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AURALiC’s Aries G1 has the newest Tesla G2 processor, dual *purer power* linear power supplies, dual femto clocks, a 1GB memory cache, active USB. But ALL this doesn’t matter, really. You won’t want to extrapolate HiFi sonics from technical feature sets all the time, otherwise you’ll be halfway to the Bias‘ hotel before you’ve even touched your car keys. Rate it on features, looks and comparative sonics and you’ll stay assuredly footed on terracot….urrr… firma. Here is to this unofficial review…
A streaming transport juices digital music from one point to another, just like your local river does with, well…. river juice. AURALiC call it a transporter – in other words – No DAC!. In this case from your server or Network Attached Storage drive to your DAC. I deliberated, cogitated and digested with the original Aries LE a few years back. No brittle plastics or odd spaceship design of the forebear here, much more conventional. Except watch your hands on the G1’s anodised case with its sharp paper cutting edges. At £1900/$2310 some rounding could have gone on to eliminate thoughts of a case with industrial purpose, for intentioned HiFi refinedness and quality. The G2 uses an all in one billet, this case is slabbed.
The panels are solid, as is weightiness from solidity, and the front panel is sumptuously deluxe with its hi-res album art display. Something I always rev because streamers have sometimes lost the physicality of music, if that isn’t too pretentious a thing to say. Not a touch screen type though. The light grey case, black display surround, silver buttons and colourful album art, is a cue for great design contrast. Not sure I’ve ever got 3/4 width HiFi as it does mess up rack spacing, but in a quirky way and overall, the design is very appealing!
It has your back in all the transport connectivity you’ll probably ever need – AES/EBU, Toslink and Coaxial Digital outputs. Also USB output to your DAC and a USB drive input to essentially make the G1 boast – “I’m a self contained streamer and server”. Cheap looking WiFi aerials are of the PC variety and one on each corner, hardly design of the year but necessary with the Wi-Fi signal impermeable case. Perhaps functionally they can’t be designed to not look like something from a cheap computer shop. Then there is the fixed Ethernet connection…
AURALiC bang on about WiFi being a better option for streaming because of the incapability of network driven noise permeating systems, but this is where they do themselves a disservice. Back to my point about not extrapolating too, because I could hear absolutely zero difference. Zilch. Nowt. Nichts. Other commentators have said same too. Perhaps a lesson in grounding technically led marketing spiel with reality.
The control interface of the G1 is AURALiC’s Lightning DS app which I’ve used before. It’s OK in use, pairing to your network drives. But as I said in my article, not anywhere near Roon, which incidentally the G1 has compatibility with, racking up Roon Ready credentials. This means it’s on tap of receiving full resolution RAAT protocolled Roon streams and volume control-ability in Roon. A big disadvantage of Lightning DS though – no android app!
G1 is Airplay and Bluetooth friendly, as well as Spotify Connect, Tidal and Qobuz streaming service capable. Incidentally get 4 months of Tidal at the moment (June 2020) for £4/4$! .On the front of the unit you can use buttons to change the sound filter which is subtle, and do all sorts of other button jigging to configure it. Mirrored in Lightning DS.
Format wise, don’t worry as it can shoulder pretty much all of the lossless formats, DSD too, as well as pass on MQA streams to compatible DACs.
So on the face of it there is a lot to up-stroke. But sonically can we say the same? Only one approach – number one eardrum….
I make my mind up first, like a doctor who doesn’t want to be influenced before reaching diagnosis. But I then pit in with reading all other review commentary, to see what I agree with and what I don’t. To form a view in my mind too as to how on target I think other appraisers are.
The first question we might ask ourselves is what sonic character does this transport have. Well across the test systems** with Roon, in saying I hate the phrase neither adds or subtracts, nonetheless is begrudgingly convenient here. But unfortunately also problematic.
And why? Well flipping between the Aries G1 as a Roon end point with my Roon Innuos ZENith mk2 server was no different to playing music out of the £2300 ZENith’s USB output – Roon end point as well. Both occasions using a £1300 Chord Qutest DAC with test systems of different prices – one around £9000 and another at nearly double that (see bottom of article).
As UPnP renderer on the back of a basic Western Digital NAS drive, using Lightning DS, how would it go? In comparison to the ZENith/Chord combo? It went slightly better and surprising with a different app, but a very tiny difference to the ZENith with the Aries G1 crossing the line slightly ahead on air and spaciousness. More noticeable with higher resolution source material.
It’s neutral and there is nothing nasty in the sound, so on this score nothing but a high five. Think good detail and insight and soundstage too. I’m sure other superlatives could be used.
But that’s where the praise stops because against the ZENith, *about* the same price, which is not only a Roon Server, benefiting the glorious Roon interface, but ripper and transport to boot. Consider opportunity cost of a CD player too, with no such opportunity costs with the AURALiC, as it’s just a transport, with no other frills. So it invites the question, why another streaming transport? Well to improve on sound. But if the improvement is very slight at the G1’s price, then what of VFM? This is the G1’s achilles heel and contrary to a comment in another review that it adds to an Innuos server, I’d say it does, but not to any decent degree against outlay in these systems**. And crucially, exactly the types of systems you might use the G1 with.
As a single unit streamer with good sonics, features and design it is reasonably good. The issue is it’s expensive for the price when we compare other similar server transports like the Innuos, so I don’t think it represents value for money. Also I’ve heard some commentators rate the newer Mk.III Innuos servers above the G1, even the Zen model, which now uses custom motherboards. In addition the Altair G1 at the same price as the Aries G1, has same streaming functionality, a DAC, and is a preamp with the option to fit a solid state drive to add server functionality. So in the lineup the G1 looks like the black sheep of the family.
People will differ on views about what represents value, but when performance and price is similar with features more numerous, such a case is harder to make. Also there are two types of spending Audiophiles – those who buy products because they can afford them where any incremental improvement is reason to buy – fine if you have the money. Secondly those who want sonic improvements but like to think of alternates to achieve same ends, and still want best value for money in looking at products comparatively. I’m not blind to brand loyalty buying – I used to be, but this site changed all that. I fit into the latter camp definitely and I feel I shouldn’t just throw endless money at HiFi if it doesn’t have good yield, even if you have the money. A case could be made that the bigger your wallet, the more you value comparative value for money, especially business people who see value and have earnt their wedge. The notion that differential value for money judgements can be used for *any* ends in always leaving value for money considerations at the consumers door, and not mentioning VFM, is to take the hunt off of a comparative performance approach. So a poor construct in other words.
Further, the paper thin sonic difference to streamers of less cash, even Allo’s DigiOne Signature at $315 with a $149 Allo Shanti linear PSU, is less of a difference than people probably think. Yes, junk in means junk out with streaming transports, another annoying saying, albeit true. But the point and test is, so long as the digital streamer is a well designed one like the Allo, it tends to be very close to the much more expensive streamer. This has always been my experience to date, and inviting the question; does spending large chunks on streamers get you big diminishing returns in HiFi systems of these test systems ilk? Absolutely. It’s for you to decide if it’s value for money, but personally an extra £1900 in my system would get me into upgraded DAC territory or better amp(s) which would do so much more sonically. There I go again – opportunity cost. A discounted Chord Hugo TT2 for instance or PS Audio DirectStream, which incidentally have much lower diminishing returns. Lesser priced DACs as well. So too, using modest streamers in less expensive systems to both these test systems, but improving either DACs, amplification and/or speakers.
So sometimes with streaming transports at this price, you are somewhat flogging a dead horse for sonic improvements in use with systems I’ve tried. The Aries LE was tested with a Chord DAVE DAC and did reveal differences, but they, like here, were still very subtle. With amplification and speakers good enough to reveal changes, to boot. So you might think what have we got for the extra ‘double your money’ price hike – £900 versus £1900? Regrettably the G1 doesn’t come in to wow you as it should considering multiples. That’s a lot of money and if anything you’d expect it to tie in really well to the test systems here, but the G1 is just average *at price*.
AURALiC have lost appeal by increasing price. The cheaper price of original Aries streamers is kaput, and the Node 2i / Sonos Port competing Aries Mini, which was sensibly priced at £449/c$500, is extinct too. In a market where we know the diminishing returns of these types of streamers is high, doing away with products with lower diminishing returns doesn’t, on the face of it, seem a smart move – amazingly the Aries G1 at £1900 is now joint cheapest product in the AURALiC line up. Plus loosing out to Sonos and Bluesound with the Mini, which was an incredibly flexible product with capability of installing a hard drive. Also at a time when CD discs will die soon, doesn’t the market need more budget streamers from well known brands, not less? We can’t know what AURALiC’s economics are but these are interesting questions nonetheless. Announcing the new premium G2.1 series in the last few days you can’t help wonder, if these types of questions continue to be apt ones.
If you want a premium streamer to fit in well to a system with a great DAC like the DAVE, don’t mind the cost, then this streamer *might* be for you. That said, Innuos servers are better value for sound quality, features and use (not aesthetic design with more utilitarian looks) and possibly servers of the Melco ilk, admittedly I haven’t tried.
But if you are buying the G1 thinking it will advocate its price well relative to other components and for use in relatively modest systems, of the test systems here or lesser priced. Answer – it won’t. Other components and combinations work better, notably cheaper streamers used with better DACs. A Roon configuration with cheaper end point streamer plus improvement on your DAC will get better sonic results and a better user experience to Lightning DS, especially if you use only Android tablets (Roon works on both iOS and Android, against Lightning DS on iOS only). Jump ship on a trade in upgrade from say a £500 Musical Fidelity MX-DAC to a Chord Qutest or £979 RME ADI-2 DAC FS? Adding a Roon capable £899 Innuos Zen Mini Mk3 on Roon core only duties, with a streamer like the Allo, representing a similar price to the G1, sound quality improvement is infinitely better. You could even buy a cheap Roon core option like an Intel NUC and then max out more sonics on an even better end point DAC, for same money as the G1.
I really wanted to like the Aries G1, because on form factor and design it’s tremendous, but sonically it doesn’t really stand out at price and as sonics are such a huge part of buying, especially at £1900, sound quality must be weighted appropriately. On this basis, sadly I can’t recommend the Aries G1.
£1899 / $2310
- Streaming file formats – Lossless: AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, OGG, WAV and WV (lossy : AAC, MP3, WMA)
- Sampling Rates : PCM: 44.1KhZ to 384KhZ in 32 bit, DSD: DSD64-DSD512 (352.8KS/s and 384KS/s and 32bit supported through USB Output only)
- Streaming Inputs : Networked shared folder, USB Drive, UPnP/DLNA Media Server, native TIDAL and Qobuz Sublime+ streaming, Internet Radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast, Roon Ready.
- Digital Outputs : AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink/Optical, USB to compatible DAC
- Network : Gigabit Ethernet / 802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi
- Control software : Lightning DS for iOS, Lightning DS for web browser, Bubble UPnP/Kazoo, Roon (with a Roon core running server)
- Colours : anodised aluminium case in matte black (although it looks more grey to me)
- Weight : 7.2kg
- Dimensions : WxDxH – 13.4 x 12.6 x 3.2 inches (34cm x 32cm x 8cm)
1) Neat Iota Alpha speakers (£1385), Hegel H120 integrated amp (£2200), Chord Qutest DAC (£1300) with MCRU linear PSU (£235) Innuos ZENith mk2 server / source (£2300). IsoTek Aquarius power conditioner (£1600), Total system price = c.£9000
2) PMC twenty5 23 speakers (£3295), Cyrus DAC XP Signature pre amp (£3000) with Cyrus PSX-R power supply (£500), Cyrus MONO X200 Signature power amps x 2 (£4000), Chord Qutest DAC (£1300) with MCRU linear PSU (£235). Innuos ZENith mk2 server / source (£2300), IsoTek Aquarius Power Conditioner (£1600). Total system price = c.£16000