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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, OSX 10.8.2 Mountain Lion, PureMusic 1.86 in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files up to 24/192; Audirvana in integer/direct mode, April Music Eximus DP1, Esoteric/APL Hifi UX1/NWO-M w. Audiophilleo 2, A
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright LS-100 with Synergy Hifi tubes, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X,
TruLife Audio Athena, NuForce DDA-100 [on review]
: First Watt SIT1
Speakers: Aries Cerat Gladius, Boenicke Aud
io B10, Voxativ Ampeggio
Desktop sy
stem: Apple iPod Classic 160GB AIFF-loaded, Cambridge Audio iD100
, Wyred4Sound mINT, EBTB Terra III, Mass Fidelity Model 1 [on loan], NuForce Ion + [on loan], Furutech RTP-6
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event, KingRex uArt USB cable with Bakoon BPS-02 uninterruptible battery supply
Artesania Esoteric double-wide 3-tier with TT glass shelf, Rajasthani hard-wood rack for amps
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF2 for amps,
GigaWatt PC3SE Evo on front-end components

Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: Aura Vivid $1.000, Aura Vita $1.400

Though active since 2006 under current ownership—the brand actually started in 1989—Aura is still waiting for widespread recognition. Perhaps that's because of its top-loading CD receiver in shiny chrome. In 2007 that Aura Note sold for a quite upscale $2.450. By 2009 its Premier version had moved up a tad to $2.595. Those models targeted a more sophisticated clientele to whom the mention of Brit designer Kenneth Grange even registered. Forward to 2010. By now the Neo and Groove had split not the atom but that CD receiver. The resultant separates demanded 2.250 and $2.375 respectively. That doubled the price to $4.625 yet the product kept being promoted as lifestyle. Now it's not only the cynics who know that lifestyle in hifi is shorthand for dumb blond. It works in the affordable fashion end. It doesn't work for stuff priced seriously that also wishes to be taken serious. Unless you're Bang & Olufsen. And in the right country. And during the right economy.

Aura's lifestyle angle is cosmetic and cemented around the personage of Kenneth Grange who Wikipedia informs us was born 1929 in London and is a British industrial designer. Grange's career in design began as drafting assistant to architect Jack Howe in the 1950s. His independent career started rather accidentally with commissions for exhibition stands. By the early 1970s he was founding partner in Pentagram, a world-renowned interdisciplinary design consultancy. Grange's career has spanned half a century and many of his designs became—and still are—familiar items in the household or on the street.

These designs include the first UK parking meters for Venner, food mixers for Kenwood, razors for Wilkinson Sword, cameras for Kodak, typewriters for Imperial, clothes irons for Morphy Richards, cigarette lighters for Ronson, washing machines for Bendix, type 3 and Type 75 Anglepoise lamps, pens for Parker and the exterior styling of British Rail's famous High Speed Train (known as the Inter-City 125 or HST). Grange also was involved with some elements of the design of the innovative 1997 TX1 version of the famous London taxi cab. He has carried out many commissions for Japanese companies. Grange's designs have won ten Design Council Awards, the Duke of Edinburgh's prize for Elegant Design in 1966 and in 2001 he was awarded the Prince Philip Designer Prize, an award honouring a lifetime achievement. He has won the Gold Medal of the Chartered Society of Designers and is a member of the Royal Society of Arts' élite Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.

Hufflepuff! Such insular focus—UK & Japan—can quickly turn high-brow irrelevance. Which is perhaps why the new Aura separates of Vivid & Vita now flash a bit less chrome, tack that to perfectly ordinary bent sheet-metal boxes, adopt ultra low-rider profiles and carry a sticker that combined is less than the CD receiver, not twice it. If Aura the brand means as yet nothing to you; nor the name of its royal designer where good sound is concerned... then key is April Music of Korea, home to Stello and Eximus. And Aura. Yet Aura is actually Japanese. Had those Japanese only downplayed their fascination with a fêted industrial designer from the UK and focused on relevant circuit design from Korea, they might have more traction by now. And there's already an Aurasound with real mass-market products (their 32" Soundbar beneath TV screen at left), Finnish pro audio company Aura Audio and newcomer AURALiC from Hong Kong to blur branding.

Identity crisis. Existing really only on April Music's website—the very weak Japanese website barely factors internationally—Aura suffers an identity crisis and have for years. German importer Jan Sieveking claims excellent sales for Japan. Clearly that has little impact on the rest of the globe. Unfortunate too. The four Aura components we reviewed previously all were highly commendable. I even bought the Premier for my wife's studio. There it powers a pair of small Dayens speakers to this day. Aura really is performance first, shiny lookers second. Brainiac blondes if we invoke more horrid sexism.

A view from behind gives us XLR i/o ports for CDP and integrated respectively; three digital ins and one out for the deck; a vintage 24/96 driverless TI PCM 2704 USB DAC for the integrated plus two RCA inputs, a preout, one MM phono and FM/AM antenna sockets with 15-station memory. For most ordinary mortals this turns the Vivid/Vita twins into command central for a 2.1 audio/video system, computer interface included. Television, BluRay deck, digital-direct iPod dock, turntable, laptop, subwoofer and more all are accommodated.

Volume control for the Vivid amp is by Cirrus Logic CS 3310*, the 50wpc output stage runs two Hitachi Mosfets per side in push/pull just as the CD receiver and Groove integrated did before. The Vita player runs a CS8416 digital audio receiver and Cirrus Logic 4398 DAC with a Sanyo front-loading tray and Toshiba controller.

* The CS3310 is a complete stereo digital volume control featuring a 16-bit serial interface that controls two independent low-distortion audio channels with an array of well-matched resistors and a low noise active output stage capable of driving a 600Ω load. A total adjustable range of 127dB in 0.5 dB steps is achieved through 95.5dB of attenuation and 31.5dB of gain.

Of course a current €2.000 HT receiver from the majors gives you the lot—not the CD drive however—plus rear/center channels, DSP and a glow-in-the-dark remote that'll make coffee too. But that's the specialist hifi game. Don't offer all the bells and whistles. Focus on the essentials, double up on sonics. Shazam! Or 현저한 as it were.

Time to get Simon Lee into the loop for specifics. Simon is April Music's owner, chief engineer and thus the creator of my favorite Eximus DP1 DAC/headfi/preamp. What could he tell us about this latest Aura gear and how it differed from the twice-priced precursors? And just as importantly, what was the current status on the Japanese connection?