AURALiC Merak Monoblock Amplifiers

China’s AURALiC, a relative newcomer to the hi-fi industry, has stepped into this crowded scene with some quality products, and the company sets a high bar for itself with each new release. Seeing AURALiC’s new MERAK monoblocks (priced at $5,000 per pair) freshly out of their packaging is a bit like seeing a great tuxedo-wearing magician backstage before a much-anticipated performance. It’s easy to admire the polished outward appearance, but as anticipation begin to grow, it becomes clear that something interesting will happen when the curtain rises, leaving one to wonder if the performance will live up to expectations.

Smoke and Mirrors?

In every way, these amps offer substantial build quality and beautiful fit and finish. The sleek, brushed metal exteriors of my test pair sport a matte-silver finish—but the modest exterior does not reveal what’s hidden beneath the handkerchief. These mono monsters offer 400 watts of juice into 4 ohms and half of that into 8 ohms. According to AURALiC, the MERAKS’ capacitors hold enough energy to deliver 16 amps of peak current and 900 watts of power. By comparison, my reference amp—a Mark Levinson 335 stereo amp—pushes 500 watts into 4 ohms. From a power perspective, I never feel that my power-hungry Piega P10 speakers are limited with the Meraks in the chain.

Not a full Class D design, AURALiC refers to the MERAK as a hybrid design using Class-A signal amplification, switching output stage and linear power supply, sounding surprisingly like another very exciting amplifier that graced our cover a couple of years ago. In daily use, these monos never get hot, even when they are powered up for a couple weeks continuously. In addition to the stellar energy efficiency of the MERAKs, their design allows the user to stack them in an audio shelf without worry of overheating. Each amp measures 11 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 2.75 inches high, so even in a two-tier configuration the amps’ physical footprint remains modest.

By sharp contrast, moving my Mark Levinson 335 stereo amp (which should have come with a coupon for a hernia operation) requires a friend, or a couple post-move aspirin. The MERAKs, which weigh 18.7 pound apiece, are extremely easy to carry by comparison. In fact, I’m able to carry one amp under each arm and still have a spring in my step.

Sleight of Hand

Connecting the amps is as simple as expected. I must give AURALiC kudos for including Cardas CE binding posts with the amps. Clamping a single knob down onto a tough plastic bracket holds my speaker cable’s spade terminations against the posts. And it’s so easy to get a good finger hold on the knob that I don’t need a post wrench (or a kung-fu grip) to get a tight cable connection. I should note that this knob-bracket combo does not accommodate banana cable terminations.

The MERAK s offer only balanced XLR inputs, and so given my single-ended preamp, I choose to enlist the help of some adapters. After contacting AURALiC to see if they have any specific recommendations for or against that approach, I get the thumbs-up for adapters, which do the trick. After testing them with my Levinson to ensue they don’t color or cloud the sound to any significant degree, the adaptors are easy enough to drop in place. Once flicking the rear switch to activate the amp, pressing a small button on the front puts them in and out of standby mode, which a small LED indicates.

Firing up the MERAKs without source material playing, I’m amazed by their silence. If it weren’t for the LED indicator, I’d wonder if they were powered up at all. With the rest of my audio chain shut down, only the ribbon tweeter of my Piegas can reveal any audible hiss—and only when I put my ear against it. I leave the amps on for two weeks straight for both burn-in and stress testing and I never experience anything from my listening position except great music. That’s a disappearing act indeed!

Rabbit from a Hat

Switching designs inherently bring a lot of positive merits. First, their power-to-weight ratio offers very good value for the dollar. They also sip energy (rather than gulping it), which makes them the more environmentally friendly option. These amplifiers have come a long way in the last few years, but I generally find them lacking some of the subtle detail, frequency extension, and sonic emotion I’m accustomed to with class-A or AB designs. But contrary to my assumed impressions, the MERAKs provide some very welcome surprises that challenge my past views in meaningful ways.

During my first listening session, covering about 20 tracks of various music types, several characteristics stand out immediately. The MERAKs do not romanticize the sound, nor do they leave it overly stark and cold. They strike the right balance. They also do a very nice job of creating the ambience and reverberation around the musicians.

Also impressive is the soundstage they throw, which is both wide and tall. There are no perceived boundaries and the sound extends well beyond the speakers. Additionally, they do a very good job of layering instruments in depth. Music reveals itself both in front of and behind the plane of the speakers. Vocals stand out front and the other instruments fall into their proper alignment behind the vocalist. This characteristic is one of the MERAKs strengths and it’s very engaging with all types of music. Few tracks illustrate this better than Portishead’s Roseland NYC Live on vinyl. When delivering the track “Roads,” the MERAKs pull Beth Gibbons’ voice out front such that the illusion of the singer extends into the room and creates an appropriately upfront but unaggressive presentation. There’s no stridency, and vocals retain the engagement they should command. The MERAKs also place the sound of the crowd clapping along well into the background.

Enya’s album Watermark does present two noticeable downsides that my Levinson does not. First, with all the juice that the MERAKs bring, they most definitely take control of the speakers and maintain a tight command, which results in the bass losing a bit of low-frequency punch and definition and the highs losing a bit of sparkle. Secondly (and more subjectively), there’s a reduction in the underlying emotion of the song.

It’s hard to put a finger on this at first, but after listening to several tracks on various albums—both digital and vinyl—I notice a consistent signature to the MERAKs. There’s a slight veil, which results in the reduction of the nuanced detail and delicacy that gives increased realism to good recordings. Of course, this quibble is in comparison to an amplifier priced around $8,000, yet the Meraks run for only $5,000 a pair. At that price difference, I’d expect the Levinson’s performance to exceed the MERAKs’ by a significant margin.


Delivering the disco-y tunes Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, proves to be a joy, with a very nice integration of instrumentation, and the perceived pacing of the music brings a captivating energy to the recording. A remastered Royal Edition recording of Mozart’s symphony No. 36 performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic also illustrates the MERAKs’ prowess with wide dynamic swings.

Pink Martini’s “Omide Zendegani,” and other tracks from Get Happy, similarly reveals an ability to pristinely render more intimate songs with a small combination of vocals and instruments. But, where necessary, the amps are also able to decipher a complex array of instruments across the soundstage.

Take a Bow

As with a great magician, it’s hard not to be impressed with MERAKs’ capabilities and finesse. Of the class-D designs I have experienced so far, these top my list sonically – I’m sure the hybrid design contributes to this sense of ease in a big way. Compared to my favorite class-A and class-AB amps, the MERAKs have only a few tradeoffs, as noted above. At the same time, there is a lot to love—and kudos again to AURALiC for taking switching amplifier design further toward an elusive sonic pinnacle than my past experiences. Even when mated with very revealing and power-hungry speakers, the MERAKs never take the sound into the realm of stridency, and considering their other merits, it’s easy to settle in for a long listening session of great music.

While $5,000 is a significant financial commitment for most people, what you get with these amps represents great value in terms of watt-per-dollar ratio. There are many good amps in this price range, so the MERAKs face some stiff competition—but with oodles of power and very good sonics, these amps are certainly worth your consideration.

Additional Listening

The folks at AURALiC are on a roll.  We’ve had the pleasure of listening to almost their full line now, and they all share an equal level of sonic excellence, build quality and elegant visual understatement.  Best of all, the gear is reasonably priced, over delivering for the prices asked.  This just might be the next big brand in world of hifi, no small achievement.

I concur with Rob on all of his observations, and feel that the MERAKs strike a fantastic balance of timbral and tonal accuracy, major dynamic slam and a complete lack of fatigue.  Putting them through their paces with the KEF Blades, the Focal Maestro Utopias and the Dynaudio Evidence Platinum speakers proved the $5,000 pair of AURALiC amplifiers were not out of place in a six figure system.

However, like every other switching amplifier I’ve had in the listening room, the MERAKs benefit from careful attention to what’s coming from the AC line.  While they offer great sonics just plugged into the wall, a top notch power line conditioner will take them to an even further level of clarity.  And, should you need a bit of warmth in the mix, you can always pair these amplifiers with your favorite vacuum tube preamplifier.

In short, the AURALiC MERAK amplifiers offer tremendous sound for a very reasonable price.  We look forward to see what they will come up with next.  Maybe a 250 watt per channel stereo amplifier in one box?  Hmmm.

MERAK monoblock amplifiers

MSRP: $5,000 per pair


Speakers Piega P10
Amplifier Mark Levinson No. 335
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Digital Sources Audio Research CD3 MKII    Light Harmonic DaVinci DAC    HP 2.5 GHz Quad Core running Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center 19.0.32
Analog Source Marantz TT-15 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso cartridge
Cables Jena Labs Valkyrie and Symphony interconnects    Jena Labs Twin 15 speaker cables
Power Running Springs Audio Haley power conditioner    Cardas Golden and Golden Reference/Mongoose power cords
Accessories Mapleshade SAMSON racks and shelves    ASC TubeTraps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels    Coffman Labs equipment footers

AURALiC VEGA Digital-Audio Processor

Vega is the name of one of the brightest stars visible from Earth. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a very good chance that you regularly witnesses its vibrant twinkle. Sometimes called the Harp Star, Vega lies in the constellation Lyra, which resembles the harp used by the mythological Greek musician Orpheus. According to legend, nobody could turn away from the music once Orpheus started playing his harp. The Hong Kong–based manufacturer AUARALiC has set the bar sky high for its Vega DAC if the product is going to live up to its lofty name.

Preparing for Launch

Despite all the features under its hood, the Vega has modest dimensions. It measures 11 inches wide, 9 inches deep and 2.6 inches high, and it weighs just 7.5 pounds.

It’s easy to be impressed with the multitude of connection options this DAC offers. They include USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF Toslink and S/PDIF coax. This array of options not only provides flexibility for use in virtually any audio system but it also helps future proof the Vega. Even if an audio system evolves with varying components, the Vega will always have a home somewhere in the chain.

It’s important to note that the USB input is capable of accommodating PCM 32-bit/384-kHz files, while DSD 64 steams at 2.8224 MHz and DSD 128 streams at 5.6448 MHz. The other inputs are limited to 24-bit/192-kHz files. Perhaps “limited” isn’t really the best descriptor since that resolution is certainly a huge step up from the 16-bit/44.1-kHz quality of standard CDs.

For outputs, the Vega offers both single-ended RCA and balanced connections. As a huge bonus, it also offers a variable output volume. For those who listen to music in the digital realm only, it’s possible to hook the Vega directly to the amp and effectively use it as a preamplifier. For users piecing together a new audio system around the Vega, it’s nice to have the option to get by without a preamp and associated cables, so you can put your hard-earned dollars to work elsewhere in the audio chain.

All Systems Go

While the star Vega is 25 light years away, the AURALiC Vega is a just a few feet away, connected to my computer via USB. I try all of the Vega’s connections, except the Toslink, and find that they each provide very good sound. However, the high-speed USB from my computer proves the best overall option, given its maximum sampling rate and its ability to stream a variety of formats including DSD, lossless and WAV. The stock USB cable that comes packed with the Vega puts forth good sound, but a reasonably priced aftermarket USB cable like the Cardas Clear provides a noticeable improvement.

AURALiC includes a driver disc for computer setup and a detailed set of instructions to get everything configured. Despite the manual, I encounter some trouble getting my computer to recognize the AURALiC. It takes quite a bit of finagling with the Windows 7 sound settings to get the computer to make the connection. I’m sure the experience varies depending on the computer, operating system and type of digital files being transmitted. But after 30 minutes of frustrated troubleshooting with everything connected, the Vega proves itself worth the wait.


As with other AURALiC products, the Vega has a sleek and futuristic appearance. Its front panel sports a single knob and a darkened screen from which all information is conveyed to the user. When the Vega is powered up and connected to a digital source, four amber indicators appear: power, selected input, signal type/bitrate, and volume level, the latter of which displays the numbers large enough so that they can be read from a listening position 10 feet away. When powered down, the Vega goes into standby mode to keep critical elements warm for optimal sound at the next power-up.

While the Vega’s operations menu is accessible by pushing and twisting the knob on the front panel, I find that the remote control is the most effective way to make changes. All the adjustments you’d expect from a remote are there at the ready, but two unique capabilities capture my attention.

The first offers access to four digital filters, which impart slight sonic variances to the analog outputs. If using DSD files, two additional filters appear. AURALiC offers recommendations for the type of music best suited to a particular filter, but I find that trial and error is the best way to determine the preferred setting.

The second noteworthy feature allows adjusting digital clock settings. The Vega defaults to Auto, with Course, Fine and Exact settings also available. The latter two are available on the menu only after the DAC has been warmed up for an hour or so. Experimenting with the higher clock settings on low-jitter signals, I notice a bit more smoothness, imaging depth and detail when using a USB source. Just as the Vega manual warns, when the Vega’s coax input receives a lower-quality jittered signal from my computer’s coax output, the AURALiC is not able to maintain the higher level of precision, which results in some skipping. Once again, the larger USB “pipe” proves itself the best source, so I recommend taking advantage of it.

One of the major technological highlights of the VEGA is its utilization of a Femto master clock, that features an aerospace grade crystal oscillator.  It does take an hour of warm-up time for the clock to fully settle and deliver optimum performance. While the VEGA sounds great upon power up, there is a marked improvement once stable, with soundstaging and imaging performance tightening up.  Because it uses so little power, we suggest leaving the unit powered at all times.

Identical to the Taurus headphone amplifier we reviewed recently, the VEGA uses the same Orfeo Class-A output stage modules.  These are patented by AURALiC and have an impressive open loop distortion figure of less than .001%, allowing the VEGA to output 4 volts RMS at a very low output impedance (4.7 ohms at the RCA output and 50 ohms at the balanced output), giving it the ability to drive any power amplifier to full volume with ease.

Achieving Orbit

All features aside, the Vegas delivers impressive sound.  Like Orpheus’s harp, the Vega proves difficult to turn away from once I start listening. Other than the $20,000 Light Harmonic DaVinci DAC, I’ve never wanted to permanently swap out my own digital front end for a piece of review equipment. Other, newer DACs offer some strengths over my pieces of reference gear, but not enough to wholly unseat them.

With setup complete, it seems apropos to test the Vega on some space-themed music, and so I start with Dark Side of the Moon. Any decent stereo equipment reveals the footstep sounds during “On the Run,” which move left and right in the soundstage. However, the sonically perceived front-to-back movement can get buried by some digital equipment. The Vega does a great job digging out those details. Air’s song “Venus” has the ability to throw a very wide soundstage, which the Vega portrays well. Perceived musical boundaries wrap around my listening area, enveloping the space with sound.

Using the Vega in DSD mode, I find that Norah Jones’s song “Lonestar” sounds better than I’ve heard it rendered digitally. The combination of high-resolution format and a great decoder provides some unexpected pleasure. I enjoy listening to the album Come Away With Me, but at a CD-level bitrate, vocal passages can expose some stridency. The AURALiC tames that down, rendering Jones’ voice in a smooth, lifelike and extended manner, and with a significant reduction in that “wince factor.”

When using the JRiver Media Center 19 to send a DSD stream to the Vega, I find it worthwhile to increase JRiver’s buffer settings via the pull-down playback menu. With the smaller default buffer setting, the recording interpreted through the AURALiC has a tendency to skip. Standard CD recordings, like the B52’s “Planet Claire” or Bill Laswell’s “Galactic Zone,” consistently get an audio makeover through the AURALiC. Especially when setting the JRiver software to output a 192-kHz signal, the Vega does a fantastic job coaxing out improved sound from the subterranean bass from Laswell’s guitar.

Willie Nelson’s voice on Stardust proves equally beguiling. Vocal presence remains at the front of the soundstage, extending forward into the room with an almost physical presence. Guitars and percussion retain a similar level of realism and palpability.

Listening to several hours of classical, jazz and blues recordings, I am never disappointed with the Vega. Regardless of the music thrown at it, the Vega consistently excels at bass retrieval and reproduction of high notes, while maintaining a generally neutral sound. In my setup, the Vega never seems to over emphasize any particular frequency. With this blank canvas to work from, the user has the opportunity to use the digital filter and clock settings to slightly tailor the sound to their liking—and experimentation proves a lot of fun.

While the Vega’s sound is not as smooth, refined, nuanced, and three-dimensional as the $20,000 Light Harmonic DaVinci, the AURALiC more than holds its own for its price, delivering great sound for its class. I could live with it happily.

Among the Stars

Can the AURALiC VEGA serve as a northern star in your home audio system? In short, the answer is yes. For all its versatility and raw audio prowess, the Vega is worth serious consideration if the $3,499 price is within your budget. With a future-proof design and variable volume output, the Vega is likely to remain in your audio system for years to come, which makes it a great investment for those who love the convenience and sonics of high-quality digital music. Like Orpheus’ audiences, I suspect that you will find it difficult to turn away from the Vega once you start listening.

VEGA digital-audio processor

MSRP: $3,499


Speakers Piega P10
Amplifier Mark Levinson 335
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Digital Sources HP Desktop computer with Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center 19   Light Harmonic DaVinci DAC    EAD 9000 Mk3 DAC    Genesis Digital Lens    dCS Purcell
Cables Jena Labs Valkyrie and Symphony interconnects    Jena Labs Twin 15 speaker cables    Cardas Clear USB cable
Power Conditioner Running Springs Audio Haley
Power Cords Cardas Golden and RSA Mongoose
Accessories Mapleshade SAMSON racks and shelves    ASC TubeTraps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels