As a follow up to the recently released Auralic VEGA Dac, designer Xuanqian Wang decided to give his Taurus balanced headphone amplifier a refresh with the newest MkII revision ($1,899). The new version employs the same silver minimalist stylings as the VEGA and allows for both single ended and balanced headphone connections. As an added bonus he chose to include a pair of SE and balanced outputs, so the Taurus MkII is free to take on pre amplifier responsibilities as well. I am a big fan of the VEGAs design and build. The entire unit felt well kempt and detail-oriented. Likewise the Taurus is solid from top to bottom. While the 3 legs its chassis rests upon is designed to reduce vibrations from entering the component, plugging cables in to the back turned out to be slightly more prone to tipping left or right than the conventional 4 leg setup. Minor quibbles aside, everything works as it should. The Taurus runs though the courses with the expected panache of the full high-end experience. Its relatively heavy weight convinces you its innards are chock full of lovely audiophile-oriented components. Indeed, the size is the same as the VEGA, which was a fine choice by Wang. The chassis still large enough to be taken seriously (especially for a solid state head amp), but not so big that it takes up two parking spaces on the precious real estate of your desktop. It even makes a fine visual pairing with the Macbook Air I reviewed it with. Similarities between the two are easy to spot, the finish bears a close resemblance to the recognizable laptop line and the footprint is almost exactly the same. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
While not as quite as smooth to turn as the VEGA’s knob (which augmented the volume purely in the digital domain), the Taurus’ analog adjustment shares the same understated half-an-egg look and feels both deliberate and consistent to the touch. The volume sweep from low to high was well distributed and didn’t jump too quickly to louder listening levels. Both the singled ended ¼” and four pin XLR balanced jacks are tucked neatly into the front panel. The accompanying input and output switches keep things simple and direct. The “BAL” setting on the output toggle adds just bit of gain to the equation over the unfortunate acronym “STD” (for standard) unbalanced setting. Wang elaborates on these two modes, “BAL mode is true balanced driving (bridged driving, aka BTL). The STD mode is the typical singled-ended driving mode, even if you use the 4 pin balanced output. The input method does not affect the output mode. You can use a RCA input and still take advantage of the BAL output, the internal circuit will transfer the single-ended input signal to balanced one and drive the headphone.” The semi gloss black back of the unit features a fine array of input and output choices all clad with connections that feel like a step up in quality.
While many of the headphones I had on hand sounded outstanding through the Taurus, I found a nice synergy with the Audeze LCD-3 headphone. In fact, Wang let me know that this latest version even included a few new updates to help optimize performance for headphones like the LCD-3, including modifications to the input buffer circuit to insure lower noise levels. If nothing else, the four-pin XLR connection choice by Wang certainly allows for easy stock cable pairing with the Audeze headphone. The overall power driven through the amp is adequate for even the toughest to drive cans (2000mW into 300 ohms balanced). In BAL mode, the amplifier allowed for normal listening at a mere 10 o’clock. While a balanced configuration doesn’t always carry the same impact in every setup, I did find its implementation with the LCD-3 to be preferable over the SE connection (and STD setting) from the Taurus. I noticed more upper air and an even wider soundstage to set the music upon with very little else sacrificed in the transition. The 24/96 Fleetwood Mac classic Dreams features an identifiable high hat sound that hangs tenaciously in the right channel. The balanced connection created a sensation that swung this instrument sound further out than its SE counterpart. Any improvements to get the sound out of my head and placed more eloquently in front of (or around) me is always a welcome change when it comes to headphone listening. Switching the output switch back and forth between BAL and STD mode garnered even more subtleties on the low end. BAL produced fuller bass presentation and perhaps even a larger emphasis overall. Nothing even remotely close to a “boost”, but rather a simple, eloquent elaboration of the bottom frequencies.
Through either mode frequency response was as uniform and smooth as you would expect from an upper tier solid-state amplifier. Highs ring true with a natural transparency and are not overtly shrill or colored. The low end was equally impressive. Though a somewhat peculiar song overall, Hella Good by No Doubt has a very engrossing and interesting bass section at the start of the track. On lesser systems, much of the detail that is available within this frequency band section can be missed. Not merely a test of extension and fullness, the unique texture of the bass sounds provides even more insight into your systems presentation and capabilities. The Taurus did an outstanding job of translating this information. Fullness and texture rang true to form. I found myself really enjoying the bass shape and reach throughout my listening sessions. Amid the monstrous low-end gravity, I was still able to clearly identify the intricacies of the scratchy overtones that accompany this section.
The Taurus faded into the woodwork (in a good way) across many of the genres I threw at it. Simple, transparent and not overly boastful at any frequency, music flowed eloquently through the device with relative ease, making headphones pairings a bit easier. Still, I stuck with the LCD-3 for most of my evaluations as it was one of my preferences in a balanced setup from the Benchmark DAC2 D I used as a source. Through the Taurus, headphones were able to deftly deliver less of a “canned” sound and earned full marks for naturalism. Wang went into further detail on the tech of the amplifier; “The ORFEO output module makes a substantial contribution to the sound of the Taurus as it is a class-A design. By utilizing a mass number of small power components rather than one big one we were able to deliver better linearity with lower distortion and also allow for bigger output power at reasonable size. We also implemented an ultra-low noise high input impedance buffer circuit, which helps pass more of the musical detail from the recording to your ear.” Detail was present and accounted for. Imaging was sharp and focused as any amplifier in this price range and trickled down into the naturalness of the whole listening experience. The recorded sounds from drum kit tom toms are fairly difficult to reproduce with any sense of realism. Perhaps one of the most overlooked pieces of percussion, I find their sound to vary quite a bit upon playback, marred by flat, generic or odd tone. Toms are usually overpowered by everything else going on, and their rather infrequent use isn’t going raise them as a priority production element any time soon. At the end of the day, these filler drums rarely sound the same in recordings as they do when you sit behind the kit. That being said, I did feel the Taurus helped this “second tier” drum situation course correct a bit. Drum fills across the board felt slightly more dimensional and true to life. If a quick accent popped up, the dynamics remained more intact. When a tom fill sped across the soundstage from right to left, its arc felt wider and more luxurious in its travels.
As I listened to the Doors Love Her Madly it was easy to pick out each individual instrument from the stereo field. John Densmore's drums are set just to the right side of center within the track. While not panned nearly as far as the early Beatles recordings, its virtual location was easily determined and yet completely separated from Ray Manzarek's tell tale organ across the clear, intentional sonic stage. Everything was laid out beautifully in the field for all to see. I even discovered an understated tambourine section during the chorus I hadn’t noticed before. The location of instruments (including Morrison’s voice) was precise and focused. Unruly clarity and distortion can rob music of its dimensionality, like peering at a mailbox through cloudy window with one eye. The Taurus did an excellent job of evading such pitfalls. Through the amplifier music appeared as it was intended, where it was intended.
As a pre amplifier the Taurus performed admirably. I introduced the unit into my loudspeaker setup between my Oppo BDP-105 source and Calyx Audio Femti power amplifier (as opposed to running the Oppo direct to the Calyx). Relative dynamics and responsiveness improved in a similar fashion to the Auralic VEGA's performance as a pre amp. While the lack of remote (for the Taurus) makes it an unlikely scenario for a full size rig, those adventurous enough to employ an array of desktop loudspeaker components may find use of it.
As far as dedicated headphone amplifiers go, the Taurus is a versatile piece. Its balanced options and affinity towards the Audeze LCD-3 make it a must-try if you already own the headphone. It’s presence is comprehensively subtle, but engaging none-the-less. The amplification it supplies is accented by firm bass, a wide stage and accuracy with very little external coloring. While amplifier options at this price point start to broaden, the Taurus keeps up with expectations. The simplistic external design and build is equally as impressive as the svelte matching VEGA DAC and the overall sonic experience is just as enjoyable as its digital brother. Backed by a well-rounded source, the Auralic Taurus would make a fine supplement to an audiophile’s desktop rig.
Taurus MKII Gallery
- Product - Auralic Taurus MKII Balanced Headphone Amp
- Price - $1,899
- Product Page - Link
Where To Buy:
- Source: MacBook Air, Oppo BDP-105
- DAC/PreAmp/HeadAmp: Benchmark DAC2 D
- Additional Headphone Amplifiers: Woo WA6SE, ALO International
- Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, Sennheiser HD650, Sennheiser Momentum, JHAudio JH16, Grado SR80, V-Modo M80
- Amplifier: Calyx Femti
- Loudspeakers: Zu Soul MkII
- Playback Software: Audirvana Plus
- Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Custom JE Audio Design Cables
About The Author
I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.