Auralic Polaris Review

Auralic Polaris Review


This is my review of the fantastic Auralic Polaris.  The Polaris is an ‘all-in-one’ streaming wireless music player with an integrated amplifier.  It has digital and analogue inputs of all kinds, including a MM turntable input, various other digital inputs supported by a 32 bit capable DAC that is also DSD compatible.  But what puts the ‘fantastic’ in this review is the brilliant Auralic iOS user interface, called Lightning DS, everything just works… seamlessly.

everything just works… seamlessly

Auralic Polaris Design

The Polaris is like the Auralic Altair with an integrated amplifier added in.    The Altair is a fabulously flexible wireless streaming DAC that represents exceptional value for money based on the quality of its output.  The Auralic Polaris then, on the basis of this listening experience, is superb value for money and as a single box solution is wholly cable friendly.   The Auralic Polaris can be networked wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable, I have chosen the latter, for ease.

The Polaris has seventeen inputs, listed below, including a built in MM turntable input, a digital coaxial input, optical input, and Apple AirPlay as well as Bluetooth on the side.   There is a USB input at the front which is really useful if your favourite HiRes collection is on it.

The unit is controlled by the Lightning DS App that is only available on Apple’s iOS platform, so as an Android person I just had to dig out my first generation iPad, no big deal.  The App has built in Tidal and Qobuz functionality and it is excellent.  Spotify is not available in the streaming services section of the settings.  I think you would just use Spotify with Bluetooth from your smartphone or connect it via the AirPlay functionality?

One of the options on purchase is to install a 1Tb 2.5 inch solid state hard drive (around £400), thereby turning the Polaris into a networked server.  My review sample does not have this however I imagine this to be a really useful innovation, although we may be getting to the stage where storage is so cloud based, it hardly seems necessary to have hard drives lying around full of junk (and music).  A more interesting option with this Polaris is the HDD USB drive input at the back meaning you could just plug in a portable hard drive to the input and move your valuable music around as you wish.

One of the key differences with the Polaris to the Altair is there is no headphone output, which is a shame but not soul destroying.  I guess if it is that important to you, you could get a good USB headphone player like a Dragonfly, I have not done this.  And whilst I’m at it, there is no CD player in here.

Another exciting thing the Polaris has are multi functional line inputs, providing for all needs.  The Input 1 can be either line level in or a Moving Magnet turntable input.  Input 2 can be either line

Auralic Polaris

Slimline profile

level input or it can be programmed to output.  Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Polaris is Roon ready.  I’m not entirely clear what this is, although when I built a Raspberry Pi headphone amplifier recently (unsuccessfully) I had a play with Roon for a short while as a way of internally streaming music around the house.  Anyway, it is there too.

The Polaris itself is physically what I would call a slimline box compared to others; this is a function of the compact but effective electronics in the casing, for example the OEM Class D amplifiers are known for their efficiency, low harmonic distortion and compact integration.

Auralic Polaris Specification

The full spec below is from the site:

Continuous Output Power
120W/180W (8ohm/4ohm)

Auralic Polaris

Rear with MM and Coax input, networked and Atlas Mavros cable

Frequency Response
20 – 20KHz, +/- 0.5dB*
THD+N
<0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz@1W
IMD
<0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz@1W
Streaming Inputs
Network shared folder
USB Drive
Internal Music Storage (option)
uPnP/DLNA Media Server
TIDAL and Qobuz streaming
Internet Radio
AirPlay
Bluetooth
Songcast
Roon Ready

Digital Inputs
1*AES/EBU
1*Coaxial
1*Toslink
1*USB device to computer
2*USB host to storage and DAC
1*RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1*802.11b/g/n/ac Tri-Band WiFi

Analog Inputs
Line Stage (Input Sensitivity: 2Vrms)
MM Phono Stage (Gain: 36dB65mV at maximum)
Analog Outputs
Single-Ended RCA (6Vrms @ 0dBFS)
Loudspeaker Binding Post
Supported File Formats
AACAIFFALAC, APE, DIFF, DSFFLAC,
MP3, OGGWAV, WV and WMA

Supported Digital Formats
All PCM from 44.1KS/s to 384KS/s in 32Bit (streaming and USB input only)
DSD64DSD128DSD256  (streaming and USB input only)

Control Software
AURALiC Lightning DS for iOS
AURALiC RC-1 remote control
OpenHome compatible control software
uPnP compatible control software
Roon
Power Consumption
Sleep: <10W
Playback:  450W at max.

Dimension
33cm x 26cm x 6.5cm)

Weight
4.5kg

Finishing
Matte Black/Matte Silver

Quality

The build quality feels really good

The Auralic Polaris has a very nice feel to it despite being quite light and seems to be nicely put together.  The build quality feels really good.   I don’t have any problem with the idea these are Chinese electronics, most things are these days, I’m sure of that.  Everything I’ve experienced is it is put together perfectly and as I think I have already said, it just works, out of the box.  I have to say, the understated display is really very nice indeed, though this display can be turned off if preferred using the remote.  The remote is not the best, but this seems to the case with many these days.  The remote makes input switching a lot easier, otherwise you can control inputs by pressing the volume knob and accessing the menu as needed.

Performance

Test Set-up

My test set-up is plugging in the fabulous Oppo UDP-205 CD player via Coaxial digital input.  I’ve hooked up my KEF R700s to the Polaris using Atlas Mavros cables.  I have a Qobuz Premium account with which to play with from Auralic during the review as well as my own Tidal Account.

Lightning DS

…the Lightning DS App is a great pleasure to use.  It is very flexible and on a par with the best out there…

Auralic Altair

Snap shot of the Lightning DS App

I think I’ve made it pretty clear the App is great.  Using a first generation iPad, the software is not available for Android, the Lightning DS is a great pleasure to use.  Playlist building is a simple matter and indeed you can build playlists between different streaming platforms and my networked music.  It is very flexible and on a par with the best out there, namely the Naim App.

AirPlay with YouTube

…hit AirPlay and the Polaris switches the audio through seamlessly…

This is one of the great surprises with this set-up, you can play a YouTube film or music track, hit AirPlay and the Polaris switches the audio through seamlessly.  So if you’ve seen Radiohead’s ‘The Numbers’ on YouTube you’ll have wanted to amp it up, and this is your thing!  It has never sounded better on a soundbar or other AV set-up.  Just sit and watch your iPad with the full glory ringing in your ears with AirPlay.  Brilliant.  While I’m here, London Grammar’s ‘Rooting for You’ on YouTube is also a must listen, just starting with Hannah Reid’s voice and ending up in full orchestra, brilliant.

Networked Music (WD My Cloud) and USB

Using the App you can access networked music, I have a WD My Cloud (cheap but effective) and I have had really good results with access, musical clarity and album artwork.  Similarly the USB input can be accessed seamlessly, the resolution is exceptionally good.

Rega RP3  into MM Input

Using a Rega RP3 turntable into the built in MM Line input the output is dominant and the resolution is beautiful.  I am bound to say that I have had to crank up the volume (in the 80s) from the RP3 to generate a dominant soundstage and one might argue, dynamically, the Polaris falls short of, for example, the sister Auralic Altair paired with the excellent Rega Brio amplifier set-up.

Coax connected Oppo UDP-205 CD Player

Next up, I have connected a CD player with fixed output using an Atlas SP/DIF coaxial cable into the Polaris and the audio resolution is again, wide and musical, with tons of detail passing through the Polaris to the KEF speakers.

Streaming Music Services, Qobuz and Tidal

All through this experience the Polaris demonstrates excellent resolution and tonal balance

This is where the Polaris is at its best (same for the sister streamer Altair).  The DS App is superb, showing you the album artwork seamlessly and the track quality in bits a Kbps as you play them.  192kHz and 24 bit FLAC  files are identified from Tidal or any other source.  Qobuz is a revelation to me as a Tidal Premium subscriber though I am unlikely to switch until Naim does, given the investment I have made.  Resolution is excellent throughout and on Qobuz Radiohead’s ‘House of Cards’ comes across with the intro making you think your woofers are about to delaminate as you listen to the beginning of the track, then you wait for the wonderful lyrics and sublime music to wash over you.   It really is a special track and sound.  All through this experience the Polaris demonstrates excellent resolution and tonal balance.

I would add that in respect of connectivity and stability, in these two weeks or so everything has performed seamlessly.

Overall

Digitally it is superb and the highlight is without doubt the premium streaming services through the Lightning DS iOS App

Everything the Auralic Polaris does, it does really well.   There is no CD or headphone amplifier here so it is not quite a one box solution.  Digitally it is superb and the highlight is without doubt the premium streaming services through the Lightning DS iOS App.  It is was looking at this budget, I might prefer to go for the sister Auralic Altair with the Rega Brio as my amplifier but to be honest, the Polaris hass a great sound, huge flexibility and you should have no complaints.  With the Polaris, some decent speakers and cables you can be away with a very high end and high resolution solution for your needs.  The Polaris is retailing near £2,875 and in a world of Naim Novas, Moon Neo ACEs and other comprehensive one box systems the Auralic Polaris really does represent excellent value for the high quality of the product.

Love

Lightning DS iOS App

Hi quality connectivity and audio ouput

(Qobuz)

Value

Like

MM Input flexibility

Styling

Build Quality

Wish

What do you want for your money?

Nothing in other words

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Here is the Authorised Dealer List.

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