Wireless / Network Digital Streaming Transport
Envisaging what modern technology would look like past the millennium for his 1968 film, ‘2001- A Space Odyssey’, the space age looking AURALiC ARIES design might not have been too far from Stanley Kubrick’s mind. It certainly would have fitted in well on that film set. However aside from 2001 space travel, I quickly learnt this AURALiC is very much 2018 capable HiFi when I progressed through my review.
The unit has a unique look with upper and lower curved plastic face plates, with the electronics and attractive orange display on black background encased in a centre sandwich. A flat rubber platform on the underside of the lower plate ensures its stability in a rack. Incidentally in keeping to this design the case has to be made of plastic, to allow wi-fi signals to reach its internal antenna. Metal case streamers use an external aerial as the signal obviously can’t penetrate the case. A balance is struck between the required design and function therefore.
AURALiC say the Aries LE uses a Tesla G1 processing engine to meet the demands of high resolution streaming which is based around a Quad Core Cortex-A9 processor running at 1GHz with 1GB DDR3 RAM and 3GB storage.
Most people would consider a ‘bridge’ in AURALiC parlance to be a streamer. In other words a device that talks to a router over ethernet or wi-fi to ‘stream’ digital music either from an online streaming subscription service like Tidal, or from storage drives connected to a router, containing ripped CD or downloaded files. Having this functionality the AURALiC Aries LE is a pure transport device which means it is intended to transport digital music to a Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC).
The Aries LE model is the standard variant which has a low phase noise clock, used to time the digital stream for the DAC, and comes with a ‘wall-wart’ type power adapter. This is in difference to the step up Aries which uses better dual Femto clocks for both USB audio and other digital outputs. To supply a more stable current to the Aries LE circuits, you can spec the LE by buying an AURALiC ‘Purer-Power’ 10uV low noise external linear power supply unit (PSU) which comes with the Aries, costing £249.
For my tests I used the box supplied power adapter and being available at the time, a £260 Sbooster BOTW Power & Precision ECO 15-16v linear PSU with a £57 Sbooster Ultra filter. The LE’s power input socket helpfully displays its required 16v input voltage so it’s easy peasy knowing where the Sbooster’s DC output setting switch should be flicked to achieve correct output voltage.
Generally there are two means of getting music files stored on hard drives to this streamer; by connecting a USB hard drive into the helpfully named ‘USB’ socket or attaching a network attached storage (NAS) drive to your router.
The initial set up is very intuitive in first selecting the Aries LE as a wi-fi device on your network, setting it up in wired ethernet or wireless configuration, then reverting back to your routers own network identifier. It is capable of dealing with quad rate DSD over wi-fi and AURALiC recommend it to be used as a wi-fi streamer, rather than connecting it via Ethernet to your router. This is, they say, to avoid electro magnetic interference being transmitted from noisy routers to it. Pairing such PC peripherals is a bane for audiophiles because the high frequency noise created by their switchmode power supplies can get back onto the AC power and then degrade audio signals later on in the audio chain.
It’s supplied with a remote for basic functional operation, however most of the control will invariably be via the AURALiC Lightning DS App. The Lightning DS app is well configured with selections of your music possible by a number of means including artist, album, composer, genre and file type etc. Songcast is supported which is an open source application that allows you to send any audio to your Aries LE from your computer. Similarly you can send music losslessly using AirPlay from Apple devices, for instance if you want to use the Aries LE with iTunes on a Mac or iPhones/iPads containing your music library. You can use other after market apps but you loose out on some of the features such as Internet radio, Songcast and AirPlay and in any event the AURALiC app is very fit for purpose anyway.
After signing in to your streaming account within the app, what’s smart about Lightning DS is it allows you to store all of your favourite playlists in one place. You can add tracks stored on your NAS with tracks available on your streaming service account catalogue, into multiple cross source named playlists. The App also lists all your playlists associated to and created in your streaming account(s) too. Using Tidal or Qobuz is recommended with such a hi-resolution capable transport to best strike a balance between available library content, and CD quality or above streams. Be aware in using the Lightning DS app, your NAS will need to have a compatible media server type installed – having the necessary folder structure to let the AURALiC cope with your music files; either Asset uPnP, Twonky, Minimserver, or J River media servers.
The Aries LE supports PCM file formats such as FLAC and WAV at sample rates between 44.1khz CD quality, up to 384khz, and at between 16 and 32 bits. As well as quad rate DSD256, the Aries LE also supports standard rate DSD64 and double rate DSD128. Considering most online downloadable DSD, a high resolution file format encoded on super audio CDs too, is available in standard and double rate variants, the Aries LE will more than cope with all your DSD needs.
The USB output affords best sample rate quality, with Coaxial, Toslink, and AES/EBU outputs offering sample rates up to 192KHz and DSD64 only. Clearly then, if you are looking to exploit best quality high resolution formats in high sample rates, using the Aries LE with its USB 2.0 high speed output is best recommended. The Aries LE can still deal with up to DSD64 if your DAC doesn’t support DSD, since a conversion will take place to change the DSD to PCM. Finally on formats, by making the appropriate selection in the app settings, the Aries will pass through MQA hi-resolution Tidal Masters content to any MQA capable DAC. It’s currently available with the Tidal ‘Hi-FI’ subscription streaming package (£20/month in UK).
You can use the Aries LE as a Roon end point player in connection with a Roon server which means it’s recognised in the Roon software interface as a player. Roon is a searchable smart integrated music player interface which can be installed on computers, laptops and tablets. AURALiC regularly keep the device up to date by introducing necessary firmware updates to cope with new features such as Roon, which is very much a feather in their cap.
Playing music from the Aries LE into a reference Chord DAVE DAC I tried a number of configurations to make comparisons and to test AURALiC’s recommendation to use a wi-fi set up.
I first connected the Aries LE with its Sbooster linear PSU and Ultra filter, over ethernet to my Netgear router and henceforth Western Digital my-book live NAS, outputting the LE to the DAVE over USB. A £1400 Cyrus Stream X Signature streamer was also connected to the same router by ethernet to make further comparisons, and utilising its coaxial digital out to the DAVE. I used PMC twenty5 23 speakers and Cyrus Mono X200 Signature mono-blocks.
The Aries LE has commanding control of music, is natural and has no hint of harshness or sibilance which is often associated with digital music, which is perhaps not surprising with the addition of the linear PSU which do tend to have these smoothing effects. Playing a relaxed recording such as Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner with his deep baritone voice, the Aries LE takes the music in its stride with good bass depth. The sound is good dynamically too. It has a considerably bigger soundstage compared to the Cyrus and whereas the treble is painted with an edginess and relative hazy graininess with the Cyrus, the Aries has a more realistic balanced treble which makes the music more natural and less tiresome. This difference in the treble isn’t big between the two but the soundstage is. It’s enough to give the Aries LE a stand out edge over sound quality. When I tried Orbital’s ‘Attached’ from the Snivilisation album, which is a good test of high frequency electronic music, again the Aries painted a more vivid natural rendition of the music with better depth and realistic treble.
Considering the price is around £200 less than the Cyrus even when adding the Sbooster PSU and Ultra filter, the Aries LE easily outperforms the Cyrus on sound quality.
Moving back to the Aries LE with the linear Sbooster PSU, the sound may have just been slightly more dynamic and open in wi-fi configuration compared to wired ethernet, but it was too close to call.
Trying the Aries LE with its wall-wart supply, it’s fairly clear that using a good linear PSU is absolutely essential. The soundstage shrinks dramatically and insight into the music is much less ‘there’. Your music is less enjoyable and for the sake of the relative limited extra cost of a good PSU against the price of the Aries LE, it’s really a no brainer purchase.
I also tried the Aries LE using an Innuos ZENith Mark 2 server/transport rather than a noisier Western Digital NAS. The Innuos not only has its own internal linear PSU’s and uses a quieter solid state Samsung drive without moving parts, but has amongst other quiet specs, an isolation transformer between the ethernet socket for the router and the other ethernet socket for the output device – in this case the Aries LE. In this way noise from other components to the router are not shared to the streamer. The AURALiC is better again in this configuration for noticeable improvements to the mid range and a fuller richer sound, which can too be accounted in part by altogether bypassing direct router connection on the ethernet port and the noisier WD NAS. The ZENith copes better as a combined transport and server against an Aries LE with linear PSU paired to a PC peripheral type NAS like the Western Digital, but this is hardly surprising considering the price disparity.
Unsurprisingly, playing Tidal streamed CD quality FLAC content from an iPad over AirPlay to the Aries LE compared to playing the same CD ripped FLAC music from the Western Digital NAS, was nowhere near as detailed. This was dramatic by some very considerable margin. Of course the DAVE DAC I am using is of very good reference quality and it’s bound to highlight flaws in the quality of different streams.
As to the differences between CD ripped content and Tidal CD content is normally not nearly as dramatic, but it’s worthwhile considering a NAS if need arises. A lot will depend on the quality of DAC’s and other components.
I tried a very good 24bit/192KHz recording of Mozart’s violin concerto number 4 in D major, played off the WD NAS and from the same file on a USB drive plugged into the Aries LE, but there was little difference between the two sources.
In conclusion, this is one of the best sounding digital streaming transports at this price and it would be wise to demo the slightly better specced Aries model too. It can cope with all main lossless PCM formats, DSD, MQA, and has great flexibility to be used with lots of different streaming services, NAS and USB drives and accordingly is incredibly well recommended. Easily a best-buy product.
- Local DLNA/uPnP library content playable.
- Dual band Wi-Fi connection.
- Streaming services supported : Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Internet Radio.
- Airplay and Songcast Supported.
- Digital Inputs: RJ45 gigabit ethernet (for connecting to internet/network and attached network pc/Mac music drives), USB 2.0 high speed (for connecting USB music drive)
- Digital Outputs : 1 X USB 2.0 to a DAC, 1 X AES/EBU, 1 X Coaxial S/PDIF, 1 X Toslink/Optical (the latter three outputs are sample-rate limited to 44.1 – 192kHz for PCM files and to DSD64)
- Supported file types : AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV, and WMA.
- Supported PCM sampling rates : 44.1kKz – 384 kHz at 16 – 32 bits.
- DSD rates – DSD 64, DSD128, DSD256.
- Control software : AURALiC Lightning DSD software application, AURALiC RC-1 remote control (included), OpenHome-compatible software, uPnP AV software.
- Media Server Compatibility : Minimserver, Twonky, Asset uPnP, J River DLNA/uPnP-compatible server software.
- Weight : 0.8kg
- Dimensions : (H × W × D): 7cm × 25cm × 20cm
- AURALiC ‘Purer-Power’ 10uV low noise PSU – £249
Tel : +44 (0) 1333 425999