Not long ago most manufacturers couldn't comprehend why a digital to digital converter would be necessary. Auralic had its finger on the pulse of consumers and jumped in the D to D market very early. The original Aries was one of the most popular products on Computer Audiophile upon its release. Its unique shape, unique internal design, and unique feature set were among the added benefits to its great sound. Realizing the Aries concept was still very valid and that the original design could be improved quite a bit, Auralic set out to make the Aries G2 worthy of flagship status. Based on my experience with the Aries G2, I believe it checks all the boxes of a flagship component and its sound quality contends with reference level components.
Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang Baby
The Aries G2 is one of four products designed together that make up this top of the line series for Auralic. The Vega G2 DAC, Sirius G2 Upsampling Processor, and Leo GX Reference Master Clock are the Aries' siblings. This stack of components looks fabulous and offers a level of performance and features that only the top brands in the industry have previously offered. What's more, Auralic has done it at a fraction of the price.
The Aries G2 fits into the digital to digital converter category because it receives and transmits only digital audio, but this component is much more than most D to D converters. If I was to place the Aries G2 on a Gartner Magic Quadrant with performance going up the left side and features running from left to right on the bottom, it would no doubt be in the upper right quadrant as a leader. Add to that the beautiful design and build quality, and it's easy to see the Aries G2 is something special.
Visually the Aries G2 is in a class with the best in the business. Its thick all aluminum chassis with the name Auralic, drilled into the top with a CNC machine, oozes luxury. The feel of the metal is incredibly smooth and sturdy. The front panel is full of delightful design touches as well. The slight curve to the face of the Aries G2 not only separates the men from the boys with respect to product design and fabrication, but it also means Auralic had to step up its game for the front panel buttons. A curved front panel with flat buttons just wouldn't do for customers at this level or for the detail oriented team at Auralic. The team invested serious engineering resources to create buttons with matching curves. Each button has a slightly different profile based on where it is on the face of the component. Looking at the Aries G2 from the top down, it's easy to see the skilled craftsmanship that enabled the buttons to sit flush with the curved front panel.
The front display is also a major step up from the original Aries text only display. The full color display is vibrant with crisp letters for easy viewing even at a distance. I can see the track title, number, volume, with a quick glance. The numbers displaying the track time are a bit small, though still crisp, but the circle that goes from left to right indicating the current position within the track is easy to see and understand. Album art also looks very good on the Aries G2 display. I used to believe that component displays were unnecessary because everyone has the album art and numbers on their iPads and phones but I've really come around to the other side on this one. I love to see the artwork in full vibrant colors while looking straight ahead between my speakers. After all, it's nice to put the iOS device down once in a while.
On the rear of the Aries G2 Auralic made connecting and disconnecting cables much easier than the previous generation of Aries. I remember wishing for the fingers of a little person when trying to remove an Ethernet cable from the original Aries. Now with the G2 all of my cable issues are gone. There is plenty of room in the back for even the most audiophile of cables, in other words thick and sometimes ridiculous. My only complaint with the look and feel of the Aries G2 is the traditional late nineties wireless antennas. I've talked to the Auralic team about this a few times and they say it isn't trivial to embed an antenna into the chassis. They've looked at it and know how to do it, but it would increase the cost of the final product higher than they were willing go.
Note: Made in China. What!? Think about it, the company was founded in China and the products are designed in China. It makes zero sense to outsource the assembly to the United Stated or European Union, when the company can build the products itself and have its hands on all aspects of the design and build.
So Sit Back, Relax, and Strap on Your Seatbelt
I'm no stranger to Auralic. I've used or reviewed almost every product the company has ever produced. I've used Auralic products with DLNA / UPnP servers, JRiver Media Center, Aurender, Roon, and even iTunes back in the day. Lately I've been really into using products in what I call their native environments. When using the Aries G2 I mainly used Auralic's Lightning DS application for iOS. Sure I used Roon a bit to verify functionality and sound quality, but I spent the large majority of my time using Auralic's own creations. I also went the extra step of placing an SSD drive into the Aries G2's 2.5" internal hard drive slot. I wanted to see what the user experience was like if I stored my music on the internal drive and used the built-in LightningServer. I've done this in the past, but like to follow up due to the continuous improvements made by Auralic's software team. One additional benefit of Auralic's Lightning DS platform is its support for Qobuz streaming of not only 16 bit / 44.1 kHz music but high resolution up to the Qobuz maximum of 24 bit / 192 kHz.
This simple system consisted of the Auralic Aries G2, with my music stored on an SSD inside the unit, connected to my network via WiFi. I tried Ethernet as well and found no issues, so I wanted to put the Aries G2 through a harder test by using wireless. The Aries G2 was connected to a dCS Rossini via USB for half the time and via AES for the other half. I disabled the volume control on the Aries G2 because I used the volume control on the Rossini or the Constellation Audio preamp, prior to the music entering the Constellation mono amplifiers.
I started listening though the Aries G2 using a bunch of newer music I learned about from our incredibly good Minnesota public radio station The Current 89.3. It's all about music all the time, and shouldn't be confused with the Minnesota public radio news station 91.1. I was listening to the new J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) album Elastic Days and a great track from Santigold called Run the Road. I was into the music but I just couldn't get into the sound of my system. So, I did what I haven't done many years. I pulled up some classic audiophile standards and let 'em rip.
I started off with Diana Krall's Live in Paris. I really love the track A Case of You. Written by fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, Krall really nails this song live. One can really feel emotion in her voice when she sings, "I drew a map of Canada, Oh Canada." It's hard to hear any emotion in most of the standards she sings because they are meaningless to her. A Case of You is a bit different and it shows.
Listening through the Auralic Aries G2 I heard the sound of the L'Olympia venue, built in 1888, especially around Diana's voice. This was very different for me, as reverb and sound bouncing off nearby walls or floors is only something I usually hear from traditional albums made in a studio. Perhaps Krall's Steinway is reflecting back some frequencies, but that's just a wild guess. At any rate, the sound as a whole was nothing short of beautiful and captivating. Shut out the lights, listen for the couple of audience coughs during the intro, and it's possible to be transported to the front row back in December 2001.
Staying with the audiophile soundtrack, I went back to 1997 and listened to Diana Krall's Love Scenes album. There's no denying the first track All Or Nothing At All can sound fantastic and checks many audiophile boxes with a female vocal, deep double bass and a nice clean piano near the end. Listening through the Aries G2 enabled all of this track's golden sound to come through my TAD CR1 loudspeakers. The aggressive string plucks of Christian McBride on the double bass and its deepest notes are impressive and tight, right from the first second of playback.
I listened to this album several times, switching between the Aries G2's USB output and AES/EBU output. I wanted to find out if I could hear a difference between the outputs. The answer to this question won't please many people who are looking for a straight black and white answer or for me to tell them what's best. Based on my listening the answer is, it depends. Using the dCS Rossini both outputs of the Aries G2 sounded identical. Moving to the EMM Labs flagship DA2 I definitely heard better sound via the Aries G2's AES output. Put another way, I heard the best sound via the DA2's AES input. I'm willing to bet the slight haze I heard via USB had more to do with the DA2's input than the Aries G2's output. Some DACs just perform better via AES rather than USB.
Moving to another artist that has pleased many an audiophile ear over the years, I pulled up some Patricia Barber. On Barber's Modern Cool (MFSL) album the track titled Company is what sold me on trading in a pair of Martin Logan ReQuests for a pair of B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers at HiFi Sound & Electronics in Minneapolis in 1999. Listening this time through TADs and the Auralic Aries G2 rather than a Krell CD player, this track was mighty impressive. The deep bass, yet also extremely controlled, that reaches down as low as my speakers can go is something to behold. However, the real star of the show is Mark Walker's drum solo that starts about 2:40 into the track. I can't say I've ever hear this solo sound better or more like a real drum set in my entire audiophile life. There just isn't much more to say than that. Best I've ever heard this track? Probably.
Shortly after discovering Patricia Barber in my young audiophile life, I discovered the First Impressions Music (FIM) label and its version of her Cafe Blue album. The opening track What A Shame is an old favorite of mine. Playing it through the Aries G2 brought back good memories but also put me in an incredibly relaxed state. Mark Walker again on percussion is masterful in that he hangs in the background but is ever present throughout the track. He completely makes this track for me and it sounds so great through the Aries G2 and dCS Rossini combination. Walker's continuous tapping of what sounds like congas is so realistic one can visualize everything but the color of the wood on the congas. As each hand slapped the skins I heard a full bodied sound with the initial transient and quick yet luscious decay. It's hard to believe I enjoyed this album so much but when everything in a system comes together it's possible to hear true magic that transports one to somewhere other than a listening chair. Great stuff and what this wonderful hobby is all about for me.
G2 Wrap Up
Here's my honest take on the Auralic Aries G2. The Aries G2 is a great reference level digital to digital converter plus so much more. The G2 is beautifully designed and crafted to match a whole series of G2 level components and to equal the quality one should expect from something at the top of the line. In most reviews I listen to music that many people consider un-audiophile. When listening through the Aries G2 I went back to my roots and tapped Diana Krall and Patricia Barber for my music supply. Tracks from these two made judging components somewhat easier than my standard Rage Against The Machine type music. No matter what album or track I played, I heard magic through the Aries G2 and my selection of reference DACs from dCS, EMM Labs, and Berkeley Audio Design. Granted my alternative music recorded in a garage on a shoestring budget wasn't improved by the Aries G2, but that's exactly how it's supposed to work. No adding a little sweetener to something dull or memorializing a transient event. The Auralic Aries G2 is definitely C.A.S.H. List worthy. I can't wait to connect it to the rest of the G2 series.