Twin peaks. AURALiC’s Taurus MKII (US$1899) is a balanced headphone amplifier that also doubles as a pre-amplifier; the latter isn’t the main game of this unit and neither is it the focus of this review.
Switch twitch. The Taurus MKII sports switchable singled-ended (1/4 inch) and balanced (XLR) headphone connectivity on the front. Out back there are switchable single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs.
I don’t normally spill on box dimensions but I here I have good reason to: the Taurus MKII measures 33 cm x 23 cm x 6.5 cm and it squeaks into an IKEA Expedit shelf just so; as does the matching Vega DAC. Be careful though – AURALiC’s brushed aluminium casework is easily scratched.
The Taurus MKII runs with ORFEO Class A output modules – the same as found in the Vega’s output stage. Perhaps this is why the Taurus MKII channels the Vega’s core qualities of deep space illumination and high ‘megapixel’ definition. Their combined resolution is something to behold. Two words: brilliant and beautiful. Going balanced between the two solicited deeper resolve than single-ended (STD) connnectivity.
You often hear less-clued up listeners refer to electronic music as ‘doof doof’. The implied prejudice is that it doesn’t offer as much timbre or tone as other genres. However, it can tell you a great deal about dynamics, soundstage/headstage dimensions and bass control. It’s on Autechre’s debut Incunabula that the Taurus’ iron fisted lock on lower frequency action is immediately obvious, even through headphones as humble as V-Moda’s more portable-focussed Crossfade M-100. Bass notes aren’t huge but they are impeccably well-steered. One without the other is aural mash potato – no sign of that here.
Stepping up to Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs (US$600) for a run through the same album revealed the Taurus’ clean communication of dynamics, BIG and small – rhythms stop-start on a dime. The Taurus is meticulous in its delivery of cymbal shimmers and guitar plucks, all without the emotional distance some folk mistakenly attribute to solid state designs. Greater accuracy ==> greater emotional communication.
As you’d expect from an amplifier that costs close to two grand there’s plenty of power on tap. The Taurus MKII will leave you wanting for nothing with pretty much any headphone:
STD mode | BAL Mode
- 32ohm 4500mW | 1200mW
- 120ohm 1200mW | 4500mW
- 300ohm 500mW | 2000mW
- 600ohm 250mW | 1000mW
Four and half watts into 32 Ohms single-ended is positively bullish. A portable-friendly headphone like the NAD Viso HP-50 sounds great with portable devices. The AURALiC lifts that experience descriptor to stunning.
This silver machine pushes a full watt of go juice into a 600 Ohm balanced load, half that into the 300 Ohm Sennheiser HD800 (US$1500). Power like that means better control. And better control takes the listener closer to aural satisfaction. Power also translates to SPEED. I noted a quicksilvery, amphetamine-charged re-imagining of music with both Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs as well as the aforementioned Sennheiser.
Let us dispense with the contradictory notion of black/er backgrounds. When driving the Alpha Dogs the AURALiC’s over-arching trait is one of colourful ILLUMINATION. The MKII Taurus brings sounds from further away by shining light into music’s more distant corners. That’s something that budget amplifiers miss and the main reason why it’s streets ahead of the Schiit Asgard 2 (US$250). The AURALiC operates in another league entirely, both pricewise and in terms of performance. Going back to the Asgard 2 after an extended session with the Taurus, the Schiit lacked the AURALiC’s definitive conviction and poise. Sennheiser’s HD800 exposed the Schiit amplifier to be more congealed and flatter than the Taurus MKII. Flipping that around, the latter better separates musical layers, stretching the illusion of depth.
I’m not saying this to kick the Schiit out of the Asgard 2 but to highlight that spending more nets you more. The law of diminishing returns doesn’t bite quite as hard as it does between DAC upgrades – with the Taurus MKII you really do get what you pay for.
Rub-a-dub-tub. Conventional two-channel wisdom says you should drop most of your budget on loudspeakers and then a lesser portion of your budget on amplification. Translating that to head-fi, one might think Audeze LCD-something and a Schiit Asgard 2 as the way to stay on the right side of $2.5k. But what if the Asgard doesn’t offer sufficient amplification prowess so oft-demanded by such thirstier planar magnetics? What if better headphones expose the comparative weakness of more wallet-friendly amplification?
Going bigger/better with amplification and spending less on headphones is an equally valid way to get your rocks off: Mr Speakers Mad Dog (US$300) and the AURALiC Taurus MKII is preferable to the Asgard 2 driving Sennheiser’s top-flight HD800. The Taurus MKII better nourishes headphones, filling the listener up on quality before quantity. The Taurus MKII brings a less common quality to the table: a more convincing structuring of the illusory third dimension as well deeper saturation of tonal colours. Think: a rainbow of Skittles. The only other time I’ve heard soundstage depth this good is from ALO Audio’s Studio Six (review here). The ALO is a smidge better in this regard but it’s not as fundamentally lit-up or as tonally satisfying as the AURALiC.
In a bid answer which of the two is ‘best’, the AURALiC or the ALO, I must divert your attention to Darren Aronofsky. Or rather, Darren Aronofky’s movies. The Studio Six pushes the soundstage further back and lays music out in front of the listener in widescreen fashion. The single-ended ALO is the epic Noah. The Taurus MKII brings music closer, it pushes your face up against a glass bowl of detail, which makes for an intense sensory experience. The AURALiC Taurus MKII is Requiem For A Dream.
The Taurus MKII is so darn dandy with inner-illumination and rhythmic timing that I was still able to enjoy the sound of artists I don’t dig so much e.g. Untold, The Eagles, Wilco. Tough to pile praise any higher than that. DAR-KO award.
- Antipodes DS
- Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable
- Schiit Bifrost Uber w/ Gen 2 USB
- AURALiC Vega
- NAD Viso HP-50
- Mr Speakers Mad Dogs
- Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs
- Sennheiser HD800
- Autechre – Incunabula (1993)
- The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (2014)
- Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham (2014)
- Kristin Hersh – Hips and Makers (1994)