AURALiC Taurus MKII Headphone Amplifier/Preamplifier

An Impressive Sonic Achievement

Equipment report
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
AURALiC Taurus MKII Headphone Amplifier/Preamplifier

Like all AURALiC components, the Taurus MKII uses several passive noise-suppression technologies to achieve backgrounds as quiet as the proverbial tomb. These technologies include a chassis material called AFN402, described as “an alloy of iron with (a) certain portion of nickel, silicon, and other rare metals,” which offers three to ten times greater resistance to EMI at audio frequencies and above than conventional chassis materials do. To further combat EMI and mechanical resonance AURALiC developed a multi-layer, electro-mechanical damping material called Alire, which is applied to the interior surfaces of all AURALiC components. The firm says its Alire Resonance Dampers can “exempt the products from both electromagnetic interference and vibration interference,” thus providing the purest input signals possible. In short, AURALiC takes noise control very seriously, with benefits you can readily hear.

For my listening tests I used three superb but admittedly challenging-to-drive top-tier headphones: namely, the Abyss AB-1266, the Audeze LCD-3, and the HiFiMAN HE-6. These revealing planar-magnetic designs are relatively power-hungry, with the HE-6 having the lowest (83dB) sensitivity of the group. Right out of the gate, the Taurus MKII proved it had more than enough output capability to produce a robust, articulate, and authoritative sound with all three of these ’phones. Granted, one must turn up the volume control a good bit in order to achieve satisfying levels with the HiFiMAN ’phones, but that is to be expected.

AURALiC advises that the Taurus MKII needs roughly 100 hours of run-in time before it will sound its best, which turned out to be spot-on. Straight from the box, the amp sounded lively, crisp, and well defined, but also perhaps a bit too “splashy” and tightly wound for its own good. As the hours built up, however, the edgier aspects of the Taurus MKII’s sound soon melted away, even as focus, transparency, and bass power and articulation increased dramatically. The end result was an amp whose sound became more transparent and resolving, but also more natural, hearty, and robust-sounding than had at first been the case. One important point to bear in mind is that, in order to deliver this appealing sound, the Taurus MKII needs a good hour of warm-up before it will sound its best (I’m told the reason for this is that the ORFEO modules take a while to come up to temperature and then to reach thermal equilibrium).

With many components, a reviewer’s first impulse might be to characterize the product by discussing its overall tonal balance, but frankly the Taurus MKII is so neutral in its presentation (once fully warmed up) that about all one can say is, “It’s accurate and uncolored—period.” The only comment I might offer with respect to tonal balance is that the AURALiC’s bass is exceptionally good in both precise pitch-definition and extension, which means the Taurus MKII offers some of the best bass reproduction you’ll hear from any headphone amplifier regardless of price. The bass is so good, in fact, that it’s easy to become preoccupied with it, but if you listen more closely you’ll soon discover the Taurus MKII offers pretty great sound across the entire audio spectrum.

A piece that nicely shows both the Taurus’ evenness of overall tonal balance and remarkable bass prowess is the third movement of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 7, “Sinfonia Antartica” [Bakels/Bournemouth, Naxos]. The movement is meant to capture the eerie, forbidding, and frigid majesty of Antarctica by weaving orchestral passages around and through dark brooding pipe organ passages. The various orchestral voices are each given their due, with none taking precedence over the others (except by the composer’s design), while the pipe organ presents descending and at times quite powerful phrases that suggest, among other things, the plunging temperatures at hand. As organ pedal notes go lower and lower, the Taurus MKII tracks every step along the way, maintaining beautiful pitch control—even on notes so low that they seem to balance on the line between pitches that are heard and those that are felt in a tactile way. What is more, the Taurus does a beautiful job of capturing low-level textural variations and modulations in volume in those low notes, letting you hear and feel the low-frequency “shudder” of columns of air in the organ pipes. This consistent ability to differentiate and delineate musical lines—and to do so precisely and explicitly—is very much one of the core attributes in the AURALiC’s bag of tricks.

What also caught my attention about the Taurus MKII were its dynamic capabilities, which I found eye-opening. Compared to many headphone amplifiers, even some very good ones, the Taurus MKII conveys the impression of substantially expanding or “opening up” the dynamic range of your favorite records (almost as if the MKII has magically removed an imaginary audio compressor from the signal path). As a result, the energy level and expressiveness of many recordings seem to increase, while dynamic shadings become more explicit and intelligible. The benefit, of course, is that listeners enjoy a heightened sense of connection with the performers and with the music itself.