Yulong DAART Aquila

This review describes the sound of Yulong DA-ART Aquila, a DAC derived from the Yulong’s top of the line, the DA9, and aimed to sound very linear and smooth. The Aquila follows the Canary in the DA-ART line, a collaboration between Yulong and several musicians, and as the name suggests (Aquila means “Eagle”, in Italian), it’s a much more powerful bird than its sibling.
The Aquila uses the highly appreciated AKM AK4497 chip, which is currently the best in AKM line of DAC chips aimed to audio.
The Aquila has a very rich input and output feature set.
These are the main specifications:

● Fully balanced decoder topology based on AK4497 DAC, ith low noise regulator at reference voltage and analogue supply
● Fully balanced high current preamplifier
● Fully balanced headphone amplifier with TPA6120A2.Less than 4.7 ohm special output
● DoP64 and DoP128 support over SPDIF/Optical/AES
● PCM 384KHz 24bit over SPDIF/Optical/AES
● DoP64, DoP128, Native DSD64/128/256 and PCM 16-32bit, 32-384KHz over USB
● 99 steps volume control to pair with headphones in different impedance and sensitivity.
● SNR: -130dB
● Dynamic Range: 125dB

Despite being a complete DAC/amp solution, the Aquila can also work as a stand alone DAC, with RCA outputs; as a preamplifier; as a heaphone amp, with TRS or XLR outs.

Testing Rig

For my test, I have used the following gear:

Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum, Sennheiser HD598 headphones
Speakers: Mordaunt Short Performance 6
Amplifier: Luxman L58A (for Mordaunt Short speakers, using Yulong Aquila only as DAC)
Interconnects: Di Marzio (high quality Litz-braided design)

Listening Impressions

The Aquila is very trasparent sounding and has a smooth top end. It’s “tonally” transparent, being neutral, liquind and with no treble incoherences, no peaks, no roll offs. The Aquila is never bloated, but very tight and giving a sense of power.
It’s spacious, very detailed and with precisely defined images, noticeable especially when listening through headphones. There is a sense of intimacy, and images are never too spread or unfocused.
Vocals are rich without being chesty. Tonally wise, the DAC is very similar to the DA9.
Both the Aquila and the DA9 sound very refined and delicate in the highs, never being brash.

When listening to my Mordaunt Short Performance 6 and Luxman speaker rig, the Aquila outputs wide soundstage and imaging that’s both clear and not hyper sharp. Instruments and effects are precisely located, almost visible, but without seeming etched inside the room, which would have otherwise sounded unnatural (this is something that happens with some ESS Sabre chips).

The Aquila can sound great with most transducers, because it’s very neutral and disappears from the equation.
With both Sennheiser Momentum and HD598 headphones, it lets the character of the two headphone go throgh. The same would occur, by experience, with headphones like Sennheiser HD600, Audio Technica AD2000, and several others. In general, it works great both with neutral headphones and headophones with a colour.
If I had to choose a headphone, I would just avoid overly bright headphones: those, to sound right, would need a very warm, opaque system behind them.
Similarly, if needing more power, the Aquila can be paired with several external amplifiers: I’d use either a very smooth and transparent solid-state amplifier, or all kind of tube amplifiers.

Conclusion

The Aquila is a DAC that’s “tonally transparent”: it’s neutral, never calls for attention, but it’s still very detailed and doesn’t over represent any frequency. It has tons of inputs and can read pretty much every format. It’s a very high quality DAC and Pre-amplifier combo, with a very clean signal, and with a headphone out that can work well with headphones that are not too excessively demanding, thus working well both as home DAC, and as office DAC/amp. For power hungry high-end headphones, an external amplifier would be a better choice.
The DAC is a very safe purchase, because it’s musically neutral, never cold, and can adapt to several sound signatures, letting the listener experiment with several different headphones.