The thing I really like about Auralic are the twin headphones outputs on their Vega streaming DAC range; the idea you can have a musical moment in auditory isolation WITH someone else is completely bewitching to me. That, and their single-minded pursuit of networked digital excellence puts them at a level above most, if not all.
This single-minded networked digital pursuit extends to the possibility of combining the Vega DAC with the Auralic Aries networked transport, linked to their Leo GX clock and their Sirius upsampling processor in a mind-bending £20,000 plus system that hasn’t even got a pair of speakers or a power amplifier near it yet. These four components are all available in the upgraded G2.1 chassis form that is clearly becoming a key part of the Auralic performance success.
Here then, is a look at the Auralic Altair G2.1 which does all the above as well as having an analogue line-level input and even a MM phono input, all managed by the preamplifier stage in the Altair, distortion-free with passive volume control. This is a comprehensive package from Auralic. I have always wanted, and just wish, Auralic would get on and build a G2.1 shaped power amplifier to match the set.
Auralic Altair G2.1 Design
The Auralic Altair G2.1 is a streaming DAC with a preamplifier and digital and analogue source components, not to mention a MM phono input. There is also a single headphone output at the front and the option of putting internal storage up to 2TB.
What’s on the Inside?
The Auralic Altair G2.1 can be networked via Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection, configurable in the excellent Lightning DS App. It features the Unity chassis 2.1, which is an anodized aluminium case in matte black with a copper EMI shielding enclosure that minimises electrical interference. Mechanical interference is managed by the anti-vibration footer system on what Auralic describe as a ‘Massive Base’.
The Altair has the Auralic hyper-accurate femto-second clocks to ensure signal timing is as good as it can be. With a huge 1GB memory cache, there is very little left to chance on the digital side.
The Auralic Altair G2.1 is 34cm x 32cm x 8cm (W x D x H) and 10kg. It is retailing at £4,599.
What is it like on the Outside?
As with the Auralic Vega 2.1, the aluminium casework is excellent with a matte finish to it, it can be a little ‘fingerprinty’ if you’ve just eaten a custard cream, but these are first world problems and I have no complaints. The 4” full-colour screen is excellent and sharp with volume and track details but really all of this is on the App, as are the all-important track quality details.
The input selector/volume control is very tactile and smooth and offers plenty of messing about with settings, there appears to be a speaker placement set-up option that I have not noticed before too (see below).
I’m listening to the Auralic Altair G2.1 with fixed output into a Moor Amps Angel preamplifier which is, in turn, sending the signal through Tellurium Q XLR to a Moor Amps Angel 6 power amplifier. I have also put the Altair straight into the Angel 6 power amplifier whilst switching to variable output, with XLR interconnects; shorter signal path, always good.
The main speakers I have been using are the Kudos Cardea C10s but I have just received the PMC Twenty5 26i floorstanding speakers.
These Auralic G2.1 products always look good, and the more compact width does create that fraction more space on the shelves within which to operate, especially if you are as crowded for space as I am. As I have the Altair ‘fully loaded’ with USB inputs, Ethernet network connections and a Phono input, things are getting a fraction crowded at the back, with the grounding for the turntable in the way of the USB slot.
This is still the go-to digital library OS controller for me, save for the fact it is only on iOS and I had to buy another iPad for this review! Input selection is made easier as are the settings in this latest version but with the Altair you have still got to get up to turn the vinyl over, no big deal.
There is a ‘new’ (to me since January’s Vega 2.1 review) Parametric EQ which is a way of managing your frequency distribution in the room. It feels like room correction, but you must manage it yourself, unlike the likes of Dirac with NAD or the ARC with Anthem, for example. For me, it was a bit annoying because you end up fiddling with it unnecessarily and then getting in a tizz because you can’t hear any improvement. It has taken me long enough to satisfy myself with just choosing the Smooth DAC filter profile over Precise, Dynamic etc.
In the App there are three new icons that show any modifications you have set up in the DAC, they relate to the parametric EQ, resampling options and the speaker placement options, useful but not really for me if I’m honest, I just want to tap my feet.
Is This Any Good?
Does it sound any good as a streaming DAC? Of course, it does! …the digital processing is low noise, clean, and effortless
Does it sound any good as a streaming DAC? Of course, it does! This is such a pleasurable all-around experience. Yes, it is pricey compared to some others, but the digital processing is low noise, clean, and effortless. Take a full run-through of Miles Davis’ So What from Kind of Blue (Qobuz, 24-bit, 192kHz), the saxophones are so immaculate, and the tipping cymbals are just perfect in the right-side Kudos C10. Swapping over to the PMC Twenty5 26i loudspeakers, the experience is uplifted and as good as it gets; seriously, what’s better than this combination? In Freddie Freeloader Bill Evans’ piano is raised up to a new level and compliments Miles Davis’ trumpet perfectly, I can almost smell the dancing cigarette smoke.
All that is left for me to do is listen to Automatic for the People (Qobuz 24-bit, 96kHz) and OK Computer (Qobuz 24-bit, 96kHz) to try and fix in my brain what a perfect sound is, for future reference. How does it get better than this? Could an upsampling Sirius with a Leo GX external clock really make this better?
I’ve not got internal storage fitted to this review sample but a 2TB disk would comfortably cover off the best of my ripped CD collection and if I were investing, this is where I’d go. My networked storage, of course, is available through this device and Roon offers an easy access point to the Altair, I have not played with this, however.
Auralic Altair G2.1 MM Input
A quick change of input using the input selection knob yields a disappointing PH on the 4” screen, I don’t know what I was expecting to be honest, an animated turntable? Anyway, using a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO the moving magnet input is rather smooth. There is plenty of bass, bounce, and resolution from the War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding. The main comment I’d make, is there is nothing to say, which must be good? Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool similarly comes across with the clean, tidy, detailed presentation you’re after, there is no noise, humming or interference. Is it better than my ‘entry’ Rega Phono stage? Not materially, so it’s doing a good job of transferring the analogue signal through the preamplifier stage and bypassing the digital stage, to my power amplifier, again, effortlessly.
With the rather excellent T+A Solitaire P-SE headphones, I’m getting a really good output with plenty of bounce from tracks like New York, New York, on Ryan Adams’s Gold album (Qobuz 24 bit, 96kHz). I don’t think I realised this before with the Vega but the headphone output does not revert to the variable volume control if you have it fixed out as I have had. It also does not cut the analogue output, which I did know. Overall, here again, this is a high-quality headphone output that adds weight to the flexibility of this preamplifier.
As a streaming DAC, this is as clean and effortless as you could wish for with the excellent Lightning DS App on the iPad. The Auralic Altair G2.1 is a flexible, neutral preamplifier that appears to offer no noise or interference with any source, analogue or digital. The MM input is perfectly serviceable and saves space and expense in the HiFi scheme of things, the headphone output is very good as well. With the Altair G2.1, Auralic remains the class-leading streaming DAC choice, with extras, in my view.
Lightning DS App
For nothing at all
Maybe I could just keep this one?
Full details are on the company’s site.