Many enthusiasts think of iFi Audio as being primarily a ‘personal audio company’, meaning a firm geared toward the needs and interests of headphone and earphone listeners. The Aurora, however, shows that there’s another important aspect to personal audio that should not be overlooked: namely, the market for affordable and compact alternatives to full-size, speaker-based hi-fi systems.
All-in-one single-chassis audio systems are not a new idea and several strong and credible products of this type have arrived of late. Indeed, many would say the two benchmark products in this category have both come from Naim Audio in the form of that firm’s recently released Mu-so 2nd Generation and the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation (both recently reviewed in Hi-Fi+). Given that such strong competitors are already on the field, why has iFi Audio chosen to enter this market? The answer, I suspect, has much to do with iFi having goals and intentions for the Aurora different to those Naim holds for its Mu-so products.
From personal listening experiences and conversations with Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom regarding the Naim 2nd Generation Mu-so models, my take is that both aim to serve as compact and well-engineered general purpose music sources that offer surprisingly full-bodied sound for their sizes—a mission both components address well.
In contrast, iFi Audio’s Aurora stands more as a compact, single-chassis surrogate for full-fledged, two-channel loudspeaker-based audio systems. Where many single-chassis products strive to produce a ‘big’ sound, the Aurora not only manages to play ‘big’ but to do so with serious sonic refinement and an eye toward delivering unexpectedly expansive soundstages and believable stereo imaging. Similarly, the Aurora shows surprisingly high levels of textural and transient nuance and subtlety—again, offering performance more like a traditional hi-fi system than is typical for the all-in-one genre.
Perhaps as a reflection of this ambitious mission profile, the Aurora offers a bold and striking industrial design—one I find very appealing but that, realistically speaking, may not suit every taste. Where the Naim Mu-so models emphasise simple, elegant lines and subtle, subdued surface textures, the Aurora deliberately seeks to make a more vivid and intense visual statement.
Accordingly, the Aurora stands as a functional objet d’art whose oblong rectangular chassis sports rounded corners (as viewed from above) and whose sides are covered with narrowly spaced vertical ribs of natural bamboo. The Aurora’s smooth top and rear surfaces are covered in panels made from laminated strips of natural bamboo, matching those vertical ribs.
The entire Aurora is suspended at a gently upturned angle from an attached, ‘A-frame-like’ structure that serves both as the stand and as a lifting handle for the unit. The inverted or downward-facing ‘^’ of the structure neatly frames the face of the Aurora, defining a centre section that serves as both a display and control panel. In case this description of the A-frame sounds a bit scary, not to worry; the sharp points of the frame come with translucent moulded rubbed covers designed to protect furniture surfaces below and listeners—or small children—from above, A slender, matt silver remote control completes the package.