Musician Aquarius Review

Musician Aquarius

Sound – Intro

 

I’ve had the pleasure to have the Musician Aquarius with me for several months already, and I have listened to it in a lot of different combinations. I have switched between all of the different inputs, and I have used it with a multitude of high end amplifiers such as the Auris Audio Headonia, the Feliks Audio Envy, the Cayin Audio HA-3A, the Feliks Audio Euforia AE and the Niimbus Audio US4+. I don’t have any preference for tube or solid state amp with this DAC. Just make sure it’s a resolving and precise amp that can show you the characteristics and strengths of the Aquarius.

The most used digital input for this article was the USB-input, connected to my laptop with ROON and Tidal (Chord Epic digital cable). As we’re always testing, I had the luxury to hook up many different headphones to my amps, but again I would recommend higher end/resolving headphones which show you what the Aquarius is all about. Think Audeze LCD-5, LCD MM-500, Sennheiser HD 800, Hifiman Susvara, Meze Audio Elite, Diana TC and Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO.

I have also used the Aquarius in a speaker system, with the Niimbus US4+ as preamp, going to 1991 Kenwood amplifier, powering a set of Pioneer whiskey barrel front monitors and a vintage set of B&W 600i series back speakers.

To test the different digital inputs (Coax, Optical, AES), I have used the xDuoo X10Tii portable turntable which offers all these outputs as a digital source. It’s a great little unit, and I feel it’s underestimated by many. Anyhow, let’s go on.

Musician Aquarius

Sound General

The Musician Audio Aquarius delivers a very natural sound, and it does so effortlessly. It – like the Pegasus – has a more typical analogue type of sound (which I prefer over a digital signature) and it has a very musical delivery.

At the same time the Aquarius is super fast, extremely precise, and highly revealing. The Aquarius is in perfect control, catching every single detail in your music. The Aquarius never sounds overly analytic, dry, or cold like some other high-end gear can sound.

For me the Musician Aquarius sounds dynamic, energetic, and exciting. It has a natural rendering but it at the same time has that typical R2R feel to it, which we have already discussed and explained on many occasions. I must admit, I am quite the R2R DACs, also in portable players and DAC/AMP USB Dongles.

The Aquarius is balanced and neutral. It doesn’t boost any frequencies or puts anything to the front or back. It is balanced and extremely complete in everything it does.

From a technical point of view, you get a very wide and deep sound stage with very good positioning and 3-dimensionality. The Aquarius brings lovely extension on top and down low. The note extension and decay are also spot on and together with that you get excellent layering all over.

The Musician Audio Aquarius is one of the best DACs we’ve had the pleasure to listen to, and it has quickly become my main DAC in the home office. I’m still using the good old Violectric V850 DAC in the living room setup for movies, as it delivers a softer, warmer, and more romantic sound.

Musician Aquarius

NOS vs OS

Like with the Pegasus, there is a difference between both modes, but it is minimal. I turn out to use the NOS setting most of the time. I do try the OS mode from time to time, but I always end up going back to NOS mode, as my ears like that one more.

The oversampling mode seems to bring out more treble clarity and it makes the sound a bit more digital. Decay shortens at the same time, so for me the NOS setting is the way to go. IF you’re listening to a warmer headphone or amplifier, this setting could help you however to liven things up.

Sound – Inputs

I do have to admit that the differences between the inputs are rather limited this time, so we can keep this section short. If you want to compare digital inputs, I fully recommend the xDuoo X10tii, as you can connect all outputs to the inputs at the same time, and just switch the inputs directly on the Aquarius. Same headphone, same amplifier, and only a microsecond of silence. It’s the perfect solution for doing comparisons.

I do find the coaxial input to sound a lot like the AES and USB-input in this implementation, and I find very little differences between these. The AES input is most comparable to the coaxial input, sounding the fullest and most analogue. Between the coaxial and AES, I find the latter to have the best control.

With the optical input, the difference for me is the elevated level of energy and the lighter presence regarding overall body. With the optical input everything sounds a livelier and the vocals become less natural with a sharper/spicier delivery. In a way you could say that the optical output sounds more digital compared to the USB and especially the AES and coaxial inputs.

Let us know in the comments what input you prefer on the Aquarius and why.

Musician Aquarius

Sound vs Pegasus

The Musician Pegasus (selling for $1,099 USD) is the first Musician DAC we reviewed, and it’s the little brother of the Aquarius, and an excellent entry level DAC in the higher-end segment.

Besides the fact that the Aquarius is an even stronger technical contender, another big difference for me between both DACs, is the tonal difference. Where the Aquarius is more neutral and balanced, the Pegasus is fuller and more mellow sounding with more body overall. The Aquarius is more precise, revealing, and clear and everything sounds more effortless. The Aquarius in better control of everything.

The Pegasus at its $1K price is still an excellent DAC. It’s just that the Aquarius is playing at a higher (technical) level, and then some. While I was (and am) perfectly happy with the Pegasus, it now is difficult for me to go back to it after using the Aquarius for such a long time.

Conclusion

The Musician Audio Aquarius is a high end DAC with a high-end typical R2R performance. Its technical level is impressive, and it mixes it with an effortless rendering, sublime dynamics and a very musical delivery.

Another reason to recommend the Aquarius is that it is incredibly easy to pair with all type of amplifiers. It doesn’t matter if it is a solid state or tube amp, or if it is warm or neutral. The Musician Aquarius grows on you quickly and you swiftly get addicted to its typical sound.

Next to that the design and build quality also are nice and the unit really stands out on your desk. It’s true that the package and accessories are a little too limited for the price it is going for, but that’s about the only remark I can make.

If you have the budget, like R2R DACs and if you’re looking for a new high end DAC, then I can fully recommend the Musician Audio Aquarius. Thank you again, Aoshida, for sending it over!

 

Page 1: Musician Audio, R2R tech, Aquarius, Features, Specifications

Page 2: Box & Accessories, Design & Build Quality, Lay-Out, Usability

Page 3: Sound, Comparison, Conclusion

4.3/5 - (176 votes)
linkedinrssyoutubeinstagram
Facebooktwitterredditpinterest

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.