The Spectacularly Transparent AURALiC TAURUS MKII

Before we begin, I have to admit: I've been procrastinating a bit on this one. I've had the AURALiC TAURUS ($1899) for almost a year now—first the original model, followed later by the current MKII version. Typically, I would have penned a review within the first few months. The TAURUS is different though. It's been there, serving me well as I review this DAC or that headphone, without contributing it's own two cents. I suppose the more capable an amp, the harder it is to write an entertaining evaluation for it. I can't very well say "It's transparent!" and call it a day, can I? And so the amp sat there, performing like an unsung champion and helping me extract the most from my other components. Still, I realize I'm long overdo for putting some thoughts down on this remarkable amplifier. So here we go.

AURALiC is a Beijing based firm entering their 6th year of existence. Like many others in this segment, the company was founded by music lovers who felt they could offer something unique. They wanted to help folks get the most out of their music and figured they could do so in a way not yet seen from other companies. It's really the classic origin story that I like to see: two friends start small company, reputation grows, portfolio expands, and eventually they become something of a household name, at least among certain circles. AURALiC started off serving their local market and has now made a rather big splash worldwide—chiefly on the strength of their Vega DSD-capable DAC, but also their Merak amplifier and TAURUS products.

I say TAURUS products in the plural since there are actually two separate models—the TAURUS MKII is the dedicated headphone amp, with pre-amp outputs as sort of a bonus feature. The TAURUS Pre is specifically designed as a pre-amp, and also happens to have a headphone amp on board. This is not just a marketing differentiation—the two designs appear nearly identical on the outside but have very different internals. Choice comes down to primary functionality which is where the focus lies, the extra feature being secondary.

The TAURUS MKII supersedes the original model which was very similar. The MKII brings a tweak to the power supply for better performance in regions which don't have access to 220 volts from their wall plugs. During my time with the original model I did run into some problems which AURALiC determined to be related to my power situation. The MKII has been flawless for many months and has the added benefit of even lower noise, better isolation of inputs, and (subjectively) better looks from the all silver enclosure (the original was black except for the front panel).

The TAURUS is undoubtedly a handsome piece of equipment. Among all the gear in my audio rack, it's easily one of the most attractive, with a sculptured faceplate that just reeks of class. From the sculptured volume knob to the soft LED lighting, no detail has been overlooked. And yet it remains somewhat understated, easily mixing in among other high end components. I really love what AURALiC has achieved here; it's clearly high-end, but not audacious about it.

Functionality is fairly complete and straight forward. Rear inputs and outputs come in both RCA and XLR flavor. The front panel has a standard 1/4" headphone jack as well as a 4-pin XLR balanced output. A pair of selection buttons allows any input to flow through any output—the system automatically converts balanced to single ended or vice versa, as needed, with minimal sonic penalty. I've had some high-end amps that were finicky about that sort of thing, so I appreciate the flexibility of the TAURUS.

Popping the cover to investigate the guts of this machine, I was greeted with some serious heatsink action. No wonder this thing runs so cool. AURALiC was kind enough to supply pictures showing the board without the extra metal, to give us a look at the critical output stage which would otherwise be obscured. That output is based around AURALiC's proprietary Class A "Orfeo" modules which are said to be inspired by the classic Neve 8078 analog mixing console. Never heard of it? It's a legendary console which has been used to record classic albums by Chick Correa, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, and numerous other audiophile approved artists. You can read a bit more on the history here. Heck, it's the only recording console I know of to inspire a documentary—the soundtrack of which topped the Billboard charts. That has to count for something right? AURALiC says their Orfeo modules give the amp a warm, natural sound, and I have to say that's a good description. But more on that later.

The Orfeo output stage is not the only thing the TAURUS has going for it. There's the ultra low noise input buffer, helping the device achieve a dynamic range in excess of 130dB. There's the linear power supply featuring a shielded toroidal transformer flanked by over 30,000uF worth of Elna caps. Each section is walled off from one another for better isolation. Oh, and did I mention how much juice is on tap? TAURUS musters 4,500mW into 32 ohm loads (single ended mode) or 120 ohm loads (XLR output), meaning it can drive any headphone out there with gusto—up to and including the notoriously difficult HiFiMAN HE-6. The specs of the amp are among the best you'll find anywhere, regardless of price.

The astute reader will note the balanced and single-ended headphone outputs have differing behavior based on load. If you spotted that, good catch, pat yourself on the back. The TAURUS output stage has four sections in total. When operating in "STD" mode (the 1/4" jack), two outputs drive each channel in parallel. This results in maximum output current for low impedance headphones, with less voltage swing for high impedance loads. In BAL mode (the 4-pin XLR jack), two sections operate in a bridge-tied load configuration. The result? Much higher voltage swing at the expense of output current being comparatively limited. AURALiC is quick to point out that MOAR POWER is not always the answer. Just because you'd think planar headphones would do best from the 1/4" jack while high impedance Beyerdynamic models should use the balanced output, it doesn't necessarily always work out that way. I'd also add that "limited" output current or voltage swing, in this context, simply means "limited" compared to the max this device is capable of. Realistically the BAL output is still quite powerful into low impedance loads, and the STD output can still swing plenty of voltage. There's really nothing I can think of which the TAURUS can't handle (short of electrostatic models, obviously). Output impedance is low enough not to be a factor—less than 1 ohm from the STD jack, and somewhere between 3 and 4 ohms from the BAL output. Users of multi-driver, balanced armature IEMs may want to avoid the BAL output but all other headphones should be fair game.

In order to give the TAURUS a workout befitting a statement amp, I went straight to my best gear. No doubt AURALiC would recommend their Vega DAC as fed by their new Aries streamer, but I believe my substitutes get the job done equally well—Auraliti PK90 file player with NuForce LPS-1 power supply, feeding an Audiophilleo 1 with PurePower option, out to the Resonessence Labs Invicta DAC, which then connected to the TAURUS through both XLR and RCA cables (just to see if there was a significant difference—which there wasn't). Ancillaries included an APS S15 power conditioner and a bunch of Cabledyne Silver Reference cables. I used the TAURUS to drive a Sennheiser HD800, beyerdynamic T1, Audeze LCD-2, Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs, HiFiMAN HE-500 and HE-6, Thunderpants TP1, Audio Technica AD2000 and W2002, Grado PS500, and some in-ear monitors like JH Audio JH13FP, Westone ES5, and Noble 8C. I figure this pretty much covers all the bases from the very difficult to drive to the ultra-sensitive, planars to dynamic drivers, sealed to open back models, etc. We've got thin, bright headphones and warm, thick models, and most everything in between. I've got balanced and single ended cables for most of these, so I was able to go back and forth to see which output paired best with each model.

So, given all that, how did the TAURUS acquit itself? Read on to find out.

COMPANY INFO
AURALIC LIMITED
1F, Building No.7, 1A Chaoqian Road
Beijing, 102200, China
tel:%2B86-10-57325784
info@auralic.com
+86 -10 57325784
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COMMENTS
NZtechfreak's picture

Having had one of these the last several weeks I can thoroughly endorse the conclusions here. Exceptional headphone amp.

As an HE-6 owner I will mention that I prefer the balanced output, and looking at Head-Fi and a few other places I think this is the general consensus in relation to the preferred output into this particular headphone.

So far this has yet to put a foot wrong for me, it pairs wonderfully with my HD800 as well as my T1, and in the time I had auditioning it with the stores LCD-3 it seemed like a nice pairing there also (disclaimer: take that with a liberal grain of salt, I've not heard the LCD-3 before so have no point of comparison there).

Would be very interested to hear anyone's impressions on the Taurus MKII Vs the GS-X, so far I've seen only a single opinion and they felt that the two were very, very similar.

Now let the DAC shopping begin!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Is evidently quite good.

 

http://www.audiostream.com/content/auralic-vega-digital-audio-processor-0

http://www.stereophile.com/content/auralic-vega-da-processor

NZtechfreak's picture

...is certainly high on the list right now! 

The set-up I auditioned my Taurus through was the Auralic stack Vega-->Taurus. Sounded absolutely great, and certainly the aesthetic appeal of the two together is a balm for my gear-matching OCD. 

Still considering a few others though - the Bryston BDA-2 and PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MKII being the main considerations. Unfortunately the level of price gouging in New Zealand for most of these is somewhat extreme, so auditions are a must. 

How do you find the pairing between the Taurus and the Audeze headphones Tyll? As I mentioned above, I thought the LCD-3 sounded great, but I've not heard it on other gear. Considering the LCD-X, and while I presume it'll sound great from the Taurus, it'd be nice to have something more solid to go on. 

timmyw's picture

Since I got my LCD-X I have begun thinking about a new amp. Mine doesn't quite cut the mustard with them. This looks like it is on my "to try " list for sure, thanks for the review. 

thelostMIDrange's picture

or does the fringe buyer not believe there is ever too much of a good thing?

"You like soundstage? Precision imaging? How about sheet music pages turning, or audience members coughing? The TAURUS does microdetail and localization better than the vast majority of amps I've experienced."

John Grandberg's picture

I certainly have experienced amps which overdo it. The difference seems to be the overall balance - it gets fatiguing when detail is shoved in your face, at the expense of musicality, or flow, or whatever we decide to call it. Think Etymotic IEMs... great at times, but not always what one is in the mood for. 

The Taurus excels at being well rounded. Those details are there if you want them, but don't monopolize your attention. That's a rare quality. 

Dadracer's picture

What an excellent review and comprehensive too. I was staggered by sound quality which the Taurus fed through to my HD800s. It it now so good that I am even listening to CDs for pleasure! I cant access all the kit which you seem to have available in the USA but this combination is as close to high end as I have heard and much better than with Sennheisers own headphone amp sorry to say.

I like the idea of a wall of fame for amps as they are such a critical item in getting the best out of top quality headphones and I have one request.

Can you please add in a wall of fame for headphone cables?

I am not yet using the Taurus in balanced mode as it has been tricky to find the right cables and everyone has their own opinion of what is best. So I would be VERY interested to know what balanced cables you used with the Taurus and the HD800s as this is the first real review I have seen on this pairing? 

John Grandberg's picture

I used balanced options from Toxic Cables for my HD800 and HiFiMAN headphones, and then I used the stock balanced cable for my LCD-2 and Alpha Dogs. I'd say the stock cables are a good option and should not be overlooked. They are affordable, and probably more easily available than aftermarket options.

If the headphone in question does not use a detachable cable, plenty of stock cables (Grado for example) can be easily reterminated with a 4-pin XLR. In your case I think this is a good option as well. Sennheiser now has their own balanced cable but it's essentially the stock cable with an XLR on the end, so why not do it yourself (or have a friend help) and save some money? 

Dadracer's picture

In fact I just spoke to my dealer today and I'm going to get some sennheiser balanced cables to try out and compare to stock. out of interest which Toxic cables as this is a UK based company so at least I could get these for sure!  

John Grandberg's picture

I've used a number of different Toxic Cables models for various headphones and enjoyed them all. For HD800 I use a one-off version of their Scorpion cable, in a heavy gauge. It's what Frank from Toxic recommended for me. They have multiple options for HD800 and many are actually more affordable than Sennheiser's own balanced cable. The downside? Toxic has long lead times due to heavy demand. 

Dadracer's picture

Ok thanks I will follow this up.

fradoca's picture

Hi John,

thanks for the excellent review.Do you think that the Auralic is more neutral than the Bryston BHA-1? I would use both amplifiers in balanced mode in my little mastering studio. I'm considering both products for a studio recording use or for a reference where you have to hear all the defects in the incoming source.My dac is the V800 by Violectric which i love for its neutrality.

thanks

John Grandberg's picture

I've not spent enough time with the BHA-1 to realy compare. Having heard it on a few ocassions, I do think it's a good amp, but that's as far as I can go at the moment. 

jasperfl's picture

It is commendable how you have taken the time to provide this comprehensive review.

I especially like how you went into the company a little and didn't just talk about the product.

 

 

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Esprit's picture

Have you compared the Taurus Mkii with the Phonitor or Phonitor 2?

Thanks

Stereoplay.de compared the new Auralic vs. the new SPL

John Grandberg's picture

I'm not a huge fan of the original Phonitor. I like all the tweaking options but find the amp itself lacking considering the price. But I have not heard the Phonitor 2 (which, based on specs, seems to use a totally different amp section rather than a refresh). 

SoupRKnowva's picture

No comparison to the Questyle 800R in there? Thought for sure it would be in the HD800 section.

John Grandberg's picture

I did compare them when I reviewed the Questyle HERE. Love them both. Questyle is my first choice with HD800, Taurus is preferable with most planar dynamic headphones. 

Priidik's picture

How would its pre-amp compare to pre-amp in Yulong DA8?

In essence, would DA8 used as pure dac --> Taurus be better than DA8 with its pre-amp enabled, driving monitor spekers?

John Grandberg's picture

Depends on your typical volume levels. The Sabre digital volume control in the DA8 is great but does become lossy when asked to attenuate too much. Still, I'm not sure I'd buy the Taurus just for that reason alone.

But, if you are ready to upgrade to a killer headphone amp, then you'll get the preamp benefits as a bonus. 

chik0240's picture

Hi there, how would you rate the Taurus mk II againsh the burson Soloist SL amp? I am currently using the SL with my HE-500 (HE-6 cable) and are tempted to give the balanced connection a try, but $1899 is a bit tough for me to be a blind purchase

John Grandberg's picture

I haven't heard the Soloist SL variation. I heard the Conductor amp section and didn't fall in love with it, though I didn't really have enough time to form a solid opinion. I did think it was improved over the old HA-160 amp design, so that's a good thing I suppose. 

chik0240's picture

Thanks John for the respond, how would you compare the conductor amp section with the taurus in terms of sound signature? would you think the taurus is warmer or more analytical compared to the burson?

I am currently feeding the HE-500 with the soloist SL with a computer soundcard as source (the Onkyo Se-300), with both the source and Headphone slightly leans to the warm side of neutral, I would want something more analytical in the chain.

John Grandberg's picture

The Conductor amp seemed kind of dull, and sluggish compared to the Taurus. Not as transparent overall. Less convincing on the deepest bass impact as well, though not lacking in general low frequency response. 

dan.gheorghe's picture

Thank you for the excellent review.

Now I have 2 amps : Burson Conductor and Decware Taboo MK3. I love the Decware amp, but wanted to go a little further with the solid state amp as well.

I was thinking about Audio GD Master 9, but a friend pointed me in the direction of Auralic Taurus MK2. Have you ever heard a master 8/9?

I've read that some compared it do headamp gsx mk2 and said that it was nearly on the same level.

Would you, by any chance know how auralic taurus mk2 compares to GSX mk2 ? Even an educated guess / opinion would be appreciated.

Thank you for your time,

Dan

John Grandberg's picture
Haven't heard the GSX mk2 yet. I have immense respect for the original GSX though, so I can't imagine the new model being anything less than spectacular. I haven't heard any of the newer Audio GD models past their Phoenix model, which imho was good but not "Taurus good".

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