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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, PureMusic 1.89d in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files, hog mode and 24/176.4 NOS-style upsampling; Audirvana 1.4.6 in direct/integer mode, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Thrax Maximinus [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Nagra Jazz, ModWright LS-100 with Psvane tubes, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, TruLife Audio Athena, Bakoon AMP-11R, Thrax Dionysos [on review], Octave HP300SE [on review]
: First Watt SIT1, FirstWatt SIT2, ModWright KWA100SE, Tellurium Q Iridium 20 [on review], Wyred4Sound mAMP [on review], Thrax Heros [on review]
Speakers: Aries Cerat Gladius, Boenicke Aud
io B10, Zu Druid V, Zu Submission, AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, Aries Cerat Stentor [on review], soundkaos Wave 40 [on review], Rethm Saadhana [on review], Sonus faber Venere 3.0 [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event,
KingRex uArt USB cable, Tombo Trøn S/PDIF cable, VdH Pro 110
Ω AES/EBU cable
Artesania Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with TT glass shelf, Rajasthani solid hardwood console for amps
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF2
on amps, 1 x GigaWatt PC-3 SE Evo on front-end components

Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: €3.300

Despite having arguably enjoyed quite the meteoric rise, Hong Kong brand 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.