IFi Aurora Review: Resembles an architectural masterpiece
The creators of iFi Aurora have tried to complete the device to the fullest: the player works in stereo mode, supports audio up to 32-bit / 192 kHz, has compatibility with various popular protocols, can be part of a multi-room and has a hybrid amplifier circuit with a radio tube. ”, The company has equipped the Aurora with six main drivers (four 120mm woofers and two 28mm silk tweeters) and two passive downward-firing bass radiators. The emitters are powered by a built-in PureEmotion amplifier with a 6N3P tube in the preamplifier unit. The total power of the device was 320 W. As for the DAC, the ESS Saber 32 bit is involved.
Aurora can connect to an iFi source via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (aptX HD, LDAC, LDHC), Ethernet and an optical connector. There is compatibility with UPnP / DLNA standards. For analog signal, there is a classic 3.5 mm jack. Finally, the system supports USB sticks and microSD cards. In other words, almost any user will find their own way of switching. As mentioned, there is multi-room support: multiple Aurora systems can be combined into one home chain for synchronized playback.
Special attention should be paid to the SoundSpace sound tuning system, which, according to iFi, is analog technology. SoundSpace adjusts the frequency response of each speaker to achieve “correct” and “all-encompassing” sound. Also in the new product is TrueBass technology, which ensures that the bass always remains at the desired level.
Like many other modern music systems, the iFi Aurora features room-optimized sound circuitry. In this case, six microphones are responsible for this system, which measure the distance from the walls (the microphones are placed in metal modules on the sides).
All of the listed functions and capabilities are packed in an unusual case made of wood and metal. An information display and a window through which the lamp is visible were brought out to the front panel.
The iFi Aurora, so uncharacteristic for modern audio technology, was created by the French industrial designer Julien Haziz. And he, in turn, was inspired by the architectural masterpieces of the best Japanese architects of our time, discerning in their creations what is characteristic not only of objects, but also of music – tempo and harmony, bursts and contrasts. At the same time, the author of iFi Aurora managed to add hints of vintage to the design. If you ignore the pyramidal frame and slightly flattened proportions of the main unit, you will notice how similar the new iFi Stereo is to the radios from the era that predated Hi-Fi.
The main unit of the iFi Aurora is almost completely assembled and glued from bamboo strips, which achieves good acoustic damping. The entire electronic filling is placed in the center, isolated acoustic cavities on the left and right. The external vertical strips are unlikely to serve only as a decor – they scatter to the sides the radiation of the tweeters placed at the corners and do not allow the side and front planes, on which the midrange are located, to become sound reflectors. Extended dispersion, suppression of early reflections – all this should work for the clarity of the sound. Acoustic design – passive radiator. The driver part is built on four wideband drivers 130 mm in diameter and on two tweeters with 28 mm textile domes.
You will probably ask about six small emitters, two of which are on the back panel and a couple of them in the side horns. Here we come to the most interesting part. These are sonars, with which the built-in Automatic Room Tailoring system (proprietary iFi) measures the distance to the walls and adjusts the correction to maintain the optimal musical balance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that no one has ever used such a clever thing in an all-in-one music center.
The main sound path, judging only by the rear panel, at first glance, has nothing outstanding. The analog branch starts at the Aux line-in on the parallel jacks (a pair of RCA and a 3.5mm jack). The digital switching and receiving capabilities are more: there are coaxial and optical inputs, USB Type B for direct connection of drives, a slot for a memory card reader, an Ethernet port, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio modules. The penultimate one has support for connecting to Apple devices via AirPlay and to all others according to a set of DLNA standards. The “blue-tooth” adapter of the iFi Aurora, built on the latest Qualcomm QCC5100 chip, is a multi-format sample at all – it supports both basic codecs and advanced ones: aptX HD, LDAC, HWA (Huawei / TEAC). In a home network, the device can operate in multi-zone mode and receive digital streams up to 32 bit / 192 kHz. The device reads the same high-cuts from USB-drives and memory cards.
There are tricks in the electronic part too. The buffer digital stage is serviced by the Global Master Timing system, which at the same time cuts jitter from the SPDIF inputs. But the main thing, perhaps, is this: the device does not have a traditional DSP! The digital part is shortened as much as possible, and after converting to analog, which is performed using a Saber ESS series DAC, it sends the signal to the analog four-channel SoundSpace matrix in order to get more surround sound on a short stereo base, and to equalize the bass response, known as TrueBass. The above-mentioned proprietary ART room correction, by the way, also affects the signal exclusively in the analog field, although a separate digital microcontroller performs the processing of ultrasonic reflections. Finally, it all comes to hybrid amplifiers (again self-developed by iFi) PureEmotion.
The iFi Aurora is controlled both from the remote control and through third-party applications. The lack of its own similar software for network playback can hardly be considered a big drawback – the user is not so dependent on the presence of proprietary software and can choose those programs with basic UPnP / AirPlay functions that seem to him the most convenient and stable. In our tests, we used both smartphones on different OS and different applications: MConnect, Muzo, Denon Audio, Onkyo HF Player, standard iOS player.
On the other hand, streaming playback through the listed controls was not always smooth. Aurora, for example, could ignore some compatible files at 192 kHz or index an extensive music database on the NAS for a long time, although when the content was “delivered” to the network not from the server, but directly from the source smartphone, everything worked and sounded flawless. The only disadvantages can be attributed to the lack of support for DSD – applications “see” such content, but the playback device itself cannot receive the stream.
Finding the right place is important for any one-piece audio system. The iFi Aurora partly solves this problem at the expense of ART, although it should be placed on a wide enough but not too deep base for the best sound. If there is a protrusion in front of the front panel, then it will certainly give color due to the horn effect, and if there is too much distance between the rear panel and the wall, then the midbass may weaken. The ideal distance, as it seemed to me, is 20-30 centimeters, and the wall should have sound-absorbing properties – this will allow iFi Aurora to build a very convincing three-dimensional scene in front of the listener, which you do not expect to get from life style techniques.
Briefly about how the different chips and modes work. One of the basic attitudes is pure audiophile reproduction. But just it is not perceived as the most accurate and musical. Yes, we get a musical balance close to linear, believable microdynamics, but the sound does not express either spatiality or imagery. The first one appears when switching to SSpace mode and this joke works very cool – it does not add shades, does not compress dynamics and even slightly revives the overall balance. And if you use Automatic Room Tailoring, then the volume of the music scene with the second or third plan will be formed in the resulting sound volume, and even the timbres in the low / middle band will become clearer. In general, this is the case
In general, there is something captivating in the sound of the iFi Aurora from the very first notes. In the middle, there is no cheap “micro-system” brightness or digital coloration – the timbres are clean, recognizable and well aligned. The system does not have a particular predisposition for powerful drive delivery, but the ability (of amplifiers, apparently) to tactfully smooth out dynamic contrasts allows you to maintain clarity at high volume levels and attractive detail at low “background” levels.
Those parts of the spectrum that are at the edges of the audible range are interpreted most interestingly. The tweeters have very decent linearity and resolution, but the developers deliberately directed them away from the listener to get a richer and more diffuse presentation. As a result, all the noise, rustling and atmospheric components are highlighted, and all the sonorous and aggressive components, on the contrary, are softened to a comfortable level. The reproduced bass can be summed up in one word: enough! A small system is so dashingly taken to the very bottom that it is sometimes genuinely surprising. For example, I have never heard a monoblock system of this size “full-length” unfold the lower register of an organ that is difficult to reproduce even on a very expensive audio system. And iFi Aurora not only tries, but does it quite convincingly!
At first, it seemed as if their iFi system was designed for very “living” and quite rather big rooms. Rooms with an area of more than 20 m² are sounded by Aurora without any internal tension, and in some phonograms there is even a regret that there is no zero or weakened position among the trumpet-bass settings (as it seemed to me, all bass compensation modes are TBass1, 3 – although they emphasize the bass relief in the 60 – 100 Hz region in different ways, they slightly slow down the percussion “speed”). But I see no problem with placing the iFi Aurora in small rooms, where the bass response of the system seems to threaten to turn into trouble. We just remember ART and after running the ultrasonic room correction (the operation is done silently and almost instantly) we get the desired balance. By the way, the more the room is muffled at high frequencies, the closer to natural is the spectrum in the upper band. The effect of correction on the result may seem subtle at first, but adaptability itself is definitely one of the best qualities of the Aurora.
Sounding via Bluetooth deserves a separate mention. Finally, we can talk about the integrity and purity of the transmission, comparable to streaming from external music resources and even direct playback from USB drives. But here you have to make a reservation: we are talking about working only with modern Android devices, with which iFi Aurora establishes a “blue-tooth” connection via the LDAC codec by default (which is indicated on the display by the system with the inscription “96 kHz”). In this case, not only the files of standard quality, but also the content played on the smartphone in DSD sound hardly distinguishable from the original. When you forcibly switch to the aptX HD codec, this difference is no longer so noticeable, but still there are no complaints about the sound. Even the standard aptX between Aurora and, for example,
Type: passive radiator with two radiators, six active drivers (two bands, two channels) and six sonars
Total power of built-in amplifiers: 320W
Streaming audio (Spotify / Apple Music / Amazon Music / Tidal hifi / Deezer, etc.) . d)
Supported bit: PCM of 16 bits / 44.1 kHz and 32-bit / 192 kHz)
Wireless protocols: Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC, AAC, aptX, AptX HD, LDAC, HWA), WiFi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac (AirPlay, DLNA)
Inputs: Line RCA and 3.5 mm, USB Type-A, coaxial, optical TOSLink, LAN, SD card slot
Playable range: 27 – 40,000 Hz
Maximum sound pressure level: 115 dB at 1 m
Distortion level in the amplification channel: less than 0.05%
Finish: bamboo, aluminum
Dimensions: 590 x 270 x 280 mm
Weight: 15 kg
Only to the owners of Apple gadgets, in which alternative codecs cannot be used, I advise you to immediately forget about Bluetooth and connect at least via AirPlay, otherwise a brighter and more synthesized music delivery via AAC can blur the whole impression of the beautiful singing of Aurora.