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This review first appeared in the February 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of AURALiC in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or AURALiC - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Sources: CD player Fonel Simplicité, laptop with foobar2000 and J.River, Northstar USB dac32
Amplification: Fonel Emotion and Abacus Ampino integrated, Funk MTX Monitor V3b preamp, Audionet AMP monos
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 3.7, Quadral Platinum M20
Cables: Straight Wire Virtuoso, HMS Fortissimo, Reson LSC 350, Kimber USB Ag
Power delivery: Quantum Powerchords, Hifi Tuning Powercord Gold , MF Electronic power strip
Rack: Lovan Classic II
Review component pricing: €1.998 for the preamp, €4.596/pr for the monos

Publishers foreword: With separate feature reviews on the Taurus Pre and Merak monos already in our archives, this review not only presented us with a welcome 2nd-opinion opportunity but particularly the findings on the power amps reconfirm that much has happened in the class D sector. It really warrants reexamination by those who still believe that its sonics are inherently handicapped versus traditional class A or class AB topologies.

No, the spherical speakers in the opening shot were neither fairaudio inventory nor did they serve any ancillary duty in this review. They were purely decorative even though it does remain astounding what these small balls from Telefunken (previously headquartered in Berlin Kreuzberg practically around the corner) remain capable of 30 years after the fact. The reason they appear is that by contrast to these Telefunken oldies, the nouveau epoch of 'made in China' and switching output stages would then have been the stuff of hifi science fiction. Enter the Auralic Taurus Pre and class D Merak power monos as harbingers of that very scifi.

The topic of Chi-Fi from China has already changed from where it stood a few years ago. Not only do many established domestic brands no longer lie about offshore manufacturing, even original Chinese brands have gained in showroom cred and traction. The latter is surely due to firms like Auralic whose founders Xuanqian Wang [shown at left] and partner Yuan Wang actually met during a Waldbühne concert in Berlin. Where yellow-fever cliché used to say "much weight for the dollar but somewhat gaudy", anyone inspecting today's review subjects with any such preconceptions will feel quite embarrassed and outed.

At first glance and heft these Auralics convey an impression of pure British understatement. Biometric specs are 33cm widths and single-digit kilograms. A second view begins to notice the quality of high-tolerance finishing. Continuity between joints is smooth, seams are narrow. Screws are flush and re-enter without effort after bonnets have been popped. The brushed aluminium finish is classy and all mechanical controls convey solidity, the volume control moves slickly without wobble and each chassis-mount socket appears bomb proof.

Bomb-proof in fact is the word du jour for the monos' Cardas terminals where a single bolt tightens both hot and cold cable legs without fuss but max contact pressure and no tweaking of a wrist. It's the perhaps ultimate audiophile-approved zero compromise solution though it does want spades. Bananas lack the usual entry holes and thus would get badly deformed. The Merak monos are selective also about their incoming signal. As fully balanced circuits they only accept XLR. Declared as 200 watts into 8Ω, a second inverted XLR output can bridge each mono for those who feel that twice the money for four times the power is a sensible investment.

In matters of use the Merak monos otherwise justify little commentary. As power amps there isn't much to them though two items do deserve mention. First, flicking the rear-mounted power mains to 'on' doesn't yet net any sound but merely engages standby with a low 6-watt power draw. This deactivates the output stage but pre-warms or maintains thermal readiness for the preceding circuitry. To make tunes either wants a wakeup signal at the input or a conventional press on the small central button upfront. Either way garners a red LED confirmation. The automated routine appears most suitable for high-level listening (which of course also depends on the sensitivity rating of your speakers) since the svelte monos can sign off into muted standby mode on their own during quiet interludes.

But that's no real nit. Powering up the Meraks manually just once deactivates their signal-sensing routine for good unless one were to deliberately reset it. Now the user decides very traditionally by pressing the button whether one means to listen or keep the machine warm but powered down. Should you forget the latter after a particularly transcendental audition, it's no great matter. At idle these amps consume all of 12 watts. Most preamps are thirstier, never mind CD players...

My first real-world check netted a big thumbs up for utter lack of transformer hum. This was particularly laudable since the words 'clean' and 'power' here in Berlin rarely collide in the same sentence. DC riding atop the AC routinely leads to premature trafo core saturation which in my listening room is far from rare. Those who shrug off such praise with a bark of "right, those class D low riders run on switch-mode power, how's that even supposed to hum?" are at the wrong tree. The fat belly bolt alone gives away that a linear supply is aboard. Auralic's designers refer to it as Hybrid Analog Amplify Technology. The actual output stage runs a 400kHz-switching Hypex UcD module claimed to be modified in-house to transcend the ubiquitous ICEpower equivalents not least because the HF-critical influence of the load impedance on the circuit's output filter is no more.

The remainder of the Merak circuitry is comparatively old school though a 500VA Plitron toroid plus 56.000µF of capacitive storage are never old. Auralic prefers their power supply to an SMPS equivalent for its greater more stable current delivery and for its reduced radiation. Now whisper that tiny term 'class A' and those with an inbred skepticism towards all newfangled tech might finally crack a smile. That's because the input and driver circuitry directly preceding the Hypex module is a proprietary and patented class A affair dubbed Orfeo and tweaked for top linearity and minimal distortion.