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Auralic Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock

Auralic Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock

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.

Auralic Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock

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.


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.

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.


Just like a conventional power amplifier, a headphone amplifier is only half of an amplifier/speaker system. And just as with loudspeakers, the combination of the two parts, speaker and amplifier, should ideally form a synergistic whole. This synergy, or lack or it, between amplifier and transducer form the basis of much of the overall sonic personality of a system. And while I was not able to assemble any combination of Gemini 2000 and headphones that sounded even remotely sub-par, some headphones did prove to be especially good pairings with the Gemini 2000.

I’ve owned a pair of Grado RS-1 headphones ever since Joe Grado sent me a pair over fifteen years ago. I’ve gone through three sets of foam ear-cups, and in all that time, listening to more headphone amplifiers than I can remember, I’ve never heard them sound better than when connected to the Gemini 2000. I should mention that I was driving them in balanced mode, thanks in large part to an adapter made by Drew Baird of Moon Audio.

With many headphone amplifiers the Grado RS-1 can sound midrange-centric—lacking in bass drive and top-end air. Coupled to the Gemini 2000 the RS-1s had some serious bass extension. The Grados also had a larger and more precisely located soundstage than I’d heard before. I also noticed more upper-frequency extension and air around every instrument. If you are a Grado guy or gal and want to hear your RS-1s at their best, you really need to hear the Gemini/Grado combination.

The Audeze LCD-2 also proved to be an excellent combination with the Gemini 2000. The soundstage was especially large (which is something the LCD-2s usually do well) and within that space the physical location and size of each instrument came through with a level of specificity and detail that I’ve rarely experienced. To say the sound from the LCD-2/Gemini combo was seductive is an understatement. Only the pressure on the sides of my head from the LCD-2’s rather forceful headband after three+ hours of listening made me take breaks; otherwise I could remain tethered to this combo for days.

Most headphone mavens respect but don’t actually enjoy listening to AKG K-701 headphones. The expression “dry as a desert” definitely applies to these rather matter-of-fact-sounding headphones when attached to most headphone amplifiers. And while I can’t tell you that the Gemini turned the AKG’s cold, dry personality into warm and inviting, the Gemini did make the K-701s sound far more musical and involving than other pairings I’ve tried. The Gemini didn’t warm up the K-701’s bass, but instead gave the midrange a more natural and less hard and splitchy character. And while I wouldn’t be so foolish as to recommend getting the Gemini solely for the purpose of driving a pair of K-701s, if you have pair of K-701s that you’ve never enjoyed much, the Gemini 2000 could change all that.

The Oppo PM-1 headphones were specifically engineered to be efficient and sufficiently sensitive that they would not “need” to be coupled to a beefy high-performance headphone amplifier to sound their best. But even the PM-1 headphones garnered some additional fidelity and finesse when attached to the Gemini 2000. The soundstage was noticeably larger than what I heard through my iPod touch, MacPro portable, or even the Astell&Kern AK100 (original version). The Gemini also propelled the PM-1’s stellar imaging and low-level detail to a higher level than I’ve heard with any portable device, so far.

At the end of the review period I set up an A/B test to compare the Gemini 2000’s single-ended output with that of the Resonessence Labs Herus portable DAC/headphone amplifier (one of my 2014 Golden Ear Award winners). The signal from the single-ended headphone outputs was connected to an adapter that transformed the 1/4″ stereo connection to a pair of single-ended RCA female connectors. Then a 1m length of cable connected the adapter to an input on a Wyred4Sound mPre, which was connected to a pair of Wyred4Sound mAMPs driving Audience Clair Audient 1+1 speakers. After matching gain levels via a 1kHz test tone from the AudioTest app I was ready for some rapid/switch A/B comparisons.

After several hours of A/B comparisons I had to conclude that in this setup the differences in sound between the Gemini and the Herus were so slight that I reliably heard an improvement in image specificity and low-level detail through the Gemini only when I used my own high-resolution live recordings. With the commercial releases the differences were not obvious enough for me to tell which DAC was which. I suspect the differences between the two DACs would be more pronounced if there hadn’t been additional adapters, an additional volume control (on the mPRE), and the additional meter length of cable in the system.

The question of whether a component is a great value or not is often a case of personal rather than universal financial considerations. Obviously some readers will consider a $2000 DAC/headphone amplifier to be well beyond the price range of what they personally consider a high-value proposition. But for some audiophiles the Gemini 2000’s combination of features, capabilities, and high performance will be exactly what they’ve been looking for, at a price that is quite reasonable when you consider the cost of a stand-alone premium headphone amplifier, such as the Bryston BHP-1, which when combined with a high- performance DSD-capable DAC can run well above $2000.

Although Auralic calls the Gemini 2000 a “lifestyle product” I think this does the Gemini a disservice. “Lifestyle” implies that features and ergonomics were put ahead of sonics, and if my experience with the Gemini 2000 is any indication of its performance capabilities, it didn’t perform like any lifestyle product I’ve used in the past. No, the Gemini is a high- performance, high-end, DAC/headphone amplifier that will be at home in even the most sonically pristine computer-audio system, which makes it the best lifestyle desktop product I’ve ever heard.


Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, +/- 0.1dB
Dynamic range: 124dB
Output power: Class A 2000mW maximum
Audio inputs: One optical TosLink, one USB host for Android device, one USB 2.0 in asynchronous mode
Data interface: One SDXC card reader, support up to 2TB
Headphone outputs: One balanced 4-pin XLR, one 6.35mm stereo phone jack
Supported digital formats: All PCM from 44.1kS/s to 384kS/s in 32-bit, DSD 64 (2.8224MHz) and DSD 128 (5.6448MHz)
Dimensions: 14cm x 29cm x 14cm
Weight: 2.8 kg
Price: $1995

12208 NE 104th Street
Vancouver, WA 98682
(360) 326-8879

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