Aurorus Australis; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Closed Back

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Introduction

First I wanna say thanks to the people who have made this review possible; the lads at Aurorus Audio, my main squeeze Humble who sent this out, and Kyle for reading over my thoughts and for offering a picture of their gorgeous Australis for this review. My unit is much more stalwart looking, with plain black cups, but the one I have is still a good looking headphone; I just don't have a nice camera or lighting to take pictures of it with. I tried my best 😋

The Aurorus Audio Australis is a closed back dynamic made by Aurorus Audio, which is, to me, the closed back upgrade that I have wanted for almost a decade.

While I’m gonna try to keep this as short as possible, I still want to be thorough and give the community information that y’all might not have yet. It’s gonna be different from my last review since I’m not doing a back-to-back comparison, and i’m gonna be focusing more on certain areas than in my last review; I’m giving special attention to the tuning section here because there are no industry standard frequency response measurements for these yet, so I wanna be as complete as I can be to give people the best idea possible of the overall FR of this headphone. I’ll be touching on the other stuff too, but skipping the build and testing setup stuff, as it’s identical to the Borealis save for the obvious change of the cups imparting a little more weight and isolation. So strap yrselves in for another long one.

Frequency Response/Tuning

Let’s start from the bottom. I’m just using my ears on this, both on recorded music and sine sweeps, because there aren’t any industry standard measurements of these yet, but from what I hear: the bass extends all the way down to the limit of human hearing with no huge dips or peaks, though it’s possible there’s a slight, i mean like 1db/octave, roll off starting around 100Hz, with a mild (like 2dB) bump somewhere around 80-100Hz (I think focused mostly at 90Hz). I find the 100-240z range is somewhat *underemphasized* compared to what is below/above it in frequency, but overall the bass is not shelved above that low-midrange area in any meaningfully contrasting way, so don’t expect that classic sense of bass/low-mid contrast you get from the bass-shelf-into-low-midrange-dip that you get on most of the Focal, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic etc. closed backs. As a fan of Audeze’s headphones, I’m accustomed to this less “hyped” style of bass tuning; it jives with me. I could see it sounding a little warm to others, for me it’s not even a problem with the worst mixed stuff I have. I have no qualms with it, especially because of what happens as you move further up in frequency: from 20Hz upward sounds pretty much neutral until you get to around 400Hz, where the amplitude kicks up a very modest bit, 1-2dB max, and stays boosted until you get to about 900Hz, where it comes back down to neutral. I really like the fact that this boost is here, because it offsets the low-midrange warmth similarly to how the contrast dip in Harman does (notice the steady rise between 200-1000Hz?), and gives the first few orders of harmonics of most instruments/male vocals a little more emphasis over the fundamentals of most notes and stops things from getting too warm or tonally dark. Going up from there, it seems neutral until about 1.2kHz, where it starts rolling off very mildly, until it starts to recess more rapidly by between 2-4dB throughout starting at 1.8khz all the way up until about the 3kHz point, where it somewhat sharply (in slope) comes up back to what I'd call neutral (but most would say is a decibel or two under Harman neutral).

What this means is the overall balance of everything below the treble is what i’d call “warm,” kind of in the way the Audezes are, with a flat bass + center mid-range boost + upper midrange recession, which I certainly like, as is evidenced by my Borealis review and ownership of LCD-X. But does the treble match the, in my opinion, absolutely stellar performance of the Borealis? In short, yes and no. It matches the particular tendency of Borealis to never ever becoming grating or sibilant to me, but there are two caveats to that. Coming up from 3kHz we get what sounds like a slight 2-3dB dip between 4-5kHz, then back to neutral again at 5kHz, dipping narrowly 2dB again at 5.5kHz, then rising up to a sharp peak of what sounds like 3-5dB above neutral at around 6.5-6.6kHz. This means the presence region is slightly de-emphasized relative to the 6.5khz peak and upper mid-range proper, but again; no particular problems here for me in listening, I’m an Audeze fan 😋 But for others, I could see this particular unevenness in the presence/lower treble region robbing the sound of some textural nuances across the board. From there, we fall quite a bit in amplitude at 7kHz, hard to say how much because it’s quite a bit, but I think my ears actually have a little dip there too (it’s present on literally every headphone I’ve heard) and it stays low until 9kHz where it starts to slowly come back up to not quite to what I’d call neutral amplitude around 11kHz, and stays there under the threshold of what i’d call “neutral” until it ascends past my hearing range. What this means is that the 6.5kHz peak can sometimes be more noticeable on Australis vs the Borealis’ peak in the same area, if only because it doesn’t have as much energy in the frequencies around it to balance it out. The treble is overall a little recessed (which, if you remember my Borealis review, is exactly what I want) and I love it so much.

Upon first listen, Australis gives an impression of warmth that would lead less experienced listeners to think there’s a lower-midrange bump around 200Hz (which is usually where such a “warmth” hump would be centered), but I actually find that area to be underemphasized compared to what’s around it; the ~90Hz peak and 400-900Hz elevation are what I hear to be partly responsible for the headphone’s warmth, but the real culprit for that warmth is, I think, a recessed upper midrange and treble. As far as how i’d sum up it’s frequency response balance, I think I’d call it, *dark-neutral*: Bass and low mids a little too warm for what I think could be called neutral in a closed back, where there's usually a dip in the low-midrange, but center-mids are still what i’d call “Harman neutral” (where the low mid still sits beneath the center midrange); it would be a leaner sounding midrange if paired with Harman’s upper mids and low-mid dip, but isolated from that and instead paired with flat low-mids + recessed upper-mids, it just sounds “mid rich” instead of “neutral”. The upper-mids are recessed relative to Harman, which I like, treble is recessed on the whole, which I also like (aside from a single peak in the lower treble around 6.5kHz), but the neutral bass/low-midrange being elevated above the upper midrange and treble overall I think makes things a little dark sounding. I don’t really get the sense of bloat and mud that i’d ever get from a “dark” headphone, but it’s too de-emphasized in the upper ranges not to call it at least somewhat dark. However, I get a tonal balance through the midrange that is, in isolation, nowhere near too warm for me, and the timbre (which we’ll get to later) is fantastic.

Getting into how it actually affects instruments themselves, bass instruments are neutral in their first octave while slightly counter-clockwise tilted in the midrange, which I prefer because bass sounds richer, more textured, more vocal than if it were just flat out to 500Hz. Guitars are definitely hefty and have more note weight than usual, however their Harman-like low-into-center-midrange harmonic shape as well as the just enough level of pinna gain stops it from being too thick sounding. In fact, if I had to choose between either the “flat-mids/Harman pinna gain” presentation of electric guitar (like an HD600) or the Borealis/Australis’ presentation, I’d choose the latter as I find it’s more forgiving to a wider variety of guitar tones, whereas even something like HD650 can be pretty shouty/strident on certain source material. For drums, Australis might be the best thing I’ve heard for portraying a kick drum’s overall tonality and size, with only LCD-4 coming close (but limited in the amount of *crack* it can offer without EQ). Same goes for toms, actually; they’re absolutely excellent and I have no complaints. Snares, on the other hand, can be a little warm relative to neutral, but that’s also exactly how I like them (fat, low-tuned snares are best, and that is simply objective truth. Ringy high tuned snares OUT.) Snares still have crack and bite, but it honestly could use a bit more bite to balance out the non-contoured low-midrange, especially because I find the fundamentals of the snare hits to be *slightly* de-emphasized relative to the 1st harmonic at times. Cymbals can be a little flat/rolled off sounding, if i’m being honest, though I very very much appreciate that they were never, not once, harsh. Would I like more splash and air? Sure. Is it a near guarantee that more treble would introduce its own set of problems? Yep, and I'll tell you right now: I prefer this approach to treble. Horns are quite good, though they lack textural intensity sometimes and this can make them a little disjointed because they are one of the few things that doesn’t lose it’s breathiness in the treble, somehow. Worth saying though, this isn’t a problem all the time, mostly with older recordings. Bowed strings are definitely also a little too warm and lacking in that airiness, but they never really get anywhere near muddy, just kind of sound a little rounded. Woodwinds actually sound nice to me, but IMO most recordings of woodwinds tend to capture too much of the breathiness of the instrument itself for my taste, and Australis nicely de-emphasizes this for my preference.

Speaking of breathiness… Australis is the best thing I’ve ever heard for vocals, even including the HD6x0 line. Male and female. For modern vocals, at least, they are the most flattering and comfortable presentation of vocals I’ve yet heard. Think about it this way; pretty much all modern vocals are hyper-compressed, treble boosted, de-essed nightmares that never, even on the venerable 6x0, come anywhere close to sounding truly natural or lifelike to me. Australis’ darker treble presentation however, seems to almost entirely fix that on all of the modern pop, rock, folk, indie, hip-hop/rap, R&B, and punk music I threw at it. Again, I might be more upper treble sensitive than most, but even on stuff like Ariana Grande’s “just like magic” (an example I use to see just how bad vocal wispiness and grain can get) or João Gilberto and Claus Ogermann’s “Estate” (an example I use to see how a headphone balances a really close vocal capture, with lots of lispy smacky mouth sounds), it just never gets sibilant somehow. Borealis also de-emphasized my problems with the treble on many recordings, but this just does that even more and I absolutely love it for that.

As far as integration across the board goes, it’s really hard to nitpick the integration here, because I find it’s nearly perfectly integrated across the board (moreso than any of the other headphones I’ve mentioned thus far) if you, like me, like an overall warm tilt. For a neutral presentation, I think the Borealis has an overall more well-integrated midrange, but Australis might be even more of an accomplishment because i’ve never heard a warm tuning be so well integrated and controlled that it’s warmth does feel like a limitation on it’s accuracy/fidelity in timbre. I think if there’s one tuning change I’d make to this headphone, it’d be to get more of an actual bass shelf down under 60Hz somewhere, but i don’t know that this is a realistic ask since I have no idea how that’d be achieved mechanically. Overall, Australis is another stellar achievement in headphone tuning from bottom to top, and something I think most people with context of the wider closed back market would have a problem pointing out serious flaws in.

In summation: Not even a faintest trace of the awful backwave-induced midrange spice present on a lot of audiophile closed backs (looking at you Audeze), no massively boomy upper-bass region (looking at you Focal), overly scooped low-midrange (looking at you Sennheiser), or peaky, ragged treble to report (looking at you… everyone except K371). Best closed back tuning for my preferences I’ve heard. Possibly best tuning for my preference, full stop. I do like that Borealis has a little more contour to it’s low-midrange, but that’s also, timbrally, the area I have the most problems with on it; whereas on Australis the timbral quality there is excellent (which, again, I’ll get to later).

Detail/Resolution

As far as detail goes, I don’t really have any complaints about the Australis’ performance. I think at its price point and with it’s tuning, it performs about as one would expect for detail, or better. Compared to the usual suspects in its price range, it definitely gives more of a sense of overall detail than the Audeze LCD-2 Closed I heard, which conversely sounded grainy, poorly tuned, and poorly detailed for its price point. I’d say, with tuning differences taken into account, it performs about on par with things like the Focal Celestee, though i think just taking each as they are, both Celestee and it’s open sister Borealis do give more of a sense of immediate detail, but I suspect this is due to a more forward upper-midrange/treble. I did also notice that the LCD-XC tends to have more detail on tap, but I think that’s because of it's tuning, as well as the low-volume information on LCD-XC being artificially enhanced through its overall sense of dynamic range compression (a problem inherent to pretty much all planars, especially in the treble).

As far as resolution goes, I find the low-level details to be nicely textured in their overall presentation, and again I’d say it’s about on par or above it’s price point. Again, I’m finding it to be more resolving of those micro textures than LCD-2 Closed, but not quite as resolving as Celestee or LCD-XC is. It’s worth mentioning though, that the latter two have *significantly* more center/upper-midrange than Australis, which, along with the latter’s dynamic characteristics I mentioned in the Detail section, makes this texture *more apparent*, sure… but also more homogenous between tracks. LCD-XC, and to a lesser extent Celestee, kind of make *everything* have more bite, which has the effect of compressing the overall distribution of the textural aspect of microdetails into all kind of sounding similarly textured, whereas the Australis can, and does, show a wider variety in how those microdetails are textured overall.

Dynamics

Microdynamics

I find the Australis is on par or better for microdynamics than the Borealis is. It retains the same consummate grooviness and grip that Borealis has on the finer microdynamic elements, but I find it’s ability to portray trailing ends of tones on Australis to be better overall than Borealis, possibly because of its extra decay overall and its isolation helping to lower the external noise floor. Compared to its competition in the closed back space, I find it to be better than Celestee, if memory serves. Celestee and most of the Focal’s have an un-evenness in dynamic gradation which can make their dynamics overall quite hit-or-miss (read my Borealis vs. Elex writeup to see what I mean). It is, yes, a fair bit behind the closed back planars in its price range, however those planars are also quite compressed in the treble and thus artificially enhance the sense of trailing ends of tones, while heavily compromising macrodynamics (something I absolutely cannot abide). For the price, I find this to be absolutely competent in microdynamics, if not an absolute benchmark for this aspect in particular.

Macrodynamics

The sense of swings between quiet and loud sections is frankly pretty startling on the Australis. It's simultaneously more dynamic overall than the Audeze closed back planars, and still exceedingly natural and free of any of the feeling of fragmentation that things like Focal Celestee give me. There’ve been more than a few times where I’m shocked at how well it handles engendering a sense of wide overall dynamic range while also being coherent. To give an example, at around 2:08 in Dua Lipa’s “Pretty Please”, the beautifully large and enveloping mix quite suddenly collapses into only being occupied by a little synth element relatively low in volume, and then immediately crashes back into the former size of the mix, and the very quick journey of “loud, quiet, loud” is *super* fun and engaging on Australis. In the beginning of Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye”, the opening snare drum is kinda shocking in its overall sense of dynamic swing in contrast to the little sounds happening prior. There are many, many examples, but I think I’ll try to keep this section short for now and just say Australis is a top performer for macrodynamics when it comes to headphones in general. At any price.

Envelope integrity/Slam


I find the Australis to be rounder in its presentation of transient attack than the Borealis, and Celestee for that matter, are, and it makes a certain amount of sense given its tuning. I’d say that of the three, the Celestee actually punches the hardest, possibly due to its boosted upper midrange and less recessed treble; however its tuning is significantly less well integrated across the board, and it has a similar problem with the other Focal headphones (mentioned in my Borealis vs Elex review) where the gradation of volume from its quietest to its loudest is quite uneven. Celestee sounds like the quiet tapers off too quickly/truncates and the loud juts out unpredictably in a way that compromises dynamic coherence, whereas that problem isn’t apparent in Borealis or Australis. While Australis might have less attack speed and a less honest sense of envelope integrity relative to the source than Borealis does, because of Australis’ overall bass extension/emphasis, I find it punches appreciably harder than Borealis. Rounder attack can often lead to the initial attack of notes actually seeming longer/bigger, so it makes a certain amount of sense. As far as decay, the decay on Australis is longer than either of the other two mentioned, which leads to the dynamic envelope seeming, overall, thicker. In most situations, I’m finding this to be a good thing; while the integrity relative to the source might be compromised, it is more impactful because the transient peak is technically bigger. Even with any “roundness” taken into consideration, Australis is, out of everything I’ve heard, the pick for a slamming closed back headphone; it gives you the impact you want, but with none of the tuning problems (or other dynamic problems) inherent to its competition.

Soundstage/Imaging

I actually find the soundstage on the Australis to be the best I’ve heard in a closed back at any price. While yes, it is still a closed headphone, I find the distance outward from the head in all directions to be noticeably farther/less intimate than the Audeze or Focal closed backs. Compared to the Celestee, it’s not even a contest, Australis absolutely destroys it (Celestee has the worst soundstage I’ve ever heard in a closed back headphone, it’s actually even worse than the stage of certain IEMs). The forward staging is a little intimate, but less so than Celestee and the Audezes, which is good. I’ve yet to hear a closed back provide the sense of image depth that an open back can anyway, so kinda par for the course here.

The imaging performance within that stage is pretty damn good; things are well separated, though not quite as well separated as on the Borealis. Kind of an unfair comparison, as Borealis is open-backed, faster in attack, and probably the best imaging dynamic driver headphone short of HD800. However, I’d say I actually prefer the Australis’ imaging to that of the HD650, which might be strange to say since it’s an open headphone, but it’s true. Though, on balance, I’d take HD580’s imaging over Australis, since its "less damped" quality makes it the best imaging of the 6x0 line IMO.

Overall, though, Australis is the least flawed and “in your head” closed back headphone I’ve heard, and one that’s worth owning just for that quality (but uh… everything else is pretty fuckin great too, to be honest).

Timbre

It’s really been a challenge to write about timbre last for technical performance, because I actually think its the thing I’m most excited about when it comes to this headphone, so i’ve kinda been holding it in until now.

The Australis has my favorite presentation, for the instruments present on my music, of timbre in any headphone I’ve tried so far.

This one’s gonna be controversial, I know.

I wanna state right now: I am a huge (massive, in fact) advocate of the Sennheiser 6x0 series as being the final word in timbre, as it just does pretty much everything you throw at it with a level somewhere between “competently natural” and “a naturalness that nothing else comes close to capturing”. Nothing, even the Australis, is quite the all-rounder for timbre that the 6x0 is. However, on my music, with the distribution of instruments I listen to, the Australis gets the things I care about more right than the Sennheisers do. With all of the Sennheisers, while they’re nearly perfect in the entirety of the midrange (aside from 3kHz shout which I find myself aligning with people like metal571 about), which is great for guitars, most parts of a vocal, horns, strings, pianos… their mid to upper treble is, and has always been, a big problem for me. I hear a big 9-11kHz peak on all of them, and it affects pretty much everything, but mostly vocals and percussion, negatively. There’s also a lack of bass extension on 6x0, and though they're are not as poorly extended as most say (change your pads, people!), it still leaves me wanting more and can sound a little unreal to me.

The Australis, on the other hand, fixes literally all of my problems in FR-based realism with 6x0, reducing pinna gain and mid/upper treble, while having a more natural sense of decay on things I am heavily biased to in my listening, like bass, guitars, vocals, and drums. I’m a indie/rock/punk lover at heart, and for that, Australis is incredibly good at making things sound natural. While yes, Australis isn’t the fastest headphone overall, I think that’s, again, a feature here, not a bug.

Note weight is excellent, realism in room tone/decay is unencumbered/untruncated, and instrumental decay is more correctly correlated across the frequency range than anything I’ve heard, with the bass and low midrange decaying slowest and that decay getting faster as you move up in frequency. Australis’ presentation of dynamic realism greatly surpasses my HD580 and Borealis in terms of honestly portraying bass decay, which is critical for the aspect of size for drums and electric bass, while still being fast enough in the midrange not to seem sluggish overall. While the naturalness on things like bowed strings and horns definitely isn’t as natural or nuanced as HD580 is, the other things I mention play a more critical part in my library overall, and thus I prefer the timbral presentation of the Australis more often than not.

Conclusion

So far, it’s pretty clear that the hype is real. Australis is the best tuned closed back i’ve heard, possibly the best tuned headphone I’ve heard period. On most things, I prefer it to everything I own, and to the Borealis, even. It’s easily the most balanced closed back in terms of managing its place on the laid-back/aggro spectrum, choosing a mostly laid back tuning and aggro technicalities like heavy slam and engaging macrodynamics, excellent timbre, a completely competent/price-appropriate sense of detail/resolution, and a surprising amount of spaciousness.

Aurorus Audio has confirmed themselves, in my eyes, to not only be "the plucky upstart worth paying attention to," but summarily the most tuning-competent and consistent headphone maker out there period.

Well. Fucking. Done. Elex is sold, and I know where that money’s going. Australis is getting a redesign coming forth in the next few months, and I’ll be in line to buy.

If you’re not… good. Less competition for me.
 

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