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Testing Ground

Auralic Altair G1: the digital pre-amplifier and Hi-Res streamer that brings you one step closer to audio perfection.

By Alban Amouroux |

In the dozen or so years since it was founded, Auralic has established an indisputable reputation for high-quality products. It has a small but coherent range of products in the premium to the high-end price range that is specifically designed for digital audio playback. The Altair G1 is the most versatile as well as the most affordable among them.

Auralic recently standardised the aesthetic of its products. Originally, they looked completely different with large yellow displays which certainly helped the brand to differentiate itself and make it stand out. But of course, it’s not all about appearance – it’s also about the sound. To achieve its ends, Auralic designs all of its preamplifiers, converters, streamers and digital clocks in the same way – with perfectly organised and separated components, all fitted into an inert chassis. The top-of-the-range models with names ending in .1 have a double chassis supplemented with a layer of copper.

All of Auralic’s models are similar but do not all share the same functions. Various features on the front panel, such as whether there is a rotary knob or headphone socket, will help guide you. There are streaming DACs, streamers with no DAC and streaming DAC preamplifiers. The latter is of particular interest to us here, namely the Altair G1. Auralic is moreover one of the few manufacturers of digital audio products to produce master clocks. These clocks are equipped with an ultra-precision oscillator that will keep a perfect rhythm during playback to eliminate any risk of jitter. Now, let’s get back to the Altair G1 – a digital audio streamer that offers the very best of Auralic’s craftsmanship at an affordable price.

Features

Price: € 2,399
Connectivity: Wi-fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, 3x digital inputs (AES/EBU XLR, optical, coaxial), 1x USB-B port, 1x USB-A port for storage, 1x balanced analogue output, 1x unbalanced analogue output
Formats: PCM up to 284KHz, DSD512
Streaming: Roon Ready, DLNA, Airplay, Internet Radio, Qobuz
Weight: 6.8kg
Dimensions (W x D x H): 34 x 32 x 8 cm

A General Overview

Hi-Fi systems haven’t adhered to the standard dimensions for a long time now. This is also true of the Altair G1 which is only 34cm wide at the front. Despite its compact format, Auralic has managed to include a large number of features. In terms of construction and manufacturing of the Altair, there’s nothing to criticise. Everything is robust and sturdy with thick panels and a resistant finish. But it still weighs just under 7kg.

The front panel is divided into three. On the left is a 6.5mm headphone jack, in the centre is a 10cm LCD colour display set back in a recess of the chassis, and on the right is a multi-purpose rotary knob. There is no power on or standby button, simply press and hold down the rotary knob to turn the power on and off.

The Altair G1 operates exclusively in the digital domain. It can handle seven sources that can be broken down as follows: streaming via Ethernet or wi-fi, Bluetooth, three digital inputs in different formats, a USB port for computers and direct data file storage.

Direct data file storage is possible both internally and externally. When placing your order there will be an option to pre-install a 2TB SSD drive for internal storage, which will cost an extra 400 euros. Alternatively, you can use the USB port on the back to connect your own external hard drive.

This means that there is no analogue input. If you wanted to connect a vinyl turntable or something similar, the Altair G1 may not be the best match for you. But this is the only thing that it lacks. It is also worth noting that there are RIAA Phono pre-amplifier boxes available which have digital output options that could potentially address this constraint.

The only analogue connector is, therefore, the one for pre-amplifier outputs – an unbalanced RCA output and a balanced XLR output. The volume control is fully digital.

Inside, the digital/analogue conversion section is separated from the rest by a partition to avoid any interference. The main circuit board for inputs, controls and power supply is located at the rear on the left side. A medium-sized toroidal transformer is fitted at the front.

The conversion is carried out by an ESS 9038Q2M chip which offers Hi-Res up to 384khz, 32-bit and DSD512. All of the audio signals are processed by a built-in processor called Tesla G2. This powerful hardware has a 1GB memory cache, 2GB of RAM and processes 37,500 million instructions per second. The Altair G1 also has an internal clock which functions on 72 femtosecond cycles for optimal jitter removal.

Features

The Altair G1 does not come with a remote control, however, it is equipped with smart infrared control. Auralic invites the user to use a remote control of their choice and assign the operations that you use daily to buttons. You can also scroll through the various menus and configuration options on the front panel using the rotary knob, which has multiple other functions. The easiest way to do all of this would be to download the Auralic Lightning DS mobile application.

The application is efficient – and that’s all we’re asking for. On the left is a side menu with icons that will direct you to devices, favourites, playlists, Internet radios, and of course, Qobuz. After entering your login details, you’ll find all of your favourite tracks and albums as well as suggestions from Qobuz, such as new releases, best sellers, playlists, etc.

On the bottom left of the application is a cogwheel icon that takes you to all of Altair’s settings, and there are many. You can select filters, configure the maximum audio quality and apply oversampling techniques. It’s also possible to activate or de-activate devices and services such as Airplay, Bluetooth, Spotify connect or Roon.

As was previously mentioned, the Altair G1 acts as a file server both for itself and other audio players on your network. A less common feature is its ability to rip CDs to its internal or external storage. All you’ll need is an external USB computer-type CD player. Albums are copied and enriched with metadata.

Upon listening

This isn’t the first Auralic product we’ve come across – and we can certainly see the family resemblance. The features that we liked about other Auralic products can also be seen on the Altair G1. Despite its price, it can do things that much more upscale products usually do. It possesses a rare ability to recreate a sound stage with a much more realistic end result that is usual. It stretches out and takes on full width and height, which is impressive in itself. But it can also go beyond the confines of the speakers and provide real depth in front of the speakers and behind them.

The Altair performs its tasks reliably. The timbre is magnificent. Guitar lovers will delight in the Hi-Res re-release of the collaboration between B.B. King and Eric Clapton on the classic Riding With the King. Using the Altair, we wallow in total bliss as these two giants play and interact with each other, always clearly separated on the stage in front of us with the accompaniment surrounding them. The music stretches across the entire width of the stage without any gaps.

Petit Biscuit’s latest electro track, I Leave Again, provides us with another opportunity to take full advantage of the Altair G1’s playback abilities. The music fills the room effortlessly – we find ourselves at the centre of a 360° melody, underpinned by bass with impeccable depth and impact. The streamer is capable of picking up the tiniest of details, from the smallest of breaths to the slightest touch of an instrument.

Listening to great recordings is exhilarating. Whilst the Altair will bring out the best in any track, high-resolution reference recordings sound truly exceptional. In I Know I Dream : The Orchestral Sessions, Stacey Kent is right there in the room, just in front of us. With a double bass on the left and guitar on the right, her smooth voice carries us away in a complete surge of realism. No matter how hard we look, we cannot find any faults with this streamer.

+:
Three-dimensional soundscape
Well-made mobile application
Inclusion of Qobuz Sublime+
Ripping & server functions
AirPlay & Roon compatibility

-:
It’s a shame the display on the front isn’t touch screen

Conclusion

The Altair G1 is at the crossroads between high-fidelity and musicality. And by ensuring both with panache, it pleases everyone. If you’re looking for depth and to pick up the minutest of details in recordings, the Altair G1 gets the job done without batting an eyelid. But most importantly, it does it efficiently without any issues. The superb 3D sound stage brings the music to your house, filling your living room and even spilling out to other rooms. Every voice and every instrument is perfectly depicted in such detail that they seem to be there in real life. The Altair G1 is a real treasure trove. As long as it’s within your budget, look no further. Plus, it has excellent network playback abilities with built-in Qobuz, as well as multiple customisation settings, a multi-input DAC and a server function for audio file storage and CD-ripping. This may well be the last digital device that you’ll want or need ever again.