I’ve stayed clear of describing the processes involved in hooking up a network device recently; not because they are difficult (if anything, building a home network for audio is becoming easier by the day), but because people get the wrong idea. They see the process in terms of a number of steps and get concerned and start comparing the process (unfavourably) to playing a CD. However, if you break anything down into its individual steps, the task becomes impossibly daunting: making toast, for example, is a process so complicated that it should only be performed by trained experts. And AURALiC is at the pinnacle of that next-generation technology – using it is actually absurdly simple when set up, but people see those three words and spiral.
So, here’s the deal. The VEGA G1 is the product for those spiralling digital users. Beyond its use as a streaming device, it is – first and foremost – a damn good DAC. Use it with a CD and you’ll get great sound... and a pathway into today’s online and local streaming when you are ready.
If you are already there with streaming, inserting the VEGA G1 into your network pays dividends. This has all the important genetic code of its bigger brother, and most of what isn’t on board isn’t vital for many users. Granted a G2 is better, but many staring down the difference between ‘three and a quarter grand’ and ‘five and a half grand’ will be unable to make that jump. Sure, AURALiC’s Lightning Server technology, the better chassis, the proper analogue volume control, and the ability to hook this to the full Bridge-Streamer-Clock system of the G2 range all cut into functionality, but they all add up, too. This gets you most of the way there in terms of tech and spec and sound for a fraction of the cost, and that makes the VEGA G1 really important.
It’s important enough that if I were one of the big names in this field, I’d be worried about this product. Worried not just because it’s got a great spec, but more because it actually sounds really good. I mentioned the absence of Lightning connectors, but the G1 is entirely supported by the Lightning DS app, and this is an excellent interface, especially if used with Roon (the G1 is Roon Ready), Tidal, and especially Qobuz Studio. While a lot of listening was done through my local server through my wired network, a good deal was made online, and both through the Lightning DS app. This works seamlessly both with the online services and in controlling the G1. Configuration and installation is fuss free so long as your network is pretty robust and your computer hardware isn’t so old that it’s programmed in Latin. Put it this way, if you know what a NAS is, have one, and configured it yourself without having to reach for a fire extinguisher, you’re probably over-qualified to install the G1.
I’m saving the best until last here, and that best is the sound you get from the G1. I’m not that troubled by the digital volume control because for most of the test, I ‘dimed’ the volume control and ran it into a system, rather than use it as a preamp in its own right. The volume control itself was mostly used in the context of working the G1 as a headphone amp. More on that later.
This has a very high-grade sound. On first listen, you quickly realise you are in the presence of something really, really good. The G1 manages to combine the inherently musical aspects of many really great streamers with the kind of detail and dynamic range that sets the best apart from the merely good. A fine musical case in point here is the excellent, if compressed, ‘Come Down’ by Anderson .Paak from the Malibu album [ArtClub]. This is a great rap track with an excellent bass line but is often undermined by the thinness and compression inherent to the recording. The G1 does not try to compensate for that compression; it just gives you so much information, and so much musical enjoyment along with that information, you just don’t care. You listen to that fine guitar sound, the really tight hi-hat work, and the chorus schoolyard rapping, and the distorted playing of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, throughout the track... and it makes you move and smile.
It’s a pity in a way that the track is so thinly recorded, because it has an excellent bass line, and bass is perhaps what the G1 does best. That... and all the other things it does best too! Bass is definitely the G1’s most impressive weapon in its musical arsenal. Here, I moved between classical and rock; I’m playing Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ from the Ninth Symphony [Von Karajan, Berlin Phil, DG] like it’s going out of fashion at the moment and the G1 conveys all the energy and drive of that piece, along with the majesty of the timpani and choir, leading up to that monumental crescendo. The G1 allows the music freedom to really give it some beans, and you find yourself playing it at Def Con 1 levels, air conducting as the windows shake... five doors away. Meanwhile, moving over to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds [Columbia] is truly fascinating. Not only does the resonance of Richard Burton’s voice shine through, but the G1 is also detailed enough to highlight just exactly how drunk he is on each take. The combination of his stentorian (and mostly half-cut) tones coupled with some really chunky analogue voltage-controlled oscillator drift from some bat-crazy synthesiser sounds showed the depth and the clarity of the VEGA G1 perfectly, and its inherent musicality shone through as this album led inexorably, tragically, to playing some Wakeman-era Yes, with even more drifty Moog synths. I’m not proud of that particular sojourn into widdly-wee prog, however!
Finally, the G1’s headphone amplifier. To a certain extent, AURALiC cut its teeth in the personal audio space, so perhaps it’s no surprise the VEGA G1 has an excellent headphone section, but perhaps what makes it so good is how well balanced and how well it tracks the sound quality through the line level outputs. Like those outputs, the VEGA G1’s headphone stage is dynamic, clean, detailed, and possessed of excellent bass; deep: powerful, pacey, and meaty. If there is a comment to be made here, it’s more a sin of omission – I’d love to see a balanced headphone output here in place of one of the two 6.35mm headphone jacks.