Reviewer: Peter Familari
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Esoteric P700 transport purchased used for $550, Schiit Bifrost DAC $899, Schiit USB module $199
Cables: Wintel USB cable, RCA interconnect and 2.5 metre speaker cable, Tara Labs Prism 100D coax cable $45, Nordost Blue Heaven Speaker cable $145 per metre, Soundstyle S2 speaker stands $299
Review component retail price: $1'950 Australian
The glass is half full. Whenever my financially more cushioned audio buddies wave a well-manicured hand over their $100K plus audio systems and declare that the sound of expensive audio equipment is moving up and down in the same spot, I tend to equivocate. I just don't know the answer. Although I do get to hear gear considered the pinnacle of the market a lot, the auditions are usually in an environment or involve a grouping of components I'm unfamiliar with. But I think I know what they mean. The good stuff, the expensive stuff has always been expected to, all things being equal, sound more like the real thing. But down below where the entry level and mid-tier gear resides, our expectations are normally diminished mainly by an ideology equating price with performance. We used to pay homage to a NAD3020, Rega Planar 3 and a pair of Mordaunt Short Pageants but our homage was laced with faint praise because we believed—and still do—that the cheaper stuff is cheaper for a reason. But I'm here to tell you that manufacturing hype aside, the Dared Aeron integrated and the wee Triangle Titus EZ are the real deal performing way, way above what their modest prices suggest. At the time of writing, the Australian price of Dared's Aeron AP-165 is $1'950 and the Triangles can be yours in Walnut for an outlay of $1'399, $1'699 in black or white gloss. Both advance the cause of budget-fi by a considerable margin. Either are light years above and beyond the performance of my earliest budget level audio systems.

The yellow brick road. When I look back to the systems I cobbled together in my undergrad years and compare them to the Aeron driving the Triangle fed a hi-res signal from a MacBook Pro, I smile and declare no contest. The newer components beat up my older kit by a wide margin sonically and an even wider one ergonomically and logistically. I loved my old audio systems because they propelled me on a decades-long audio journey still evolving today. But only an audio romantic would suggest that my Garrard SP25 turntable with cheap Shure cartridge, Armstrong 521 integrated amplifier and original Goodman Maxim speakers in the early 70s would come vaguely close to the sound I'm hearing now from the Mac/Aaron/Triangle.

Sonically the newer gear generates less noise, is more transparent, more dynamic and has much better timing . Ergonomically it's churlish to compare old versus new. Whilst the Armstrong had oodles of input and output connections, it didn't have a built-in DAC or wireless technology. But here's the clincher. Like most students back then, I rented. This meant I moved so often that I used to struggle to find my way back to my temporary digs. So I decided that this kind of lifestyle invited a philosophy which privileged less over more. The arbiter of the less-is-better approach to commodities was my '57 VW. Whatever couldn't be crammed inside this vehicle or strapped to the roof rack was deemed superfluous. A hifi system, a bed and some books were non-negotiable. So were three fruit boxes. Two were used as speaker stands and a place to stash a handful of clothes. The third was pure indulgence and provided a desk and a place to store my books. Moving was simple. The hifi system went onto the back seat and the 150 or so LPs I owned at the time were stacked on the passenger seat and its footwall. The bed and fruit crates were strapped to the VW's roof rack. If I could reverse time, I know which system I'd choose. Logistically the Mac/Aaron/Triangle combination wins hands down especially given how I now have about 1'400 audio tracks stored on what's basically a 15-inch laptop. So what's my point? Whenever an audio bud tells you there's little to no progress in the lower rungs of the audio ladder, point them to entry-level and mid-tier components of this calibre, smile and repeat the words from Daryl, the main character in the movie The Castle: "Tell him he's dreaming'".

Higher ground.I wanted to approach the Aeron and Triangles as an exercise to cobble together a sanely priced student starter system. Whilst a 57 VW would be optional, this theoretical audio novice would surely own a laptop and moreover, have the techno smarts to dip into the myriad of online music providers that abound these days. More importantly, with a bit of prudential saving the total outlay required for this system would be under $3'500 and therefore achievable. Cables used to wire this modest system included a power cord provided with the Aeron, with USB cable and RCA interconnect and multi-strand speaker cable all purchased for below $30 at a discount electrical warehouse. Speaker stands were a little more problematical. The only ones I had on hand were a traded-in Soundstyle model I picked up cheaply for $80 for my own use, from a friendly Sydney hifi store. Presumably our theoretical student would also hunt for a pre-loved pair of stands. I checked one of our Australian forums and sure enough, prices started at about $60 for a pair of sand-fillable metal stands.