Aune S6 PRO DAC / Balanced Headphone AMP Review – The Heavyweight Fighter
Aune S6 PRO is a large Desktop DAC/ Balanced headphne amplifier, priced at 550 USD at the moment of writing this review. This makes it a competition for the likes of iFi iDSD Black Label, Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital, and Burson Playmate. All of those are fairly similar and compatible devices. For the pairings part of this review, I have chosen Rosson RAD-0, Dunu DK-4001, and Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X IEMs.
Aune is a company that is quite known for the daily audiophile, and for those who enjoy music on a daily basis, as their product range starts from really entry-level, affordable DACs, all the way to high-end DACs, and amplifiers, all meant to bring more joy to the music lovers. There are no questions about whether Aune is reliable, and they are known for providing that support we all love. Despite being a company from China, they have a strong presence in Europe now, through authorised dealers, but also through their own shop. Aune is an English-speaking company who understands the needs of their customers quite well, and they will provide excellent support for a product, even for years to come, as their current track record indicates they want to stay in the game, and to keep growing.
For those curious to learn more about the history of Aune, they are part of Ao Lai Er Technology Co. ltd Hi-Fi brand, and they have been dedicated to making the best desktop but also portables, including music players. They started off in 2004, and gained a wealthy experience with audio throughout the years, doing extensive research, and keeping in touch with their customers. Aune has been founded by six diehard audio fans, who are experts in various audio-related fields, such as hardware design, electro-acoustics design, programming, and even speaker design and tuning. The logo we will see on Aune was inspired by the concept of Yin-Yang, and it symbolizes the balance, from Chinese philosophy, with the rounded appearance of the letters pointing to the peaceful and gentle nature of Aune, and of them towards their products.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Aune. I’d like to thank Aune for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with Aune S6 PRO. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Aune S6 PRO find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
Sadly, I didn’t get to take a lot of pictures of the box that S6 pro came in, because it was a really large and hard to handle package, but I can happily report that Aune missed nothing when it comes to providing a great package for their accessories, along with a really awesome unboxing experience.
There is a data cable, a power cable, and there is an adapter from 6.3 to 3.5mm, so you will be able to use the large headphone output jack with smaller, portable IEMs and headphones as well.
S6PRO also has a balanced output, in the shape of XLR, and for that there is no adapter included to 4.4mm or to 2.5mm, but those can be found online, and if you want to hear the most S6PRO is capable of, getting such an adapter would be recommended. The user manual is included in the package, in the shape of a USB Stick, so it comes in digital shape.
What to look in when purchasing a high-end Amplifier
Type – DAC with volume, Headphone amplifier
Inputs – USB 32bit 768kHz / DSD512, COAX: 24bit 768kHz DSD512, OPTICAL, AES
Outputs – XLR 4pin Headset, Jack 6.35mm headset, variable asymmetrical RCA, XLR variable symmetric
Output Level – 405mW @ 300 Ohm (XLR), 120mW @ 300 Ohm (6.35)
Frequency Response – 20Hz-20kHz
Dynamic range – 119dB
SNR – 118dB
THD + N @ 1kHz – 0. 0005%
Dimensions – 288x63x211mm
Aune S6 Pro x1
Power cable x1
USB cable x1
USB stick with manual / driver / tutorial x1
6.35 to 3.5mm Adapter x1
We should start by saying that S6 PRO is the second iteration of the S6 series from Aune, and that they improved and redesigned everything from the ground up with it, making what was already awesome into a much better product.
The S6 was acclaimed for its beautiful design, large weight, but not getting hot during usage, and it has been a really long-lasting product so far, there are rumours that not even one unit hasn’t died yet, and that no unit needed warranty, showcasing Aune’s golden build and support.
To be honest, I haven’t heard the original S6 enough to make a proper impression and to review it, but from what I could tell from the short sessions I had with it, it was already pretty darn good. Besides the shape and design, which is very similar, there have been changes at the hardware levels, and S6 PRO now features a world class AK 4497 chip, with decoding abilities of up to DSD 512, and 768k / 32 Bit.
Each channel has its own pre-amp circuit, and they are designed so that the soundstage is the largest possible, with the crosstalk being measured to -132dB, and the THD at 1kHz being 0.0005%. The dynamic range is 119dB. If you’re one of my older readers, those numbers mainly mean that the stereo channels are really well separated, to the soundstage has the potential to be as well defined, and as huge as it is possible, the THD is the total harmonic distortion, which indicates that the DAC and the amplifier part of S6 PRO will add no noise to your music, and the dynamic range is the maximum difference between the most quiet sound and the loudest sound a device can produce. The higher this number is, the more punchy, more dynamic and more engaging the sound of something actually is.
The fun part with S6 PRO is that now it works flawlessly with PlayStation, as well as XBOX, so those of you who like to game a little can purchase S6 PRO and enjoy a single DAC/AMP that would run from both your computer and your game station, if those are different. You may ask why would you purchase a dedicated DAC/AMP for your gaming needs, but here’s the fun part.
There is very little paperwork done on S6 PRO, and Aune is really shy and reserved when it comes to advertising their product, but the accuracy of it makes it one of the best DAC/AMPs I’ve tested for shooters, but also for other game types. This is a bold statement, but I’ll explain that after the sound quality part of the review, as you first need to know how it sounds.
The actual device is heavy, hence the name of the review, weighing in at about 4 KG, and is rather huge, being about 28 centimeters long. The Line level is a 2Vrms on the single ended, and a 4Vrms on the balanced. The display is located at the front of the device, and is strong enough to keep you company, but is not intrusive, like how the display of Burson Play can be quite intrusive by being very bright, even though it doesn’t provide a lot of useful information.
The display will show the input you’re using at the top left corner, and will show the output at the top right corner. The current format is shown in the middle left part of the display, while the current sampling rate is shown at the middle right part of the display. At the bottom center part, you will find the current volume you’re running.
The Line Out and the Headphone Volume are remembered separately by S6 PRO, and when you’re not using it, you can press the volume knob for 5 seconds to put it to sleep, so it consumes almost no energy. Those are some nifty features that they should be flaunting more, but as I said, they have a good balance of making good products, but being a bit more quiet than most companies about it.
Aune S6 PRO stays cold as a rock when in usage, which is surprising, given the high energy output at the headphone output level, paired with the decoding rates. Not only does it stay cold during usage, but it manages to be quite practical. Everything about its usage, the shape and the ergonomics are great.
The device is slightly rounded at the top, and that rounder top is complemented by the ornamental design at the front. Overall, I think it looks better than most DACs I’ve seen on the market. When placed next, or rather above a McIntosh MHA150, it makes the McIntosh look like a barbarian-industrial piece, where S6 PRO is a really well balanced, armonious piece.
Another thing that I’ve been head over heels about, when it comes to S6PRO is that although it never disappears from your desk, being a large device, it doesn’t slide away either, and it doesn’t intrude. You could place it above your power amplifier, if you need more power, like I did there with the McIntosh MHA150, and call it a day.
The sound quality of S6 PRO is slightly different between the sonic performance it has as a DAC, and the performance it has as an amplifier. It sounds considerably better on the balanced output, and that one is designed for a higher power output, and it is also designed to be cleaner, wider, and better controlled. If possible, I suggest sticking only to using the Balanced output. The single ended output is still great, but not quite as clear, crisp and wide.
It should be noted that I did not have XLR to other balanced cables, but I do have XLR to 6.3mm single ended adapters available, so it was possible for me to volume match and test the Balanced vs the Single Ended output before reaching those conclusions.
Starting with the differences, if you get S6 PRO, you will most probably be using the Balanced output more. It has the same black background, with zero hissing, but it has considerably better driving power and a much cleaner sound. It is also more neutral, with the Single ended being warmer, slightly thicker and less precise.
When describing the sound of the balanced output, it comes across as very neutral, with an amazing wealth of details, clarity and with a really quick and impactful sound. The dynamics are in particular good, and remind me of how dynamic Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ is, which makes S6 PRO really impressive. There’s a huge soundstage, with one of the best separation and instrument placings I’ve seen, making S6 PRO particularly easy to recommend for soundstage addicts.
The bass is deep, but quick. That’s something about the entire sound of S6PRO, everything happens fast and with precision. There’s enough depth to feel the deepest rumbles in house and EDM music, but there’s enough speed for S6PRO to keep up with really aggressive music like Technical Death Metal. For those who want a warmer source, or something that turns brighter headphones into warmer ones, S6PRO may not be your answer, and I generally think that the really neutral tuning works best with warmer, more laid back headphones, to bring the entire sound into a more balanced state. This means that Verum One, and Da Vinci IX may be better than Ultrasone Signature Studio and Da Vinci X.
The midrange is crisp, sweet, detailed and really really wide. The part about instrument separation as well as stereo separation is no joke, and if you’re looking for the DAC/AMP with the widest soundstage at 550 USD, S6PRO is it. The tonality is still really neutral, and if anything, S6 PRO is an open window to your music, more than it is a coloring factor. Compared to some tube amps, that tend to add some sweetness, some thickness, and some distortions, which we perceive as sounding subjectively better, S6PRO is the type of DAC/AMP that will always push forward what it was fed. The overall presentation is detailed, but not forward, it is large, so most of the music ends up being more atmospheric and less crowded.
The treble is what I’d call a good complementary trait to the rest of the sound. It is very refined, with good clarity, extension and sparkle, but the texture is smooth, so you get no harshness or hard edges. Indeed, despite being neutral, clear and well-extended, with a lot of air, S6PRO manages to be really smooth-textured in the treble, and be just what you’d need if you were looking for a sound that’s easy to listen to for hours in a row. For a gamer, someone who wants to use it for many hours, this is ideal. For a music lover, someone who wants to enjoy their music, S6PRO is quite excellent as well.
Desktop / Gaming Usage
Aune S6 PRO is the first DAC / AMP I am going to talk about in terms of its usage for gaming. Those of you who are into competitive FPS or First Person Shooter games know quite well how important audio cues are for winning a match, and how important a quick, and reliable DAC / AMP is. In this sense, the reaction you get from S6 PRO is as good as it gets, I felt that it improved my gaming with over 50% in games like Dishonored 2, Singularity, and horror shooters. The good dynamics, punchy signature and zero-delay aren’t the only reasons it is so great, but the soundstage is also quite wide, so you have a really well laid out mental presentation of the whole game area, and you also have the stereo separation that helps tell exactly what direction a noise is coming from.
I’m also a fan of Visual Novels, and if you haven’t played Eternal Hour: Golden Hour yet, I totally recommend you to do so, it is a free game, but an experience you won’t forget. The huge soundstage of S6 PRO, paired with the excellent detail and clarity helps with the atmosphere of visual novels, and the natural midrange makes both voices sound natural, and as they should, but it also helps with delivering the right emotion and impact to each scene in a game.
If you wanted a more intimate presentation, one where you’d feel as if you’re in the same room as the singer, when listening to music, I could easily point you to xDuoo TA-10, which I reviewed recently, which should deliver that impression, along with a thick and smooth presentation.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a really good presentation, that is similar, Aune also makes other products, some of which are less pricey, and they even have DAPs, or Digital Audio Players, so if you enjoy your Aune product, and want to take some of their magic portably, you could look into their variants, which should be alternatives to DAPs like iBasso DX120, FiiO M9, and Opus #3.
For those of you who want to use Aune S6 PRO with a gaming setup, like with a console, you can always populate two of its input, for example, use the optical input for the console, and use the USB input for music listening, This would mean that once you configure your S6 PRO, you won’t have to re configure it each time you want to change the input. Provided you have cables that are long enough, this should just do the trick. There’s also the trick that you can use S6 PRO for your speakers, as well as for your headphones, so if you want a DAC that is to become a central piece in your listening setup, S6 PRO can replace your current DAC, but still provide an excellent sonic performance, along with what I could call a convenient solution.
It has been a lot of fun comparing S6 PRO with other devices, which are priced similarly, and it revealed just how different it is from others, and how much the guys at Aune managed to design something that earned its spot on the market, and in the hearts of music lovers from all over the world.
Aune S6 PRO vs Pro-Ject S2 Digital – Starting with the package, you can tell that S2 Digital is a smaller device right away. It will be more practical, if you don’t have enough space on your desk, but at the same time, it will look a bit more industrial, with more edges, and a less curved design. The power output, at the headphone level, is much much lower on S2 Digital, and you can tell right away that it won’t have enough power to drive all your headphones. In fact, S2 Digital can struggle to drive some IEMs, and I am quite surprised by its poor performance when using the 6.3mm output at the front, but then again, it was intended to be used as a desktop DAC, and its biggest advantage was that it came in a small package. In this sense, S6 PRO fails as it is a much larger device, has a larger footprint, but also has more connections, especially outputs. In terms of sound, S6 PRO always has a larger soundstage, and a cleaner background, with a more dynamic sound. I was actually impressed by how much better it can sound, and especially since now the difference between them is about 150 USD, you can hear why you’d want to invest a bit more in S6 PRO, especially if you’re a wide sound lover. There seems to be more precision and detail in S6 PRO, along with more overall stereo separation. You may think that you want some crossfeed, to emulate the sound of speakers, but if you’re actually using it to drive speakers, you want the stereo separation to be as good as possible.
Aune S6 PRO vs iFi Micro iDSD Black Label – iFi Micro BL is priced at exactly the same price as Aune S6 PRO, so you may consider both for your future purchase, while you’re at it. In fact, since the price is the same, you may have a hard time deciding which would best fit your needs, so you should know, that starting with the package and the presentation, iFi has always been on top. The overall support the company gives to their customers is also almost always better for iFi, since they have an English-Speaking team, and since they are from the UK and the European laws are quite strict about customer support. This being said, both companies are great in practice, and you would not notice the difference with either, both will solve any issues that may arise, and both will be really friendly while doing so. The one thing that is different from the start, between those two devices, is the intended usage scenario. iDSD BL is a transportable DAC / AMP made to be used with smartphones. Not all smartphones will stack to it, so we consider it transportable, more than it is portable. S6 PRO, on the other hand, is a full sized desktop DAC/AMP that is actually quite hard to carry around and to transport, thanks to its large size. In terms of driving power, iDSD Micro BL has considerably more driving power, and is a better match for Planar Magnetic Headphones, like Audeze LCD-MX4, HIFIMAN He6SE, or HIFIMAN Sundara, while S6 PRO is better for modestly hard to drive headphones, or for IEMs that can use the balanced output. In actual practice, iDSD Micro BL sounds slightly less wide, but deeper, it is much much smoother, with S6 revealing more detail, and more texture in music, but also being a bit more fatiguing. iDSD Micro BL is able to change its sound thanks to the X-Bass and the 3D soundstage settings, where Aune S6 PRO would need you to use a software EQ for the same effects. With iDSD BL, the DAC itself sounds similar to the DAC inside S6 PRO, when both are driving headphones, but I found slightly better control, a slightly wider soundstage, and slightly more detail, with better overall naturalness on S6 PRO, where iDSD Black Label, with its Burr-Brown chip, sounds slightly more musical, but with less detail and clarity.
Aune S6 PRO vs Burson Playmate – There’s always that prodigy, which manages to do a lot, doesn’t cost much, and doesn’t have any drawbacks. PlayMate is almost that, having a huge driving power, having a really cool build that will last a long time. This being said, there are things that can be done much better, and S6 Pro delivers there, having a more ergonomic, cooler shape, simply looking cooler than the industrial Playmate. In terms of driving power, Playmate has much more, but it also stays really hot during usage, being a class A headphone amplifier. This being said, it doesn’t necessarily sound better, unless you have really hard to drive headphones. When you’re using something that both amplifiers can drive, you get a wider, more controlled sound, with better overall stereo imaging and separation, from S6 PRO. S6 PRO also tends to be better when used as a DAC for large speaker systems, as it has a wider sound, with better imaging and more detail. All in all, you pay more for S6 PRO, but it performs better. If I was comparing it to Burson Play, it would be actually easier to recommend the little play, because right now it is considerably cheaper, and there the price argument tends to balance things differently, with Burson Play still being really nice in every way.
For the pairing part of the review, I chose some of the pairings that really touched my heart, like the pairing with Dunu DK-4001, with Rosson RAD-0, and with CTM Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X IEMs. It should be noted that if I mention that a source does something more, like it sounds more open, or more dynamic, I am referring to how it sounds when compared to the majority of other sources. I usually have Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ as my benchmark, so that you can understand where I’m coming from and why I’m not that easy to impress.
Aune S6 PRO + CTM Clear Tune Monitors Da Vinci X – When thinking of IEMs that I want to test with S6 PRO, Da Vinci X immediately came to mind. It is also a slightly cold sounding IEM, but it has that ultimate detail, which is sure to reveal how much of S6 PRO’s sound is actual detail, and whether it has anything you may want to know about before ordering one. Any defect in a source is sure to be revealed by Da Vinci X, given their ultimate clarity and texture reveal, paired with their punchy presentation. With Aune S6 PRO, I was impressed to notice that the dynamics Aune flaunts are not a joke, but it actually sounds really punchy and dynamic. That’s far from being everything, and you also get that clarity everyone keeps talking about, paired with the wide soundstage that’s characteristic to s6 pro. To put it better, if you ever thought that Da Vinci X could sound larger, but still have all the beauty in its sound, S6 PRO is the source to connect them to, to make them wide, yet keep all that beauty I originally described when I reviewed it.
Aune S6 PRO + Rosson RAD-0 – Rosson RAD-0 is a large planar headphone, so but I wanted to test whether Aune would have enough power for handling such a strong headphone. I have to admit, at first, I was quite concerned, as from the specifications, you have to use either high-impedance headphones, like Beyerdynamic Amiron, or Beyerdynamic T1, or Sennheiser HD660S, rather than planar magnetic headphones, but I was curious if S6 PRO would be able to make joy out of a proper planar headphone. Verum One also worked nicely with it, but it was with Rosson RAD-0 when I was truly amazed. The trick here is that RAD-0 is already pretty warm, pretty smooth and pretty clean, yet has that liquid and grain-free presentation. This all works beautifully with S6 PRO, as it has a wide soundstage, and since it is also grain-free and doesn’t add unnecessary artifacts to create the sensation of detail, the sound with RAD-0 works almost like magic, the pairing is clean, has a large soundstage, has an ever better defined instrument separation, and the bass is still there with the same power, but this time around it has even better control and still the same authority, overall making this pairing sound like a dream headphone, it keeps all of RAD-0’s strengths and adds even more to that.
Aune S6 PRO + Dunu DK-4001 – Pairing such a wide, yet precisely separated sound with Dunu’s softer and more gentle approach was sure to yield some interesting results, but I had no idea how far the soundstage of DK-4001 can go, and how clean they can become. It is almost like they redefine themselves to be even more neutral, but at the same time quicker, more detailed, it is like they grow into their own sound more, and it is like Dunu became the same, yet with a much more precise sound, when powered by S6 PRO.
Value and Conclusion
The value of Aune S6 PRO is actually really great, and when you look at it, you may wonder why 600 USD, which was the initial price, or why 550 USD, which is the current price I could find. But when you read more about the DAC chip included, the power output on the balanced part, the type of sound Aune managed to design for their S6 PRO, and when you learn about all the interesting new ways you can use S6 PRO, it is starting to look more and more like its value for the price can be commended, rather than critiqued. It manages to do so much, and pulls itself so forward, even against fierce competition, that I can call S6 PRO an excellent Value as a DAC / AMP.
The package is not that special, but the build quality is something unique. Most of the time, companies either create a very bland and simple-looking device, like Burson Play, or they end up creating something that is way too much, and is not practical anymore, like the Loxjie D10, which is a DAC/AMP also from China, that I ended up critiquing almost the entire video I made about it. Don’t worry, there’s also a written review including it coming along, so keep your eyes open for that one. Aune, on the other hand, managed to create something that is gentle, yet massive, something that looks imposing, yet it is art, with their S6 PRO.
The sound is exactly what I was looking for, when gaming and when listening to atmospheric music, with a large presentation, and where ultimate detail and precision is essential. To be more precise, the sonic presentation si really wide, clean, crisp, with a gentle treble presentation, quick bass, and with both enough driving power and overall space for headphones, as well as a neutral and clean enough presentation for its line out, to be considered a truly worthy DAC/AMP in this price range. It is color-free, though, so it pairs best with headphones for which you already enjoy the signature, and which you don’t want colored, but which you want to hear more of.
Before the end of this review, I am going to add Aune S6 PRO to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame, for offering one of the best price / performance ratios at the moment of writing this review, and for being the DAC/AMP in this price range with the widest soundstage, feature which will be searched for many times.
At the end of this review, if you’re looking for a versatile DAC/AMP, if you want a huge soundstage, a clean, crisp and dynamic presentation, with a wide soundstage, and if you like the slightly more artistic approach of the guys at Aune, you’re sure to like an S6 PRO as your music companion, and don’t forget, it works just as good for gaming, as it does for listening to music, so you could connect your entire multimedia to it, making it the center of your joy while you’re inside.
Full Playlist used for this review
While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.
Bats – Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy – Frances
Incubus – Summer Romance
Electric Six – Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult – High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir – Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin – I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch – The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom – Song Pong
Attack Attack – Kissed A Girl
Doctor P – Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone – Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie – Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate – Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD – Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp – Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy – Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne – I Don’t Wanna Stop
Crow’sclaw – Loudness War
Eminem – Rap God
Stromae – Humain À L’eau
Sonata Arctica – My Selene
Justin Timberlake – Sexy Back
Metallica – Fuel
Veil Of Maya – Unbreakable
Masa Works – Golden Japang
REOL – Luvoratorrrrry
Dope – Addiction
Korn – Word Up!
Papa Roach – … To be Loved
Fever The Ghost – Source
Fall Out Boy – Immortals
Green Day – Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence – London Bridge
A static Lullaby – Toxic
Royal Republic – Addictive
Astronautalis – The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans – My Love
Skillet – What I Believe
Man With A Mission – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei – Mirror
Mojo Juju – Must Be Desire
Falling Up – Falling In Love
Manafest – Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela – Paris
Zomboy – Lights Out
Muse – Resistance
T.A.T.U & Rammstein – Mosaku
Grey Daze – Anything, Anything
Katy Perry – Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 – Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy – Killer Instinct
Pendulum – Propane Nightmares
Sirenia – Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel – Addicted
Hollywood Undead – Levitate
The Offspring – Special Delivery
Escape The Fate – Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment – One With The Universe
Dope – Rebel Yell
Crazy Town – Butterfly
Silverstein – My Heroine
Memphis May Fire – Not Over Yet