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.


I meant to also say that at this level of gear it is difficult to justify cost or sound per dollar.  The question might be for example, is the bass so many dollars better?  Or something like that.  The question at this level is:  Could I give up this DAC and go back to the DAC I had?  Probably not.

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Tony, nice write-up , looking forward to your further listening impressions. Heck of a system!



From all I've read or heard via word of mouth the Helene is a superb sounding DAC. thanks for taking time to share your listening impressions.


Tony a really fantastic write-up thanks for sharing it! Aries Cerat gear is totally gorgeous and that Dac sounds like a monster and a sonic blockbuster congratulations!

My back hurts just reading about it and yet is and has been on my list of potential  DAC…. lovely writeup and congratulations !,,, Bravo ;-)

on PCM is it limited to Redbook or ?

Hi @tomic601, good question since it is difficult to find much information on this DAC on the internet.

Regarding USB input, which I use with my Roon based music server, the Helene accepts bit perfect PCM, all multiples of 44.1kHz and 48 kHz up to 32 bit. In fact, I played a DSD file today that I have on my music server. Roon converted it to 384kHz/32bit PCM and it sounded fantastic.

I’m looking at the owners manual. It says that USB is always double re-clocked- no options. The other two digital inputs (AES and Coax) can be double re-clocked too as an option. But re-clocking on these inputs is for multiples of 44.1kHz only. It doesn’t say it but the manual implies that these inputs can also accept multiples of 48kHz as long as re-clocking is not selected.

I am using an AES cable from my CD transport to the DAC. The transport is 44.1kHz/16 output in this mode. This Transport has upsampling to DSD128 capability through I2S, but that is not possible with this DAC. But I played a CD using the AES cable and it sounds as good as the FLAC file on my music server. That was a quick sample of one. I will do more comparisons later.

One more comment regarding the output.  When I was researching this DAC it was difficult to get a clear understanding of the output level.  It looks like older versions had just one gain setting which looked to be 20 volts.  But my dealer told me that the importer for North America specified a 10 volt output for our market.  And then they also added -6dB gain switches to reduce the output some more.  This DAC does not have a volume control and so it must be used with a preamp.  I guess if you are brave enough you could connect direct to an amp and use the Roon based volume control.  (Yikes!)

I set the gain at -6dB and I find the volume settings on my preamp match almost exactly the volume settings I used on my previous DAC.  I was glad to see that.  I did not need more gain going into my preamp.  


Congrats! I bought one earlier in the year and absolutely love it. Don't listen to any of the BS the naysayers may give you  - they've never heard it. Just pity the fool.

This is the last DAC I'll ever buy and if I had to buy it again I'd do it again in a heartbeat

THE PHASE ON THIS DAC IS INVERTED. I had a noticeable improvement when I took that into account. I used the phase switch on my preamp, or  you can switch you R + & - of your speaker cable at the speaker or power amp.



Don't listen to any of the BS the naysayers may give you  - they've never heard it. Just pity the fool.

I have to say naysayers are absent or minimal in number. All comments/feedback that I’ve encountered concerning the Helene DAC has been unequivocally positive.


Maybe it was the deleted post ? never the less some people will B about a winning lottery ticket..

Valuable inputs @tonywinga ​​​​@elrod … i have a REF5se so it seems -6 probably works for me also…

Dunno but i just mentioned I had a Helene in another thread, and then I got some of the "you fool" chuckles and snickers. I just smiled and kept on listening...


Dunno but i just mentioned I had a Helene in another thread, and then I got some of the "you fool" chuckles and snickers. I just smiled and kept on listening...

keep in mind that some people fixate on the cost of components and the disposable income of others. They may know nothing of the performance/sound quality of your Helene (That's besides the point). Write it off as ignorance and envy.

I strongly suspect that your signal chain of Helene-VTL 7.5 preamp-Dartzeel amp sounds fabulous.



Yes listening to it never gets old - always puts a smile on my face (the ultimate goal).

Congrats on the Helene DAC.  I have the Aries Cerat Essentia Mono amps and today I received the Aries Cerat Ianus Ageto Preamp.  I also will be getting the Kassandra 2 Ref DAC and the Aurora Speakers.  This will be an all Aries Cerat system and my LAST system.  FYI, I am trading my Lampizator Horizon for trhe Kassandra 2 DAC.  

Congratulations to you too.  I bet your system will sound musical.  That will be an amazing system, I just know it from hearing this Helena DAC.  I'm listening right now and loving it.  I keep trying to shut my system down but I can't walk away.  I had my finger on the preamp power button for a few seconds once a couple of hours ago.  I might need counseling. 

This DAC has a crazy amount of energy storage.  It has 6 large transformers plus one large toroidal transformer.  That's probably a lot of the 85 lbs.  The Kassandra 2 DAC probably has even more.  The first time I shut this DAC down I thought the power switch was broken.  Nothing happened for several seconds and then the bias voltmeter started to dim and went out.  It took a good half a minute for all of the LEDs on the circuit boards to finally extinguish.  Won't be poking my finger around in there.

The dealer told me it is recommended to leave the DAC on.  The owner's manual has no specs.  So I don't know the power consumption.  I just note that this DAC does not get very warm.  I will leave it powered up unless I plan to not listen for more than a couple of days.  Even then the tubes, excepting the Rectifier tube, will last many years, they say.


I am trading my Lampizator Horizon for trhe Kassandra 2 DAC


If seems as though you are exchanging superb DAC for another superb DAC.  I assume that there is significant synergy having the Kassandra REF 2 in a system with its Aries Cerat siblings. Couldn’t possibly go wrong with either of these two DACs.



I know to a degree you have followed my audio journey going way back to SR fuses.  A lot has transpired over the last seven years.  I never would have thought I would end up buying Aries Cerat components.  i never thought I could afford them.  And then, after having some major health issues my life changed and I just said to myself that you worked hard to get what you have, why not enjoy it to the fullest?  

I absolutely love my Lampi Horizon DAC.  Yes, I am hoping for greater synergies by having an all Aries Cerat system.  But, it all boiled down to making a financial decision in order to get the Aries Cerat Aurora speakers..  My wife was ready to kill me when she found out that I would be replacing my current speakers which she helped pick out and absolutely loves them.  It was all part of a package dealer and what the dealer was willing to give me on my trade-in equipment.    I also promised her that I was now done swapping equipment....wink wink.  I just hope my current speakers will find a nice home somewhere.  They are truly outstanding for the money.



I am happy for you. I believe that you Aries Cerat audio system is going to sound spectacular!!


The problem I have with Aries Cerat is the gushing regarding this product to me by the importer out of Canada. No line is that much better than everything else!

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.



Bob is alot to handle but the AC gear is good. You have to separate the two, Bob won't be living in your listening room after the sale and thats all that matters. 


The Ageto is outstanding and thanks for asking.  I was 100% convinced after going three years without a Preamp that I did not need one.  I was wrong.  The major difference is that I can now listen to music at really low sound levels and still get all of the detail that I crave.  The music is way more lush, soulful and live.  My Kassandra 2 Reference DAC is coming Tuesday.  My Aries Cerat Aurora speakers are in my garage in 6 very large crates totaling 2000 lbs.  The sad news is I need help to set them up so I have to wait until March 24.  


Don't defend the indefensible...The guy is over the top and you KNOW it. Spend about 5 minutes on the phone with Bob and everything you know and have experienced in your audio journey is WRONG and only what he has experienced, and coincidentally sells, is the correct thing to own. 

I am in agreement with @audition__audio. AC is great gear, but the distributor chosen to sell it isn't the best face for such a wonderful brand. 


So as not to derail your thread, it would be great to hear an update on your Helene.

I don’t mind at all. I love the open discussion. I have only interacted with my dealer, Scott and he has been great to work with. As for an update- it is a cozy, rainy Saturday morning here and I have been listening to music guilt free. Sure, I could go to the gym but sometimes it is great to just savor the moment.

I have had the Hele’ne for just over three months now and the Antipodes K50 music server/player just shy of two months. First thing to note is that I have not played a record in three months. It has been strictly digital listening and that has never, ever happened before. I keep telling myself that I need to turn on the phono preamp to at least keep the capacitors formed and to also get a fresh frame of reference. I just can’t stop listening to this DAC and Server combo.

Foremost in my mind listening to this combo is the clarity and the rhythm and pace of the music. For me, the last bastion of vinyl was rhythm and pace. It took me a few years some decades back to get that right with my vinyl rig. I could hear a difference in rhythm and pace back in the 80s and 90s with different stereo systems and turntables but I didn’t know what it was until a hifi buddy came over in the mid 90s to hear my system. He told me my system lacked rhythm and pace. I felt like telling him his mother was ugly but he was my friend and I was about to learn something. Only it took me about 7 years to finally figure it out. I was thrilled when my system started to click. I think that is why I could never listen to a CD for very long. In addition to the rhythm and pace, the clarity of this combo is remarkable. It can be a large concert or an intimate setting where it feels like the musicians are just a couple of yards away. But the clarity comes with no penalties such as harshness, glare or sibilance. That is the most amazing thing listening to this system now. One of my favorite things right now is hearing guitars. I can feel the pressure of the fingers pulling on the strings. The plucks of the strings are so delicate and at the same time can be so powerful, full and rich. The imaging feels so real. The guitar has a body to it. And in many cases the singer’s voice is a couple of feet above the guitar. I don’t know how my system does that. This detail applies to other instruments too but I just have never heard guitars in so many songs feel so real.

The Hele’ne and the Antipodes K50 are a great team- a fantastic musical team. One can’t excel without the other- for streaming. My CD transport combined with the Hele’ne also has that magic- the rhythm and pace that can make the music spellbinding. Another interesting thing is that the Hele’ne lacks DSD. It is strictly a PCM DAC but can operate at all of the sampling rates when using a USB cable. My previous DAC had DSD256 capability. Do I miss that? Not at all. I am still using Roon on the K50 server side and so Roon converts my DSD files to a high rate PCM. My DSD files have never sounded better. (I am using Squeeze on the player side of the K50).

This digital combo still thrills and astonishes me after three months. Streaming, CD or FLAC all sound amazing. My listening sessions always last several hours. It is hard to pull myself away. I’m done with worrying over network switches, ethernet power supplies and modems. I’m still using audio grade network switches but I doubt they impact the K50 as much as they did my previous NUC based music server. The K50 has a double isolated ethernet plug.

It’s like I found an oasis in the desert. This oasis has everything I need; a pool of sparkling clear water, shade, dates to eat, etc. Perhaps an even better oasis lies over the next hill of the desert. I’m too happy right now to care about that.


It is gratifying to read your update and appreciate how happy you are. It would be very interesting to do a comparison with your vinyl set up and hear how things contrast/differ.🌝 


Thank you.  I agree.  I will have to let the phono preamp settle back in for a couple of days first.

+1 on the test of vinyl vs digital.  I have read so many threads saying Vinyl can not be matched.  I can't really say as I have not had vinyl for over 20 years.  What I do know is having a great DAC and Music Server can create some unbelievable-sounding music.  I am glad you have found your nirvana with music.  In my case, I have the Lampi Horizon and Lucas Audio Music server.  On Tuesday I get the Kassnadra 2 reference DAC.  It will be interesting to see and hear changes going from Lampi to Aries Cerat.  


Did you get the mention of how much he sells and how all the ultra rich own AC? Moving in these circles as he does.  Be interesting to see what he sells as the absolute best (as in nothing close) when he looses a line and has to replace it. Nothing new among distributors of dealers really. By the way I own and have been happy with the Inakustik cabling, but found a better speaker cable for less money. I will go on record as saying that nothing he represents is anything but very good to excellent. 




Again, I get it, Bob is alot to handle, I take him at face value, nothing more. What cables did you move to from IAK? 


Comparing the Lapizaror Horizon and Aries Cerat Kassandra II is quite interesting and intriguing. This is at What's best forum level!!! 💎

I can not imagine one being less than thrilled with either one of these esteemed DACs. I hope you find the time to share your listening impressions. This should be an utterly delightful endeavor.



LOL on the WBF comment.  I find WBF members have been very helpful in my audio journey.  Yes, I will try and provide feedback on the differences between Kassandra and Horizon but I will probably do it on WBF.  I am not big on all of the fancy audio terms but I will do my best.  In response to the cabling comments above, I have used Inakustic cables then went to Hijiri and now I am heavy into QSA Lanedri.  


I believe you’ll get more feedback snd interest on WBF and no condescending posts hung up on the cost of your choice of components. Have fun!!!


I moved to the top of the line Kubalas. Got them used, but they best the much less expensive Inakustiks by a wide margin. The Kubalas tend toward the polite but just so natural sounding. 

I got around to playing some vinyl.  It is just as enjoyable and satisfying as the digital rig.  I think the rhythm and pace has much to do with the satisfaction of the music- both vinyl and digital are comparable now.  The bass is comparable now as well.  I think the bass on vinyl was a bit better before as compared to my previous digital rig.  Now they are about the same.  Soundstage and imaging are very close.

My vinyl rig is a Sota Nova VI with vacuum, Eclipse Motor and magnetic bearing, SME 309 tonearm and a Soundsmith Zephyr phono cartridge feeding an ARC Ref 2SE Phono Preamp.  

The vinyl side does have one advantage.  I can turn it on and within an hour it is sounding good.  If I shut the DAC and Music server down, it then takes 3 days for them to warm up and sound their best- ie. I have to leave them on.  


Thanks very much for posting your listening comparison. I’ll acknowledge that I am not surprised by your outcome. Both mediums have the potential to provide exquisite sound quality and music reproduction.


Many people will say nothing compares to Vinyl but Digital is getting better and better and if you can find a DAC / Server combination the results are pretty awesome.  Thanks for your analysis of Vinyl vs Digital

I have the Helene here in my system...First impressions, it's annoyingly heavy, it's resolving, and throws a MASSIVE sound stage, but...In my system the DAC is almost too neutral for my ear and lacking something in the mid bass region. Sounds good up top, decent with the bass (a little chubby), but the mid bass and voices just don't cut it for me, almost a little shouty on some tracks. It has great rhythm and pace, however I am not going to say it's musical since it lacks warmth that real music has. Not cold overall, but cooler..Overall it's a great dac in the right system, but anyone looking at this DAC needs to know it's a neutral DAC, very neutral and uncolored. I also found the SPDIF to sound better than the USB...All of this is in the context of my ear, in my system. YMMV...But I am left scratching my head at all the gushing over this DAC, it's just ok not worth $20k by any means. 


But I am left scratching my head at all the gushing over this DAC, it's just ok not worth $20k by any means. 

It seems that you have solved this dilemma. Different audio systems, ears and taste will certainly account for the variation of results. I know of no audio product that is an exception. Nothing suits everyone ideally.




"All comments/feedback that I’ve encountered concerning the Helene DAC has been unequivocally positive."


I just shattered your world apparently...I wasn't trying to solve a dillema but I have first hand experience with the dac...Do you? 


Hi jc51373,  well that stinks.  I'm sorry the Hele'ne was not to your liking.  I'm guessing you are able to return it.  My dealer gave me a 30 trial period.  Definitely will be a bugger getting that beast back into the crate.  Remember to lift with your knees.


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!