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.



My goodness, settle down. Nothing has “shattered “ I was just acknowledging that nothing will please everyone. What some may find to be absolutely terrific, others, not so much. It happens all the time with  audio components/automobiles/food you name it. We all simply have different  needs, desires, and taste. I thought my response made this observation and prospective pretty clear. 

This particular DAC isn’t for you it seems. But without question, you will find something that suits you to a T.


@tonywinga lol, yes indeed it's a beast to deal with when it comes to shipping and recrating. Beautiful design overall, glad you are happy with yours. Feels good to be settled into what you were looking for for sure. 


Enjoy your DAC! 

First impresssion of Kassandra 2 Ref vs Lampizator Horizon.  This was based on my old speakers ---Viking Acoustic Grande Voix Dual Horn speakers.  My amp and Preamp are both Aries Cerat Essentia and Ageto.  My music server is a critical part of my system and is a Lucas Audio LDMS.  

The key with Horizon is your ability to tube roll to adapt the sound to your liking.  I was not using any of the base tubes from Lampi.  There are only two tubes in the Kassandra and they are E280F  variety.  I thought the Horizon had better bass and a little bit more detail.  Kassandra was more neutral.  The Horizon costs approximately $20k more.  I am not disappointed at all with the Kassandra but the Horizon for my ears was a little better.

Enter the Aries Cerat Aurora speakers.  I can see, hear, and feel the synergies with an all-Aries Cerat system.  I also exchanged the stock Kassandra tubes and replaced them with a Rusian version of the same tube.  It made a big difference right away.  The Bass packed more punch and was very fast and cohesive.  The detail and soundstage improved.  It is amazing what changing tubes can do for a system.  Another part of that is I am using a QSA Ultimatum Infinity jumper cable from the crossover to the bass driver of the Aurora.  Obviously, the new speakers and cable only have around 12 hours on them so there is a long way to go to break in.  

Even though I loved my Horizon, I do like the synergies from Aries Cerat.  



willgolf, outstanding.  Looking forward to hearing more about you new system as it burns in.  Also, pictures.  Want to see pictures.


Even though I loved my Horizon, I do like the synergies from Aries Cerat.  

Makes perfect sense to me. Two superb DACs, one could hardly go wrong with either.