AURALiC TAURUS and MERAK Pre-Power Review
AURALiC is a relatively new audio brand on the Australian market, made available via importer, Busisoft. And in case you were already wondering, AURALiC is correctly written in capitals, with a lower case ‘i’. Interestingly, all of their product names are written in capitals.
AURALiC is the collaboration of two music lovers that initially met at a music festival in Berlin and decided to partner together to start designing and manufacturing audiophile products. Since 2008, the founders of AURALiC Ltd set out to create a series of user-friendly audio equipment using the latest technology. AURALiC has aimed its product lines towards smart non-traditional audio equipment, using sophisticated R&D facilities, modern manufacturing techniques and digital technologies. They currently have six products on the market. All of have been very well received by both the media and the buying public.
In this article I review two models from AURALiC, the TAURUS Preamplifier ($2,499 RRP) and a pair of MERAK Monoblock power amplifiers ($5,998/pair RRP). I decided to review these as a combination, as that is the way that they will often be used, and also the fact that they are complimentary to each other from an aesthetic and suitability point of view. They are both very slim, compact units, only 70mm in height and 330mm in width. When stacked up on top of each other they look very modern, attractive and will easily fit into smaller non-traditional hi-fi racks, especially practical for a smaller room. The fit and finish on them is first class, with small Allen head screws holding the slick aluminium casework overlaying the top and sides together. They are manufactured in China and belong to the new breed of exceedingly well made products arriving from that manufacturing power house. I love the conspicuous quality of the RCA & XLR sockets and plugs at the back of the amps.
TAURUS Pre Amplifier
The TAURUS preamplifier is a balanced line level stage, with one balanced and three unbalanced inputs, and the choice of balanced and unbalanced outputs. It will operate either in Preamp or in Headphone Amp (HPA) modes, using 2 x 6.35mm headphone sockets on the front panel. It comes with a remote control that is the same for other AURALiC components, so if you purchase additional products, you can operate everything from the single remote.
Internally it is built by using a Plitron triple shielded mains transformer, for lowering EMI, a low noise input buffer, giving it over 130dB of dynamic range and a unique and patented ORFEO class-A module. The principle behind this module is to use a mass of small signal components with linear characteristics, tightly packed and thermally balanced. These transistors are biasing into an always switched on Class-A state, allowing rated distortion of less than 0.001%.
MERAK Power Amplifier
The MERAK monoblocks are a 21st century amplifier, utilising a Hypex switching module for a class D output. As in everything in life, it’s all about the detail and execution. AC is filtered via high quality input isolation transformer made by Lundahl. The isolation transformer helps to keep EMI noise attenuated by up to 100dB. The main toroidal is also by Plitron, a large 500VA unit, customised with patented low noise, narrow band technology, following by a 56,000uF capacitors array, capable of storing up to 120 Joule of energy. This ensures that noise and source impedance remains low, as well as offering excellent current transient performance. MERAK can deliver 16 amps peak current which is equal to about 900W power into your speakers. You have been warned!
AURALiC also uses the patented ORFEO class-A module, as used in the preamplifier, for driving the output stage, which is a Hypex UcD fast switching module. AURALiC modified and optimised the original Hypex design, leading to reduced high order distortion, (mostly from 4th to 7th) thus improving the listening experience. MERAK achieves 400W continuous output power while maintaining its efficiency at an impressive 90%.
It also features another energy saving trick up its sleeve, an advanced power management circuit via an inbuilt computer based signal processor. As soon as the mains power is connected, it will automatically run in warm-up mode, shutting down its output stage to save energy, while leaving the class-A signal amplifier circuit and power supply unit still working, but using less than 5 watts of energy. When MERAK wakes for operation, it’s ready to sound its best. Power management also has an intelligent auto sleep function, going to sleep after 5 minutes of continual silence. It’s also user defeatable if you don’t require this function. Suffice to say, it’s a feature I wish more manufacturers would employ.
The MERAK monoblocks require a balanced input as they only cater for XLR cabled inputs, making them suitable for pairing with the TAURUS. They also have an XLR socket for BTL inverted output, suitable for bridging two sets of MERAK’s for special use, driving very large or difficult speaker loading (or perhaps a live concert.)
Speakers are connected with a Cardas Patented Binding Post (CPBP), something that I have not seen before. It’s recommended that you use a Y-type or spade connector on the ends of your speaker cables. I tried bare solid core copper wire, spades and banana plugs, all with good results. With a single large thumb screw to tighten or release your cables, it actually worked very well. They should sound much better than the usual brass binding posts, as by design they allow a simpler path for electron flow. I like the attention to detail that AURALiC show in their design, to ensure maximum sound potential. They didn’t skimp on the connectors.
The two monoblocks don’t seem to generate much heat at all, even when pumping out loud music. In fact the preamp feels warmer to the touch, but it has a vented top panel. If you are stacking them, it’s best to place the preamp on top. They are extremely energy efficient and you don’t feel too concerned to leave them playing for hours on end. AURALiC claim that compared to other traditional power amplifiers, MERAK is greener and more environmentally friendly, reducing the carbon emission of 1100kg per year. I’ll have to admit that I’m unsure as to how that figure is arrived at, but it does satisfy the inner ‘greenie’ inside us all.
I connected the TAURUS – MERAK combination with Cardas Clear Light XLR interconnects and was presented with a sound that could be described as very powerful, neutral, clean, open and detailed with very quiet, black backgrounds. But that’s only after the units (both pre and power amps) have had sufficient time from new to burn in and season. AURALiC state in their manual: “As the same with the other audio components, MERAK requests at least 100 hours music signal burn-in to achieve its designed performance; the sonic will be in best after 500 hours music signal burn-in.” I can certainly attest to that recommendation as initially, the music seemed really clamped down in the peaks and transients, somewhat destroying the pace and timing. There were really no major changes until around 300 hours of playing music through the system. Sonically, the system has continued to improve with further playing time, the minor timing accents have finally been released from their captive bind, the initial harshness and fatigue is gone and finally there is an overall sense of ease. Spatially, instruments and voices are now realistically portrayed in their own very large space, not too forward and with all the subtleties of live music. The more hours clocked up, the better it is sounding. Patience has its rewards.
I also hooked up a pair of headphones to one of the two headphone inputs on the front panel to sample the ‘HPA’ mode. While I prefer to listen to speakers in a room, I do enjoy good headphones as well. Sampling OPPO PM-2 planar magnetic headphones (review coming), which are low impedance units, (32ohm) they worked very well with a big soundstage, smooth and detailed treble and particularly robust bass. There was plenty of drive and there was plenty of available volume. In fact it sounded every bit as good as the preamp stage and that’s nothing to complain about. I didn’t have another quality headphone amp at hand to compare against, but everything I did hear, told me that it would be no problem as a dual purpose headphone amp/preamp.
These power amps sure are a power house, with extremely fast, deep tightly controlled bass. With 200W into 8ohms or 400W into 4ohms, it actually sounds more powerful than it is. Sampling Rusko “Woo Boost”, the bass lines are terrifically taught and muscular, while the soundstage is huge and doesn’t shrink or lose its composure or openness when played with gusto. It simply doesn’t run out of steam at almost any volume level, allowing great dynamic range. If your one of those people who likes it loud, (and who doesn’t) you will quickly appreciate that you can listen at near concert levels without signs of strain or inducing listening fatigue. The MERAK amplifiers do not sound like some early generation class D amplifiers that have at times given switching amps a less favourable reputation. I have heard (without mentioning names) amps that relay the musical content almost as if there is a huge, overly powerful reservoir of sound, always on the edge of eruption, but is controlled in a horribly aggressive manner. That said, the MERAK amplifiers do start to become just a touch strident, particularly on well recorded string and orchestral pieces with lots of top end energy, but only when played above normal listening volumes. Incidentally, they had no issues driving any of the speakers I hooked up to them. Brodmann Acoustics F2 speakers are somewhat demanding of the amplifier they are paired with, but they were able to be driven very well with the MERAK pair.
There is no evidence of switching distortion or associated harshness; vocals are smooth, balanced and very detailed, dependent upon the source. High-resolution tracks sound particularly engaging with good resolution of hidden detail and air around that detail. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson 24/176.4K was snappy with good timing and rhythmic interplay. I hadn’t noticed before a soft regular finger click from the left channel that had natural decay that moved towards the centre. Ben Webster's “My Romance” had plenty of detail from the entire group with all the instruments sounding natural, nicely spaced across the wide soundstage and particularly the close microphone placement of Ben blowing into his saxophone, with all his breathing and phrasing correctly recreated, very nicely indeed. Joël Grare “Paris-Istanbul-Shangaï: Nihavant” is a hauntingly beautiful track, superbly recorded with natural instruments and sounded ravishing and tactile. There was a real nearness and three dimensionality to the sound, everything was very well articulated in a way that the AURALiC combo delivered so convincingly well.
A sign of a good pre and power combination is that it works well at all volume levels. I’ve noticed that when playing the AURALiC combination at soft volume levels, the sound is still totally engaging and the sound stage is still huge. It filled my listening space with inspiring music allowing all the fine detail to remain. Try “Knot of Place and Time” by Jan Garbarek. Jan is a Norwegian saxophonist, and creates a very sultry mood with his spellbinding music that sounds awesome even at a very low volume.
Separating the pairing of pre and power amps for the sake of comparing them, firstly it’s obvious to me that they have been voiced to have a very similar sound profile. They no doubt work very well together because they have similar characteristics to each other. Having some common components will have that effect on the sound. I did most of my critical listening using the versatile AURALiC VEGA DAC (review coming) and again that unit has the same AURALiC ‘house’ sound that certainly contributed to the overall well-presented and polished manner.
Starting with the TAURUS preamplifier, I shot it out against an Audile Solo Tube Line Stage. The TAURUS was considerably quieter with blacker backgrounds that is typical of good solid state design. Like most valve equipment, the Audile has a slightly different musical presentation to that of solid state, of rich and colourful overtones. This added tonality allows voices to sound engaging and instruments to sound like the material that it is made from. By comparison the AURALiC was far more clinical sounding, but not unpleasantly so, just super clean, without as much of the tonal richness conveyed. The treble is well natured, non-abrasive and extended in the balance. Micro/macro dynamics are good, but are not an overly strong point, the Audile seemed to be a bit better at that. “Symphony No.41 Jupiter C Major K551 (Molto Allegro)” by Salzburg Orchester Solisten has great dynamics on this track, but is also an example of strings that sounded just a little thin via the TAURUS, I was left wanting a little more of that fullness and richness. Still, it is very good value for money and personal preference will play a large part in how you spend it. I also really enjoyed having a remote control volume control, making my life so much more comfortable.
I also comparted the MERAK amplifiers with a pair of similarly priced Rotel amps, their most powerful RB-1581 monoblock power amplifier (500W/8ohms, Class AB). The MERAK amplifiers sounded a touch faster and more dynamically powerful than the Rotel pair even at normal listening levels. The Rotel mono’s are musical amplifiers that resolve and separate instruments and voices very well, but not down to the last degree as the MERAKs do. Tonally, the Rotel amps were smoother to my ears, with piano in particular, sounding more real and accurate with all the harmonic decays conveyed correctly. It’s as if there is a slight high midrange or lower treble tonal compression with the AURALiC amps, that made some naturally recorded instruments sound slightly shrilly or tonally threadbare. Depending on your taste of musical genre this may not be an issue, as most modern music didn’t highlight this. It may even disappear with further playing time.
Compared to my Australian made Benchmark A201 bridged mode monoblocks (240W/8ohms, Class AB), again the MERAK mono’s had faster snap, more crackle and pop. I’m not sure why, but all the class D based power amps that I’ve heard seem to have a really full dynamically forward sound, that appear to be way more powerful than a typical class AB amplifier given the same output power specification. I would guess that a very high damping factor and very fast rise times are responsible. The speed of each note being released seems as if it is fired out faster and this is probably what gives you that impression. The Benchmark amps are more relaxed in the manner that they deliver music. In many ways they probably have more in common with the Rotel amps than the AURALiC amps. The MERAK are almost clinical in the way they scrape out every last bit of detail compared to the Benchmark amps. The Benchmark amplifiers also seemed to have a bass imbalance by comparison, with an over emphasised bottom end that doesn’t seem as natural as the better MERAKs.
I found this component combination to be first class. You can separate them and by means of their inherent quality, individually they perform very well. The MERAKs more so, but together they make a lot of sense to be used together. The design is striking and certainly challenges the old school staid black boxes of yesteryear with a totally modern look and feel. They are super-efficient with usable intelligent power management. The combination of the good looks along with the ‘green’ factor could help get the purchase decision past your significant other.
They are far more powerful and control the speakers in a way that you would not think possible from a couple of slim diminutive boxes. At the end of the day you owe it to yourself to sample this excellent combination from AURALiC. Just make sure you listen to well-seasoned units as mentioned previously. I’d also suggest using the best cables that you can afford as these components demand it.
I have to admit that I have renewed respect for switching power amplifiers as the MERAK amplifiers are spectacular. I’m certainly going to miss having them in my listening room. Recommended.
- Esoteric P10 CD Transport
- AURALiC VEGA DAC
- Cardas Clear & Audio Unique cables
- Audile Solo Tube Line Stage
- Rotel RB-1581 monoblocks
- Benchmark A201 bridged mode monoblocks
- Dynaudio 21 W-54 Woofer / Audio Unique ribbon hybrid speakers
- Brodmann Acoustics F2 Loudspeakers
- ELAC FS77 Loudspeakers
- Oppo PM-2 planer magnetic headphones
- Frequency Response: 3Hz - 300KHz, +/- 3dB; 20Hz - 20KHz, +/- 0.1dB
- THD+N: <0.001%, 20Hz-20KHz
- Dynamic Range: >130dB, 20Hz-20KHz, A-weighted
- Crosstalk: <-80dB @ 1KHz
- Gain: 10dB/16dB (XLR Input/RCA Input)
- Input Ports 3 x RCA: max. undistorted level 6Vrms; 1 x XLR: max. undistorted level 12Vrms
- Output Ports: 1 x RCA pre-amplifier out; 1 x XLR pre-amplifier out; 2 x 6.35mm headphone out
- Maximum Swing Voltage: 12Vrms/24Vrms (RCA output/XLR output)
- Power Dissipation: 25W at max.
- Dimension: 33cm W x 23cm D x 6.5cm H
- Weight: 4.4kg
- Continuous Output Power 200W/400W (8ohm/4ohm)
- Peak Current Output >16 amp (40 ms)
- Frequency Response 20Hz - 20KHz, +/- 0.5dB
- THD+N <0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz@1W
- IMD <0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz@1W
- Residual Noise <50uV, 20Hz-20KHz, A-weighted
- Input Ports 1 x XLR, Sensitivity: 2.2Vrms (RCA input requires adapter)
- Input Impedance 10K Ohm
- Output Ports: 1 x Cardas patented CE binding post; 1 x XLR invert output (for BTL mode)
- Damping Factors >800, 8ohm@1Khz
- Optimized Loads 2ohm to 16ohm
- Power dissipation, Warm-up mode: 5W; Playback mode: 15W/450W (idle/max. output)
- Dimensions 33cm W x 33cm D x 7.0cm H
- Weight: 8.5kg
For more information visit the AURALiC brand page.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.