I’d been experimenting with Mac and DAC solutions for time before finally settling on Audirvana 2.6.8 on a 8Gb iMac running 10.12.4. I’ve been driving the USB input on my Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 for an improved sound over the inbuilt streamer and at the same time retain the advantage of Internet radio and easy remote control. I get on well with the Audirvana user interface but it can be slow and buggy at times driving the Mac system from the iPad, which is frustrating.
The opportunity to move my office system Cambridge Audio NP-30 on to a new home also gave me the chance to rotate systems – improve the office system by installing the Stream Magic 6 and find a new digital front-end for my main system. I still have a bundle of options open for my main system upgrade and am currently looking at Lyngdorf, NAD Master, Auralic, Devialet and Benchmark products to fit the bill. In the meantime I bought an Auralic ARIES Mini from Audio Emotion. I paid £449.00.
There’s little in the box. Even though I’d seen and heard the ARIES Mini at hi-fi shows handing this tiny package comes as a surprise – especially when you realise over a third is fresh air if you don’t opt to fit an HDD or SDD (a kit is provided). Auralic strongly recommends wireless connectivity but having heard of setup issue with the Apple Airport Extreme that I use for my wireless network I decided to go Ethernet. Installation could not be simpler. Two line out connections and power in is all that’s needed at first if like me you wish to use the on-board DAC. (There are USB, co-ax and Toslink optical connections if you opt to drive a DAC with the ARIES Mini.) The installation manual is elegant and brief (I used to design and write them so I should know!) ending on page 6 with a QR code – from here on everything is done via Auralic’s Lightning DS control software on the iPad. (I’ll look at Lighting DS in a separate blog).
Lighting DS neatly guides you through setup initially getting the ARIES Mini to talk through your existing network. Setup is really little more than pointing the device at your music library (in my case on a QNAP NAS driver with MinimStreamer) and choosing which outputs, Line or Digital, you wish to use. You can’t use both. You then need to create an Auralic account and you will receive email confirmation that you have setup and activated your ARIES Mini successfully. I use a 1.25Tb music library on a QNAP NAS drive with MinimServer; Lighting DS seemed to take only moments to index over 3,400 albums. (I could easily incorporate my whole music library on an internal SDD but at the moment a 2Tb drive is about £599 which more than doubles the cost of the ARIES – Lighting Server will present the internal drive for other devices as it acts as a UPnP renderer.)
The ARIES Mini is always powered up. It can be put into sleep mode from an iPad and can be awoken by pressing any button. Oh yes. There are three control buttons sculpted into the front of the ARIES Mini box. I’ve opted for Mute and Track Up/Down rather than the default Play/Pause and Volume Up/Down. Speaking of powering up the supplied ‘wall wart’ power supply works (obviously) but it is tiny and you can see why aftermarket PSU alternatives and Auralic’s own linear PSU (sadly half the price of the Mini itself) can be used to make sound quality improvements – something I will be looking into. So how does it sound…