A Pure Reference
- Pure, clean, organic, natural, reference sound.
- Timbre and tone very neutral.
- Despite the neutrality it is musical and very descriptive, with a great texture.
- The size and body of the sound is high. Scene is physical and large.
- Possibly has the fastest OpAmps switching system I’ve tried.
- Operational simplicity.
- 7 sound filters.
- Large potentiometer.
- Optional Bluetooth.
- Power supply included.
- TRS balanced pre-out.
- Alternative OpAmps kit as optional purchase.
- It does not support larger OpAmps due to limited space.
- It has no balanced line output, nor is it 4.4mm.
- Although it is technically good, it is not an analytical DAC.
- When switched on, it reverts to the initial filter.
Link to the WEB
Aune, the brand from China, whose logo reads the same if you turn it 180°, presents its special 18th Anniversary Edition of the X8 DAC Magic. It retains its classic OpAmps interchangeability feature and the 7 filters. In addition, a balanced TRS preamp output has been added. A Bluetooth version is available that supports AAC, LDAC and aptX HD. The X8 XVIII supports high resolution decoding up to 32bit/768k and DSD512. Using FPGA technology researched and developed by Aune engineers, the X8 has purer digital signals, so you get the cleanest sound. It has USB, coaxial and optical inputs. As outputs it offers RCA line or preamplified outputs, as well as a balanced TRS preamp output. As DAC it uses the classic ESS ES9038Q2M from Sabre. Let’s see what this versatile desktop DAC is capable of.
- Inputs: 1x coaxial, 1x optical, 1x USB-B.
- Bluetooth Optional: AAC, LDAC and aptX HD.
- Outputs: 1x stereo RCA (pre-out), 1x 6.35 mm TRS dual jack (pre-out), 1x stereo RCA (line out).
- Supported sample rates:
- USB : PCM up to 32bit 768kHz, DSD up to DSD512.
- Coax : PCM up to 24bit 384kHz, DSD DoP up to DoP128
- Optical : PCM up to 24bit 192kHz, DSD DoP up to DoP64
- Output level: 2 Vrms.
- Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 20kHz ±0.5dB.
- SNR: 121 dB.
- THD+N (1kHz): 0.00027%.
- Colour: Black, White.
- Dimensions: 145mmx171mmx45mm.
The Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC comes in a relatively large white box, whose dimensions are 248x184x115mm. On the front side is a real picture of the DAC, in its white version. At the top left is the brand logo. At the top right is the Hi-Res Audio logo. A little further down is the model name. At the bottom are all the features of the device, under their corresponding icons/logos. On the back are the modes of use, the brand slogan and a QR code at the bottom. After sliding off the outer cardboard, a black box with silver brand lettering in the centre opens up. Once the lid is lifted, the entire contents are revealed. In the first layer is the DAC, inside a white bag and an instruction card. The second layer contains the rest of the accessories. The complete contents are:
- Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC.
- Instruction card.
- Power supply.
- Power cable.
- USB Type-A to Type-B cable.
- Tweezers to remove the OpAmps.
- Allen key.
- Plastic caps for unused RCA outputs.
- Special edition with 4 OpAmps (LME49720NA, Muses 01, BB OPA2604AP, BB OPA2134PA).
This time, it is not the Bluetooth version and has no antenna. OpAmps can be purchased separately, but this version comes with 4 additional OpAmps.
The packaging is quite complete, well protected. It comes with everything you need to get it working. Tools for OpAmps replacement are appreciated.
Construction and Design
The X8 XVIII Magic DAC is a bit of a departure from the flat-sided rectangular device design. The top face is curved and the sides have a rather large notch in the centre. The surface is rough and matt, the black colour is prone to fingerprints and dust. Overall, though, the appearance is quite sober. On its main face, there is only one multifunction button, for selecting the input source and filters. The brand name and model is in the upper left corner. All text is in white ink. On the right is the potentiometer, which is quite large. Next to it is a plaque identifying the special 18th anniversary edition, with the Roman numerals XVIII in gold. The rear face has, from left to right, the preamp TRS balanced outputs, gold-plated. Preamp RCA outputs, RCA line outputs, all gold-plated. Gold-plated coaxial input, optical input, USB Type-B input, Bluetooth antenna hole, switch and power input. On the bottom is the serial number label, 4 rounded rubber feet and a removable plate, under which the OpAmp is located. There is also a warning sticker to indicate the steps before exchanging the chips.
On the one hand, the system adopted by Aune for the exchange of the OpAmps is faster than many other models, whose outer casing has to be completely removed for this function. Here, the swapping is much quicker and it’s a great success in that respect. For my taste, though, there are a couple of drawbacks. One, the lower position. Two, the size of the hole is not big enough to mount the chips in a socket so that the pins do not suffer or so that other types of larger OpAmps can be used, such as the V5i from Burson or those that are mounted on small printed boards, such as the OPA1612 Dual or the OPA1622 Dual. Well, actually, these do fit, if you don’t close the board. But it is true that to use larger OpAmps like the Burson V6 or Sparkos, you will have to turn the DAC around, although I don’t think that’s the best idea.
Internally it uses an ESS ES9038Q2M DAC and FPGA technology developed by Aune, capable of supporting high resolution decoding up to 32bit/768k and DSD512.
The X8 XVIII Magic DAC has USB inputs for connection to a smartphone, PC or other USB-compatible source. It also has coaxial and optical inputs, fully compatible with the Aune X5s. As outputs, it has RCA line outputs and TRS and RCA balanced preamp outputs.
There is a Bluetooth receiver compatible version and it is compatible with AAC, LDAC and aptX HD protocols.
This is more than enough, considering the very low THD+N (1kHz) of 0.00027%. Although I would have liked a 4.4mm balanced fixed line output, which seems to me to be the most standard connection at the moment.
It has ASIO drivers for Windows 7 onwards.
The use of this DAC is quite simple. It has a rear switch, a multi-function knob on the front and a large potentiometer on the right, to adjust the volume of the variable output. The potentiometer is quite smooth and provides low resistance, but just enough. The multi-function button allows selection of the input (USB, OPT or COAX), each with an indicator light. A quick press switches between the different inputs. To select a filter from the 7 available, it is necessary to press the button for 2 seconds. The LEDs A, B, C, D, AB, BC or CD will light up to indicate which filter is selected.
If the button is pressed for 4 seconds, each LED will light up consecutively. Release the button to select the current filter.
The Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC is a fairly neutral and natural audio device. I feel that it does not expose any artifice to the music and that its sound signature is organic, analogue, descriptive and colourless. Switching OpAmps allows it to slightly spice up the sound, but always within the parameters of neutral musicality. The X8 XVIII Magic DAC allows you to select up to 7 different filters, although their impact on the sound can go almost unnoticed. The change between different OpAmps is more evident than the modifications generated by the filters, but as the change is not completely immediate, we have to rely on our recent auditory memory and first impressions. Still, it is probably the stationary audio device with the fastest OpAmps switching system I have tested.
The X8 XVIII does not have an analytical sound. Sometimes I tend to look for that kind of cooler sensation and I have played with a multitude of OpAmps to find that sound. But I haven’t found it. The coolest OpAmp I’ve used was the LME49720NA. It is a great OpAmp, but here I found it to be very colourless and clean, but without achieving the analytical level I was looking for. The level of detail obtained with this chip is quite high, but its vitality was not very high. So I decided to use all the chips I could get my hands on. In my opinion, the 5532 is too basic for the category of this DAC, so it is best to replace it with superior chips. In that respect, the package that Aune offers for sale, consisting of the OPA2604, MUSES01, LME49720, offers three original OpAmps at a great price. The MUSES01 added a smoother, warmer, more musical, analogue sound. The MUSES02, which I have in my collection, increased this feeling. The bass became very rough, reaching a higher level of texture, as well as a bit more punch in that range. The mids became too silky and I missed a higher level of detail. In a neutral set like this, I was looking for superior descriptiveness and a little more eye-catching detail. I tried Burson Audio V5i and OPA1612 Dual, each with a different flavour, but without finding the blend of descriptive and analytical capability I was looking for. However, when I installed the BB OPA2134PA I found it to be the one that most closely matched the sound I was looking for. This OpAmp blends the cleanliness of the LME49720NA, but without reaching its level of nondescript transparency, with a textural, rough and full-bodied low end capability that offered me an extra measure of enjoyment. After many tests, this BB OPA2134PA has been the OpAmp that has remained, although I do not rule out buying others to continue looking for a higher sound.
Mostly, I have connected the X8 XVIII Magic DAC to my PC, to get the best performance using higher resolution files. As amplifiers I used the ifi Zen CAN and the EarMen ST-Amp. The ifi boosted the softer and warmer sound of the set. I missed some more resolution and definition. This is an extremely musical set, but my preference is for something cooler and more descriptive. The connection to the EarMen ST-Amp is more to my liking, but I must comment that it is not an analytical union either. Both devices are characterised by a high degree of purity and their connection amplifies the neutrality of both. While the connection with the ifi was more organic, with the ST-Amp it is completely colourless and clean. Although the ifi is more powerful overall, its sound is more compressed than with the ST-Amp. It is clear that the ifi limits the potential of the Aune, which is undoubtedly a device that should be exploited with more capable amplifiers, in terms of resolution and definition.
Technical level is one of the features I most appreciate in audio devices. Not that I’m obsessive about it, but I know a lot of the songs in my library very well and when I listen to them I look for those fine details to be there. That’s why I’ve been looking for the OpAmp that would maximise the Aune’s resolving power. During that search I realised that this is not an overly technical DAC, but one that exposes detail in a neutral way. It doesn’t try to sharpen or thin notes to make them feel more enhanced. It is simply dedicated to exposing reality in a neutral way, even if it is complex. That is how I have come to realise the technical skill that this DAC possesses. It is not based on high analytical skills, but on a rather descriptive interpretation of the musical nature. Instead of exposing micro detail, it relies on highlighting a greater number of them, but without presenting them in a very exposed or overloaded way. In this way, the sound has a tendency to be magnified.
Compared to a more basic DAC in my collection, such as the S.M.S.L Sanskrit 10th MKII, the footprint of the X8 XVIII is superior, generating a more remarkable physical and corporeal feel. On the other hand, the Sanskrit feels comparatively more congested and intimate, without offering much more detail or resolution. In this respect, the X8 XVIII’s scene clearly benefits, reaching a larger and more immersive level, but without getting over the head and maintaining naturalness as the main normal.
In terms of frequency range, as can be seen in the graph, the X8 XVIII is a completely flat output Hi-Res DAC, which shows that it is a neutral device, which does not alter the original sound. It only offers a little flavour depending on the OpAmp installed. Thus, the description of each range is a bit superfluous, as there is no enhancement in any band. The differences are to be found in the expressiveness, descriptiveness, texture, scene size and timbral fidelity of the DAC. It is in this last aspect that the neutral and natural profile of the X8 is exemplified. Try as I might to look for the three feet of the cat, the correctness in this section is remarkable, highlighting, once again, the revealing purity of the device.
To speak of a reference level can be presumptuous, even daring and exaggerated. Because a reference tends to be absolute, the point of comparison with the rest. However, I believe that the hardest task in the audio world is undoubtedly to become a reference at a price level. I’m inclined to think that every brand tries to do this with every device they create. Unless they are deliberately aiming for a different sound, to distance themselves from the competition. But when, from the description of a device’s features, the same word is repeated several times, it is undoubtedly because they want to stand out. And in the presentation of the Aune X8 XVIII Magic DAC, the term that is repeated most often is pure. Actually, once reviewed, I couldn’t say anything different either. This new DAC is so pure, neutral and clean that it is a reference in its price range. Accompanying this sound, Aune has designed a slightly curved looking device, which subtly differentiates itself from its competition. It has included 7 sound filters, a simple, single button operation mode, plus the fastest system for switching OpAmps that I know of. Add to that USB, optical, coaxial inputs, support for Bluetooth AAC, LDAC and aptX HD, RCA line out and TRS balanced pre-out. Basically, what a reference desktop DAC should have.
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- ifi Zen Can.
- EarMen ST-Amp.
- Hidizs MS5.
- KiiBOOM Evoke.
- KiiBOOM Allure.
- TKZK Ouranos.
- Kinera Celest Pandamon.
- TinHiFi T4 Plus.
- Dunu Kima.
- Letshuoer S12 PRO.
- NiceHCK F1.
- BQEYZ Winter.
- Rose QT9 MK2s.
- ISN H40.
- Yanyin Aladdin.
- Penon Globe.
- Rose Martini.