In this review, I’m taking a look at the Yulong Aurora. The Aurora features an ESS9068AS DAC chip, an SNR of 125dB and supports up to 32bit/384kHz, DSD512 and MQA decoding. It’s priced at $520.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Yulong Audio for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Yulong Audio Aurora
The Aurora’s chassis has a similar trapezoid shape as the Aquila II and Canary II units. Its seamless aluminium chassis looks sleek and modern with its sloping sides and compact form factor. It has a smooth matte finish and is available in black, red and silver. With the volume knob in the middle of the front panel, it has a symmetrical appearance that highlights rather than obscures the components.
On the front panel, are (from left to right) the input select switch, volume knob, 4.4mm balanced headphone output, 6.35mm single-ended headphone output and a balanced XLR headphone output. The volume knob is knurled and damped, giving you precise control over your levels.
Things are busy on the back panel, starting with the DAC/PRE AMP select switch. Next to that are the balanced XLR outputs followed by RCA outputs. For the input section, we have RCA, coaxial, optical and USB inputs. Finally, there is the power switch and DC 12V power input. The power switch is positioned awkwardly at the back of the unit and can be hard to reach, especially when you have a USB cable plugged in.
So, the Aurora is quite a versatile unit, especially considering its small footprint. It serves as a DAC, preamp and headphone amplifier in one convenient package. Take note that the chassis gets quite hot when the device is powered on but that’s completely normal for most Class-A amplifiers.
Internally, the Yulong Aurora is built around an ESS 9068AS DAC chip. It also comes with the latest XMOS XU216 solution with NDK ultra-low phase noise oscillator. Supporting up to 32bit/768kHz, DSD512 and MQA decoding, the Aurora can handle any files that you send its way.
When it comes to output power, the Aurora has it in spades. 6V for the DAC and 12V max from the balanced XLR outputs is a lot of juice for such a small unit. As for the Class-A headphone amplifier, it can push 1600mW @32Ω from the 6.35mm (SE) and 4000mW @32Ω from both the 4.4mm and XLR balanced outputs.
The Yulong Aurora inherits many of the sonic characteristics of the Yulong Canary II; it’s defined by its muscular, authoritative tonality paired with a clean, spacious presentation. However, with the added balanced analogue section, this device is a clear step up from its smaller sibling.
I hooked the Aurora up to my Windows 11 PC via USB and fed it a variety of music including Hi-Res FLAC files and streaming Spotify premium. The first order of business was to test the headphone output since that is what gets used most commonly with my desktop units.
Firing up RPWL’s “Masters of War”, I’m immediately impressed by the airiness of the hi-hat and crispness of the kick drum. The rich yet articulate male vocals combined with the smooth but textured guitars show Aurora’s expressive capabilities. Despite the organic warmth of its Class-A analogue section, Aurora’s sound is detailed and open.
Following up with Porcupine Tree’s “Of the New Day”, Aurora’s qualities are on full display. It maintains smoothness without compromising any of the texture or energy of the guitars throughout the song’s rhythmic shifts. The device traverses both the calm and energetic phases with confidence and composure.
Dynamism and subtlety are packed with rhythm for an enchanting musical showcase. The Aurora shows its ……….to groove with Mary Jane Girl’s “All Night Long”. The groovy bass guitar accompanied by the clean, snappy snare drum is a sure bet to get your toes tapping to this funk classic.
This is a DAC with an extraordinary presence: the robust character, the non-destructive warmth and the precise highs that deliver detail and clarity. All of this is presented with a reassuring conviction. To grasp the complexities of Aurora’s sound is possible only after hearing how it performs in person.
Pairing & Compatibility
I tested the Aurora with a variety of headphones and IEMs. I found that it isn’t fussy about what you pair it with – it just works. There’s a tiny amount of background noise when using ultra-sensitive IEMs but I could only hear it when I had my air-conditioner or fan turned off.
One of my favourite pairings was with the Acoustic Research AR-H1 headphones. The neutrality of the AR-H1 is matched beautifully by the organic fullness of the Aurora. The end result is an exceptionally clean, very detailed and expansive sound. In fact, when using the AR-H1 with Aurora’s XLR output, this is probably the best these headphones have ever sounded.
The bass is tight and fast, electric guitars sound incredibly lifelike and the sheen on hi-hats and cymbals highlights the depth of Aurora’s top-end extension. But it’s the midrange here that really steals the show. The clarity, engagement, separation and accurate tone are a real joy to behold.
HIFIMAN’s Sundara is another good match for the Aurora. It has a warmer tone than the AR-H1 but is still highly resolving and has a bit more punch in the bass. Aurora brings out the best in the Sundara, especially when I’m using the Arctand RUBI cable and Aurora’s 4.4mm balanced output.
The Beyerdynamic DT90 Pro 250Ω is not the most demanding headphones by any means but they do require ample power to bring out their best sound. Aurora has more than enough grunt to push these and I found myself listening at 9-10 o’clock on the volume knob (6:30 is the starting position).
With this combo, the DT990 Pro has a full-bodied, punchy bass and a lively, dynamic presentation. With Aurora’s musical and analog character the Beyer is a treat for the ears. The DT990 Pro’s somewhat edgy treble is tamer with this amp but all the detail is still present.
Finally, the FiR Audio 5×5 was an IEM that I found particularly enjoyable with the Aurora. The 5×5 is an efficient earphone but it’s not ultra-sensitive so I can’t hear any noise floor, only the music.
Using the 4.4mm balanced output, I was hovering at around 7-8 on the volume knob. I was surprised to find there’s no channel imbalance, even at a very low volume; this amp truly is a good match for both IEMs and full-size headphones even without adjustable gain modes.
The 5×5 has a dynamic sound that’s slightly on the warmer side of neutral. Despite that, it works extremely well with the Aurora and retains its high-fidelity sound and detail retrieval. One thing that stood out is the strength of the imaging here. Aurora + 5×5 = holographic soundstage and lots of fun.
The Yulong Aurora is a great all-in-one desktop DAC/preamp/headphone amp unit. With its sleek looks and small footprint, it’s an unobtrusive and versatile tool for music lovers. Whether you need something for speakers, headphones or both, this device has got you covered (unless you’re outside China and want Bluetooth as a source). At the end of the day though, the best thing about Aurora is the quality of the sound that you get for the price. Recommended.