If you asked me to cite several specific qualities that characterize the sound of the Vega, two that come instantly to mind would be transparency and resolution—effortless, elegant, and unforced openness and detail that sound more like the real thing than like hi-fi artifacts. On the track “Embraceable You” from The Larry Coryell Organ Trio’s Impressions [Chesky] the Vega lets you listen deeply into the voices of each of the instruments at play and so to savor the round, ripe tone of Coryell’s guitar, the reedy and breathy voice of the organ, and the delicacy of the drum kit’s contributions, the cymbal work in particular. Moreover, the Vega shows you the worth of high-res files, helping you to appreciate how much fuller and more complete they make the music sound. The beauty of the Vega’s presentation is that the additional layers of detail it provides are delivered in a relaxed and lifelike manner; additional music information is simply there—whole and complete without unwarranted spotlighting or pyrotechnics, so that the music is free to breathe and flow.
Other qualities that typify the sound of the Vega are its dramatic and at times explosive dynamics, which likewise unfold in a naturally expansive way. As with musical details, the dynamic qualities you hear seem to flow more from the music than from the equipment. Consequently, the music seems energized and illuminated from within, much as it does when heard live. To hear what I mean, try listening to Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensamayà as captured on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live recording [CSO Resound]. This exotic-sounding piece is full of lithe twists and turns as it progresses from one dynamic highlight to the next, with tension building as the composition unfolds. I’ve heard this piece through many digital source components, but none made Sensemayà sound as powerful or expressive as the Vega did; nor could any convey the tsunami-like force of the composition’s final crescendo as effectively as the Vega.
Finally, I was struck on multiple occasions by the Vega’s unfailing musicality, which I sometimes—tongue-in-cheek— called the “Neve factor.” Neve recording consoles are known for pulling off a difficult but highly rewarding tightrope act of sorts; on the one hand, they deliver exceedingly high levels of transparency, clarity, and timbral purity, while on the other hand they preserve a naturally warm, organic, and lifelike sound. I think it is significant that Xuanqian Wang has chosen the classic Neve sound as his sonic model for the Vega and that the Vega strives (successfully) to strike a similar sonic balance. As a result, the Vega’s sound is every bit as revealing, crisply defined, and informative as any “analytical” DAC would be, but without the drawbacks (sterility, a vaguely “mechanical” quality) that analytical products usually entail. Rather than dissecting or deconstructing the music, then, the Vega simply reveals musical textures, timbres, tonal colors, and dynamics, and then gets out of the way.
I compared the Vega to my primary digital reference, Rega’s superb Isis CD player/DAC, and found the Vega’s sound competitive, though somewhat different. I had a slight preference for the Rega’s sound on 44.1/16 material owing to the Rega’s somewhat more coherent upper midrange and treble presentation, though in truth the contest was very, very close. But a key point is that the Vega is less than half the price of the Rega and is capable of exploring high-res PCM and DSD files, which the Rega is not. In particular, listening to DSD files through the Vega proved revelatory, because DSD files as rendered by the Vega seemed to do a much better job than standard-resolution PCM files in enabling the presentation to sound more three-dimensional and realistic.
Although I’m not ready to part with my top-shelf Rega Isis CD player just yet, the Vega is the first sensibly-price DAC I’ve heard that I could readily embrace as one of my primary digital source components. For less than $3500, the Vega takes discerning audiophiles and music lovers very far up the high-end audio performance ladder, providing them with a versatile and technically advanced digital playback solution they will not soon outgrow.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Digital-to-analog-converter/digital preamplifier
Digital inputs: One AES/EBU, two coaxial, one TosLink, and one USB 2.0 buffered by ActiveUSB
Analog outputs: One stereo single-ended (via RCA jacks), one balanced (via XLR connectors)
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, +/-0.1dB
THD+N: <0.00015%, 20Hz–20kHz at 0dBFS
Dynamic range: 130dB, 20Hz–20kHz, A-weighted
Supported digital formats: All PCM from 44.1kHz to 384kHz with word lengths up to 32-bit, DSD 64 (2.8224MHz), and DSD 128 (5.6448MHz)
Important format information: 352.8kHz and 384kHz are supported through USB only; 32-bit word lengths supported through USB only; DoP V1.1 transmission protocol supported through USB only
Output voltage: 4V RMS at maximum, with dynamic-lossfree digital volume
Dimensions: 11" x 2.6" x 9"
Weight: 7.5 lbs.
AURALIC AMERICAS Inc.
12208 NE 104th St.
Vancouver, WA 98682