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Disclaimer: I currently do not own any Auralic products. My review is based on experiences with a 6 months old white Auralic Aries Mini loaned from a friend.
With the Auralic Aries, the Chinese manufacturer Auralic has stirred up the audiophile industry quite a bit. The Auralic Aries was truly the first high-end product designed purely for music streaming purposes. Unfortunately, it was just that – a streamer with digital outputs for an external DAC. So on top of the $2000+ price, you still need a good digital-to-analog converter. That’s a bit expensive for many music lovers and so Auralic decided to release a “Mini” version in good old Apple fashion ;)
So how does the Mini actually differ from its bigger brothers? Well, at just a hair under $500 with a time-limited Tidal membership, it’s a whole lot cheaper for sure. It also looks different. You won’t find any displays or controls except for the power button and the Mini looks pretty much like an earlier Mac Mini.
I’m not going to write tons about the connectivity because you can find the detailed specs at Auralics website:
What’s the difference between the Aries LE, Aries Femto and the new Mini?
On the inside, you’ll find a lot more differences. The Mini also comes with a very, very good DAC! So you won’t need anything external. The DAC chip itself is the slightly lower speced 32bit ESS Sabre 9018K2M (mobile version) which inherits many quality attributes from its larger sibling the ESS9018. I tried the Auralic Aries Mini briefly comparing it to an exensive Ayre DAC and to be honest, I couldn’t tell much of a difference. Of course I should have listened for longer periods but I am confident to say that this is damned impressive for for less than $500. You essentially get the streaming features for free, that’s how good I’d rate the DAC section.
The PCB design is fantastic. It’s easy to see that a team of professional designers has done the layout.
The Mini supports PCM and DSD playback right out of the box. A great feature I personally love, is the 2.5″ harddrive slot inside the Aries Mini. So there’s no need to set up any NAS drives if all you want is an “offline” music server that quietly sits on your Hifi rack. Oh an it does Internet Radio as well.
You can of course add an external USB hard drive if you wish. The Auralic Aries Mini comes with unbalanced RCA outputs, a USB output for an external DAC and the usual SP/DIF ouputs (optical and coaxial). Hardware-wise the differences between the more expensive Aries is a simpler clocking circuitry in the Mini which is more prone to jitter. In addition, you are getting a slower 1 GHz processor and just 512MB RAM. This leaves high-performance features such as digital room correction to the full-sized Aries.
But everything else is unchanged – support for streaming services Qobuz, Tidal, WIMP (unfortunately no Spotify unless you stream it via Apple AirPlay) and you will be using the excellent Lightning DS software that is also used being used with the standard Aries.
Unfortunately, the Aries lives in the Apple ecosystem so you are not going to get Android apps.
I’d wholeheartely recommend the Auralic Aries Mini to anyone seeking a simple yet audiophile-grade streaming solution. You can further upgrade the sound quality by purchasing a better power supply (available directly from Auralic dealers) or by attaching a better DAC although you probably need to spend a true fortune to better the integrated DAC but that’s just my opinion.
Here’s the big question: does it sound better than my DIY Raspberry PI streamers? Hmm, I’d say they are about the same with the PI being a whole lot cheaper. But if you want a ready-made solution, nothing beats the Aries with its great software and seamless integration of Qobuz and Tidal.
I had a lot of fun playing around with the various features. Thanks a lot Tom for your “review” sample which I am returning :) Who knows, maybe I’ll own an Aries some day in the future.