Over the last couple days tech writers have released their initial reviews for Apple's new Mac products containing the M1 system on a chip (SoC). The opinions and measurements are nearly unanimous, the new platform's performance is objectively and subjectively better than all but the highest powered Intel based Macs. The battery life is lightyears better than everything that came before the M1. Following the glowing prose, the conversation usually turns to the reasons why Apple continues to succeed in this and other areas. The technical reasons are twofold. First, Apple has the engineering expertise and second, Apple controls both the software and the hardware. It's this tight integration between software and hardware that enables the best engineers to go beyond the capabilities of split systems and enables consumers to realize the benefits with respect to performance, usability, customization, and product support.
What does this have to do with the AURALiC ARIES G2.1? The answer is simple. AURALiC is a next generation HiFi company that controls both the hardware and the software in all of its products, and the ARIES G2.1 is the newest iteration of a digital centerpiece that's clearly the result of this complete control. The ARIES G2.1 is the best ARIES AURALiC has ever developed and hosts its class leading Lightning DS software platform that is also currently the best version the company has created to date. Let's take a look at why the ARIES G2.1 is a digital source component around which to build an entire HiFi system.
From Zero to Point One
The new G2.1 series is the culmination of AURALiC's research into hardware design that squeezes every ounce of sonic performance from its original G2 platform. The G2.1's unity chassis II is a serious upgrade over the original. G2.1 features a chassis within a chassis design. The external visible casework is made of high grade aluminum. Fans of AURALiC have come to know and love the look and feel of this outer shell. It exudes quality visually and to the touch. The new internal enclosure is made of audiophile favorite, and for good reason, copper. This new chassis design enhances EMI shielding and is extremely solid when given a knock with one's knuckles. Doesn't everyone do that with a product that looks bulletproof?
Helping take the G2.1 literally to new heights is what AURALiC calls a sculpted metal base, heavyweight foundation. Visually it's a slice of luxury that serves equal parts form and function. The base adds mass to the G2.1 that wasn't possible with the original chassis. This base also provides the simplest visual distinction between the original G2 and G2.1 products.
Tying the exterior to the interior is a new suspension spike system created to help isolate vibrations. According to AURALiC, "Potentially harmful vibrations are absorbed within the six-coiled-spring, acoustically-calibrated core of each foot, with each spring tuned to a different tension point..." Isolation has always been important to high fidelity, but recently more companies have released separate vibration control products such as Wilson Audio's Pedestal. The beauty of the ARIES G2.1 is that this type of engineering is built into the product.
Internally the G2.1 series received a USB upgrade to better support more USB DACs and the separate HDD USB port received a slight power boost due to more power hungry external USB drives.
Looking at the hardware upgrades in and of themselves, the G2.1 isn't a revolutionary upgrade. This is why AURALiC wisely elected to call it a point one upgrade rather than trick consumers into thinking the update was massive by calling it G3. The upgrade is easily worth it for those of us who must have the best, for those of us who like to have the newest version, and for those who have ARIES versions prior to G2. Without an original G2 here for comparison, I can't easily quantify the sonic difference between G2 and G2.1. Given the engineering that went into this upgrade, it's certainly an audition I'd undertake if I owned a G2 and was considering moving to the G2.1.
ARIES G2.1 As A Centerpiece
The AURALiC ARIES G2.1 is a component that should be considered the centerpiece of one's high end audio system. Its feature set is fantastic, sound and build quality are fantastic, and AURALiC is a company I frequently recommend to friends. The team is principled, honest, and full of people who are fun to talk with over a pot of tea (Young mountain's Organic Nepali Golden Black if I'm hosting). I can't stress enough how important the people at HiFI companies are when it comes to product selection. Yes, the actual product must perform and be priced in one's range, but I always recommend purchasing from companies like AURALiC, who provide much more than a box.
Many DACs have somewhat similar capabilities, as the ARIES G2.1, built-in, but a separation of powers usually equates to more powers in each device, greater flexibility, better performance, better features, and more options. I'm a big supporter of splitting my digital interface / source from the rest of my system because it enables me to have the best of both worlds. The best digital interface and the best DAC.
Speaking of interface, AURALiC's custom developed Lightning DS software interface / platform is both an indicator of this company's technical chops and a huge differentiator between it and much of the competition. With the exception of desktop systems, most of us only use a graphical user interface (GUI) to operate our HiFi systems and peruse our music collections. Thus, the importance of such software can't be underestimated.
I recently reviewed the Bryston BDA-3.14. A product that features Bryston's Manic Moose software and works with a few third party applications. To be 100% honest and fair, that system isn't even in the same league as AURALiC's Lightning DS. Lightning DS is unequivocally better in every way. The problems I had with Manic Moose were major and showstoppers for many people. The problems I have with Lightning DS are usually items on AURALiC's list of coming improvements or have been resolved quickly by its capable technical team. With a great foundation, that's developed in-house, it's easier to expand upon the features and resolve small issues that pop up. Lightning DS is a solid foundation and one that alleviates any anxiety about the platform's future.
When I received the ARIES G2.1, I also made sure to obtain a third party optical CD drive (model: ODPS1203-SU3). This is because the Lightning DS platform also supports CD playback and ripping. The process of playback or ripping is extremely simple and it's a great way to easily add new music to one's collection. There are better ways to rip an entire collection of hundreds of albums, but I think LIghtning's CD functionality is more than adequate for new library additions. One item to consider is the esoteric number of new CDs to be added via this method. If most new CDs ripped by Lighting are very rare imports without much distribution, the metadata may need to be added manually after the disc is ripped, using a third party application. On the other hand, if new CDs are fairly popular releases, Lightning will have no trouble ripping and tagging them.
In my tests, it took 15 minutes to rip Little Girl Blue (TBM-33), 8 tracks, and 40 minute total running time. Lightning isn't the fastest ripper, but that's by design. Accuracy of one's data is paramount. Ripping a little slower enables Lightning to ensure the CDs are ripped perfectly. Similarly, if a CD is used for playback, it is read multiple times and buffered into memory prior to playback. In essence, playback is the same as playing from a USB drive or NAS because the data is sent to memory using any one of these methods.
When it comes to features, sonic performance, and nearly any other measure, the ARIES G2.1 more than qualifies to be the digital centerpiece of a HiFi system.
In My System
I've used almost every AURALiC product made to date, yes this includes the very underrated and little known GEMINI 2000, and I've used them in every way imaginable. This includes numerous different combinations of NAS, Roon, internal storage, etc... AURALiC's platform and products are so flexible that the options are endless. Reviewing the ARIES G2.1 I decided to use only a USB connected hard drive to store my music. The option is there, and I'm sure it's a great one for many people without gigantic music collections, so I thought I'd give it a try. I tried both a large USB flash drive and my recently discovered Yottamaster HC1-C3 SSD drive with built-in cloning for backup.
I initially copied my music to the USB drive while it was connected to my computer, then connected it to the ARIES G2.1. When new releases arrived I attempted to copy them to the USB drive while it was connected to the ARIES G2.1. Doing this I discovered a bug in the platform. This was reproduced by the AURALiC team and fixed in an update to the Lightning platform. One beautiful thing about controlling everything from hardware to software, is that support is much simpler for the manufacturer and the customer benefits greatly. Since the fix was applied, I've been copying new Three Blind Mice albums to the ARIES G2.1 over the network without any issues.
Using the Lightning DS iOS app to scan my USB stored library and stream from Qobuz was very nice. The app was blazing fast when it came to browsing, searching and playback. The more I use Lightning DS, the more I like it. I can very easily see people using only this app and the ARIES G2.1 as the Lightning server, and calling it a day. There's no need for a third party application to get the most from the ARIES G2.1. That said, I know a few people who absolutely must have Roon. Fortunately, the ARIES G2.1 is a certified Roon Ready endpoint and works flawlessly in this configuration.
Note: One benefit to using Lightning DS as opposed to Roon is that Lightning DS will show the user all the new releases from Qobuz/Tidal as soon as they are available. Roon requires a cloud database update to even see these releases. This can take a day to accomplish and leave the newest releases unavailable through its interface. I played the new Taylor Swift via Lightning DS while Roon couldn't even see the album. This is nice to have for those of us who love music and have no patience.
One thing I'd like to see in the Lightning DS iOS app is the ability to identify high resolution and explicit releases in Qobuz search results, without tapping into each album. I want the highest resolution releases available and I absolutely must have the most explicit version available. Radio edits without swearing didn't work for me in grade school and nothing has changed with respect to my desire for the original work of uncensored art. The reason I really want this feature in Lighting DS can be shown in the following example. Taylor Swift's new album has four versions available on Qobuz. I want the high resolution explicit version. Yet, I have no way to determine which version is the one I want, without listening for explicit lyrics. I can tap into each album to see the resolution, but even that could be displayed on the album cover in search results. Anyway, not a showstopper by any means. Just a nice to have feature.
I listened extensively to the ARIES G2.1 in several systems I have running in my room. One great thing about this digital centerpiece is that it works with so many other components. I connected it to a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 via AES, an EMM Labs DV2 via USB, and a Denafrips Terminator via USB. All three of these require different things from the ARIES G2.1 and it succeeded without issue at all tasks.
Listening via AES and the flagship Berkeley DAC, the ARIES G2.1 delivered a pristine digital stream void of any noise or any possible sonic degradation. I know many of my friends are big fans of the Berkeley Alpha USB to clean up audio signals prior to the Berkeley DACs, but I'm not certain such a device is necessary when using the flagship ARIES G2.1. Given the RS3 only accepts PCM signals, the ARIES G2.1 easily converted all DSD signals to PCM at sample rates accepted on the RS3's input. Extensive listening reveals the G2.1's AES output is very good to say the least.
Connected via USB to the flagship EMM Labs DAC, I used the ARIES G2.1 mainly to send DSD over PCM / DoP data as a test. Yes, this should work and sound fantastic given the system, but testing is always required. It was no surprise that the G2.1 is a stellar source when paired with an EMM DAC. As a recent example, I listened to the new Taylor Swift album Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions, several times through this system and my RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones. These are the best headphones I've ever heard and most transparent audio device I've ever used. If there's a problem with the ARIES G2.1, I would've heard it easily (as I have with other components). This new album sounds great from the ARIES G2.1 to the EMM to a Constellation Audio amp to the SR1a.
I recently took delivery of a Denafrips Terminator, and just had to use its USB input for native DSD at ultra high sample rates. I configured the ARIES G2.1 to resample all DSD content to DSD512 before outputting via USB to the Terminator. This not only worked flawlessly, it sounded flawless. AURALiC's resampler is very good at outputting these ultra high DSD sample rates. I actually expected to find an issue with this, using native DSD, but there was nothing to be found. Listening to my beloved Three Blind Mice Supreme Collection 1500 from 44.1 to DSD512 through the ARIES G2.1 was fabulous. I have no doubt the G2.1 is a reference level component on par with the best digital source components available. For example, playing the Isao Suzuki Trio's album Blow Up through the ARIES G2.1 and the Terminator revealed everything from the micro details at the heist frequencies to delivering the heft and texture of the lowest cello frequencies. BY the time I passed one minute into the first track, I didn't need to listen any longer to render my unequivocal opinion about the ARIES G2.1, but why mess up a good thing. I listened to the entire album uninterrupted, transported to Aoi Studio in Tokyo, Japan in 1977. It's hard to believe how much information is on old recordings. After using the ARIES G2.1 for several weeks, it's not hard to believe that this information is there for the taking, or should I say listening. As long as one's components are in the same class as the G2.1, it's all possible.
As a company, AURALiC represents the next generation of HiFi, of HiFi progress and innovation, and limitless capability. It has in-house talent on a level about which 99% of manufacturers can only dream. Full control over both hardware and software, and the engineering prowess to actually do something about it, is standard for Apple but is rare in HiFi. The end product from all of this is the flagship AURALiC G2.1 series. The ARIES G2.1 is the best all digital Streaming Transporter the company has ever built. The difference between the original ARIES products is large in every category while the delta between the G2 and G2.1 is likely appreciable for the most avid HiFI enthusiasts.
I've been a fan and user of the AURALiC ARIES series products since day one. I know them inside and out and know just how good the hardware and software are compared to the competition. The ARIES G2.1 is without a doubt a perfect component to have as the centerpiece of one's digital universe. It has features for days, sound quality on par with the best, future upgradability via software, great support, and is designed and manufactured by a company I proudly recommend to my closest friends. Recommended with enthusiasm.
Community Star Ratings and Reviews
I encourage those who have experience with the AURALiC ARIES G2.1 to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
- AURALiC ARIES G2.1 ($4,799 or $5,199 with 2TB Internal Storage)
- AURALiC ARIES G2.1 Product Page
- AURALiC ARIES G2.1 User's Guide (1.2MB PDF)
- AURALiC ARIES G2.1 CD Playback & Ripping Guide (1.1MB PDF)
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.