Yulong DA-Art Aquila II: A canted box, with good sound.

Yulong DA-Art Aquila II ($640-700): A canted box, with good sound.

Pros: Affordable
Clean sounding
Decent sized for desktop
Multiple set up options

Cons: No real personality, as in fairly neutral (which can be good).
Maybe not enough power for some?…

Yulong DA-Art Aquila II ($640-700): A canted box, with good sound.

Aquila page:

DA-ART Aquila II is our latest premium All-in-One DAC/Amp/Pre for Personal Audio application. It incurred numerous technologies from our Reference product DA10 including the high precision low noise JIC (Jitter and Interface Control) System, our proprietary FPGA solution to enhance audio performance by optimized data integrity, de-jitter and minimized digital artifact before the digital audio signal transmits to the DAC chip.

The Aquila II measures exceptional well, and it also sounds incredibly resolving and realistic. It is designed around the ESS flagship ES9038Pro 32-bit DAC chipset offering768kHz and DSD512 decoding capability. It takes advantage of the new ESS design and facilitates a dual digital processing circuit offering two distinctive synchronous modes. The analog audio circuit has incorporated a high precision analogue volume control to make sure the pre-amplifier and headphone amplifier output preserve every bit of resolution and dynamic even at low volume level.

Having been part and parcel to many of Andy’s tours, I jumped at the opportunity to review the Aquila II. Andy has never led me wrong in an item, and my pocketbook is on a first name basis with him as a result… For good or bad (always good), I have many of the items from previous tours. As always, I would not purchase said items were they not pleasing to me and perform admirably. All that was asked is an honest review of the product. The unit will then be shipped to the next. I was even lucky enough to have a couple of other wares with which to use for comparative purposes. As always, I thank Andy and I thank Yulong for sending the Aquila II on tour.



Interesting info:

The key features are:

● Proprietary high precision low tolerance YULONG JIC (Jitter and Interface Control) System:
o Optimize data integrity and enhance digital signal quality.
o De-jitter and minimize digital artifact.
● Outstanding digital audio capability:
o Design around ES9038Pro DAC chipset with industry-leading 32Bit/768kHz and DSD512 decoding
o Widely recognized XMOS XU208 solution with customized (with license) Thesycon driver to enhance sound quality and stability.
o All inputs interfaces support DoP64 and DoP128, USB input interface supports Native DSD64/

128/256/512 additionally.

o Choices of 3 digital filters to fine tune your system for different music genres and personal preference.
● Custom developed dual digital processing circuit offers unique digital audio options:
o Synchronous mode: sounds more engaging and musical with an analogue presentation.
o Asynchronous mode: excels on clarity and low-level detail.
● State-of-the-art analogue implementation:
o 99 steps digitally controlled an analogue volume for Preamp and headphone output.
o DC coupled Class AB amplification, delivers up to 4000mW per channel at 32ohm.
o Outstanding headphone performance specially optimized for low impedance headphones, ensure low distortion and outstanding handling capability even at 160hm loading.
● All-in-one design with comprehensive connectivity:
o Fully balanced design, low impedance DAC line output, high current preamp and headphone amplification.
o USB Audio supports MS Windows, macOS, Linux.
o Special attention to enhance support to Android and iOS mobile and tablet devices.
● Multi-stage independently regulated power supply from two toroidal transformers with low noise regulators.
● Intuitive control through single high precision probably damped volume knob.
● Seamless, compact and sleek aluminum chassis with large IPS wide angle display, supported by unique suspension feet.



Specs:

USB AudioPCM: upto 32Bit/768kHz
DSD: DoP64, DoP128, Native DSD64/128/256/512
Synchronous Mode
(Coaxial, AES, Optical)
PCM: upto 24Bit/384kHz
DSD: DoP64 and DoP128
Asynchronous Mode
(Coaxial, AES, Optical)
PCM: upto 24Bit/192kHz
DSD: DoP64
Power Rating (Headphone)(Measured at THD+N< 0.001%)
Single-ended (6.35mm)32Ω64Ω150Ω300Ω600Ω
1600mW870mW370mW180mW90mW
Balanced (XLR4 and 4.4mm)32Ω64Ω150Ω300Ω600Ω
4000mW3000mW1500mW750mW375mW
Frequency Response20-30KHz (±0.15dB)
THD+N0.00025%. (1kHz, 20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
Dynamic Range:125dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
SNR-130dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
Crosstalk< -120dB
Output Impedance~2Ω (XLR4, 4.4mm and 6.35mm)
Output Level (Line Out)Single-ended (RCA) 2.1V
Balanced (XLR) 4.2V
Power consumption<30W
Dimension248*210*60mm (LxDxH)
Weight4Kg

Gear Used/Compared:

XDuoo TA-30 ($710)
Little Dot mk3 se ($429)

Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
MacBook Pro

ZMF Eikon
Audeze LCD-3
Dunu Luna
Verum Audio Verum 1
VModa M-100 Master (as part of that review)
Others as warranted


Songlist:

Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA

Unboxing:

Coming in a box, the Yulong was taken out of said box. Wrapped in a plastic blanket for protection against the cold flight from overseas, the Yulong suffered no wear. Included besides the power cord were two connecting cords (one is the optional cord for using an Android Smartphone) to keep the power cord company on that long, cold flight. Not wanting to show off, those shy cables were a white USB-C cord and a subdued black USB-A cord. All survived the cold, dark flight and were ready to go upon unboxing. An instruction manual came as well, so the feeding options could be easily understood, for the Yulong was indeed hungry after the flight.

Warming the unit to acclimate it to the near-plains state temperature (its figg’n cold now, go figure…), I finished another review and even called upon the Aquila for comparative purposes.


Controls/build/etc:

Often, I eschew having a solitary control knob, for I am in want of many switches clearly laid out, so I do not go into full-on “lost pilot” mode. But anyone that owns a newer car will understand that having a single control knob has it benefits and carries over into the Yulong easily. Since we ourselves own cars with said solitary knobs, even I could discern the workings of the unit.

Coming with an angular top, which slants toward the center like a Morton building on a farm, the Yulong looks the part and separates from those silly plain black boxes. The unit came in an icy-silvery-white color not unlike some recent new cars. It really was not from the frigid flight… The knob also doubles as the volume knob nicely.

A single digital display with a tactfully less-than-spotlight bright shows everything you need from what input you are using to the decoding level on the top row; followed by filter rate, synchronous/asynchronous mode, how the unit is used (head amp, Pre-amp, DAC); and volume in -dB’s. Thankfully when switching to DAC mode, a large warming of MAX comes up to denote the volume will be at maximum level. A nice warning. In the middle (just like the MAX) the display shows the sampling rate.

With three headphone inputs of 4.4 Pentaconn, 6.35se, and XLR-bal between the control knob and display, the front is complete. Clean and straightforward.

The back holds the connectivity aspects with (L to R) the RCA connection, analog XLR, coaxial and optical (on top of each other), AES/EBU, and USB. The on/off switch is close to the power plus, which also contains a fuse to prevent overload. No wasted space, and efficiently laid out so you can have many sources connected at once. Switching between is as easy as pushing the control knob on the front. Simple and thoughtful, this is a good start.

As for the build of the unit itself, the Aquila II is well built with no obvious mismatching’s or unevenness of paint and the unit even has a good tactile feel with which to help you grip the unit should you want to move it. Nicely done.


Insides:

From the above stats you get the idea this is a very technical unit, which seems to be completely new in design. It isn’t and builds upon previous Yulong models to raise performance level. Coming with a Sabre ES9038Pro DAC chipset, the unit is off to a good start. From the diagram below, you can discern the inner workings for yourself. I bow to those who might follow with regard to the technical of said innards. Suffice to say I am on a string of ES9038 chips and appreciate how clean they have been. My current favorite uses that chipset, and it is the finest iteration of said chip I have heard. Yes, even I can hear this difference when combined with the complimentary objects within. But as stated, I shall let others discuss the finer points of the other items. I avail to state that the Sabre chip is good. Really, really good.

I will add the following from the excellent Headfonics review as reference material regarding the three chosen filter options, which states that even though the Sabre chip has up to 8 filter options, Yulong chose to only include the three listed below as they showed the most sound signature changes (https://headfonics.com/yulong-da-art-aquila-ii-review/):

Phase:

This minimizes the pre-ringing effect and the default filter setting; this is the equivalent to the minimum phase fast roll-off filter in the main ESS description.


Sharp:

This represents a flat response and is recommended for general purpose use. YULONG describes this filter as being suitable for most genres and is the equivalent to a fast roll-off or linear phase filter in the main ESS description.


Slow:

A gently roll-off on the high frequency. This is recommended for music that benefits from a smoother presentation and is the equivalent of a slow roll-off, linear phase filter in the main ESS description.

Sound:

As others have stated in various reviews, the pure sound of an amp of such sort is hard to gauge because of so many outlying factors. As I tell my science kiddos, when we investigate a lab, we MUST keep all extraneous factors out and look at a single independent variable. Otherwise, the results are too open for misinterpretation. Sound science looks at one change at a time, and this follows here as well. Using my MBP and Tidal MQA first, I varied headphones to discern differences in sound. @Wiljen was kind enough to let me know that I should try my harder to drive headphones first, and this is where the Aquila II would start to shine.

Even though the Yulong has one “switch” on the front, that does not mean it comes short-featured. Running between “ASRC” and “sync” mode there are discernable difference. Sync mode seems a bit richer of tone, while the ASRC seems more clinical. Succinct and with a purpose would be a good way to describe ASRC. Tighter with more urgency would also work.

My hardest to drive headphones, the LCD-3 come into play here as do my Beyerdynamic T1 V2 and ZMF Eikon; none of which are really that hard to drive. But I hope to get a sense of how the Yulong works.

What you can start with is that the Yulong presents a crisp, clean sound, without warmth. Neutral comes to mind and using the filter changes can move that one way or the other. This comes through in the ASRC mode with most songs. David Bowie’s vocals are crisp and clean, with a bit of that perfect upper mid song he has coming through. On sync mode there is a bit of “soul,” with a deeper richer tonality. I cannot say what my preference would be. I found myself leaving the switched mode both ways on different days, without a care as to which one was on.

Sync mode did drop the upper end noticeably to me, toning down an already mellow sound from my Eikon. Not bad mind you, but on a song such as China Girl, which is such a sweet-sounding upbeat song, I did prefer ASRC mode, especially when SRV’s guitar licks took over. Superb instrumentation came about as a result of the pairing.

Switching to my LCD-3’s, the sound with a slow filter and ASRC was deep and rich, with that Audeze bass coming through nicely. The mids did seem to suffer a bit, like they were held back, though. Switching to the “phase” filter alleviated this a bit, but I think it was the treatment from the LCD-3 that caused this “discrepancy.”


IEM’s

I did notice that with sensitive IEM’s, the background was not black, but with an audible hiss, until the song started playing. This is a sensitive amp and as such suffered a bit with those types of IEM’s. Also, this is quite a powerful amp and as such use with caution with your sensitive IEM’s. I found with the FiR Audio M4/M5 the sound was excellent, but I needed to turn the volume down. No matter, for the sound was still very good. Regardless of listening device, you can make the Yulong as tight and controlled or somewhat mellow to your near-desires. Most quality amps of today have that capability anyway, but the Yulong seemed to bring out those differences a bit more so. The same hiss was heard on the Dunu SA-6 as well, but again this did not hinder the sound capabilities once playing started.

Plugging in my Legend X worked well, as I expected it would. Having that darker, richness to it, and the bass of God’s, the LX did not disappoint. Easy to drive as well, the power behind the Aquila II was easily utilized by the LX. Quality abounds with the pairing and so with other pairings presented and noted here.

Source comparison:

Yulong DA-Art Aquila II ($700) v XDuoo TA-30 ($710):

Running an excellent pair of Mullard tubes I had switched in for an already thoroughly competent set of RCA tubes, the TA-30 is a monster when it comes to power. Hearkening back to the HEDDphone I had a while back, the Ta-30 drove them silly powerful. I really did not miss the lack of a balanced output with the TA-30, and still do not to be honest. I use the TA-30 for those occasions when I just want to jam out without cause for whether it has the “latest, greatest” connections. That said, source connectivity with the XDuoo is amongst the very best I have running the full gamut from optical, to BT to coax and everything in between. It is crazy-connection time.

The TA-30 is almost too much for what it is. You really need a hard to drive headphone such as the HEDDphone to get the best out of both. And while I have used my LX out of it, I would not recommend the XDuoo for IEM’s, it’s just too powerful. You do get more filter options as well as BT. If connectivity is what you crave, it is pretty much a wash, but if you want to fine tune your sound more, the TA-30 one ups the Yulong. That said, there is sound reasoning behind Yulong only including three filter choices and that makes sense. With the ASRC/sync mode and three filters you still get six choices, and hence Yulong focused in that direction instead of multiple filters…


Yulong DA-Art Aquila II ($700) v Little Dot mk3 se ($429):

Having the LD mk3se on hand was indeed a very nice treat. Will graciously allowed me to have it (and for longer than I should have…), but I do believe they could be compared even though they do things quite differently. While not really a fair comparison as I was using the extraordinary Tesla tubes Will included, this makes for a valid one nonetheless because it shows what can be done for near the same price.

The LD’s bass through the Tesla tubes is really perfect when coming through the LCD-3. A nice rich tone came from down below, with a validity that warranted respect. I will add that through the Shanling M6 Pro there was also a rich vibrant tone as well. Running completely balanced, I was afforded a nice vibrant texture to the sound. Almost a bit too bright, but I thoroughly enjoyed the sound.


Finale (longer):

I usually go into more details above, but this was a tougher one to do. As such, the finale will cover what I felt could not be covered above.

Reviewing amps and DACs is hard for me, I admit it. this is probable where my high-end hearing loss suffers the most. I simply cannot discern the finer attributes of the differences. What others hear easily, I struggle to hear, then struggle more to comprehend. But with that comes a certain focus, carried over from my birdwatching and surveying days. If I heard a bird song that was different from what I had already heard, then I knew it was something different than my “normal” route birds. I once heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) off in the distance, which was somewhat rare where we were. My partners did not hear it and essentially blew me off. That is until it flew within about 75 yards of our station…from that point forward the other two gents paid close attention when I mentioned I heard something out of place for they knew that their excellent hearing benefitted in placing the bird. Teamwork.

And here is where I think I can discern what makes the Yulong “different.” It is affordable. It is new. It has heritage of its ancestors. It has what you need. There are connections a plenty. You get an xlr connection and a 4.4bal connection. You get ease of use (one button controls all). You get enough power to drive all but your hardest headphones to levels deserving of them. And as many more learned than me state time and time again, to get the best out of your expensive cans you need power! Enough to drive it properly, but without killing your ears. The Yulong does that and does it well. You get to listen to clear, crisp sound, that can be tailored at the move of a switch. Quick and easy, you change the sound in which you listen. No fuss, no mucking about save that it does not come with a remote (would be nice to have…).

But, and here it comes, there are others that can do all of the above for near the same price. You can get similar performance from other manufacturers and get similar performance from manufacturers who’s wares cost 2x more as well. And this is where it also gets interesting. We are faced with a plethora of listening devices and why not a plethora of amplification devices as well? The Yulong fills into a niche of mid-fi quite nicely and performs admirably against the competition. You get fully balanced. You get two options in which to listen with both being balanced as well. You get a powerful semi-tunable DAC/amp that can function easily in most systems, without fuss. While not necessarily presenting as much character as some (such as the XDuoo TA-30 mentioned above), you get a thoroughly competent, clean sound that provides you with options in which to listen.

I cannot find too many faults in the Yulong save that it presents a near-neutral sound. Mind you, that is not a fault to many, and you can tailor that a bit with the ASRC/sync options, but is it up to the DAC/amp to flavor your sound too much? To give you that luscious deep-richness you crave? Or is its job to provide the listening platform that carries the sound across cleanly to your listening devices? Those hard to drive headphones will not suffer from that lack of “character” the Aquila II may have. In fact, it may benefit allowing you to really focus on the headphone listening pleasure instead. The Yulong DA-Art Aquila II just gets out of the way allowing the listener to experience the music and the headphone you are using. And sometimes isn’t that the point?

I thank Yulong and Andy Kong for another stellar tour presentation. I am humbled to be part of the tour and will pack with care the Yulong so that the next lucky person may experience it. It is worth a listen and a good comparison to what you have.

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