It’s rare to see any form of dissent from manufacturers, but some are kicking back, and AURALiC has published a pretty firm stance on MQA. Devised under the auspices of Meridian founder Bob Stuart MQA is a compression system to enable streaming of high-resolution files at a time when internet bandwidth available in the home was inadequate to the task. However, in the six-plus years since its introduction internet speeds have significantly increased and streaming services such as Qobuz can deliver lossless files at up to 24/192 without requiring any extra processing. MQA persuaded Tidal its files were the way forward and Tidal offers its highest resolution streams only in this format. To support MQA requires MQA-licensed technology at every stage of the processing journey, and this causes AURALiC consternation. AURALiC’s prior MQA passthrough option in their streaming devices allowed those with appropriately equipped DACs to unfold MQA files. Now they have developed “playback technology that simulates the sonic character of MQA’s digital filter”. AURALiC not only sees MQA as a form of DRM (digital rights management) but also call it out for being lossy: “Since MQA’s compression method permanently removes bits from the original file, it must do so in a lossy manner, compromising the integrity of the full file, and does not deliver an actual high-resolution music format.” I suspect that the company will gain respect from this stance, and those who remain unconvinced by MQA’s benefits are right behind them.
The ARIES G2.1 is AURALiC’s latest and most ambitious streamer. It is effectively a network bridge because it only has digital in and outputs, you need a separate DAC to produce an analogue signal. Connection to music servers on the network can be wireless or via ethernet cable, ditto for streaming services on the WAN (wide area network, e.g. the rest of the planet). The output is via USB (galvanically isolated), Toslink optical, coax, AES or Lightning Link. The latter is AURALiC’s proprietary connection and uses HDMI socketry. It allows on/off switching from one unit as well as passing a digital stream. As the ARIES is one of only two G2.1 components to feature a front panel power switch, this is more useful than it might seem. The deal with the .1 is not as small as that suffix would suggest, it indicates that the chassis is a Unity II type that consists of two cases in the one box. The one you see is fabricated from machined aluminium while the internal compartment is copper which is highly prized for its shielding capabilities. The feet are also more sophisticated than on the previous G2 models. These have multiple springs inside to provide a degree of insulation from vibration in the supporting furniture. Even ostensibly solid-state devices like a streamer are sensitive to vibration.
Under the copper lurks a Tesla G2 platform which offers high processing speeds and twice as much memory and storage as the earlier models, in this case, a gigabyte of memory cache. On top of this, you can add a 2.5inch drive (HDD or SSD) to the ARIES and use it as a music server and given that there are 4TB SSDs available in this size, this could be a lot more cost-effective than an audiophile quality server. Another cool feature is that with an appropriate USB disc drive, you can use the HDD input on the ARIES to playback CDs, controlling the process with the Lightning DS app (iOS only). AURALiC lists a few suitable drives, including Melco’s fancy D100 and other more affordable options. The drive’s output is treated to the same processing power as network sources so the quality should be in approximately the same ballpark.