Auralic Aries G2.2 network streamer
If the rate at which new products appear is any indication Auralic CEO Xuanqian Wang is a restless individual. The evolution of the Aries G2.2 started back in 2014 as a much smaller and lighter device which garnered a reputation for the fledgling brand that its founder has been persistently building on since that time. Today the Aries G2.2 stands at the top of Auralic’s standalone streaming range, a state of affairs that will last until the company brings the G3 Aries, unveiled at High End, to market. It looks very much like the G2.1 with a medium sized machined aluminium chassis and a small selection of control buttons either side of a decent sized display.
The similarity in appearance is however misleading as the Aries G2.2 incorporates a complete hardware upgrade with greater processing power, a larger, cleaner power supply and wider USB DAC compatibility. I can’t say that I noticed DAC compatibility issues with the G2.1 but there are a lot of digital to analogue converters out there and some of them may not have wanted to play ball. The key to the new Auralic streamers is the Tesla G3 streaming platform, this is a 64-bit quad core processor that’s eight times faster than its predecessor. This is backed up by the Purer-Power power supply that has twice the capacity of the G2.1 models and lower noise levels, always a good thing. In fact it consists of two linear PSUs with galvanic isolation between one dedicated to audio signal processing and one for the processor itself and the display, often a source of electrical noise in audio components.
The Aries G2.2 has 4GB of cache memory and uses DMA or direct memory access to allow the processor to connect with the audio circuits, this replaces a USB bridge using XMOS chips found in earlier Auralic streamers. By eliminating this bridge and making a direct connection between these two elements the new circuit can reduce both latency and jitter using software; genuinely clever stuff. In addition EMI (electromagnetic interference) is kept at bay with galvanic isolation between the clocking, processing and transmitting circuits which further reduces jitter
As with its predecessor the Aries G2.2 can be fitted with a drive to store your music file collection, now however this storage is based on NVMe SSD technology which allows much faster read and write speeds than the SATA system that preceded it. For an extra £600 the Aries can be supplied with a 4TB SSD which should be big enough for most collections, for those needing more space there is a USB 3.0 port on the back for connection to external storage.
You can rip your CDs directly to either form of storage by connecting a USB disc drive to the Aries G2.2, this can also be used to playback discs via the processing onboard and is said to deliver decent results. Auralic’s Lightning file streaming applies upsampling to 32-bit to all the music it delivers but there are a lot of variables that can be changed in the Lightning DS app, these include EQ, up- or down-sampling to suit specific DACs and even the option to switch off power in the USB output should the DAC not require it. One thing I like about Lightning DS in particular is that it can combine libraries a bit like Roon but doesn’t add titles from streaming services into your own collection. It’s streaming service interface is also very nice.
The so-called Unity chassis is solidly built on a thick aluminium base plate with feet that incorporate isolation springs, the latter is a rare example of an isolation system that might just keep vibration at bay rather than tuning energy in support and component with spikes. The circuitry inside the case is shielded against airborne interference (RFI) with a nickel plated copper internal case. Outputs include the usual digital suspects: coax, Toslink and USB alongside Auralic’s HDMI based Lightning Link which provides a high speed, two way connection with other Auralic components that have this link (G2 and above). Unlike the G2.1 this Aries can be used with the Leo GX.1 reference clock for even greater sound quality.
It has been a while since I had an Aries G2.1 in the system but it was clear from the first track that the G2.2 is in another league, in fact it’s in the premium league for streamers at this price point if my experience is anything to go by. Steely Dan’s Babylon Sisters is one of those tracks that has real finesse and superb timing on vinyl but rarely matches that with digital formats, here it is both very clean and well defined with a solid bass line and a tight but loose rhythm that feels just right. It’s also extremely calm and quiet, you get a strong sense that noise levels have dropped significantly because the spaces in between the notes are clearer and this gives the attack and decay of each note more clarity and ease.
The more music I played the better things got thanks to the way that quiet details are not masked by background hash. This is not something you hear as noise in the typical sense but when it drops all the low level information is so much clearer and the sense of it being digital can only be detected in the absence of vinyl characteristics. There is little if any of the graininess or hardness that we associate with average streaming systems, instead you hear the open sparkle of highs and the weight of bass that is replete with texture and tone colour. As result vocals, the sound of which we are most highly attuned to, are simply superb and in Joni Mitchell’s case full of feeling and integrity.
Dynamics are also remarkably strong, the Aries G2.2 makes the differences in energy from the various instruments and voices in a mix a lot more clear than many decent streamers. I guess this comes down to noise abatement to an extent but the effect is to make the competition sound compressed or muted in this key regard. There is also a remarkable amount of space around each element in the mix, the vocal, horn, keys, drums etc all have real standing in the presentation. They have a place in the soundstage and this means that there is little or no inclination to pause a track before it finishes, even if it’s one that’s been played to death in the service of hi-fi reviewing!
Naturally the better the recording the better the result, Stravaganza consonanti is an unusual mix of original instruments playing baroque with sax and clarinet playing jazz, it sounds like it shouldn’t work but thanks to the imagination of Gianluigi Trovesi and Stefano Montanari it is remarkably good. The ECM recording is excellent as ever and the Aries G2.2 with the aid of a Merason DAC 1 MkII and Network Acoustics Muon2 USB cable delivers a degree of contrast and depth of tone that makes many streamers seem flat. In fact it makes many sources of all types seem lifeless. The dynamics in particular give it a vitality and presence that is rarely heard, the fact that there is so much energy from brass without the sound hardening up is also very appealing.
The God in Hackney’s The World in Air Quotes is contemporary prog with high production values and real power in the drums. Being the only acoustic instrument in the mix it has an physical advantage over the others and while the mix ensures that it doesn’t dominate there’s no hiding this fact, the natural reverb is as clear as day while the immediacy produced by such clean attack makes the music very gripping indeed. At the other end of the scale the confidence and restraint of Bill Evans on Waltz for Debby is equally entrancing. I was also taken by how well the Aries G2.2 handles Qobuz, as a rule there is a notable difference in quality between streamed and locally stored music files but while I didn’t do a direct A/B (it’s very hard to establish exact versions) the streamed material left very little to be desired and delivered a lot to be enjoyed.
Contrasting the onboard SSD drive with a Melco N10 music library/server was interesting, the Melco has a more open presentation and the timing seems to be a bit better. The Auralic’s drive had a smaller and possibly deeper image with slightly stronger bass. But given that the Melco costs quite a bit more than the entire Auralic Aries G2.2, it’s hardly surprising that it produces a better result. Listening to the SSD without comparison is an impressively revealing and engaging experience and well worth the premium if you have a collection of music files, or a pile of CDs you’d like to rip.
Comparing an Aries G2.1 with the Aries G2.2 was a bit like contrasting black and white with colour in an image, the amount of information perceptively doubled and produced a larger image with so much more detail that it was uncanny. It’s quite unusual to hear this sort of change without the tonal and timing variations found between competing brands, if anything the similarity between these two streamers reinforced the sense of increased resolution.
Auralic have moved the goalposts with the Aries G2.2, this streamer produces next level results the like of which some competitors charge considerably more for, if they can match it. The build and finish is exemplary and the feature list appears to have all the bases covered, just look at the streaming services list and then consider its wireless capabilities. This one is going to be hard to beat, Auralic have the G3 in the pipeline but that will add significantly to the asking price here.