rev92

Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
Yulong DA-ART Aurora
Pros: Elegant yet simple design
Well built
A lot of power (It makes the Susvara very loud)
Functionality
Easy to use
Perfect form factor for any desk
Class A amplification
Rich, bold tone
Highly engaging sound
Works well with most headphones and IEMs
All headphone outputs you'll need
Very good value
Cons: No USB-C
While making the Susvara loud, it doesn't drive it to its max potential
Bluetooth is limited to China for now

The Aurora is the newest DAC/Amp combo by a Chinese manufacturer Yulong. It's designed around the latest ESS ES9068AS chip, also offering a Class-A headphone amplifier. It's priced at $520.

P1051644x.jpg

Introduction​

Founded in 2009, Yulong has been manufacturing audio devices for 13 years now. They mainly focus on all-in-one solutions, and they have some very popular offerings in their portfolio, such as the Aquilla, Canary, and many more.
For me, Yulong has always been a kind of a “niche” company that doesn’t launch new products every quarter of a year. Reading their story made me realize, that it is a company that’s led by audio enthusiasts and audiophiles, so honestly rivaling the biggest players like Topping or SMSL isn’t their goal.
Actually, I’m going to paste a fragment of “About Us” from their official page, to help you get a better grasp about their philosophy:

“YuLong Zhang, our Founder and Chief Engineer, is a talented, experienced and persistent engineer. He built his own DAC and amplifier back in late 90s and gradually turned his hobby into lifetime devotion. Over the years, YuLong has gathered musician, mastering engineers, electronic engineers and dedicated audiophiles into his team, playing different roles in R&D, product refinement and production management. The team also actively involved in sponsoring and using YULONG equipment to facilitate on-site setup for live music and musical software events. The team learned and developed hand-in-hand, established solid understanding of music and music reproduction, and providing check and balance opinion during the long and winding audio tuning process.
We shall continue to develop new skills and technologies, and deliver All-in-One products that enable audiophiles and music lovers to enjog in their beloved music. In addition, we shall remain cost competitive. Our reference products are relatively affordable, and we constantly adopt our technologies to our DA-ART products, a sub-brand we created to serve the younger generation. “

I get a feeling that the sound coming out of their devices is more important than raw measurements, something I think a lot of companies are missing nowadays. I’m not saying that measurements are bad, I’m not an audio engineer myself so I’m not in a position to tell what’s good and what’s bad. However, as an audiophile, I actually appreciate all the stories that they “sit for months near their listening systems tweaking the sound of the device they’re working on currently”. It’s been like that years ago, when audio manufacturers focused 90% of their energy on the sound that comes out of their new product because it was all that mattered. I kinda miss those days, but at the same time, mad scientists like Topping, SMSL, and iFi Audio gave us the biggest change to the audio industry in the past couple of years – good stuff got cheaper, and that’s the best that has happened to the audio industry.

The Aurora is the part of their DAART sub brand, aiming more towards affordable audio solutions.

Packaging​

P1051597-scaled.jpg


The unboxing experience of the Aurora was funny for me personally, as I wasn’t aware of the fact that I’ll be getting one. One day the box just came into my home, I put it on my table, sat in front of it, and went “what the hell are you”. I had absolutely no idea what was inside, so this was pretty interesting.

So, the box of the Aurora is pretty big actually. The outer sleeve has some cool graphics printed with most of the information you’ll need to read about the Aurora. This is a pretty functional feature to have, and it was definitely designed for audio stores to sit on the shelf and intrigue people. At the end of the day, the box basically says everything you’ll be getting if you’d be to pull the trigger for the Aurora, and that’s a good thing.

Inside, apart from the Aurora itself, you’re getting a power chord and a USB type B cable. Sadly, no USB C this time. As for the quality of the cables, they’re just standard, nothing to write a book about, but they get you started.
Lastly, the external power supply, as the Aurora has no built-in power supply.

Design, Build and I/O​

P1051747-scaled.jpg


I really like the build of the Aurora. It’s dense, well built, and just solid feeling in a hand. I really dig that curved design to the device, as it sets it apart from most of the competition (Topping, SMSL, I’m looking at you).

As for the size, it feels just about perfect. Not too big, so it’ll fit most desks, not too small, so you can put a headphone stand on top of it (I’m doing it personally, I have so much stuff that saving even a bit of space is a life-saver). It certainly looks unique and pleasant, not being too flashy at the same time.
So, let’s discuss I/O, where the Aurora shines. On the front, there’s an input switch on the left, a brilliant volume knob (it’s really smooth and great to use), and three different headphone outputs: 4.4mm balanced, 6.3mm, and 4-pin XLR balanced. This is basically all you need apart from the standard 3.5mm jack, but if you’re buying this kind of a device, then do you really need it? Just use an adapter to 6.3mm, or preferably go balanced.

On the back, there’s a lot going on. We’ve got a digital section with USB, coaxial and optical inputs, so you’re pretty much set. Next up, a power switch, and I want to elaborate. Audio manufacturers, please, don’t put the power switch on the back of your devices, please. A lot of us have many DACs and amplifiers on our desks, and we often stack them. Try turning on the device that has two different devices on top of it…yes, not very easy. Just put in on the front, I know power switches are mostly ugly, but it’s for the good cause.

P1051655-scaled.jpg


Next up, the analog section. We’ve got an RCA input, RCA output, and XLR output, which means you can basically use the Aurora in most scenarios possible. Standalone DAC? Go ahead. Preamp? Definitely, just toggle the switch on the back that lets you choose between Pre and DAC. You only want to use that sweet A-Class headphone amp? Sure, just plug into the RCA input. Oh, and don’t forget that you also have Bluetooth (Bluetooth feature is available to selected countries due to regulatory requirements).

This kind of approach is very attractive in my book. You’re buying a device that can serve you well in a lot of ways. It can do standard DAC/Amp for your headphones and PC, it can do active loudspeakers, it can do just headphones with no DAC section…the possibilities are surely out there, and it’s up to you to decide what you want to do.
Don’t forget the most important thing – the Aurora is $520, and for the money, you’re getting all of that. This is what I call a really good deal.

Tech​

P1051631-scaled.jpg


The Aurora has a lot of functions, hence it also has a lot of tech inside. Let’s discuss it briefly.
The DAC is built around the ESS ES9068AS chip with XMOS XU216 USB interface. It can do everything up to 768kHz, DSD512, and 8X MQA. Yes, it also has MQA, I don’t know how they were able to squeeze all that in a device that small and that inexpensive.

I’ve told you about all the inputs already, but what’s worth noting is that the USB Input does work with iOS, Android, Windows, MAC, and Linux. You can use it with basically everything. I know that most of you will still use it with a Windows PC or a MAC, but to have the possibility is a great thing, to say the least. Maybe you want to buy the Aurora for your bedside system next to your bed? Go ahead, just plug it into your phone and have fun. Brilliant.

The Aurora actually uses 1 ESS ES9068AS DAC chip instead of two, so it’s not a truly balanced DAC. Yulong Zhang decided that one chip sounds better than using two when he was creating the Aurora. I really like this kind of approach, instead of going for two just for the sake of it, he decided to test both options and find out which solution sounds better. This is the type of engineering I somewhat miss more and more. From the marketing point of view, using two chips and making the Aurora fully balanced would have probably been highly desired for many, but Yulong decided that the sound quality is more important, and I really appreciate it. Yulong said dual DAC properly make more sense for full size DAC, but for compact all-in-one, single DAC has a higher chance to achieve proper engineering . Take note that, unlike the DAC, the analog section is fully balanced though.

The Aurora has a built-in Bluetooth receiver that does Bluetooth 5.0, LDAC, and aptX. If all of the previously mentioned wasn’t enough, they squeezed a yet another feature that is highly desired by lots of people. That’s mental. Take note though, as the Bluetooth feature is available to selected countries due to regulatory requirements.

Let’s dive deeper for a second. The headphone amplifier section is operating in a discrete Class-A, giving you that legendary timbre (more on that in the next paragraph). The Aurora uses 7 OPA1612 op-amps, one of the best measuring on the market currently. As for the power, it uses a newly developed high power regenerative power supply.

Sound​

P1051729-scaled.jpg


So far, the Aurora is incredibly impressive when it comes to its functionality, form factor, tech, size, and the asking price. It literally offers so many functions that it instantly makes it worth more than $520. However, to fulfill the aspect of being truly “great”, the Aurora has to sound great as well.


When it comes to sound, the Aurora offers something that is really unique with this kind of device. Despite being high-tech, absurdly functional, and just great in everything, it does offer a sound that is on a warmer, calmer side than most similar devices on the market nowadays. This is by no means a technical, analytical sound, but (mainly due to its Class-A headphone amplifier section) just simply smooth, pleasant, and very musical.

Right after unboxing it and giving it a few hours to settle down, I immediately plugged my Susvara into the Aurora via a balanced Cross Lambda Apollo GB cable (this headphone + cable combo costs an astonishing $12000!) to see if it has enough juice to power this behemoth. How surprised I was when I immediately heard that the Aurora gets very loud with the Sus, too loud for me to handle on the maximum volume. All this while still sounding lush, rich, and analog-like, Woah, what am I dealing with right now?

So, you think that the Aurora CAN drive the Susvara, which would have meant that it can drive everything, right? Well, that’s partially true. It does make the Hifiman flagship very loud, which is reminiscent of driving it for many. However, it is not the Susvara we all fell in love with. It does sound great, but the bass lacks energy, and the dynamics are somewhat limited. Still, for a $520 all-in-one, it performs incredibly well with the Susvara, which is just bonkers.

However, I doubt that anyone will buy the Aurora to drive their Hifiman Susvara, if your pockets are deep enough to buy a $6000 pair of headphones, they are sure deep enough to add a high-end amplifier to pair the Sus with. But, this little test gave us something more – if it can run the Susvara, it can run everything, and it is true. I’ve tried many headphones with the Aurora, such as the HEDDphone, Final D8000 Pro, Meze Elite, Drop HD8xx, etc, and I never felt that the Aurora even began to sweat. From my experience, Class-A amplification gives power differently than your typical amplifier, resulting in a sound that is more powerful and just simply stronger than what the specs say.

P1051765-scaled.jpg


Let’s start with the bass, and that’s a good place to start here. While it won’t squeeze a truly spectacular bass out of the Susvara, it sounds fantastic with most headphones I’ve used. Low frequencies are bold, crisp, heavy, and highly saturated. This is your “typical” Class-A sound that is heavy, but not too heavy, it doesn’t sound artificial. A lot of people praise this technology for its thick and romantic sound signature, and it’s definitely present in the Aurora. What’s important, it doesn’t seem to boost the bass or make it more dynamic than it really should, it just gives a lot of power to the drivers of the headphones so they’re able to move a lot of air. The delivery of the bass is on the firm and controlled side, which works well with most headphones.

The midrange is what drew my attention first when I got the Aurora. Vocals are rich-sounding, smooth, and very natural, with no sign of sounding plasticky. The first 2-3 songs I’ve played with the Susvara just completely blew me away, as I thought that I have finally found a great, affordable all-in-one that can handle the Susvara. Sadly, it was when I tried some rap and metal music that I realized, that it almost does that…except for the bass. You can simply hear that the Sus goes very loud, but the driver is not working as efficiently as it should, resulting in somewhat lazy bass response.
Back to the midrange though – the Aurora gives you that classic-sounding midrange, quite different than what most of the modern devices are doing. It’s thicker, heavier, and more colorful sounding than most SMSL and Topping devices I’ve heard. It is at the same time not AS clean and detailed sounding though, but the difference is pretty slim. This is a matter of perspective though, as I would have traded a little bit of technical performance for timbre like that (most of the time) in other devices I’ve reviewed and used. This part proves that the story of Yulong staff sitting in their listening room and tweaking the sound of the Aurora to their liking is indeed true. This is not a hyper-clean performing device that sounds like a lot of other devices on the market. This sounds different, romantic, rich, and pleasant.

The treble is quite smooth sounding as well, but it doesn’t lack any sparkle or detail. It isn’t as forward and hyper-detailed sounding as some of its competitors, but at the same time, this is a beautiful springboard from what we’re used to hearing for the past couple of years. The cymbals have proper weight to them, something that I feel is often overlooked when we’re talking about the treble. Female vocals sound melodic and smooth, but they’re not recessed or too soft sounding. The overall tone of the treble is a bit sweet and warm, which works fantastic with worse masterings. You don’t have to listen to well-engineered albums only while using the Aurora, which is very important for many, myself included. By the end of the day, most of us shop in this market for a device to listen to music with, not to chase even the smallest and slightest detail in the recording. Don’t think that the Aurora is lacking in detail though, as it’s completely not the case here. It just doesn’t focus on technicalities as its main priority, and that’s a huge difference. The overall resolution and detail retrieval are really good throughout the entire frequency range, just not the best in the market. However, having its superb timbre and power in mind, very good technicalities are good enough in my opinion.

The soundstage is what you would have expected from a device like this. Deep, wide, and full of air. The imaging is spot-on, creating a very realistic 3D type of staging. It won’t make the soundstage of your headphones any larger, nor it won’t sound intimate when it shouldn’t. I often feel like we got to the point where basically most devices have a very good soundstage and it’s getting harder and harder to rate this specific aspect of the sound. Overall, the soundstage of the Aurora is nothing to write a book about, but it’s very, very good at the same time. Can’t think of anything more I could have said about it.

Pairing suggestions​

P1051707-scaled.jpg


I’ve tried the Aurora with most of my headphones and IEMs, and here are some pairings that really work. What’s important though, is that the Aurora pairs good with many, many different headphones. Usually, really technical and/or bright-sounding all-in-ones are problematic when paired with headphones with similar characteristics. Luckily, the Aurora has that smooth and warm-ish tonality which works great with everything you’d throw at it.


1. Hifiman Susvara

As I said previously, the Aurora works ridiculously well with the Susvara considering all of its functions and especially the asking price. No, the Susvara is not achieving 100% of its capabilities with the Aurora, but it does sound great. As I stated previously, the Aurora has plenty of volume to achieve ear-bleeding levels, but who on earth needs that?
So, what does the Susvara lack when paired with the Aurora? It lacks energy and dynamics when compared to some crazy high-end amplifiers that I’ve tried with the Hifiman flagship. On the other hand, the tonality, the entire midrange, and the soundstage all sound absolutely spectacular and there were moments when I couldn’t believe that I’m listening to a $520 all-in-one. For now, this is probably the best of what 500 bucks can get you to pair with the Susvara.

2. Hifiman HE-R9

I received the R9 a day after the Aurora, so both were used heavily ever since. It was pretty natural to try them both, and oh what a fun setup this is.
The R9 has one of the biggest and most epic bass responses I’ve heard on over-ear headphones, and the overall sound is very clean, warm, and firm. The Aurora has that natural and romantic-sounding midrange, that (on paper) shouldn’t really work with a warm-sounding R9. Oh, it’s totally the opposite. The Aurora evens the frequency response out slightly, mainly to its thick-sounding midrange, when the R9 is slightly recessed in the mids.
Additionally, the Aurora has that bass authority and power that truly allows the R9 to deliver absolutely huge and saturated low frequencies, which are the main attraction of the new Hifiman closed-back.

3. Hifiman Arya SE

This is probably THE setup to get if you ask me. The rich-sounding, thick and warmish Aurora paired with an incredibly fast, detailed and neutral Arya Stealth is a perfect Tinder Match.
The Arya is one of the best (if not the best) headphones under $2000 right now, but it ain’t perfect with its slightly polarizing tonality. I’ve heard some people claiming that the Arya SE is a bit too much for them in the lower treble, and I somewhat understand those opinions. Luckily, the Aurora works well with the Arya SE mainly due to its forgiving and fun signature that just evens the Arya out a tiny bit. The Arya begins to sound a bit more relaxed and soft, which is quite good. This headphone has so much detail and resolution, that losing a tiniest bit in exchange for a more pleasant tonality is not a problem at all.

4. HEDDphone

The Aurora could be the best of what $500 can get you as far as an all-in-one powerful enough to drive the HEDDphone can get you. The HEDDphone has a very unique yet intriguing and brilliant tonality, and the Aurora suits it very well.
This is a highly involving and pleasant-sounding setup that does everything well, especially if you like a heavy, rich tone to your music.
The HEDDphone has that unique sounding soundstage, and the Aurora with its transparent staging capabilities does great with showing what this headphone can do and what it can’t do. The biggest strength of this pairing is the tone – it sounds incredibly natural and pleasant, which is quite rare for a device in this price bracket if you ask me.

5. Cayin YB04

This one is really interesting. The YB04 by Cayin surely sits in the right price bracket to be considered as an IEM to get to pair the Aurora with. It is, just like the previous pairing, a highly involving and safe-sounding combo that works with most music genres. The tuning of both products is rich and analog-like, but not to the extreme, which results in a very mature and pleasant sound.
There’s slight background noise, as the output power of the Aurora is huge (it does make the Susvara very loud after all), but it’s nothing to really worry about unless you are very sensitive to it. Overall, the Aurora is a very good match with IEMs, but be careful with that volume knob.

6. Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX

Another great combo. The Aurora definitely has more than enough juice to push these big dynamic drivers rated at 300Ω. This setup has that legendary soundstage and bass energy to satisfy the most demanding people. I somewhat got used to planar sound so much, that using dynamic headphones feels like a nice change, even for a moment.
Luckily, the Aurora boosts the midrange and notes weight of the 8XX, which itself sounds rather lean in the midrange. This is a perfect example of a setup where one device complements the other in a way that just works, making for a better sound overall.

Summary​

P1051644x-scaled.jpg


The Yulong Aurora really surprised me. I didn’t know I’ll be getting it for a review, so my expectations were basically nonexistent. How surprised I was to find that this is an extremely functional device that offers a soulful and rich sound at a price that is more than fair. However, the star of the show is probably its power output, capable of getting the Susvara very loud, which for a $520 all-in-one offering so much functionality, is extremely impressive. I hope the Aurora will get a lot of attention, as it is now my main recommendation in this price bracket. Now I’m really interested in what their higher-end models can do.

Highly Recommended.


Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Final D8000 Pro, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE1000se, Abyss Diana PHI, Drop + Sennheiser HD8XX, Crosszone CZ-1, HEDDphone, Meze Empyrean, Drop + Hifiman R7DX, Sennheiser HD6xx, Hifiman Edition XS, Fir Audio XE6, Final A8000, Cayin YB04
  • Sources– SMSL DO100 + HO100, Hifiman EF400, Earmen Tradutto, SMSL SH-9, LittleDot MK III SE, xDuoo TA-26
Big thanks to Yulong Audio for providing the Aurora for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. Yulong Audio hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.

J
Jarlaxle
Thanks for the review. I have been listening through this device for a week now. Haven't critically assessed it and compared it with other devices yet but I mostly agree with what you pointed out. Still I want to mention and please correct me if I am wrong; using a stereo dac chip not necessarily makes it "not truly balanced". Although some companies use two chips in dual mono mode for marketing purposes and maybe reduce crosstalk, produce better measurements etc, in my knowledge, most of the modern dac chips can and do feed balanced stereo circuit by default. I mean balanced as we know it a circuit thing anyway.
  • Like
Reactions: rev92
rev92
rev92
@Jarlaxle Hi mate, thank you! Glad we have similar observations!

As for the DAC, this is what I've heard by Andy. Maybe we should address it in the thread to see his opinion on the balance thing? :)

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Aurora - The Dawn of musicality
Pros: + Excellent tonality
+ Natural timbre
+ Very musical and engaging
+ Visceral and impactful
+ Grand scale and holographic soundstage
+ Good technicalities and transparency
+ Powerful headphone amplifier
+ Excellent as a preamplifier
+ Line level input
+ 8x MQA decoder
+ Full size XLR plugs
+ Well made and compact sized
Cons: - The lack of a gain setting makes it pretty unusable with sensitive earphones
- ON/OFF switch awkwardly positioned between USB and DC inputs
- 4.4mm headphone plug is located too close to the volume knob
- Will not display sampling rate
- Switches of mediocre quality
- A better quality external PSU should have been included
- Bluetooth is not available in the international market
The review sample was kindly provided as an extended loan.
As always the review reflects my honest and subjective opinion, I haven't received monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don't use affiliate links.
The Aurora is priced at $520 and you can buy it from all authorized dealers around the world.

YULONG Audio and DA-ART

YULONG Audio designs and manufactures high-end audio products with special focus on All-in-One products for home and personal audio since 2009.
They combine leading-edge technologies, rigorous engineering principles, exquisite craftsmanship, and the passion of audiophiles into their R&D process, deploying all available resources and expertise to deliver products that sound good, measure well and function reliably.
Their DA1 768KHz balanced DAC headamp/preamp is one of the best regarded devices among the high-end headphone community.
And while the reference products are relatively affordable, they are still quite expensive for the younger generation, so the sub-brand DA-ART was created to adopt the main technologies into more affordable all-in-one products.

ABUIABACGAAg-c3lkQYogPOO7QIwgAo4pgs.jpg

Aurora

One such product under the DA-ART brand is the newly released Aurora, an all-in-one device that combines a DAC with a powerful, class A headphone amplifier and preamplifier in a desktop friendly chassis.
The unit is very versatile as it offers a powerful balanced headphone amplifier with three different output plugs, balanced and unbalanced line outputs that can be switched between DAC or preamplifier function while except for the three digital inputs there is also a line level input for connecting an external analog source like a phono.
The Bluetooth version of the Aurora is only available in China.

IMG_20220713_180757.jpg


Technical highlights

The Aurora is designed around the latest ESS ES9068AS 32-bit DAC chipset with XMOS XU216 USB solution and facilitates 768kHz, DSD512 and 8x MQA decoding capability.
Despite the very compact design, the Aurora offers extensive input and output options.
It accepts USB Audio, S/PDIF Coaxial, Optical and analogue line inputs.
YULONG MAS (Mobile Audio Source)
has enabled the USB input to work with iOS and Android mobile devices as well as regular Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
One of YULONG's innovations is to design a fully balanced discrete Class A amplification circuit that can be used for headphone amplifier and preamp through optimized switching
circuit.
The newly developed AC-DC regen power supply system can provide up to 5A transient current, together with OPA1612 op-amp LPF and low impedance line driver, the headphone amplifier circuit delivers immense energy and headroom.
Full specifications are available here.

ABUIABACGAAg-c3lkQYoq4WHhwMwgAo4zQg.jpg


Design and build quality

The Aurora has a trapezoidal shaped chassis that is made from thick CNCed aluminium which also acts as an electromagnetic interference shield.
Build quality is excellent, there are no sharp edges and the chassis has a smooth matte finish that is available in black, red or silver.
The unit is quite compact, measuring just 200x165x52mm so it doesn't occupy too much space and is desktop friendly.
All the plugs and the volume knob are of good quality but it can't be said the same for the three switches that feel cheap and of inferior quality, not worthy of a $520 device.

IMG_20220713_213831.jpg


I/O interface

At the front panel, starting from the left side, there is the input selection toggle switch and then a series of seven LEDs that display the selected input and whether the unit is decoding DSD or MQA.
Sampling rate and lock/unlock status are unfortunately not displayed.
At the center there is an aluminium knob to control the potentiometer which has a smooth, precise and resistant free rotation.
Next there are the 4.4mm balanced headphone output, a 6.35mm single-ended headphone output and a balanced 4-pin XLR headphone output.
The 4.4mm port is located too close to the volume knob as a result adjusting the volume is a little awkward while using this output.
At the back things are more cramped but the plugs are still usable with one minor exception.
The tiny On/Off switch is squeezed between the 12V DC input and the USB port so it is very difficult to use it (especially if you have thick fingers) when both cables are simultaneously plugged in, which by the way is the most common use scenario.

IMG_20220713_213928.jpg


Next you will find the optical and coaxial digital inputs, the line input, the single ended RCA and balanced XLR line outputs and a switch that toggles between fixed DAC and variable preamplifier function.

IMG_20220713_213942.jpg


Accessories

The Aurora comes with a good quality USB-A to USB-B cable, an external 12V power adapter and the user’s manual.

Listening set-up

As per usual practice the Aurora was burned for 150 hours before the listening sessions.
The digital transport used was the Silent Angel Munich M1T with the Bonn N8 Ethernet switch and everything was plugged into an iFi power station.
Headphones included the Sennheiser HD660S, Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD8XX, HiFiMan Sundara and the much more expensive Meze Audio Liric.
The Aurora is unfussy about headphone matching, there is no bad or good synergy, every headphone used sounded at its best.

IMG_20220713_214100.jpg


The absence of a gain setting

The Aurora has a very powerful headphone amplifier, it can do 4W/32Ω from the balanced output but surprisingly a gain switch is missing.
As a result most regular and not power hungry headphones get loud too early leaving a small margin of volume adjustment, sometimes even reaching the channel imbalance region while IEMs are pretty unusable from the balanced output.
As an example, with all the above mentioned headphones I barely got past ¼ of the available volume from the balanced output.
This is a rather serious omission and a gain switch should definitely have been included.

Listening impressions

The sound performance is stellar as the Aurora blends together in the most successful way, a supreme technical performance with the most musical and engaging sound signature.
Frequency response is absolutely linear without any kind of tonal shifts while both the DAC and the headphone amplifier are distinguished by their high levels of transparency and clarity.
The digital signals are precisely converted into analogue without any further coloring by the Aurora while the performance can be split into two parts, the technical and the musical.

The former is distinguished by the deep low end, the airy mid range and the well extended higher frequencies.
The bass is visceral and full bodied yet very controlled, tight, fast and precisely layered while it has great physical impact with fully convincing dynamics.
The sound intensity is maintained intact throughout the whole frequency range without losing body weight while reaching for the higher registers.

The mid range is refined, crystal clear and well articulated while the treble is airy, sparkling and agile yet smooth and natural sounding without a hint of brightness or aggressiveness.

IMG_20220713_214246.jpg


The Aurora doesn't allow the user to select between the native low pass filters of the ES9068AS but it doesn't need so because it seems that the engineers have opted for the best solution as digital glare is kept on the bare minimum and is very difficult to get traced.

Detail retrieval is deep enough to offer a satisfying gaze into the recording session without venturing into the analytical side of things, the micro details are presented as an integral part of the music rather than scattered into pieces.

The soundstage is not only characterized by the great communication of the ambience but it also feels special for its holographic relief, the scale of the presentation and the accurate imaging.
Just throw in a large scale symphonic work and you will instantly find out that the Aurora can represent the grandeur of the symphony orchestra in the most convincing and realistic way, fully exploiting the technicalities of a good headphone.
As for electronic and other kinds of popular music the Aurora just didn't break a sweat.

264x264.jpg


But listening to music isn't only about technicalities and the Aurora delivers musicality in spades.
While using the Aurora, you can't fail to think that it must certainly have been painstakingly tuned by the ear and not designed behind a monitor for the best measurements.
Both the preamplifier and the headphone sections sound deeply expressive and organic, the mild class "A" warmth combined with the very natural timbre make for a tonally convincing, engaging and emotionally intense sound experience.
What stands apart and gives the Aurora an edge in front of some of the competition is the diversity in the expression of the overtones and the harmonic saturation, acoustic instruments are reproduced with an eerily realism.
One great music example that can greatly highlight all the above virtues is the 22nd piano concerto by W.A Mozart with the delicious interplay between solo piano and the wind instruments where the Aurora gave a fully convincing and deeply enjoyable performance.

4833812-origpic-324a3a.jpg


Vs the Topping DX5 ($449)

The Topping DX5 is another all-in-one device that features dual ES9068AS DAC chips with similar functions like the Aurora.
It has true balanced and unbalanced line outputs that can be set as fixed or variable, an NFCA headphone amplifier which is not balanced and it adds high resolution wireless Bluetooth reception.
The headphone amplifier is less powerful, at 1800mW/32Ω, but it is more suitable for sensitive earphones thanks to the gain setting and the low noise.
The DX5 is slightly more compact in size while both units have the same digital inputs but the DX5 is missing a line level analogue input.
Functionality is better for the DX5 because of the handy LCD screen where all information is displayed, the configuration menu and the remote control.

IMG_20220713_213651.jpg


Sound-wise, while the DX5 is maybe the most naturally sounding and organic Topping DAC ever designed, the Aurora has the leading edge when it comes to musicality, naturalness of timbre and harmonic saturation.
The Aurora is a touch more musical, engaging, full bodied and visceral but in exchange not as clear sounding as the DX5 which is technically a bit superior with a more controlled and firmer bass, deeper detail retrieval, more extended but not sharp highs and superior overall definition.
Soundstage imaging is sharper and more precise in the DX5 but the Aurora is of grander scale and more holographic
While differences are not that pronounced from the line outputs (both balanced and unbalanced), it cannot be said the same for the headphone amplifier.
As you are going to find in the upcoming DX5 review, the headphone amplifier is not up to the task and is holding sound performance a little back when compared to the line output.
The result is that the Aurora headphone amplifier is on a higher level of sound quality and certainly more competitive than the DX5.
As a DAC the DX5 is more reference sounding, with greater transparency and technical superiority albeit not as musical as the Aurora but from the headphone output the Aurora just plays on another level.

In the end

The Aurora is a deeply satisfying all-in-one unit which deviates from the Chi-Fi "measurements for measurements" trend.
Instead it follows the old school tuning "by the ear" to offer the listener with the most natural and lifelike music experience with a very organic and analogue like sound signature yet not deprived of transparency and excellent technicalities.
Sound-wise, the Aurora is a stellar performer without any given audible negatives but unfortunately the lack of a gain switch for such a powerful amplifier is something that is really missing.
Thus said, the Aurora is so pleasing and musical engaging that there is no way for a missing gain switch to deprive it from the golden laurels it rightfully deserves as one of the best sounding all-in-one units that you can have at a very reasonable price.

Postlude - I was torn between deducting half a star for the lack of the gain setting but the sound performance is so good that I decided for the full five star rating

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022.
J
Jarlaxle
Thanks for the review. I am looking into a good power supply for the product now. I think it deserves it.
  • Like
Reactions: Ichos
Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much.
Yes the power supply is a disappointment, I think that a better one will raise the performance.
Top