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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.

with Nagra Jazz, Tellurium Q Iridium 20, soundkaos Wave 40 and Zu Audio Submission

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.

Continue to the final page for some comparative commentary by Aussie contributor John Darko.