Auralic Altair

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Auralic Altair
This is a perfect single-box music source for your modern HiFi system. It combines a High-End DAC with world class wireless streaming solution. The 15 input sources including stream from Network Shared Folder, USB drive, Internal music storage (optional), uPnP/DLNA media server, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming, Internet Radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast and RoonReady. The rest of digital inputs are AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink, USB device to computer, 2 USB host for storage and external DAC.
ALTAIR is developed based on AURALiC’s award-winning VEGA Digital Audio Process and Lightning Streaming platform, industry’s first streaming technology that supports DXD and Quad-Rate DSD playback through WiFi network. It also supports several advanced features such as gapless playback, on-device playlist and multiple-room functions.

HighEnd Wireless Streaming
ALTAIR is equipped with AURALiC’s awards-winning Lightning streaming technology. Lightning streaming, launched in year 2014, is industry’s first streaming technology that supports DXD and Quad-Rate DSD playback through WiFi network. It also supports several advanced features such as gapless playback, on-device playlist and multiple-room functions.
Memory Playback, the latest feature been added to Lightning streaming technology allows ALTAIR to fetch and cache the entire track in its memory or system storage in advance then play locally without the need of network data transfer to improve the sound quality. ALTAIR’s streaming function can ben operated by AURALiC Lightning DS control App which is available on iOS platform right now with Mac and Windows version in development. It is also compatible with other 3rd party OpenHome or UPnP control software for playback.

15 Input Sources, More to Come
ALTAIR can act as home music center for virtually all digital input source. It read music stored on USB drive, internal hard disk, network shared folder and DLNA/UPnP music server. By joint use with Lightning DS, you can also stream TIDAL, Qobuz and listen to Internet Radio at any time. ALTAIR’s AirPlay, Songcast and Bluetooth inputs provide alternative way to stream your favorite music from Apple Music, Spotify and other service providers through smartphone or computer.
ALTAIR also work as RoonReady endpoint to use with Roon software if necessary, bringing you a new way to discover and listen to music. The rest of inputs includes AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink and USB connection to computer working as USB DAC. When ordering ALTAIR, you can add a 2’5-inch hard disk drive or solid state drive as internal music storage as an option, turning ALTAIR into a full function music server. Since there is no capacity limitation, you can always purchase ALTAIR and install the storage by yourself.

AURALiC Tesla Platform
ALTAIR is powered by AURALiC’s proprietary Tesla hardware platform that includes a Quad-Core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB system storage. The Tesla platform has a calculation ability of 25,000 MIPS, more than enough to decode a vast spectrum of audio formats, including AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA. AURALiC has chosen this platform for its flexibility and long term support consideration. Future features planned include DSD Upsampling, Room Acoustic Treatment. All these features can be delivered through automatic online updates without user’s attention.

Femto Master Clock
The dual-frequency Femto Master Clock inside the ALTAIR is specially designed and optimized for its ESS Sabre DAC chip: with one frequency for playing music with a sampling rate which is the multiple of 44.1K, and a second for 48K, making it possible for the ALTAIR to be able to lock on with highest clock precision (equal to the VEGA’s “EXACT” mode) at all time without dropouts. The Femto Master Clock, which is powered by a 9uV extremely low noise dedicated power supply, has a very low phase noise performance. It not only has dramatically low phase noise, which is only at -151dBc/Hz level, but also an excellent 100Hz offset noise level which is only -115dBc/Hz. Driven by such a high performance clock, the ALTAIR can bring you vivid music with natural detail and a solid sound image.

Full Linear Power Supply
With more and more DACs at this price range starting to use switching power supplies, AURALiC insists on using high performance but costly Purer-Power™ linear power supply technology on the ALTAIR. With this technology, the dirty AC power firstly goes into a power purification module, and the DC current and noise from both within and outside audio frequencies can be reduced by as much as 90dB. The purified AC power is then feed to a high quality transformer, with a specialty iron core made to AURALiC’s specifications, and unique wiring to ensure zero vibration and very low noise to avoid impacting the sensitive audio electrical circuit.
Compared to the conventional switching power supply which generates wide-band noise that is hard to eliminate, AURALiC’s discrete component- based power supply feeds the DAC chip’s analog circuit with an astonishing low noise that is below 1uV (1uV = 0.000001V) within the entire audio band, making ALTAIR a perfect tool to re-discover your music with more details in the “last bit” that you may never noticed before.

Flexible Filter Mode
ALTAIR has four built-in filter modes which allows its user to customize sound best befitting their personal preference. Those filter modes were developed from AURALiC’s well known Flexible Filter Mode in the VEGA Digital Audio Processor, with each containing several digital filters optimized for a corresponding sampling rate. Flexible Filter Mode was developed under AURALiC’s subjective auditory sense and objective testing data relationship models, to optimize the listening experience for different music and format. The “Precise” mode exhibits perfect in-band ripple and out-band attenuation performance, while the “Smooth” mode is better for overall enjoyment as it has no ‘pre-ringing’ effect. The other two modes, named “Dynamic” and “Balance” are optimized for different music formats as well.

Color

Black, Silver

Specifications

FREQUENCY RESPONCE-20 – 20KHz, +/- 0.1dB*
THD+N
<0.0003%, 20Hz-20KHz at 0dBFS

DYNAMIC RANGE-124dB, 20Hz-20KHz, A-weighted

STREAMING PUTPUTS-
Network shared folder
USB Drive
Internal Music Storage**
uPnP/DLNA Media Server
TIDAL and Qobuz streaming
Internet Radio
AirPlay
Bluetooth
Songcast
RoonReady

DIGITAL OUTPUTS-
1*AES/EBU
1*Coaxial
1*Toslink
1*USB device to computer
2*USB host to storage and DAC
1*RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1*802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi

ANALOG OUTPUTS-1*Balanced XLR(output impedance 10ohm)
1*Single-ended RCA(output impedance 50ohm)
1*6.35mm headphone Jack (output impedance 5ohm)

SUPPORTED FILE FORMATS-AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC,
MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA

SUPPORTED DIGITAL FORMATS-All PCM from 44.1KS/s to 384KS/s in 32Bit***
DSD64, DSD128, DSD256***

OUTPUT VOLTAGE-4Vrms at 0dBFS (XLR)
2Vrms at 0dBFS (RCA)

CONTROL SOFTWARE-AURALiC Lightning DS for iOS
AURALiC RC-1 remote control
OpenHome compatible control software
uPnP compatible control software

DEVICE INTERFACE-512*64 pixels OLED Display

POWER CONSUMPTION-Sleep: <10W-Playback: 35W at max

DIMENTIONS-11''W x 9''D x 2.6''H (33cm x 23cm x 6.5cm)

WEIGHT-7.0 pounds (3.2kg)

3 recensioner av Auralic Altair

  1. Teodor Sanden

    A good illustration of these qualities could be drawn from the excerpt from John Tavener’s ‘Ikons of Eros’ as found in the

    Reference Recordings

    30th Anniversary

    sampler album

    (HDCD resolution), which captures the sound of voices, strings, and percussion performing in a highly reverberant setting. As violins sound higher register notes, for example, you can hear their high overtones echoing within the space, and the same goes for the lingering ‘skin sounds’ of percussion instruments being struck. Both the jRiver server and the ALTAIR successfully

    retrieved this musical information, but the ALTAIR helped that information coalesce so as to create a strikingly realistic sensation that you are listening in a large, church-like space possessed of palpable height, breadth, and depth.

    ALTAIR as DAC/preamp: For this part, I focused on comparing the ALTAIR DAC/preamp section to the original AURALiC VEGA.As I made back and forth comparisons, my conclusion was that the ALTAIR sounded much like the VEGA, but with a subtly softer and less sharply focused sound overall. This observation held true across recordings captured at CD resolution levels as well as recordings captured in high-res DSD, DXD, and PCM formats. The ALTAIR’s sound is well balanced, tonally rich, and offers very good levels of resolution. But by way of comparison, the VEGA offer noticeably higher levels of resolution, more transient speed and impact, an even better sense of natural, organic warmth (thanks, I think, to its ORFEO Class A analogue output modules), and generally sounds as if its imaginary ‘Focus Knob’ were turned up to ‘11’. So, as we might expect, the ALTAIR is very good, but the VEGA is even better. Even so, my thought was that the ALTAIR offered roughly 9/10ths the performance of the VEGA, but at roughly half the price.

    To hear the contrasts between the ALTAIR and VEGA, try playing Monty

    Alexander’s ‘Calypso Blue, Part 2’ from

    Calypso Blue

    [Chesky, 24/192]. This

    track captures Alexander’s keyboards juxtaposed against an ensemble in which acoustic bass and various Caribbean percussion instruments figure prominently. The track sounds gorgeous through the ALTAIR, as it nearly always does, replete with that lovely quality of three-dimensionality I mentioned above. If heard in isolation, the ALTAIR would likely make even most finicky audiophiles happy. However, when the VEGA is brought into play, things get better still: the action of Alexander’s keyboards sound clearer and more lucid, the bass sounds slightly deeper and more like the large wooden instrument it actually is, while the transient sounds of the percussion instruments are more sharply and crisply rendered, and the overtones of higher percussion instruments seem to shimmer more brilliantly and to linger longer upon the air. It’s not that the ALTAIR is deficient by any means, but that the VEGA takes everything the ALTAIR does right and renders it with an extra nth degree of precision and musical sophistication.

    ALTAIR as headphone amplifier: The ALTAIR, unlike either the ARIES or the VEGA, offers a small built-in headphone amplifier, which can be a great convenience and allows the ALTAIR to serve as a hyper-versatile headphone system in its own right. At the same time, though, my thought is that most of the ALTAIR’s cost budget was probably allocated to its streamer, server, DAC, and preamp sections. I say this because the headphone amp section, though admirably clear-sounding and articulate, falls short of being able to drive today’s top-tier headphones to their fullest potential.

    I directly compared the ALTAIR’s headphone amp section to the sound of Schiit Audio’s Jotunheim headphone amp and to iFi Audio’s Pro iCAN amp, using all four of the top-tier reference headphones I mentioned earlier. In each instance, the third-party amplifier delivered a noticeably more robust, full-bodied, and more three-dimensional presentation. By comparison, the ALTAIR headphone amp section tended to sound drier, more two-dimensional, and more lightly balanced (and thus lacking, to a degree, in weight and warmth). However, in all fairness, I should point out that the ALTAIR headphone amp sounded superb when used with custom-fit in-ear monitors such as my Noble Audio Katana’s, which are probably the sort easy-to-drive load AURALiC had in mind when creating the ALTAIR’s headphone amp section.

    As I reflect back on this review, I find myself continually marvelling at just how much sophisticated technology AURALiC has managed to pack into the ALTAIR, and at a sensible price. While the ALTAIR does not quite match the sound quality of AURALiC’s flagship ARIES-plus-VEGA combination, the ALTAIR is arguably the next best thing—and it is a single-chassis component that sells for only 39% of the price of the two components upon which it is based! Whether you look at it from the standpoint of convenience, flexibility, performance, or sheer value, the ALTAIR is that rare multi-purpose component that can play many different roles, all of them successfully.

  2. Teodor Sanden

    AURALiC ALTAIR wireless streaming DAC by “Chris Martens”
    Hi-Fi+has covered many AURALiC products in the past, but two enduring favourites would be the VEGA digital audio processor (or DAC/preamp) reviewed in Issue 106 and the ARIES wireless streaming bridge reviewed in Issue 130. The VEGA (£2,995) is widely regarded as one of today’s most versatile (high-res PCM, DXD, and DSD-capable) and best sounding mid-priced high-end DACs, while the ingenious ARIES (£1,495) offers the ability to give virtually any DAC or DAC-equipped component sophisticated, high-resolution streaming capabilities. What is more, USB-type music library drives can be attached directly to the ARIES, thus allowing it to serve not only as a streamer, but also as a standalone music server in its own right.
    It is easy to see the appeal of the VEGA and ARIES, both of which were arguably products ahead of their time. At the same time, they are separate components that, more often than not, will wind up being used in systems that will also include separate preamps, possibly headphone amplifiers, and power amplifiers. But what about those who might want a component that combines most of the technical features and sound quality of the VEGA and ARIES, but in a simpler, single-chassis format that is substantially lower in price? This, in a nutshell, is the very design brief that AURALiC’s new ALTAIR wireless streaming DAC (£1,749) seeks to address.
    Viewed as a high performance DAC, the ALTAIR can be considered a simplified, ‘junior’ version of the VEGA digital audio processor. While the VEGA offers special ORFEO Class A analogue output modules, a slightly higher specification linear power supply, and very subtly different digital filters than the ALTAIR, the two units are in many respects more alike than not. Both the ALTAIR and the VEGA use an ESS Sabre DAC, employ AURALiC’s Femto Master Clock technology for extremely low jitter, provide linear power supplies based on AURALiC’s ‘Purer Power’ noise reduction technologies, and incorporate four user-selectable PCM digital filter modes (labelled ‘PRECISE’, ‘DYNAMIC’, ‘BALANCE’, and ‘SMOOTH’) that let users adjust the sonic character of the DAC to fit the requirements of material being played.
    The ALTAIR and VEGA can accept audio files in AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV, and WMA formats and can decode PCM files ranging from 44.1 to 384 kHz/32-bit resolutions, as well as DSD64,128, and 256 files. The ALTAIR offers a host of digital inputs including AES/ EBU, coaxial S/PDIF, Toslink (optical S/PDIF), USB 2.0, plus a range of streamer/server inputs.

    Viewed as a high performance streamer/server, the ALTAIR is patterned directly after the ARIES and provides multiple streamer/server inputs including connections for an optional external USB drive, an optional dealer or user-installed internal HDD or SSD drive, plus Gigabit Ethernet connectivity via an RJ45 jack, and 802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-band Wi-Fi connectivity supported via a pair of small ‘whip’ antennas mounted on the ALTAIR’s rear panel. The ALTAIR, like the ARIES, can stream audio content from many different sources including shared network folders, the aforementioned optional external or internal drives, UPnP/DLNA media servers, TIDAL, Qobuz, AirPLay, Bluetooth, Songcast, and even Roon. About the only differences between the ALTAIR and ARIES involve the fact that the ARIES offers Dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity rather than the ALTAIR’s Tri-band Wi-Fi, the ARIES unlike the ALTAIR does not support internal storage, and the ARIES offers an extensive range of digital outputs, where the ALTAIR offers only a single USB digital output.

    Like the ARIES, the ALTAIR uses AURALiC’s proprietary Tesla hardware platform, which includes, according to AURALiC, “a Quad-Core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz, 1GB DDR3 onboard memory and 4GB system storage.” This platform supports the same basic streaming/ server functions as provided by the ARIES, but with new features and functions being added over time via an ongoing series of free firmware updates. Examples of such added features now include gapless playback and multiple room playback capabilities, plus a new Memory Playback feature that “allows the ALTAIR to fetch and cache the entire track in its on-board memory or system storage in advance, and then to play locally without any network data transfer needed.” For a future firmware release, AURALiC plans to add Room Acoustic Treatment functionality.

    Users can command and control all the diverse aspects of the ALTAIR through the included AURALiC RC-1 remote control or through the firm’s signature Lightning DS app, which runs on iOS devices such as the iPad or iPhone. Alternatively, they can avail themselves of third-party OpenHome or uPnP-compatible software, or Roon. For my tests, I stuck with the all-AURALiC combination of the remote plus Lightning DS running on a recent generation iPad.

    The graphics-driven Lightning DS software package makes it straightforward, easy, and fun to set up and then to use AURALiC’s various streaming-capable audio components, including the ARIES, ARIES LE, ARIES MINI, and now the ALTAIR. Lightning DS serves as semi-automated set-up tool that guides users in a step-by-step fashion to configure the ALTAIR, then to connect it to a home network, and finally to begin streaming music or playing content from attached libraries. I would rate Lightning DS as one of the better applications of its kind, though I could see how some might prefer the more elaborate metadata content provided by competing music software packages from Naim and Roon.

    Perhaps the only caveat I should mention is that, in some cases, the combination of Lightning DS used in conjunction with some AURALiC streaming components can prove to be quite router-sensitive, when Wi-Fi connections are used. Lightning DS is not particularly sensitive to throughput speeds, but it does require a router that is good at handling UPnP packets, which AURALiC uses for passing control instructions. One ‘go-to’ router AURALiC specifically recommends is the Netgear R7000 Nighthawk AC1900 Dual Band Wireless Gigabit Smart Home Router. I initially had some Wi-Fi-related set-up problems with the ALTAIR (problems I had not encountered with the ARIES), but those were resolved with help from AURALiC’s helpful technical

    support team. Just be aware that, if you buy an ALTAIR, you may also need to purchase an AURALiC-recommended Wi-Fi router to go along with it.

    How does the ALTAIR sound? That’s a fairly complicated question, given that this component is capable of playing many different roles: streamer/server, high-res DAC, digital preamp, and headphone amp. To seek answers, I installed the ALTAIR in my system along with two other headphone amp/preamps (the Schiit Audio Jotunheim and the iFi Audio Pro iCAN), with the original AURALiC VEGA DAC, with my reference Windows/jRiver Music Center music server, and with four superb, top-tier headphones (the ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000, the Focal Utopia, the HiFiMAN HE 1000 v2, and the MrSpeakers ETHER Flow). After trying myriad permutations and combinations of these components, here are some of the fundament conclusions I reached.

    ALTAIR as streamer/server: The ALTAIR effortlessly playing content from its attached library drive, from Internet radio stations, and from TIDAL. As advertised, the ALTAIR had no trouble at all streaming high-res PCM and DSD content. I compared the ALTAIR’s server section directly against my jRiver Media Center music server, with both the server and the ALTAIR equipped with identical music library drives, and discovered the ALTAIR was entirely competitive with if not slightly superior to the jRiver server in musical terms. The jRiver server produced a taut, clear, and well defined sound with plenty of high-frequency extension and air, as I expected it would do based on past experience, but the ALTAIR matched that performance while also adding subtle, heightened qualities of three-dimensionality and spaciousness.

  3. Teodor Sanden

    Shoot for the stars
    Looking for a DAC with considerable input flexibility and wireless streaming to boot? Ed Selley thinks the Altair holds the answer.

    The boundary between what counts as a digital-to-analogue converter and what might be more accurately described as a digital source with some additional digital inputs has got rather blurry of late. There is an increasing number of DACs on the market that go beyond what might be expected of a conventional converter. Few companies have taken this as far as Auralic. Its Altair is described by the company as a wireless streaming DAC and believe it or not, this is only scratching the surface of what this smart unit is capable of.

    Around the back, you will find a quartet of digital inputs including a coaxial, Toslink optical, AES and USB-B connection, which gives the Altair a considerable if not outstanding flexibility as a means of connecting up all your digital sources. These connections are made available to a pair of RCA and XLR outputs that can be used at line level or as a preamp with the volume adjusted in the analogue domain as with its Aries Mini (HFC 425). There’s a 6.35mm jack socket on the front for use as a headphone amp, too.

    The Altair is also equipped with the same streaming hardware that is fitted to a number of its other products. This means it has the relatively unusual ability to access a music library stored on something like a Melco N1A2 NAS drive (HFC 424) via the USB port or the network connectivity. It makes use of the same Lightning DS control app as the rest of Auralic family of streaming components. This iOS-only system assembles its own library for faster and more stable access and is one of the slickest and most consistent apps I have experienced in quite a while.

    The networking facilities don’t end there. Native support for Tidal and Qobuz is supplied along with internet radio services and you can stream services that aren’t included via AirPlay and Bluetooth. And if the idea of streaming isn’t something that appeals to you, the chassis can accommodate a 2.5in hard drive which turns it into a self-contained music server. In short, it has a comprehensive array of options for accessing music content.

    Format compatibility is impressive with files up to 32-bit/384kHz supported along with DSD up to DSD256. Decoding is provided by an ESS Sabre DAC, which is mated to Auralic’s proprietary master clock system. This promises accuracy to the femtosecond and is powered via its own specific power supply. One useful aspect of the clock is that it has two.

    Vocals are almost liquid smooth, managing to be detailed and lifelike cycles: one optimised for multiples of 44.1kHz and one for 48kHz, which should benefit performance. The server’s abilities are powered by a quad-core Coretex-A9 processor running at 1GHz supported by 4GB of internal memory, so even large libraries can be easily accommodated. Aesthetically, the casework is attractive and finished to an extremely high standard. I’m not entirely sold on all the aspects of the design, though, and I find the navigation via a single rotary control on the front slightly annoying and the display doesn’t show any form of album metadata, which is a shame. A supplied remote offers some practical use if you’re not within reach of a device to access the control app.

    Sound quality

    I connect the Altair to a Melco N1A NAS drive via USB to access my music library and wirelessly to my home network for music streaming services. This is a usefully flexible combination and one that shows off the Auralic’s abilities to excellent effect.

    Via USB the 24/88.2 download of

    Dead Can Dance’s The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove is superbly presented. The vocals are almost liquid smooth, but manage to be detailed and lifelike at the same time. The brooding darkness of the piece is effortlessly captured without ever sounding dull or muddled as it sometimes tends to.

    The rolling electronic undulation of

    Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine is precise,

    punchy and sufficiently lively that you are drawn into the music. The role of the Auralic’s bespoke clock is hard to pin down, but there is a sense that some of the effortlessness that it displays in the face of fast and complex basslines is down to the assurance it has over timing. The Altair isn’t a ruthless, metronomic device, but it consistently exhibits a fluency and cohesion that makes up-tempo material incredibly appealing.

    There is little to criticise, but the tonality of some instruments – piano in particular – can come across as a little hard. A 24/96 download of Touch And Flee by the Neil Cowley Trio lacks some of the warmth and weight that I have heard it display on other devices and sounds a little cold and sterile here. Happily, this isn’t the case with everything and even under provocation with poor recordings, the Altair never becomes especially harsh or aggressive. Switching over to the headphone output and listening with Bowers & Wilkins’ P9 Signature headphone (HFC 421) suggests that the same qualities hold true here too. Compared with a dedicated headphone amplifier, the Altair sounds fractionally constrained but is comfortably up to the task of a spot of late-night listening. Bluetooth hookup performs quite superbly with lossless files from a Pioneer XDP-100R personal audio player (HFC 407). Switching to the network functionality, both Tidal and Qobuz implementations are effective and as someone that uses Tidal on a very regular basis, the Altair puts in an excellent performance. Switching between the stream of Genesis’ Dreaming While You Sleep and my own CD rip of it shows no differences that I can determine blindfolded, while sending the same material via AirPlay from the Tidal app on an iPad also produces only infinitesimal differences. While the twin aerial arrangement on the back of the Altair isn’t the most visibly elegant piece of industrial design I’ve ever seen, it is entirely stable in the time that it is connected and up and running in my setup.

    Conclusion

    At first glance, the rather scattergun nature of the Auralic’s specification can look a little like a product that has been designed by a committee, but the more time you spend with it the more sense it makes. Being able to run a drive on a closed network that can send material via USB and then being able to switch over to the network functionality to access streaming services is something that appeals to me very much. What’s more this is a seriously capable product that delivers excellent performance across its impressively comprehensive selection of inputs. It might not be a DAC in the standard sense of the product category, but the Altair is something that needs to be on your shortlist of digital sources anywhere near this price.

    Review by HI-FI Choice.

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