Preamble: I began writing this blog piece as soon as I’d powered up the Auralic ARIES Mini. But then there was an update to write about…and so much to listen to…sorry it took so long.
Shortly after entering the URLs for my favourite high quality Internet radio stations I knew the ARIES Mini was something special. Spoken word was easy on the ear, clear and crisply dynamic. This particular quality was noticeable during more serious listening tests. The ARIES has an easy intelligibility and has reduced any shouty tendency in my Tannoy D500s. It becomes so much easier to seamlessly follow lyrics and musical lines.
It’s always interesting to turn up the volume and listen to how the system gets louder. The ARIES Mini delivers a signal that lets the system get ‘loud over there’ within the image and not ‘loud in your ear’ – it’s proved easy to listen at high levels for extended periods without fatigue. Conversely, when some of the big set-piece demos have failed to deliver the expected slam I’ve found I’ve been listening a much lower levels than usual because of the improved transparency of the sound. (I use the SPLnFFT app on my iPad to keep a check on levels). It’s interesting to speculate that what you’ve got used to is a big slab of distortion hitting you!
That first evening listening with the ARIES Mini was unintentionally instructive. First call was to listen to some old favourite tracks to see what was new and what had changed. It was while shutting down the system for the night that I realised we’d just spent four hours listening to nothing but CD rips of old analogue masters – never having strayed outside my Classic Demos playlist.
I never tire of Yo Yo Ma’s playing in the lovely Finzi Cello concerto. This is a simple ‘Decca tree’ recording from 1979 by Kenneth Wilkinson in the wonderful acoustic of Watford Town Hall. ‘Wilkie’ was known for his rich orchestral balance with fully detailed lower registers and precise instrumental placement. The ARIES Mini images Ma’s pizzicato cello at the opening of the 3rd movement Adagio so precisely, separate and distinct from the answering side drum. Low strings enter – the initial soft touch of bow to string tangible in a way I’d not previously heard.
In a similar vein, I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the intro to Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead (a relatively early digital recording from the wonderful Amsterdam Concertgebouw hall) to assess a loudspeaker’s low end resolution. Here again was a clarity that extended into the lowest reaches of the orchestra at the lowest signal levels.
The ARIES Mini has the real ability to surprise you dynamically – not with those big ‘made you jump’ musical moments but the focus it brings to leading edges. For example from a CD rip of an old withdrawn library copy of Martin Simpson – The Collection – (‘The Moth’) the bite and accuracy of the guitar already has your attention but each harmonica or sung entry makes you start.
And after a few weeks I now realise that what the ARIES Mini does best is to raise the standard of CD rips, Redbook standard files with greatly improved focus and intelligibility. Sure DSD64 and 24/192 files sound superb but the difference between real hi-res files and 16/44.1 CD rips has narrowed very much in favour of the ‘lower quality’ files.