by Josh Emmons
Knowing this about me, it won’t surprise you to learn I find AURALiC‘s Vega the best damn looking DAC out there right now. I know it’s not just a pretty face. I know it’s got serious brains, too (a multi-core ARM9, in fact). And I know it’s capable of decoding pretty much all PCM in addition to DSD (up to 2x). But it’s the look I keep coming back to.
But here’s the situation. You have a gorgeous DAC like the Vega, but more and more of your collection is living on your NAS. Or maybe one of these new-fangled “streaming services” the kids are always jawing on about. Maybe you’ve installed gigabit WiFi in your home and are thinking to yourself, “Wait, shouldn’t this be wide enough to stream DSD, now?”
Maybe. But there’s a missing piece between the wireless cloud and your DAC. And AURALiC aims to fill it with the Aries. It’s a streaming “bridge” with 802.11ac and gigabit ethernet inputs that let you reach out into the network and stream data from there to your DAC.
The “network”, in this case, can be your own NAS or a lossless streaming service like Tidal, Qobuz or WiMP. The “data” is the standard 44.1–384/16–32 PCM formats, or DSD (2.8 and 5.6MHz). The connection to your DAC can be via USB 2.0, AES/EBU, Coaxial, or TOSLINK, and the DAC itself can be, well, anything.
AURALiC is quite adamant on this last point. Of course they’d like it if you paired an Aries up with one of their Vegas. But it was built to work well with any DAC not just their own. The Aries truly is meant to “bridge”, not just “extend” or “add-on”.
This shows through in its design. The Aries breaks from traditional AURALiC “aluminum block” stylings, opting instead for clamshell-like top and bottom-panels, each with a pleasing wave in their shape. The effect is very modern, if not quite as minimal their other products. At least one goal of this design, AURALiC tells me, is to make the Aries capable of blending with a wide array of gear in a variety of styles.
But it could have its downsides. For example, that arched top makes the Aries much less stackable than its box-shaped brethren. On the other hand, you don’t want a lot of (electrically) noisy metal sitting on top of a device trying to pull down 1,300Mbps of data over wireless, so maybe this is intentional.
Still, the Aries (thankfully!) inherits the Vega’s striking display, and will still look at home on top of a stack of AURALiC gear. Interestingly, there seems to be no way to control the Aries from that beautiful display. For that you’ll have to use the included remote or the (continually improving) Lightning DS app (currently iPad only).
Another nice trait inherited from the Vega is its apparent agnosticism when it comes to how you get what music where. For example, in addition to the headline “lossless streaming” features noted above, you also can attach USB drives to the Aries to play music from physical storage. While not “streaming” from a purist point of view, this is certainly handy. And speaking as a Mac fan, I appreciate that the Aries supports AirPlay, letting me shoot music to it from my iOS and OS X devices.
DLNA and uPnP are also supported. And while I have no direct experience with OpenHome, I’m hearing more and more about it. It’s inclusion is definitely forward thinking and welcome.
In fact, in the end, “bridge” is probably the wrong way to describe the Aries. A bridge starts from a anchored foundation and extends to a known, stable location. The Aries connects the shifting ether of the cloud to unknown decoders via any combination of over a dozen protocols and ports. It’s more swiss army knife than bridge. And in our current, quickly evolving media landscape, that is a very valuable thing to have.
- AURALiC Taurus: $1,899
- AURALiC Vega: $3,499
- AURALiC Aries LE: $999
- AURALiC Aries (upgraded clocks and PSU): $1,599