Altair G1.1: all this and great sound in one box

Altair G1.1: all this and great sound in one box

May 24, 2023

Reviewed by The EAR: 
https://the-ear.net/review-hardware/altair-g1-1-all-this-and-great-sound/

The Altair G1.1 is priced to attract the serious entrant to the streaming audio game. It has the high build quality we associate with Auralic components and offers all the features that the modern audio enthusiasts requires for top flight entertainment without having to leave the listening seat.

The least expensive one box streaming solution that Auralic makes the Altair in its G1.1 guise has a more substantial case than the previous G1. Features include the ability to stream from NAS or USB drives, access to all the key streaming services including some that are not often seen on a dedicated streamer, and the full range of volume, parametric EQ and sample rate controls that comes with the comprehensively equipped Auralic Lightning control app.

The physical change from G1 is to the casework where an extra base plate has been added to the chassis and finished in silver to contrast with the black anodised body of the machine. This is designed to enhance casework rigidity with the aim of reducing vibration within the electronics. It might seem strange that a component with no moving parts is sensitive to vibration but numerous experiments with isolating platforms and feet show that they are as easy to upset as devices like turntables. On the bigger Auralic G2.1 models sprung feet are added to further reduce vibration. Like snooker players, electronics perform better if they are physically calm.

This is not the only change however, the Altair G1.1 has a high accuracy femto clock and allows a SATA drive, HDD or SSD, to be fitted inside. This brings the option of high quality music storage at a very reasonable price, a 2TB SSD drive can be had for less than £100, and the direct connection plus good quality power supply means that such drives have the potential to sound very good indeed. Another useful feature is that with an external disc drive (USB DVD drive) it’s possible to rip discs to the internal or external HDD/SSD storage. You can also play CDs via the same transport albeit sound quality is not likely to compete with the same disc once it has been ripped. Being a computer peripheral such transports are also inexpensive if a little plasticky, if you want to push the boat out Melco make the D100 but that will set you back about half the price of the Altair G1.1.

Ease of use!

On the streaming services front Lightning gives direct access to Qobuz, Tidal/Connect, Spotify/Connect, Highresaudio and Amazon music, there is also KKBox which is big in Asia. On the wireless front it has twin aerials for network connection as well as Bluetooth and Airplay 2 for those occasions when ease of use trumps sound quality, apparently this has been known to happen in the real world…

The Lightning DS app is limited to iOS devices but is a well executed and nicely laid out piece of control software, it gives access to local collections in all manner of ways alongside the usual artist and album listings with search functionality. You can browse by year, by format and by genre if your metadata is up to the job on that front, mine isn’t but most of the artwork and titles are in place these days.

 

On the connection front the Altair G1.1 is ready for the majority of digital sources with coaxial, optical, balanced and USB available. The presence of USB seems odd on a streamer/DAC but there are always new music sources that can only be accessed via PC and this connection will outperform the wireless alternatives. The RJ45 socket is for ethernet connection to the network and the USB A marked HDD is for USB drives or a CD transport as mentioned earlier.

There’s no analogue input but output is on both balanced and single ended connections with Auralic preferring the XLR of the former. This route did not suit my pre/power combo however, at least not with the output fixed, as the signal was too powerful and induced clipping with some tracks (the option exists to reduce output by 6 or 12dB). When listening with my own preamp I used the single ended RCAs, with the Altair G1.1’s volume control I ran balanced cables directly into the power amp.

The sound of the Altair G1.1

This is a tough one because like other Auralic streamers the Altair is very low on character. It is extremely neutral and even handed, each track or album sounds distinct and unlike others. You can hear the studio techniques, the age of the recording and the full character of the musicians, which all take precedence over the sound of the streamer itself. It is not as refined or revealing as an Aries G1.1 with a good DAC but you wouldn’t expect it to be, it’s close though and the difference is mainly down to degrees in the noise floor and certain aspects of imaging.

You can have the Altair G1.1 learn commands from any handset and this is useful for fine volume control but pretty much everything else can be controlled from the app, including volume. The display on the machine shows quite a bit of information including album art but turning it off/having it dim after a chosen length of time does seem to enhance sound quality, and all the info you need is on the app. I enjoyed a wide variety of music on this streamer, starting off with the angsty vibes of Slint which showed just how quiet the background is on the Auralic, and continuing Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell on the former’s Gershwin covers album. Here the plush nature of the recording was made clear with a warm yet open sound that wasn’t short on bass power.



I found a lovely bit of solo bass by Michael Manring called Selene on Qobuz, this was placed almost entirely behind the speakers thanks to the Altair G1.1’s imaging skills, and sounded so melodic and charming that you almost forgot the nature of the instrument making the sound. Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic revealed just how good this streamer is at timing. Sometimes having streamer and DAC in the same chassis is an advantage and this is a good example. Removing cable often seems to benefit this vulnerable quality and that proved the case here, the bass guitar was deep and reverberant and the voice and rhythm guitar precisely in sync with it. This quality undoubtedly helped Bugge Wesseltoft’s Duo album to be unusually engaging as well, in fact it was immersive and not a little cosmic.

With the Altair G1.1 connected directly to my Moor Amps Angel 6 power amp which was driving PMC twenty5.26i speakers in turn it was easy to enjoy some powerful live grooves from a recent album by edbl. Here the atmosphere filled the room and power of the bass created a genuinely live feel. I also tried some vintage Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but the degree of compression/limiting employed made this less enjoyable. It’s not supposed to sound natural but it’s a pity that good music like this was undermined in the quest for commercial success.

Another contemporary release, The World in Air Quotes by The God in Hackney, is a masterclass in progressive rock for the 21st century, it has power and aggression but the sound never becomes hard and edgy. As a result the track Bardo was very easy to enjoy and I had to play rather more of the album than was planned.

You can have the Altair G1.1 learn commands from any handset and this is useful for fine volume control but pretty much everything else can be controlled from the app, including volume. The display on the machine shows quite a bit of information including album art but turning it off/having it dim after a chosen length of time does seem to enhance sound quality, and all the info you need is on the app. I enjoyed a wide variety of music on this streamer, starting off with the angsty vibes of Slint which showed just how quiet the background is on the Auralic, and continuing Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell on the former’s Gershwin covers album. Here the plush nature of the recording was made clear with a warm yet open sound that wasn’t short on bass power.

I have enjoyed Auralic streamers with a wi-fi rather than ethernet connection in the past and tried this here, yet possibly because the cabled side of my network is rather better sorted today the results did not encourage further listening without wire. The wi-fi approach sounded fine in the background but for more dedicated listening the wired link proved vastly superior, with far more focus and expression coming through. I also contrasted the onboard HDD with my Melco server, this made it clear that while the Melco has a more relaxed and easy balance the HDD delivers clearly superior timing. The results with both are very good which suggests that the onboard option is a bit of a bargain.

Altair G1.1 verdict

Auralic put a lot into the Altair G1.1 and if past practice is anything to go by they will continue to do so well into the future. Auralic’s firmware upgrades are compatible with all previous streamers, including the original 2014 Aries, which is not something that many other brands can say. Add to this the massive feature set, onboard hard drive option and sound quality that is excellent at its price point and the Altair G1.1 looks like even better value. Those looking to find out what can be achieved with a well-built yet reasonably priced streamer will be hard pressed to find better.

Author:
Jason Kennedy




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