Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC : my experience

I wanted to comment on my month long experience with the new Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC. I replaced a Berkeley Audio Alpha 2 Dac with the Rowland hoping to squeeze out a bit more musicality with my system which is JRDG Corus Preamp, JRDG 625 amp, Revel Salon 2 speakers, Esoteric transport , Audience AU24 SE IC (balanced), Audience AU24 SE digital cable, Audience AU24 E power cords, Shynyata power conditioner, and Cardas Clear beyond & Golden Reference SC (bi-wired.)

Right up front with the Rowland DAC clearly there is more center fill, deeper & better defined bass, better pace and timing, fuller lower mids, and a subtle sense of organic musicality that the Berkeley DAC did not produce. At first listening I thought perhaps the BADAC was slightly more detailed w/ more air surrounding the instruments. After the unit broke a bit more (now 200 hours) this is not the case. The Rowland is more dead neutral, reveals greater differences in recording venues, engineering technique and makes recordings sound more unique & individual where the BADAC tends to average these differences into a less distinct sonic experience.

The Rowland DAC reveals a deeper soundstage, wider by a margin and vertically able to reach the extremes of my 18' tall listening space on studio recordings w/ this kind of surreal musical space and information. Stage wise the Rowland is in another league than the BADAC.

The most significant aspect of the Rowland DAC is the revelatory synergy of the musical expression. Where the Berkeley Alpha 2 DAC tends to deconstruct the musical reproduction into elements , component parts in a slightly intellectual fashion the Rowland Aeris DAC take a different path and remarkably unifies the music (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) in a way that seems to express musicality, expression, nuance and dynamic contrast well beyond the level of the critically acclaimed BADAC.

This organic, rich and humanizing quality is not a function of a warm or soft sounding DAC but rather seems a results of a very simple signal path, outstanding chassis, isolation , and a really determined audio designer. JR is someone who builds in redundant mechanical stability, exceptional structural designs that exceed most (if not all) DAC's on the market. In terms of the singular CNC milling process Jeff Rowland is the high priest!

My search for a better DAC sent me headlong into discussions with several dealers who carry both the Berkeley and Rowland DAC's. An odd finding was the lack of consensus : Is one actually better than the other? One theme that emerged was the notion that the BADAC was
more detailed and airy". Well this is simply NOT the case. In fact in strictly objective terms one might say the Rowland DAC creates less of a bandaid, effect (the BADAC does), has less of a signature sound of its own, and is basically a true chameleon. The Rowland DAC is sensitive to Digital cables. Its a unit design that stubbornly rejects AES/EBU digital inputs in favor of true 75ohm spdif BNC inputs (rad the JRDG white paper on this topic) Finally the unit wants 400+ of run in before it really does its thing. This alone may make comparison between DAC difficult for persecutive buyers.

On the plus side it is shipped w a beautiful outboard power supply that is so good it sounds exactly the same w or W/O an expensive Shunyata power conditioner (pretty amazing IMO). The output gain controls let the user play with DAC output relative to various preamp & lets you go direct into a power amp w/ balanced or single ended analogue outputs . I discovered by accident when using the Rowland DAC to feed my Rowland Corus preamp that tweaking the DAC outputs levels between the 0-60 blinking light increments (sorry, no numeric display which is a bit of a downer) that the soundstage gets much wider at the 50-52 level than it does wide open at 63 (which JR himself recommends.) For rock music I crank it up just to the point it distorts (app. 64 w/ blinking warning light patterns ) and its a beast.

Full disclosure: I am an early adopter of Jeff Rowland electronics and have owned several of the classic class A/AB amps and upper tier preamps. As such I do like the JRDG "house sound": But to be really honest there is not much house sound going on in the newest JRDG product line. It is some of the most honest, musical, engaging, neutral, step out of the way and let the music electronics I have ever heard. By contrast I recently borrowed a set of mono amps & a DAC that cost as much as my first house (Nelson Pass and DSC) the amps were dryish sounding and less musical (heady but not soulful) and the DSC DAC was unbelievable to my mind but audibly to my ears & to several friends dull(er) musical presentation compared A-B to the Rowland Aeris DAC. Pretty impressive.

I want to thank all the good folks who helped me in my quest to create a dream system to fit my budget and want to notify my financial advisor that I will be taking X $$$ from my retirement account to get the 725, 825 or maybe even the 925 if I keep my nose to the grind stone.
Thanks for sharing your experience with the Aeris DAC. Would I be right to conclude that you prefer the sound of the DAC through the Corus preamp instead of direct to the power amps? I am seriously considering getting the Corus to run in between my Esoteric K-01 player and Bryston 28B SST2 monoblocks. Guido, in another thread, prefers the sound of his K-01 with the Corus preamp in place. How much, to your ears, did the sonics change and in what ways, with the Corus in place? Thanks in advance.
Csmsart, keep us posted on Aeris breakin... being quite familiar with the behavior of recent Rowland electronics, I suspect that at 200 hours the creature has just started to open up, and may be far from having reached peak performance.

Funny you mention the insensitivity of Aeris to power conditioners... That seems to be a constant theme in recent Rowland line-level products that use the same kind of multi-regulated SMPS... E.g. the Criterion linestage seems completely invariant to PCs and conditioners.

On the subject of the Aeris white paper... I have not found it online as a single document, but a hefty collection of samplings from the paper can be found on the Rowland Knowledge base at:

By the way, funny you mention M925... I am proud owner of the Rowland M725 monos, and I am in the cue for a pair of the new M925 reference amps.

I think the Corus is an attractive preamp to use w/ the DAC (in my case the Aeris) for several reasons. It has a fab volume control w numeric read outs, phase control (very complex phase options for critical listening), balance settings, and it sounds great in a way that I can best describe a clear, neutral, liquid and fast. It has little sound of its own and does almost nothing to get in the way of what ever passes through it. My berkeley Alpha 2 DAC straight to the 625 sounded thinner, lacked harmonic weight and grit, and had very little center fill. With the Corus in line, the BADAC sounded considerably less analytical, had more pace and bass weight and generally was more musical, neutral and organic.
When I run the Aeris DAC direct to the amp things sound a bit hot on the top and thunky on the low end (good for some R&R) but the uber organic, flowing, holographic qualities are not as present and the gestalt moment of system synergy I hear w. the new Rowland gear is to some degree extent less present. IMO the Corus lets me play w/ relative output settings of the DAC and preamp volume levels can the used to extract better performance & sonics than either alone. I hear a seductively full, round and organic bloom when listening through the Corus that is very addictive. And oddly less distortion and ringing in the range of very high frequencies like piano, bells, and horns
The Corus is really nice preamp and I can not see myself ever replacing it.
Besides, I MUST have phase control options on my system in both analogue and digital material and I want numeric volume reading so I can remember settings when comparing recordings and equipment.

FYI the Corus needs lots of break in and I am about 1/3 of the way there, but oh boy it is good.
Agree all the way on the praise for the current JRDG gear which I also own.Interesting that I have almost the exact setup as Csmsart including the Salon 2's which are actually Jeff's favorites.It's hard to believe so many people are chasing so many other brands without hearing a pair of these speakers which can be had as low as 12k on audiogon. This is the best sound I've personally ever heard to include many high end brands. Both JRDG and Revel are a pleasure to own and to use.
Your comparision is consistent with what I usually hear. A top quality preamp improves the sound relative to a direct souce-amplifier route. As you pointed out, it just sounds more complete and realistic.
Thanks to all for your input. Looks like I will be pulling the trigger for the Corus very soon.
Thanks all, with the Corus in line I do hear a more fleshed out musical moment and consistently prefer it to either the Berkeley alpha 2 or JRDG Aeris dac run direct to the power amp . I think the Corus is the most musically natural sounding preamp I have owned but would say to perspective owners it may take a several months before it opens up. Put buyers remorse away on this one and be assured it will live up to its potential, just wait.
I am running my system 14 hours a day and the Aeris/Corus/625 combo is inching towards a very holographic, liquid and organic sound. Very musical and always makes me forget about the equipment and fall into the musical spell. Very lovely sound all over our large open floor plan house.
Thanks to a great report. Do you have any suggestions for transports to pair with the Rowland? Do you have any idea what it's price range is?
Jon2020, I also started to think about pre amp but will not pull the trigger until I hear one in my own system. Since we both having esoteric K-01 did you consider esoteric own C 03 preamp, it may have more senergy. This is what I am thinking to start with if I will be able to find one to audition to. If I find the dealer who will arrange a home audition for Corus or any other ref pre amp I will go that way.
Your suggestion to try out the C03 first is indeed a very good one. Hah, why did I not think of that? :) You may be right about there being more synergy. I will be calling my Esoteric dealer to see if I can audition the C-03 at home before getting the Corus. Will update you on that if it happens. Cheers!
Jon2020, please, if you audition esoteric c03 or any other pre amp, give us update on the sound comparing running direct. Also I asked you on another forum but you did probably did no see my question, since you are running your K-01 direct to amplifier(s). In average, what is your volume number set on esoteric for normal listening volume? I know it depends on amp and speakers bit still interested what is your level.
Currently I am running direct to krell 302e and often using -25 - 27.
I am happy for you that you are so pleased. I always prefer having components manufactured by the same company. I too had Rowland stuff...Jeff is a great guy... I'm sure you write what you hear, but all too often, great sounding components in a particular system doesn't sound so great in another. I always caution friends to audition components in their own system for conformation as to their ability to work with others.
In my system, I set the volume from -6 to 0 depending on the recording. My speakers need a lot of power/current to sound fleshed out at realistic levels. I will update you on any of the pre-amps mentioned should I get to audition at home. We could go back to your original thread for further discussion on this and the K-01.
I read an article which slammed the Corus Linestage for being a terribly built product and basically a marketing sham.

Lundahl Line transformers used to make a balanced design and a cheap PSU. Just saying :)
Hi Badwisdom, I have not seen the article you are referring to yet. Is there a link to it?

Meantime, have you had a look at the primary source on Criterion and Corus architecture?

The criterion section of the Rowland Knowledge base currently has 133 entries, the majority of which also apply to Corus:

There is a Corus specific section also:

You will also find a couple of relevant reviews in the same areas.


Your comments on the Corus sound a bit mysterious. Could you please provide a link to the article referred to?
Anyway, with such a chorus(pun intended) of positive reviews on the Corus so far, one negative article may not mean much.
As all of us certainly agree, a home audition in your own system, if possible, would be the most prudent thing to do before a purchase.

I have read through your wonderful review of the Aeris DAC and am curious about your observation that it sounds better with a single-ended digital input cable. But the analogue outputs from the DAC to your pre-amp are, if I am not wrong, balanced. I am just wondering whether you have compared the sound with balanced vs. single-ended analogue outputs from the DAC and if so, which sounds better. Thanks in advance.
The article was on Wizard High-End Audio Blog.

I say "was" because it seems the author has removed it. Its still in my RSS reader cache though.

Ive always had a hard time knowing with Jeff Rowland how much is real product design and what is marketing fluff.

As you say, best way is to test it in your system.

Hi Badwistom, a Google search for "Wizard Rowland Corus blog" shows that Wizard's always informative High End Audio Blog points to a couple of well written review articles of the Rowland Corus linestage:

For instance, the blog entry at
links to Robert harley's excellent TAS review of the combined Rowland Corus linestage and Rowland Model 725 mono amplifier at:

And Wizard's post at:
links to one more nice review of the Corus:

Regards, G.
So, its over a year since this review. Current thoughts?
Hi Agear. You and I are on the same page.

Csmsart bought the Aeris on 3/19/13 and raved from day 1.

It's a year later. Csmsart, do you still own and love the Aeris or have you changed DAC's or other gear in your system? This would be very useful info.

Aeris at 15 months: Still love the DAC & it seems to be endlessly musical.
Added the Shunyata Triton/Typhon/Cyclops & 4x Shunyata PC's w/ impressive results.
I am using a custom Furutech digital cable (all copper) w/ the industry's best connectors (BNC 75 ohm )& by far the best DIGI cable regardless of price I have used.
Can not say enough good things about the Aeris except it is a true chameleon & can rise to a very high level of musicality :Dammed by faint praise because this DAC does it all in a seamless way that exceeds simple prose.
I have had Aeris in my system since last November... Am as ecstatic with its musical resolution as Mark is. Aeris is a very good performer from the get go... But if you have the patience of letting it recover from early marginal peakiness during its first 450 hours of life, you will discover that it progressively blooms well through the 800 hours mark into a kind of music delivery which is neither digital nor it is analog... It is just enveloping.

During the last couple of months I have been running Aeris directly into my Rowland M925 amps with great results... micro-resolution is even higher, although I admit that without the buffering of a linestage in the chain, the system is slightly less tolerant of careless recordings.

I have no doubts its an excellent dac as long as you can overlook its limited resolution. I am a fan of DSD in particular and it would thus be a no go...
Yes Guido! What I hear now is a very interesting holographic bloom & liquidity of sound. It is neither lush nor dry but the sounds that emerge have a level of expressive grain, physicality and presence. I notice on many recording the unique sonic signaute of different mics, guitar amps (jazz music & tube amps for the most part) and nuance of plucked instruments.
Saturation: An idea I understand intellectually but w/ the Aeris I can literally feel the changes in room pressure as an group of musicians saturate the acoustic space w/ increasing levels of sound pressure. It is a bit like seeing, hearing & feeling molecular density. Not grain but the loading of acoustic space (recording venues) & variations of sonic density that allow one to visualize the intersecting trajectories of sound waves as they reinforce, diminish and reflect. NEVER heard this before, ever.
WOW the Aeris is a bird of many colored feathers!!