As you may know, Auralic is a relatively new company in terms of the audiophile world. They don’t have veteran credit like the kinds of NAD, Klipsch, Bowers & Wilkins, or Kef, just to name a few. They don’t even have history like them either. In fact, they are in the process of their beginnings. They were founded in 2009, making them about 8 years old as a company. That is why this Hong Kong based company gets creative with the products it presents to compete. You can’t really categorize them, but there are categorizations that “fit”, but really when you get to know more about their two (Auralic Altair and Polaris) products, those “categorizations” are more like guidelines.
As a side effect to it’s unique selection of features, it can get costly. This particular model of theirs is the most expensive to date from the company, coming in at $3,040.00 new. As you may know as well, the Altair model from the same company, which pretty much is identical in terms of shape, cost about half of this. In fact, it’s actually half the price at $1,520. These two came out roughly the same time, and the Polaris is basically the Altair with an amplifier. That brings about the thought that the amplifier inside that is included in worth about the same as the Altair, and that should make it really good right? We’ll see.
Specifications (taken from Auralic website & modified)
Continuous Output Power
20 – 20KHz, +/- 0.5dB*
Network shared folder
Internal Music Storage**
uPnP/DLNA Media Server
TIDAL and Qobuz streaming
1*USB device to computer
2*USB host to storage and DAC
1*RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1*802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi
Line Stage (Input Sensitivity: 2Vrms)
MM Phono Stage (Gain: 36dB, 65mV at maximum)
Single-Ended RCA (6Vrms @ 0dBFS)
Loudspeaker Binding Post
Supported File Formats
AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC,
MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA
Supported Digital Formats
All PCM from 44.1KS/s to 384KS/s in 32Bit***
DSD64, DSD128, DSD256***
AURALiC Lightning DS for iOS
AURALiC RC-1 remote control
OpenHome compatible control software
uPnP compatible control software
Playback: 450W at max.
13’W x 10.2’D x 2.6’H (33cm x 26cm x 6.5cm)
10.0 pounds (4.5kg)
Matte Black (I got this one) / Matte Silver
Set-up & details
For this review, I’ve actually had a chance to experience how this device sounds in a true 2.1 with the Velodyne sub through the pre-out feature, and through the 2.1 speaker level passover from the sub. I usually set my sub at about halfway volume with a crossover at 80hz as per usual when I run it through the sub, but since I have a means now to run the stereo directly from the Polaris, unlike the past, I run my Sony SS-K10ED through the Polaris and set the volume at about 1/8 from the sub. That’s because the pre-out volume is way louder than when I run it through the Sub’s internal crossover. Choosing to set the volume at about 1/8 was a choice of mine, using my judgement to decide what balances the volume of the Sony’s.
The Polaris is not all that big. As you can see from the pictures, it’s not wide, and I think it’s a rather nice size for a component that is better than anything I’ve heard on my system before. This review sample I’m getting to try is black in color, in contrast to the silver finish on the Altair, and speaking of which, they look identical in every way except for a few things, like the usb port in place of the large headphone jack in the Altair. In the back, the difference is in the speaker out that the Polaris features which lets any speaker attached sing. It’s really amazing for something this size to be able to easily drive big tower speakers like they are big amplifiers that would easily weight 100 pounds because of the internals.
Overall, despite how small it is as you may realize, the Polaris is actually rather complete. It has speaker outs which consist of rather quality connectors with a plastic cover, ports for LAN, usb in, DAC, HDD coax, AES and programmable input/output with AN1 and AN2 with AN short for Analog as I’m deducing. For this review I used the AN2 as pre-outs for the subs, but there are many ways to input to the Polaris and one of them you can’t see a port for is streaming. That’s more like a button.
In terms of internal set-up there are filters available for this as you may also read from my dad’s review of it, but put in general you can change the characteristics of the DAC to your liking. In my case, since I listen to a lot of difference music, I put in the the Smooth filter which makes for smooth and realistic vocals, while not sacrificing instruments. In reality I think the filters, which are Precise, Smooth, Dynamic, and Balance all serve different purposes, which is stated in the manual, but unless you’re willing to change each time you change genre, sticking to either Precise or Smooth is the way to go. Precise and Smooth are pretty much the same except that Smooth warms up the vocals so there’s less of the “airiness” you tend to hear, which you can hear with Precise because it’s the default filter with almost no altering to the music.
Listening Impressions & Evaluation
I listened to a lot of songs through the Polaris in the period of time I’ve had it in my system. From pop, rock, kpop, jazz, rap, hip hop, alternative, classical, etc. Basically I listen to whatever I like to listen to. And as you may know, I like a lot of things. However, from the get go and even now, there is one difference between this and any other components I’ve had in my system. Take it as something from this price range in general as well, but the sounds this thing emits is, put in two words (one is not enough) is, realistically expressive.
Everything I’ve put this up against, comparatively to any other components I’ve tried in my system, sounds different. And in a completely good way. Everything comes alive. In rock songs such as J-rock genre records from Asian Kung-Fu Generation for example, or Radwimps have separation in each instrument to that fact for certain tracks I can tell the difference in the what instruments played and where, and sometimes I hear a new instrument that I’ve never heard before. It’s not that it’s not realistic, it’s the opposite. It’s very realistic. It makes sense it’s there, which is a welcomed surprise.
Tracks with guitar flanking on the left and right don’t feel like the guitars are in the background, very far away, but rather in the same level as the singer in the middle, and feels like a live every time I heard it. I feel and hear every string like there’s a guitar in front of me, even though it’s an accompanying instrument, and every voice sounds realistic and live as well, which I can account partly to the filter as well. Not to mention, every slides of the finger on the strings as well, even if the guitar is placed in the middle stage for certain songs.
Lastly in terms of recordings, (I know this is the third but this will be the last), drums in the background, which is how they are typically portrayed is simply a sound of art. I say that because it when the sticks are being hit on the rims of drum sets in the background sound very much like they are backstage, in a realistic fashion I’m always in awe when I hear any recordings with it. Even with the hit of the drums in the background. It doesn’t merge with the singer, but separates it. Another testament to the price tag honestly.
Although there is a ton of pleasant things that I can talk about this component and how it produces sound (I can go all day with one song), there are some drawbacks which I think are minor regarding the Polaris. The Lightning App for the interface of the Polaris is a rather personal drawback, because I would love to use it in my Android phone, but they are only available on iOS platforms only at the moment. Most set-ups for streaming would require this, and I would have to access my laptop instead for most of the changes. At the moment of writing, it’s in the beta stages of the app, so it’s not stable as well. It’s fine overall, not too troublesome but I would love to do it from my phone as well. At one point they did have a Lightning DS app for Android but decided to drop support due to complications regarding hardware, specifications, etc. In the fortunate aspect, that means that are working on a HTML 5 driven software for high-resolution streaming for Windows and MAC which you can look forward to.
As you can clearly tell, I’m basically in love with the Auralic Polaris. the price is totally worth the sound. I wish I could like, buy this off from my dad for myself. I would spend that much for this all-in-one for a 2.1 stereo system masterpiece. I’d even go into debt for this (not really). And to answer the question I said regarding the amp, I would say the amp is worth the price of an Auralic Altair. Sounds as good as or even better than the Bel Canto S300 that I’ve had a chance to get my hands on, which is worth a similar, but slightly less price tag new.
Really, this is the most expensive component I’ve reviewed and heard in my young lifetime so far. This falls in the current category of I would never be able to afford this (at least right now). It sounds jaw-dropping good for me. When I hear something worth many times more zeros, the price would justify for my fainting in the future maybe. But for now, this is as close as I can get to perfection in sound production from speakers that cost a fourth of the price of this component. I wish I could keep this, like, forever, which could settle as a birthday present for the next five or six years maybe (if you’re reading this dad). But it’ll be sad when I have to part with it. I loved every feature this thing has. I listen to this everyday plagued with the thought that I’ll have to part with it.
For everyone else, this is a highly recommended component that I’d say is worth every penny you pay for it. It can act as an all-in-one for your system, and get really quality sound, worth the price of those upwards of 4 zeros instead of 5. Just don’t quote me on that because I’ve never actually heard any system in that price range yet in comparable situations. My dad’s is probably worth that much, but I can’t really compare because the of the different factors I have to take into account. But take my word for it (or not), this is something worth looking at and very possibly getting. It’s a unique Hi-Fi streamer that goes above and beyond any “categorization”.