This week, we tested no less than 4 Aune Audio electronics: a headphone amplifier with the Aune T1 MK2 USB DAC, the Aune B1 portable headphone amplifier and the combination of the USB DAC and Tripath Aune X1 and Aune X2.
Coming from China, the headphone amplifier with USB DAC Aune Audio T1 Mk2 is the device that tickled our curiosity the most. Designed to be connected to the USB port of a computer, the T1 decodes stereo audio stream up to 24 bits and 96 kHz. The analog signal is handled by a Russian Electro Harmonix 6922 power tube, a solution which Chinese and Japanese brands are particularly attached to because of the high musicality it gives to the listening experience as well as for its high output power (very useful for high impedance headphones).
The Aune T1 MK2 comes with an imposing and heavy power supply. No light-weight switched-mode power supply here but a good old transformer to deliver quality electrical current to the power tube. The tube comes in a cardboard box and must be put in place by the user. A plastic protection is also given for the tube (we didn’t use it). The T1 comes with a USB cable.
Presentation and application
The case is in solid brushed aluminium and features a 6.3 mm jack output on the front panel. The 6922 power tube is situated at the top of the device along with a volume potentiometer and an input switch (USB or line). On the back panel are the type B USB port, the RCA line input and the RCA stereo line output as well as an on/off switch and a proprietary power supply connector. We connected the Aune T1 to our computer with an Audioquest Coffee USB cable and listened to FLAC and DSD files (with a PCM conversion) read by Foobar2000 with the ASIO4ALL driver. We also spent a fair amount of time listening to Deezer.
The magic of the tube operates right away. Even without breaking-in the amplifier and with a barely warm tube, the message delivered is smooth and soft, the high frequency benefits from a nice highlight and bass is impressively swift. The listening experience is not exactly neutral but extremely addictive. Be prepared for long listening sessions with the Aune T1 and rest assured that the volume will go up as the smoothness of this device makes you want to turn the potentiometer up. Listen to the Fugees’ cover of Killing me Softly and you will inevitably be surprised by the sound level. Try some tracks which are usually not part of the average audiophile’s collection (we’re thinking about Magic System here) and this headphone amplifier will surprise you by how good the worst mix can sound.
I’ve got you under my skin, Frank Sinatra, FLAC 16/44
It is a difficult exercise to deliver a mono mix with a severely chopped balance in the bass and treble. The Aune T1 MK2 manages to deliver the artist’s voice as well as the orchestration. We have no difficulty following the saxophone or the violins. The orchestral take-off is well under control. Even more important, the music carries us away. Let’s swing!
Personal Jesus, Johnny Cash (FLAC 16/44)
The closeness with the singer and his guitar is exceptional. The strings sound heavy and the impact of Cash’s foot tapping to the rhythm is well cut out. Exhilarating.
School, Supertramp (FLAC 16/44)
A track to rediscover on the deluxe version of the album Crime of the Century. The dynamic compression is low and the musical richness of this song is incredible when delivered by the Aune T1 as it keeps the treble under control and explores the lower medium for our greatest pleasure. Hat’s off!
The Cure, Boys don’t cry (FLAC 16/44)
A remastered version of this track can be found on the Greatest Hits album released in 2001, a nice homage. With the T1, the sound is definitely vintage. Robert Smith’s voice is sometimes projected without being agressive. The rhythm section is round and smooth and we catch ourselves tapping our foot along to the rhythm. On the more aggressive sound take of Inbetween Days, the tube works marvels and smooths out the sharp angles. Besides, the sound take lets you hear a few “vinyl style” whistles in the vocals.
Karmacoma, Massive Attack (FLAC 16/44)
A track that often sounds stifled but the Aune T1 does a fantastic job with it, and this is an understatement. The articulation is perfect, the bass guitar growls without crushing the other instruments, the delivery is open and smooth. Never have we heard this song like this with headphones. This applies to the whole Protection album, which makes you want to listen to it over and over again.
Fear and love, Morcheeba (FLAC 16/44)
A little bit of coloration on Skye Edwards vocals, but we can hear the whole range and we can’t help but thoroughly enjoy it. At 2:33, the trumpet with mute is hovering on the left of the stage. After 3:00, the female backup choir behind the singer is clearly cut. The sign of great electronics.
Melody Nelson, Serge Gainsbourg (FLAC 16/44)
The album was re-released for its 40th birthday along with a second disc including the complete takes as well as a few alternative versions. An album to rediscover, an exceptional sound take. The Aune T1 gets all the details out of each part and underlines every single instrument. The tube offers a warm, detailed and smooth listening experience. When the violins accompany the electric and bass guitars, the sound stage broadens in a way we weren’t expecting. The voice of the artist is somptuous, with a slight sharpness we actually enjoyed.
Haunted, Beyoncé (FLAC 16/44)
Most transistors headphone amplifiers make the diaphragms of our test headphones vibrate when we turn the sound up, which is a sign of very high volume around 30 Hz and below. This is not the case with the Aune T1 MK2, meaning it might not go down as low, yet still manages to deliver a super detailed bass range along with an uncommon amount of power. Every impact is of a rare intensity and does not drag. Beyoncé’s voice is mixed with an artificial brightness so that the back vocals can flow naturally without being overwhelming at high volume. If you like this type of pop / r&b, know that the T1 does a great job with it.
Giorgio by Moroder, Daft Punk (FLAC 24/88,2)
The sound level layout is very different from what one would get with a transistor amplifier.While the listener expects to be facing the wrath of the bass drum as soon as the intro is over, the Aune T1 MK2 decided otherwise and let the guitars and synth take the lion’s share. The listening experience is in no way unbalanced, quite the contrary, it is of a rare intensity. Just like with Haunted, we were amazed by the swiftness of the message. Around 5:30, the message becomes complex but the T1 is still right on the target. We would have liked a little more space between the sound levels, but everything is solid. The bass guitar stands out and we have no trouble hearing the echo.
Like a dog chasing cars, Hanz Zimmer (DTS 6ch 16/48 downmixed)
Great bass foundation, the sound is impressively wide. The long brass / violin crescendo is borderline frightening. The medium range flows remarkably well.
Duel of Fates, John Williams (FLAC 16/44)
Always a hard test to pass, this track requires a lot of softness and accuracy from the DAC. The tube of the T1 doesn’t provide as much precision as we would have liked, but as far as warmth and softness are concerned, the T1 does a fantastic job.
Aune B1: The portable headphone amplifier in class A
We tested the Aune B1 with a Galaxy Note smarthphone and an Asus Nexus 7 tablet, we even connected it to the Aune T1’s headphone output. The tonal balance is very different from the T1 MK2’s (even when paired up with the T1). The listening experience is dryer, the treble takes the backseat and finds its place perfectly. The depth of the soundstage is limited but the sound placement is properly done. Connected to our smarphone headphone output, the Aune B1 brings solid bass and increases the sound volume.
The connectors are reduced down to a micro-USB port for charging, a 3.5 mm mini-jack line input and a headphone output in the same format.
Aune X1 and X2 MK2: USB DAC and Tripath Bluetooth amplifier
The Aune X1 Pro DAC is USB and S/PDIF DAC compatible with 24 bits / 96 kHz stream and features a line input as well as a powerful headphone output and a line output. We used it along with the Aune X2 MK2 amplifier, capable of delivering up to 2×15 at 8 Ohms thanks to its Texas Instrument TPA3121 OP amp (a very high sensitivity Tripath model). Our test speakers were Focal Aria 906 and the Jamo C109.
First, we listened to the X1 MK2 with headphones and connected it to our computer by using a USB cable. This amplifier does not offer the same softness and space as the T1 but is slightly more meticulous in the higher range of the sound spectrum.
The Aune X2 MK2 amp delivers a very personal sound with a lot of emphasis on the mediums and a certain dryness in the higher end of the spectrum. Although small in size, it does a convincing job with bass. Paired up with a Jamo C109 floor-standing speaker, the sound dives low without dragging. The high amount of mediums allows the listener to hear a lot of micro-information, especially with jazz (Chet Baker, Duke Elligton, Miles Davis). Listening is a little more ferocious with rock and pop music, be it with the Focal Aria 906 (although very soft) or the Jamo C109.
Note that Bluetooth reception suffers from a rather noticeable background noise on average sensitivity speakers.
Out of the 4 Aune Audio electronics we tested, it is the Aune T1 MK2 headphone amplifier that caught our attention the most, proof that power tubes still have great days ahead of them. The couple of Watts it delivers at 32 Ohms lets you use any type of headphones with it. We would like to finish by adding that the 6922 Russian tube which comes with the amp can be replaced by an even better model such as a Siemens, Philips or Sylvania. We highly recommend this headphone amplifier, extremely smooth and convincing, especially as regards its price.