Auralic Polaris

Hardware Review

Auralic Polaris The Ear
Auralic Polaris
Thursday, November 23, 2017
integrated amplifier, streamer, DAC
Jason Kennedy

In our steady progress through Auralic's slowly expanding range of streaming devices we have enjoyed the Aries Mini network streamer and Altair streamer/preamplifier, so it made sense to move onto the Altair based all in one integrated amplifier, DAC and streamer the Polaris. This was until recently the top model but the introduction of the G2 range has upped the ante, the Polaris remains the only amp/streamer however and despite a recent price cut looks likely to remain in production for the foreseeable future. It's a neat and compact design with a paired down front panel that leaves most of the functionality to the remote handset and Lightning control App, that said you can use the knob to scroll around the features menu and change a large number of variables.

 

 

The amplifier side of the Polaris is built around a class D output stage that's specified to produce 120 Watts per channel. It’s got some clever processing power that allows it to remember the level that each input was left on, a useful trick if you have sources with highly differing output levels. Which tends to happen with high level onboard sources like a network streamer that might comfortable with the level set to 40 or 50 while a turntable and phono stage on the aux input needs to be closer to 75, it avoids nasty shocks when switching inputs for a start.

As a streamer it gives you access to music stored on a NAS or USB drive, and even optional onboard storage. Also available are streaming services including Qobuz and Tidal alongside internet radio. Onboard memory provides buffering for glitch free streaming and gapless playback is provided alongside the facility to control the device with Roon if you have that software running on a local PC. Digital inputs come in pretty well all varieties alongside two line inputs, one of which can switch to MM phono duties while the other flips to being an output if required. You can also send signal from phones and tablets over Airplay and Bluetooth should the urge come over you. There’s a USB A input on the front but no headphone output, which is about the only connection that this device lacks. The DAC model is not specified but its numbers are as high as most with PCM up to 32/384 and DSD256 which should be sufficient for the forseeable future. It’s not a big box at just over a foot wide so the back panel is dense with good quality connectors and that’s before you start connecting it up.

 

 

Sound quality
The Polaris is particularly good as an integrated amp as I discovered when using it with a Rega P6 turntable and Ania/Fono MC combo, the sound being calm and clean with lots of fine detail and decent dynamics. Transparency to things like decay and reverb is also good and it has a nimbleness that you don’t get with many integrateds, even at this price. That is, there is very little sense of grain, it doesn’t have the slam of a class A/B amp but is in some ways more revealing and effortless. Upgrading to a better phono stage makes a huge difference, bringing in increased immediacy and power and you can turn it up to serious levels without encountering any nasty glare or brashness. With a line source (CAD 1543 MkII DAC) the result is cleaner and quicker than usual, it’s a little inorganic but attractive thanks to good immediacy. The sound could be warmer but is very engaging if not quite as big and generous as it can be, which is a comparison with my usual pre/power that comes in at a somewhat higher price so not entirely fair. So don’t think that the Polaris is just an Altair with any old amp bunged on the back, there is a reason for the price difference between the two and it’s a big one.

Used in its primary role as a streamer the music escapes the speakers with ease but needs a bit more level than usual, this might be because it lacks the usual distortions associated with Class A/B amps and therefore can be played louder without discomfort, or it could be a slight dynamic restraint. I tried a USB cable comparison where the differences were made very clear and I preferred the Vertere HB over the newcomer for its immediacy again, it may not have the best image definition on the block but can’t be beat for realism and presence. Sticking the Allegri preamp between source and Polaris relaxes the sound and opens it up with more natural highs, but doesn’t change the transient speed obviously, an area in which it manages to better most integrateds and many preamplifiers. Which indicates that the Polaris is extremely good in this important respect.

 

 

While it doesn’t have quite the impact of a good A/B amp it makes up for it with very decent low level resolution and musical flow, which is arguably more important when it comes to long term listening pleasure. The Auralic Polaris is better than you might imagine given its compact nature, it’s a slow burn product, it doesn’t try and impress with a flashy but ultimately tiring presentation but gets on with letting an awful lot of music through in a style that is remarkably refined. I found it to be a particularly good integrated amplifier and got excellent results with a number of sources, not least vinyl where its ability to expose the fine details of reverb around voices and acoustic instruments made it very easy to enjoy. In fact I put in the notes that I should take Polaris to the Indulgence Show because it was sounding so good with the Rega P6/Ania/Microgroove analogue front end. So don’t imagine that its size means this do it all box cannot match the best in its price range, in many important respects it betters them, and as EF Schumacher wrote, small is beautiful. Combine this with the elegance of the Lightning control App and you have a streamer, DAC and amp for all seasons.

Specifications: 

Type: integrated amplifier, streamer & DAC
Power output: 120W/180W (8ohm/4ohm)
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20KHz, +/- 0.5dB (precise filter mode)

THD+N: <0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz at 1W

Streaming Inputs: Network shared folder, USB Drive, Internal Music Storage (with optional 2.5-inch HDD or SSD), UPnP/DLNA Media Server, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming, Internet Radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth
Digital Inputs: AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink, USB device to computer, 2x USB host to storage and DAC, RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi
Analogue outputs: Single-ended RCA(6mV @0dBFS), loudspeaker binding posts
Supported File Formats: AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC,
MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA

Supported Digital Formats: PCM from 44.1KS/s to 384KS/s in 32Bit, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256

Control Software: Lightning DS for iOS, RC-1 remote handset, OpenHome compatible, uPnP compatible control software, Roon

Power Consumption: Sleep – <10W, Playback –  450W at max.

Dimensions WxDxH: 330 x 260 x 65mm (13 x 10.2 x 2.6 inches)

Weight: 4.5kg (10lbs)

Price: 
£2875
Manufacturer Details: 
Distributor Details: 

Auralic Europe
T (+44) 7590 106105
www.auralic.com