Aune Flamingo Tube DAC Review

Aune Flamingo Tube DAC Review

13 January 2023 0 By Petros Laskis

Music under fire

Pros: + Musical and addictive sounding in both sound modes
+ Great timbre consistency and absence of digital glare
+ Good technicalities for the price
+ Tube mode makes for a more pleasant sound signature
+ Switching between the two sound modes is done on the fly
+ Plenty of power for driving a great variety of headphones
+ Extremely low noise floor
+ Vivid OLED screen
+ Excellent build quality
+ Compact sized and lightweight
+ Optional remote control and Bluetooth connectivity

Cons: – The remote control is sold separately
– Bluetooth connectivity is optional and more expensive
– Tube mode is not that effective as it should be expected
– The screen will not display sampling rate
– Tube is always active no matter the working mode
– Not the last word in resolution and refinement
– Could be more impactful and dynamic
– Not tube rolling friendly

The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the Aune Flamingo is $219 and you can buy it from here.
A Bluetooth version is available for $289 here.
The remote control is sold separately here.

Aune Audio

Aune audio is by now a well established brand that has been devoted to developing desktop and portable audio products such as DACs, digital transports, music players, headphone amplifiers and earphones.
They are committed to the pursuit of superb sound and great user experience while at the same time keeping their prices as friendly as possible.
Aune have lately been releasing new and updated editions of their classic products, like the X1s GT DAC/amp and the X8 18th Anniversary edition DAC which I have already reviewed both and remained impressed by the audio performance and the overall value, especially of the X8.
You can read the related reviews here and here.

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Aune Flamingo Tube DAC

The Aune Flamingo is a compact sized DAC/amp with user selectable dual output modes between a tube and an op-amp input stage.
The tube used is a PSVANE ECC82 and is not user replaceable so tube rolling is limited for the adventurous user who has the skills to open up the chassis in order to reach for the tube.
The Flamingo is the 5th generation of the Aune classic tube DAC series that was introduced back in 2014.
At the core of the Flamingo lies the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip that supports decoding up to 32bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 while an independent crystal oscillator is used for lowering the input jitter.

The use of a tube at the input stage required a complex power supply that should be able to provide 5V/6.3V/3.3V/±9V/±24V rails from an external 12V power adapter while being as compact sized as possible so it took a whole year to research and develop.

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High quality components are used throughout the whole circuitry such as WIMA capacitor, Panasonic FK capacitor, COG capacitor, low-ripple LDO and FR PCB material.

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Input/outputs and layout

The Flamingo supports coaxial and USB (and OTG) inputs while a Bluetooth version with LDAC and aptX HD support is also available.
The outputs include a 6.35mm headphone jack at the front face and stereo RCA line with variable level at the back where there are also located the DC power input and the on/off switch.
So you can use the Flamingo to listen to your headphones or connect it to an external amplifier or active monitors.

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User interface

The Flamingo is very easy to operate through the multifunction rotary knob which is located at the right side of the front face or with the optional remote control.
The menu is pretty simple, the user can only select the digital input, choose one of the seven available low pass filters and switch between the tube or op-amp modes.
A small but clearly visible OLED screen will display the selected digital input, low pass filter, sound mode and the output volume but no incoming sampling rate while there is a sub-menu with the detailed description of the seven low pass filters.

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Appearance and build quality

The Flamingo is very compact in size, measuring only 135×101.1×27.1mm it can virtually fit everywhere, you can even carry it with you at vacation or a business trip.
The Flamingo is arc shaped and very well made, it has an aluminum chassis with a plastic insert at the front face that houses the LCD screen and the headphone output so you should be careful not to accidentally scratch it.
The tube is mounted inside the right side of the chassis and is clearly visible from the top, the bottom and the front, glowing beautifully in the dark and being well ventilated.
The unit itself doesn’t get very hot but you should avoid touching the tube during operation.

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Accessories

The Flamingo comes with a high quality USB cable, a high quality USB type-C to USB adapter, a 3.5 to 6.35mm adapter and a generic switching power supply.
A low noise power supply by Mean Well, like the one included both in the X1s GT and the X8 18th anniversary edition, is really missing.
The slim sized, aluminum remote control is sold separately.

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Associated gear

The Flamingo was left playing music for more than 150 hours to make sure that the tube had properly settled down.
Most of the listening was done with the Sennheiser HD660S, Focal Clear Mg and HiFiMan Sundara with pure silver cables made by Lavricables.
The iFi NEO Stream and Silent Angel Munich M1T were used as the digital sources.

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Power output and noise

The Flamingo can do 300mW/32Ω so it is powerful enough for driving most of the medium to high sensitivity headphones like the ones mentioned above.
With the Focal Clear Mg I never needed to get past the 75-80/100 of the available volume range.
Both the tube and op-amp modes are noise free at least when it comes to full sized headphones because the tube mode can induce a low level noise to very sensitive earphones but switching to the op-amp mode fixes the issue.

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Listening impressions

Op-amp mode

The Flamingo is a very musical and addictive sounding DAC with a mostly organic and natural timbre while it has a flat frequency response and good levels of transparency and insight.
After reviewing both the X1s GT and X8 VIII, and now the Flamingo, it is pretty obvious that there is a consistent “Aune house” sound which aims for more musicality and engagement than raw technicalities and measurements.
These guys know very well what they are doing and it is pretty obvious that they are painstakingly tuning with love and devotion by actually listening rather than measuring.
The sound is full bodied and lush with an analogue-like texture that is full of harmonic wealth and colorful overtones making for a realistic listening experience that is especially enjoyable with genres like classical and jazz.

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Still the Flamingo feels at home with everything else you throw at it from EDM to modern pop and rock.
It can do deep bass which is tight and controlled with great layering for the category, mid range is always spacious and well articulated while treble is extended enough with good clarity and a welcomed smoothness.
Surely, the Flamingo is not the last word in transparency and resolution, not the most detailed and refined sounding DAC while it could be more impactful and slamming but honestly most of the time you will find yourself lost in the music rather than seeking for anything else.

Listening to some well recorded symphonic music is the ideal example for showcasing the holographic and well extended soundstage of the Flamingo which might be slightly lacking in positioning accuracy but is very good at communicating the ambience of the recording.
This time I listened to the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert.

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Tube mode

Switching to the tube mode I was quite hard pressed to notice any sound differences.
The tube is very conservatively implemented so it will not drastically alter the sound signature of the DAC as it is expressed in the op-amp mode and not imbue it with excessive tube warmness and harmonic saturation nor add extra layers of analogue texture.
The sound perceived differences between the two modes are too subtle and almost exclusively reserved for the upper-mids and treble registers where the tube helps by taking away some digital glare and smoothing out the texture while it adds for a little more relaxed time decay.
Switch back to the op-amp mode and you will find out that the sound is just a bit more clearer and firmer than the tube where it is hazier and looser.
And that’s it, some people (including me) might wish for a more drastically intrusive tube implementation but I am sure that the great majority will value this exact discretion which adds a tiny bit of a tube goodness while keeping technicalities and overall sound signature completely intact.

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In the end

Albeit the tube implementation being very discreet the Flamingo is still a good entry level and cost effective step into the magic world of the tubes.
Whether you choose the tube or the op-amp mode, the Flamingo is a very addictive sounding DAC with a voicing that primarily aims for timbre realism, enjoyment and sheer musicality.
The Flamingo might not set you under fire but it will certainly keep your nights full with warm music.

Test playlist

Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.