Auralic Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock

Lifestyle Meets Audiophile

Equipment report
Categories:
Headphones,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
|
Products:
AURALiC Gemini 2000
Auralic Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock

One ergonomic difference between the Gemini 1000 and Gemini 2000 is the way the two units handle balanced and unbalanced headphones. With the Gemini 1000 you can have headphones connected to both the single-ended 1/4" stereo and the 4-pin XLR connections, and they will be simultaneously active so you can drive two headphones at once. With the Gemini 2000, when you plug in a single-ended 1/4" stereo headphone the 4-pin XLR output is muted. This is due to the Gemini 2000’s balanced circuitry. Also, when a balanced connection headphone is already attached to the Gemini and you connect an unbalanced pair, the headphones connected to the 4-pin balanced connection will emit a fairly loud click before going silent.

If your personal workflow involves heavy use of smartcards you may be thinking that the Gemini’s smartcard reader could see a lot of use in your system. I must warn you that, unless you have very slim fingers, removing the card from the Gemini can be difficult. I ended up keeping a pair of tweezers on my desk to make the job do-able. Also the location of the reader slot is not terribly convenient—you may find that it’s far too easy to jostle or even disconnect one of the other connections on the back of the Gemini while trying to remove a card.

I used the Gemini 2000 with a wide variety of headphones, from the hyper-efficient Westone ES-5 custom in-ear monitors to the least-efficient and most power-hungry headphones in my stable, the Beyer Dynamic DT990 600-ohm version and the Audeze LCD-2 Bamboos. With the Westones the Auralic did add a slight amount of hiss to the background, but it had more than enough juice to drive the DT-990s and LCD-2s to well above my high-volume comfort zone without any issues, even on my own live recordings which typically have lower volume than commercial releases.

As a headphone stand the Gemini does a fine job. It’s heavy enough that no matter how much your headphones weigh it won’t be top-heavy when loaded down. The two chrome posts on the opposite side of the balanced 4-pin XLR connection were created so you can wrap excess cable around them. Some cables, such as the aftermarket Cardas Cable on a pair of Audeze LCD- 2, are a bit stiff to go around the posts easily, but most cables’ excess lengths coiled neatly around the posts.

Sound
The Auralic Gemini 2000 is a combination of several devices, each of which has an effect on its overall sound. But since these devices—a USB converter, DAC, and headphone amplifier— must be used together, they can only be evaluated as an integrated unit. Sure, you can use the Gemini as a DAC/preamp if you invest in some adapters and interconnect, and I did try using it this way. But the Gemini was designed principally to be a one- component solution for digital-source headphone listening, so that was the way I used it a majority of the time.

Obviously the primary reason for using a dedicated device such as the Gemini instead of the “headphones output” on your computer is for better sound quality, and the Gemini certainly delivered on that promise. Even with relatively easy-to-drive headphones such as the Oppo PM-1, the Gemini 2000 produced greater dynamic contrasts and a larger soundstage than any of my Mac’s headphone outputs could. But the Gemini not only has a beefier and more music-friendly headphone amplifier, it also has more sophisticated DAC and digital circuitry than what you’ll find built into a general-purpose computer. The Sony VAIO is the only off-the-shelf computer that supports DSD and DXD playback via its internal sound card, so if you want to play back DSD in native format, you are going to need some kind of external USB DAC, such as the Gemini, to do it.

I used a variety of sources to evaluate the Gemini, including streaming sources, Internet radio, CDs, and higher-resolution music files up to and including 128x DSD and 192/24 WAV files. In every case the Gemini had no issues decoding and playing files, but it did generate a tick when I switched from DSD to WAV or AIFF files when using the Audirvana Plus app.

With the highest resolution recordings in my library I was impressed by the Auralic’s ability to render the music in such a clear and unconfusing way. Some headphone DACs can generate a rich harmonic palette, but at the expense of inner details and added intermodulation distortion. The Gemini presented music in a way that made it easy to listen deep into the mix, but without any reduction of harmonic complexity. The highest compliment I can pay to the Gemini is that it never produced even the slightest hint of a pervasive subtractive or additive “personality” in its overall sonic picture that detracted from a recording’s original fidelity.