO” setting, which maintains “a balance be- tween lock-in ability and jitter performance,” plus “FINE” and “EXACT” settings (available only after the Vega has warmed up for an hour), which “force the (clock controller’s) PLL bandwidth into a very narrow range to maximise jitter performance.” Not all digital sources are precise enough to use the “FINE” or “EXACT” settings, but Xuanqian Wang notes that with the EXACT settings in play he sometimes hears “a significant improvement, compared to the AUTO setting, for certain sound tracks, such as a well-recorded classical piano solo.”
 
As expected, the Vega is compatible with both Macs and PCs and with most popular music- playback software. The Vega auto-installs in Mac environments, but requires installation of an included Windows driver when used in PC- based systems. AURALiC does feel that music- software packages have a big impact on the DAC’s sound and for this reason offers a free download of the third-party JPLAY software package, which AURALiC recommends for use with the Vega. Accordingly, I used JPLAY software in conjunction with jRiver Media Center 19 music-management software in a PC-based system for my review listening.
 
The Vega’s analog outputs are driven by a pair of AURALiC’s signature ORFEO Class A output modules, whose design was inspired by the circuitry of the classic Neve 8078 analog recording console and whose sound is said to “share the same warm and natural sound with (the) Neve 8078.” Perhaps as a result, the Vega claims vanishingly low THD and noise (just 0.00015%). Part of the performance equation, naturally, involves not only having high- performance analog output modules, but also addressing noise issues wherever possible. To this end, AURALiC constructs the Vega’s chassis of a highly EMI-resistant metal-alloy called AFN402 and coats the chassis’ interior surfaces with a multi-layer electro-mechanical damping material called Alire, which is used in most other AURALiC components.
 
The Vega sports an easy-to-read OLED front- panel display that shows the input selected, the format and data rates of whatever digital audio input has been selected, and the volume level (on a scale of 0–100) to which the processor s set. By design, the Vega can be operated from its faceplate or from an included remote control. The control menu offers options for adjusting absolute phase, left/right channel balance, or selecting preferred filter modes. Users can also control the OLED display itself, turning illumination up, down, or off (for zero visual distractions at all). Overall, the Vega is an ergonomic delight, though it is sufficiently complex that it pays to read the manual to understand the scope of the control options at hand.
If the foregoing technical description seems promising, then please know that the sound of the Vega is fully as good as, if not better than, the description might lead you to expect. Frankly, I’ve been around the world of computer audio for years, but I never felt a keen desire to make a dedicated high-performance DAC a permanent part of my reference system until I heard the Vega in action. Up to this point, most of the computer-audio/DAC-based systems I have auditioned seemed to me to fall short of the sound quality I was used to hearing from top-tier disc players. I also found that those DAC-based systems that were sonically satisfying tended more often than not to be astronomically priced.
 
In contrast, what makes the Vega so captivating to my way of thinking is that it is reasonably priced yet consistently supplies a rich panoply of audiophile virtues while also demonstrating an uncanny ability to keep its focus on the musical whole. In short, the Vega represents the intersection of good value, great (and forward-looking) technology, plus terrific musicality—a compelling combination indeed.
 
If you asked me to cite several specific qualities that characterise the sound of the Vega, two that come instantly to mind would be transparency and resolution—effortless, elegant, and unforced openness and detail that sound more like the real thing than like hi-fi artefacts. On the track “Embraceable You” from The Larry Coryell Organ Trio’s Impressions [Chesky] the Vega lets you listen deeply into the voices of each of the instruments at play and so to savour the round, ripe tone of Coryell’s guitar, the reedy and breathy voice of the organ, and the delicacy of the drum kit’s contributions in general and of the cymbal work in particular. Moreover, the Vega shows you the worth of high-res files, helping you to appreciate how much more full and complete they make the music sound. The beauty of the Vega’s sound is that the additional layers of detail it provides are delivered in a relaxed and lifelike manner; additional music information is simply there—whole and complete without unwarranted spotlighting or pyrotechnics, so that the music is free to breathe and flow.
 
Another quality that typifies the sound of the Vega is its dramatic and at times explosive dynamics, which likewise unfold in a naturally expansive way. As with musical details, the dynamic qualities you hear seem to flow more from the music than from the equipment. Consequently, the music seems energised and illuminated from within, much as it does when heard live. To hear what I mean, try listening to Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensamayà as captured on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live recording [CSO Resound]. This exotic- sounding piece is full of lithe twists and turns as it progresses from one dynamic highlight to the next, with tension building as the composition unfolds. I’ve heard this piece through many digital source components, but none I have had in my system made Sensemayà sound as powerful or expressive as the Vega did; nor could they convey the tsunami-like force of the composition’s final crescendo as effectively as the Vega.
 
Finally, I was struck on multiple occasions by the Vega’s unfailing musicality, which I sometimes—tongue-in-cheek—called the “Neve factor.” Neve recording consoles are known for pulling off a difficult but highly rewarding tightrope act of sorts; on the one hand, they deliver exceedingly high levels of transparency, clarity, and timbral purity, while on the other hand they preserve a naturally warm, organic, and lifelike sound. I think it is significant that Xuanqian Wang has chosen the classic Neve sound as his sonic model for the Vega and that the Vega strives (successfully) to strike a similar sonic balance. As a result, the Vega’s sound is every bit as revealing, crisply defined, and informative as any “analytical” DAC would be, but without the drawbacks (coldness, sterility, or a vaguely “mechanical” quality) that analytical products usually entail. Rather than dissecting or de-constructing the music, then, the Vega simply reveals musical textures, timbres, tonal colors, and dynamics, and then gets out of the way to let the music speak for itself.
 
I compared the Vega to my primary digital reference, Rega’s superb Isis CD player/DAC, and found the Vega’s sound competitive, though somewhat different. I had a slight preference for the Rega’s sound on 44.1/16 material owing to the Rega’s somewhat more coherent upper midrange and treble presentation, though in truth the contest was very, very close. But a key point is that the Vega is less than half the price of the Rega and is capable of exploring high-res PCM and DSD files, which the Rega is not. In particular, listening to DSD files through the Vega proved revelatory, because DSD files as rendered by the Vega seemed to do a much better job than standard-resolution PCM files in filling in the “spaces between the spaces” in the music, enabling the presentation to sound markedly more three-dimensional and realistic.
 
Although I’m not ready to part with my top- shelf Rega Isis CD player just yet, the Vega is the first sensibly-priced DAC I’ve heard that I could readily embrace as one of my primary digital source components. The Vega takes discerning audiophiles and music lovers very far up the high-end audio performance ladder, providing them with a versatile and technically advanced digital playback solution they will not soon outgrow.
 
…..Chris Martins
he VEGA is the first sensibly-price DAC I’ve heard that I could readily embrace as one of my primary digital source components.
Chris Martens

Brief summary: 
I compared the VEGA to my primary digital reference, Rega’s superb Isis CD player/DAC, and found the VEGA’s sound competitive, though somewhat different. I had a slight preference for the Rega’s sound on 44.1/16 material owing to its somewhat more coherent upper midrange and treble presentation, though in truth the contest was very, very close. But a key point is that the VEGA is less than half the price of the Rega and is capable of exploring high-res PCM and DSD files, which the Rega is not. In particular, listening to DSD files through the VEGA proved revelatory, because DSD files as rendered by the VEGA seemed to do a much better job than standard resolution PCM files in terms of filling in the ‘spaces between the spaces’ in the music, making the presentation sound markedly more three- dimensional and realistic.

Expanded review:
AURALiC’s VEGA Digital Audio Processor (£2,890) is a powerful and versatile digital-to- analogue converter that can also serve as a digital input-only, balanced output-capable preamplifier. Specifically, the VEGA supports all PCM files from 44.1 kHz/16-bit resolution on up to 384 kHz/32-bit resolution, whilst covering all sampling rate/ word-depth combinations in between. Moreover, the VEGA is DXD and DSD compatible and can decode both DSD64 and DSD128 bitstreams via the DoP V1.1 data transmission protocol. In short, the VEGA is an ambitious, premium-quality DAC/preamp that aspires to top-tier performance. Does it reach this goal? I think it does as I will explain in this review, but first let’s first take a look at AURALiC’s company background and at the VEGA’s underlying technologies.
 
As mentioned in my recent Hi-Fi Plus review of the firm’s TAURUS MkII balanced headphone amplifier, AURALiC is a Hong Kong-based high-end audio electronics company co- founded in 2008 by President and CEO Xuanqian Wang and his business partner Yuan Wang. Xuanqian Wang has had formal training as an electrical and audio recording engineer and is an accomplished classical pianist, while Yuan Wang has a background in sociology and management science. The common denominator is that both men share a passion for music and sound quality, having met (where else?) at a musical event—the 2008 Festival of Waldbühne, Berlin. Not long thereafter, the men decided to launch AURALiC Ltd.
 
More so than many DACs in its price class, the VEGA is chockfull of advanced technical features, yet it is also informed by Xuanqian Wang’s thoroughgoing familiarity with classic analogue audio circuit designs. In practice, this means the VEGA is a modern-as-tomorrow DAC with stellar performance specifications, yet one that goes the extra mile not only to measure well, but to deliver sound that, first and foremost, holds true to the sound of live music. As we survey the VEGA’s rich set of technical features it is important to bear in mind that this is more a ‘music first’ design than it is a ‘technology über alles’ product.
 
As noted above, the VEGA is a 384 kHz/32-bit-capable DAC/digital preamp that is also DXD and DSD compatible. The VEGA provides five digital audio inputs: one AES/EBU, one Toslink, one USB input, and two coaxial S/PDIF inputs. In turn, the VEGA provides single-ended and balanced analogue outputs, with volume levels controlled by 100-step digital controller said not to compress dynamic range at all.
 
Digital audio processing is handled by AURALiC’s proprietary Sanctuary Audio Processor, which the company says is based on a ‘multi-core ARM9 architecture’ and that provides a prodigious 1000MIPS (Millions of Instructions per Second) of data-crunching power. Unlike many competing DACs, the VEGA upsamples all incoming PCM audio data to 1.5MHz/32-bit resolution levels prior to decoding. Further, the VEGA provides six user-selectable digital audio filter modes (four for PCM formats, two for DSD formats). The PCM Filter Modes each consist of four individual filters optimised for a specific group of sampling rates. One can choose Filter Mode 1, a high accuracy/high transparency mode that offers the best laboratory performance measurements, Mode 2, which reduces group delay while imposing minimal amounts of treble attenuation, Mode 3, which minimises pre-echo and ringing effects but with a somewhat higher degree of treble attenuation, or Mode 4, which applies minimum phase type filters and is said to allow “no pre-echo effect at all” with “very small group delay so as to eliminate ringing.”
 
Filter Modes 5 and 6 are designed specifically for use with DSD files and they address the problem of very high frequency noise that DSD bitstreams can entail, providing strategically chosen levels of ultrasonic treble roll-off. The concept is to preserve the music intact while getting rid of ultrasonic noise that could potentially damage wide- bandwidth amplifiers or speakers.
 
Significantly, the VEGA permits users to switch between its various filter modes on the fly to compare their subtly different voicing characteristics and overall impact on the music. Xuanqian Wang wisely observed that one’s choice of filter mode might depend to a large extent on the recording quality of the material being played. Great recordings, he says, often sound best through Filter Mode 1, while user comments suggest that Filter Mode 4 is the best ‘general purpose’ setting for day-to-day use with a mix of audiophile- grade and more commonplace recordings. The important point is that the VEGA allows users to fine-tune the DAC’s sonic persona to fit the musical material at hand.
 
Another signature feature of the VEGA is its Femto Master Clock, which yields a spectacularly low 0.082 picoseconds (or 82 femtoseconds) of jitter—a figure few DACs at any price can match. The VEGA provides three master clock control settings: the default ‘AUTO’ setting, which maintains “a balance between lock-in ability and jitter performance,” plus ‘FINE’ and ‘EXACT’ settings (available only after the VEGA has warmed up for an hour), which “force the (clock controller’s) PLL bandwidth into a very narrow range to maximise jitter performance.” Not all digital sources are precise enough to use the FINE or EXACT settings, but Xuanqian Wang notes that with the EXACT settings in play he sometimes hears “a significant improvement, compared to the AUTO setting, for certain sound tracks, such as a well- recorded classical piano solo.”
 
As expected, the VEGA is compatible with both Macs and PCs and with most popular music playback software. The VEGA auto-installs in Mac environments, but requires installation of an included Windows driver when used in PC-based systems. AURALiC does feel that music software packages have a big impact on the DAC’s sound and for this reason supplies a free copy of recommended JPLAY software with the VEGA. Accordingly, I used JPLAY software in conjunction with jRiver Media Center 19 music management software in a PC-based system for my review listening. 
 
The VEGA’s analogue outputs are driven by a pair of AURALiC’s signature ORFEO Class-A output modules, whose design was inspired by the circuitry of the classic Neve 8078 analogue recording console and whose sound is said to “share the same warm and natural sound with (the) Neve 8078.” Perhaps as a result, the VEGA claims vanishingly low THD and Noise (just 0.00015%). Part of the performance equation, naturally, involves not only having high performance analogue output modules, but also addressing noise issues wherever possible. To this end, AURALiC constructs the VEGA’s chassis of a highly EMI-resistant metal alloy called AFN402 and coats the chassis’ interior surfaces with a multi- layer electro-mechanical damping material called Alire, which is used in most other AURALiC components.
 
The VEGA sports an easy-to-read OLED front panel display that shows the input selected, the format and data rates of whatever digital audio input has been selected, and the volume level (on a scale of 0 – 100) to which the processor is set. By design, the VEGA can be operated from its faceplate or from an included remote control. The control menu offers options for adjusting absolute phase, left/right channel balance, or selecting preferred filter models. Users can also control the OLED display itself, turning illumination up, down, or off (for zero visual distractions at all). Overall, the VEGA is an ergonomic delight, though it is sufficiently complex that it pays to read the manual to understand the scope of the control options at hand.
 
If the foregoing technical description seems promising, then please know that the sound of the VEGA is fully as good as, if not better than, the description might lead you to expect. Frankly, I’ve been around the world of computer audio for years, but I never felt a keen desire to make a dedicated high- performance DAC a permanent part of my reference system until I heard the VEGA in action. Up to this point, most of the computer audio/DAC- based systems I have auditioned seemed to me to fall short of the sound quality I was used to hearing from top-tier disc players. I also found that those DAC-based systems that were sonically satisfying tended more often than not to be astronomically priced.
 
In contrast, what makes the VEGA so captivating to my way of thinking is that it is reasonably priced yet consistently supplies a rich panoply of serious audiophile virtues (with superb specifications to boot) whilst also demonstrating an uncanny ability to keep the focus on the musical whole. In short, the VEGA represents the intersection of good value, great (and forward-looking) technology, plus terrific musicality—a compelling combination indeed.
 
If you asked me to cite several specific qualities that characterise the sound of the VEGA two that come instantly to mind would be transparency and resolution—effortless, elegant, and unforced openness and detail that sound more like the real thing than like hi-fi artefacts. On the track ‘Embraceable You’ from The Larry Coryell Organ Trio’s Impressions [Chesky, high-res 24/192 file] the VEGA lets you listen deeply into the voices of each of the instruments at play and so to savour the round, ripe tone of Coryell’s guitar, the reedy and breathy voice of the organ, and the delicacy of the drum kit’s contributions in general and of the cymbal work in particular. Moreover, the VEGA shows you the worth of high-res files, helping you to appreciate how much more full and complete they make the music sound. The beauty of the VEGA’s sound is that the additional layers of detail it provides are delivered in a relaxed and lifelike manner; additional music information is simply there—whole and complete without unwarranted spotlighting or pyrotechnics, so that the music is free to breathe and flow.
 
Another quality that typifies the sound of the VEGA are its dramatic and at times explosive dynamics, which likewise unfold in a naturally expansive way. As with musical details, the dynamic qualities you hear seem to flow more from the music than from the equipment. Consequently, the music seems energised and illuminated from within, much as it does when heard live. To hear what I mean, try listening to Silvestre Revueltas’ ‘Sensamayà’ as captured on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live recording [CSO Resound, SACD]. This exotic-sounding piece is full of lithe twists and turns and it progresses from one dynamic highlight to the next, with tension building as the composition unfolds. I’ve heard this piece through many digital source components, but none I have had in my system made Sensemayà sound as powerful or expressive as the VEGA did, nor could they convey the tsunami-like force of the composition’s final crescendo as effectively as the VEGA.
 
Finally, I was struck on multiple occasions by the VEGA’s unfailing musicality, which I sometimes—tongue-in-cheek— called the “Neve factor.” Neve recording consoles are known for pulling off a difficult but highly rewarding tightrope act of sorts; on the one hand, they deliver exceedingly high levels of transparency, clarity, and timbral purity, whilst on the other hand preserving a naturally warm, organic, and lifelike sound. I think it is significant that Xuanqian Wang has chosen the classic Neve sound as his sonic model for the VEGA and that the VEGA strives (successfully) to strike a similar sonic balance. As a result, the VEGA’s sound is every bit as revealing, crisply defined, and informative as any ‘analytical’ DAC would be, but without the drawbacks (coldness, sterility, or a vaguely “mechanical” quality) that analytical products usually entail. Rather than dissecting or de-constructing the music, then, the VEGA simply reveals the musical textures, timbres, tonal colours and dynamics at hand, and then gets out of the way to let the music speak for itself.
 
I compared the VEGA to my primary digital reference, Rega’s superb Isis CD player/DAC, and found the VEGA’s sound competitive, though somewhat different. I had a slight preference for the Rega’s sound on 44.1/16 material owing to its somewhat more coherent upper midrange and treble presentation, though in truth the contest was very, very close. But a key point is that the VEGA is less than half the price of the Rega and is capable of exploring high-res PCM and DSD files, which the Rega is not. In particular, listening to DSD files through the VEGA proved revelatory, because DSD files as rendered by the VEGA seemed to do a much better job than standard resolution PCM files in terms of filling in the ‘spaces between the spaces’ in the music, making the presentation sound markedly more three- dimensional and realistic.
 
Although I’m not ready to part with my top-shelf Rega Isis CD player just yet, the VEGA is the first sensibly-price DAC I’ve heard that I could readily embrace as one of my primary digital source components. The VEGA takes discerning audiophiles and music lovers quite far up the high-end audio performance ladder, providing them with a versatile and technically advanced digital playback solution they will not soon outgrow. +
Clearly AURALiC are about innovation. The Gemini 1000 & 2000 twins are just one example thereof. Convenience hides high technology.
Srajan Ebaen

REVIEW SUMMARY:
So write off the Gemini 2000 at your own loss. Not only is it integration done right, at two class A watts it's got enough power to drive nearly all headphones made. For the same coin you could go separates. But why? In my book it'd only be different, not better. That being so, why tolerate more cables, cords and clutter? in this light the smartly lacquered Klutz-licensed headphone stand is actually mostly free. And who'd in their right mind refuse such a pretty freebie?

EXTENDED REVIEW:
What do you get when you cross a klutz, a Taurus II and a Vega? Starting off like a bad joke, this is anything but a joke. Of any sort. That's because the correct answer is, an AURALiC Gemini 1000 or 2000. Separated by $1.000, 1 watt and balanced circuitry—the $995 version outputs 1000mW and runs its circuit single-ended—both Gemini twins combine a Klutz Design headphone stand with this 500+-part PCB tucked into their heat-shedding brass bases:
 
And before you ask, 'this' is a 24/384kHz capable XMOS driven asynchronous USB DAC with DXD and DSD128 happiness, Toslink input, input for Android mobile devices, SDXC memory card slot (currently limited to 256GB but the card format itself will eventually scale to 2TB), analog volume control executed as a horizontal wheel called niceness, discrete class A output devices, LEDs for sample rate and input confirmation and 2-watt go juice for the costlier model. Common to both are five available 5-coat lacquer colors for the body (white, yellow, red, blue and black) and polished chrome or gold for the base on the 2000 and a Titanium grey for the 1000. Both also sport 6.3mm and 4-pin XLR headphone outputs.
 
Shorter than one foot but weighing a confident 6.2lbs, it's factual to state that the Geminis take integration to a new level and thereby usher in a new product category. Their sculptural appearance and small size make them mobile enough to end up on a bluesy porch or balcony. Conversely they might take up permanent residence on the executive desk or penthouse night stand. Even power consumption is a low light-bulb type 15 and 20w respectively and less than 1w in standby for Brussels okay.
 
To stick with this quite inspired high-performance lifestyle theme, I contacted our domestic Stereotec dealer in Ulster via his webshop and bought AudioQuest's very best Diamond Toslink cable with 280 fused-silica quartz fibers in a 0.75m length. That's because my RWA-modded Astell & Kern sports one of those Mac-typical 3.5mm combo analog/digital ports. They merely require a small adaptor to access their light mode. The flash-memory based AK100 is a superior transport to the iPod—I own three 160GB Classics to know—and would be my high-resolution portable source of choice for the Gemini 2000 aside from the usual iMac. Within minutes of placing my cable order online I got a call from Stereotec's owner. He asked about AURALiC because he was considering becoming a dealer for them. Synchronicity. He too had seen the Gemini announcements as soon as they broke. After getting over the initial 'April's fool' reaction he too concluded that it really was one smoooking idea. I agree wholeheartedly.
 
I actually think the Gemini all-in-one headphone stand cum DAC cum amp or headfi dock could be a real bridge builder. It's the type of product the Sharper Image mail-order house of yore might have carried. It's utterly non-geeky to appeal to lovers of stylish luxury appliances. It looks nothing like a hifi component, much less multiple components. And it gives you a place to hang your weary hat - er, headphone when you're done. But it also packs serious hifi engineering from a team that's delivered to us a steady stream of globally accoladed products over a surprisingly brief period.
 
Something or someone is seriously cooking in the AURALiC kitchen. The two Wangs are on fire. Just don't tell 'em to put it out! The Gemini gestation surprises even more since Xuanqian Wang only had the idea at CES 2013 and 8 months later the idea had already materialized in two finalized products. 
 
Details of the motherboard's underside and the nicely machined empty brass shell are from Tyll Hertsens' video of his CanJam 2013 visit with Xuanqian Wang at RMAF on InnerFidelity.com.
 
In Europe a Klutz CanCan stands ~€400 tall. An AURALiC Vega wants €3.300. A matching Taurus II gets €1.700. That's €5.400 for the 3some. Add cables. True, the Castor and Pollux twins shave off features. And the electronics are only based on, not identical to their stable mates. But even the 2000's sticker is far lower than pursuing these separates. At €995 the Gemini 1000 would seem quite the bargain when being compared to the Swedish stand's normal price which does nothing but look pretty whilst cradling your cans.
 
On 'keep it real' we mention that the SDXC memory card relies on a connected laptop/PC to access its contents. Using either Gemini solo with a fully loaded card inserted won't yet get you sound. But you can certainly bring your snazzy headphone dock over to a friend and carry your favorite music on it. How to get at card-loaded tunes with a simple DAC has even put the Resonessence crew through hoops with their Invicta. LessLoss will have similar issues with their Laminar Streamer aka card-reading DAC. Unless there's a big display with nav controls.
 
I categorically carry no music on my work computer. I use a computer dedicated to just music for that. It's my separation of church and state. With the Gemini I'd simply run a USB cable to my HP work station, then select its card contents from my 27" screen without actually streaming anything from the computer. Neat. Of course most computers come with card slots. If not a cheap card reader is easily added. But now you're having the computer transfer actual music files. With AURALiC's solution you aren't. The computer is merely the hardwired 'remote'.
 
To remind yourself of the general math at work, give a final glance at AURALiC's sidewall rack in Las Vegas where Vega and Taurus II fronted the Merak monos into Vienna Acoustics speakers. It's a nice visualization of the miniaturization the Geminis accomplished. Obviously there was no room for a power supply in the brass base. That goes outboard and connects with an umbilical like a laptop. Those who wonder class A = heatsinks? appreciate why AURALiC went brass. It turns the entire disc into a heatsink. But 1 or 2 watts of class A aren't exactly anxiety issue on that count.
 
Audiophiles of course are conditioned to view anything styled attractively with suspicion. Andy Smith on John Darko's site opined that "this just seems like an utterly daft idea. Audiophiles love to mix and match components in the search for audio nirvana so this integrated solution won’t appeal to us unless of course aesthetics and interior design credibility override sonics." He went on to point out that "surely the pricing for this is way too high as a small integrated headphone amp/DAC and headphone stand can be acquired for far less than $1,000. Only an exceptionally well-heeled audiophile would pay $540 for a wooden painted headphone stand regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it appears. Moreover, will these products sound as sonically competent as the $823 Resonessence Concero HP or the $499 W4S uDAC-HD plus a less decorative yet functional headphone stand?"
 
Gan Solo chimed in with "the Gemini 2000 model costs about $500 more than a Fostex HP-A8 which is a damn good DSD-capable amp/preamp/DAC by most standards. The Gemini 2000 is also about a hundred bucks more than a Burson Conductor, another highly regarded amp/DAC. For that price the Gemini had better sound at least as good or better."
 
Why? Such comments overlook a basic fact. Those cited products already exist. Why bother making another one just like 'em? AURALiC's Geminis are for those who want something different and are prepared to pay an aesthetic surcharge to get it. B&O has built an entire empire around that. Horses for courses. Owning a Burson Conductor I could weigh in whether the Gemini 2000 was more lifestyle than performance. Or perhaps both?
 
With Audeze LCD-XC
 
"After feedback from CanJam, we worked on some improvements to delay first shipments. As a class A design the first version ran pretty hot since its base deliberately doubles as heat sink. We were asked to address this a bit so we added a signal detection circuit which shuts down the entire amp after 30 seconds of inaction. If you listen for more than two hours of course, the base still gets pretty hot." There'd be no safety issues if the circuit itself didn't overheat. Heat and class A are conjoined twins after all. The wooden stand of course might dislike getting too toasty and perhaps some taller footers could prevent the brass base from unduly heating up whatever it stood on? 
 
When Xuanqian checked in with a FedEx tracker, I asked the hot question. "The 2000 runs quite warm and actually hot in the summer but the 50% lower output of the 1000 is perfectly normal. We did calculations to see that increasing the raw surface of the brass base would have precious little impact on temperature. Doubling size would only net a 5°C reduction. Perfectly useless. The only effective alas unacceptable solution would be a cooling fan. So we conducted a lot of feedback instead to conclude that most 2000 buyers will be dedicated headphone fans who are well informed about the realities of class A amplifier ownership. The Gemini 1000 model aims at regular 'civilian' users. By barely getting warm it shouldn't alarm them in the least. The 2000 does get from warm to hot but we've extensively tested all parts under prolonged 24/7 use to guarantee perfectly safe operation. Just be careful when touching the base after lengthy use." After a few hours the base did indeed get hot but less so than my FirstWatt SIT1 amps, hence nothing to fret over. The volume wheel remained unaffected entirely and the lower portion of the wooden stand only registered a mild increase.
 
Knowing of my habit to open up loaners for photography, he had this. "Please do not  try to open up this unit. Assembly requires special tools. Without them you'll never get it back together in one piece." On build quality, "I think you'll actually be shocked given our sell prices."
 
About the phone input, "I'm sad to report that Apple refused to give our newer firm a made-for-iOS license so our Gemini models might also serve as iDevice docks. We do however work with the latest Android devices. Those just require a special cable and software. We include an OTG cable for just such use which won't work as computer data cable but only with the Gemini. You also must have the USB Audio Recorder Pro software installed on your Android device so it can use us as the output device. The USB input works exactly as our Vega's. No driver is required for OSX. The Windows driver is here. Windows Vega users might have to reinstall the driver for Gemini. Remember that you can't connect Vega and Gemini to the same computer at the same time. The SD card reader can be used to carry the Windows driver with you to another host computer, no Internet connection required. Because Gemini 2000 is fully balanced, you can't use its 4-pin XLR and ¼" outputs simultaneously. With priority for the ¼" plug, once such a headphone inserts, the XLR output disconnects automatically. On the unbalanced Gemini 1000 both sockets can be used simultaneously. 
 
"Our green or energy-saving function is the default. With no signal for 10 minutes the internal amplifier shuts itself off and power consumption drops by half. Any music signal will reawaken the unit within half a second. The ¼" jack syncs to this auto-on feature. Plugging in turns the unit on, unplugging your headphones again turns it off. To disable energy saving and headphone detection, press and hold the power button for about seven seconds when you turn on the unit. Once all LEDs on the base flash, energy saving is disabled. To reactivate, press and hold the power button for another seven seconds. Our shipping packaging is made of 100% recyclable materials and mostly already recycled paper. Even the glue contains no artificial chemicals. This costs us more than $10 but we think being green is well worth it."
 
On the card reader and its limitations: "It's just a card reader, not a digital player with control interface. The initial idea for an SD card reader was very simple. A card reader within Windows is plug'n'play. This meant that we could put the Windows driver and user manual inside the machine rather than provide a vintage driver CD and printed user's manual to save paper and be more environmentally friendly. Then we realized that it was a good idea to also provide sufficient storage so people could keep some music on the card. Now we upgraded the reader from SD to SDXC to support an eventual maximum of 2TB. Adding a card reader plus basic card added build cost about the equivalent to the savings of a printed user's guide and driver CD. But now you could also copy music to the card and bring it with Gemini to anywhere you travel. If you want to play music, you still need your computer, your software player like Audirvana Plus or JRiver and select us as your output device. You simply don't need to copy music to your computer. If we went a step further to add digital player functions inside the machine, it would not only increase our target retail by a lot but within the present dimensions we actually don't have space for it."
 
On Gemini 2000 vs. Vega + Taurus MkII: "I think the 2000 is good enough for even serious listening. We call it a game changer because it's very beautiful and sonically no less than any other DAC/amp combo in its price range. How close it comes to our award-winning combo will much depend on which headphone you use. You obviously can't expect it to drive a HifiMan HE6. The essence of the Gemini concept is a chance to simplify your system without compromising the sound quality too much. I don't expect any real hardcore geeks to go after a Gemini model yet they will fit many other folks, even former audiophiles. I personally use a white/chrome Gemini in my home. It's replaced a Vega/Taurus2 combo plus a headphone stand. I now only take up 1/3rd the earlier space but it's doing a good job on my single-ended Grado PS1000 - perfectly fine for my own home use."
 
I rather thought our man too modest. But first things first. In with the 19V/3.95A SMPS brick's 5.5/2.5mm plug. This unit is built by Chinese OEM supplier Astec. It's the same as this Toshiba laptop charger and lacks a power light. Wall link was a 3-pole clover-leaf cord. Into the scooped Klutz saddle went the first sealed headphone from Audeze. Now the Gemini 2000 began with the same source is boss talk the Scots at Linn had once plied like cheap gin. Why? Because in one corner stood the Conductor's muscular linear power supply and more potent all-discrete output stage. On power and cachet it meant to be the superior amplification. If analog was king, bigger and discrete had to be better. True or false? In the other corner stood the small challenger from Hong Kong. It casually proposed that more advanced D/A conversion could trump bigger amp muscle. I barely lit up three of its five volume LEDs before my ears gave out. The Gemini had plenty of moxy for the Audeze LCD-XC which I reviewed here for John Darko's site.
 
If sound quality matched up, the beefy Down Underling wanted $1'850 to bill the stand portion of the Gemini 2000 at $150 extra. Then even naysayers shouldn't have a real problem. Obviously the Conductor has more i/o. It doubles as a preamp. The Gemini only does headfi. Here it even lacks the otherwise ubiquitous S/PDIF coax. But eliminate the HE-6 and stick with Xuanqian's design brief. That means advanced USB audio and portable data processing from a digitally docked iDevice, direct-connected Android, Toslink'd Astell&Kern or memory card. Now the 2000 is far more than hollow style exercise. On sound for pound it really does compete fair and square. 
 
As Xuanqian had predicted, on my Windows XP Pro machine and despite my prior Vega install, I had to rerun his driver to add the new device. On my music iMac it was plug & play as usual. As had my band of ESS brothers before (Vega and Conductor), the Gemini 2000 proved allergic to the optical S/PDIF output of Cambridge Audio's iD100 iPod dock. It stuttered and dropped out. Pure's i20 played nice. So much for ESS's alleged immunity to high-jitter data. Optical off my RWA-modified Astell&Kern AK100 was peaches of course as was USB at all sampling rates including DSD64/128. Ditto for dumping my Munich 2014 playlist to memory card and playing from that. After the data dump the card showed up as a separate drive and opening it accessed its music files. Unmounting and ejecting the card from the Gemini showed it to have gotten quite toasty after just 10 minutes.
 
The point count. In my world juxtaposing quality gear matched on price usually has one deck come ahead on just points. Bloodied knock-outs are mostly for Marvel Comics super heroes. More often hifi comparos are actually sideways business with a split jury. And here's how the Gemini/Conductor bout clocked out. Take the fistful of qualities which break down into airiness (treble effulgence, sparkle), tone gloss, color depth and audible space (reflections, performer halos, your sense of keen spatial context around the notes). This whole package was better handled by the AURALiC as though its converter's zoom power was higher and sharper. 
 
There's another grouping of traits. This connects overall damping, punch and slam in the bass and a broadscale sense of grip or control. Here Burson's higher power had the upper hand. As loads grow more dastardly, the Conductor hits harder. With my relatively easy loads however, the hi-Ω Sennheiser 800 most certainly included, there was a flip side. Over the Gemini those exhibited more dance. Think elasticity and suppleness in general and also how an acoustic upright can be made to sing like a cello on steroids. Cue Renaud Garcia-Fons. This bella voce quality renders instrumentals a bit like vocals. Though bowed or fingered, they act as though carried on breath. Fluid. For the fundamentally percussive piano, Chopin is the archetype of fluid. Whatever you call that quality—flow, gush, looseness, ease, temporal freedom—the Gemini had it. By contrast the Burson played it drier. More 'matter of fact'. In headphone terms the Conductor represented an AKG K-702. It's neutral, very workmanlike, hard to fault objectively but subjectively not as persuasive. The Gemini injected greater life and sheen. More buoyancy. Sennheiser's top can. The redolence of an Audeze without the darkness.
 
For this audio judge then the match favored the AURALiC which won on points. The sole area where that went retrograde had nothing to do with sound. Xuanqian's ribbed volume wheel does it counter-clockwise for louder. It's so against the grain of convention that it'll take a while to sink in and stick. Finger prints on the shiny base will sink in and stick far quicker. Keep a little chamois cloth handy to maintain the luxurious lustre. The finish really is spectacular.
 
AURALiC's Aries introduced Lightning Streaming at CES 2014. Based on a quad-core 1GHz CPU with 1GB on-chip RAM and 25'000mips speed, it's 25 x faster than their prior Sanctuary chip co-developed with Swiss Archwave. Lightning supports multi-room 24/384 DXD and DSD128 WiFi transmissions between NAS and DAC at up to 1300Mbps. AURALIC's Tesla software is the tablet-based user interface. Aries drives its AES/EBU, coax and Toslink outputs with a Femto clock and actively buffers its USB host. Clearly AURALiC are about innovation. The Gemini 1000 & 2000 twins are just one example thereof. Convenience hides high technology.
 
So write off the Gemini 2000 at your own loss. Not only is it integration done right, at two class A watts it's got enough power to drive nearly all headphones made. For the same coin you could go separates. But why? In my book it'd only be different, not better. That being so, why tolerate more cables, cords and clutter? in this light the smartly lacquered Klutz-licensed headphone stand is actually mostly free. And who'd in their right mind refuse such a pretty freebie?
 
Whoever your favorite deities might be—I'm partial to the Hindu god Ganesha and Tibet's Tara—we owe thanks. It's as simple as that. To the naysayers I'll say that dumb blond jokes are so lame. There's no decent reason why looks and smarts couldn't coexist. In audio that's thrice true. Here things aren't a roll of the genetic dice. Reject, refine and repeat until perfect are the name of our game. There's zero justification when things we're to enjoy and handle on a daily basis don't look beautiful. That goes for tea pots, bath towels and your favorite chair. And hifi particularly when it's so up close and personal as headfi. The Genesis 2000 says amen to that and follows with a blessing. With all of that it really does have the last word (though I suspect that for most it'll really be the half-priced 1000 model that'll take the cake)!
…….Srajan Ebaen
JOHN H. DARKO forum comment on AURALiC Lightning ARIES
JOHN H. DARKO - staff writer for 6Moons and TONEAudio.
Comments
ROB D
This is a contraption I’ve been waiting for. One more of its killer features (at least, in my opinion) is an ability to on-board playlist creation – something that other manufacturers don’t seem to recognize as a must-have function. I couldn’t live without it.
 
JOHN H. DARKO
Right on Rob.
 
GAN SOLO
Finally, and company (and author) who takes gapless seriously!! All my tech-house mixes/podcasts will collectively bro-fist when they get word of this.
 
DAVE
The USB output is definitely interesting. Sonore’s Rendu already does everything else this thing does including DSD (assuming you add a wireless ethernet bridge, anyway) but its output is either S/Pdif or I2S using the HDMI spec which limits it to a tiny handful of DACs.
What will make or break this thing is the software. The other issue with the Rendu is that it relies on third party software, most of which is not very good. If they have endless bugs like PS had with eLyric, it’s not going to turn out well, not when you can build a VortexBox for a few hundred bucks.
 
DAVID HILL
The emergence of these options is making my head hurt. In a good way. Any thoughts on what the trade offs might be between the ‘traditional’ “Mac ‘n DAC” model and the streamer centric topology?
Are these two approaches a question of quality vs convenience ?
Are there benefits in terms of simpler and cheaper systems?
Does this spell the end of the PC based music server?
 
JOHN H. DARKO reply
Absolutely NOT the end of the PC based music server. Traditional “Mac n DAC” (I like that!) model isn’t as good using more specialised music servers. I have an Antipodes DS which really highlights the audio weaknesses of the Apple computer. Review on that to come later this month. You’ve hit the nail on the head though: there’s often a trade off between SQ and usability.
 
ROB D.
Hi, John,
I am not questioning your opinion on the inferiority of the MacMini-based system (including a DAC, of course), but have you tried the MojoAudio modified MacMini, or was that a “plain vanilla” MacMini that you were comparing to the Antipodes DS?
BTW, I am very eager to see your review of the Antipodes box. I’ve been having difficulty to choose between MojoAudio MacMini and the Antipodes DS. Now, with the upcoming Auralic Aries, I am even more undecided…
 
JOHN H. DARKO reply
Alas, not tried the Mojo, sorry. One of the things I like about the Antipodes is its headless Linux o/s. Once you get used to MPD and its clients it’s much faster than MacMini w/ iTunes and Audirvana+. Sound is A LOT better too.
To say that I am impressed with the AURALiC Vega is an understatement.
Michael Lavorgna
Wow Factor - I first saw and heard the AURALiC Vega Digital Audio Processor at the 2013 CES and I remember thinking—I need to hear this one at home. I can't tell you exactly why this was the case especially seeing as listening to music is a difficult thing to focus on at hi-fi shows and determining the performance of a given component within an unfamiliar system is like judging a blind date by an online profile. So let's call my interest in the AURALiC Vega a hunch. And let me just say man oh man did that hunch pay off.

AURALiC Limited is based in Hong Kong/China and Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang are its founders. "With the mission to capture and reproduce every tiny detail in recordings with purity and emotions, AURALiC produces high-end audiophile products both reliable and upgradable. Using the latest digital technologies, our products will bring live music back to music lovers in the most agreeable and convenient way." AURALiC's product line includes the Vega under review, the Taurus PRE balanced line-stage preamplifier, Merak 400W monoblock amplifiers, ARK MX+ 32/192 USB DAC, Taurus balanced headphone amp, and the Gaia line of balanced and single-ended cables.

 
The AURALiC Vega Digital Audio Processor is a DAC and a digital preamplifier but it's also a computer. According to AURALiC, the heart of the Vega is its "Sanctuary Audio Processor, which is jointly made by AURALiC and its technical partner Archwave AG [of Switzerland]. Sanctuary is based on multi-core ARM architecture, with the calculating capability as high as 1000MIPS." The Sanctuary audio processor is responsible for running the Vega's upsampling algorithm and USB input buffer.
 
The Vega, through its USB input, handles up to DXD PCM (32-bit/384kHs) as well as up to double rate DSD (128x/5.6448MHz) via DoP V1.1. On the S/PDIF and AES/EBU inputs you get up to the fairly standard 24/192 playback. The Vega up-samples all incoming PCM data to 1.5MHz at 32bit. In essence, upsampling allows for digital filtering above frequencies that matter, sonically. It also provides the headroom necessary so that its digital volume control does not affect resolution. At least in theory. Some people, especially those adherents of the Non-Oversampling DAC approach believe that any and all upsampling makes the resulting music sound unnatural. I would suggest they have never heard the AURALiC Vega.
 
The Vega incorporates six user selectable digital filters, AURALiC calls this Flexible Filter Mode, which have been "fine-tuned based on AURALiC's mathematician models combining subjective auditory sense and objective measurement data" and include four PCM digital filters and two for DSD. The PCM filters are, according to AURALiC, optimised for specific sampling rates as well as for specific music types. "Mode 1 is best for the playback of orchestral music, ...Mode 2 for light jazz, chamber, and piano solo, ...Mode 3 for is best for vocal, jazz, and pop, ...and Mode 4 is the 'all-best' option for music enjoyment." You can select these filters from the front panel control knob or from the included remote. I found that Mode 4 was in fact my overall favourite but since switching is on-the-fly you can switch until your hearts content. I'm of the persuasion that set it and forget it leads to my ultimate enjoyment.
 
The two DSD filters provide for "flat frequency response well extended to ultrasonic" for Mode 5, and "lower corner frequency to eliminate as much as possible the ultrasonic noise which is inherent of DSD stream" for Mode 6. Here, I preferred Mode 6 to 5 as it sounded silkier to my ears. If you'd like to read more about these filters, I'll point you to AURALiC's Flexible Filter Mode Explanation white paper.
 
If you're thinking, hmm megahertz upsampling and user-selectable digital filters sounds awfully familiar, where I have heard this before?, I'd remind you of the Resonessence Labs Invicta (see review) which up-samples to the 50MHz range. Not surprisingly, the Vega also uses the ESS Sabre ES9018 DAC chipset that's employed in the Invicta. While we're poking around inside, there's also an XMOS USB receiver that is modified by Auralic. The USB input also includes their "ActiveUSB" technology which buffers all incoming data for up to 2 seconds to "reduce jitter effects". And while we're talking jitter, the Vega boasts extremely low measured jitter, measured, according to AURALiC, in femtoseconds.
 
The Femto Master Clock
 
The Vega includes a temperature controlled aerospace grade crystal oscillator that needs about an hour of warm up to reach thermal equilibrium. If you leave the Vega in Sleep mode, you'll be good to go whenever you like since this mode keeps that Femto clock warm. A Femto clock refers to the clock's accuracy which is so accurate it is measured in femtoseconds. From Wikipedia, "A femtosecond is the SI unit of time equal to 10−15 of a second. That is one quadrillionth, or one millionth of one billionth, of a second. For context, a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 31.7 million years." I think its fair to say that a femto clock is fairly accurate and it further suggests that this accuracy relates to the amount of jitter in the signal that passes through it. What happens afterward is anyone's guess.
 
While I'm certain all femto clocks are not created equal, it's worth pointing out that MSB Technology offers a femto clock upgrade, the Galaxy Clock, for their DAC IV which also adds US$4,955 to its price, more than the total cost of the Vega. Granted, the MSB femto clock is claimed to provide jitter under 77 femtoseconds (.077 picoseconds), while the Vega's is spec'd at 82 femtoseconds (.082 picoseconds). You can decide for yourself if .05 picoseconds matters or not. Again from Wikipedia, "A picosecond is 10−12 of a second. That is one trillionth, or one millionth of one millionth of a second, or 0.000 000 000 001 seconds. A picosecond is to one second as one second is to 31,700 years."
 
Associated with this high precision femto clock are user-selectable internal clock settings. Auto, where the Vega will select the best available method based on the amount of jitter present in the incoming data, Course, Fine, and Exact each offering increased clock precision. These options are available from the front control knob or the remote but only after the Vega has warmed up. Prior to that, you are only given the Auto option. I was able to go with "Exact" for all playback including DSD except for some 24/192 files where I'd get cutouts indicating too much jitter for this setting. Backing down to "Fine" solved this 24/192 problem. I found this feature fairly fascinating and the fact that 24/192 playback appeared to impose the most amount of jitter into the data stream an eye, if not an ear, opener. I switched this clock setting during playback a number of times and while I did not notice a dramatic difference, I did perceive greater clarity once the Exact option was available and selected.
 
Other Features
 
Operating the Vega from the front panel knob is a pleasure. Press it in and the unit powers on. Press it again and you are offered up various functions including the aforementioned filters, clock settings, as well as input selection, channel balance, phase (normal and inverted), and System functions including Volume (Master where both channels use the same setting and INDVDL where each channel has its own setting), Display (On, Auto Off after 15 seconds without any operation, DIM, Normal, and Bright), and Sleep (Disable/Enable). You'll want to enable this mode to keep that Femto clock warm and ready. If you just turn the front control knob, it functions as the volume control. The Vega also remembers your previous volume setting and returns to it when you awaken it from sleep mode. Pressing and holding the knob brings up the Sleep Mode option.
 
You can operate all of these options from the included remote and if I have any criticism of the Vega, it's related to the included plastic remote. Since everything else about the Auralic Vega is made to such a high standard, its a shame that the remote, which I used often mostly for volume control, doesn't impart this same attention to design detail. I admit to finding the Vega beautifully designed and built and an absolute pleasure to look at and use, including its display which I gladly kept on. I'd love to see what their design team would come up with for a matching remote. In the end this is not a deal breaker just my single wish-list item for the Vega.
 
Since we're talking about DXD and DSD playback, PC users need to install the included drivers from Auralic. Mac users are good to go. I used the Vega with my MacBook Pro connected with an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable mainly with its XRL outputs connected to my Pass INT-30A in amp-mode using the Vega's digital volume control. While I did compare the RCA to XRL output, I preferred the XLRs as they struck me as providing even greater transparency. The Vega employs, "AURALiC's patented ORFEO Class-A module which is inspired by Neve 8078 analog console’s circuit design as the output stage. The principle of this module is to use a mass of small signal components with best linear characteristic. By packing them through a thermal balance procedure and bias the transistors into Class-A, ORFEO achieves impressive performance with open loop distortion less than 0.001%."
 
All This And Tone Too
 
Let's start somewhere different for a change. Different because I don't typically do this for two reasons; interest on the part of the reluctant listener, and this is one cliché I abhor. But sometimes we must make sacrifices for the greater good. I dragged my wife into my office and had her sit and listen. "Wow" was her verdict after hearing Ella and Louis lovingly spar on "Isn't It A Lovely Day" from the 24/192 HDtracks Ella and Louis. And my wife does not wow easily over hi-fi. "What's making this sound so good?" she asked. "Well, everything but the thing that's changed is the DAC." She's heard me talk about gear enough to know what a DAC is, just one of the long-suffering duties of our marriage. While we're talking about everything, I'd like to point out that I believe that's exactly what makes the Vega sound as it does. So let's not get carried away by any single aspect of the Vega's design and attribute everything to it (yes I'm thinking femto).
 
Everything I played through the Auralic Vega was equally wow-inducing. Everything. Music I've heard hundreds of times was presented with a crisp, clean, and delicate clarity that was simply uncanny and made things old, new again. Solo piano was big, bold, and rich. Overtones and decay were flat out lifelike. To put it another way, music sounded so much like music and unlike reproduction that I had a silly grin pasted on my face for most of my listening time. And I purposefully waited a few weeks to start writing my listening notes thinking that my initial giddiness would fade into a more reserved tone. I was wrong.
 
In terms of space, as in how the music is presented in the room, the Vega provides a fitfully weighty and rock solid sense of the things making the music. Here, DSD again trumps PCM in my opinion, offering up a 3D impression of the origin of sound. PCM playback was, however, nearly equally stunning even from CD-quality sources. The Vega transforms all manner of music sources into singing, striking, and resoundingly beautiful things. Just like music.
 
I compared the Vega to the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC ($1,695.00, see review) which I thoroughly enjoy, and the Mytek sounds slightly veiled and diffuse in comparison. This is an interesting discovery because I never would have described the Mytek as sounding veiled or diffuse without hearing the Vega side by side. The differences between these two DACs were less marked with DSD sources but even here the Vega was more nimble and offered up a fuller, more dimensional presentation. There was that uncanny sense of, for lack of a better word, life and vibrancy from the Vega, a spark, that brought with it an excitement and immediacy that was intoxicating and addictive.
 
The Teac UD-501 DAC (see review), which is a great sounding DAC and a relative bargain at its retail price of $849 (and I've heard it can be had for less) sounds, by comparison to the Vega, somewhat dark in terms of tone colors, a bit thick especially around the midrange, a tad loose down low, and slightly soft up top. My guess is over time the Teac would not remind me of these relative shortcomings on its own. Rather, I would grow comfortable with its presentation and live happily ever after, unless I compared it to the far costlier Vega, again.
 
I also compared the Vega to the similarly priced Metrum Hex NOS differential DAC and here the Hex did have some wonderful traits to offer, mainly an ease and naturalness to its presentation that is very appealing. But head-to-head with the Vega had me preferring the Vega's livelier and more vibrant sound. If we factor in the Vega's DXD, DSD, and preamp capabilities, its total package is difficult to beat.
 
If I put myself in another listener's shoes, I can imagine that for some the Vega may sound overly resolute and perhaps lacking in air and ease, especially compared to something like the Metrum Hex or the Acoustic Plan DigiMaster, the latter matching the Vega's wonderful way with tone but offering up a tad more body albeit with less vibrancy and resolution. And while I've heard DACs that I would call overly resolute, the Vega is not one of them mainly because it gets all of the voices so right. Typically, digital detail comes with some amount of etch/edge leaving out some amount of tone/body. This is not the case with the Vega. You feel as if you're getting as much detail as the recording contains along with the depth and breadth of voice.
 
Wow10
 
To say that I am impressed with the AURALiC Vega is an understatement. Its ability to turn music reproduction into an engaging and thrilling musical experience is simply stunning. Offering up to DXD and 2x DSD playback, the AURALiC Vega has everything going for it that a DAC should and then some.
This thing is an instant classic. The Taurus Pre should be on your audition list. Period.
Mal Kenney

REVIEW SUMMARY: To sum it all up, the basic Taurus is probably your go-to if listening to headphones or listening nearfield is your primary purpose. The Taurus Pre is definitely the better choice if you have more single ended sources and tend to listen to a more conventional speaker setup. The closest sound I’ve heard to this little box comes from the Neve 5060. That thing goes for eight grand, and its headphone output doesn’t sound nearly as good as the one on Taurus Pre.This thing is an instant classic. The Taurus Pre should be on your audition list. Period.

EXTENDED REVIEW: I first ran into AURALiC was at the Newport show back in 2012. Audeze had an AURALiC Ark DAC and AURALiC Taurus (not mkii) set uncomfortably on folding table out by the pool. They also had an out of season, Christmas Red, plastic tablecloth just because. But here they were, in the prime of their ascendency, and they chose this weird and wonderful Chinese brand to show off their killer (for the time) LCD2.

“That’s really good,” I burbled. “Where can I hear more?”

“Umm… they don’t really have the whole distribution thing worked out,” was the uncomfortable response.

2012 was a long time ago. AURALiC North America stormed the gates in 2013. They handily achieved reference status, ubiquity, and admiration. More ink, more pixels, and more forum noise has been spilled about AURALiC than any other single brand I can name. Their second generation DAC, the Vega, quickly became the no-brainer default for reasonable performance. Their Taurus MK II achieved equal praise in the world of headphone amps.

The AURALiC brand really started to mean something. No nonsense. Relatively affordable. Tank-like. Aggressively stupid use of capitalization. Saying things like “all-conquering” about their products became de rigueur. Half of AURALiC’s line quickly became the justifiable reference for, it seemed, at least half of the audiophile world.

But what about the other half of their line?

I already have a DAC that I love, and headphones aren’t my primary crush these days. It was that other half that interested me. I was specifically interested in how the other half worked together as a system. Fortunately, Richard Colburn of AURALiC North America is a local who shops at the same Portland stereo stores I do. I had the convenient chance to tug on his coat, so I did, like an annoying toddler, until he delivered a preamp and pair of amps to my house. He’s not even supposed to deal with AURALiC’s press. He did it just to shut me up.

The Taurus Pre
Let’s start with the Taurus Pre. It’s not hard to talk about it, so we can get through it quickly. In fact, I’ll spoil it for you: I’m wholly smitten with it.

The first thing address is the question “why does this thing even exist?” AURALiC’s Taurus Mk II can already function as a preamp. Why would they make another product with the same price and almost the same capabilities? It seems silly on its face.

The background of this is, simply, that Xuanqian Wang and Yuan Wang are uncompromising — and therefore deeply annoying — perfectionists. They understand that an amp for a headphone driver that sits next to your ear has slightly different acoustic needs than a line amp for speaker drivers that live ten feet away from you. You’ll want a slightly different frequency response (extend the treble). You’ll never know how sensitive the other amps or speakers are (lower the noise). Reaching around behind the rack to change sources is a pain in the tuchus compared to doing it while it’s sitting on your desk (add more inputs).

The Taurus Pre exists to address all of those issues. AURALiC changed the gain structure, removed a knee in the treble extension, re-engineered the input stage for lower noise (3µv! A 40% reduction compared to the can-amp version), and added two more single-ended inputs on the backside of the box. They also, damn them, removed the balanced headphone output (you get two TRS jacks instead) and reduced the output power (HiFiMan fans need not apply).

Like all of AURALiC’s components, the Pre is a small, friendly, clean-looking box sized to perfectly fit in the cubby of an Ikea Expedit (or Kallax). There’s no need for specialized furniture to house this thing. It’s quite comfortable sitting on whatever you have.

The backside is a marvel of no-manual-needed simplicity. The four inputs (one XLR, three RCA) fill the right side, and two pairs of outputs (one XLR, one RCA) cover the right side. An IEC inlet sits dead center.

Folks who are a little dim may need the manual to deal with the front side, but most folks who haven’t suffered cranial trauma should be able to use it without resorting to book-learnin’. A textured, grippy, volume knob with oh-so-smooth rotation sits in the proper place on the right, while two, rugged, 1/4″ headphone jacks sit to the left. The lower button cycles between sources, while the upper button is a mode selector that cycles between the headphone outputs and the line outputs. Yes, kids, you can leave your headphones plugged in all the time instead of wearing out the jacks. There’s no automute crap to get in your way here.

The Pre also comes with AURALiC’s standard remote, a universal plastic jobby that can control all of their products. It’s wholly functional, but it’s a bit of a shock. After handling the dense, perfectly finished, Pre with its Swiss-watch feel and parts that fit together so tightly that a Nagra seems sloppy, the remote feels like disposable junk. I suppose that the good news is that it’s probably cheap to replace. It’s the one and only reminder that this is an everyman product that costs $2,199, not milled-from-unobtanium exotica.

As far as build quality and ergonomics go, this is a product that exceeds reasonable expectations in every way.

Listening
There’s a school of thought that says audiophiles actually despise neutrality. To some extent that’s true. We talk about “our sound” constantly, and talk about the products that enliven us. Which tubes give flavor? Which caps bring us happiness? Have you heard this cable?

The AURALiC Taurus Pre wants nothing to do with your gibbering nonsense. It’s going to show you what neutrality sounds like, and it’s going to wait patiently while you catch up.

That’s not to say that there’s no character. There certainly is. The Taurus Pre itself is almost neutral to a fault. Sound starts, sound stops. This sound is here. This sound is there. The drummer is behind the guitarist. The string section is over there. While different inputs and outputs do differ slightly, the overall character remains the same. It delivers an almost totally unembellished sound.

Unembellished, though, is not at all the same thing as boring. Unembellished is utterly hypnotic. The Taurus Pre is going to insist that you recognize that.

Start with the trivial. Throw on everybody’s most hated song of 1989, the B-52’s “Love Shack.” Don Was recorded that initial percussion riff to be as nutty and perfect a drum recording as anything Sensational and Fantastic that rolled off the Good Dr. Chesky’s assembly line. The Taurus Pre lays it bare, making you bounce along to the juvenile throbbing while communicating every transient. On the right system, that will make even a zombie laugh, and the Taurus Pre gets it right immediately.

Move on to something more reasonable, though. Chuck Israels’ bass on Bill Evans Trio: Live at Shelly’s Manne-Hole becomes almost more captivating than Evans’ own playfulness on the keys. In the same way, the resonance and timing of Otis Span’s insane piano on “Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band” almost steals the record out from under Big Mama’s voice.

But take Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner. It’s an album that you probably heard a million times, put away, and now revisit only when Tom’s schtick won’t grate on you. If you’re like me, that’s about once a week. Face it: you know every second of the album by heart. The Taurus Pre makes it new, showcasing the speed of the mongrel, canine, should-be-chained-up-somewhere drumming by Bill Goodwin. Most of all, though, listening to Tom’s voice through the Taurus makes your jaw go slack before you shout, “damn, that guy was really young.”

The Taurus took every familiar album as a chance to startle me with some ridiculously obvious detail that I should have noticed twenty years ago. That’s what “unembellished” buys you.

It wasn’t perfect, unfortunately. Compared to running my K&K Rakk DAC directly into the amps, the Taurus Pre may have given a little bit too much attention to attack instead of decay. It also displayed excellent — but somewhat stereotypically solid state — soundstaging. That is to say that placement in three dimensions was excellent, but it had very slightly more of a “diorama” flavor than “hologram.” Nearfield listening through a pair of Tannoy Glenairs also made it clear that the treble had just a bit too much sheen on it — just right for sitting a dozen feet back, not so good for sitting six feet away.

There’s also that slight difference between the single ended connections and the balanced connections. Going single ended gets you an exceptionally competent preamp. At the price, frankly, the single ended connections were more than respectable. The balanced connections, though… Hoooooooboy! Going balanced — in and out if you can, but definitely on the output — immediately opens up a sense of space. Everything becomes ridiculously effortless. Dynamic swings, already a strength, become catastrophically masterful. The (already minimal) high frequency glare is reduced even more. While the preamp isn’t transformed, it’s a big enough difference that you will — WILL! — want your best source plugged into the balanced input.

This is less of an issue with the headphone output, though. Sadly, the Taurus Pre lacks the balanced headphone jack of its can-centric sibling. The single ended outputs were versatile enough to drive AKG 702, Grados, Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs, and a pair of LCD-2 without much of a worry. They were even surprisingly enjoyable, somehow finding that decay that the line outputs misplaced. Unfortunately, the exuberant punch and sense of space that came with the balanced line outputs was absent, while the treble glare remained in full force. That was fine with the LCD-2 and the Alpha Dogs, but the Grados and the AKGs really don’t need any extra help with delivering painful treble.

To sum it all up, the basic Taurus is probably your go-to if listening to headphones or listening nearfield is your primary purpose. The Taurus Pre is definitely the better choice if you have more single ended sources and tend to listen to a more conventional speaker setup. The closest sound I’ve heard to this little box comes from the Neve 5060. That thing goes for eight grand, and its headphone output doesn’t sound nearly as good as the one on Taurus Pre.

This thing is an instant classic. The Taurus Pre should be on your audition list. Period.

I just wish it had one more balanced input. The one it has is just so good.

You buy one because - you demand better sound quality than a Sonos Connect /you don’t want a computer in your hifi rack /you want something self-contained that with linear PSU added bests the sound of a MacMini.
John H. Darko

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Aries Mini’s core message is flexibility. It’s a hat stand! That’s especially true for newcomers to the digital audio game or those looking beyond the entry-level streamer horizon that has remained largely unchanged since crisp definition by Sonos and (the long gone but not forgotten) Logitech Squeezebox well over a decade ago. The AURALiC aces ‘em all on sound quality, availability (vis a vis the Squeezebox Touch) and connectivity whilst finessing the package with features that Sonos should have added to their Connect (formerly ZP90) aeons ago but didn’t. Sonos audiophile-space loss is AURALiC’s gain. Put simply: for iOS users the Aries Mini is a truly wonderful entry-level streamer.

EXTENDED REVIEW: It’s a little like the 1950/60’s TV show To Tell the Truth – would the real AURALiC Aries Mini please step forward? This Chinese company’s entry-level streamer wears many hats. That’s good news in a product category where functionality often matters as much – if not more than – sound quality alone. Many an end user will take a pass on a streamer should its control app walk with a limp, arrive bug-ridden or not do gapless playback. No such issues trouble the Aries Mini when used in tandem with the all-new iPhone version of AURALiC’s Lightning DS app. We’ll get to that shortly.

Here are the basics: the Mini pulls music from the cloud and/or home-based data storage and sends it onward to an existing DAC or amplifier. Colour choices: black or white. and there is an optional low noise linear PSU.

Forget about the streaming service connection for a moment. Whilst the Aries Mini can fetch content from a UPnP/DLNA-serving network node, the client-server relationship isn’t an exclusive one. The Aries Mini – she’s free to see other people like Messrs Bluetooth and Airplay. It’s an Airplay DAC; it’s a Bluetooth DAC.

Not only though. The Aries Mini’s key drawcard is self-sufficiency. How so? 1) Hook an external hard drive full of tunes into its second rear-panelled USB port or 2) install a 2.5” SSD/HHD into its hull and it becomes its own independent twofer; music server and playback client running on a single device. One Mini can even stream to another Mini; or any other UPnP-capable network device for that matter. In this context, the Aries Mini is a WiFi-able NAS drive. (Pro tip: add your music AFTER installing the drive).

On internal fit out AURALiC have specified an almost identical Tesla hardware platform to the original Aries (US$1599) and Aries LE (US$999): quad-core 1GHz ARM Coretex-A9 processor but with 512Mb RAM instead of the forerunners’ full Gb. A customised Linux operating system takes the digital audio stream from input to output. Network connectivity comes via Ethernet or WiFi.

However, the key to the Aries Mini’s multi-role magic isn’t attributable to its hardware (fixed in place) as much as it is the software/firmware that enjoys manufacturer updates over the air.

AURALiC’s Lightning DS (LDS) platform is used to set up and configure the unit as well as control song selection and playback. Initially it came to market as an iPad-only proposition with the promise of more, soon…only to meet with its fair share of ups and downs. Proving an insurmountable challenge for AURALiC’s, the Android control app was nixed last year leaving Samsung-ers and HTC-ers to twist in the wind. On the other side of the smartphone divide, a heavily reworked interface heralded the arrival to the App Store of an iPhone-compatible LDS in January 2016. It’s AURALiC’s most intuitive, stable, feature rich and speedy remote control app to date.

With the iPad, forum chatter pegs the Aries Mini’s setup as a somewhat of hit and miss affair. It’s flawless for some, less so for others. I fall into the Camp Flawless. Almost. The iPad LDS has seen but a handful of spontaneous self-quits since October and almost all occurred whilst browsing the local library on a remote server.

Number of issues experienced at the hands of the iPhone app? Zilch! Not a single crash or glitch since its installation to an iPhone 6S+ five weeks ago. The iPhone app’s in-built device setup wizard showed itself to be rock solid, even when marshalling a purely wireless setup that first demands a (temporary) direct WiFi connection between iOS device and Aries Mini. Mind you, I consider myself reasonably tech savvy. For those needing a little more handhold during setup AURALiC offer an online Knowledge Base at support.auralic.com.

Once connected to a home network and pointed at music sources, the Mini’s settings allow for output selection (USB or S/PDIF + analogue), operation mode (Lightning Device or UPnP renderer), network connection (wired or wireless) and the toggling on/off of Airplay and Bluetooth – none of which changes interrupt music playback. The three buttons that line the front-top edge handle play/pause and forward/next but can also be reassigned (in-app) to mute on/off and volume up/down.

So convinced are AURALiC of this new Lightning DS’s superiority to the original iPad version that their in-house software dev team are reportedly now midway through porting this refreshed look and feel back to the iPad. I don’t blame ‘em.

“We are working on new iPad version of Lightning DS now, the iPad will share same UX design of iPhone in the future. I don’t have an exact timeline but it’s not far away,” says CEO Xuanqian Wang.

The UX referred to by Wang relates to the skinning of – and metadata provision for – Tidal and Qobuz. With heavy echoes of Roon, the iPhone app serves up artist biography and ‘similar artists’ as well as ‘top songs’ and ‘all albums, EP and singles” by that artist. With an improved metadata layer it’s not hard to imagine someone buying an Aries Mini solely to access their streaming service of choice – as long as it’s lossless. US residents (only) get the added bonus of a year’s Tidal Hifi.

AURALiC’s commitment to the best available streaming quality is underscored by their stance on services like Spotify and Pandora: lossy streamers are directed toward the Mini’s Bluetooth 4.0 input. This is where the Sonos Connect leapfrogs the Johnny-come-lately. Sonos is still the king of the hill when it comes to in-app streaming service breadth.

Back on the Mini, Spotifyers and Pandoras with Apple devices will hear better wireless-direct sound quality than Bluetooth by using Airplay. I punched in Bowie’s “Loving The Alien” on the Lightning DS app before returning to the office desk for a Resident Advisor DJ mix podcast from Sunil Sharpe, routed wirelessly by the MacBook to the Aries Mini via OS X’s in-built Apple streaming protocol.

Talking of which…

The Mini isn’t classified as Roon Ready and probably isn’t likely to be. How else should AURALiC delineate its product skews when the Mini already arrives with MORE features than its predecessor for a third of the asking price? To those who would outwardly express for reals anger at AURALiC’s decision to hike the price on the Aries Mini between its Munich HighEnd ‘15 birth (at US$399) and Stateside Christening at RMAF ‘15  (at US$549), I just cannot relate; manufacturing and distribution circumstances change.

On this Wang is quite firm: “I think it is quite important to explain clear enough the price policy as its not a worldwide price but for U.S only. For the rest of the world, the price has never been changed.”

Could it simply be that AURALiC announced the Aries Mini (pricing) too soon? A manufacturer must ensure all ducks are in a row before product launch. Perhaps a tease of “less than $1000” might have been more appropriate for Munich? Oh, hindsight, you twicer you.

Another position to which I cannot relate either: those who feel entitled to full Roon Readiness in the Mini. ‘I want’ doesn’t always get. Consider this: with DAC built in, MQA compatibility is more likely to land here before the Aries/LE. The Mini sells for far less and rather than pare back Big Dadddy’s feature set, AURALiC are offering difference – built in DAC and hard-drive undercarriage – instead of less.

Besides, the Mini can still interface with a Roon Server via Airplay. The magnitude of this compromise will depend on one’s need for hi-res/DSD- and/or asynchronous network-streaming. Airplay restricts data rates to 16bit/44.1kHz or 16bit/48kHz PCM whilst its data clocking is controlled by the transmitter and not the receiver (aka Endpoint). The beauty of Roon’s RAAT protocol is that its Endpoints control data clocking. RAAT is to network streaming what asynchronous USB receiver chips are to DACs – but that’s a story for another day.

Customers wanting the whole Roon Ready shebang must pony up for the Aries or Aries LE. These costlier models are reportedly to ultimately see room correction and DSD up-sampling capabilities – to be added via firmware update. However, if rumours and the inherent uncertainty of update timing make you nervous, then all the more reason to the Aries Mini’s existing feature set? Less adventurous readers are advised not to hang their hat on nebulous promises of “soon”. DSD: lest we forget.

Whilst we’re taking hi-res audio, Sonos offers considerably broader streaming service integration than the Aries Mini, yes, but thumbs its Californian nose at anything other than Redbook (and its lossy variants). On the other hand, the Tidal/WiMP/Qobuz-restricted Aries Mini will happily dispatch up to 24bit/192kHz over each of its S/PDIF outputs: Toslink and coaxial. Better still, the Mini’s USB output and internal DAC can parse PCM up to 24bit/384kHz and DSD up to quad-rate.

Nothing but 24bit/192kHz and single-rate DSD in my hi-res library. An SACD rip of Depeche Mode’s Music For The Masses streamed flawlessly, even over WiFi. No dropouts. None.

Before we get to the Mini’s talents as a DAC, let’s talk about how it plays as a digital transport. Want the benefit of Femto clocks? You’ll need the more deluxe Aries. More accurate/stable clocking might be the reason why the original Aries retains a slight edge over Junior on tonal mass and treble smoothness whilst feeding a Schiit Gungnir Multibit over USB. The DAC’s output here was amplified by Vinnie Rossi’s ‘super-integrated’ LIO which in turn drove a pair of Spatial Audio M4 open-baffle loudspeakers. This digital realm difference was subtle but noticeable. However, the delta narrowed to almost vanishing point when played out through Audioengine A5+ active loudspeakers OR with the Aries’ external ‘low noise’ linear power brick applied to the Mini in the afore-detailed main rig. That’s interesting! Said linear PSU is available separately.

Interesting squared arrived with the Aries Mini’s USB output pitted against a 2014 MacMini running Roon. I preferred the Aries’ slightly more effortless manner when delivering Orbital’s Blue Album and Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas. Splitting hairs further, the Aries Mini can’t quite match the fluidity of the Wyred4Sound-modded Sonos Connect but is mercifully free of the metallic sheen that plagues a stock standard Connect’s coaxial output.

That said, the Aries Mini is better aimed at those wanting to kick things off with an internal DAC and then add a third party decoder down the line as inclination and budget allows. An ESS Sabre 90182KM chip handles D/A conversion and its implementation here is very good indeed. The Mini’s analogue output aces the Sonos Connect at every turn: from Battles to Nils Frahm, the AURALiC box sounds tonally richer, fleshier and has greater resolving power. The AURALiC Mini also sounds more musically alive than the Squeezebox Touch.

However, I’d recommend first playing with the Mini’s four ‘Flex filter’ modes, trickled down from the Vega, before adding the AURALiC linear power supply. Switching things up to an external DAC should be a tertiary concern. The linear brick relaxes high-frequency-led transients more than the stock switcher. In other words, the linear PSU better quiets any hints of digititus. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

In fact, powered by the Linear PSU the Mini’s own DAC is good enough to give pause to those regularly afflicted by upgraditis. Know that the Multibit Bifrost from Schiit builds upon the Mini’s existing personality by providing yet more richness and detail resolve. The Chord Mojo is more of a departure – firework show dynamics that introduce us to a more overtly tantalising listening experience.

The Aries Mini doesn’t (yet) have the apps-for-all-platforms approach of Sonos, nor does it have such comprehensive streaming service integration. If AURALiC’s intent from the outset was one of quality over quantity, they’ve nailed it with the Aries Mini.

You buy one because: 1) you demand better sound quality than a Sonos Connect; or 2) you want to play back hi-res audio; or 3) you prioritise lossless streaming over lossy; or 4) you already have an iPhone (or iPad); or 5) you don’t mind stumping up the extra for an iPod Touch which will also run the iPhone version of LDS; or 6) you don’t want a computer in your hifi rack; or 8) you don’t want to run a music server elsewhere; or 7) you want something self-contained that with linear PSU added bests the sound of a MacMini.

The Aries Mini’s core message is flexibility. It’s a hat stand! That’s especially true for newcomers to the digital audio game or those looking beyond the entry-level streamer horizon that has remained largely unchanged since crisp definition by Sonos and (the long gone but not forgotten) Logitech Squeezebox well over a decade ago. The AURALiC aces ‘em all on sound quality, availability (vis a vis the Squeezebox Touch) and connectivity whilst finessing the package with features that Sonos should have added to their Connect (formerly ZP90) aeons ago but didn’t. Sonos audiophile-space loss is AURALiC’s gain. Put simply: for iOS users the Aries Mini is a truly wonderful entry-level streamer.

Manufacturer’s response:

“Thanks John for the insightful review of our new little box. ARIES MINI is a product that targets a different market: not actually for audiophiles but for people who are seeking higher sound quality than from a Sonos type of device.

IAURALiC will keep working to improve the streaming software. The next important feature which we will bring in is the ‘party mode’ – you will be able to group several streaming devices and let them play together. The Lightning DS iPad version is also being reworked to match the design with current iPhone version. Virtually, we are working to change the Lightning DS from a hardware control software to a music discovery platform and we believe our team is pretty good at doing it. You will see quite a lot of changes on the software side this year.

One last word for Android users: we didn’t forget you. It was a hard decision to withdraw the support for the largest mobile platform, but experience tells us it is hard to keep on top level of user experience for this quite open platform. AURALiC is not like Sonos, we are not a huge company with unlimited resources for software engineers. We don’t sell millions of devices every year which can support such a big team. What we can do is to bring the best user experience to one single platform and make it the best – iOS is the choice because it is easier. The software team is working on a web browser based Lightning DS which will work on Windows and OS X initially but will eventually be ported to mobile devices. This will bring Android system support back and I hope this day will arrive soon.” 

Say hello to ALTAIR – Auralic's new “high-quality” streaming DAC.
JOHN H. DARKO

REVIEW SUMMARY: ALTAIR looks a good deal like the VEGA, doesn’t it? No surprise then that the newbie shares a number of features with its bigger bro: same sized enclosure (33cm x 23cm x 6.5cm); 512 x 64px OLED display; ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip; digital volume control; single-ended and balanced outputs.

EXTENDED REVIEW: For the digital streamer and head-fier looking to go all in on an AURALiC rig, pricing adds up as fast as feature set and performance. From top to bottom: the ARIES streamer with linear PSU, the VEGA decoder,  lastly, the TAURUS MKII headphone amplifier. 

Dropping the ARIES down to an ARIES MINI (covered here, here and here) adds HDD hosting but removes Roon Readiness and sees SQ drop a few notches. The Mini’s onboard decoder can try its best to stand-in for the Vega’s technicolour arrest… but “Yeah, nah”, as we say in Australia.

What if AURALiC were to offer a DAC that retained much of the Vega’s performance but added an Aries with its proprietary Tesla hardware platform, ‘flexible filters’, linear power supply and Femto clocking plus a headphone socket for more casual listening? What if that product were to sell for US$1899 (excl sales tax)?

Say hello to ALTAIR – the Chinese hifi company’s new “high-quality” streaming DAC. A single box solution for skinnier wallets. Also, one power cord.

The press release boasts of the ALTAIR’s 15 (count ‘em) input sources so let’s start there.

Should you insist, direct connections from third party streamers and disc spinners hook into the ALTAIR via its three S/PDIF inputs – AES/EBU, coaxial and Toslink. A PC or Mac goes direct over USB.

Bluetooth and AirPlay show up here to accommodate Spotify and Apple Music listeners but ALTAIR’s 802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet connections are also for feeding the silver machine over the network from myriad other sources.

On ALTAIR’s network capability list sit Roon Readiness plus Songcast, uPnP/DLNA, TIDAL / Qobuz, Internet Radio, Songcast – the latter seven via AURALiC’s own Lightning DS (LDS) platform whose iPhone app is really something nowadays.

LDS for the iPad will be updated “soon” whilst control apps for Windows and OS X remain “in development”. Until then, non-Apple users are directed toward OpenHome or UPnP control software.

The main advantage held by Lightning DS over Roon is self-sufficiency. A NAS or server can be used for music library storage but it isn’t a prerequisite. With an external hard drive connected to its second USB port or with an internal 2.5” hard drive fitted by end user or dealer, ALTAIR serves itself.

ALTAIR looks a good deal like the VEGA, doesn’t it? No surprise then that the newbie shares a number of features with its bigger bro: same sized enclosure (33cm x 23cm x 6.5cm); 512 x 64px OLED display; ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip; digital volume control; single-ended and balanced outputs.

So far, so press release. DAR digs deeper…

Before you get ready to throw your VEGA up on the ‘gon, know that it one-ups ALTAIR in two key areas: 1) ORFEO Class A output modules and 2) a better quality power supply feeds its analogue stage.

“You are not expecting the same sound quality from the VEGA for this price, right?” says AURALiC CEO Xuanqian Wang via email.

Wang pegs the ALTAIR’s sound quality as somewhere between the VEGA and the ARIES Mini’s (analogue output) once the Linear PSU has been applied. We should therefore view the ALTAIR as a hardware extension of AURALiC’s Aries Mini but with an added headphone output.

And so it comes from the horse’s PR mouth: “ALTAIR is definitely a line extension, and not a replacement of the ARIES MINI or our award-winning VEGA DAC or ARIES Streamers,” emphasises the press release.

Details remain vague however on ALTAIR’s headphone socket and its supporting circuitry. That’s for attendees of this weekend’s AXPONA audio show in Chicago to uncover. AURALiC will be giving ALTAIR its first public outing in Room 304.

Back to software. In 2015, AURALiC’s software development team gave us quad-DSD streaming compatibility via USB (should you have any in your library) plus the more useful in-app playlist composition and multi-zone playback sync.

Coming in the Lightning DS’ next update is a brand new feature called Memory Playback. For all content streamed via LDS, including Tidal and Qobuz, ALTAIR will fetch and cache the entire track to its memory or system storage. That’s useful for those still living with 20th century Internet speeds (*cough* Australia *cough*) or where Tidal proves to be glitchy.

Memory Playback will also be joining the ARIES – but NOT the ARIES Mini – once the new LDS and its associated firmware update rolls out on ALTAIR.

Also on AURALiC software dev roadmap are DSD up-sampling (a la HQPlayer), room ‘correction’ capabilities and – wait for it – MQA support.

At this year’s CES I asked Xuanqian Wang about the possibility of a black VEGA. The man was very firm with his reply in the negative. So consider this a plot twist: the ALTAIR will be made available in silver and black finishes. 

Given the Altair's comprehensive featurization and attractive price most should be in - and in a big way.
Srajan Ebaen

SUMMARY: Selling for US$2'000 (excl sales tax), for the Streamer version, the Altair slots beneath the Vega in performance yet combines Vega plus functionality with the Aries by supporting 15 sources including NAS, USB, local files (optional 2.5" HHD or SSD internal storage), uPnP/DLNA media server, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming, Internet radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast and RoonReady; AES/EBU, coaxial, Toslink, USB device to computer, 2 USB host for storage and DAC, RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n/ac tri-band WiFi. Of course Lightning DS figures in a big way. It's the operating system and GUI, offering DXD and quad DSD support, gapless, on-device playlist and multi-room functions. Memory playback will soon cache an entire track to memory to improve sonics and avoid glitches with low Internet speeds or iffy connections. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: The latest Chinese lunar year kicked off February 8th, belonging to the sign of the monkey. By applying the five elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth to their calendar, 2016 is associated with the fiery element and the colour red, making it the Red Fire Monkey year. Its launch set off the greatest annual human migration, of factory workers in the industrial south who, for New Year's, return home to their families in the north. The associated strain on the public transport system—planes, trains and overland buses—must be unimaginable to Westerns just as our kind couldn't envision how India's Khumba Mela, the world's largest religious gathering (32'000'000 a few years ago), can function without mass mayhem. 

Being Chinese, AURALiC co-founder Xuanqian Wang must be genetically prewired to a most solid work ethic and severe logistic challenges. Why else would he have spent the last few dogged years pursuing his own Lightning app? Any updates and refinements to such software are free to existing owners. It's not a money maker but royal pain in the pancreass. Each time when programs miscommune, when firmware patches lag behind changes in iOS or Android, one gets boo'd. Only someone bloody stubborn or blessedly resourceful (the same thing perhaps?) would even bother to challenge iTunes/Airplay, Sooloos/Roon, Sonos & Co. Whilst I covered most of AURALiC's hardware from the very beginning (think Vega, Merak, Taurus, Gemini), I didn't Lightning or products which run it like Aries and Aries Mini. That's because my wife and I are allergic to WiFi. Like cigarette smoke, it triggers physical hate when tablet remotes or smart phone sources get involved. Being made of sterner stuff, we left the Aries to Aussie contributor John Darko. WiFi doesn't bother him. He's 6'6". He's probably got more brain cells than the two of us combined.

If writing your own operating system is asking for free troubles, another occasion arises when you begin with high-end gear, then bow more mass-appeal models to enlarge your customer base. Give that to the usual hifi review press. Chances are, their perspective will be skewed to prompt a "you missed the point" manufacturer's reply. That happened more than once to the Aries Mini. It's what caused NuForce to break off into NuForce (mass market) and NuPrime (high end). It's strict apartheid to avoid confusion. It pursues different press, distribution networks and target audiences. With the red fire monkey rising, AURALiC rejoin the high-end gravy train and the hard side of ware. It allows this dinosaur back on. If I were a betting man, I'd have predicted that their next product would be an Aries/Vega combination; a purist server slash streamer with wired and wireless network connectivity, onboard storage and a premium DAC with volume control all in one box. Why let Aurender and Lumin have all that fun? Because I'm a cheat instead—Xuanqian dropped a crumb a week prior to their official press release—I knew that it'd be a streamer. I simply had zero details on its hardware/software configuration. I only saw as predestined that Lightning would be a major part. If I could log onto it via Safari and Ethernet over my standard iMac, I'd bypass WiFi. Dinosaur smiles or crocodile tears? As regular readers know, I've been quite the fence sitter on audiophile streamers. Instead I'm already on my 3rd PureMusic'd iMac running into sundry DACs. I use Apple's keyboard and mouse to access local files on the 3TB FusionDrive which for playback are cached in 32GB of RAM. I access Qobuz and Tidal through their desktop apps with a 15-metre hard connection to the router. And for me, the 27" Retina 5K display beats all tablet or smartphone remotes to kingdom come. Would Xuanqian's latest prompt me to finally come off my fence and join the audiophile server community? Or would I remain a lonely outcast?

Selling for US$2'000 (excl sales tax), the Altair slots beneath the Vega in performance yet combines Vega plus functionality with the Aries by supporting 15 sources including NAS, USB, local files (optional 2.5" HHD or SSD internal storage), uPnP/DLNA media server, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming, Internet radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast and RoonReady; AES/EBU, coaxial, Toslink, USB device to computer, 2 USB host for storage and DAC, RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n/ac tri-band WiFi. Of course Lightning DS figures in a big way. It's the operating system and GUI, offering DXD and quad DSD support, gapless, on-device playlist and multi-room functions. Memory playback will soon cache an entire track to memory to improve sonics and avoid glitches with low Internet speeds or iffy connections. For now, Lightning is exclusive to iOS but Windows and Mac desktop versions are in development. Housed in the familiar Vega enclosure, the Altair retains the on-chip digital volume of the ESS 9018 DAC and the yellow-on-black 512x64 pixel Oled display, then adds a full-size headphone jack of unspecified potency. The Tesla hardware behind Lightning DS relies on a quad-core Coretec A9 processor which runs at 1GHz with 1GB of DDR onboard memory and 4GB of system storage. This operates at 25'000Mips to support AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA. A future feature à la HQPlayer will be on-the-fly upsampling to DSD. Also planned are room-acoustic plug-ins and MQA support, to be delivered via automated online updates. 

A low-jitter dual-freq clock for the 44.1/48kHz sample-rate frequencies is powered by a 9uV dedicated power supply and said to operate with Vega 'exact' mode precision. The power supply isn't a switching but linear design to reduce line noise by up to 90dB. Retained from the Vega are four built-in filter modes called 'precise', 'smooth', 'dynamic' and 'balance'. Each of them is an amalgamation of various filters optimised for corresponding sample rates. Relative to my own search for a cost-effective audiophile streamer,.....Given the Altair's comprehensive featurization and attractive price however, most should be in - and in a big way.
....... Srajan Ebaen

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A car analogy .... I would go with Porsche , everyday liveability with super car performance.
Terry, 
Thanks for the Auralic Vega DAC demo. 

Straight out of the box it had the sabre chip clarity and detail that we loved about the new wonder chip when it first entered our listening lives.  

There something more here though, a smoothness and greater sense of scale to the music. Kind of sabre grows up and gets friendly. It has true Super DAC performance in a smart package with user friendly features like full featured remote, a good volume control, filters to make those badly recorded tracks listenable and accepts the DSD format files to place it at the top of the new tech ladder.    

A car analogy .... I would go with Porsche , everyday liveability with super car performance.
.....DC
 
Now I had better give them back and start saving ....
Hi Terry,
Many thanks for letting me demo the new Auralic Merak mono amps.    

While listening to them I woke the tablet up and rad the 6moons review on them. A couple of quoted from the review that I thought were spot on. "modern high-resolution sound with just the right underpinnings of analogue vintage virtues"  

and 

"....That's where class D done right comes to the rescue. It runs 24/7 cool yet with humdinger power. It has ultra-low output impedance to 'get a grip' or 'come to terms' with the usual speakers. Then it adds utter freedom from noise whilst transcending the usual turbo lag of legacy muscle amps which didn't sound good at low levels. Finally there's compact physical size. It's a winning combination of virtues class    

A can't match. 

Yet AURALiC's Meraks are all that and priced competitively."    

A little artistic licence in there of course but I feel very true and very appropriate for these magnificent amps.    

I will resist the temptation to wax lyrical and leave it at that ;)

Now I had better give them back and start saving ....   

Much Thanks

….DC
I am very impressed....
Hi Terry
 
I am very impressed with the Taurus headphone amplifier I purchased from you.I have owned a good few headphone amplifiers over the past thirty years or so and the Taurus beats the lot.Build quality is superb and once it has had a few hours of music through it the sound is magic.
Detail and transparency are excellent and certainly no graininess or harshness.Midrange is just about as good as it gets,bass to die for and overall a fantastic product.
I use Sennheiser HD800 headphones but am now tempted to go up the scale a bit and try the Audeze Planar LCD-2 and LCD-3 headphones.
 
Regards
John.
it is like drinking the best red wine you have ever had.
Hi Terry,
"I have had a good change to listen to the,  Antipodes Server and AURALiC DAC, and after listening to music for over 40 years I can honestly say I have never been happier with the sound.  

Before I would have to change cables and set up to suit the type of music I was playing going from classical to hard rock or compromising and setting up for something in-between. Well that is all over with the Auralic and Antipodes handling anything you can throw at it with and it does it with ease.  

To sum up it is so good at bringing all the detail out and in such a soft and rich way, it is like drinking the best red wine you have ever had. Thank you for taking me down this road, I have waited a long time to get there".

.....….Martyn :)
I think I have an excuse to sell my vinyl?
Hi Terry,
I think I have an excuse to sell my vinyl?

Very, very happy with the Antipode’s DXe Music Server & Auralic Vega DAC combination, I cannot believe the step up from the Tricked out Mac mini with Linear power supply and SSD, this into the NAD M51 DAC with all the fruit hanging off of it, IFI USB power supply, IFI USB to SPDIF converter IFI USB Filter etc. etc.
…..Murray

....with the Aries Mini's sound quality it sounds like he is performing in my cabin, just for me!

Terry,
This is the little box that could. And does!

An oil tanker isn't exactly a prize environment for quality Audio, but this amazing little streamer has made my cabin a haven for me and my music. 100% reliable whether streaming from Plex media server or an attached hard drive. 

I'm currently half way through my David Bowie collection the day after his death. Bet he's never been on an oil tanker, but with the Aries Mini's sound quality it sounds like he is performing in my cabin, just for me!

Thanks Terry, these really should sell like hotcakes - I'll put the word out.

.... Gary Pearce

Great sound. Cant believe they got so much technology in such a small box!

Hi Terry,
Got the Auralic Altair set up and streaming from my new NAS. Great sound. Cant believe they got so much technology in such a small box! 
Many thanks for your help and all the best in the new premises.
cheers
Sean

Thank you very much......

Hi Terry

Just letting you know the Auralic Vega dac arrived this morning. It is singing away in the back ground as I work. Thank you very much.

Regards

Robert

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