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Similar virtues pooled into the Taurus Pre which also sports those Orfeo gain modules which now tuck out of sight beneath ribbed heatsinks. There's a smaller though unmistakable toroidal power transformer. The latter pursues extreme EMI suppression via triple shielding – one inside shield between primary and secondary windings, two external shields one of which exploits mu metal (a nickel-iron alloy with high magnetic permeability). With the high-quality stereo Alps RK27 pot, balanced input signal is first desymmetrized but processed in dual-differential mode past the attenuator like all single-ended input signal is.

Eyeing the volume control (somewhat coarse via the remote) had me at a loss why it wouldn't fade to full mute. With the control fully counter clockwise and contingent on speaker efficiency, I still had lower or low-ish room volume which in many cases will mean that whisper background sessions won't be on. Anything quieter and you'll have to hit mute or stop your source. Source selection toggles through the inputs whilst another button selects either two paralleled 6.3mm headphone sockets or the pre-out (the other mode gets automatically muted). Aside from that left-over loudness at hard left on the dial, the Taurus Pre is very comfortably equipped. There are three line-level inputs on RCA and one on XLR which I used predominantly. Headfi friends have two paralleled ports at their disposal and amplifiers can see the Taurus Pre via single-ended or balanced feeds though the Meraks themselves are purely sym. This arrives us at the end of foreplay and moves into the listening room for an audition of first the Taurus Pre solo, then the Merak monos without the matching pre, then the lot in combination.

Auralic Taurus Pre. Flanked by my customary Audionet amps and a pair of Thiel CS3.7, I immediately challenged the Pacific Rim challenger with monumentally mighty electronic soundscapes by way of "Dirt" (from Sweden's one-man project Sophia's Spite album) which seemed the proper soundtrack for a soggy winter day in Berlin's snowy meltdown. Peter Pettersson has arranged this rhythmically quite monotonous and reluctant number with such substantial low-reaching bass that the synth-generated massively reverb-enhanced kettle drums conjure up the proverbial Roman galleon, drummer exhorting rowing slaves to eventual death. Particularly at higher levels this amount of infrasonic energy becomes downright physical.

Whilst my usual Funk MTX preamp is far from bass shy, the last few cycles down south tend to go awol to slightly diminish the song's material foundation. Not merely compared to the Funk whose V3b iteration seems tonally flawless, Auralic's Taurus Pre surprised with bona fide depth mining. It didn't just do menacing low-down growl but exerted true grip to render bass runs and bass drums dynamically potent and as tonally neutral as my own poster child. This countered highly possible first suspicions that the very compact and quite small Taurus Pre might lack testicular fortitude. It doesn't.

Time to leave the dim cellar for the hopefully light and airy first floor of the audible spectrum. Here I immediately noticed how—and I'm a confessed sucker for treble—this preamp showed just a hint less air in the very top than I'm used to. Take the crazy free-jazz metal of Behold... The Arctopus on "Canada". About 25 seconds into it there's some hi-hat whisper underpinned by bass-drum thunder. The Funk MTX rendered this a bit more ethereal and open. On harmonically intense numbers like "SearchPartyAnimal" from the Irish combo And so I Watch You From Afar's Gangs album, there was more freshness and presence in the top registers.
That's not to say that Auralic's milder treble voicing subtracted any noteworthy treble fun. It wasn't necessarily just minor softening either. Percussive bronze elements could actually seem a tad more realistic and pleasant by lacking that last iota of artificial platinum injection. But let's not split atoms or descriptives. If I had some positive bias toward the Funk MTX, the two machines were so evenly matched as to call it a draw. And that surprised me since the €700 costlier Funk is a personal treble favorite to directly explain why I didn't outfit my Audionet monos with their matching preamp. The MTX's lack of aural embellishments makes life tough for quite costlier efforts...

Whilst some listeners might hanker after some extra treble snazz like an extra portion of champagne bubbles, I must say that of all the preamplifiers I've reviewed over the years, only Fonel's Renaissance added air and treble flair above and beyond my Funk in a fashion which actually increased my pleasure rather than undermine emotional access to the music and long-term listening comfort. Here Auralic's voicing sacrificed nothing on resolution or microdynamics. The fine shimmer and decay of metallic noise makers which in the refrain of Skinny Puppy's "Love in Vain" from Last Rights hang subliminally above distorted voices and all manner of industrial sound vapours remained perfectly intelligible. Ditto for the gnarly overtones of the introductory bass run to Interpol's "Evil" (Antics). Those showed no evidence of any subtraction or dynamic softening.

Perhaps this described treble voicing related to actually superior cleanliness over against a somewhat blacker background and thus increased plasticity which eclipsed even my Funk MTX which I considered beyond reproach on such matters. On Swedish jazz trumpeter Goran Kaife's "Solar Still" from X/Y for example, the tablas and oud had a tad more contrast, timbre fullness and spatial definition with the Taurus Pre. One could feel nearly compelled to spontaneously point at individual instruments with the finger. The Auralic was truly brilliant—and I don't use this word lightly or inflationary—at presenting the physical illusion of having actual performers on stage within the room.

If I had any wishes, I'd have asked for more soundstage scale. Whilst perfectly congruent and embodied, its outer dimensions weren't exceptionally generous or frontal. I'm personally keen on larger more enveloping images and though my own Funk MTX is more average or neutral in this regard, it's nonetheless a bit more 'wall of sound' than the Taurus.