The Spectacularly Transparent AURALiC TAURUS MKII Page 2

AURALiC_TAURUSMKII_Photo_Inside

Listening
I'll cut right to the chase here and give you a spoiler: the AURALiC TAURUS MKII is among the absolute best headphone amplifiers I've ever heard. And I've heard quite a few. Solid state, valve, or hybrid; once we cross the threshold to 4-digit price tags, I start caring less about topology and more about results. It's one thing for a $400 tube amp to have some inherent limitations. It's quite another for a multi-thousand dollar model. I'm willing to overlook some issues if the more affordable amp does a really good job in other areas. But I simply can't give a free pass to some expensive thing because, well, "it's not bad.... for a tube amp". That just doesn't fly with me.

Thankfully the TAURUS completely transcends that sort of talk. I put it up against at least half a dozen different amps I have here in the $1,000+ category and the TAURUS never once required a disclaimer. It was not outdone by the $1,500 Analog Design Labs Svetlana II single-ended triode amp with the super-permalloy output transformers. It stood its ground against the $1,000 Violectric V200 whose output stage sports eight transistors per channel. The $1,799 SPL Phonitor excelled in whiz-bang adjustability but was no match for the TAURUS in sound quality. The beastly $1,599 HiFiMAN EF-6 and the classic $3,000 Luxman P-1u could not dethrone the TAURUS—I preferred it to either of them in nearly all situations. And that's really they key phrase here—most situations. The TAURUS does a damn fine job across the board. While one amp or another may have a special synergy with a certain headphone, therefore becoming a better match than TAURUS in that one particular scenario, the TAURUS excels with just about everything. Even when it isn't the absolute top choice for a given headphone, you can be sure it's in the running, among the top two or three choices. That's not to call it a "jack of all trades, master of none" type device.... it definitely gets a fair share of first place trophies.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's break it down a little closer for individual headphones. The TAURUS has what I call a generally neutral sound, insofar as it has no major emphasis in any particular region. You'd think that might be a given in this price range but I've heard plenty of expensive amps that are far more colored than this. While staying largely neutral overall, I do get a subtle hint of unique flavor from each headphone output. The single ended jack comes across as being more direct, more dynamic, more lively. The balanced output seems a bit more nuanced and subtle, with more expansive soundstage and more precise imaging. By no means are these night and day variations—it's a subtle dash of flavor, but sometimes it tips the scales in favor of one or the other depending on the headphone being used.

Sennheiser HD800
I started with the Sennheiser HD800, as I tend to do when evaluating most amps. Right off the bat TAURUS impressed with an iron grip on the top end—which is critical for my enjoyment of this particular headphone. I don't do so well if the amp is at all tipped up or loose in the treble region...HD800 is bright enough as it is, and doesn't need further encouragement there. Some amps counteract this by dulling the upper mids and highs, glossing over some detail in the process. HD800 is spectacularly detailed anyway so the result can still be pleasing. Yet the ideal amp, in my opinion, is the one which can tease out the finest details without stifling them—this requires a firm grip to minimize grain as well as peaks. It also helps if the amp is suitably full range. HD800 is no bass cannon and you really don't need any limitations from the amp holding it back. I'm happy to report the TAURUS has some serious kick. The key here is texture and accuracy more than in-your-face slam, and when you get those right the perception of impact just happens naturally. So don't think for a second the TAURUS is one of those light, airy sounding amps which is really "pretty" but doesn't have enough guts.

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. We can thank the inky-black background for that, and I'm sure the signal to noise ratio doesn't hurt. Despite all that, I wouldn't call this a hyper-detailed amp. The overall sound is superbly balanced, and the lack of grain combines with the excellent bass extension to impart a sort of warmth to the end result. It's hard to explain but there it is.

I ended up preferring the HD800 in balanced mode as I felt it was more open and "holographic" sounding. The STD output was nice too and I wouldn't complain if that's all I had available to me—yet direct comparison showed the balanced connection to be consistently preferable with this headphone.

I compared the TAURUS to the Icon Audio HP8 MKII ($999 plus tube upgrades for another $500) which is one of my favorites for HD800. The TAURUS gave a more well rounded, even handed presentation from top to bottom. The Icon was a lot of fun—especially with the adjustable output impedance cranked up, thus reducing damping factor and warming things up a bit. Add in the somewhat smooth top end and I can absolutely see the appeal. On the other hand, when I switch to TAURUS I do hear what seems like a more faithful representation of the original recording. Laser-sharp accuracy and wide open soundstage makes for an appealing listen, especially with exceptional recordings. I might choose the HP8 for some light hearted fun—The New Amsterdams, Wu-Tang Clan, Soundgarden, Riverside, Metric... you get the idea. Switch to some more "serious" material—nearly anything from Reference Recordings, 2L, Channel Classics, the MFSL releases, the Steve Hoffman DCC Gold discs—that's the sort of stuff which really shows the "authenticity" of the TAURUS. I'd listen to the Icon and think it couldn't get much better—then I'd swap in the TAURUS and prove myself wrong.

HiFiMAN HE-6
Next I switched things up to the HiFiMAN HE-6 which is a headphone I've really struggled to enjoy. On the one hand I appreciate its resolution and clarity. On the other hand, I find it somewhat bright and at times downright unnatural. Part of the problem is the extremely low sensitivity—I'm not necessarily on board with the folks who demand huge monoblock speaker amps for the HE-6, but I will admit it needs a beefy (headphone) amp to do it justice. The TAURUS clearly seems up to the task.

This is the first time I felt the HE-6 worthy of being called a true flagship headphone. Up until now the best I had heard it perform was from the Violectric V200. In that scenario I felt like HE-6 and the less expensive HE-500 were different but roughly equal in performance. The TAURUS is the first amp I've heard allowing HE-6 to clearly surpass the more affordable sibling. They have most of the precision of the HD800 with more solidity and "punch" all around. Soundstage takes a considerable hit; this is the most expansive I've heard a planar magnetic design sound, yet it still falls short of the HD800 by a significant margin. That's just the character of the headphones and TAURUS isn't a miracle worker. Still, large orchestral works were satisfyingly grand in terms of space and scale, so I can't complain much.

The HE-500 doesn't seem to improve much when mated with the TAURUS—apparently the V200 already takes it about as far as it will go. But with the TAURUS in play, HE-6 has superior midrange articulation, better deep bass impact, and just sounds more effortless in general. Is it worth the price difference? That's subjective. For me, the answer has always been "no". Until now. I can totally see building a system around the HE-6 now that I've heard what it can really do.

I like the HE-6 a lot with both outputs. My contact at AURALiC says they prefer the BAL option, and I agree it sounds mighty good. Yet more often than not I find myself gravitating towards the STD output. I suppose this is one of those cases that comes down to individual preference. I'm glad HiFiMAN chose to include a balanced cable as well as the adapter for single ended use. It's win-win.

Other Headphones
From there I moved on to various other models. I loved the Grado PS-500 from the STD jack. I've said it before and I'll say it again—this is by far my favorite modern-day Grado design. I like it better than RS-1i, GS-1000i, and PS-1000i, all of which are supposedly "better" if we use price as a deciding factor. The limited edition HF-2 was a good start and the PS-500 picks up where it left off. I still won't call myself a Grado die-hard, but thanks to the PS-500 I finally "get it". Anyway, the TAURUS does a great job of mostly avoiding excessive Grado harshness. There's still some to be heard of course, but it's not insurmountable for these ears. Gain is a tad higher than I'd like, but I was usually able to dial in a good volume even if the knob topped out a bit early. In the end, this is probably overkill for the easy to drive Grados—but I love it regardless. These did best from the STD output, which is not what I would have predicted.

The Audio Technica W2002 sounded like it usually does, which is to say "unique". I prefer it from my Analog Design Labs Svetlana 2 single-ended triode amp, which has some kind of magical synergy with AT woodies. Aside from that pairing, the TAURUS is still one of the best I've heard for that model. Same deal with their AD2000 open version. I'm not sold on them for all music, all the time, but once in a while they scratch an itch that my other headphones can't. Again, the STD jack was preferable here.

Other planar magnetic designs sounded exceptional with the TAURUS. Thunderpants, Mad Dogs, Alpha Dogs, HE-400 and LCD-2.... I've rarely heard them so dynamic and alive. Realism seems a notch above most other amps. The high current makes for a sense of ease during transient peaks, where demands on the amp increase by a large factor. TAURUS manages to have both the finesse and the brute force to make drive planar models in the best possible way. Here I noticed a split in my preferences—BAL mode was my choice for HE-400 and LCD-2, while the others seemed better from the STD jack.

Lastly, I tried my favorite custom in-ear monitors from Westone, Noble, Unique Melody, and JH Audio (among others). This made me notice something I had not yet heard—the TAURUS is extremely sensitive to noise issues. Ground loops, RF interference, you name it. This probably relates to the rather high input impedance. AURALiC does mention this in their literature and gives a few suggestions for optimal results. By simply moving the amp to different locations around the house, I was able to hear a clear differences in background noise from one outlet to the next. Thankfully in my regular listening area, with my APC S15 in place, I get about as black a background as I've ever heard. Even with sensitive IEMs, there's no hiss or hum to be found. That's the good news. The bad news? Gain is pretty high, so the IEM user is left with a rather small window for volume adjustment. At least the volume pot is of very high quality, with no trace of imbalance even at the lowest volumes. If you can dial in a good setting the TAURUS once again shows itself as a reference quality amp—definitely overkill for IEMs, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Just be careful with that volume knob.

Conclusion
How much do you a suppose a state-of-the-art, flagship headphone amplifier should cost? If I start around $4,000 and move upwards from there, I run out of fingers before I run out of amps to count. The majority of them are valve-based. AURALiC bucks the trend with a reference quality solid-state design costing less than half that. Some may argue TAURUS doesn't belong to that elite group given its "discount" status, but I would wholeheartedly disagree based on nearly a year spent with it. This thing is the real deal. In fact, I can think of several amps costing double (or more!) which don't perform nearly as well. If you want an endgame-level headphone amp which offers extremely accurate, resolving sound while maintaining a warm and inviting tone, look no further. The AURALiC TAURUS MKII is one of the absolute best values in the high-end, and worthy of the Wall of Fame.

Editor's Note: I too have been listening to this amp for a few months and am smitten. This is a spectacular headphone amp, and I will be putting together a "Wall of Fame" page for headphone amps and the TAURUS will be among the first to populate it.

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

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".
dan.gheorghe's picture

Thank you for the answer. Well...I think Phoenix is too old to compare to taurus. M9 or M8 should be in the same league though.

I might get my hands on a taurus soon.

ricy b's picture

Guys, new to cans and Headphone amps. Had a pair of Sennheisser HD800 never enjoyed. Recently bought the Audeeze LCD X and I'm using a Woo WA6 amp. Want a new amp and trying to decide between the two in the subject line. Any comments would be appreciated. Rick

Sean_S's picture

@Tyll,

Any updates on your amp sheets?

Bonesy Jonesy's picture

Hi All,
Has anybody compared the AuraLic Taurus Mk2 Vs Woo Audio WA22 Vs GS-X Mk2 all in balanced mode throughout using HD800's, HD650's, LCD2's and LCD3's ?

KG_Jag's picture

The Moon, which replaced it is far more expensive--$1,600 more. That comes close to 2x the retail price of the Taurus.

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