And what of those seeking a high-performance whole home audio solution? Once again, the ARIES system has answers ready at hand. AURALiC offers two versions of the ARIES product: a high-end ‘master’ version, which is the version under review here, and simplified and thus cost-reduced ARIES LE versions (with slightly less elaborate power supplies and clocking systems than the full-on ARIES provides), which can be deployed throughout the house and used, in essence, as ‘satellites’ operating in conjunction with the master ARIES. In short, ARIES offers an ambitious and very flexible digital platform.
If the foregoing description makes it sound as though the ARIES system has all the digital connectivity bases covered, then that’s about right. Better still, the ARIES excels at delivering high data rate, very high-resolution digital audio file formats that other competing server/streamer products are not necessarily able to handle. Specifically, the ARIES can stream PCM/DXD data at rates up to 32-bit/384kHz as well as DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256 files, meaning it offers a degree of flexibility and future proofing that few competitors presently can match.
On a hardware level, AURALiC’s ARIES is offered as a two-chassis solution. One chassis houses the stylish (but not ostentatious) ARIES unit proper, while the other is a dedicated and outboard low-noise linear power supply module that leverages the ‘Purer Power’ technologies AURALiC developed for use in its familiar, standalone, high-end audio components. The ARIES provides high-speed, dual-band Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, plus a high-speed USB 2.0 port that is reserved for purposes of attaching a USB music library drive, if desired. As for outputs, the ARIES provides a second high-speed USB 2.0 port intended for connections to a USB DAC, as well as AES/EBU, coaxial S/PDIF, and TOSLINK outputs (these latter three support PCM files at rates between 44.1kHz and 192kHz, and DSD64).
Perhaps equally important from a performance perspective, the ARIES provides two individual FemtoClocks, both similar in concept to the that used in the superb AURALiC VEGA Digital Audio Processor (reviewed in Issue 106). One FemtoClock serves USB audio hosts, while the other serve all other digital outputs. Between these FemtoClocks and the unit’s outboard ‘PurerPower’ power supply module, the idea is to deliver low-noise, very low-jitter, digital audio files to your DAC of choice on a consistent basis.
It’s been said that products of this type are only as good as their user interface software allows them to be and it is in this area that the ARIES excels. AURALiC’s command and control app for the ARIES is known as Lightning DS, which is available as a free download from the Apple app store for use with iPads and soon iPhones. Almost all of my experience of ARIES has been through using the iPad app, which has now been extensively tested in the field and has gone through a number of significant updates, revisions, and improvements. My review sample of the ARIES is running firmware version 2.9.2 while my sample of the Lightning DS app is version 2.3. Prospective owners should be aware that AURALIC continually develops and releases ARIES firmware and Lightning DS software updates over time, meaning that the ARIES system you buy today will likely offer even better performance a year from now (or at least that has been my experience).
Lightning DS and the architecture of the ARIES itself go a long way toward making the system relatively easy for first-timers to set up and configure. One astute AURALiC design choice was to configure the ARIES so that, when powered up for the first time, it initially serves as its own Wi-Fi network. In this way, AURALiC establishes a clear-cut starting point from which one’s controller tablet and the Lightning DS application can establish communication with the ARIES, thus simplifying the setup tasks to follow. Lightning DS provides simple, step-by-step setup instructions for the ARIES to guide the listener at each point along the way.
Setup steps include connecting the ARIES to the desired music library (or to a local USB music library drive directly attached to the ARIES, if so desired), building a database of the library contents, connecting the ARIES to one’s home network, selecting preferred digital outputs (USB, AES/EBU, TOSLINK, or coaxial S/PDIF), and then finally connecting the ARIES to the desired playback DAC or device. In truth, there will inevitably be a certain amount of technical complexity involved whenever preparing any audio server or streamer for use, but the Lightning DS’ instructions are good enough to allow those of us not blessed with degrees in computer science to get the ARIES up and running with a minimum of hand-holding.