It used to be so simple—all you needed was a turntable, preamp, power amplifier, some zip cord, and a pair of speakers and you had a stereo system. But then came digital gear and DACs, followed by computers and music files, and finally all manner of category-busting stuff that combines multiple functions and capabilities. The Auralic Gemini 2000 is one of the new generation of components that includes several functions normally handled by separate components. It can serve as a headphone stand, headphone amplifier, multiple-input DAC, smartcard reader, portable phone-charger, and Android phone player, as well as a preamp to drive your power amplifier (although this last function is not part of the “official” features list.)
Auralic, whose products are all the brainchildren of Xuanquin Wang, has burst onto the U.S. audio scene with its Vega DAC, Taurus preamp, and Merek power amplifiers. The Gemini 1000 and 2000 “headphone docks” are a departure from previous offerings because they were created to be lifestyle products that appeal to younger, mobile, entry-level, high-performance audio consumers. That’s not to say that a grizzled old audiophile like me couldn’t find plenty of reasons to like the Gemini 2000.
The Tech Tour
There is no way you can mistake the Auralic Gemini headphone dock for anything else. It has a unique shape, courtesy of Klutz Design (seriously). Auralic adapted Klutz Design’s original CANCANs headphone stand to accommodate Auralic’s electronics, and what electronics they are!
Shoehorned into a tight space is what Auralic describes as “a cutting-edge decoding computer” that employs electronics trickled down from Auralic’s Vega digital-audio processor.
On Auralic’s Web site you will find an excellent picture of the electronics inside the base of the Gemini. Among the technological features are switching and linear power supplies that are regulated for the lowest noise levels possible. The volume control is in the analog domain, and instead of being labeled “volume,” reads “niceness.” The Gemini 2000 has a discrete Class A (that means it generates 75% of its energy as heat) balanced headphone amplification circuit capable of producing 2000mW with less than 0.001% distortion at full power output. The most important specification difference between the $1199 Gemini 1000 and the $1995 Gemini 2000 is this balanced output. The Gemini 1000 uses an unbalanced output circuit that doesn’t have as much power, but it still supports headphones with 4-pin balanced XLR connections. Also the Gemini 1000 has only a titanium-grey finish option instead of chrome or gold.
The Gemini supports all current formats up to 384/24 bit- rates including WAV, AIF, AIFF, DSD 64, DSD 128, and DXD via its three inputs—USB 2.0, Phone (USB A), and Audio (TosLink) connections. The Gemini lacks one input that some prospective users may have wanted to see: SPDIF. But according to Aurilic’s specifications, the TosLink input will support up to 192/24 bit-rates.
Setup and Ergonomics
Installing the Auralic Gemini in my computer audio system was as simple as connecting a USB cable between my computer and the Gemini. With Macs you don’t need to download a dedicated driver, but with PCs you will need to go to Auralic’s site to get the latest drivers before hooking up the unit. Once connected, my Mac recognized the Gemini immediately. When I looked in the Midi Control panel I saw that it was capable of 384/24, as advertised.
All the controls are on the base of the Gemini. It has two pushbuttons-the first for on/off and the second for choosing the input source. The only other control on the Gemini is the rotary volume adjustment. Small LEDs indicate the overall volume level and the input source. The base also has space on its backside for the three input connections, an SD card slot, and power connections. The included SD card reader is only a card reader; by this I mean that it will read SD cards only if the Gemini is connected to a computer. The card reader does not turn the Gemini into a stand-alone digital player for music on SD cards. But when the Gemini is connected to a computer any music files that are on the SD card in the Gemini’s card reader will be available for playback by your computer’s music playback software.
Since the Gemini’s analog circuitry is based around a Class A amplifier and has over five-hundred individual components situated on a platform no larger than a human hand, it generates a lot of heat during operation. The Gemini’s base was designed to serve as its primary heat sink. After a couple of hours of operation the base can get quite hot. And not only does the base get hot, but the volume knob, which is metal, gets to the same temperature as the base itself. I guarantee you won’t be spending much time fondling the Gemini’s volume control after the first half-hour of operation.
To protect itself from excessive heat buildup the Gemini has a protection circuit that turns the unit off after more than ten minutes with no signal. If you have an SD card in the SD slot when the Gemini turns itself off, your Mac will generate an error message, reminding you that a USB device was disconnected incorrectly without unmounting it first. You can, by holding down both the volume and source controls on start-up, disable this turn-off feature so the Gemini will stay on after ten minutes of inactivity. Another advantage of disabling the auto turn- off is that when you disconnect a 1/4" stereo headphone the Gemini will not turn itself off. This does not happen when you disconnect headphones from the balanced 4-pin XLR output.