April Music Aura Note Version 2
Device Type: CD Player/DAC/Integrated Amplifier/Headphone Amplifier
Input: 2x analog RCA, 1x Optical (up to 192kHz/24bit), 1x USB Type A (iPod/iPhone/iPad or USB Memory), 1x USB Type B (PC USB Link, up to 192kHz/24bit)
Output: 1/4" Headphone jack, RCA Pre Out, 2 pair speaker binding posts
Dimensions: W278 × H100 × D278mm
Weight: 7.5 kg
Availability: Authorized Dealers
All-In-One Music Center
If we look at the Aura Note's anatomy, we can conjure up a whole host of music playing possibilities. If we step back and look at the Aura Note's exterior, we see a device deigned for people who value such things as industrial design (I do). Taken as a whole, those looking for an attractive one-box solution may have found their ideal dancing partner.
B&O's ICEpower ASX250 digital amplifier module delivers the Aura Not's 125W per channel into 8 Ohms while the Cirrus Logic CS4398 handles D to A conversion. Before that chip does its bit, a MCS Logic MLC3700 32-bit RISC chip handles all incoming data including control code and signal processing. There's also a proprietary 3rd order filter applied, smoothing things over. The headphone output is driven directly from the ICEpower amplifier module.
The Aura Note's USB Type-B input supports PCM formats up to 24/192 as does its Toslink input. The USB Type-A input for USB storage and iOS devices maxes out at 24/96 (MP3, WMA, FLAC) and 16/44.1 for WAV files. In terms of USB storage devices, this input is really intended for use with USB flash drives since the only way to control playback is through the limited controls (Forward/Next and Fast-Forward) on the unit or the included remote. The Aura Note also supports family and friend-friendly Bluetooth and an FM tuner, i.e. analog streamer, with 20 presets fills out your input options.
Looking at the front panel, we see a series of eight push buttons for controlling various options including power, volume, play/pause, stop, skip/search, and input mode. To their right is a red LED display that shows information related to your current playback the specifics depending on which input you are using. For example, when streaming from USB storage, the file's metadata including artist, track, and album information scroll across. Up top sits the glass-covered CD player. Just slide it open, pop in your CD, replace the included magnetic puck on top, and close. The USB inputs and headphone out are located on the unit's right side panel while the rest of the connections, including the IEC power inlet, reside around back.
For inputs, I connected my MacBook Pro to the Aura Note via USB using the Light Harmonic LightSpeed cable. I also connected my 4TB La Cie Blad Runner USB drive and played a few tracks but navigating through a few TB's worth of music using forward/next, even fast-forward, is not my idea of computer audio at its finest. I also spun some CDs and played music from my iPhone via Bluetooth. The Aura Note drove my DeVore Fidelity The Nines.
Industrial designer Sir Kenneth Grange, who also designed the Signature Diamond loudspeakers for Bowers & Wilkins, is responsible for the Aura Note's chunky appearance which I see as being strikingly well done. The chrome finish plays against the matte black metal heatsink while the tempered glass CD cover adds a lovely mix of visual and tactile elements. Form, function, fit and finish. April Music includes a cleaning cloth with the Aura Note which is a nice logical touch.
"It is recommended that April Music products be left powered-on for a minimum of two weeks to 30 days to achieve their highest level of sonic performance." I'll say. I let the Aura Note 'burn in' for more than two weeks of solid play time, including over night and the sound went pretty much from caterpillar to butterfly. If you buy a brand spankin' new Aura Note, don't form any opinions until its electronics are duly formed.
ICEpower. What a terrible name for a hi-fi device, don't you think? If you're like me and ICE makes you think cold and sterile, then think of the opposite of that as a good descriptor of the April Music Aura Note v2's sound. Actually the word that came to mind most often throughout my seriously fun listening time was organic.
I spent most of my listening time listening through the Aura Note's "PC" input, streaming music from my MacBook Pro in CD-quality, including streaming from Tidal, and higher resolutions. I find that using Apple's free Remote app on my iPad in conjunction with Pure Music or Audirvana offers the best of both the worlds of convenience and sound quality. I listened my way through tons of music from my QNAP NAS, too much to list here, but some highlights included Bauhaus Singles (24/96), Nils Frahm's lovely Solo (24/96), and Voices of Memory: Bal·Kan: Honey & Blood: Cycles of Life from Hespèrion XXI and Jordi Savall (24/88.2).
I also went on a seriously fun singles kick, courtesy of Tidal, and inspired by Jack White's recommended song from his Tidal Playlist "Just Walkin' In The Rain" by the Prisonaires. This led me to some of my favorite classics like "Little Bitty Pretty One" by Thurston Harris, "Wrapped Up And Tangled Up In Jesus" by Reverend Charlie Jackson, the Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes For You", "Hong Kong Blues" by Hoagie Carmichael, and many more (here's the complete "Singles" playlist).
What does the Aura Note sound like? It sounds, to my ears, like a very nicely balanced player. Bass response is big, bold, and controlled. There's a nice amount of tone color, more so than the recently reviewed and less expensive Teac AI-301DA (see review), and upper registers are not at all bright or edgy. The Aura Note throws out a nice sized sound image and depicts the players within that space with convincing delineation. Its greatest trait, as I said up front, is a nice organic sound that lends itself to hours and hours of enjoyment. While there's a goodly amount of resolution allowing you hear into the recording, it is neither forced sounding or ultra-detailed.
Compared to my much more expensive reference system which includes the Pass INT-30A and Auralic Vega DAC, the Aura Note does not deliver the same level of performance. The largest standouts from the separates being a richer and more engaging presentation with more color, lushness, and vibrancy. The overall sound picture also feels more spacious and dimensional. Since the Vega DAC alone costs more than the Aura Note, we are not comparing apples to apples but I'm sure some people are wondering about this comparison so I offer it for what it's worth.
CD replay is no longer part of my sonic arsenal but I understand that this is an important feature for others and you'll be happy to note that the Aura Note was about as enjoyable when listening to spinning discs. I've been digging Jeff Buckley's Grace lately and the CD was handy so I put it on for a few spins throughout my listening time with the Aura Note. I also played the ripped version and found that the ripped version sounded a bit smoother, a little less sharp especially during more exuberant musical passages.
As you may have noted, we moved back in October and have landed farther away from...everything...including good FM reception so I really cannot comment on the Aura Note's way with an FM signal. I did leash the NAD HP50s headphones to the Aura Note and spent some private listening time enrapt. Most of the qualities I've been describing hold here as well—the Aura Note delivers a very musical headphone experience. A friendly feature to my mind is when you insert your headphone jack the speaker output is automatically muted.
Bluetooth is my idea of a good time since it allows others to easily connect to your hi-fi from their smartphone and play their music. Sending music from my iPhone to the Aura Note via Bluetooth was easy, fast, and fun. While Bluetooth does not equal CD-quality, it is perfectly listenable as background for a party big or small. Let's dance.
If CD playback is an important aspect of your listening lifestyle coupled with the ability to play file-based music up to 24/192 and you want the simplicity and convenience of a very good sounding one-box solution all wrapped up in a very attractive and beautifully built package, April Music's Aura Note v2 delivers on all counts. You can consider its other features including Bluetooth, FM, analog and Toslink inputs and a headphone amp as extras.
Also in-use during the Aura Note review: Teac AI-301DA