May
2019

Aurora

Can you see the northern lights from Glastonbury?

With iFi Audio's new Aurora, you can hear them from anywhere in the world. Because that's what this advanced project, originally code-named Glastonbury for the popular annual music festival in the UK, is now called.

Spearheaded by chief designer Thorsten Loesch who also handles their Abbingdon Music Research line of very high-end electronics and speakers, this is iFi's all-in-one wired/wireless complete system.

It sits in sustainable bamboo which nattily suspends in a pyramidal aluminum frame based on a concept by French designer Julien Haziza who apprenticed with Philippe Stack and was inspired here by the architecture in Tokyo’s districts of Omotesando and Harajuku.

Eight drive units including two passives are managed by 32-bit ARM Cortex microprocessor brain power then driven by a hybrid 6N3P-tube/class D amp of 320 watts total whose 1.5MHz switching frequency is sync'd or clock-locked to the 32bit/192Hz ESS Sabre D/A converter's sample rates. The output filter's bandwidth is 300kHz, that of the amp's 150kHz, suppression of the switching noise is 120dB.

Grandpa's vintage class D this isn't. In fact, it's derived from an aborted AMR product as proprietary but benched tech that here finds itself revived for a more 'mass-market' product.

Touch-sensitive controls and an Oled display add a very modern interface. Four 12cm long-fibre coated paper widebanders previously seen in iFi's Retro system cover 60Hz-8kHz without any filter. Two fire out the front, two to the sides whilst being steered by a 3D matrix for the widest possible soundstage from such a compact box. These widebanders are augmented by one 28mm silk-dome tweeter per side to add 8-35kHz via a shallow 1st-order high-pass.

Two rectangular passive radiators with composite membranes of carbon, iron and ethylene-vinyl acetate with self-centering double-ribbed rubber surround add bass assist by firing down to exploit predetermined boundary gain.

Upon the push of a button, the lot's interaction with your setup is measured by 6 ultrasonic distance sensors (2/ea. to each side, 2 out the back) to trigger purely analog correction. This purist approach shuns DSP and negative feedback to dial in best response linearity.

Aside from WiFi and Bluetooth, there are Toslink, coax, USB host and Ethernet to cater to hardwired digital sources. A 3.5mm stereo port plus regular RCA pair handle analog and a micro slot takes SDHC cards.

It all turns Aurora into a very hi-tech proposition for the table top. Multiple units can even be linked for whole-house distribution. These surely are northern lights you can see from anywhere on the globe.

Photo compliments of Dawid Grzyb's show report.

In the old days of blaxploitation flicks, this would have been a mega-futuristic ghetto blaster. If you really wanted to, you could still pop this one on the roof of your low rider and drive real slow to steer up trouble in the 'hood; if you had the means to supply 115/230V. Even so you'd waste those very smart analog optimizations. An anechoic chamber mocked up by playing a small or even big hifi system outdoors won't sound very good no matter how smart the design.

It's good then that Shaft and Foxy Brown no longer roam the streets. Aurora belongs into the home or office where stylish good looks and upscale sonic ambitions are best served. Custom Bluetooth streaming supports aptX HD, LDAC, LDHC and AAC whilst any UPnP or DLNA streaming app like Linkplay's Muzo player can configure and control your streaming. AirPlay and Spotify Connect are included. Only voice activation isn't.

That wasn't a shaft. On the contrary. Considering such advanced featurization from this type concept would usually push the bounds of credulity unless perhaps the maker were Bang & Olufsen. But then the price would fly a lot higher. What makes Aurora so unique is its refusal to use DSP for room adaptation; to include location measuring in the device itself; and to cook up a class D output stage which switches far higher than the norm. Clearly there's a lot of very serious engineering tucked beneath this round-cornered bamboo hood to warrant further education by designer Thorsten Loesch. For some existing background on him, read Michael Lavorgna's old interview. For more on Aurora when it was still called Project Glastonbury, watch John Darko's video with Thorsten where…

… we learn that Aurora's wired/wireless platform is inherited directly from the iDSD Pro whilst the clock-lock technology has been extended not only to the switching output stage but also to the switching power supplies to have everything run off one clock and combat jitter "like marching soldiers where nobody is allowed to step out of line". And before I forget it… forget all about any associated equipment listing. For once it's entirely superfluous. Aurora just needs a source signal to come alive. What a relief from the usual hifi worship. No more altar of big rack stack. Aurora has the audio purist meet fashion-conscious mid-century/modern lifestyle. All of 59 x 27 x 29cm WxHxD is the real estate you must give up for it. That's very little for a lot.