iFi Audio has debuted a new wireless music system called Aurora that combines proprietary technologies into a uniquely-designed all-in-one tabletop system.
The Aurora, which comes finished in bamboo with an aluminum frame, boasts a sleek and unique design from French product designer Julien Haziza and inspired by the architecture in Tokyo's Omotesandō and Harajuku districts. Six drive units sit behind the bamboo fins that curve around the Aurora's sides, with two bass radiators underneath. The system's control panel sits front and centre, with touch-sensitive controls and an OLED display inlaid with bamboo.
The Aurora delivers an expansive soundstage, tailored to the space in which it sits. "It fills the room with sound as the Aurora Borealis fills the sky with light," says iFi, "electrifying your music and immersing you in the performance of your favourite artists."
The Aurora connects to a home Wi-Fi network, enabling users to stream music via their favourite apps, or play audio files stored on networked devices, such as computers and NAS drives. Bluetooth is also included so you can stream directly from any smart device.
The Aurora is hi-res audio enabled, supporting data up to 32-bit/192kHz without conversion or down-sampling via Wi-Fi, USB, or Ethernet cable. Bluetooth streaming is also engineered to be less ‘lossy' than off-the-shelf Bluetooth solutions, says iFi. The latest high-quality Bluetooth codecs are supported, including aptX HD, LDAC and LDHC, as well as AAC.
Connecting to a Wi-Fi network is accomplished via push-button WPS set-up. Linkplay's MUZO Player app, or any UPnP/DLNA streaming app, can be used to configure the system and control music. AirPlay and Spotify Connect are also supported.
Several Auroras may be linked together on a Wi-Fi network to make a seamless multi-room system, playing in-sync or controlled individually.
At the Aurora's heart lies proprietary amp technology that iFi calls ‘PureEmotion,' a hybrid circuit design comprising several key stages. The first of these, the preamp stage, incorporates a Russian 6N3P valve (visible through a window next to the OLED display). This takes the analogue audio signal delivered by the Aurora's DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) circuitry, based around a chip from ESS Technology's renowned 32-bit Sabre DAC family, and adds gain in
preparation for further amplification, imbuing the sound with pure tonality, open imaging and natural fluidity, the company says. The resulting low-level signal then passes to the power amp stage, iFi's ‘current multiplier circuit,' a highly efficient switching power amplifier.
iFi says its multiplier circuit is different from Class D amps in that the switching frequency is fixed at an ultra-high level, around 1.5MHz, which is beyond the audible frequency spectrum. This results in a high level of efficiency, multiplying the current supplied by the valve several thousand-fold, whilst maintaining far greater linearity and lower noise than typical switching amplifiers. Coupled to this is a low-pass circuit and a feedback loop, the latter ensuring the output frequency is ideal for the load, and everything is ‘clock-locked' via iFi's GMT (Global Master Timing) circuit to ensure unerring precision.
The PureEmotion amp stage delivers a total of 320W to power the Aurora's custom-made speaker drive units. The main drivers, of which there are four - two firing from the front and one from each side - sport a 120mm cone made from coated long-fibre paper, a material selected for its optimal balance between stiffness and self-damping. This is coupled to a large magnet, a basket that resonates above the audible range and extensive measures to ensure excursion is controlled and damped mechanically, so that clarity and control are maintained even at high volume levels.
Unusually, these main drivers are deployed in a wide-bandwidth role to cover the vast majority of the audible frequency spectrum, rolling off towards very low and very high frequencies. The drive unit design, together with the inert nature of the Aurora's housing - stiff, well-braced, naturally sound-absorbent bamboo with strategically placed damping material - enables a flat frequency response from around 60Hz to 8kHz. Avoiding the need for a crossover to hand over from one drive unit to another at critical frequencies enables excellent phase response through the midrange.
Two 28mm silk-dome tweeters, one at each side, cover frequencies from 8kHz to 35kHz. As the treble region is considered to begin at around 5kHz, and the limits of human hearing extend to about 20kHz, the Aurora's high-frequency drivers behave more like super-tweeters than traditional tweeters. With a simple first-order crossover for a smooth transition and a shallow waveguide to provide time-alignment, these tweeters deliver high-frequency sounds such as cymbals, but are also critical to the Aurora's spacious soundstage.
Two further drivers - a pair of rectangular passive bass radiators - fire downwards from the underside of the cabinet. The diaphragm used by these drivers is formed from a composite of carbon, iron and ethylene-vinyl acetate, a well-damped material enabling the correct resonant frequency to be obtained from a diaphragm of appropriate thickness. This is combined with a self-centring, double-ribbed rubber surround, negating the need for a basket.
Rather than use DSP, the Aurora incorporates sound-tuning technologies that operate entirely in the analogue domain. SoundSpace, one such technology, combines the drive unit array with a proprietary matrix, which adjusts the output from specific drivers at certain frequencies. SoundSpace is fundamental to the Aurora's immersive, room-filling performance, enabling the soundstage to extend beyond the confines of the cabinet with expansive width, height and depth, says iFi.
TrueBass is another proprietary sound-tuning technology that operates strictly in the analogue domain. It incorporates the two downward-firing bass radiators, ensuring the Aurora delivers genuine bass with realistic depth and definition. Dual-level depth control means you can adjust the bass response according to taste - down to 27Hz - so that everything from timpani, to a bass guitar, to an electronic bassline is conveyed with power and poise.
Additionally, the Aurora incorporates a ‘room correction' system called ART (Automatic Room Tailoring), entirely developed in-house. At the press of a button, six ultrasonic sensors measure the distance to the surrounding walls using ultrasound. Then, a 32-bit ARM Cortex microprocessor adjusts the output from the driver array to precisely tailor Aurora's performance. The effect is similar to the adjustments made by a live sound engineer at a mixing desk when adapting sound to suit different venues.
All the adjustments are made strictly in the analogue domain, without relying on DSP or feedback in the manner of many other room correction systems. This enables much finer and more accurate tailoring of the sound, reacting to room modes and reflections from walls without attempting to ‘neutralise' the sound in an unnatural way. Wherever the Aurora is placed - in a large room or a smaller one, in a corner, against a wall or in free space - it can perform at its best.
Aided by ART, the Aurora adapts to the way you want to use it. You might place it on a table or sideboard and stream your favourite music playlists, radio stations and podcasts. You might site it under a wall-mounted TV and connect it via Bluetooth or optical cable. Or, you might purchase a rechargeable battery pack and attach it to the Aurora's 12v input, so you can take it outside for a garden party.
Ethernet inputs cater to digital sources, while 3.5mm socket provides an analogue input. There is also a slot for microSDHC cards so you can upload music to a card and play it on the Aurora.
The Aurora does not include voice control, however, as iFi says this would have compromised performance, both in terms of limiting audio resolution to 16-bit/48kHz and re-focusing the design to prioritize the audibility of voice commands over outright sound quality. However, Alexa control can be linked to the Aurora through a third-party device like an Amazon Echo.
The iFi Aurora is an all-in-one wireless music will be available in August for an MSRP of US$1,299.