I’ll be the first to admit it – Hi-Fi+has covered a lot of AURALiC products in recent years. Even though this is my first review of the brand’s products, practically every product the company has made has found its way onto the pages of this magazine. Having had no direct personal experience of the product (save for brief exposure at shows) and seeing every other reviewer who touches the product seemingly turning into a swivel-eyed loon for the brand, I thought it time to wave around some Editorial privilege. What is AURALiC’s magic trick?
Our most recent review combined the VEGA G2 streaming DAC with the new LEO GX clock in Issue 164. OK, calling the LEO GX a ‘clock’ is editorial understatement on a grand scale, but this review piqued my interest on a couple of levels. Most notably, however, the G2 review fascinated because of the existence of the VEGA G1 tested here. You see, at first glance, both on paper and in the flesh, the differences between the G1 and G2 are minimal in everything but price. Scratch the surface of course and things begin to look a bit different. But how different in the real world and do those differences matter... those were the questions that made me call for the AURALiC VEGA G1.
The most obvious visual difference between the two players is the move from a black knob in the G2 to a silver one in the G1. Things get clearer cut to the rear of the two because the G2 features a pair of AURALiC’s own Lightning connectors, a clock input and a set of stereo RCA sockets for an analogue line input – all of which are absent in the more pared-back G1. The cases, however, are noticeably different (at least when placed side-by-side). They are the same size and weight, but the G2 uses AURALiC’s Unity chassis hewn out of a single piece of aluminium, and this sits on special sprung feet. While the G1 uses the same grade of aluminium, the cabinet is made of piece parts bolted together, and sits on plastic feet without the springy suspension system. Really close visual inspection shows these differences, and at each point, everything suggests the G2 is better. This is a subtle but important distinction, akin to good tailoring; the G1 is like a well-cut made to measure suit you might wear to nail that interview, but the G2 is that bespoke Savile Row suit in which you got married.
Under that exterior, things do begin to diverge, although not as much as you might expect and it’s still clear this is every inch an AURALiC product. The headline differences are that the G1 uses its own custom analogue volume control, where the G2 uses the chipset’s internal digital volume, and the absence of galvanic isolation across the rear connections. These are fairly significant changes and are best thought of as being in the order of magnitude of the difference between a 12 and an 18 year old single malt! The absence of Lightning Link connectors also makes using the ARIES models to create a full ‘belt and braces’ Lightning Server system slightly less ‘plug and play’, and you miss out on some of the ‘Rolls-Royce’ elements of the AURALiC streaming system (file sampling rates, for example). However, what’s great is more what the two share rather than what they lack: the G1 and G2 both use AURALiC’s Tesla digital platform, and both can utilise the Lightning DS app that controls everything AURALiC. Tesla is the core processing engine, built around a Quad-Core A9 chip, 1GB of memory, and 4GB of storage. Put simply, the two share much of the same circuitry... there’s just more of it in the G2. Wireless connectivity (such as AirPlay and Bluetooth) are not supported. The G1 is no slouch though. It uses the company’s own Orfeo Class A modules; these are operational amplifiers inspired by Rupert Neve’s 8078 analogue mixing console circuit design – a design considered by many in the recording studio world a console sans pareil. An audio product that features output stages that attempt to recreate that circuit put AURALiC up there with the best.
In the light of the bigger, better G2, why should the VEGA G1 be so interesting? Because the VEGA G1 just might occupy the perfect sweet-spot for this-and-the-next generation audio. The G2, for all it’s sonic and technical prowess, is higher in cost because it’s more demanding to build. It not only has room for growth (with the LEO GX), but there is almost an expectation in the owner of a VEGA G2 that it’s the first step on the big AURALiC ladder. The G1 places no such demands on the user or the system, and that is its genius.