Aries-Cerat Helene Review

I have had this Helene for just a couple of days but I want to share my initial impressions before the newness wears off.  The thing about this hobby, we get something new with great sound but in a few days that new sound becomes normal.  Now, I'm not an equipment reviewer.  I don't have the prose or creative skills to assess and communicate as well as professional reviewers.  I'm a typical hobbyist who has gone over his head in high end equipment.  Reference photos on my system page.

I do not rotate through gear very often.  I used an Audio Research CD player for 15 years.  Then three years ago I bought an Ayon Stealth Xs DAC and the Ayon CD-TII transport.  Those devices rocked my world.  I had no idea CDs contained so much music, detail and richness until I heard the Ayon gear.  I enjoyed my Stealth DAC for almost 3 years until I did an upgrade to the Ayon Kronos DAC.  It is a very nice DAC as well.  It was a typical upgrade within the same brand/line- same basic sound but a little better in the bass and a little smoother highs.  I could have been very happy with this DAC but it had a tube related problem and I ended sending it back to the dealer.  R2R Ladder DACs had piqued my interest sometime back.  With R2R DACs in the back of my mind and after suffering much agony over spending that much money on a DAC, my dealer graciously accepted back the Kronos and sold me the Helene DAC.   

With little gear experience I can only compare the Helene to the Ayon gear and to my turntable- both of which are very fine.  The Helene is a beast.  It weighs some 85 lbs by itself.  The wooden crate said 95 lbs on the shipping label.  The UPS driver arrived none too happy about off loading this crate.  He commented that he didn't understand how it was accepted for shipment by UPS.  Oh well, it was finally in my hands.  With considerable effort and help from my son we hoisted this thing onto my equipment rack.  I installed the tubes, checked the bias and replaced the thick, very heavy steel lid with 10 screws.  No chance of that lid flying off- screws or no.

Listening impressions:  First, this DAC is dead quiet- total blackness. My previous DAC was quiet, or so I thought.  Typically, on my previous DAC when streaming I would hear the noise floor raise up as a sort of prelude to the music when I hit play.  With this DAC the noise floor is black as black and the music erupts from the black.  I keep thinking the music isn't going to start when I hit play on my iPad but then it startles me when the music starts.

Everything about the sound is better with this DAC.  Clarity, bass, the highs, the voices all sound better than before.  It is as big a change from the Ayon gear as the Ayon gear was from my past CD player.  It is musical with the right amount of detail so that it does not become so analytical.  The biggest things are Cellos sound right.  Piano is the best it has ever sounded on my system.  Cymbals are so smooth, rich and full bodied.  The Cymbals rival the best of the best of my vinyl on nearly every song.  I think for the first time ever I got chills listening to a classical piece.  Classical is so clear and spacious that it is the best ever that I have heard on my system.  I'm not a big classical person but I can really enjoy it now.

Another thing about the clarity.  Background vocals are so clear now that I can understand their words clearly where sometimes before they were not clear enough to understand.  The bass violin on a jazz recording was so good I just wanted to  hug myself.  I'm going through another age of discovery with my music.  Fun fun.

I believe this DAC has 16 channels of R2R Ladders.  It uses a SET tube output and has a built in voltmeter for adjusting the bias.  The DAC has just three inputs- USB, Coax and AES/EBU.  This DAC also only accepts straight PCM- no DSD, no oversampling.  That doesn't bother me because I found I used straight PCM into my other DAC 99% of the time.  The USB is double re-clocked and the AES and Coax ports have the option of re-clocking.  Output is either SE or XLR and it is a true balanced output.  A ground lift switch on the back can be turned on for SE mode.

I will update in a few weeks after further listening.  These are my initial impressions based on and compared to my previous DAC.


As a follow-up I have had the Hele'ne for seven weeks now.  It has performed flawlessly and I have heard changes through the first month as it went through break-in.  The changes were subtle, basically just more of everything I posted originally.  The clarity and resolution are remarkable but it is also a blessing and a curse.  I hear more flaws in recordings which can be distracting.  I can hear microphone overload distortion on more recordings now.  Not a lot- so far about three songs out of hundreds.  But despite that all digital grain, glare whatever it is called is gone.  I find that as I improved the sound of digital I can turn up the volume.  Now, I have to make myself turn the volume down.  It sounds so good I turn up the volume to increase my pleasure.  It is so smooth that I don't realize just how loud I have it sometimes.

I have mixed things up a bit because I bought a new music server.  I brought in an Antipodes K50 music server 12 days ago.  It is still breaking in but I intend to review it as well once it is a month old.  But I can say now that the Hele'ne and the K50 paired together is an amazing combination for a source.  The rhythm and pace of the music just flows like analog.  Unless you have heard good analog- tape or vinyl, you might not realize that digital can be off a bit with regards to rhythm and pace.  I noticed it in the past with my old DAC/server after a couple of days listening to vinyl.  But more on that later.

What prompted me to go for a new music server was an evening listening to my CD Transport through the Hele'ne.  I was spellbound by the music.  I listened to 5 CDs, never skipped a track.  The next day I wondered what was different vs. listening to those same CDs via FLAC files on my NUC based music server?  I tried A/B between CD Transport and Music server.  I even had my son listen and compare.  Back to back we could hear no difference.  But just sit down and listen and I found the music was free flowing when played through the transport.  So I decided to try a music server commensurate to the Hele'ne. (Less inheritance for my kids.)  I get a 30 day trial so it is pretty risk free.  And an in- home audition is the best kind.  Spoiler alert- the K50 is not going back.


Congrats on the new music server.  Antipodes is definitely a great server.  I can tell you from my experience that a great DAC and Music server is critical for absolutely the best SQ.  When I had a Lampizator Pacific DAC after having the Lumin X-1, I was not initially impressed with the Pacific.  Once I added the Lucas Audio LDMS music server I could not believe how good the music sounded.  Everyone will argue what is the most important component, but for me, in my system, the LDMS provided greater SQ.  The combination of Helene and the K50 can be end game components.   


So you really have a problem with the distributor of Aries Cerat vs Aries Cerat components.  Have you heard Aries Cerat components?  In the last 5 years, I have done a lot of buying and selling components.  Aries Cerat is not well known in the USA as there are very few dealers.  It is also a higher-end expensive brand.

I have had Wilson, Sonus Faber, B&W, Raven, Audio Research, Canary Audio, Lumin, Meitner, and Lampizator,  I am not an expert, but from my experience, the attention to detail, engineering, build quality, and sound of Aries Cerat are as good as I have ever heard,  Prior to buying Aries Cerat components, I compared them with 8 different systems all valued at over $500k each.  When I got to Aries Cerat, I just said WOW.  There was just that much difference.   So there is a reason the NA distributor is gushing over them,  Unfortunately, it is not in everyone's price range.  If you have not hada. chance to hear Aries Cerat, you may want to attend the Axpona show where Aries Cerat will be displayed.  Cheers

To me this is the face of this company in North America and I just cant get around it. Make no mistake this is on me. Now if I could buy directly from the company this might change things. It is simply not enough to have the best or one of the best products I have to feel comfortable with the person representing the line. If you start off your presentation without questions and just start spraying praise using absolutes I have a real problem.

I will stop by if I attend Axpona, but critical listening at shows is difficult and usually some time at home is required. I have no doubt this is very good stuff and am sincerely glad you may have found your "end game" product.


Congrats! Enjoy this stunning Aries Cerat DAC. It easily beats DACs 2x - 3x+ its price.