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AURALiC VEGA G2 DAC review

  • The VEGA G2 DAC (US$5699) is AURALiC’s high-performance replacement of the original VEGA – a DAC well received by audiophiles since its release in 2013. For the G2, the Chinese-cum-American company went back to the drawing board to create a DAC that went far beyond its predecessor’s performance and feature set. AURALiC has also announced a VEGA G1 DAC (US$3799) as a lower cost alternative to the VEGA G2.

    The VEGA G2 is an impressive looking product with an attractive satin black finish. AURALiC refers to the VEGA G2’s chassis as the ‘Unity chassis’, it is milled from a solid billet of aluminum that offers superior shielding from EMI noise and has greater resistance to external vibration. AURALiC has also designed specialized spring-loaded feet for the VEGA G2 to reduce the negative influence of chassis-conducted vibration.

    I found the front panel of the Vega G2 to be exemplary in its understated simplicity: a single rotary control and 4″ high-resolution color display. Two headphone jacks also grace the front panel. It doesn’t take a user very long to figure out how to use the rotary control for setup of the VEGA G2. Rotating the knob to the desired setting and then pressing it in to make selections could not be easier. As well as displaying the active input, volume, sampling rate, and playback status of the DAC, the display’s resolution made it easy to see the settings.

    The rear panel not only offers the ubiquitous USB input but also an Ethernet ‘streaming’ input that’s Roon Ready and talks to OpenHome compatible control software like AURALiC’s in-house developed Lightning DS app. Both of these inputs support 32-bit PCM up to 384kHz and DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512. Other inputs offered are AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink, and AURALiC’s proprietary Lightning-Link that uses HDMI-type hardware, not for HDMI or i2S connections but to accommodate a bidirectional high-bandwidth / low-noise connection to other AURALiC G2 Series components such as the ARIES G2 or the LEO G2 master clock. Three units can be daisy-chained. I was also pleased to see that a pair of single-ended analog inputs were present that allow the VEGA G2 to act as a ‘normal’ preamp, outputting via single-ended or balanced socketry.

    The Design

    The VEGA G2 utilizes a modified ESS Sabre DAC chip scheme for handling digital audio signal processing up to DSD512. Behind its Streaming input, AURALiC’s Tesla G1 hardware platform features a Quad-Core Cortex-A9 processor running at 1Ghz with 1GB DDR3 RAM and 4GB of storage to handle the digital signal processing. The Tesla G1 platform allows the user to select one of four digital filters: ‘Dynamic’, ‘Smooth’, ‘Balance’ and ‘Precise’ to permit the user to subtly fine-tune the sound to taste. The ‘Smooth’ setting, a minimum phase filter, was reportedly the most popular in AURALiC’s own subjective tests.

    High-speed galvanic isolation sits between the Tesla processing platform and sensitive DAC circuitry to minimize the negative influences of noise.

    The VEGA G2 offers dual 72fs Femto Master Clocks, powered by a dedicated low-noise 3uV supply. Elsewhere, AURALiC’s ‘Purer-Power’ low noise linear power supplies draw on a transformer with bespoke wiring to minimize vibration. AURALiC claims that the noise from their Purer-Power linear power supplies sits below 1uV in the audible band. ORFEO power modules form the core of the VEGA G2’s output stage — thermally balanced and biased into Class-A for lower noise and greater linearity.

    AURALiC did not skimp on the design of their volume control; a feature critical to to users who drive amplifiers directly from a DAC. The VEGA G2 volume control offers an 8 coil-latch relay R-2R resistor ladder network. With the volume level selected by the user, the 8 coil-latch relay functions passively drawing no current and producing no EMI noise.

    I presented several questions to Xuanqian Wang, AURALIC’s chief designer-engineer, concerning the VEGA G2 design.

    Q. What do you feel are the most significant improvements found in the VEGA G2 compared to the original VEGA?

    A. “VEGA, together with the original ARIES, accelerated the growth of our company in quite a short space of time. Our original VEGA was a pure digital to analogue converter which attracted many customers, largely due to its very natural, fatigue-free sound quality”

    In the VEGA G2, we wanted to implement our latest technologies, many as featured in our ARIES G2 with the addition of our own resistor ladder fully analogue volume control and dedicated analogue input which enables users to achieve tremendous performance from analogue sources, such as a top-flight turntable and phono stage.“

    “Furthermore, we developed our own proprietary ‘Lightning-Link’ interface to connect G series products together, which would facilitate multi-product operation. All of this is important in terms of incorporating our ARIES G2 and LEO GX Reference Clock. Last, but not least, we have implemented streaming functions into the VEGA G2 for customers who require the simplicity of one unit that can simply be connected to a pair of active loudspeakers or stereo power amplifier.”

    Q. Can you elaborate on the power supply design in the VEGA G2?

    “The power supply design of VEGA G2 uses one main transformer, 4 groups of individual power supplies (three analogue and one digital), with the analogue and digital power supplies having been galvanically isolated. To sum it up, it can be considered two power supplies.”

    The Streaming Input

    Configuring the VEGA G2 for its Streaming input was very simple. I connected the VEGA G2 to my home network with an ethernet cable and selected the Streamer input using the front panel. No special configurations of the network were necessary (but advanced network settings are offered). I also used AURALiC’s web interface to make other setup selections such as the filter and buffer settings as well as selecting Roon Ready operation. Another alternative is to use AURALiC’s own Lightning DS app (iOS only); AURALiC also offers a Smart-IR Remote Control feature that lets us map the VEGA G2’s control functions to any IR remote.

    I used my Roon Nucleus+ as the Roon Core to control the VEGA G2. The Nucleus+ had no issues identifying the VEGA G2 and once selected, I was good to go. Like AURALiC’s G Series ARIES streamers, The VEGA G2 puts ‘now playing’ cover art on its screen.

    Listening to the VEGA G2

    I started out using with the internal playback buffer set to 300ms; the VEGA G2 saves input signals to the system memory to remove jitter which then sends the signal to the DAC. I too went with the ‘Smooth’ filter setting.

    In my listening sessions, I found the VEGA G2 to reproduce a wide and deep soundstage that slightly behind the front plane of my Wilson Alexia Series 2 speakers. The presentation was richly layered with an open and airy sound. The top to bottom sonic balance was extremely neutral indicating to me that the VEGA G2 [probably! – Ed] does not appreciably color the sound of the music streamed to it. Bass control proved to be a standout quality with the VEGA G2 delivering good impact when needed.

    The VEGA G2 had a wonderful overall ease to its sound without sounding hard or unnatural. But this ease did not subtract from the DAC’s liveliness. Resolution of transient detail and reproduction of instrumental textures were easily identifiable. All of the above played out over an ultra-quiet background that resulted in well above average low-level detail retrieval.

    The VEGA G2 was equally adept at reproducing PCM or DSD files. Whatever I presented to the VEGA G2 was handled without glitch or hiccup. On more data-intensive streams – PCM 352.8kHz or DSD256 – I noted no dropout, heard no extraneous noises between tracks.

    The lively upbeat sound of the VEGA G2 was demonstrated nicely with the new Bob James Trio release Espresso (88.2/24). The piano, bass, and percussion were clearly delineated in the acoustic space with a sound connoted purity and directness. I noted no sonic blurring to the high impact transients of drums/cymbals. The bass displayed good rhythmic drive, was well defined and offered solid heft. Bob James’ piano playing, heard through the VEGA G2, revealed a dynamically expressive sound that I found to be delightfully engaging.

    How about Reference Recordings’ Dawn to Dust performed by the Utah Symphony and conducted by Thierry Fischer (in DSD256)? The VEGA G2 lent this recording very good illusory front-to-back depth, maybe with even a hint of tube-like bloom to the sound. I thought instrumental textures were beautifully resolved but with micro-dynamics that brought their sound to life.

    These two qualities – realism and immediacy – were also well demonstrated with Eric and Ulrika Bibb’s recording Pray Sing Love (PCM 44.1/24). Ulrika’s voice was reproduced with stunning realism for a life-like presence. The guitar playing was conveyed with delicacy and nuance.

    The Volume Control

    I connected my Ayre Acoustics MX-R Twenty monoblock amps directly to the VEGA G2’s balanced outputs. I have to admit that I was quite impressed with the sound of this volume control driving my MX-R Twenty amps directly. I still preferred the sound of my Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty preamp. And yet the VEGA G2 revealed itself over time to be one of the better DAC volume controls that I have heard in my system.

    Sample Rate Conversion to DSD512

    Using the Streaming input, I called on Roon’s back-end DSP to upsample all files to DSD512. The Nucelus+ was handled the extra processing without issue but to achieve glitch-free performance, I had to select the Parallelize Sigma-Delta Modulator setting in Roon that enables the use of multiple CPU cores on the Nuclues+.

    Being somewhat a purist when it comes to digital playback, I don’t often employ this kind of file modification when listening but upsampling everything to DSD512 sounded very nice and I suspect that many users will enjoy this feature. I heard a little more presence to the midrange as well as a slight increase in the prominence of the bass. The soundstage came on as even larger in terms of front to back measurement with the extra depth coming from a slightly more forward presentation. I felt that converting the PCM and (lower-rated) DSD files to DSD512 lent a more pleasing bloom to the overall sound.

    The USB Input

    I hard-wired the Nucleus+ directly to the VEGA G2 to evaluate the latter’s USB input. The sound quality was first-rate, delivering a satisfying musical experience that equaled what I was heard from the VEGA’s Streaming input. Naturally, one can modify the sound of the USB input with different USB cables and one’s favorite USB enhancement device to achieve desired system integration.

    Comparison

    How does the VEGA G2 sonically compare to a more expensive DAC like the Ayre QX-5 Twenty (US$9950)? In my system, the Ayre was the more revealing DAC, particularly at higher frequencies. The Ayre also seemed a bit more dynamic with a slightly larger and more detailed soundstage.

    However, the Ayre QX-5 Twenty cannot match the DSD capabilities of the VEGA G2. The VEGA G2 offers DSD512 on its Streaming input while the Ayre is limited to DSD64. The USB input of the Ayre is also limited to DSD128 vs DSD512 for the VEGA G2.

    Just how apparent the audible differences between these DACs would be on a smaller system is open to question; I could live with either.

    Conclusion

    Xuanqian Wang and his associates at AURALiC have developed a worthy successor to their VEGA DAC. Not only did I find the sound quality of the VEGA G2 to be very engaging and entertaining to listen to, but the numerous features and inputs – streaming especially – offer a level of versatility not often seen in today’s increasingly crowded high-end DAC market.

    Further information: AURALiC


    Associated hardware:

    Server: Roon Labs Nucleus+
    USB Cables: AudioQuest Diamond, Intona Reference

    The VEGA G2 was powered with a Shunyata Research Sigma NR AC cable, and Shunyata Triton V3 / Typhon QR power conditioners.
    Power Supplies:  HDPlex 100W and 200W, SOtM sPS-500
    Ethernet Cables: AudioQuest Diamond, Blue Jeans Cable Cat 6a
    USB Cables: AudioQuest Diamond, Intona Reference
External Hard Drives: G-Technology 24 TB G|RAID Thunderbolt 2 / USB 3 
Music Programs: RoonServer 
Analog Cables: Shunyata Sigma SP Speaker cables, Shunyata Sigma XLR
Preamplifier: Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty preamp
Phono Preamp: Ayre Acoustics P5-xe
Amplifiers: Ayre Acoustics MX-R Twenty monoblock amps
Speakers: Wilson Alexia Series 2
    Other DACs on Hand: Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty, Playback Designs MPD-8
Power Conditioners: Shunyata Hydra Triton v3, Typhon QR, and DPC-6 v2

    Steven Plaskin

    Written by Steven Plaskin

    Steven Plaskin is a retired podiatrist living in Southern California. He reviewed for AudioStream for six years before joining Darko.Audio.

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