The place to discuss the Aurorus Audio Borealis
@tommytakis Feel free to post up your thoughts here on your new toy!
Haha Thanks Tyler. Let me finish my morning studying session first. I’ll post some thoughts soon
Interested to hear more about those headphones ! There have been reports that the headband system breaks quite quickly though
From my brief impressions at the Seattle meet near the end of 2019 (so it may have changed a bit since then), I found that I really liked the tonality - possibly my ideal tuning. I’ll need to spend more time with it, but it reminded me a bit of a ZMF Auteur, maybe slightly more counter-clockwise overall depending on which pads on the Auteur. Different driver of course, but to me, Borealis gave me that ‘neutral’ in a good way feeling, and it yet again demonstrates that good things happen when enthusiasts get into tuning and developing headphones.
Aurorus Borealis Impressions:
This one really impressed me. I’ve been waiting for a headphone like this for a long time and this comes very close to it. Before the Borealis, I would say the ZMF Auteur is probably the closest to my ideal headphone and JAR modded HD650 was the competent compromise I made. My gripe with the Auteur was that it’s a bit weak on the macrodynamics/slam even though the bass extends quite low. In addition, although I find ZMFs very comfortable, I always wish they were lighter. I basically wished for an Auteur that is fully open sounding, lighter on head, and slammed harder. I find that in all ZMFs (even the open models) they sound semi-open at best and all carry a certain level of wood reverb that you either love or hate. Focal Elex is lively and energetic, but I found the treble and air region to be too fatiguing even pairing with a warmer amp like the Black Widow. I found that I could only enjoy the Elex at low volume or my ear would often tell me ‘Enough!’ Along with the slight metallic timbre in the treble that eventually leads me back to my HD650, the Focal cans were not quite for me either. Borealis brings to the table what I value in my headphones: normal-sounding timbre, slam/macrodynamics that bring life to the music, and balanced tonality that works with all genres of music.
Let’s start with what I didn’t like:
- Comfort: It’s not heavy, but the seatbelt is just not comfortable for me. It takes a bit of adjusting to get the fit right, but occasionally I do get a little bit of a hot spot. I know Eudis and Ruck (creators) told me they are working on revising the headband, but for now, you can get yourself a ZMF Pilot pad and wrap it over the seat belt for a more comfortable experience. I’ve talked to the other Borealis/Australis owners and they can vouch for this. I actually have one ordered as well so I’ll let you guys know if this fixes the comfort issue.
- Aesthetic: This one is a mixed bag because I really dig the open grill look, but the headband looks really funky when you put them on your head. I’m just not a fan of the way the headband bends similar to the hifiman HE series. I wish it looked more like an Audeze or MrSpeakers headband that better contours the shape of your head. I hope the headband can be revised into a more aesthetically pleasing look along with better comfort.
- Presentation: You definitely won’t get the premium and luxurious feeling like when you receive a pair of ZMF phones with a nice mahogany box with silky velour(?) enveloping the headphone. Borealis looks very industrial and kind of steam-punk with its open-grill design. OMG and the cable it comes with is …trash lol It’s stiff and ugly. Definitely look for another set of cables or make some yourself lol
- Durability: when I received my pair, I noticed one of the screws fell out for the headband and I had to screw it back in myself. It was an easy fix and now looks fine but little things like this makes me feel like I’m buying into an early-prototype that still needs a bit of polishing. I don’t mind this personally, but I can see this being a deal breaker for some. **I can’t comment on its overall durability yet, but I will update my impressions after I’ve owned them for some time.
The counterpoints for the list of issues I mentioned above is that both Eudis and Ruck are very responsive and understanding. When I mentioned the missing screw issue, they replied instantly and helped me troubleshoot the issue. They even offered to send me replacement parts if I couldn’t locate the missing pieces, but thankfully it was just hiding inside the case. This type of customer service is very reminiscent of awesome people like Zach and Bevin so potential buyers should not worry too much, or at all committing to this. They also have a nice little community on discord with current owners along with the creators to talk about borealis or just gears in general.
OK now for the sound.
Pi2AES > Bifrost 2 > Eddie Current Black Widow v2 | Shortest Way 51+ > Borealis | JAR modded HD650
Before purchasing, I was reading through previous impressions and measurements and saw that there was a pretty significant treble peak at around 7-8k, which was really concerning since I was blind purchasing. I’m happy to report that at least with my rig and ears it’s not an audible peak. I’m pretty treble sensitive and after shuffling through various tracks and genres, I don’t hear a hint of sibilance or coarseness in the treble. YMMV as both Bifrost 2 and Black Widow both carry a warm/organic sound signature but Borealis is one smooth ride for me. Please don’t discount this headphone after just looking at the measurements!
Overall tonality is balanced (I hate saying neutral since it’s pretty subjective) with a bit of warmth in the low end. It’s not harmon-boosted or warmpoo tho, just a healthy dose of it. The extreme ends extend quite well without emphasizing one aspect too much. Bass wise, I think they’re comparable to the Focal line ups, with a slight roll off at the very low sub bass, but noticeably more extension than the likes of Sennheiser 6x0 series. Swapping between JAR650 and Borealis, I can easily tell the difference in the low end compared to the 650.
Mids are not too forward or withdrawn. I think measurement shows a little bump around 1.2k which makes it sound slightly forward, but I don’t mind it as I’m used to the Sennheiser/Focal tuning. The upper mids/presence region are a step back compared to the Sennheisers but far from sounding withdrawn or sucked out like Audeze LCD series. I think it’s a welcome change as the vocals can sometimes sound too forward on some genres w/ the Sennheisers.
Treble extension is excellent as well and I much prefer this over the likes of Elex which be a bit tipped up in the treble. Like I mentioned above, no sibilance or rough, edginess in the treble. I can listen to this all day without fatigue.
What’s immediately impressive is its macrodynamics and slam. Man this thing slams especially with the Black Widow! Lowkey I really want to pair this with the Dangerous Music’s Convert 2 in the future and see what kind of results I’ll get LOL It’s not quite HE-6 level, but very reminiscent of Fostex bio-dynas. I don’t have one to compare, but that’s the impression I got from listening to them.
Microdynamics is excellent as well. Very engaging, nuanced in the subtle differences. This is one of the areas where headphones like Verum 1 feels a bit short in comparison. You can really feel the weight of the instruments when the violin or drums is/are played. Very engaging and lively sound that keeps to focused in the music.
Timbre is also really good. I think the Sennheisers still reign supreme in this regard but Instruments sound very normal without sounding metallic or plastic-y. I LOVED listening to string instruments with this headphone, very life-like.
Clarity is a step or two ahead compared to the JAR650, with a blacker background and instruments are better separated. No smearing effect when playing complex passages and it’s pretty much free of veil. It’s not unnaturally done like the Focal Elex where I feel like it is overly sharpened and contrasted. Also no 3 blobby effect of the Senns!
Transients are good, but I wouldn’t say this is Borealis’ strong point. I think the Focal cans or the Verite are definitely much better in this category.
I’m pretty bad at evaluating resolution/microdetail so I’ll let others write more about this, but I would say it’s at least comparable to Auteur and HD800. I would need to have them side by side to really compare.
Borealis is pretty easy to drive and it sounds …pretty good straight out of my macbook pro 3.5mm out haha It won’t slam and as hard and fully-resolve tho and you definitely want to feed it to your main rig to get the best experience.
Pairing wise, I think this has excellent synergy with the Black Widow… I’ve had some reservations about the BW before, but after trying it with the Borealis I’ve had a change of heart and made me really appreciate this amp.
The biggest bummer for me is that the Borealis is NOT a good match for the SW51+, which has been my go to amp for high impedance dynamic cans. Not that it’s unlistenable, but I would much rather listen to the Black Widow with this headphone while I prefer the SW51+ with my Sennheisers. The main issue is that even on the low output, it’s still a bit too high for the Bori and boosts the bass too much for my liking. It really throws off the tonal balance and turns them into a bass cannon. I think it’s okay for some genres that don’t have a lot of bass to begin with, but others just sound way too emphasized.
I also have another tube amp on the way and I suspect it’ll be a good match as well. I’ll be sure to write about it if it is indeed true.
Despite some flaws I’ve mentioned, I’m really smitten by this headphone. I got zero work done when I first received this headphone because I just couldn’t take the Borealis off my head even with the slight hotspot I would get. Price is still a bit hefty, but I think it provides a nice alternative to ZMF Auteur, Sennheiser HD800, or Focal Clear/Elex. I think the Borealis compliments my JAR650 very well as they’re better at different things. The Bori shares some characteristics from Sennheisers, but I won’t claim stuff like “ermaagawwd it’s a direct upgrade from the Senns!!!” I think the Sennheiser HD6x0 series still remain a great reference headphone as long as you are conscious of some of its technical flaws. Regardless, the Borealis is a solid option in its price range with a righteous timbre, excellent sense of dynamism, and clarity. If you are okay with the aesthetics and the comfort issue, I highly recommend you check this out.
Excellent review! I’m looking forward to trying it out hopefully in the near future. I like the comparison to the Auteur/HD800. I was almost going to say it sounded like an HD800 without the treble peaks haha.
Borealis Part 2?
I’ve had these for a while now, and I’m happy to say that I still feel the same way about them. They’re still the punchy, exciting headphone that I genuinely enjoy listening to and I would be happy with just owning the Borealis and nothing else. I’m a die-hard HD650 fan, but man the Bori is so much more fun to listen to and the JAR650 has been collecting dust lately. I guess this is a supplement to my initial impressions.
- Durability is a bit of a mixed bag. My unit was actually one of the affected units where the nitinol rod snapped in half from general usage. I think mine broke after a week of usage? Obviously Ruck and Eudis have already addressed this issue, so I won’t go much into detail as to why it happened, but rather talk about my experience dealing with the issue. I messaged Ruck about the damage with a picture on the Aurorus discord and the very next morning I got an email saying my replacement had been shipped. I haven’t had issues with the rod breaking since the replacement. I can’t comment on how it will be for everyone, but I’m certain you’ll be taken care of. Just remember that even Verum and ZMF had their fair share of issues (channel imbalance, paint chipping, etc.) but I think it’s more important to focus on how they dealt with the customers when they were faced with issues. Other than the headband, the main body feels sturdy af and wouldn’t worry about even possibly dropping them.
- Goodbye Ugly Headband!
- Yes, looks are subjective, but the headband looks… ugly. I’m not going to sugar coat this. Like I said in the initial impressions, I wish it contoured the shape of our head like MrSpeakers/DCA or Audeze, because when you wear it on your head, it looks like you have braces on …for your head lol. The seat belt comfort seems to vary depending on your head shape, but if you find it uncomfortable like me, the ZMF Pilot pad definitely helps. However, I don’t think it doesn’t fix everything. With the pilot pad, the hotspot is gone, but the padding is a bit too thick and keeps pulling the headphone up. I have to routinely push down on the headband to adjust it back to the correct position. I think this can be solved with slightly thinner comfort pads or changing the angle of the rods so that there is slightly more slide clamp.
- While I was waiting for the revised headband, I decided to take a DIY approach and transplanted the Audeze LCD headband onto the Bori. It’s not a simple swap, but it wasn’t impossible to do. I had to drill the Audeze yolk on all 4 holes so that it fit the borealis screws. It certainly looks more refined now and since I’m still using the spacers and screws that came with the headphone, I can easily swap it out to the original headband if I choose to. Obviously do this at your own risk and I will not be held accountable if you mess up. Plus the Audeze headbands are pretty hefty in price so I don’t know if I can easily recommend it to everyone. (Big Thanks to @Bloom for the friendly price on the headband) If you care about aesthetics like I do, swapping in the Audeze headband is an option for those that want it. I’m happy to help out as well, just PM me anytime.
- How’s the comfort with the Audeze headband? Obviously YMMV but with my head, it feels snug and comfortable. No more hotspot nor uneven pressure around my head. I can wear these for hours with no issue now and the best part is that it’s much more aesthetically pleasing than the stock headband.
- Borealis vs. JAR650
- First obvious difference is the superior macrodynamics/slam of the Borealis. It’s hard to go back to 650’s bass after hearing the Bori’s bass. It’s more punchy and grippy, while the JAR650 feels wimpy and deflated, despite Jupiter’s mods making it sound more controlled and clean. I was really surprised to see Marv’s burst response for the Borealis. I knew the Bori was a tight and punchy headphone, but I did not expect it to edge out the Elex and come close to SR1a’s performance.
- In terms of microdynamics, they’re both excellent choices, but I think the JAR650 edges out just a bit in this category. Sure the 650s don’t slam hard, but the micro contrast is top notch and makes music sound nuanced and engaging.
- Borealis easily wins out in clarity. Borealis’s another strong point is that it sounds clear and lacks veil without depending on the treble boost or over-sharpening effect.
- JAR650 wins out in mids, vocal intimacy, and timbre. Vocals are smoother and more natural sounding on the 650.
- The upper mids is a toss up between the two. The JAR650 has more presence and bite, but with modern music, it can sometimes sound a bit shouty. Borealis on the other hand, is slightly withdrawn relative to the 650, but I never get the feeling that it’s sucked out or lacking. I think this can be a positive because I can blast the music to a reasonable degree and just rock out. Instead of the vocals taking the center stage, it blends more naturally with the rest of the instruments. It’s nowhere near as extreme as the Audeze LCD tuning or Verite w/ Universe pads, but with some jazz tracks, it can sound slightly withdrawn and lack a bit of energy.
- The controversial 7k treble peak… at least with the current setup, it’s not bothersome and I only notice it w/ ~5% of my music. It’s still not as offensive or sharp as something like the HD800 or any of the Beyer cans. It kind of reminds me of Verite and Elex’s mid-treble peak, but to a lesser degree that can easily be ameliorated w/ source matching with something like a nice tube amp.
- I noticed that clamping makes a big difference in the peak where the peak becomes more evident when the clamping is a bit loose and outward. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it with many amps, but BF2+ Black Widow makes me feel like the setup was made for this headphone because of the insane synergy they bring together.
- Verum 1 vs. Borealis:
- macrodynamics/slam: Borealis >>>>Verum 1; despite Verum 1 extending more linearly, Borealis has better slam and grunt to it.
- microdynamics : Borealis >>>>Verum 1; Borealis is excellent in microdynamics slightly behind or evenly matched to JAR6x0 while Verum 1 is trailing behind both.
- Verum’s mids sounds a bit withdrawn in comparison to the Borealis, but sometimes I do like that especially when I watch movies or play games. For music listening, Borealis just sounds more natural and engaging.
- Treble is definitely more resolving in the Borealis. Treble seems relatively hazier when I switched back to the Verum.
- Verum’s stage sounds a bit diffuse and wide while Borealis seems to be more inline with Sennheiser 6x0 series but with better imaging.
- I still believe Verum 1 is an excellent product for its price range, I just feel like the Borealis wins out in most categories I care for.
- Pad Rolling:
- I didn’t do an extensive pad rolling, but I did manage to try 3 sets of ZMF pads (Thank you @Phantaminum for letting me borrow them!)
- I chose the Verite and BE2 pads first because they’re roughly the same thickness as the stock pads. Yeah the Borealis really sucks with these pads. Bass rolls off way too much and sucks the life out of the music.
- Universe Suede pads weren’t that bad, but treble lost a sense of liveliness and macrodynamics took a big hit.
- So far, Stock pads = best. Maybe someone else can experiment with more pads, but I’m quite happy with the stock sound.
- Tackling the Upper mid dip & the 7k treble peak
- I’m no genius modder like some of the friends here, but I had some materials lying around the house so I tried experimenting.
- I found that the carpet liner commonly used for reducing that treble peak of HD800 and bringing up the upper mids worked pretty well for the Borealis as well. However when I cover the entire area where the driver sits, it seems to make the Borealis sound kind of veiled sounding. I decided to cut out a big portion in the center to not cover the driver too much. That seemed to work, but now the 7k peak doesn’t seem as controlled.
- Then I decided to add another material: Curtain fabric sheet. I got the idea from @Ox Cart 's post for his HD58x mod which seems to shave off some of the 7k peak and bring up the sub-bass a wee bit. Aaaaand this was it! I was pretty happy with the result. It sounded pretty similar to my JAR650 in terms of general tonality. As you may know I’m running a warm/smooth setup and it was borderline dark sounding, which probably means it will sound fine on a more neutral setup. I don’t have a measurement rig so I compiled a playlist with a list of songs where I can hear the treble peak and checked if it was still evident with the mods. At least in my ears, they are no longer peaky in that area. It sounds like there is slightly less mid bass, but a bit more sub-bass? I can’t tell for sure, but that’s how I hear it. Like I said before, with the current setup I have, I am totally fine with the stock tuning, but if the peak and dip bother you, try this mod? Maybe you’ll find the Borealis more enjoyable.
Borealis still kicks ass and is definitely worth investing your time and money into it, as I consider it to be a well rounded product that is easy to live with. It’s not the best in everything, but I still believe it’s a competitive product that sits comfortably with ZMF and Focal cans. My setup feels pretty complete now with JAR650 and Borealis as my main headphones. I’ve already sold the JAR600 and probably plan on selling the Verum 1 as well as I feel like it’s a bit redundant. I hope my rambling was helpful in providing some insight on this headphone and if there was any point that I was unclear, please let me know and I’ll try my best to answer.
Excellent post with great content. I am a very big fan of the HD650 myself and often listen to it over my other headphones. Looks like you’ve found something that really gals with what you want and like. Enjoy.
Thanks for the review!
Looking forward to try this headphone!