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For the budget DAC owner the question ultimately arrives via mental mail. Why would I spend several thousand on a new DAC when my little Micromega, Schiit, Audioquest (insert equivalent) sounds just fine? I’ve been playing this very scenario with the $599 Resonessence Labs Concero and $3.500 AURALiC Vega. Indeed the Concero sounds just fine, understated but assured, smooth and detailed. Its feature set and sound quality exceed price-point expectations. See here for why. You’d want for very little if this were all to which you were exposed.

AURALiC's Munich HighEnd 2013 exhibit with YG Acoustics' new Sonja top model bi-amped with four Merak monos sounded clearly better than another exhibit with the same speakers using far more expensive electronics - Ed.

More sophisticated power supply delivery, USB wizardry, preamp functionality, DSD playback, Femto clocking, MHz upsampling and a truly beautiful user interface is what you get when you upscale your DAC expenditure to the three and a half thousand dollars commanded by the Vega. The sonic amelioration is not chin-strokingly subtle when flipping Concero for Vega. You won’t find yourself huffing and aaaahing about which is better. The AURALiC’s talents hit you right between the eyes with a much greater tonal colour palette, more textural information, better dynamics micro and macro and far greater transparency all delivered with silken repose.

Xuanqian Wang
I ran through a Redbook rip of R.E.M.’s much underrated New Adventures In HiFi. The Concero’s take is completely acceptable and listenable but it’s the Vega that imbues proceedings with that epic wide screen feeling. I’ve alluded to it in the Vega coverage on my own website but it bears repeating here: the box from AURALiC makes one’s standard Redbook rips sound like they’ve somehow been beautifully remastered.

Too much information? I can see why not all listeners would dig this. Some people prefer very tender obfuscation, shadowy corners and the power of suggestion. For them the Vega might be too explicit with its aural message. It is explicit but such directness is articulated with elegance and clarity. Compared to the Cees Ruijtenberg Metrum Hex, the Vega runs with more vigor especially in the top and wow factor. The Hex is earthier. It nudges ahead on midrange transparency and sweetness. Dutch organic food compared to a Chinese GM'd crop? You know it. The Vega is better with layer separation and teasing out marginal details. One could argue that the two Wangs have gone for a more high fidelity true-to-source approach. This is not a criticism.

Boiling it down to bare essentials, go Hex for already super-revealing systems whilst the Vega is for those in need of a kick in the seat of the pants. It will slice through the humidity of more buttery tubular sounds just so. Alternatively, think of it this way: the Hex is a home-cooked meal (comforting and familiar), the Vega fine dining (tantalising and cultivated). Whilst the latter’s show turns the listener on with a complete physical and cerebral experience, the former offers a more emotionally charged atmosphere. The Hex isn’t better or worse than the Vega, just different. It's evidence again that neither is a one-DAC-fits-all solution.

AURALiC website