Jeff Rowland Design Group Aeris DAC

by Audiophilia on May 6, 2013 · 4 comments

in Digital

by Bruce Surtees

A First Look

I had come to the realization some time ago that I would never again have the slightest desire to change any of the components in my two channel system. Not that I had lost any of my lifelong enthusiasm for music but my component system was totally fulfilling.

Since the 1980s, my amplifiers, pre and power, have been exclusively Jeff Rowland. I updated infrequently until recently when I fell for the 625 power amp to replace the 312 that had replaced the 302. To be quite honest, the 302 was more to my liking than the 312.

Last Fall I was fortunate to spend a friendly and informative afternoon with Jeff Rowland during his stop-over in Toronto on his motorcycle trek from Colorado to Newfoundland! He expounded on the genesis and philosophy behind of his new DAC, the Aeris. All very interesting, but, as convincing as he was, and I mean convincing, I had not for a moment believed that it would, or could, equal or surpass my dCS Scarlatti DAC. I didn’t even think about it until a few weeks ago when it was suggested to me that I listen to the Aeris at home.

I accepted the offer, even though the time has passed when I delighted in plugging and unplugging equipment and cables and fussing over the perceived differences whether expected, unexpected or imagined. The unit I was to audition had enough hours on it to be considered well broken in and sounding its best.

Listening to the opening of the Jochum performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana on CD has always been something of a frustration because the massed voices, ladies to the left and gentlemen to the right are glazed with a dense edginess that certainly was not present on the LP. The expensive HMCD from Japan was the same. To my complete surprise, there, before my eyes was a clear and definite body of musicians, orchestra and choir, in a you-are-there reality wherein the instruments were locatable and the voices naturally textured were a collection of real people.  Elsewhere, vocal solos and instruments in the chamber size sections had an outstanding, newly heard presence. A practical lesson in the error of shooting the messenger.

Among other discs heard was the original 1983 pressing of La Boutique Fantasque conducted by Richard Bonynge on London (410139-2). This was never a problem disc but I was interested to hear if there were any differences. From the very opening, not just the plucked strings of the basses across to the violins were heard but the bodies of those instruments as well, adding substantial presence. Each of the following sections was refreshed and produced with gratifying presence.

Miracle with Willy Deville (Polydor 833669-2) confirmed an important attribute of the Aeris which is its extraordinary control of the extreme bass. The ten tracks of vocals backed by instrumental and electronic exhibitionism to burn blaze from top to the very bottom.

Despite exhaustive experimentation, I found that no combination of filters, DSD, or other inputs could duplicate the reality and extraordinary sense of stability so firmly solidified by the Aeris.

With an enhanced impression of reality, now completely devoid of digital glaze and comfortably analogue-like, listening was not fatiguing and invited closer attention.

In spite of what some people believe, listening to music is not sitting around doing nothing. I wonder though, assuming that you are not multitasking but solely absorbed would you now become sated sooner? Or perhaps, not at all?

A Second Look

by Anthony Kershaw

Bruce beat me to the punch! I was going to give this absolute gem of a DAC a ‘quickie’ for our dear readers after spending a few days with one last week. Then, after years of nagging him for a review,  I was very pleasantly surprised by this first look at the wonderful Aeris by the equally wonderful Bruce Surtees.

Unlike Bruce, I have not had lengthy experience with the very best in digital — he’s lived with a dCS Paganini — but the incredible resolution of the Aeris in conjunction with its sweet disposition would make it an easy first choice for me in the DACstakes, bumping my previous favourite, the splendid Calyx Femto (7K) firmly into second. Simply, dCS quality for less than half the price.

Sure, a 10K DAC is not for everybody. The bel canto 2.5 I just reviewed is the kit for the frugal audiophile. Superb engineering with much of Jeff Rowland’s magic touch for 2K. But, for the ultimate in (refined and balanced) resolution, this carefully designed (two years on the bench) DAC is an easy choice for those flush audiophiles who want to get the best digital into their systems. Yeah, I’m going to say it. It’s a bargain at 10K. Audition one and let us know if you agree.

A note about our guest reviewer. Bruce Surtees is a friend, colleague and one of the most knowledgeable men I know in the field of classical music. He’s written about classical music (and audio) in the very best publications, been heard talking about it on CBC Radio and sold it for many years as purveyor of the wonderful The Classical Record Shop here in Toronto. Audiophilia is honoured to have Bruce’s writing grace our pages. I’m in the process of convincing him to publish regularly.

Aeris Specifications

1x USB — accepts up to 24 bit PCM at 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 kHz sample rates
1x Toslink — accepts up to 24 bit PCM from 11 - 192 kHz sample rates
2x SPDIF — accepts up to 24 bit PCM from 11 - 192 kHz sample rates

1 pair balanced XLR and 1 pair unbalanced RCA
7 volts RMS max output level

Dual-stage attenuation
70 dB range, plus 20 dB overdrive

No special drivers necessary
USB interface is plug-n-play with all operating systems, including PC, Mac, or Linux.

20 bit dynamic range Voltage Controlled Crystal Oscillators (VCXO)
44.1 kHz and 48 kHz < 1 picosecond RMS jitter

Differential output
352.8 kHz, 24 bit

Finite Impulse Response (FIR) symetrical
Flat phase and group delay

Analogue outputs
< 0.0006%

120 ohms

The Jeff Rowland Design Group Aeris DAC

Manufactured by Jeff Rowland Design Group
2911 N. Prospect S.
Colorado Springs, CO


Price: US$10,000
Source: Distributor loan

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

MARTIN APPEL 05.06.13 at 1:10 pm

It’s taken 30 years for ‘perfect sound forever’ to reach this level. The vinyl bar still has room under it for the cd to reach for.

A further welcome to Mr. Bruce Surtees to our magazine. I never met him but his reputation precedes him.

admin 05.07.13 at 7:44 am

Another reason to visit Toronto, Marty. Bruce’s setup is amazing!!!!

Adrienne 05.08.13 at 11:25 am

Great review. Hope to see more from Mr. Surtees. (I like the refreshing writing style).

admin 05.08.13 at 12:34 pm

Me, too!

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