Great recordings, he says, often sound best through Filter Mode 1, while customer comments suggest that Filter Mode 4 is the best “general purpose” setting for a mix of audiophile-grade and more commonplace recordings. The important point is that the Vega allows users to fine-tune the DAC’s sonic persona to fit the musical material at hand.
Another signature feature of the Vega is its Femto Master Clock, which yields a spectacularly low 0.082 picoseconds (or 82 femtoseconds) of jitter—a figure few DACs at any price can match. The Vega provides three master-clock control settings: the default “AUTO” setting, which maintains “a balance between lock-in ability and jitter performance,” plus “FINE” and “EXACT” settings (available only after the Vega has warmed up for an hour), which “force the (clock controller’s) PLL bandwidth into a very narrow range to maximize jitter performance.” Not all digital sources are precise enough to use the FINE or EXACT settings, but Xuanqian Wang notes that with the EXACT settings in play he sometimes hears “a significant improvement, compared to the AUTO setting, for certain sound tracks, such as well-recorded classical piano solo.”
As expected, the Vega is compatible with both Macs and PCs and with most popular music-playback software. The Vega auto-installs in Mac environments, but requires installation of an included Windows driver when used in PC-based systems. AURALiC does feel that music-software packages have a big impact on the DAC’s sound and for this reason supplies a free copy of its recommended JPLAY software with the Vega. Accordingly, I used JPLAY software in conjunction with jRiver Media Center 19 music-management software in a PC-based system for my review listening.
The Vega’s analog outputs are driven by a pair of AURALiC’s signature ORFEO Class A output modules, whose design was inspired by the circuitry of the classic Neve 8078 analog recording console and whose sound is said to “share the same warm and natural sound of (the) Neve 8078.” Perhaps as a result, the Vega claims vanishingly low THD and noise (just 0.00015%). Part of the performance equation, naturally, involves not only having high-performance analog output modules, but also addressing noise issues wherever possible. To this end, AURALiC constructs the Vega’s chassis of a highly EMI-resistant metal-alloy called AFN402 and coats the chassis’ interior surfaces with a multi-layer electro-mechanical damping material called Alire, which is used in most other AURALiC components.
The Vega sports an easy-to-read OLED front-panel display that shows the input selected, the format and data rates of whatever digital audio input has been selected, and the volume level (on a scale of 0–100) to which the processor is set. By design, the Vega can be operated from its faceplate or from an included remote control. The control menu offers options for adjusting absolute polarity and left/right channel balance, or selecting preferred filter models. Users can also control the OLED display itself, turning illumination up, down, or off (for zero visual distractions at all). Overall, the Vega is an ergonomic delight, though it is sufficiently complex that it pays to read the manual to understand the scope of the control options at hand.
If the foregoing technical description seems promising, then please know that the sound of the Vega is fully as good as, if not better than, the description might lead you to expect. Frankly, I’ve been around the world of computer audio for years, but I never felt a keen desire to make a dedicated high-performance DAC a permanent part of my reference system until I heard the Vega in action. Up to this point, most of the computer-audio/DAC-based systems I have auditioned seemed to me to fall short of the sound quality I was used to hearing from top-tier disc players. I also found that those DAC-based systems that were sonically satisfying tended more often than not to be astronomically priced.
In contrast, what makes the Vega so captivating to my way of thinking is that it is reasonably priced yet consistently supplies a rich panoply of audiophile virtues, while also demonstrating an uncanny ability to keep its focus on the musical whole. In short, the Vega represents the intersection of good value, great (and forward-looking) technology, plus terrific musicality—a compelling combination indeed.