Auralic Altair G1 Wireless Streaming DAC Review
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis April 2022.
For my video full review please see my YouTube channel link here
As an audiophile I think I have a very old-fashioned mindset, that having HiFi convenience has to come at the cost of quality. But is this true in 2022? The modern HiFi market is a very developed place, especially with digital music streaming, and Auralic are a manufacturer that are aiming to prove me wrong. Have they been able to do the almost impossible change this audiophile’s opinion?
Auralic are a high-end audio manufacturer with whom I am very familiar but, as this is my first Auralic product review, I am still learning about their product design goals and intended sound quality. If they are new to you, their product range is, in essence, quite simple. There is they G1 entry level and I say that in very loose terms, plus the G2 or now G2.1 which are their flags-hip, highest end, products.
All In One
I have been reviewing the Auralic Altair G1 wireless music streaming DAC. That product title is really important to consider because Auralic, I think, are asking customers to make a decision about what type of audiophile they are. Does the audiophile want the simplicity of having a single unit do pretty much everything they could ever want from a digital music source and headphone amplifier? That is what the Altair is looking to offer, everything in the one box, because there are no digital outputs for connecting to external devices such as DACs
So, if you are an audiophile who is likely to want to have the option to change DACs, or if you already own a DAC you love, in that case Auralics Aries G1 would be a better option for you, and both are the same price at £2,299. That is why I used the words entry level very loosely, the Altair and Aries are clearly not entry level priced, or specified, or performance; just entry level for Auralic.
Classy Design with Expansive Specification
If visuals or industrial design are important to you, then Auralic tick that box as the Altair has a classy, stealthy design and the chassis is made from aluminium. It is heavy, well built, and has a soft to the touch finish that feels almost velvety. It made a positive first impression on me. This particular demo unit has had a life before it came to me and think it is testament to the build quality that the unit still looks great.
There is a 4-inch colour screen on the front, which is very important, and useful for accessing the settings and making key feature adjustments. Perhaps more so I think than displaying album art which it also does. The Altair is loaded with features.
In addition to the various digital inputs, optical, balanced, AES, USB and coax, they have included both wireless and wired LAN network connections. That means music streaming availability from Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon and other services. The unit also supports Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay and Bluetooth. There is also the option to install an SSD drive internally to locally store music files, or you can connect an external hard drive with music on it via USB, essentially making the Altair a music server. You can even rip CDs if you plug in a USB based CD ROM drive. The Altair is Roon-ready, which will be essential for some audiophiles, although hold that thought for a minute because maybe you can save money here.
Within the processor settings there is the option to upsample your music up to 384khz if you want to, and there is also a manual parametric equalisation feature.
It is not mentioned on the Auralic website, but a little digging and it seems like a custom design using ESS Sabre DAC chips and it supports playback up to DSD 512. There are even 4 different DAC sound modes that make noticeable but subtle sound changes, I preferred Dynamic in this system. You have the choice of single ended and balanced outputs, which I liked.
If you want to use it, there is pre-amplification built in, and a headphone amplifier also thrown in for good measure. That is a lot of features and I have likely missed some as well. What I really liked with the Altair G1 is that it only took me about five minutes to get the unit out of the box, setup on my network and have music playing. It really is very easy to setup. It is compatible with UPNP/DLNA control so I opened the Bubble UPNP app on my phone and had music playing very quickly. I then took time to explore the Altair’s menu settings and options and to find my iPad to install Auralic’s dedicated control app called Lightning DS.
There is a trend for music server manufacturers to push customers towards Roon for a high quality control app experience but I must applaud Auralic for developing their own, very good Lightning DS app. It will be more than good enough as an experience for a large number of audiophile, and could save them some money on a Roon subscription. On my iPad Pro, Lightning DS was fast, intuitive, and easy to use.
On the app itself, to the left you have all the main options like changing between the different inputs, choosing music from your own library (I didn’t have setu for this review), listening to internet radio or, for me, streaming music from Qobuz. The Qobuz integration is fantastic. You can quickly browse the New and Recommended sections to discover music and then hitting the heart icon and the album is added to your Qobuz favourites. Browsing Qobuz favourites works in the same way. There can be some informative album information displayed at times, I found more more useful scrolling down to reveal other recommneded albums from the same artist. You hit the three dots to bring up the play options, allowing you to build a play queue or save a playlist. All easy enough stuff to get your head around.
Great Sound Quality and Expansive Soundstage
When it comes to sound quality, I have been passionate about building custom high end computer based music servers for a long time and I that makes me extremely fussy with any digital streamer I review. The first thing I often notice, or listen for, is just how clean the sound is, and the Altair impressed me. It was able to deliver all the music genres that I listen to with a very satisfying level of poise, timing and clarity. There was no digital edginess at all, and I think this is a strong marker of what better quality music streamers and servers offer. It is a big part of what you are paying extra for over more affordable solutions.
Two albums that are current favourites of mine are Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul and Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains. These throw up an interesting contrast between big soulful female vocals and gruff male vocals. The Altair didn’t disappoint me with either. Both vocals were delivered clear and strong in the centre of the sound stage, bringing out the emotion of the performance. Switching to another current favourite of mine Bolds self titled album, this has a mixture of different musical elements with some deep complexity at times. The Altair breezed through it all without breaking a sweat. By now I was happy and impressed with the Altair’s timing. I was also pretty in tune with its sound character that I would describe as favouring a clean neutral sound over creating a warmer or bolder sound, which is how Sabre based DAC chip often sound to me. Thinking back to my recent review of the Cary Audio DMS700 streaming DAC, that featured a custom Burr Brown based DAC section and sounded noticeably warmer and more rounded, more intended to sound pleasing, but also at a much higher price point.
The Altair sounds more squeegee clean from top to bottom. That is fine, because it means the audiophile just needs to add the character of sound they like with their choice of amplifier and speakers. For me testing using the new Mission 770 speakers, initially with the Kinki Studio EX M1+ integrated amplifier, I found it to be a little bit too much of a good thing, very clean but sounded a little bit vanilla to me. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with vanilla if you like that flavour. However, switching the amplifier to the Audio Flight FLS9, which has a warmer and bolder sound compared to the M1+, I found it to be better balance, sounding a little bit more chocolatey rich if you don’t mind me using food analogies, and the great timing and organisation of the Altair remained intact.
The clarity and organisation apparent, carries over into an impressive soundstage and you can easily tell where everything is, and is supposed to be. The treble is precise and relatively smooth, and the bass is nice and tight, again with good timing. As I alluded to before, I preferred the dynamic DAC setting because, in this system, the sound was a little more exciting, and a little more saturated for fullness and bass. Being very critical, I would have preferred some more scale and more bass still from the Altair, but with that comment I am comparing it to much more expensive setups which is obviously not fair.
Plugging in some headphones to the Altair was a pleasant surprise as it delivered a good amount of drive into my Beyerdynamic DT1770 pro. Interestingly the sound was still very much the same Altair character and that means if your happy with your HiFi sound you will very like appreciate it same for headphones. One thing that did surprise me after plugging in headphones the Altair didn’t mute the main sound output to the amplifier. Whilst this is fine, I think it is something to bear in mind, as when you change volume it affects both.
So, to wrap up. At the start I said that I am an audiophile with quite an old fashioned mindset. I generally prefer lots of individual boxes doing individual things, but I appreciate I am in the minority, and a lot of audiophiles just want a single, well made and designed digital unit that they can plug in, connect it to an amp, and it can do everything for them. The Altair provides a more minimalist approach as it is packed with features, comes in a very nice package, and offers very good sound quality for the money. There is a lot to like here, and nothing negative of any real note.
It would also be useful if the Altair had maybe just one digital output for connecting to an external DAC. I did speak to Auralic about this, and they said that from the Altair G1, the upgrade path for their customers would be to the Altair G2.1, a better even more featured packed version of the same thing. This made sense to me and, being the greedy audiophile that I am, I hope to get to look at the G2.1 range of products at some point in the future.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.