AURALiC Vega reference DAC/Preamp - PCM 32/384 DSD64 DSD128 USB w/ volume ctrl

AC 01 DAC VEGA
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
AURALic Audio

AURALiC, innovate technologies & inspire the music

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A statement 32/384 DAC/Preamp.....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....Srajan Ebaen - 6MOONS

Core appeal. Three key phrases for the Vega are vibrancy, minor sweetness and saturated tone..... Vega's tuning creates an immediate Whoa! reaction. Colour 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..... Srajan Ebaen - 6MOONS

"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 ".......Srajan Ebaen - 6MOONS

"Had a really good session listening to everything last night. Couple of friends came over and the combo of the VC7s with the Auralic Vega DAC was simply stunning! The Auralic Vega DAC adds real life and pace to the Brodmanns: the sound staging and imaging is unbelievable – better than with the Quads, believe it or not. Instruments and voices sound much more real overall. By comparison, the Brodmanns sound just a little bass heavy and flat with the Weiss DAC. The VC7s and Weiss DAC together don’t have the same imaging or soundstage qualities. You really do need to hear the Brodmann / Auralic Vega DAC combination some time: they are truly stunning together. I’m now much happier over the large outlay for the Brodmanns, as its clear that their potential is really only limited by the equipment linked to them.". .... Stephen

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, 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 :)

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 will become the kernel component of your high-end stereo system.

With Sanctuary Audio Processor as heart, AURALiC introduces several cutting-edge technology for VEGA: Megahertz upsampling algorithm up-samples all PCM music to 1.5MHz in 32bit; Femto Master Clock provides an ultimate clock precision with jitter only 82 femtoseconds(0.082 picosecond). Binding with other AURALiC's patented technologies such as 'ORFEO Class-A module' and discrete 'Purer-Power™ solution', VEGA will bring high resolution music playback experience to climax.

VEGA supports all high resolution music formats including DXD(352.8KS/s, 384KS/s in 32bit) as well as DSD stream at 2.8224MHz and 5.6448MHz. Five digital inputs include AES/EBU, coaxial(set of two), toslink and USB. The balanced and single-ended analog outputs can connect to power amplifier directly, adjusting volume in digital precision without dynamic loss.

The Flexible Filter Mode embedded inside VEGA has six modes, each contains several digital filters optimized for corresponding sampling rate. These filters are solely developed by AURALiC to optimize the listening experience for different music and format. VEGA allows its user to customise according to different music formats, tuning sound best to personal preference.

"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

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Testimonials

Features

AURALiC Sanctuary Audio Processor

Sanctuary audio processor, the heart of VEGA, is based on multi-core ARM9 architecture with calculating capability at 1000MIPS which is ideal for handling multi-channel high resolution music. AURALiC also introduces the second generation ActiveUSB ™ to VEGA that separates the USB PHY into a discrete chip to future reduce EMI  from computer. Resorting to these technologies, VEGA not only support DXD format(352.8KS/s and 384KS/s PCM signal in 32bit) but also able to decode DSD stream at 2.8224MHz and 5.6448MHz in native though 'DoP V1.1' transmission standard.

Flexible Filter Mode

The Flexible Filter Mode technology inside VEGA has six built-in modes each contains several digital filters optimized for corresponding sampling rate. These filters are developed under AURALiC's subjective auditory sense and objective testing data relationship models which is to optimize the listening experience for different music and format. The linear phase filter exhibits perfect in-band ripple and out-band attenuation performance while the minimum phase filter is better for enjoyment as it has no 'pre-ringing' effect. There are also slow roll-off filter and several noise filters for native DSD conversion. To maximum usage of these filters, VEGA allows its user to customize according to different formats, tuning sound best to personal preference. Please download the technical white paper of Flexible Filter Mode for detailed information.

Femto Master Clock

The objective of Femto Master Clock  technology is to give DAC and upsampling circuit an ultimate clock with extremely low jitter and low phase noise. It utilizes aerospace grade crystal oscillator, ultra low noise linear power supply and temperature compensation technology to generate master clock with extremely low jitter at 82 femtoseconds. What's more important, the phase noise which affect sound quality a lot has been dramatically reduced to -168dBc/Hz. VEGA has three level of clock precision for customer to choose, with the highest grade 'EXACT' mode, it will give the purest reference clock. Driving by such amazing clock, VEGA can easily reproduce the music details in the 'last bit', represent a rock solid stereo image you may never experience before.

Megahertz Upsampling

Using latest ground breaking algorithm, Megahertz Upsampling technology process and up-sampling all incoming PCM signal to about 1.5MHz in 32bit depth. These not only improve the precision of DAC, but also create a new Nyquist frequency for all PCM signal which farther away from the top end of audio frequency. As a result, our engineers are able to design a brand new analog circuit structure with more bandwidth and faster slew rate. Comparing to previous design, the new structure is more transparent to audio signal with lower distortion and less noise, it also lets red book CDs sound more rich and smooth.

AURALiC ORFEO Class-A Output Module

In order to drive various loads, matching different power amplifiers, VEGA is powered with 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 though a thermal balance procedure and bias the transistors into Class-A, ORFEO achieves impressive performance with open loop distortion less than 0.001%. The ORFEO module used in VEGA has been selected and tweaked for lower noise while maintains its driving capability for 600ohm load without any distortion raise

Specifications

Frequency Response - 20 - 20KHz, +/- 0.1dB* 
THD+N - <0.00015%, 20Hz-20KHz at 0dBFS 
Dynamic Range - 130dB, 20Hz-20KHz, A-weighted 
Digital Inputs
1*AES/EBU
2*Coaxial
1*Toslink
1*USB 2.0 buffered by ActiveUSB™ 
Analog Outputs
1*Balanced XLR(output impedance 4.7ohm)
1*Single-ended RCA(output impedance 50ohm) 
Supported Digital Formats
All PCM from 44.1KS/s to 384KS/s in 32Bit**
DSD64( 2.8224MHz) and DSD128(5.6448MHz)*** 
Output Voltage - 4Vrms at Max. with dynamic-loss-free digital volume 
User Interface - AURALiC RC-1 remote control / 512*64 pixels OLED Display 
Power Consumption - Standby: <2W / Sleep: <10W / Playback:  15W at max. 
Dimension - 330W x 230D x 65H mm 
Weight - 3.4kg
* Tested under Flter Mode #1 for all sampling rate
** 352.8KS/s and 384KS/s are supported though USB only
** 32bit is supported though USB only
*** By 'DoP V1.1' protocol though USB only 
All specifications are subject to change without notice.

Reviews

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
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
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.
 
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. +
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
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.

Testimonials

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
 
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

Alex's experience - feedback:

Terry,
Thanks for helping me put together a truly wonderful system. You genuinely listened to what I wanted to achieve and then you expertly crafted together the necessary elements to make it happen. It was a real journey of learning for me so thanks also for being so patient with me and generous with your knowledge. 

Cheers,
Alex..

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