Beautiful Design, Superior Sound
- Open, wide, three-dimensional, surrounding sound, with a big soundstage.
- It has an excellent musicality, it is soft and delicate, but without losing an iota of detail or resolution.
- Great external design, beautiful and distinguished.
- High level of construction, both internally and externally.
- Gain control, volume control, with a large number of steps.
- Selection for USB UAC1.0 and UAC2.0 mode to increase compatibility with more devices.
- Possibility of leather case.
- The behaviour of the sub-bass in the pure tone test reveals subtle colouring with some IEMS with dynamic drivers or DD+BA hybrids.
- According to my measurements, it is not as powerful as the specifications indicate.
Link to the WEB
Aune has been a long time coming, but it has been worth the wait. The Aune Yuki is the first dongle from Wuhan Ao Lai Er Technology Co., Ltd, founded in 2004. And it is not just any dongle. Aune has created a Hi-End dongle with a 4-way discrete balanced amplifier circuit, with 16 transistors distributed in a 4×4 pattern. As DAC it has used the new CS43198 from Cirrus Logic in dual format, with two completely independent channels. The DAC chip used has a dynamic range of 130dB and a THD+N of -115dB. This new dongle plays 32-bit formats up to 768kHz and DSD256. It also has a volume control and gain selector (low and high). However, one of the most striking features is the level of construction. For its internal circuitry, Aune has developed an innovative dual-layer structure, which separates the digital circuitry and the analogue headphone amplifier circuitry, using a hybrid ceramic printed circuit board. Such ceramic boards are characterised by high strength, excellent thermal conductivity and insulation, as well as low dielectric loss, which means improved high-frequency performance. The discrete headphone amplifier board contains the 16 transistors that make up the 4-way analogue headphone amplifier. The other contains the digital DAC circuitry. The Yuki has been designed with true high-fidelity reproduction in mind. The headphone amplifier section uses several dedicated chips with ±5V supplies to power the 4 independent headphone amplifiers. For the external construction Aune has used an aluminium alloy structure, with a fine baked enamel finish, with a glass window to reveal the excellent circuitry inside. Let’s see what this great little dongle is all about and what it sounds like, of course, in the following review.
- DAC: Dual CS43198 from Cirrus Logic.
- Playback formats: PCM 32Bits 768kHz, DSD256.
- Headphone output: SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm both gold-plated.
- Headphone amplifier output noise SE: 2.6μV.
- SE output voltage: 2.0V RMS.
- THD+N SE: 0.00036%.
- SE output power: 90mW 30Ω.
- Headphone amplifier output noise BAL: 2.9μV.
- BAL output voltage: 4.0V RMS.
- THD+N BAL: 0.00033%.
- BAL output power: 160mW 30Ω.
- Input interface: USB Type C.
- Dimensions: 53.5x24x13mm.
- Weight: 230g.
There is no doubt that the Aune Yuki is a special dongle. And you can see that from its packaging. Yes, Aune has succumbed to using an Anime Girl, albeit in a more subtle way. But, there it is, in the decorated paper that wraps the cylindrical package. On one side is her and on the other the model’s name in hollow white letters on a background decorated like a sky with shooting stars. When this paper is removed, a white textured surface is revealed. On the side, only Yuki can be read in gold lettering. The brand name and its slogan are on the upper side of the cover. On the bottom side are the brand’s logo and the Hi-Res logo. After removing the lid, a white template with two QRs leading to the user’s manual in Chinese or English is visible. At the top, the Yuki protrudes from the side of the USB Type C connection. The dongle is embedded in a white foam base. Underneath this cardboard is a white pouch containing the rest of the accessories. Well, it’s actually just a male-to-male USB cable with both Type C connectors. Both connections are protected by a translucent plastic cover. Also included is a Type C female to Type A male adapter. The connector sleeves are white and feature Yuki’s own matte enamel finish and the brand name in gold lettering. The cable is short, 11cm counting both connectors. It is simple, but really beautiful, on a par with the dongle itself. The white is luminous, but the silver plating on the strand of wires used, which form a thick braided bundle, stands out.
Additionally, a beautiful leather case in orange or green is available. It fits perfectly and has an opening that matches the window to the Yuki’s circuitry.
Admittedly, a dongle doesn’t have much to offer in the way of accessories. But Aune has been imaginative in using very elegant and distinctive cylindrical packaging, matching the beauty of the Yuki’s design. The cables and their connectors are on the same level, well above other accessory cables that come with other dongles. The only downside is that the leather case is a separate accessory. But many others don’t even have that extra.
Construction and Design
The external design of the Yuki is dazzling. Made of an aluminium alloy structure with a fine baked enamel finish, it has a glass window to reveal the beautifully designed circuitry. Its interior is composed of two ceramic printed circuit boards. They are separated from each other, one incorporating the amplifier circuits and the other the DACs. From the window you can see the 16 transistors, resistors and other components on a creamy white base with red and yellow stripes, like a Chinese vase. It is worth enlarging the photo of the interior to see the quality of the construction and all the details, the perfect soldering of all the components.
Continuing with the external description the Yuki measures 53.5x24x13mm. On its main face is the large glass window to its interior, in the central part. It is divided into three regions separated by a thin slit. On the lower part is the mark inscribed in gold lettering. On the upper part there is nothing. It is a rectangular tablet whose edges have been very subtly bevelled. The back side follows the same pattern divided in three because the indentations go all the way round. There is nothing at the bottom. In the middle, at the bottom, is the Hi-Res logo and at the top is the model name and description, all written in the dongle’s signature gold ink. At the top are two buttons. The button on the left has a hole that is filled with gold ink, to indicate that it is the volume + button. The volume – button is flat. On the right side are the logos of the certifications that the system complies with and a phrase indicating that the product is designed by Aune. On the top side is the USB Type C connection, while on the bottom side are the two headphone outputs SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm, both gold-plated, as they should be.
Yes, the shape of the dongle is nothing more than a rectangular pickup with that subtle flat edge. But the white enamelling, the gold lettering and, above all, the window into the peculiar circuitry, elevate the beauty of a dongle whose sound is as promising as its design.
Well, there is not much in this section. The Yuki has a USB Type C connection. For Apple MacOS no driver is needed, neither for smartphones or DAPS. For Windows 10 or higher it can be used without driver, but ASIO drivers are available. Together with foobar2000, the ASIO proxy plugin and the SACD plugin allows DSD256 playback. The complete manual with these instructions can be downloaded here:
It’s also compatible with UAC1.0 devices and connection to the Nintendo Switch is possible.
There is also not much mystery in the operation of the Aune Yuki dongle. It has two volume buttons that do not interact with the Windows volume control, but are internal. Their level is memorised. The most special thing is that it has a gain selector (low/high). To change gain it is necessary to press both VOLUME+ and VOLUME- buttons for 2 seconds.
To pair the Yuki with a UAC1.0 device, press the VOLUME+ button on the Yuki and do not release it until the two devices are connected by cable and the Yuki is switched on. Then it will work in UAC1.0 mode.
The manual can be downloaded from here:
And the driver for Windows (ASIO) from here:
The Aune Yuki has analogue amplification, implemented with a 4-way discrete balanced amplifier circuit, with 16 transistors distributed 4×4. The SE output gives a maximum no-load value of 2V RMS and a power of 90mW at 30Ω. The BAL output gives a maximum no-load value of 4V RMS and a power of 160mW at 30Ω. But, in addition, it has a gain selector that allows you to get 1V RMS unloaded by SE and 2V RMS unloaded by BAL.
In the reality of my humble measurements, I have found that the power is not as great as specified. But let’s look at the details below.
However, the output impedance values have been good, giving a value of less than 1Ω per SE and slightly more than 1Ω per BAL.
No Load SE
As I said, at low gain the output is almost 1V RMS, while at high gain it is 2V RMS. All good.
15 Ω SE
The maximum voltage achieved without visible distortion with this impedance was 855mV RMS, which implies a power of 49mW. Discrete.
33 Ω SE
For 33Ω the value grows to 1.4V RMS, giving a power of 60mW. The specifications indicate a power of 90mW at 30Ω. That would imply a voltage of 1.64V RMS. It falls one step short of that voltage.
100 Ω SE
All output voltage for this impedance. 2V RMS giving 40mW.
No Load BAL
At low gain the output is 2V RMS, while at high gain it is 4V RMS.
15 Ω BAL
It gets a little more power from the balanced output for this impedance: 0.92V and 56mW. Still a discrete value. The current is 61mA.
33 Ω BAL
Almost 2V for this impedance: 1.93V RMS which implies 110mW. This is not the 160mW declared. For that the voltage would have to reach 2.19V RMS. Again, it is 0.2V short of that value. In addition, the current delivery values are also discrete, around 60mA at most.
100 Ω BAL
Not very understandably, it does not reach 4V RMS per BAL for 100Ω. It stays at 3.55V RMS giving a power of 130mW. I was expecting more.
On the other hand, the frequency response is completely flat from 10Hz to 40kHz, with a non-existent difference between channels, all the lines of the graph of both channels are completely superimposed. Perfect.
The feeling that struck me when I tried the Aune Yuki for the first time was the three-dimensionality of its sound; but mainly from the low end. What I could perceive is as if the Yuki’s bass was projected from the rear, as if coming from a subwoofer. That effect gives a lot of depth to the sound, and also a sense of surrounding that is not easily found in such small devices. As I say, there is a lot of space and volume in the lower area of the Yuki. In addition, the separation is also very evident. Thus, the recreation of layers and bass lines is very noticeable, as is the ease of following them.
Normally, when I try IEMS, I perform a test that has become a recurrent feature in all my reviews. It’s to reproduce very low frequency pure tones (from 20Hz to 50Hz), with the intention of knowing the response of the headphones in this critical range. But I have also realised that not all sources are able to execute these tones in the same way. In the case of the Yuki I have found some differences when reproducing pure sub-bass tones with some IEMS with dynamic drivers and DD+BA. The sensation I have had is a slight colouration in those headphones that have behaved differently. It has not been with all of them and their price has not been significant. As I say, I have noticed these differences in dynamic drivers in some DD + BA hybrids, in the planar ones the change is negligible. I could define these differences when reproducing sub-bass tones as more coloured and less sensory, offering a more perceptible and audible vibration, slightly less natural and deep. The translation of this isolated behaviour when playing real music is not negative, it can make the bass more noticeable, less compact, a bit dirtier, losing a bit of smoothness, crispness and depth, in favour of a more marked and rougher texture, as well as a bit more presence. I insist that this reaction cannot be extrapolated to all headphones, but I must say that there are some exceptions that offer this different behaviour.
Why is this difference possible? Perhaps there is a reason. The Yuki has an analogue amplification, which consists of 16 transistors configured in 4×4 mode. It is possible that this configuration differs from the sound coming from an operational amplification. And, to a large extent, I think that is the virtue and difference that the Yuki offers.
When this subtle colouring does not affect, the result is precise, concise, technical, skilful and with that extra depth, volume and three-dimensionality. But when it does appear, that distinctive sonority is capable of lending it a nuance of roughness and positive differential texture. So it’s not a pejorative nuance, far from it, but a somewhat different execution that can have better or somewhat more critical results, at the very least. But I still think that this difference can be peculiar, even virtuous and appreciable, something that distinguishes itself in the face of so much neutrality.
In the mid-range, it still has that sense of openness that makes the mids smoother and less congested. In that sense, the Yuki allows you to enjoy music at a higher volume because its sound is not sharp, hard, crushing, direct, or as clumpy as in other dongles. Such softness and grandeur in its sound becomes sweetness and musicality, enhanced by the breadth of its sonic extension. This allows the micro detail to be exposed with better definition, as its distance from the rest of the elements is greater. There is also a great sense of dynamics, as this separation deepens the sense of darkness in the background. On the other hand, this softness does not imply a slowdown in its transients. The Yuki is very adept in these respects and this is most noticeable in this midrange. Another virtue is its ability to separate planes. Where other dongles sound overlapping, the Yuki opens up the space, making the sound more volatile and spreading it out more clearly, adding extra transparency, clarity and light between the elements. In this way, the sound is perspicuous, diaphanous, but with a good sense of body that keeps it from being thin or analytical. In this sense, the Yuki’s profile remains within that subtly warm, analogue and realistic neutrality that Aune proposes in the rest of the devices I have been able to review.
The Yuki’s treble persists in that idea of sweetness and softness. It is not an abrupt dongle in this respect. The analogue feel of its sound is most evident in the high end. The treble may not appear as firmly in the foreground as on other dongles, but this is not to say that its importance or presence in the sound is less. There is a sense that the energy is more relaxed and feels more extended throughout the upper range, offering a perception of greater range, in conjunction with a more pronounced impression of delicacy. True, the treble doesn’t feel crisp or close. But they are in keeping with the open and musical sound that characterises the Yuki. In this respect, it is commendable that a sweet, melodious sound is not lacking in detail, but that it is enhanced by the individual energy of the high notes. The result is a timbre that is natural and very pleasant, broad and harmonically rich, as well as euphonic and balanced. Of course, as seen in the frequency response, the Yuki has a Hi-Res extension without any dip in the high and very high frequencies, which gives an idea that its treble does not lack energy, but is expressed with a superior delicacy, something that accentuates the beauty of the sound in this range.
Perhaps, to talk about the Yuki’s soundstage, image, separation and technical capabilities is redundant, given the number of references to these aspects I have made in this review. But suffice it to say that the stage is wide, expansive, three-dimensional and immersive. The sound has considerable volume, the sense of volatility of the notes is not at odds with a lack of definition or resolution of them. In this way, detail does not feel penalised. On the contrary, the Yuki’s ability to distance elements and layers allows micro-level detail to be more easily discernible, but without offering a sense of a thin or analytical sound. Somehow, the Yuki manages to be very resolving without being harsh, abrupt or piercing – quite the opposite, in that it is sweet, melodious, musical, smooth and pleasing. The conjunction of these abilities in a single device in this range is indicative of its level and the great work done by the brand.
Hidizs S9 Pro Plus
Martha is the codename for Hidizs’ latest dongle model and is great value for money. It has only recently been released and is priced at $89. The Yuki costs $169 so the difference is considerable. Both have volume control, 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL outputs. The Hidizs has an RGB LED indicator of the format played, plus 6 filters. The Yuki has no RGB LED, no filters, but is UAC1.0 compatible and has a gain selector. The Yuki is superior in terms of design beauty: the white exterior, the window inside, the ceramic printed circuit board, the colours and the visibility of the electronic components, elevates the Aune dongle above most of its competitors. However, its size, in width and height, is taller than the Hidizs. The Yuki’s accessories are also more refined, and it is even possible to buy a leather case for protection.
The Hidizs has more power in all aspects. But in terms of sound, the Yuki is superior. It has a wider soundstage and more three-dimensionality. The detail is more obvious, the sound is smoother, softer and more musical. The Hidizs is comparatively more cushioned, narrow and tight. It feels more congested and the sound layers are closer together. The highs of the Hidizs are rougher, with more energy and presence. However, the Hidizs is more universal and all-rounder when it comes to reproducing sub-bass in combination with the headphones I tested.
Perhaps, to put the Aune Yuki on the ropes, more expensive dongles such as the EarMen Colibri are needed. Currently priced at $249, the Colibri has an internal battery, is clearly larger, has volume control and bass boost. Although its maximum output is 1.5V per SE and 3V per BAL, it is more powerful for 16Ω and 32Ω headphones, though not for 100Ω as the Yuki goes up to 4V.
The sound of the Colibri is very refined, in line with the Yuki. This refinement allows it to offer a more universal and adequate behaviour in the low end, with all the headphones I have tested. As I said, the spaciousness of the soundstage is a strong point of the Yuki, but, even so, the Colibri is slightly more spacious, even somewhat softer, ethereal, vaporous and gauzy. The Yuki is slightly more concise and has a subtly more pronounced punch, something that seems to offer it a more eye-catching point of detail. But the Colibri doesn’t shy away from describing detail and presents it very accurately, albeit more delicately and openly, if at all possible. To my mind, the Colibri extends the path that the Yuki opens up in its price range, increasing aspects such as softness, delicacy, separation, openness and scene. But it is also somewhat cooler and more analytical. Its profile is neutral, but it lacks that more analogue warmth that the Yuki does possess. True, the Colibri is superior in terms of refinement, but the Yuki has a more natural feel that some might value over the more aseptic, atmospheric and volatile ambience of the EarMen.
The Aune Yuki is a breath of fresh air in the $100-$200 range of dongles. It uses a Dual DAC CS43198, a 4-way discrete balanced amplifier circuit, with 16 transistors distributed in a 4×4 pattern, and uses a separate hybrid ceramic printed circuit board, one for the DAC circuit and one for the amplification. Externally, it has an aluminium alloy structure and is notable for its window that allows a view of the impressive interior. It has knobs for volume control, gain and USB mode. In addition, it is capable of playing 32-bit formats up to 768kHz and DSD256. All this helps to separate the Yuki from the direct competition, offering solutions from dongles in higher price ranges. This is how Aune achieves a very wide, spacious, delicate, smooth and musical sound, while at the same time very detailed, descriptive and resolute, at the level of very few at this price. The sound of the Aune Yuki is a true reflection of its external beauty.
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- Hidizs AP80 PRO-X Red Copper LE.
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro.
- Hidizs MP145.
- Hidizs MS5.
- BQEYZ Wind.
- BQEYZ Winter.
- Kefine Klanar.
- KiiBOOM Evoke.
- Kiwi Ears Melody.
- Letshuoer S15.
- Letshuoer S12 Pro.
- Tanchjim Kara.
- Rose Martini.
- Rose QT9 MK2s.
- NiceHCK F1.