Ayon Audio

Leading Edge Tube solutions from Austria - regular winner of BEST SOUND at Munich High-End show
"The Bugatti of Audio" - according to respected TAS: The Absolute Sound magazine

Besides offering one of the most extensive ranges of tube componets, Ayon design and manufactuer a unique range of Super Triode Power Tubes exclusively use in their own gear.
For many around the world, music is a precious gift to life. These are the people for whom we create our amplifiers, CD players and loudspeakers, thriving for the most natural reproduction of the original music path, bringing You closer to the heart of the music. 
Ayon Audio of Austria, grants audiophiles around the globe, balance, clarity, perspective, dynamics, bloom, decay..... the entire musical message for over 20 years. Ayon Audio offers a complete line of high performance audio components. Ayon components combine premium design, new construction principles, advanced technologies and profound musicality. 
Ayon components offer explosive dynamics, purity of tone, neutrality, finesse, emotional realism and stable sound stage projection. Our engineers are established leaders in their respective fields of high-end audio expertise. 
Our range of activities covers the development of high performance vacuum triode power tubes, the design of sonically outstanding tube preamps, triode tube power amplifiers, CD-Players with vacuum tube output stage and advanced technology speaker systems. 
Ayon components are designed with future upgrades in mind, providing for emerging new technologies, up-to-date performance and preservation of investment. Naturally flowing curves and sophisticated colour schemes characterise the aesthetics of the Ayon line, offering a timeless value of understated elegance. 
Ayon products reward music lovers with an authentic and excitingly realistic reproduction of music as a real live event. All these activities are guided by a singular idea: the perfect reproduction of recorded music. 
NOTE - Our Ayon amplifieres from SPIRIT III onwards are all imported fitted with NEW KT150 tubes! 

The 2017 Los Angeles Audio Show - The Absolute Sound - BEST SOUND (cost no object) 
Robert Harley on Electronics 
The AYON new Lumen White 25 Generation 4 speakers driven by Ayon electronics was spectacularly great, with wall-to-wall soundstaging. Close your eyes and you’d never know that you were in a hotel room. The system included the Ayon Spheris III preamplifier or alternately, The system included the S-10 Network Streamer/Preamp, a pair of Ayon Orthos XS Gen 4 mono amps which drove the new Lumenwhite White Light 25 Gen 4 Anniversary speakers in one of the show’s best-sounding rooms.  

 The 2017 Los Angeles Audio Show - The Absolute Sound
Neil Gader  Best Of Show - LA Audio Show 2017 - Best Sound (cost no object): 
Most Surprising was the stunning Lumenwhite “White Light Anniversary (US$69,000).  Lumenwhite White Light “Anniversary” Do blondes still have more fun? If it’s a wood-veneer finish, Lumenwhite certainly thinks so. It premiered Generation 4 of its famous “White Light” speakers—the White Light Anniversary Reference, an all-out assault on the state of the art in reference loudspeaker performance. Sonics were brilliantly fast and open, was uncolored and possessed terrific dynamic output as well as sensitive micro-gradients. Driving the White Light were all Ayon components including the vacuum-tube CD-35 SACD streamer, S10 vacuum-tube streamer, Spheris tube preamplifier, and Orthos II Gen 4 mono amps.  

The 2016 The Show Newport - The Absolute Sound  
Robert Harley  - Best Sound (cost no object): 
Ayon Audio Electronics with the Lumenwhite White Light Loudspeakers.   

AYON AUDIO AWARDED "BEST SOUND" MUNICH HIGH END AUDIO SHOW 2017!  
AYON AUDIO AWARDED "BEST SOUND" MUNICH HIGH END AUDIO SHOW 2016! 
AYON AUDIO AWARDED "BEST SOUND" MUNICH HIGH END AUDIO SHOW 2015!    

                            Ayon Amplifirer / Preamplifier Designs:

Ayon's state-of-the art triode vacuum tube amplifiers provide music lovers worldwide with an authentic listening experience in their home environments. They offer abundant power resources unavailable from conventional designs while fully maintaining and expanding the traditional qualities of the single ended topology. Ayon were one of the first to offer the new KT120 & KT150 tubes from the Spirit III amplifier up.

Research and development of our triode amplifiers is conducted by a team of renowned experts at our high end manufacturing facility in Austria. Absolute tonal neutrality, outstanding dynamics and a so far unknown level of resolution are trademarks of our amplifiers, complemented by an explosively fast and uncoloured bass and high power triode performance.

Their sound staging and ambient retrieval equals the finesse of the legendary low power triode designs while leaving behind their disadvantages of high distortion, coloration and limited dynamic reserves. Advanced zero feedback class A circuitry and cutting edge output transformer design make Ayon triode amplifiers recreate music with irresistible magic and authenticity. 

Ayon's Unique Audio-Bias feature:
An area that offers a good indication of Ayons unique design integrity and philosophy is the way they offer Auto-Bias on their main power tubes. Ayon (along with most others) don't like typical auto biasing as the biasing is happening all the while that music is playing so that must by its design interfere somewhat with the best possible musical presentation. However Ayon do like the value that auto biasing offers, ensuring everything is at its optimal operating design, so Ayon found their own solution. When you turn on any Ayon component it has a soft start up procedure which protects the circuitry from inrush current etc but then if an amp is switched off after being operated for more than 45minutes it will automatically go into soft close down mode where it auto rebias the power tubes, this presents the tubes in optimal condition ready for the next time the amp is switched on. This unique and important feature starts with their entry level Orion, we know of no one else who offers this same and important feature.       

Ayon CD-Player / DAC / Music Streamer design:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - SalzburgAyon has established a new performance standard for digital products with high-gain “vacuum-tube output stage” in their class. The Ayon CD-Players are a remarkable union of innovative design concepts and refinements of existing technologies. 

Ayon were the first tube equipment manufacturer  to introduce: Volume control, USB, I2S, separate DAC section for CD-player, DSP loop etc 

The benefits of our beautiful solid, rigid and non-resonant aluminium-anodized chassis are immediately audible compared with some sheet metal structures or poor thin aluminium chassis employed by most manufacturers. The 6H30 high-current tube remains the anchor for our super efficient analog “high-gain” output stage. (Shortest possible signal path – which is always the best) Critical components are selected according to listening tests and technical performance without regard for cost. 

Every Ayon CD-Player delivers the emotional power of music with a visceral impact, springy-deep bass, warm and fluid mid-range, high frequencies are never harsh or strident, and they have a natural grace – a glistening life-like presentation. Image reproduction is exceptionally three dimensional with the most subtle spatial energy suddenly revealed. It will, in Ayon tradition, provide a lifetime of consistent excellence. 

Ayon Tube Freindly, Efficient Loudspeakers:
Ayon loudspeakers are designed to provide open, dynamic, lifelike sound, powerful bass, highly detailed ambient retrieval and tonal neutrality. Combining high efficiency, linear impedance behaviour and minimal phase distortion, they are equally suited for single-ended triode, tube or transistor amplification. Synergistic design solutions and perfect craftsmanship make them outstanding in more than one regard.
Innovative technologies, advanced design and the best available components have been combined by our skilled designers to create loudspeakers which embody "The New Age of Sound" in audio technology. These speakers employ premium Ayon internal wiring, ultimate quality drivers, "High density plywood material - Resonance optimized" cabinets and highly selected crossover parts including air foil chokes. All crossover circuitry are hard-wired with surface-only conductors, eliminating deleterious sonic effects of printed-circuit boards.

The combination of highest quality components, technological breakthroughs and uncompromising manufacturing standards represent a unique price/performance ratio in the market. Besides offering advanced technical and sonic solutions we at Ayon Audio thrive for a clear-cut, timeless design in our loudspeakers which fit perfectly with high quality interiors and modern domestic environments.

Ayon Super Triode Power Tubes
"Opera house" - GrazIt took us years of research to develop a new groundbreaking generation of super triode power tubes. We design and produce our line of Ayon Audio triode vacuum tubes completely by ourselves in the Czech Republic. That means we are fully independent and extremely flexible.

The circuits of our single-ended amplifiers have been specifically designed to take advantage of the groundbreaking sonic properties of the new generation of Ayon "super triodes". All Ayon vacuum tubes possess a vacuum of 10-9 torr, a maximum grid current of 2.2 micro ampere and absolutely constant emission. 

 
Ayon - AA 32B-S tubes (based on the WE 300B.):
The S-Series tubes are based on an extra large size plate system. This system is derived from earlier 52B type tubes, and has proven to be most reliable for high power applications. The advantage of the AA 32B-S is the higher filament current, which will make it possible to reproduce peak-power signals with less distortion.

Ayon - AA 52B-S tubes (based on WE 300B):
This very powerfull tube is recommended for all new 52B designs. All critical parts, like filaments, grids and plates are constructed from hard metal for higher quality and reliability.
Ayon AA 62B tubes (based on the WE 300B):
It is the largest single plate DHT available today. We like to call her the "Queen of Single Ended Triodes".

Why Tube Amplifiers
After decades of solid state amplifier innovations, tube amplifiers have staged a powerful comeback in the last ten years, due to their sonic merits.
 
Simpler, purer circuits
At Ayon Audio, we feel that tubes are the sonically superior technology for audio, as their generally simpler circuits and smaller number of components provide for a purer signal path and consequently more truthful signal handling. This is because fewer components provide for fewer elements in a circuit to degrade the signal, distort and muddle the sound. Simple circuits also provide for inherently higher reliability, since there are fewer parts which can fail. Tubes are also more tolerant of circuit drifts and deviations in component specifications, and thus can be used in simpler, purer circuits.
 
More benign overload and distortion behaviour
A lot of music features great dynamic signal swings, and it has been well established that in tube amplifiers the onset of clip/overload as maximum power is reached is gradual and rising distortion is of predominately low even-order harmonic nature. In comprehensive listening tests, even high levels of even-order harmonic distortion has been found to be significantly less offensive to the ear than even small levels of the harsh, odd order harmonic distortion produced by solid-state circuits when their reach their power limit and enter clipping. In transistor amplifiers, the distortion rise very quickly as the maximum power level is reached, showing almost square wave characteristics, and a high DC component, - which can destroy easily loudspeaker drivers if not stopped to do so.
 
Vacuum tubes and “Tone”
The difference in the distortion characteristics between the two technologies can be well illustrated by looking at their effects in guitar amplifier design.

Tube guitar amplifier manufacturers have traditionally designed their circuits to drive the output stages into overload distortion, using the resultant distortion to achieve their trademark “tone”. In a tube amplifier, this tone contributes to the amplifier's sound, but in a solid-state amplifier this distortion is audibly intolerable and easily destroys the speakers. 
When transistors overload (in a discrete circuit or in an OP amp), the dominant distortion product is the third harmonic. The third harmonic "produces a sound many musicians refer to as blanketed”. Instead of making the tone fuller, a strong third actually makes the tone thin and hard. On the other hand, with tubes (particularly triodes) the dominant distortion product is the second harmonic: “Musically the second is an octave above the fundamental and is almost inaudible, yet it adds body to the sound, making it fuller”. Tubes sound better because their distortion products are more musical. Tubes provide a more appropriate load to transducers. Those are the fundamental reasons why tubes simply sound better.
 
Vacuum tubes are the more linear and require less feedback
Tubes are voltage amplifiers as opposed to transistors which are current amplification devices. As a consequence, tubes are a more linear amplification technology, requiring less overall negative feedback to make the circuit linear. Negative feedback re-injects a sample of the amplifier’s output signal back into the input, 180 degrees out of phase, in an attempt to reduce amplifier non-linearity and distortion. In practice, negative feedback tends to slow the amplifier down and sucks the emotion and life out of the music. High feedback designs usually sound sterile, boring and lifeless, while low or zero feedback designs provide for a more immediate and natural sound. Depending on technology and type of the used output device, transistor amplifiers generally require the use of over 40dB of local loop or global negative feedback.
 
Superior dynamic capabilities
The higher working voltages present in tube amplifiers generally allow for wider voltage swings and better signal headroom before entering into overload territory. Higher working voltages yield higher audible energy storage* with lower value capacitors. ~ 500 volts working voltage in a tube amplifier approximate about ~ 80 volts in a transistor circuit. This is most likely why many listeners feel that tubes sound more powerful

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Featured

AY 03 CD CD10SIG
NZ$ 8,995.00 (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio has released its CD-10 SACD/CD player, which is a re-design of the company’s CD-1sx. It has a new DAC, a switchable PCM-DSD converter, a magnetic disc clamp and a 6H30 single-ended triode...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD-PlayerClass-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended...
AY 04 CD CD35
NZ$ 12,995.00 (incl. GST)
CD-35 CD/SACD Player (optional PREAMP & STREAMER modules avaibale extra)HIGH FIDELITY GOLD FINGERPRINT AWARD: "for the first time ever I decided to grant the GOLD Fingerprint award to the...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary
AY 05 CD CD35 PR
NZ$ 14,495.00 (incl. GST)
CD-35 CD/SACD Player including ANALOG PREAMP (optional extra STREAMER module availbale in Signature model). HIGH FIDELITY GOLD FINGERPRINT AWARD: "for the first time ever I decided to grant the...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary
AY 06 CD CD35SIG
NZ$ 15,995.01 (incl. GST)
The Ayon CD-35 establishes a new benchmark in SE-Triode vacuum-tube CD/SACDPlayer performance by combining a fully balanced PCM-DSD DAC.  The CD-35 is also prepared for computer playback and...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary
AY 08 DAC STEAL
NZ$ 11,995.01 (incl. GST)
AYON STEALTH DAC/Preamplifier = "Long Term Satisfaction" - REVIEW SUMMARY: "In the pursuit of digital playback perfection, the Stealth ranks in the DAC elite. It’s all about the music and the...
Full-featured Tube D/A converter and Preamp - Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for...
EXTENDED REVIEW What’s in a model name? Well, sometimes not much at all when it’s merely an...
AY 13 NW S10 SIG
NZ$ 12,995.00 (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio’s new S-10 Network Player combines a network player, computer playback, analogue preamp, DAC and PCM–DSD converter in a design that incorporates a valve output stage. The output stage is a...
Full-featured Network Music Player with DACClass-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended...
AY 15 AI SCORPIO
NZ$ 5,995.00 (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio says its new Scorpio represents a dramatic rethinking of the economy-priced vacuum tube based integrated amplifier. ‘The Scorpio integrated amplifier combines neutrality, realistic...
Full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amplifierSwitchable between pentode and triode...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The Ayon Audio Scorpio is a heavy, Class A integrated amplifier made of high grade...
AY 16 AI SPIRIT
NZ$ 9,495.00 (incl. GST)
THE SHOW NEWPORT WINNER TAS EDITORS' CHOICE AWARD AYON AUDIO "BEST OF SHOW" WINNER AT RMAF - CES LAS VEGAS & SALON SON IMAGE SHOW MONTREAL CANADA!! NEWPORT SHOW CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK...
Full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amp or pure power amplifierSwitchable between...
Ayon Audio may not be a name you've heard before, but they are working hard to change that. The...
AY 17 AI TRI IA
NZ$ 15,995.01 (incl. GST)
POSITIVE FEEDBACK WRITERS CHOICE AWARD 2016THE SHOW NEWPORT WINNER TAS EDITORS' CHOICE AWARD AYON AUDIO "BEST OF SHOW" WINNER AT RMAF - CES LAS VEGAS & SALON SON IMAGE SHOW MONTREAL...
Full-featured balanced class-A vacuum tube Integrated and/or Power amplifier (switchable between)...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The first time I encountered the Ayon product line at an audio show, I had just...
AY 20 AM ASCORP
NZ$ 6,995.00 (incl. GST)
NEW PRODUCT RELEASE - SCORPIO MONOS - “The entrance into real high-end mono vacuum tube amplification”. The Scorpio Mono represents a dramatic rethinking of economic vacuum tube based ...
Full-featured vacuum tube mono power amplifierSwitchable between pentode and triode mode Vacuum...

All Products

CD / SACD / Blu-ray & Multi-Format Players

AY 02 CD 10
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio has released its CD-10 SACD/CD player, which is a re-design of the company’s CD-1sx. It has a new DAC, a switchable PCM-DSD converter, a magnetic disc clamp and a 6H30 single-ended triode...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD-PlayerClass-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended...
AY 03 CD CD10SIG
NZ$ 8,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio has released its CD-10 SACD/CD player, which is a re-design of the company’s CD-1sx. It has a new DAC, a switchable PCM-DSD converter, a magnetic disc clamp and a 6H30 single-ended triode...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD-PlayerClass-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended...
AY 04 CD CD35
NZ$ 12,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
CD-35 CD/SACD Player (optional PREAMP & STREAMER modules avaibale extra)HIGH FIDELITY GOLD FINGERPRINT AWARD: "for the first time ever I decided to grant the GOLD Fingerprint award to the...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary
AY 05 CD CD35 PR
NZ$ 14,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
CD-35 CD/SACD Player including ANALOG PREAMP (optional extra STREAMER module availbale in Signature model). HIGH FIDELITY GOLD FINGERPRINT AWARD: "for the first time ever I decided to grant the...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary
AY 06 CD CD35SIG
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
The Ayon CD-35 establishes a new benchmark in SE-Triode vacuum-tube CD/SACDPlayer performance by combining a fully balanced PCM-DSD DAC.  The CD-35 is also prepared for computer playback and...
Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-...
The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical...
Summary

DACs

AY 07 DAC SIGMA
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
For ten years, the Austrian manufacturer Ayon Audio made its way into the world of high-end hi-fi through CD players, D / A converters, preamps and amplifiers popular audiophile tubes.   Today...
Full-featured Tube D/A converter Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended and...
DACs
AY 08 DAC STEAL
NZ$ 11,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
AYON STEALTH DAC/Preamplifier = "Long Term Satisfaction" - REVIEW SUMMARY: "In the pursuit of digital playback perfection, the Stealth ranks in the DAC elite. It’s all about the music and the...
Full-featured Tube D/A converter and Preamp - Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for...
EXTENDED REVIEW What’s in a model name? Well, sometimes not much at all when it’s merely an...
DACs
AY 09 DAC STRAT
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Design Ayon has established a new performance standard for digital products with high-gain “vacuum-tube output stage” in their class. The Ayon DACs and CD-Players are a remarkable union of...
Full-featured Tube D/A converter and Preamp Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single...
You said "cloud music"?What we call "Dematerialised Music", the Anglo-Saxons, more pragmatic, but...
DACs

Music / Media Network players, Streamers & Servers

AY 10 NW NWT DSD
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Music NW-T DSD now incorperates both PCM & DSD formats, it is a new outstanding design which includes a Network-Transport with its “tube buffered digital output stage” and an Analog/Digital...
Functionality User interface on QVGA 3.5” TFT displayInternet radio (vTuner)UPnP streaming from PC...
AY 10 NW S3 JUN
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Many of our clients have asked in the past for a more affordable Network-Player based on the famous S-3. The downgraded S-3 "junior" version is the answer and offers many design highlights from its...
A controller app under the app name "Ayon Audio" version 2.0.2 for Apple devices is available (...
AY 11 NW S3
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
All Ayon pre-amplifiers use single-ended Class-A circuitry and ultra-short signal paths. ‘The shorter the signal path, the less possibility of sonic degradation from various sources, including the...
A controller app under the app name "Ayon Audio" version 2.0.2 for Apple devices is available (...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Digital-to-analog converters have undergone rapid development in recent years and...
AY 12 NW S5
NZ$ 24,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Full-featured Network Music Player/DAC/Preamp  - Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended & balanced operation  Signal Path  
A controller app under the app name "Ayon Audio" version 2.0.2 for Apple devices is available (...
AY 13 NW S10 SIG
NZ$ 12,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio’s new S-10 Network Player combines a network player, computer playback, analogue preamp, DAC and PCM–DSD converter in a design that incorporates a valve output stage. The output stage is a...
Full-featured Network Music Player with DACClass-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended...

Integrated amplifiers

AY 15 AI SCORPIO
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio says its new Scorpio represents a dramatic rethinking of the economy-priced vacuum tube based integrated amplifier. ‘The Scorpio integrated amplifier combines neutrality, realistic...
Full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amplifierSwitchable between pentode and triode...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The Ayon Audio Scorpio is a heavy, Class A integrated amplifier made of high grade...
Integrated amplifiers
AY 16 AI SPIRIT
NZ$ 9,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
THE SHOW NEWPORT WINNER TAS EDITORS' CHOICE AWARD AYON AUDIO "BEST OF SHOW" WINNER AT RMAF - CES LAS VEGAS & SALON SON IMAGE SHOW MONTREAL CANADA!! NEWPORT SHOW CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK...
Full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amp or pure power amplifierSwitchable between...
Ayon Audio may not be a name you've heard before, but they are working hard to change that. The...
Integrated amplifiers
AY 17 AI TRI IA
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
POSITIVE FEEDBACK WRITERS CHOICE AWARD 2016THE SHOW NEWPORT WINNER TAS EDITORS' CHOICE AWARD AYON AUDIO "BEST OF SHOW" WINNER AT RMAF - CES LAS VEGAS & SALON SON IMAGE SHOW MONTREAL...
Full-featured balanced class-A vacuum tube Integrated and/or Power amplifier (switchable between)...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The first time I encountered the Ayon product line at an audio show, I had just...
Integrated amplifiers
AY 21 AI SPIT SE
NZ$ 14,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
NEW RELEASE NOVEMBER 2015: AYON SPITFIRE-SE 30w AA62B (300B) DHT (SE) SINGLE ENDED pure CLASS-A swithchable INTEGRATED / STEREO POWER AMP with (AFB) Auto Fixed Bias, using similar technologies of our...
Full-featured single-ended tube stereo integrated amp or pure power amplifier SE - pure Class-A...
Integrated amplifiers
AY 22 AI MERC
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Mercury II continues the evolution of the Mercury amplifier by once again offering dramatic improvements to its completely revised second-generation power supply and driver technology. ...
Full-featured single-ended Class-A tube stereo integrated amp or pure power amplifier SE - pure...
Integrated amplifiers
AY 23 AI CROSS
NZ$ 18,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
"After Saturday when we set up the new Ayon Crossfire 300B integrated I decided to look at using the Auralic Vega DAC again. What a difference - with the Crossfire installed there is now much more...
Full-featured single-ended tube stereo integrated amp or pure power amplifierSE - pure Class-A...
EXTENDED EVIEW: 've bemoaned the lack of originality in valve amps more than once in this august...
Integrated amplifiers

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

AY 19 AS TRI PA
NZ$ 16,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
THE SHOW NEWPORT WINNER TAS EDITORS' CHOICE AWARD AYON AUDIO "BEST OF SHOW" WINNER AT RMAF - CES LAS VEGAS & SALON SON IMAGE SHOW MONTREAL CANADA!! NEWPORT SHOW CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK...
Full-featured balanced class-A vacuum tube mono power amplifierSwitchable between pentode and...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The first time I encountered the Ayon product line at an audio show, I had just...
AY 20 AM ASCORP
NZ$ 6,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
NEW PRODUCT RELEASE - SCORPIO MONOS - “The entrance into real high-end mono vacuum tube amplification”. The Scorpio Mono represents a dramatic rethinking of economic vacuum tube based ...
Full-featured vacuum tube mono power amplifierSwitchable between pentode and triode mode Vacuum...
AY 20 AM EPSILON
NZ$ 27,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Single - Ended class A Triode Amplification   Ayon's state-of-the art triode vacuum tube amplifiers provide music lovers worldwide with an authentic listening experience in their home...
Full-featured true balanced vacuum tube mono power amplifier Switchable between pentode and triode...
AY 20 AM ORTHSX
NZ$ 41,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Granting Audiophiles around the globe, balance, clarity, perspective, dynamics, bloom, decay...The entire musical message for over 20 years.   Ayon Audio offers a complete line of high...
Full-featured true balanced vacuum tube mono power amplifier  Switch able between pentode and...
Weightlifting Round #1 – Ayon's KT150 Orthos XS. This review is the starting point for what you...
AY 23 AS CROSSPA
NZ$ 18,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Crossfire-PA Power Amplifier is a single-ended output stage of the exceptional nature. Equipped with the designed for audio applications Ayon-62B (300B) Triode it offers high performance without...
Full-featured Single-Ended class-A  tube Stereo Power amplifierSE - pure Class-A triode vacuum...
EXTENDED EVIEW: 've bemoaned the lack of originality in valve amps more than once in this august...
AY 40 AM CROSSMB
NZ$ 45,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
“One of the most superb sounding single-ended triode amplifier”. Best Of 2016 Blue Note Equipment Awards - Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO Monoblock Power Amplifier
Features & DesignFull-featured single-ended Class-A vacuum tube mono power amplifier PSE - pure...
EXTENDED REVIEW:  When we carried Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblock amplifier for review to...
AY 43 AM VULCAN
NZ$ 59,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
“One of the most superb sounding and powerful 300B single-ended triode amplifiers”. The gain stages for the Vulcan II amplifier have been optimized as well to provide for the shortest signal path and...
Full-featured single-ended Class-A vacuum tube mono power amplifier PSE - pure Class-A triode...
AY 44 AM TITAN
NZ$ 82,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
AYON TITAN - "State of the Art" The "Titan" will appeal to the most discerning music lovers offering absolute tonal neutrality, outstanding dynamics and magic soundstage. With explosively fast,...
Full-featured Single-Ended class-A vacuum tube Mono block Power amplifiersPSE - pure Class-A triode...
AY 45 AM TITANEV
NZ$ 104,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
TITAN EVO STATE-OF-ART, LTD EDITION The "Titan" will appeal to the most discerning music lovers offering absolute tonal neutrality, outstanding dynamics and magic soundstage. With explosively fast,...
Full-featured Parralell Single-Ended class-A vacuum tube Mono block Power amplifier PSE - pure...

Preamplifiers & Line-stages

AY 24 PA ERIS
NZ$ 9,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
"the Orbis (Eris) has all magic from a SE tube preamp with a bit warm in the midrange and its huge and holographic sound stage.”…..Reviewer: Melbguy 
Vacuum Tubeshe choice of signal and power tubes have a significant influence on the sound and hence...
Gerhard's (Ayon CEO) comments: Dear Terry,  Actually the Eris is the same as Orbis, the main...
AY 25 PA AUR RCA
NZ$ 10,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
After the success of the "smaller" Ayon preamplifiers many customers approached us wishing a modular and upgradeable concept. The new Auris is such a modular tube pre-amp design and is offered in...
Full-featured class A single-ended & true balanced triode vacuum tube stereo preamplifierPure...
EXTENDED REVIEWS:  Modular type of design distinguishes Auris from the rest of Ayon pre‐amps....
AY 25 PA AUR XLR
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
AYON AUDIO AWARDED "BEST SOUND" MUNICH HIGH END AUDIO SHOW 2015 !
Full-featured class A single-ended & true balanced triode vacuum tube stereo preamplifier Pure...
EXTENDED REVIEWS:  Modular type of design distinguishes Auris from the rest of Ayon pre‐amps....
AY 25 PA AURRCAP
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
UPGRADE MM/MC PHONO MODLE for AYON AURIS PREAMP - RCA Unbalanced model After the success of the "smaller" Ayon preamplifiers many customers approached us wishing a modular and upgradeable concept....
AY 25 PA AURRCAS
NZ$ 1,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
SIGNATURE UPGRADE MODULE for  RCA UNBALANCED model of AYON AURIS PREAMP After the success of the "smaller" Ayon preamplifiers many customers approached us wishing a modular and upgradeable...
AY 25 PA AURXLRP
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
UPGRADE MM/MC PHONO MODLE for AYON AURIS PREAMP - XLR balanced model After the success of the "smaller" Ayon preamplifiers many customers approached us wishing a modular and upgradeable concept. The...
AY 25 PA AURXLRS
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
SIGNATURE UPGRADE MODULE for XLR BALANCED version of  AYON AURIS PREAMP After the success of the "smaller" Ayon preamplifiers many customers approached us wishing a modular and upgradeable...
AY 27 PA POLARIS
NZ$ 32,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Absolute Sound (USA) – "The Editors’ Choice Awards" This full-function preamplifier’s highlights include outstanding three-dimensional imaging and endless layering coupled with no fatiguing...
2 Chassis full-featured Class A – triode/pentode vacuum-tube stereo preamplifier Unique new pure...
Extended review:  AYON POLARIS II (note - Since been updated to new POLARIS III)   
AY 28 PA POL PH
NZ$ 38,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
The Absolute Sound (USA) – "The Editors’ Choice Awards" This full-function preamplifier’s highlights include outstanding three-dimensional imaging and endless layering coupled with no fatiguing...
2 Chassis full-featured Class A – triode/pentode vacuum-tube stereo preamplifier Unique new pure...
AY 29 PA SPHERIS
NZ$ 54,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
"Only the Mark Levinson No52 preamp came close (among linestages I reviewed). and on top of that Ayon Sphreis-III offered also this immense richness of the sound that Levinson couldn't quite match....
2 Chassis full-featured Class A – triode/pentode single-ended & true balanced vacuum- tube...
EXTENDED REVIEW: My memories from (I think) the first edition of High End Show in Munich (after it...

Phono Stages

AY 30 PS SPHERIS
NZ$ 45,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
"State of the art"
2 Chassis full-featured Class A – triode single-ended & balanced vacuum- tube stereo phono-...
Phono Stages

Audio Tubes/Valves

AY 47 KT150
NZ$ 195.01 ea (incl. GST)
New from Tung-Sol! You want more power? The Tungsol KT150 tube is quite possibly the answer. This beast is rated for 70W plate dissipation! That's 10W more than the already impressive Tung-Sol KT120...
Audio Tubes/Valves
AY 48 AA62BS
NZ$ 1,395.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon tube testing process Every power and signal tube is visually examined and tested by our own special custom made tube testing machine with burn in feature and add on the industry's most advanced...
Audio Tubes/Valves

Floor Standing

AY 50 SF BEYE
NZ$ 14,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Ayon Loudspeakers DesignAyon loudspeakers are designed to provide open, dynamic, lifelike sound, powerful bass, highly detailed ambient retrieval and tonal neutrality. Combining high efficiency,...
Superior transient characteristicsFlat impedance curveEasy to drive especially for tube ampsFlat...
Floor Standing
AY 51 SF BARROW
NZ$ 19,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Ayon Loudspeakers DesignAyon loudspeakers are designed to provide open, dynamic, lifelike sound, powerful bass, highly detailed ambient retrieval and tonal neutrality. Combining high efficiency,...
Superior transient characteristicsFlat impedance curveEasy to drive especially for tube ampsFlat...
Floor Standing
AY 52 SF BHAWK
NZ$ 29,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
AYON AUDIO BLACKHAWK models have been AWARD WINNING 7 YEARS RUNNING - now a totally NEW model is launched: Ayon Loudspeakers DesignAyon loudspeakers are designed to provide open, dynamic, lifelike...
An absolutely new star on the loudspeaker firmament!Superior transient characteristicsFlat...
Floor Standing
AY 54 SF BFIRE
NZ$ 59,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
Ayon Loudspeakers DesignAyon loudspeakers are designed to provide open, dynamic, lifelike sound, powerful bass, highly detailed ambient retrieval and tonal neutrality. Combining high efficiency,...
Superior transient characteristicsFlat impedance curveEasy to drive especially for tube ampsFlat...
Floor Standing

Reviews

This is one of the best sounding CD players you can buy.
Alan Sircom

This is clearly a valve amplifier manufacturer making what it considers to be the best way of making a CD player – essentially an excellent valve amp with good digital bits, rather than the other way round. 

This is instead one of the best sounding CD players you can buy. In fact, it’s so good, it makes you question the need to rip all those discs to a computer, when they sound this good. In 2013, audiophile CD replay needs a champion to fight for the cause. In the Ayon Audio CD-3s, I think we’ve found it.

Ayon Audio is an Austrian electronics brand with three distinct attributes. First, the products are built to a level of fit and finish that is rare even among big ticket audio (our sister title, The Absolute Sound, dubbed the brand ‘The Bugatti of Audio’… and not without justification). Second, it’s a company driven by thermionics and the output stage of the CD-3s features both tube regulation and a brace of 6H30s a side and finally the player goes for the minimalist, short signal path, no-feedback concepts common to valve amplifier designers
 
Let’s spend a little more time on the fit and finish. It’s astoundingly good. It makes for a big and heavy player, but the none-more black deep anodised finish, the rounded edges and solid construction inside and out should be considered a standard by which high-end devices should be measured. OK, so if we are talking internal architecture, it lacks the regimented cable trunking of a Naim amplifier, but otherwise this is unashamedly high-end in look and build.
 
The CD sits in a silo on top of the player with something that looks like a deluxe semi-opaque cookie jar lid holding it in place. Fellow Austrians Stream Unlimited (as the name suggests, the company is better known for its streaming products) make this distinctive transport mechanism. In front of this are the seven control buttons that drive the deck and the red display cut into the thick front panel make for an entertaining, but functional, ergonomic. Entertaining in this sense is not said with cynicism; you will be a little enthralled by the disc spinning beneath the dark acrylic cover.
 
The four vents in the top plate (and two cut into the side) are proof that we’re in the presence of tubular digits, because the Ayon features two 6H30 triodes running parallel single-ended per side, and these are fed from a power supply sporting a quartet of 6Z4s as rectification. And that should give any bottlehead worth his or her salt pause; there are valve preamplifiers that don’t go as deep, and select solid-state rectification in place of those extra 6Z4s.
 
Part of the reason for that might be because it is pretty much a CD player with a preamp built in. You can switch the CD-3s to fixed volume, but it also has a volume control (not bit-reduction, it’s in the line stage) and there’s both two analogue inputs (and one tape out) and a comprehensive set of digital inputs (including Asynchronous USB, AES/EBU and even I2S) that you can hook to the CD-3s if you are wanting to go pre-free. A quartet of toggle-switches on the back panel switch between fixed and variable output, as well as absolute phase, a +6dB gain pad and the choice of balanced or single-ended output. As a mark of how damn seriously the company takes its audiophile credentials, there’s even a push-button to invert power phase. Naturally, that also means some very high-grade components on those individually isolated, industrial grade PCBs.
 
This is clearly a valve amplifier manufacturer making what it considers to be the best way of making a CD player – essentially an excellent valve amp with good digital bits, rather than the other way round. The Burr-Brown based, 24/192 digital part is extremely well handled, both in terms of CD and USB and the conversion thereof, but the bit that turns this from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ really starts where the digits end. Curiously though, the knee-jerk (valves - warm sounding) trope doesn’t apply here. What does seem to apply is their application of valve amp concepts to the analogue side of the digital domain works, and works well.
 
Ayon recommends a 50+ hour break-in period (which seems sensible, as it will take time for the tubes to bed in if new) and anywhere between 5,000-6,000 hours between retubes. It also suggests if you turn the player off for any reason (the button is on the underside of the player) wait 30 seconds before turning it on again. To that end, there’s also a soft-start circuit to prevent any thermal shock potentially shortening the lives of the valves.
 
The CD-3s is a player of considerable grace and poise. Music seems to flow effortless from the Ayon player, whether that music is from the Golden Age of 1950s classical brilliance (there are so many gems on those two Mercury Living Presence boxes, it’s hard to begin, but Menuhin playing Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto is an obvious start) or Daft Punk’s disco aspirations from earlier this year, the results are the same – a sense of musical understanding in the listener, developed out of that sense of communication and flow. We all listen to our music in slightly different ways. Some listen out for a big, impressive and three dimensional soundstage – those people will praise the CD-3s for delivering exactly that. Others go for resolution – and they will also think the CD-3s has great prowess in detail retrieval. Those who look to dynamic range in CD player selection will find there is much to praise here. Then there are the rhythm kings, who will also find the player hard to beat at the beat. 
 
Despite being a failed guitarist, I’m often drawn to a well-turned lyric and good vocal articulation is often my ‘thing’, and I found Laura Marling’s gamine Joni Mitchell-esque voice beautifully expressive and clear, standing proud of the background perfectly. The same applied when playing the CD-3s with some well-worn Dylan tracks (anything that adds to my enjoyment of Hurricane from the Desire album wins in my opinion, and the Ayon did just that, making his Bobness’ drawl-diction that bit more understandable; not changed, not laid bare, just more communicative and more articulate). What applies to the CD side, applies just as much to computer audio. The player comes with drivers for Windows PCs (up to and including Windows 8) and Mac users get USB 2.0 out of the box. I’m not sure if this is the perfect transition product from CD to computer audio, because you will always be drawn back to CD, but if you decide the computer is just another source for acquiring high-res or music unavailable on any other format, the CD-3s will spend a lot of time on your shelf
 
Criticisms are mild, and more accurately ‘observations’. I’m not completely convinced by the CD-3s as preamp proper. The line inputs are good, but can be bettered elsewhere by a good line-stage in terms of stereo separation and detail resolution. Perhaps more importantly, ergonomically this doesn’t work as well as a dedicated set of knobs and dials to do the job. Also, the overall tone of the player is possibly going to be less attractive to those who think CD should be all about leading edges and high-frequency energy. That will endear the Ayon CD-3s to those who find a lot of current digital ‘hard-edged’ however. Finally, some may find the low-level settings too low and the highlevel settings too high, especially on single-ended systems, where 5V could be into overload with some preamps. This isn’t a deadly sin, because there’s always the possibility of using the variable setting and turning the volume down slightly.
 
Finally, a seemingly pointless test actually divulged some interesting findings. I hooked my trusty-but-rusty discontinued Lyngdorf CD1 through AES/EBU, essentially to compare transport mechanisms. The CD1 itself is (was?) a fine CD transport in its own right, but the Ayon had the measure of it. OK, the differences in performance were mild at best, but I did detect a slightly more refined and smoother sound from the Ayon.The British often suspect beauty is only skin deep and beneath every lovely exterior, something dull and prosaic lives under the hood. This is not that kind of device. This is instead one of the best sounding CD players you can buy. In fact, it’s so good, it makes you question the need to rip all those discs to a computer, when they sound this good. In 2013, audiophile CD replay needs a champion to fight for the cause. In the Ayon Audio CD-3s, I think we’ve found it.
I am seriously considering buying the Orion review unit. If you can find a higher level of performance—not to mention a higher level of build and finish-at anywhere near this price please let me know.
Tom Campbell

The Orion gives you a lot of everything, but the extra dollars, assuming they're well-spent, can give you more of everything: deeper, blacker backgrounds, a bigger sonic picture, more speed, more detail, more tonal exactitude. The very best amps remove the floors and ceilings from the sound, allowing you to hear as much as possible of the musical performance and as little as possible of the electronic medium. The Orion is not quite in this league, but it gets you an almost shockingly long way there for relatively short money. It is by far the best amp I've heard in this price range, 

Two years ago, I reviewed Ayon Audio's all-tube Spirit integrated amplifier and came away highly impressed by this offering from the Austria-based company that was just then getting its feet wet in the American market. Since then, Ayon has done pretty well for itself, racking up a number of "best of show" awards at industry events in the U.S. and garnering lots of positive press both here and in Europe. 
 
Unlike most high-end audio companies these days that tend to specialize in one particular product category, Ayon offers a full line of components including CD players, a DAC, and 11 different loudspeaker models. But it is tube amplification for which they are best-known—in all, the company offers six different integrated amps, five power amps and three preamps, all of which share common characteristics: purist design, high-quality parts and tank-like build quality. 
 
In my review of the Spirit I compared the amp to my solid-state reference integrated, the Coda Unison. Here is the "bottom line" excerpt:  
 
While I would score the Unison and Spirit very similarly on an absolute scale—the solid-state Unison is better in some areas, the Spirit in others—the ways in which the Spirit is superior are the most important ones for me in terms of musical enjoyment.
 
The Unison creates a larger and more enveloping sound stage, is slightly more transparent and detailed, and fixes individual musicians to a more precise point on the stage. It also delivers deeper and better-defined bass to my Harbeths. But the Spirit really—and I mean really—distinguishes itself in terms of tone, depth, and micro-dynamics.  Instruments just had a palpable presence and dimensionality... (T)he subtle nuances of performance, the small-scale dynamic gradations that make music-making a living, breathing entity, were extraordinary.
 
I ended up concluding that "All things considered, this is the best amplifier I've had in my system." High praise indeed, at that time encompassing close to twenty different amps I'd heard in my home during my fifteen-or-so years as an audiophile and eight-or-so years as a reviewer. My rating the Spirit as a personal "best" is not the same of course as, say, Michael Fremer—who has reviewed hundreds of components over the years, including the highest of the high end—doing the same. But the Spirit was right in the sweet spot of my experience—generally speaking, amps between $2K and $6K—and it was the best of the lot to that point. ;
 
The original Spirit has since been superseded in Ayon's line by the Spirit II, an update the company claims is in fact a substantial re-design. The Spirit II has new circuit boards, a significantly improved preamp section (with four tubes versus the previous three), and new features including an additional line input and a "pre out" line for direct-to-source power operation. The Orion, reviewed here, is a new model but looks very similar to the original Spirit with cost-reduced cosmetics: the huge transformer towers are no longer chrome-plated—instead, they're covered with a black, non-resonant compound material—and the back-lit Ayon logo on the front panel has been dispensed with in favor of an engraved, painted logo. Whatever internal differences there may be between versions one and two, it is clear that these small concessions to external style yield significant savings: the original Spirit's price was $4000 while the Orion retails for $2,800 (prices vary slightly by dealer). That's a lot of money, and in all honesty I may just prefer the more understated look of the black transformers over the somewhat over-the-top (and environment-unfriendly) chrome jobs. 
 
The Orion has replaced the Spirit as Ayon's entry-level integrated—but make no mistake, every inch of the new model still exudes the exceptional craft and class that all of the company's offerings do. First off, and like the Spirit, the Orion is a beast: the manual specs it at 62 pounds (28 kilograms) but it arrived in a 95-pound package so the amp has got to be closer to 80 pounds. Said package was in itself remarkable: I've received audio products that were double-boxed or even triple-boxed, but the Orion is the first to be quintuple-boxed. The last two of those five boxes are reinforced with molded Styrofoam, and when you finally get down to the amp it is regally draped in a soft red velvet bag. Pure showmanship, perhaps, but a nice touch that is indicative of Ayon's general approach to things. 
 
 
 
The Orion is entirely hand-assembled with high-quality parts and a high level of finish throughout. Given Ayon's purist ethic, there is not much in the way of bells and whistles—no balance control, no mono button, etc. But there is a matching black-aluminum remote control (volume and muting only); in an acknowledgement of the fast-growing popularity of PC-based audio, there is a USB input to go along with the 3 line inputs; and there is a (quite good) headphone jack on the front panel. The USB and headphone accommodations are both strong selling points and, interestingly, are exclusive to the Orion; none of Ayon's others models have them.   
 
The Orion is equipped with (reissue) Gold Lion tubes: four KT88s (generally $50 to $70 apiece from online retailers) for the power section and three 12AU7s for the preamp section. The tubes are pre-tested and matched, and each tube box is marked with the socket into which that particular tube should be placed on the amp. (Like most amplifier design companies, Ayon does not encourage "tube-rolling.") Upon initial installation and periodically thereafter, the tubes must be manually biased via pots on the back panel, so you'll need to stop by the Rat Shack and drop twenty bucks or so for a bias gauge if you don't already have one. The amp is switchable between pentode (push-pull) and triode (single-ended) operation, producing 50 watts per channel in pentode and 30 in triode.  
 
When connecting your speaker cables to the amp, you will need to choose between connectors for 4-ohm or 8-ohm impedances. I tested the Orion with two pairs of speakers, and my old Harbeth Compact 7 stand-mounts were suited to the 8-ohm taps and my new Reynaud Orfeo floorstanders to the 4-ohm taps. I tried both speakers both ways and the qualitative differences between the "right" and "wrong" taps were obvious for each speaker, so this is something you want to be sure to get right.  
 
I began the auditioning process with some apprehension—as mentioned, apart from the cosmetic differences the Orion was a near-dead ringer for the Spirit I had already reviewed. So I wasn't really sure if I'd have much to say about this one, and I feared it might simply be a less-good version of the Spirit. 
 
But Ayon, for its part, claims the Orion represents a "dramatic rethinking of vacuum tube based integrated amplifier design"—and while that may sound like empty catalog copy, it appears they are not kidding. Because, as it turns out, the Orion whips the original Spirit's butt pretty decisively. In short, it does everything that the first Spirit did well while adding better top-end extension and dramatically better bass performance. 
 
My review of the Spirit praised that amp's many virtues but conceded that my solid-state reference "deliver(ed) deeper and better-defined bass." The Orion turned that conclusion completely around, extracting notably deeper, firmer and more supple bass than the Coda Unison from both my Reynauds and Harbeths. Ayon seems to know exactly what they've achieved here, as they included in the review package a sample CD with bass-heavy tracks from Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Leonard Cohen and numerous modern jazz and blues performers. These tracks (and everything else) sounded slammin' through the Orion and Reynaud Orfeo combination—I feared that the Orion would not have enough juice for the big Reynauds, but the two got along wonderfully well (at least in higher-powered pentode mode; more on this in a bit).  
 
As of late, I've been listening to a lot of the Blue Note and Impulse 45 RPM vinyl reissues from the Music Matters and Analogue Productions labels; the re-mastering team of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray have coaxed the clearest, most dynamic, most organic sound from these fifty-or-so-year-old tapes that they've ever had. Perhaps best of all, they've found the warm, deep, natural-sounding bass that was in the original recordings but which had never been properly portrayed before. Rudy Van Gelder's original LP pressings are a little bright and his own CD re-masterings extremely so; the CDs, in particular, often have little or no deep bass at all. But the Hoffman/Gray masters are just fabulous. Via these LPs, the Orion did a tremendous job of conveying the artistry of great stand-up bassists like Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers and Richard Davis—the sound was clean and powerful, with excellent portrayal of attack, transients and decay. 
 
That last fact would not be possible if the Orion did not have its act together at the top end of the range, too. And so it does. The improvement here is more subtle, but the Orion had a bit more sparkle and air than my memory of the Spirit from 2008. It is not the last word in top-end extension, but neither is it at all the soft or dull sound that some people associate with tubes. Funnily enough, I've noticed in recent years that as tube designs have become better and more resolving than ever, a lot of solid-state amps have gone the other way: in order to avoid transistors' often lean, harsh sound, many designers have begun engineering a syrupy coloration into the treble area. It is an odd, artificial effect that I immediately notice and strongly dislike. 
 
The Orion's treble, on the other hand, is smooth and natural-sounding and plenty extended enough to boogie with rock or r&b or make you jump in your seat during, say, a Mahler symphony. There is a hint of darkness at the very top, but in general the amp is detailed, dynamic and very balanced across its range. (For what it's worth, the Ayon website has one of the most lucid explanations you will find of why tubes, in theory, tend to sound more pleasing, more pure and fluid than transistors, and it has nothing to do with "euphony.") The terrific soundtrack to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is a great test disc, with subterranean bass, piercing highs and striking stereo effects. The Orion captured both the low bass of Angelo Badalamenti's "Mr. Roque" and the slashing treble effects of Lynch's own "Go Get Some" with equal facility. It's a great top-to-bottom performer. 
 
One small caveat: the vast majority of my listening was done with the amp in pentode operation. Pentode's 50 watts (almost certainly a conservative spec) drove the Harbeths and even the big Reynaud Orfeos with impressive authority, but triode's 30 watts couldn't quite cut it with either: the tonal purity and silent backgrounds so beloved of singled-ended fans were impressive, but soundstage width was significantly shrunken and the sound lacked drive and dynamics. As one would expect, the stand-mount Harbeths fared better, especially with smaller-scale music—the Takacs Quartet's amazing recording of Schubert's "Rosamunde" and "Death and the Maiden" quartets (on Hyperion CD) was eerily present and tonally spot-on. But overall, the trade-offs between positive and negative were too significant with the speakers I happened to have on hand; the difference between 30 and 50 watts seemed to be the difference between not-enough and just-enough. So consider it a limitation of my review and not of the amp itself —I suspect that partnered with appropriately efficient speakers, the Orion's triode performance is superb. 
 
Apart from that caveat—which is a failure on my part, not Ayon's – I've found little to fault with the Ayon Orion so far. So what is it that you don't get for the price of $2800? Well, obviously you don't get all the refinement that much more expensive amps can offer. The Orion gives you a lot of everything, but the extra dollars, assuming they're well-spent, can give you more of everything: deeper, blacker backgrounds, a bigger sonic picture, more speed, more detail, more tonal exactitude. The very best amps remove the floors and ceilings from the sound, allowing you to hear as much as possible of the musical performance and as little as possible of the electronic medium. The Orion is not quite in this league, but it gets you an almost shockingly long way there for relatively short money. It is by far the best amp I've heard in this price range, and second only to the FtTH (at a retail of US$5,600) as the best I've had in my system, period. 
 
The FtTH is a more refined performer than the Orion. It has a large outboard power supply that helps give it a lower noise floor and a bigger sound. It has a great sense of air and superb treble extension while giving nothing up in sweetness. Of course, it is also twice as expensive as the Orion—a fact which puts the Orion's fairly close second-place performance in perspective. 
 
Outraged letters to the editor concerning the price of high-end components are a staple of audiophile magazines, both printed and online. In recent years, however, the outcries have become ever-more frequent and pitched, as readers' hackles have been raised by five-figure phonostages and six-figure turntables and speakers. The proliferation of the ultra-high end doesn't happen to bother me—it's mainly a product of more people (albeit still a tiny percentage of the overall population) having a great deal more disposable income than they ever did twenty or thirty years ago. In the past, most audio companies never could have created viable products of such expensive designs; simply put, now they can, and they are following the money. 
 
What often gets short shrift in this discussion is how much the lower end of the high end has benefited from the R&D investment in these super-products. In the past year I've heard any number of $1K to $3K speakers and amps that are far superior to most anything you could have bought at the same price five to ten years ago—not even accounting for inflation. So while some think that the industry is pricing itself out of the range of the average music lover, I feel truly excellent performance is more accessible than ever before. 
 
The Ayon Orion is a case in point. In my experience, it is miles better than what would have been considered state of the art at its price—or substantially above it—ten years ago. It beats Ayon's own Spirit amplifier from just a couple of years ago, which retailed for US$1,200 more than the Orion does (though I am sure that the new Spirit II, at the same price as the original, carries forward the advances of the Orion and then some). If you can find a higher level of performance—not to mention a higher level of build and finish—at anywhere near this price please let me know. 
 
As I was finishing up this review, I saw that my PFO colleague Gary Lea has just published a review of Ayon's top-of-the-line integrated, the Triton. I am pleased to see that he is in concordance with my assessment of Ayon's remarkable combination of performance and value; and I hope that the dual reviews of the top and bottom of the company's line will prove instructive to readers. 
 
As for myself, I am seriously considering buying the Orion review unit—though I can't help but be curious as to what Ayon's design developments have wrought with the Spirit II. I have a feeling, though, that it's a can't-lose proposition either way. ........Tom Campbell
The Orion II is a very solid, well made and versatile amplifier with very stable tube operation.
High Fidelity

the Orion II sounds in a very well mannered, slightly warm way (note – the whole description is about the ‘T’ mode, in which – in my opinion – the amplifier sounds best). The bass is low and strong, not only on acoustic material, but also with electronics like Depeche Mode or Brian Eno. But, like I said, most important is the depth of the sound. The whole is coherent and works well together – nothing is favored at the cost of anything else. 

The amplifier Orion II is an integrated amplifier with the amplifying circuits based on tubes with solid state power supply. Orion II, as indicated by its name, replaces the model Orion. On first sight changes are not substantial – changed knobs, different lettering, additional input “Direct”, etc. The output power did not change – it is still 2x30W in triode mode and 2x50W in pentode mode. The weight was increased by 1kg.
But when we look closer, it turns out, that beside the external design – and the amplifier looks better now – the second version has the innovative bias regulation circuitry, the key element of the newest “revolution” of Ayon. During first calibration or after exchanging the tubes you have to set it manually, but then it adjusts the appropriate parameters of each tube automatically, counteracting its aging and improving its matching. The company pays special attention to the power supply – and that for a good reason. The tubes are protected by a soft start and soft switch off sequence – this is a combination of starting and stopping of the heating and anode voltages in a regulated way.
And finally the tubes themselves. In the previous generation of KT88 amplifiers Ayon used Genalex Golden Lion tubes. However it turned out, that they are faulty, after measurements most of them had to be trashed. So Gerhard Hirt, the owner of Ayon decided to exchange them for the anniversary edition of the Shuguang Black Treasure tubes (50th anniversary!). I heard them and I think, that those are among the best KT88 tubes on the market! In the Orion, which was a scaled down version of the Spirit by design, cheaper tubes had to be used – those were the KT88 EH Electro-Harmonix. Those were good tubes, and there were no problems with them. But Gerhard is a man, who keeps on searching and researching, so together with one of the tube manufacturers (at the time I wrote this text I did not know which one) he prepared his own version of the tube called KT-88s and those were installed in the version II.
I divided the listening sessions into a few distinct parts. I thought, that the way the unit works using line inputs is most important, in both modes ‘T’ and ‘P’. Second important was how it works as an integrated amplifier and finally I listened to the Ayon using the direct to power amplifier input, connecting it to my CD player Ancient Audio Air, which has an integrated preamplifier, and the DAC Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2, which is using a digital volume control. It is worth mentioning, that the latter is so interesting, so consistent in what it does, that it stays in the test system as a reference for the up to 2000USD price range.
 
Line input – “pentode” and “triode” modes
Listening to the Orion II we can easily forget, that this is the cheapest amplifier in the company portfolio. I had similar thought when testing the player CD-07s, which – similar to the Orion II – opens the catalog of digital players. To not fall into any extremes. It is just about the fact, that it has its sound tuned in such a way, that its assets are brought to the light, while pushing the – inevitable – weaker elements into the shadow.
The most important aspect of that sound, around which all the others are placed, is for me the depth of the sound. This is something found more or less alongside other things, described in various ways, but also difficult to define unanimously. 
Listening to a high class stereo we notice timbre in a natural way, I mean how treble and midrange sound, how is the reproduction of detail, sound stage, etc. But for me one of the most important discriminators of good sound is something, that can be called depth or saturation – depending on what aspects are key for us. This can be heard best in direct comparison with a weaker, cheaper product, which sounds, almost always, thin, as if something would have been taken away from its sound. It may seem that there is exactly as much bass as needed, that not much changed in the tonal balance, but something disappears from the sound, something that makes it obsolete to talk about the sub-ranges – there is no “depth”. The Orion II shows very nicely what this all is about, and maybe this is the reason, that it can be mistaken for a more expensive amplifier than it really is. 
 
But this element is related to the mode the output tubes are working in. Although I wrote about that already, I will repeat it one more time: in almost all Ayon first generation amplifiers I chose the “pentode” mode, as the one resulting in a more resolved, vivid and better defined sound. The “triode” mode seemed to me as too compromised, too muffled for its nicer, darker timbre to stand in for that. In the new amplifiers, with the automatic bias circuitry, with new tubes, etc it is exactly the opposite – the “triode” mode is THE right one.
I verified this with many discs and got the same answer every time: in the ‘P’ mode the timbre went up, the saturation got lost and the upper midrange dominated too much. It was important, that the element that was not to overestimate before, meaning the much better control of the speakers in this mode, better bass, better speed, etc, did not define anything now. The differences in that aspect between the two modes were not that unanimous anymore, and in blind listening I would say, that everything is better defined in the ‘triode’ mode, and that the bass reaches also lower. Not even mentioning the midrange, especially in its upper part. The listening session of the amplifier was preceded by an evening with the new disc of Madeleine Peyroux Standing On The Rooftop, which just arrived from Japan. I listened to it with my headphones, Sennheiser HD800 and my modified Leben CS-300 X [Custom Version]. The sound of that disc seemed to me to be incredibly warm and dark – exactly the same as in her previous recordings. However within the whole there was also place for depth and detail, although the vocal was always in the first place. This is also how the Ayon presented it – in the ‘T’ mode. 
In‘triode’. The sound was softer, more saturated and – and that was really surprising – it had better bass. Never, with no loudspeakers (at reasonable sound levels of course) I did not hear lack of power. Slight compression of the whole was only with dynamic recordings like The Planets, but player from Master Flash 24/96. It was not an unpleasant event – everything just got slightly flatter. But when I turned back the volume everything got back to normal, and it was still loud. This rather a problem of listening at home and of the futile attempts of recreating dynamics and scale of a real event with small loudspeakers (yes, even the Ayon Transcendent and Ayon GurFalcon are in fact small), and not of the amplifier itself. It is just when pursuing an unobtainable goal we destroy something more important in the process – the communicativeness of the sound. 
 
And in fact the Orion II sounds in a very well mannered, slightly warm way (note – the whole description is about the ‘T’ mode, in which – in my opinion – the amplifier sounds best). The bass is low and strong, not only on acoustic material, but also with electronics like Depeche Mode or Brian Eno. But, like I said, most important is the depth of the sound. The whole is coherent and works well together – nothing is favored at the cost of anything else. 
 
The sound is not as resolved as with the more expensive Ayon, even in the ‘P’ mode. This is the only element that was better in that mode. But I think, that this can be sacrificed easily on the altar of the greater good, being the sound. And this is at the same time gentle and determined. The dynamics is quite high and you cannot hear any power restrictions. The treble is not as vivid and natural as from better amplifiers, but – again – this is for “searchers”. Listening at home, with loudspeakers from a similar price range, this should not be a problem.
 
 
Direct input
Do you remember what I wrote about high-end? If you want to verify with your own ears the element I was talking about, then please connect the Orion II to a high class player with a variable output and switch between the line and “Direct” inputs. The amplifier working as a standard integrated amp is very nice – dynamic, with a great timbre, etc. But you can hear, that it is not a very expensive unit, especially due to the not so worked out shapes of the virtual sources and not so high resolution. 
 
Summary
The Orion II, compared to its predecessor, has a much better controlled, deeper and naturally matte sound. I am talking about the ‘triode’ mode.  And this is a big change compared to the previous version – now the ‘T’ mode is strong, dynamic and resolved enough to be able to consume the beautiful timbre coming with it, not having to think about the characteristics I just mentioned.
The Orion II just sounds very well. Depriving it from high quality sockets, chrome plated elements does not influence the sound, and aesthetically – again, in my opinion – has a positive effect. The external design is much nicer, due to nice lettering and beautiful, knurled knobs. 
The Orion II is a very solid, well made and versatile amplifier with very stable tube operation. We can improve it even further by exchanging the tubes (as usual), but also connecting it to an external preamplifier or a good CD player (or DAC) or a phonostage to the ‘direct’ input. This results in the foretaste of the high-end, with its matte, but nicely selective sound. This is a very well made construction with an own character, but nicely masked by a few elements like depth of sound and high dynamics. 
 
DESCRIPTION
 
Front
The Ayon Orion II is a classic integrated amplifier only equipped with an USB DAC. Its external design is characteristic for the new generation of devices coming from this manufacturer. This is a massive, incredibly rigid cabinet made from aluminum elements bolted together. In the front we have two, beautiful, knurled knobs – one for controlling the volume, the other for changing inputs. Between them, there is a milled, red lit logo, blinking during the warm-up and power down sequence. The on-off switch is mechanical and located on the bottom, near the left side of the enclosure. Next to the input selector knob there are red LEDs for the inputs – three for the line inputs, one USB and one for direct input, which bypasses the preamplifier section. There are two more LEDs – “Mute” and “Triode”. The last one indicates the mode selected by a knob on the top plate of the amplifier – “Triode” or “Pentode”. The first one is in fact a tetrode mode – Ayon uses the KT88 tubes. All lettering, also on the back plate, is deeply engraved and then varnished white. It will last forever…
 
Back
On the back plate we’ll find three pairs of RCA line inputs, and USB type B one (rectangular), preamplifier output and the “Direct” input. The sockets are nice, but nothing extraordinary. Also the loudspeaker terminals – separate for 4 and 8Ω - are reasonable, but standard, gold plated sockets made in China. The USB input is limited to 16 bits and 48 kHz. Next there is a button and diodes used to set the bias, a mechanical power switch and a control light for correct connection of the power cable. When the cable is connected properly, the control light should be off.
 
Top and bottom
In tube amplifiers with a similar construction, there is a lot to write about in this context. The Orion II has a classic setup for today’s tube amplifiers, I mean that the output tubes are to the sides – here the KT88 with Ayon logo. According to Gerhard Hirt those are Chinese tubes, made as a joint venture with Ayon by the company Shuguang. They are preparing a big change, because shortly all other Ayon amplifiers will be equipped with an improved version of the KT-88Z Black Treasure tube from Shuguang – those will be the KT-88sx tubes, also manufactured in a joint-venture.
In the middle there is the input tube and the control tubes – those are all double triodes 12AU7/ECC82 EH from Electro-Harmonix and behind them there are the cans with the transformers inside. The transformers are wound by Ayon and are soaked with a special material, that has two purposes – it damps vibration and shields from RF and EMI radiation, while at the same time allows for good cooling. Between the tubes there is a switch for setting the working mode of the output tubes. 
The bottom plate is very solid – usually companies tend to make savings there. Here it is thick and rigid, although it is full of venting holes. The device is supported on four feet made from rubber and aluminum – Ayon tells those are anti-vibration feet. Next to one of them, there is the second power switch.
All mechanical elements were made in the Ayon factory (Ayon Audio Ltd.) in Hong Kong, including the metal remote controller. It can only be used to control the volume of the Orion II. 
 
Inside
The circuits inside are divided among many PCBs connected together with lots of cables. The traces on the PCBs are thick and gold plated. A change compared to the previous generation of Ayon amplifiers is the way the cables are interconnected – they are not soldered anymore, but connected together with big, gold plated pins. The circuit is rather simple – much more complicated is the supportive circuitry, like the auto-bias one. In the sound path precision, high power resistors were used, and polypropylene capacitors couple the stages together. Unfortunately they have no markings on them. The same kind of capacitors is used to couple the USB input. The latter uses and old Burr-Brown chip PCM2704, which limits the signals to 16 bits and 48 kHz. Also the DAC included in that chip was used here – so I would treat that input as a auxiliary one. The inputs are keyed with relays. From the inputs the signal flows to the black Alps potentiometer at the fascia. The cables are different to the ones used previously, but again, there are no markings on them. We only know that those are made from copper and isolated with Teflon.
The power supply is nice, but it supplies (anode voltage) both channels at the same time – using a discrete rectifying bridge, eight capacitors 220µF each and a choke. The heating voltage has a separate rectifier bridge and capacitors. The auxiliary circuits are also powered separately.
 
The ground is consistently conducted in a star configuration – the cables from all the PCBs run to one point. The company writes that the amplifier has no feedback loops – neither global nor local.
CD-07 is NOT to be missed! .
Gary Lea

the CD-07 delivered vibrant clarity and a level of energy that I would classify as sizzling without the accompanying harshness or edginess. Chalk that up to the tube output stage leveling out the digital shrill. 

As someone with a dedicate iPod deck and DAC the idea of doing away with two additional pieces of equipment and associated cabling, not to mention the cost the CD07 is a very attractive proposition.

The CD-07 is the obvious alternative to a standard CD player. I really hate to see this one go. As a reviewer, the ease and availability of CD, true digital and analogue sources with the fewest boxes to mess with, well… it will be sorely missed. For someone in the market for a new CD player with a sweet sound, ease of use and super flexibility, the CD-07 is NOT to be missed! .

This is the third installment of a review for Charlie Harrison's Ayon USA. The first installment was the fabulous Triton tube integrated amp. The second part was the Legacy subwoofer and this now completes the triumvirate!
 
The Ayon CD-07 is rather similar to the CD 2 I reviewed a year ago for another publication as part of a review of the Ayon Typhon mono-block amps and the Polaris two chassis preamp. That is the stuff that audio dreams are made of. In living with the CD 2 I will say that in summary it is a very finely built and extremely well performing unit that performs almost as well as many $20,000 uber decks. It provided easy operation, refinement of sound and a build quality that I have not see surpassed at ANY price level! The CD 2 was a real pleasure to live with and so has the CD-07 been with the added benefit of an iPod dock integrated into the CD player and controlled by the universal Ayon remote. 
 
According to Ayon the CD-07 is a dramatic rethinking of conventional based tube CD-Player industrial designs and represents an absolutely new standard in its price category. It was created to embody in a more affordable CD-Player, all the know-how and expertise acquired developing reference products.
 
This CD-Player now incorporates many advanced technologies, aspects and superior aesthetic from Ayon's upper end CD-Player line (I am not sure there is an upper and lower end just differing price points for differing features). The CD-07 provides exquisite musicality with transparency, dynamic, air, harmonics and resolution.
 
The CD-07 is 19 x 13 x 4.5 inches and weighs in at 30lbs. This is a full featured top loading CD-Player with a real class A triode vacuum tube output stage employing two 5687 triode tubes. It is driven by a Burr Brown D/A converter at an up-sampling rate of 192kHz/24 bit. Great pains have been taken to be sure that the shortest possible signal path is used in this unit as well as all other Ayon products. The unit employs a Phillips transport system. This unit is manufactured by the Austrian company Stream Unlimited. This is the same unit used in the CD2.
 
A few other noteworthy features are:
Separate voltage regulators 
Warm up function – extends tube life time 
Modified suspension system to isolate the CD-transport from mechanical vibrations
MOS-FET's for tube anode-voltage regulation 
Separate analog output stage for left and right channel 
Noiseless R-core power transformer 
Anti-vibration magnetic integral CD-clamp system combined with dark acrylic CD cover 
2 Analog output ( RCA & XLR ) 
AC Phase control indicator 
Digital input USB 
Digital output S/PDIF 
IPOD docking station 
Display dimmer & mute function 
Heavy duty RCA gold-plated output jacks 
Absorber aluminum feet with superior damping characteristics 
Metal remote commander 
 
The CD-07 has the exact same look as all other Ayon CD players. As is always the case with Ayon products the fit and finish are world class: thick machined aluminum cases; engraved wording and the awkward power button underneath the right front side of the unit (ok let's call it quaint and say it gives the unit a certain unique personality); topped off with the immediately recognizable Ayon name emblazoned in red light on the front panel.
 
As a top loader you need to place the unit on the top of your rack or on a shelf with enough room to not only operate and load the player but to also let it breathe as it is tube driven. It is easy to set up and easy to operate and the entire time I had it I never noticed the slightest bit of overheating or difficulty in operation. The weighted top clamp has a magnetic system that aids alignment when the lid is placed on top of the CD and firmly grasps the disc for better playback. I never had this feature fail to properly line up and seat the CD for a hassle free load.
 
While living with this unit I did not notice much difference at all between the 07 and the CD2. If anything the CD 2 may be a bit more resolving, but this will only be noticeable if you listened to both units side by side.
 
Something noteworthy is the pairing of this unit with differing electronics. When paired with solid-state amps, like the monstrous Sheng Ya 600-watt per channel behemoths, the CD-07 delivered vibrant clarity and a level of energy that I would classify as sizzling without the accompanying harshness or edginess. Chalk that up to the tube output stage leveling out the digital shrill. 
 
When mated to the Jolida 211 Music Envoys, the sound became liquid and shimmering. Smoothness is the best way to express the sound. In all honesty and without the slightest hint of prejudice, but rather total journalistic neutrality, it was this combo that I enjoyed the most. The solid-state pairing was not the least bit offensive or un-enjoyable. I just like those 211 tubes. Oddly enough the CD-07 does not overpower the sound with extreme tube warmth. It seems to be rather neutral and allows you to create the sound you want with your choice of electronics and that is a real winning attribute. 
 
Listening to Roger Waters' Live in the Flesh CD and the cut "Dogs" brought an incredible level of realness into the listening room. It really gave the amps and speakers a workout with the pinpoint placement of instruments and special effects, especially the barking dogs midway through the cut. With the best CD players one of the dogs will come from behind the listener and to the right by about 20 feet. The CD-07 presented this as well as any player I have used including my reference Grant CD-1000!
 
As someone with a dedicate iPod deck and DAC the idea of doing away with two additional pieces of equipment and associated cabling, not to mention the cost the CD07 is a very attractive proposition.
 
As an iPod deck the CD-07 was great. I had a chance to listen to it in direct comparison to the Wadia iDeck with a Blue Circle DAC. The performance was right on par with that combo. As I stated earlier having the option to eliminate a couple of pieces of equipment would be very attractive to many audiophiles. While playing back songs from the iPod, the sound was crystal clear, neutral, and at least on par with the sound from the CD transport… if not just a wee bit better. In listening to Marc Cohen's "Perfect Love", off his self titled album from Atlantic Recording, I found the bass to seem a bit tighter and James Taylor's voice a bit more in focus than when listening to the CD. Not enough of a difference to get all swoony over, but rather startling enough of an improvement over the standard iPod sound to really make you take notice and make the CD-07 a viable alternative to the Wadia solution. Of course there will be detractors to the whole iPod as a serious transport system for music, but there is no escaping the fact that millions have been sold and we have no less than nine in our family. The iPod can be a very viable transport for digital music and, when you bypass the Apple conversion software, the sound can be quite stunning. This is where the CD-07 is moving ahead of the power curve. Combine the CD transport and the iPod transport into one easy to use system requiring only one set of interconnects… simple, straightforward, and easy to use.
 
Overall the CD-07 represents a great value and a remarkable feat at the price. You get a top flight CD transport and player with the added bonus of the iPod capability. If you do not care to have the convenience of the iPod deck then look right to the CD2 from Ayon. It is a world class CD player and a steal for the money. But for those who truly believe there is a future in iPods and their storage capacity combined with their ease of use, then the CD-07 is the obvious alternative to a standard CD player. I really hate to see this one go. As a reviewer, the ease and availability of CD, true digital and analogue sources with the fewest boxes to mess with, well… it will be sorely missed. For someone in the market for a new CD player with a sweet sound, ease of use and super flexibility, the CD-07 is NOT to be missed! .
............Gary Lea
You are getting a solidly built piece with very high quality parts and materials, designed to be part of a system, or the heart of the system
Phillip Homes

Like every other Ayon piece I’ve handled, the CD5s is gorgeous, with superb fit and finish. All the Ayon products ooze class and quality. 

The bass is slightly prominent; the midrange is gutsy and vigorous, like real life; the deep bass happens when it’s supposed to happen; and the treble is a beautiful golden hue. The tonal balance of the Ayon is very close to that of my local symphonic hall, the Meyerson in Dallas. Actually,

If you like sterile or uber-detailed sound, the CD5s will disappoint. On the other hand, if the gestalt is important, the CD5s will satisfy deeply. It says a lot about the Ayon CD5s, that it’s the first component my wife really wanted me to keep. All the others have been met with cool disinterest. She spent hours listening to the system and is only interested in what “sounds good.”  She says the Ayon “sounds good.” Since you don’t know my wife, you don’t know how much of a compliment that is

The people at Ayon Audio, from the designer to the assemblers, seem to have all their ducks in a row (or electrons in a row?). It’s one of the few companies that can turn out a product that seems almost impossible to criticize. The Ayon components look fantastic and are based on sound engineering. Quality parts, from tubes to capacitors, are carefully chosen for low distortion and long life. I really have a hard time finding something wrong with an offering from Ayon.
 
To this point, my experience with Ayon has been with their amps, both integrated and stand-alone. What I hear in those pieces puts them into an exclusive group. I haven’t heard an integrated amp that sounds better than the Spark. Their reference system is superb, in every way that I can describe. So, what of their sources? This is my first exposure to an Ayon source component. When the CD5s arrived I was somewhat hesitant, fearful that the CD5s couldn’t measure up to the other Ayon pieces I know. In my experience, companies have specialties, like amps, or preamps, or tonearms. Their designers are good at designing a few things, but are great at designing one or two. McIntosh speakers come to mind. They are poor relatives to the McIntosh amps and preamps. (Different tastes. – Pub.) On the other hand, some companies are rather bland and have no special pieces at all. When a company has nothing but mediocre product offerings, everything seems to match well. More than one company comes to mind --definitely not Ayon.
 
Oooooohhhhh Factor
 
Like every other Ayon piece I’ve handled, the CD5s is gorgeous, with superb fit and finish. All the Ayon products ooze class and quality. The CD5s was no different from its stable mates. The corners are large radii, firmly locking in place the four sides. The unit is quite heavy, but also very rigid. The finish is matte/brushed and does not show fingerprints. All the controls had a nice firm feel. You know when the button has been firmly pushed—no spongy feel. Something of a nuisance for me was the top loading mechanism. Honestly, if you spend this much, you should be willing to accommodate it. I’m accustomed to front loaders and I had to move things around somewhat. However, my wife loved it. She said it reminded her of a technologically advanced cookie jar, where you would get very state-of-the-art treats. Perhaps she was right, though not about the cookies.
 
Examining the back of the unit one immediately understands that the CD5s isn’t a “regular CD player.” It has both digital and analog inputs. This means that the CD5s is designed to operate as a DAC and a preamp. Much is made of a choke-loaded power supply, good news in my experience, multiple stages of voltage regulators, and multiple transformers. The features even include “separate analog output stage for left and right channel,” which I take to mean “dual mono” or separate power supplies. According to the lengthy feature list in the following, volume control is in the analog domain. Did I avail myself of all these features? No. I did try the analog input with my phono stage, using the CD5s to direct-drive a power amp. My angle on any digital review is how it stacks up to analog system, which is my reference. Therefore, I did not mix and match computer sound cards, digital interconnects, other transports, etc. So what if it makes my lesser DVD and CD transports sound better? It’s not relevant since you will have different transports/sources and cables available to you. What is important is how the CD5s sounds playing CDs. I may be wrong, but I bet most buyers of the CD5s are going to put a CD in and play it, almost exclusively.
 
As I was saying about a lengthy feature list, it has one:
The volume is controlled in the analogue domain 
Logical sequenced soft-start power up for extended tube life  
Warm up function 
0dB negative feedback  (of any kind ) 
Ultra short signal path 
Simplest direct circuit path for purest musical sound and high reliability 
Low output impedance for driving long runs interconnect to an amplifier, and any tube or solid state power amp 
No solid state devices in the analog tube output (signal path )     
Minimal discrete wiring for optimum signal propagation  
No followers or buffers in the signal path 
No DC servo that degrades the signal 
High quality parts throughout 
Fully hand assembled to insure the highest level of craftsmanship 
Separate analog output stage for left and right channel 
Burr Brown D/A converter 
Upsampling 24bit/192kHz and on/off switchable 
Digital input 
Analog input ( RCA & XLR ) 
USB 24/96kHz input 
Digital output 
3 separate R-Core / Low noise – insulated power transformer for digital & analog Bridge tube rectification 
Dual choke – filtered power supply and coupled with special film caps 
Innovative power supply provides a high speed energy delivery on transients 
Separate and isolated power supplies over each stage of amplification 
Regulated DC filament supplies with soft start for 6H30 
AC power filter to avoid noise and hash from entering into the unit. 
10 separate voltage regulators 
Selected, premium quality passive components used in all applications    
High speed  & high quality audiophile grade coupling capacitors 
High quality Teflon tube sockets with gold pins 
Superior capacitors ( MKP 1% ) 
High quality – RCA & XLR jack 
Gold-plated industrial grade PCB 
Backlit function buttons 
Modified suspension system to isolate the CD-transport from mechanical  vibrations 
Anti-vibration magnetic integral CD-clamp system combined with dark acrylic CD-cover 
Front panel descriptions are engraved 
AC phase polarity control indicator 
The aluminum feet are resonance absorbing types 
Metal remote commander 
Chassis finish: black / chrome 
 
So, you are getting a solidly built piece with very high quality parts and materials, designed to be part of a system, or the heart of the system. What you do with it depends on whether you need a separate preamp to drive your amps, how many sources you have, whether digital is your only source, whether you have high-bit-rate sources, etc.  Ayon’s attempt to satisfy as many users as possible is commendable, and noted.
 
Chocolaty, With Tannins and a Bouquet of Kick-Ass
 
My first impression of the CD5s was 75% warmth, 25% grit. Something like rough wool. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. I liked it on some recordings, but many seemed to be missing some info, covered by the personality of the Ayon. It went this way for a month: a kind of love it, love it not, relationship. I was lazy though. I hadn’t investigated my assumptions. I can also liken the sound, before I played with the adjustments, to classic tube sound that had a little too much 2nd order distortion, overlaid with the noise from carbon comp resistors.  The sound of those classic pieces are warm, but have a slightly dirty character from the noise. The choice of the 12ax7 exacerbates the noise issue in classic gear, where the 6h30 tube is closer to the sound of an FET than to a 12ax7.
 
My assumptions were that the various features, like high/low output switch, upsampling, phase 0/180 degrees, volume control setting, etc,,, did not affect the sound.  Just the opposite happens.  Various changes in these settings produced quite dramatic changes in detail retrieval and naturalness, from overly warm and a little dirty, to very near as good as a CD player can sound.  Because the various options produced quite different results, tweaking the controls can fine tune the player for various tastes.  However, if an analytical sound is your "thing", you'll find no adjustment or setting that turns the CD5s into a hyper-fi piece that can tell you if the patrons in the club were drinking single malt scotch, or a blend.
 
I was thinking about an addendum.  After I submitted the review, I put in a rebuilt transistor amp and drove it with the CD player.  The results were surprising.  First, the transistor amp has a tube-unfriendly input impedance.  Yet, the CD5s had zero problems with the load and could drive it to full output, with full frequency extension, without difficulty.
 
Second, eliminating the preamp or the front end of an integrated amp or a passive preamp somewhat sharpened the focus while keeping the pretty tonal balance.  The CD5s is a CD player with built-in preamp.  If you drive a preamp or integrated amp with the CD5s, you are driving a preamp with a preamp, which doesn't make any sense.  Therefore, the recommended use for best sound is direct-driving an amp.  Eliminating any/all further switching and gain controls opens the sound up and pushes the CD5s playback closer to analog and possibly state-of-the-art for CD digital.
 
Not only did the Ayon have upsampling, but there were added variables of the volume control and the switches on the back, most notably one that says GAIN). Thoroughness dictated that I investigate things further. The results, for this system, were that upsampling was bad, high gain was good, the preamp gain has a sweet spot at about -20, and my system was in phase (switch set to 0º, not 180º). Lucky you, I could’ve spent 500 words on that.  The biggest difference was the gain switch, wherein the difference in clarity between low and high gain wasn’t subtle in my system. What does that little switch do? If it’s analog, it’s probably switching a resistor. Is it possible that the mere addition, or substitution, of a resistor can be that audible? Anyway, it is audible, and wide open (high gain) is how you should run the Ayon.
 
The sound of the Ayon CD5s is different from that of the Ayon preamps, amps and integrated amps, which are almost perfectly balanced. The CD5s has a personality. It’s warm, which is probably the first thing you will notice. However, the sound isn’t dark.  It’s just warm. The bass is slightly prominent; the midrange is gutsy and vigorous, like real life; the deep bass happens when it’s supposed to happen; and the treble is a beautiful golden hue. The tonal balance of the Ayon is very close to that of my local symphonic hall, the Meyerson in Dallas. Actually, it’s closer to Bass (like the fish) Hall in Ft Worth, but I don’t know of any commercially available recordings that present the sound of Bass Hall. On the other hand, Keith Johnson has done a spectacular job of capturing the sound of the Meyerson in recordings of the Dallas Wind Symphony and Turtle Creek Chorale. If you know those recordings, then you can imagine the sound of the Ayon. In contrast, the Ayon amps are similar to Symphony Hall in Boston. Nearly perfect, that is.
 
Like all other CD players I have heard, depth is somewhat lacking when compared to good analog or extremely good high-bit-rate digital. That’s not a shock to me. (I’m a digital guy, imagine the stress I get editing this. And it gets more … intense. – Pub.) How it compares to other players though, is enlightening. Image depth was better than any CD playback I’ve heard. It’s more accurate than my favorite DACs, the Audio Note UK. The Audio Note DACs are also warm, but have more distortion and color than the Ayon. Playing a compact disc, the CD5s nearly fooled me into thinking it was analog, and from me, that’s praise. Taken with the warm balance, the sound of the CD5s is very analog-like. There are more accurate players available, but all they do is call attention to the shortcomings of the source. Whether the depth is engineered by Ayon isn’t important. It does a great job at depth. 
 
Image width,
If you were paying attention to the architecture of the analog output, should be state-of-the-art, and it is. Having dual mono analog outputs means separation should be as good as it gets, and it is. Images weren’t etched or hyper-real, which doesn’t happen in real life anyway. The imaging was more akin to that of a concert hall, where you can sense direction, but where the diffuse soundfield of a concert hall tends to mask exact placement, the Ayon’s image placement was more certain. There remains the warmth and glow of a concert hall sound. Before you think I’m saying it makes everything sound like classical music, hold up. I saw Neil Young at the Meyerson (solo—no Crazy Horse), and it managed to sound like Neil Young, despite the beautiful decay. The same can be said for the Ayon. The sound is more forgiving than analytical, which is to be preferred if you have a large collection. It didn’t dress up ugly sounding discs to the point they sounded good. It is transparent enough to hear recording faults, but no so much that it reduces the number of playable CDs in your collection. On the contrary, it is much better than the vast majority at making pleasurable as many recordings as possible. Tangent: I wonder why none of the digital player companies put a “pretty” button on their players to make ugly recordings cozier? If there were a way of undoing the damage done by recording and mastering engineers, wouldn’t we want it? (Whoa, what a can of worms. Phillip, Phillip. – Pub.)
 
What the CD5s does to improve CD sound, where it is superior to most digital and analog sources I know, is grid itself with a ballsy output stage. The balanced and tubed output can reproduce anything your CD collection throws at it. Because it has low output impedance, it can drive any properly designed cable, amp or preamp. All budget players, and a good many high-end models, drop the ball on the output section. The dynamic range on CDs, and the difference in overall level, can be dramatic. Analog disc cutting puts limitations on dynamic range and overall level. It’s where the CD is superior to all but the most advanced LPs, namely half speed mastered 45 rpm. (I live! – Pub.) Most CD output sections will crap out on loud passages. Others have too much noise for low-level information. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if poor analog design is as much responsible for bad sounding digital, as are the artifacts of the digital process. Better than any other digital source I’ve heard, the CD5s lets you hear dynamic contrasts. It can, and probably will, stress your amps and/or speakers. When playing some of my friend’s mixes, I was sent running to the volume control on multiple occasions. Every other digital source I’ve used has, more or less, squashed down the dynamic range and compressed tracks, lending a similarity to everything they reproduce. I imagine that the CD5s’s digital goodness (low jitter?) has something to do with it, but I’m going to say it’s mostly the result of a beefy output.  When called upon, the CD5s will kick your ass, or your system’s.
 
The textures are mostly accurate. It does warm things up, and in the process makes basses and cellos more wooden-y. Trumpets are a little more bronze-y. Horns and trombones are more guttural, with slightly more bark. What it did for John Hartman and John Coltrane makes the CD5s worth owning. It did the same favors for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It seems purpose-built for tenor sax and baritones. Very good stuff! It’s enough of a bonus for me to make it a recommended component. It does just fine on female voices, but most high-end equipment does. On the other hand, many high-end pieces strip the power from Coltrane, Fischer-Dieskau, and the powerful sound of Eric Dolphy on Bass Clarinet, and the bass of Jaco Pastorius. Charismatic seems a good word to describe the presentation.
 
I don’t listen to audiophile dreck like Patricia Barber, so I can’t say how it sounds on those kinds of recordings. On the other hand, Ella, Sarah, Billie, Dusty, etc.., sounded fabulous. Not that they needed any help sounding fabulous; they sound good on an AM radio, boundless as their voices and talents were. The Ayon seemed very even-handed on most female vocals, while slightly warming up the sound of shrill sopranos. Thank God -- my personal hell is a choir with three times as many sopranos as altos, tenors and basses---yuck!!! If you are into crooners, or the best jazz songstresses, you absolutely will not be disappointed. This is as good as I’ve heard from any digital.
 
A small miracle worked by this player, one that I thought not possible, is making the 6H30 sound good. With all the talk of super tubes and such, it seems that designers were taken in by specs on paper. Hold on. Isn’t this high-end audio, where specs don’t tell the whole story? (Heretical! – Pub.) Well, most designs with the 6H30 sound decidedly threadbare to me. It makes the warmth of the Ayon that much more impressive. The 6H30 has plucked out my eyes in other designs. With a couple exceptions, the Ayon manages to use the 6H30 and get a sound that is closer to a really good tube, like a 6SN7 or 7199, which are low distortion tubes, regardless of how much current they carry. Applying the same logic that the specs of the 6H30 are “best” to power tubes, the only “good” tube would be the 6C33C. It’s a flawed and stupid logic. However, the designers at Ayon make the 6H30 sound really good. Maybe the other designers are dumb? Hmmm. It’s possible. (My Summary Apologies to the entire industry to follow. – Pub.)
 
How to turn a Ford into a Ferrari
 
Well, you can’t do it. A Ford is a Ford. The inclusion of upsampling is an interesting option for some, though I’ve never heard upsampling do anything beneficial. Being able to switch between non-upsampled and upsampled, on the fly, put upsampling on the hot-seat. The effect was to add some very high frequency noise or sibilance. It’s way up there and some recordings didn’t reveal the difference. Music heavy with trumpets, cymbals and violins was most revealing of the non-benefits of upsampling. Instead of replacing or reconstructing more information, it merely added noise, or perhaps it’s a shadow, or maybe an echo. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. This isn’t a critique of Ayon. Perhaps they feel obligated to include upsampling. If they thought it was “way better” than non-upsampled, I bet they wouldn’t have given an option to switch between the two. The bottom line is this: No amount of tricks, psychoacoustic mumbo-jumbo, harmonic distortion, smoke or mirrors can undo what 16/44 does to music. The only thing I have heard to make CD actually sound better was Keith Johnson’s HDCD, which sometimes sounds superior to SACD in my very unscientific investigations. The XRCDs are really nice, too. So, some of you might like the upsampled sound. Good for you. I don’t. I suspect most adherents of oversampling/upsampling don’t have a good analog front-end for comparison, or they don’t go to hear unamplified music. This isn’t Ayon’s fault. It’s just a bad idea that gained traction with customers. All that being said, I like Fords and Ferraris.
 
Perhaps I should have investigated the CD5s as a DAC, but I really didn’t care to. I prefer to have the fewest number of digital boxes possible. In my system, I had the CD5s as the player of compact discs and a DVD player to play all other formats. It worked for me. My DVD player will not output undiluted SACD or DVDA, so I didn’t see the reason to down-convert and listen to the results, though I’m sure the results would be good. It seemed like a purely academic process, not a pleasurable one. I’m not a big Audio-Video guy, so I didn’t investigate how to best integrate it into a large AV system. I did try the built-in volume control with a budget phono stage and the results were very good. If you have two sources - CD and LP - then you might be able to skip a separate preamp and use the CD5s as preamp/CD player. The sound of the budget phono stage was improved when fed through the CD5s, and with the CD5s driving the amps. Eliminating extra boxes and cables can be very beneficial.
 
Is it real? Does it interpret?
 
The CD5s is not the most accurate CD player I’ve used. And I’m glad. The most accurate players I’ve used all sucked. Accurate players only accentuate the limitations of 16/44. On the other hand, since Redbook CD is such a disaster on purely technical grounds, why would one want an accurate portrayal of suckiness? (Everyone, stay calm. – Pub.) To a large extent, the CD5s mitigates the limitations of the CD, something which I welcome with open arms, and you should too. Along with the Audio Note DACs, this Ayon allows me to listen to, and enjoy, my compact discs. 
 
While there is a legitimate question as to whether the purpose-built CD player is a dinosaur, for many of us the answer is NO. I do not have the time to burn my discs to a computer or music server, or transfer them to a flash drive. I want to put a disc in and listen. I want it to be, ahem, analogous to playing a record, not consuming a commodity. Hard drives will crash, and there is a greater than zero chance that you won’t have your library backed up. Also, the imbeciles at Microsoft or whoever will stop supporting your operating system, which will eventually require you to move everything to a new server with new software and hardware. That is a huge pain in the ass, if you didn’t already know it.
 
Also, there are some who still want a “player that does everything.” Well, there are players that do everything, but they do everything with mediocrity. If you have compared a good CD player to CD played back on a multi-format player, you know what I mean. It reminds me of the Space Shuttle or the F111 fighter: designed by a committee to do everything, but nothing especially well. If you are still buying SACDs or DVDAs, you should consider having multiple players; otherwise you are most likely handicapping the sound of your regular CDs in the process. My observations on multi-format players are somewhat limited, so perhaps there is a player that does everything equally well, or equally mediocre.
 
What it does then is make the most of the format, with a little interpretation along the way. If you like sterile or uber-detailed sound, the CD5s will disappoint. On the other hand, if the gestalt is important, the CD5s will satisfy deeply. It says a lot about the Ayon CD5s, that it’s the first component my wife really wanted me to keep. All the others have been met with cool disinterest. She spent hours listening to the system and is only interested in what “sounds good.”  She says the Ayon “sounds good.” Since you don’t know my wife, you don’t know how much of a compliment that is
It vaults to the top of the pack and I rate it a top choice at its price point.
Marshall Nack
What a pleasant surprise! The AYON CD-5s evidences none of the usual digital issues. There's not even a hint of grit or harshness or missing texture. Oh, yes, tubey colorations are present—the sweet top end, the rounded edges, the added body, the beautiful tone—after all, this is a CD player with eight tubes from a company known for their SET amps. But the AYON CD-5s manages to keep them in check. They are present to a much smaller degree than classic "tubey" sounding components. In fact, if you were to hear it, I bet you wouldn't single it out as particularly tubey sounding. It is a fine example of the latest generation of tube gear that melds these traits from the S-E world to modern virtues like extended frequency response, tight bass and surprisingly high resolution.
 
Those conclusions apply to the CD-5s used in balanced mode in conjunction with reduced volume. In that configuration the AYON CD-5s demonstrated a rare dynamic quality only found in the best units. It vaults to the top of the pack and I rate it a top choice at its price point.
This review took a slightly different path and as such, it took a while for me to gather my bearings. The AYON CD-5s CD player had arrived with 150 hours on it, to which I added another 50, all using the balanced outputs. Following good practice, I began by matching volume level to my digital front-end, the mbl 5021 transport and 5011F DAC. Accordingly, I had to draw down the AYON's built-in analog potentiometer. (The AYON doubles as a line stage preamp.) I set the units front panel display to –13, and at this point, I started taking notes as I liked what I was hearing.
 
But I thought I could make it better. We all know that analog volume pots are supposed to sound best wide open. So, I swapped over to the AYON's single-ended outputs because S-E output levels are always lower than balanced and, besides, the importer had mentioned he preferred the S-E mode, so I wanted to try it out. But I didn't much care for what I heard. It was mushy. Another round of burn-in to form the S-E outputs was in order.
 
After giving it an additional 24 hours of burn-in, the S-E output sounded robust and tubey, but had a degree of fog covering the soundstage. At this point, I went back to the AYON's balanced outputs, only this time with the volume wide open. It was certainly more neutral than the S-E outputs. The fog had lifted—but now I was hearing congestion on signal peaks. 
 
"What gives?" I wondered. I called up the importer the next day to bounce it off him. We decided the likely explanation was the input circuit of my mbl 6010D preamp was overloaded by the high output voltage of the AYON.
 
Dummy! The realization smacked me in the face. Of course it is! What I was doing amounted to feeding the output of one preamp into another. A line-level source component like a DAC typically put out 2 volts. The AYON in S-E mode with the volume up puts out 4 volts, 8 in balanced.
 
I'm focusing on this because it is an important point for anyone considering a CD player with line stage functionality, and also because now that I understand the reason behind what I was hearing, I can judge the AYON accordingly. Optimum playback was undisputedly the setting I had begun with—the AYONs XLR outputs and reduced volume. Everything I say in the appraisal that follows pertains to this setting. 
 
BTW, in case you're wondering, I know the next logical thing to try was the AYON doubling up as CD player and preamp, but I didn't have the right wires to explore that option.
 
Topology
 
Eight is a lot of tubes for a CD player. In addition, the CD-5s has a host of other design features that I associate with its pedigree, the laudable AYON house sound, a brand known for very high quality (and expensive) tube gear, especially SET amps. 
 
The CD-5s is single ended; it doesn't employ negative feedback; it is a pure tube design with no solid state devices in the signal path; the output stage is Class-A using triode vacuum-tubes; the power supply is tube rectified. 
 
That topology couldn't be further from my solid-state mbl digital separates. However, on first listen, the two products did not sound that far apart. It was certainly richer, more intimate and more immediate sounding (all adjectives that would characterize any component from AYON) even in its most neutral XLR mode, but I bet you would not call it tubey if you were to audition it. The AYON was like my mbl in how easily it sidestepped all of the common digital issues. Nothing called attention to itself, and everything I wanted to hear was there. 
 
Let me describe the soundstage it reproduced with Sanctuary, a Mapleshade CD (MS 09932), arguably one of Pierre Sprey's more successful recordings. Pianist Larry Willis, Mapleshade's music director, is the featured artist. Most of the tunes are low-key, intimate arrangements taken at largo tempi, exploring matters of the soul and spirit. 
 
From the very beginning of Track 2 your attention is drawn to the weightiness and richness of the Fazioli piano employed for the session. It sounds different from a Steinway, to my ear more like the slightly darker Bosendorfer. The piano is naturally recorded for a change; its entire image is just left of center. (I despise the typical piano miking, with the instrument's left hand keys way over on one side of the stage, the right keys on the other.) 
 
The small jazz combo is joined shortly by a classical chamber string section, which images as a group on the far right and it, too, is a bit dark. The strings have an attractive woody quality, but I'm thinking they could use more texture. It's interesting how the success of including unexpected instruments (the strings) is impacted by how well they are reproduced. I remember when I first heard the CD when it came out in 2003. I had a problem with their wirey, steely sound. Now I'm envious of their lovely tone. The AYON is imparting an extra dollop of body and fleshing out timbre—you're not gonna get that midrange from solid-state gear! 
 
And then my happiness is disturbed by odd noises emanating from the left channel, which seem to come and go in tandem with the piano. These turn out to be sympathetic resonances from the snare drum—why wasn't the trap-set locked? They are very obvious with the AYON.
 
Cymbals sparkle sweetly, but they do not sizzle. That's generally true—transient edges are rounded. I also admired the AYONs potent bottom-end—it is far from timid and dynamically more excitable than my mbl. The quality of bass is very full and fleshy/massive. Overall, this is not a bright sound; the tonal center is definitely weighted towards the lower midrange.
 
But then, you shouldn't be too surprised that the AYON has these tubey characteristics. Given the topology and lineage, it's what you'd expect. I'm happy to note, however, that this cluster of valve colorations (the sweet top end, the rounded edges, the added body, the midrange dominance, and above all, the beautiful tone) are present to a much smaller degree than you would encounter with classic S-E components—I'm thinking of Harmonix, for example, whose euphony is more pronounced and imposes a heavier footprint over the signal. 
 
Sure, the AYON is doing this to a limited extent—it will flesh out the sound of thin CDs—but it balances that with added refinement. The classic tube sound is updated with modern virtues, like extended frequency response, reasonably tight bass, and surprisingly high resolution. 
 
Let's switch over to the Leipzig String Quartet doing Mozart's String Quartet KV 575 (MDG 307 0936-2). Again, stereo separation is excellent. It's easy to pick out each member of the quartet, and not just by their discrete image on the stage. The AYON's rendering of timbre makes me smile: a viola has a unique timbral character and the AYON nails it beautifully; it won't be confused with the violin. Texture is also good. (I was worried about that because of the too smooth textures on the Sanctuary CD.)
 
The AYON re-creates the performance as if you're in a wood-paneled, book-filled library. It's sweeter, more airy and more ingratiating than the way my mbl front-end does it, and also from how the group sounds live. If memory serves, when I saw them perform in a smallish, wood-paneled church up in Ottawa, Canada, their sound is clean, accurate, incisive and tonally neutral. They play with a perfect amalgam of the two dominant, contemporary classical performance trends: faithfulness to the printed score, while giving full measure to expressive markings.
 
With larger forces like Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale Suite (Pentatone PTC 5186 046), with Paavo Jarvi conducting the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen, the AYON demonstrated a truly superior macro dynamic quality only found in the best gear. The machine was able to scale into crescendos with no sense of compression, no evidence of a dynamic ceiling, and this occurred without breakup or the introduction of amusical artifacts. Inside those crescendos, bass volleys had uncommon potency, while the soundstage remained open and quite expansive, especially in the width. With reference quality CDs, the Ayon developed a very convincing illusion of deep space with images completely detached from the speakers. The AYON let the music grow without compromising quality. You don't hear that very often.
 
You may have wondered why I initially dwelled so long on the AYON's alternative output mode and volume level. It is because I had issues when the machine was used that way. However, when set to the XLR outputs and the reduced volume, the AYON vaulted beyond those reservations to truly exceptional performance. In this mode, the machine did just about everything you could ask for.
 
Cosmetics and Functionality
 
The CD-5s is surprisingly large and heavy. Its thick, brushed anodized aluminum chassis is stylishly black except for a pair of chrome mesh cooling ducts on top and the CD drawer cover, which is plastic. Aluminum was chosen because it is non-magnetic, among other reasons. The unit doesn't get hot, merely warm to the touch. Function selector buttons are on top, back-lit in a cool way with a glowing red surround. Obvious care was expended to make the chassis vibration and resonance free. 
 
The top-loading CD-5s can be used as line-level preamp. It accepts a full range of digital inputs plus two-line level ones, and it has a quality analog potentiometer. Switching among inputs and volume adjustment are accessible from either the chassis or the remote. 
 
The chassis controls and the full function remote engage with assurance. Overall, it's obvious the design team didn't cut corners or skimp on quality. 
 
I situated the CD-5s on a Vibraplane ELpF. All cabling was the outstanding K-S Elation! As the unit has its own AC line noise filtration, I bypassed external power conditioning and plugged it into a prototype K-S passive power block.
 
Early on I determined the superiority of the 24 bit/192kHz upsampling mode. That stayed on for the duration. 
 
Conclusion
 
What a pleasant surprise! The AYON CD-5s evidences none of the usual digital issues. There's not even a hint of grit or harshness or missing texture. Oh, yes, tubey colorations are present—the sweet top end, the rounded edges, the added body, the beautiful tone—after all, this is a CD player with eight tubes from a company known for their SET amps. But the AYON CD-5s manages to keep them in check. They are present to a much smaller degree than classic "tubey" sounding components. In fact, if you were to hear it, I bet you wouldn't single it out as particularly tubey sounding. It is a fine example of the latest generation of tube gear that melds these traits from the S-E world to modern virtues like extended frequency response, tight bass and surprisingly high resolution.
 
Those conclusions apply to the CD-5s used in balanced mode in conjunction with reduced volume. In that configuration the AYON CD-5s demonstrated a rare dynamic quality only found in the best units. It vaults to the top of the pack and I rate it a top choice at its price point.
 
Note: I went through several iterations switching between output modes and volume settings. In S-E mode, I found the tubey colorations prominent, too much so for my taste. Secondly, the AYON has a built-in analog potentiometer and can function as a line level preamp. However, at full volume its high output level overloaded the input circuit of my mbl 6010D preamp. Marshall Nack
Compared to the Arcam and Peachtree amps on hand, the Orion II easily trumps the other two in presenting the illusion of a live recording.
Dean Seislove

Listeners who love a warm and capacious amplifier, but who are wary of the tube stereotype that audio artifacts are cooking the books, will appreciate how well the Orion II makes music. This is a tube integrated for a modern audience. Those who've been ingrained with the detail and timing of two-paycheck solid-state, but simply must have "on-stage" dimensionality and musical marrow that only heat, steel, and glass can deliver at this price will love the Orion II. The times for audio are good, and this Ayon product is one the reasons why.

I know that the world's in a funk, but what's with all of the longing for the good old days of audio? Fact is, there's never been a better time to be a music lover with cash in hand and desire to buy. You couldn't be more immersed in audio's golden age if you lived in the Filament Suite of the Mullard Towers. Although some cold war worriers at audio shows and on online sites are practically begging for Captain Beefheart to take them on an intergalactic spaceship ride to the Planet Zoloft, it's time to take off the trout mask and embrace what is right in front of us, instead of grousing about what isn't... or used to be. Fact is, the cheap stuff's better made, sounds perfectly fine, and is more accessible via the internet than could ever be imagined in the days when swinging salesmen hucksters peddled visions of hot tubs and hotter tubes. Thankfully, today's audio dealers are invariably experienced connoisseurs who earn their justified premium by steering people away from the iStereos and towards a system of lasting value, but even the low budget gear can impress, in a pinch. Moreover, all the vintage stuff you coveted in your youth, even a youth that's waaaay back in the rear view mirror, is still out there somewhere online, just waiting to be whisked away in the Corvair Fastback and brought home to the rumpus room.
 
And though it may be audio heresy to declare it, there's just never been a better time to step up and enjoy the wealth of brand new products from manufacturers at home and abroad that offer significant advances in convenience, reliability, and sound quality. Let the new age swamis throw tantric tantrums about the inevitable futility of materialism. Ignore the audio clerics who would rather dispute technology dogma than revel in music (although I confess to having rolled up my sleeves for the odd hobbyist dustup now and then, myself). The truth is, when faced with the seduction of a luscious quartet of glowing KT-88s, who wouldn't sacrifice nirvana to stay in the material world?
 
So what in the world of motorcycle maintenance does all this have to do with the Ayon Orion II integrated amplifier? At a list price of nearly four grand, the Ayon integrated represents what I would call a substantial outlay of cash. It's not like I'm not going to adopt it as my ward and legal heir, but I do expect said purchase to be solidly built. I also expect it to last long enough for me to part ways with it on my terms, and not vice-versa. Its aesthetic appeal should reflect solid design principles and materials that will remain attractive, no matter how many mid, later, and senile life crises beset and besot me. It shouldn't be a pain in the ass to use, adapt, or pronounce. Most of all, I anticipate that when I first flip the switch, I will exclaim (in my mind, at least), "Yessssss!"
 
So is it? Does it? Will it? It is, it does, and it will!
 
The Ayon Orion II offers pure Class A operation in either Triode or Pentode configuration, sports four Ayon KT88 Black Treasure SX output tubes, and utilizes three preamp 12AU7 tubes. Ayon manufactures their own output tubes featuring gold grid wires and a polymer carbon compound glass internal coating, which Ayon claims, "Greatly improves the ability of electron emission and electron current stability." I can barely pick up rice off the floor, much less track down electrons, so I'll take their word for it. If it makes the tubes happy, though, I'm all for it. The input tubes are always vintage 1960s NOS tube classics: RCA (which is what came with the review model) Philips, GE, Telefunken, etc. Output power in Pentode mode 60+60 Class A, Triode Mode 40+40 Class A. Ayon suggests that a gentle, natural break in process be used with the Orion II, so my neighbors were spared the usual electronic and classical marathon. Critical listening began after a period of roughly 100 hours. I partnered the Orion II with various speakers: Nola Boxers, Tannoy Eyris I, Fritz Speakers Grove (all standmounts) and a pair of Nola Contender floorstanders. Integrated amps used for comparison include an Arcam A80 integrated and a Peachtree Audio iNova integrated. Admittedly, this is not a fair test, as the Orion II costs three and two times more, respectively, but all three amps can be fairly described as entry to mid level choices. Sources include an Arcam CD82 player and, for digital files, a Macbook Pro utilizing the CEntrance DACport and playing files via Pure Music. Cables include Kubala-Sosna Imagination speaker cables and Nordost SuperFlatline MKII speaker cables. Harmonic Technology Magic Link Two, Stereolab Reference I-700 RX, and Kimber Hero interconnects round out the cables used. Readers of this column know that I am cursed with an execrably cramped 10' X 11' room that leaves just enough space for near field listening and an endless run of profanity when swapping out gear.
 
The first thing that I noticed when auditioning the Orion II is how well it takes on the criticism of tube tubbiness in the low end and punches it in the stomach. It may sound odd to illustrate bass frequency grip by using a pair of standmounts, but the Fritz Grove speakers bulldoze the bottom end better than most short speakers and quite a few of the tall ones. Though the Groves are nicely balanced throughout the frequency range, the manufacturer cited "6 1/2 inch one piece polypropylene cone, 3 inch underhung voice coil, butyl rubber surround, die cast frame. Bass reflex loaded- rear port" gives them the sort of kick that is just begging for a power source that can drive them out of the chute and into your rondo rodeo listening room.
 
The Orion II, fortunately, is fortified with plenty of valve power to bring all of the Groves' bass potential to the fore. Hearing the wonderfully textured synth bass line in "Sleep Alone" (909s in Dark Times Mix) by Bat for Lashes made me recall Tom Campbell's excellent review of the Ayon Orion in PF Issue 50, when he speaks of the Ayon "extracting notably deeper, firmer and more supple bass." Not having the original Orion on hand, I can't comment on their differences, but Charles Harrison, Ayon USA distributor, notes that the Orion II offers a higher grade, more powerful transformer and power supply, as well as a completely redesigned tube output stage and preamp stage. The Ayon website provides considerably more information about the Orion II's improvements in design and materials, but the only real proof needed for me is in the substantial depth and impact of the synth bass and drums on this Bat for Lashes alternative rock track. No, the low frequencies don't vibrate me around like one those magnetic football players in the old Electric Football game. You'll need a lot more cash if you want that from tubes, or you'll need to go for a much different solid-state experience if you plan on spending Orion II type money. This is no big deal for me, anyway, as I prefer my electronic tunes (and everything else heavy and lowdown) to sound like music, not mortars. The Orion II is, however, capable of facilitating bass that is big and fat, when necessary, while still retaining the edge that gives percussion and bottom frequency instruments their impact. To illustrate, the ground noise riding the bass notes in "When it Comes" is a warning growl for the bass and drum attack that makes this Incubus tune rock.
 
The Orion II's tactility in providing the space for each frequency to be delineated, while still imbuing each instrument and effect with its full character, all contributes to a sound that pins your ears back better than you could get by just blowing your ears out. Hey, I can headbang with the best of them (as long as "they" only headbang for ten minutes before getting vertigo) and I love solid-state slam at high octane decibels, but my taste in music and music gear only spends time there on holidays. To satisfy myself that the Orion II has what it takes to enjoyably play rock guitar at rock concert levels, I went to the default selection for this sort of thing, the final guitar solo of "Moonage Daydream" from Bowie's David Live. Several impassioned, decibel defying Dinosaur Sr. rock sessions later, I can report that the Ayon Orion II has plenty of room to spare, even when the music's loud enough to tear your lightning bolt necklace clean off.
 
The trouble with many integrated tube amps in this price category, of course, is that they just can't keep up with the wide receiver in the secondary. When the music stutter steps, most tube amps just stutter. In this respect, it's clear that, in its quest to redesign the Orion II to have the shortest signal path possible for a purer sound, Ayon has also made sure that this amp is responsive enough to please today's audiophiles. Playing the frenetic opening of Flanger's "Human Race Race" from their send up album to themselves, Nuclear Jazz, the Orion II had no trouble propelling the wildly accelerated bongo, snare/high hat, xylophone (vibraphone?) combo that reanimates this homage to jazz-in-a-Jetsons vein.
 
Similarly, on Los Lobos Goes Disney, the iconic L.A. band's cover of "Heigh-Ho" blows out like a full bottle of beer shaken up and sprayed in your face. The classic punk rock guitar and drum riff, one-two, tri-pl-let, one-two, tri-pl-let, left my ears in the dust at first playing. Fortunately, the Orion II is quick enough to corral not only it, but the anchor bass line and electric organ accent, as well. Granted, this amp doesn't stick to the notes like a solid-state body suit, but there is a welcome naturalness in its timing and pace. The Ayon amp is a better choice for the person who listens for the voice and not for the movement and number of each vocal node. This shouldn't be taken to mean the Orion II is slow of foot, but listening to Ruben Gonzalez's "Cumbanchero," there's no doubt that the iNova imparts a slightly sharper and quicker view of the piano runs and conga rhythms. But is faster always better? I have a feeling that many audiophiles may prefer the quality of the notes from the Orion II, even if they take a little longer to get there. Listeners who enjoy the Orion II, as I do, probably won't be standing there and charting all the examples of macro and micro dynamics heard in a recording, anyway. Many solid-state and hybrid amps today are built with computer files and plenty of features in mind, and aren't designed to match the luxurious extravagance (and maintenance) that is classic tube design. The Orion II, in turn, possesses much of that traditionally warm and smooth tube sound, but not at the price of making music unbelievably rich and stately.
 
Similarly, the Orion II represents many of the best qualities of traditional and contemporary demands in its daily use. Tubes are notoriously temperamental characters, and they sound better when they're in the mood to play and are often sulky when they're not. Like me, they wake up slowly and go to sleep fitfully, which is why the Orion II incorporates a sequenced soft-start power up and power down for extended tube life. When you first turn on the amp, the Ayon logo flashes on and off, slowly checking and powering up the amp, and sixty seconds later, you're ready to play some music. The same slow power down sequence occurs when you turn off the amp, which reassures me that the onboard computer is making sure a listening session with the new Florence and the Machine CD or whatnot didn't put the kabozzle on anything. The onboard computer is also responsible for managing the test tube system and controlling the tube auto-bias system. Once you've set the initial tube setting, you can manually change it to suit your sonic preference.
 
Personally, I followed the exceptionally well-written and helpful owner's manual by setting it at "3" and leaving it the hell alone, but that's just me. Tom Campbell's review of the Orion is, once again, right on the money when he extolls the packaging, superior workmanship, and solidly secure (as in "Oooof, heavy!) feel of the Ayon line, and the Orion II proves even more visually striking than its predecessor. Although the headphone amp that was included in the first Orion model has been eliminated in the Orion II, the DAC remains. To my ears, the DAC is perfectly competent, but I preferred my CEntrance DACport via the RCA connection, and, given the fact that the Orion II's tops out at 16-bit/48Hz files, I imagine that most purchasers will use an outboard model. I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to conclude that, after taking such pains to streamline the Orion II, the design team in Austria were loathe to include anything that would just complicate things, especially as the Orion II's pre-out can be used for a better headphone amp (or subwoofer, home theater processor, etc.). There are three line in inputs, one USB input, and one direct in input, in addition to the pre out, but don't look for a place to hook up your toslink or firewire or anything like that, this is an integrated amp made to sound good, and that's that. The remote is heavy and black and selects amp, pre, volume, and mute, and that, too, is that. I think Ayon is wise to save room and expense for the parts that really matter.
 
And does it all matter, really? Well, that bit of audio absurdism is best left for engineers and editors, but what is true is that the Orion II brought out wonderful music from every speaker in my listening room. Triode mode is lovely, and I can see why many prefer it, but I liked the Pentode mode just fine, almost all of the time. Don't worry, though, both are included for the price of admission, and both prove that this integrated is an excellent choice at this price point and quite a bit more. Listening to Arab Strap's paean to the byproduct of lust and affection, "Where We've Left Our Love," the exquisitely recorded guitar tones and fourteen stone bass line is conveyed with all the smoothness, and in as large a space, as the singing Scottish playa' could ever ask for when recounting his moments of... a consummation to be wished...or residue of depravity. Whatever it is, the Orion II ensures that the music itself is sweetly expressed, no matter how you scan the lyrics.
 
This same gift within a gift for fluidly expressing dynamic range within a lifelike soundstage is further illustrated by the kick drum, acoustic guitar, and bass rhythm that accompanies Jonatha Brooke's magnificent performance on "Your House" from her album, Steady Pull. The Contenders/Orion II pairing wins the in-concert house prize for conveying the slow, sonorous rhythm that propels Brooke's swirling vocal flight of raspy submission and evocative commitment to temporal and spiritual love. As the song unfolds, the Orion II inspires full timbre and dimension to instruments and Brooke's sophisticated vocal delivery. As the soundstage fills to include various accent instruments, it widens and deepens in fitting proportion to such an intimately personal affirmation, and avoids the exaggerated drive in theatre soundstage produced by some integrated amplifiers.
 
Compared to the Arcam and Peachtree amps on hand, the Orion II easily trumps the other two in presenting the illusion of a live recording. Ok, I know I've often said that no audio playback, high end or otherwise, offer anything close to hearing it live. Nor is that necessarily a bad thing-I've heard plenty of live music that, to paraphrase the Munchkin sages, sounded not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead. But when it comes to speakers, it's all about leaving plane geometry and moving into the solid, and the Orion II does a really nice job of realizing speakers' imaging and full bodied tone. Finally, in terms of sheer power, the Orion II has no trouble at all driving any of the speakers on hand to room leaving, CES-style volume. Admittedly, going gonzO! on the volume slightly hardens the top end and the lovely illusion of space becomes more two dimensional, but you have to go way beyond loud before this is a problem.
 
Listeners who love a warm and capacious amplifier, but who are wary of the tube stereotype that audio artifacts are cooking the books, will appreciate how well the Orion II makes music. This is a tube integrated for a modern audience. Those who've been ingrained with the detail and timing of two-paycheck solid-state, but simply must have "on-stage" dimensionality and musical marrow that only heat, steel, and glass can deliver at this price will love the Orion II. The times for audio are good, and this Ayon product is one the reasons why.
the Orion II.....Connoisseur-Level Audio for those on a Budget....was Absolutely worth it.
Ron Doering

There are so many reasons to recommend this amplifier: fabulous sonics, world-class build-quality, a manufacturer that seems to really care about what it is doing, how it is doing it, and has its customers’ best interests at heart, and yes, overall coolness

Bass was powerful and tight as were drums. The distinct musical personalities of guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McReady were well delineated both spatially and musically.

he six gents of the King’s Singers were believably arranged in a semicircle before me with the location and distinct quality of each voice unerringly conveyed. Again, micro-dynamics were captured with alacrity as the Orion II was easily able to keep up with the speed at which the voices launched notes, changed pitches, and went from mezzopiano to mezzoforte and back again in a split second.

In my humble opinion, nothing says “you’ve made it” quite like owning high-end music-reproduction equipment. And yet both you and I both know that audio gear is not the first thing people think of as a status symbol, although they should, because it’s hard to imagine anything with a lower practicality to-expense ratio. Big, luxurious house? Well, unless it’s used only for parties, a house, any house, is very practical simply from the standpoint of being a shelter (both in the physical and tax sense). An expensive car? No matter what it is, it provides the very practical attribute of transportation, which we all know is necessary for modern life. What about a yacht? Again, still practical from a shelter, transportation, and as a second home, from a tax deduction point of view.
 
Perhaps we get closer along the lines of fine art collecting but even here there is utility associated with this activity that escapes the hi-fi connoisseur: Fine art is expected to increase in value. Substitute watches, stamps, Fender guitars, Pez dispensers; you get the same result. On the other hand a shockingly small sample of audio equipment has proven to increase in value as it ages (and you may not even like how it sounds). So I say you keepers of the hi-fidelity flame have good reason to feel fairly superior to the benighted masses sprouting little white wires from their ears, or just about everyone else for that matter.
 
Still, even among the enlightened there is a steeply ascending caste system. At the top of the ladder are the high priests of the Single Ended Triode altar, who like any devout individuals have vowed to live a restricted existence, a life of poverty if you will, not of money (although that may very well accompany this lifestyle) but of watts. By nature traditionalists and extremely conservative, some would say that these folks act like the last 106 years (!) of amplifier development never happened. All the while, sitting at the back of the hi-fi church are people like me who know good sound from bad and search the market often for the best in lower-priced but great-sounding products. For us fancy metal-work, silver wire, even acceptable qualitycontrol are grudgingly dismissed for the sake of good music vibes. We have no problem with plastic knobs, stamped metal chassis, or the occasional missing screw. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?
 
I for one have remained happy in the back pews for years since, quite frankly, much of the “aspirational” gear simply fails my personal cost/benefit analysis. Oh, that’s nice but my NAD integrated gets me 90% of the way there for a whole lot less (or so I tell myself). So I find it really annoying when something like the Ayon Orion II comes along and bursts my bubble of self-delusion. Rightfully the Orion belongs to that couple stationed maybe ten rows in front and a little to the left of where I’m sitting. They’ve got money to spend, no small children or pets, are cultured, and appreciate the good things in life. And for this review they let me sit next to them.
 
Ayon is one of those special concerns that doesn’t just make and sell products; it makes ideas, and then works hard to make sure those ideas spread far and wide throughout the hills and vales. Ayon’s big idea: Vacuum tubes are and always were, unapologetically, the best way to amplify an electronic signal. In other words, they hope to change hard-boiled folks like me, who view tube amplification as akin to having a real, live puppy for a pet: great fun, cute and cuddly, and then it pees all over the rug and chews on the chair leg. Tubes age, and as they age bias voltages need to be adjusted, and when a tube prematurely dies the question becomes does the owner replace only the one or the complete set of power tubes? All this fuss, care, and feeding are what drove me toward the solid-state world (well, that and price), where amplifiers run forever and never ask for more than an occasional dusting—and all the puppies are stuffed ones. It may not be the most interesting world in which to live, but it is clean. This is pretty much the divide over which Ayon has set about building bridges, and it begins with “leave the bias adjusting to us.” This, an activity that dramatically distinguishes the “valveo-philes” from the rest of us, has major consequences for the sound quality as well as for the longevity of what may be very expensive (and numerous) tubes. Manual tube-biasing may be held a badge of honor for some, but Ayon guessed, and I think correctly, that if this became something automatic, or at least something very easy to do, then one more reason for not “going tube” would be eliminated. Unlike fully automatic biasing systems Ayon’s auto-fixed-bias (AFB) does not operate during normal operation; rather, a push of a button at the back of the chassis mutes the amplifier then sets in play an automated tubetest program, which adjusts bias and checks for tube failure, noting which tube has failed via an LED at the back panel. The system will also automatically “break-in” new tubes for the first ten hours, reducing bias to 60% of normal during that period. While Ayon’s system does not completely eliminate owner involvement, it strikes an almost perfect balance between optimal performance, carefree listening, and satisfying user engagement.
 
And then there are the tubes themselves. Tubes are fun to watch and talk about. They project warmth both figuratively and literally. They are guaranteed conversation starters. The old reminisce and the young just stand there in awe. Tubes can also be maddeningly unreliable and, by nature, promote distracting behaviors such as “tube rolling.” Ayon understands all this. It acknowledges that tubes are, indeed, wonderful things and so displays them in all their skin-searing glory. Ayon doesn’t do tube cages. Cage your dog. Cage your cat. Cage your children. Don’t ask Ayon to cage its tubes (cages are available).
 
But here’s some comforting news: Ayon does a five-point test on every tube it ships (so you don’t have to!) including plate current, transconductance, heater-to-cathode leakage, gasion current effects, and microphony. The Orion II comes with Ayon’s own Black Treasure SX KT88s and either Tungsram, RCA, or Mullard 12AU7 signal tubes. Ayon’s Charlie Harrison tells me Ayon will soon be providing its own BT SX signal tubes. My sample sounded fine with a trio of Tungsrams.
 
Tubes or no, this is a Thoroughly Modern Millie of an amplifier in its minimalist execution. Two eminently grab-able knurled knobs greet the listener on the front panel—a motorized volume control on the left and a non-remote-controllable input-selector on the right. To its right is a vertical laundry list of functions, the operation of which is indicated by a red LED. From the top there are Line Inputs 1 through 3, plus USB, Direct, Mute, and Triode. The small but nicely finished all-metal remote control works the volume and mute functions and is satisfactory except for a bit of overshoot. It also contains two extra buttons, which are not shown or discussed in the manual, labeled Amp and Pre. These I assume are meant to toggle between the Orion II and something else (the “pre”). “Direct” is switchable from the rear panel and activates a set of “Direct In” and Pre Out” RCA jacks, useful for an A/V processor, equalizer, subwoofer, or headphones. Speaking of headphones, the sharp-eyed will notice that the previous iteration of the Orion did, indeed, have a proper headphone jack. Charlie says that with the total redesign of the Orion it was decided to drop the jack—evidently customers preferred to do without.
 
A tour of the back panel from left to right begins with an IEC AC receptacle. Next is what could be called the bias control center, consisting of the AFB initiation button, four LEDs indicating which KT88 is being adjusted/analyzed or has failed, and a “Bias-Ref ” knob which is factory-set at 3 out of a range of 1 to 5. While this control is easy to leave alone, it also almost begs to be played with. Three sets of gold-plated speaker terminals optimize playback through speakers rated at 4 or 8 ohms or thereabout. The latter proved to be a good match for my Snells. While I was impressed by the overall massiveness of these terminals they were really best suited to spade terminations. I was also a tad surprised that they were completely unshielded and so, I thought, could not possibly be CE approved. Charlie set me straight here, informing me that as per European Union regulations shielding was not required for voltages less than 50V. Well, now you know. Rounding out the back panel are the aforementioned Direct In/Pre Out jacks and switch, the USB input, and three line-level inputs which were top-notch-quality gold-plated and chassismounted.
 
That USB (and associated internal D/A converter), although garnering barely a mention from Ayon in its literature, proved to be quite a right-sounding thing, accepting up to 48kHz/16-bit datastreams. Way over-qualified for the streaming radio I usually fed it, it palys at standard CD quality but obviously not suitable for hi-res music files.
 
Triode or pentode operation is available at the twist of a knob located on the top plate—the amplifier delivers 60Wpc in pentode and 40Wpc in triode. As easy as I just made that sound, Ayon strongly suggests that the unit be shut down completely before this switch is thrown. Why the two modes? Partly because the KT88 tube allows for this, and partly because there are definite differences in the sonic signatures of the two modes, which may serve the material being played. More on this later, but keep in mind that no matter how attractive the idea of purity of design (the three parts of a triode tube—cathode, plate (anode), and grid—are the minimum possible to construct an amplification device), the fact that it was found necessary to later add more devices to, among other things, improve linearity and reduce distortion is worth noting. Keep in mind also that at the end of the day a KT88 is not a pure triode like, for example, a 300B because of the way the grids are assembled within the tube.
 
Did I miss something? Oh yes, the power switch, which is, indeed, easy to miss. It is located underneath the unit, which seems an odd place to put it until you think about the advantage, which is that it makes it difficult to inadvertently turn the unit off and on again in quick succession—a practice that Ayon frowns upon. I think this is also in keeping with its overall approach and aesthetic of listening through a tube power amplifier. Tubes are thermionic devices and so you literally cannot get music out of them until they come up to temperature, which takes a while. Even after the Orion II warms up, it takes about a minute for the auto-biasing system to run through its checklist, making sure that all is well. Until then the amp is muted. The same is true for the shut-down procedure. So while there may have been no technical reason not to put the on/off switch right there smack in the middle of the front panel, or even on the remote for that matter, the overall deliberateness of this amplifier made the choice of switch location a natural one.
 
Use and Listening
 
This from a famous-brand headphone advertisement, which appeared on my Kindle recently: “Crushing bass and dynamic sound from 50mm drivers . . . powerful bass from Direct-Vibe sealed acoustic structure.” So you see folks, just in case you were wondering, it’s indeed all about bass. Dangerous and life-threatening bass. Although something tells me this ad was not intended to reach the demographic of e-reader owners, it nonetheless found me just as I was listening, quite happily by the way, to “animal” from Pearl Jam’s vs. [Epic] in pentode mode (of course) and getting a fairly accurate taste of the message the boys were sending 20 years ago. Tight and dynamic, with many tracks having a onetake, live feel, this album begs to be turned up loud, and the Orion II obliged. From side to side and top to bottom I got a coherent, rock-solid image of the band doing what they probably did best at decibel levels they would certainly approve of. My gut was feeling the music as much as my ears were hearing it.
 
Bass was powerful and tight as were drums. The distinct musical personalities of guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McReady were well delineated both spatially and musically. Eddie Vedder was almost in the room on some tracks. The best part is that all this was occurring with the volume control just cracked open at about 8 o’clock—achievable in a smaller listening room through suitably high-sensitivity-and-impedance speakers like my own Snells. And, of course, these ain’t just any watts—these are tube watts. While the importance of measured harmonic distortion to the quality of an amplifier remains debatable, I almost agree with Ayon that the subject is, especially in comparison to other (especially qualitative) attributes, really not worth talking about.
 
What is worth discussing (and certainly worth listening to) is an amplifier that is dynamic, fast, pushy, unapologetic, maybe even a bit rude sometimes—in other words, alive. This is what I believe Ayon has achieved with the Orion II: getting the macro-dynamics and the micro-dynamics spot-on. And I’m not talking about this being a secret truth known only to those who have the means of accessing it either through associated equipment, 180 gram virgin audiophile label LP, or 24/96 high-res digital. A terrific example of the “aliveness” of which I speak can be found in the first few measures of Oliver Nelson’s great “Stolen Moments” from The Blues and the Abstract Truth [Impulse!]. Nelson, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, and George Borrow start the piece with four successive chords each played as a crescendo followed immediately by a decrescendo. It’s fast and subtle but if it’s not there, well then the performance is missing too. This is the real “drop the book and take notice” stuff that good gear does for a living, and what the Orion II does expertly. Jazz recordings of this period (1961) were by nature “purist,” employing a minimum of takes, tracks, and microphones. Amplification was tube. This wasn’t because it was cool but because there was no alternative. Spitty, blatty, breathy, sometimes clangy, this is what brass instruments can sound like in an intimate setting—like the recording studio or my living room—and this much appreciated information came through unabridged.
 
Bass performance, which is rarely high among a tube amplifier’s bragging points, was certainly adequate in my experience, and I never felt the need for a subwoofer. If pressed I would say that the grand closing to the “Uranus” movement from The Planets [London] may have been a little soft but that low, low E of the organ nonetheless nicely locked with my room. On the other hand, it is generally held that space and midrange are a good tube amplifier’s calling cards, and the Orion II certainly met expectations here. When I played their Chanson D’Amour [RCA], the six gents of the King’s Singers were believably arranged in a semicircle before me with the location and distinct quality of each voice unerringly conveyed. Again, micro-dynamics were captured with alacrity as the Orion II was easily able to keep up with the speed at which the voices launched notes, changed pitches, and went from mezzopiano to mezzoforte and back again in a split second.
 
Instant comparisons between triode and pentode, possible given the Orion’s simple control layout, were not an option, both because of the need to shut down the unit before switching modes and because, not unexpectedly, gain levels were grossly different between the two. That said, after months of listening, I found myself favoring the pentode for most material. Dynamic, punchy, fast, and powerful were the adjectives I most often scribbled in my notes. In this mode the Orion II seemed at least twice as powerful as its rating. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the triode setting, because I did, but only on music that did not require strong and precise percussive or timing cues to sound believable and alive. The King’s Singers or Ravel’s Quartet in F [Naxos] were particularly well served. Triode also became my de facto late-night listening mode, adding just a little bit of body and richness to the sound at domestically approved levels.
 
Conclusion
 
There are so many reasons to recommend this amplifier: fabulous sonics, world-class build-quality, a manufacturer that seems to really care about what it is doing, how it is doing it, and has its customers’ best interests at heart, and yes, overall coolness. More? 
 
Ayon electronics are manufactured to EU standards, in the EU—Austria, in fact— so you can be pretty sure that the workers earn a living wage and the environment gets a break. Given a suitable pair of loudspeakers, decent upstream electronics, and, of course, good recorded material, the Orion II is a reminder that vacuumtube amplification is an excellent way to do the job. Ignoring other factors such as cost, weight, size, flexibility, efficiency, maintenance requirements, and durability, tubes may even be the best way.
My friend Carl was smitten by the Orion II after hearing it at my home after a dinner party. “How can I convince my wife that it is worth the price?” he asked, hoping that I could feed him some good ammunition for the argument soon to take place. To his dismay, knowing he had two kids in college, I told him that he most likely could not convince her but that, yes, the Orion II was definitely worth it. Absolutely worth it.

Start saving....Carl.

wonderful device of contrasts and beautiful balance between tubes technology and modern digital technology.
Jaap Veenstra (translation from Polish review)

The Ayon Skylla is a wonderful device. It is technically sound and Ayon Audio uses fine materials. The Skylla II or captivates us, especially the vocals, very rich and fluent display. Perhaps even more comfortable than our loyal Pass Labs. What also impresses us, is the versatility of the Ayon Skylla II. Lots of connections, a very thorough digital circuit and a pretty stunning tube preamp. What now old fashioned? This Skylla is all this time!

The new Ayon Skylla II is not just a DAC,, It is a Preamp with built DAC. That makes the Skylla II suddenly much more interesting, is not it? A tube preamp with 24 bit / 192 kHz DAC: jummie!
 
A decent device, this Ayon Skylla II.  very nicely finished: 
 
Ayon Audio does is an Austrian high-end brand that at time of writing for more than twenty years, designs and manufactures audio products. The brand relies heavily on the use of tubes. Preferably triode in pure class A. And not only in amplifiers, but also in this digital-to-analog converter.
 
Eight pieces
We expected that two tubes per channel in the Skylla II, but apparently that was not enough. This newcomer has eight tubes. Four 6z4 tubes for feeding and four 6H30 for the preamplifier. 
 
Versatile
The Skylla II is a very versatile device. We have to appreciate the combination of a preamplifier containing a converter. 
Back of the unit we find two analog line inputs. These however are not analogous: the Skylla digitizes the signal, then it's fine by DAC. It seems like the world upside down!
 
Besides the two line inputs, we see a whole series of digital inputs. Two coaxial inputs, one optical input, AES, I2S and USB. In short: the Skylla II may seem old-fashioned by the presence of tubes: everything is represented in the digital domain!
 
Burr Brown
The Skylla II reports that the 24 bit / 192 KHz can upsample. The choice is up to the user. The dac chip is of type 1704K, where the K stands there for a reason: this is the best batch of this chip already dating from 1998 and actually no longer available.  However, Ayon apparently wanted so them so badly for use in thier DAC they bought a whole batch of this beautiful (and famous) dac. To make it even better: there are four used in ' differential mode ', which stands for a kind of balanced mode. This makes the circuit more expensive of course, but it brings a lot of peace in the view.
 
However, the 1704K with eight times oversampling (and without filter!) Is not 24 bit / 192 kHz native: it's a 24/96 dac. This means that there is a trick to be removed. Ayon used before the DAC sample rate converter that everything turnover by 24/192. To 1704K or a 24/192 KHz signal to accept, Ayon makes no use of the eight times oversampling the 1704K offers. This would have the chip with higher frequencies should work (we understand). In short: there is no overgesampled. Before the digital signal, however, enters the DAC, the one more time by the DSP. A model of Seiko, which also controls the volume. And that dsp signal does not have to ruin proves Ayon. More on that later.
 
USB
The USB interface accepts signals up to 24 bit / 96 KHz. This means that the Skylla a more modern chip used and also does its work asynchronously. This enjoys anyway preferred. Pleasant that the USB interface no drivers needed. It is a matter of plug and play!
 
Overview
It may be clear that the Ayon a particular device. Many inputs, a digital sound design and use of tubes. We do not see this very often, but fortunately all is well, the build quality. The device weighs against the 18 pounds. Partly because of the incredibly thick aluminum casing and high feed rates.The remote is nicely done: pretty solid and complete, 
 
Super smooth
Tubes When are you thinking warm fireplace, snow on the trees and a nice glass of red us with some French cheese or a nice cone with garlic. At least, that's what we're thinking in tube amps. Others may think of phase purity, openness, great imaging and high efficiency speakers. That is the other side of the tubes story.
 
Point of attention: 
The Ayon certainly offers no excessive heat, there is a good warm after a few hours of play, but there is no excessive heat in the musical presentation. 
 
The Ayon Skylla II provides a very smooth playback. We also believe in openness, rhythm, tight layer and above all music. 
 
We were really surprised by the delicious liquid that Skylla able to achieve. Especially with the upsampling that slightly looser seems to be in the high range. It takes just a little way through the filtering edges to spare. The difference is very subtle but audible if you concentrate.
 
Pass or Ayon?
To make it interesting, we made a comparison with our own reference: the Pass Labs X2.5 where a b-DAC is linked, it's a fair comparison, they're about the same price segment, however, the latter also has a dac to drill and is advantageous in that respect.
 
It's a difficult comparison. The Pass is really a different product with a completely different structure, though it also operates completely in Class A. But there the similarities also on. The Pass is 100 percent analogous example. The Skylla has tubes and for the rest of digital design. 
The sound. - Pass seems a little more subdued to play, perhaps a little neater, maybe it's a little more faithfully. But does that means it sounds better? No, not per-se. The Ayon makes the middle range although slightly fuller, but thereby gain midbas vocals and slightly more power with it , and that can be very tasty. Moreover, it is certainly not abundant, as we earlier report. It is subtle, but noticeable. And we find it convenient if we are honest.
 
Classic look,
With a very modern interior .... wonderful device of contrasts and beautiful balance between tubes technology and modern digital technology.
 
This extra push is good to hear the beautiful CD of Natalie Merchant: Ophelia, it has a pleasant effect here, we think. It must, of course, have to fit in the set. In short: the Ayon embraces something more with music. It wants the listener something more pleasing. The Pass is more neutral (boring?).  It is a choice.
 
Conclusion
The Ayon Skylla is a wonderful device. It is technically sound and Ayon Audio uses fine materials. The Skylla II or captivates us, especially the vocals, very rich and fluent display. Perhaps even more comfortable than our loyal Pass Labs. What also impresses us, is the versatility of the Ayon Skylla II. Lots of connections, a very thorough digital circuit and a pretty stunning tube preamp. What now old fashioned? This Skylla is all this time!
It is, on balance, the finest amplifier I've heard in my system....
Tom Campbell

This review was on earlier MkI model, now replaced with new upgraded MkIII version)

For me, the Spirit managed to retain all of the typical strengths of tube amplification while avoiding most of the pitfalls. Although amps of this type often specialize in small-scale acoustic music, I found the Spirit to be an excellent all-rounder. It was able to communicate the scale of a large orchestra, and also did surprisingly well with rock 'n roll—it didn't soften and dull the edges of electric guitars the way some tube amps do.

Ayon Audio may not be a name you've heard before, but they are working hard to change that. The company—maker of a full range of audiophile products featuring all-tube amplifiers—has been around for twenty years, but is currently making a push to expand its market beyond its native Austria.
 
All of Ayon Audio's products are painstakingly designed and assembled in-house; the company even makes their own tubes. While they specialize in low-powered, single-ended designs, the Spirit integrated is the company's ostensible attempt to craft a more mainstream offering: switchable between push-pull pentode and triode operation, the Spirit pumps out a robust 50-watts per channel in pentode and 30-watts in triode. With a list price of NZ$6875 (incl GST), the Spirit and the similar, triode-only Spark integrated, are Ayon's twin entry-level offerings (since released the Oorion III as 1st entry level).
 
Entry-level it may be, but the Spirit is still a gorgeously built amp. Having it in your listening room will instantly identify you as someone who is quite serious indeed about their music playback. Looking at the photograph on the Ayon website before actually receiving the amp, I completely misjudged the Spirit's scale, thinking it much smaller than it actually is. So I was surprised to see the FedEx guy standing on my sidewalk a week or two later, laboring to pull an enormous, and enormously heavy, box up my front steps on his cart. He placed the box at my feet and fled, clearly wanting no part of getting the package up to my second-floor apartment. With considerable effort I did it myself—something I wouldn't necessarily recommend to any of you out there.
 
I let the ice-cold block (this was early April in Boston) sit for 24 hours in my apartment to get to room temperature, and the next night I unpacked the 75-pound beast—19 inches wide, about 14 inches in depth, and more than 10 inches in height, with transformer towers the size of quart paint cans. Build quality in general is impeccable, and design features (brushed aluminum casework, chrome transformers) are of uniformly high quality.
 
The Spirit uses four KT88 (Ayons own special Black Treasure tubes and/or KT120) and three 12AU7 tubes. It is a zero negative feedback design and runs in pure Class A, making it one hot-running, power-sucking machine.  The preamp section has four line levels and there are speaker taps for both 4-ohm and 8-ohm impedances.  I found the 8-ohm setting to be the correct one for both my Harbeth 7-ES monitors and Spendor 3/1P mini-monitors. 
 
Though an integrated, the Spirit occupies a spot on the audiophile spectrum where convenience features give way to more purist priorities. The small, chunky remote—brushed aluminum to match the amplifier's finish—controls volume and muting only.  There are no non-essential front panel buttons of any kind: no balance control, no tone controls, and no mono button. The amp not only has fully manual tube biasing, but has located this important feature on the back panel. The power switch is also located in the back. This may be wise given the damage that could occur if the amp was accidentally turned off in use, but is hardly convenient given that most owners will switch the amp on and off frequently to preserve tube life. Given its height, weight, and the need for easy back-panel access, the Spirit seems designed with the assumption that it will be placed either on top of a rack or on a dedicated stand.   
 
So the Spirit may not rate high in convenience, but with performance like this, I very quickly forgave and forgot. All things considered, this is the best amplifier I've had in my system. Until now that distinction belonged to my reference amp, the Coda Unison, which had easily bested all competition over the past four years—and there had been a number of challengers. While I would score the Unison and Spirit very similarly on an absolute scale—the solid-state Unison is better in some areas, the Spirit in others—the ways in which the Spirit is superior are the most important ones for me in terms of musical enjoyment.
 
Tthe Spirit really—and I mean really—distinguishes itself in terms of tone, depth, and micro-dynamics.  Instruments just had a palpable presence and dimensionality. Virgin Classical's CD of Truls Mørk playing the Bach 'cello suites provided a perfect illustration of the Spirit's strengths: the weight and woody resonance of Mørk's instrument came through in startling fashion, while the subtle nuances of his performance, the small-scale dynamic gradations that make music-making a living, breathing entity, were extraordinary.  
 
One of my desert island albums is Blue Note's three-disc collection of pianist Herbie Nichols' complete recordings for the label (also available as a Mosaic LP set in the '80s).  Nichols was an indelible composer and musician, both soulful and cerebral at the same time, and this music is some of the most beautiful, cliché-free jazz you will hear. I have been listening to these trio recordings—in very good mid-fifties mono—for years, but hearing them through the Spirit really did bring me closer than I've ever felt before: the piano tone was supple, the subtleties of Nichols' touch came through beautifully, and the whole sound picture had incredible depth and intimacy. Tone, depth, dynamics—my Unison is no slouch on any of these fronts, but the Spirit was something special.
 
The important thing to clarify at this point is that although these are areas where tube amps can sometimes impress by rendering the music in a pleasingly plummy fashion, the Spirit's sound was not exaggeratedly rich or euphonic. That 'cello sounded deep, warm and woody on the Bach CD, but it also had plenty of bite, with well-defined transients that a tilted-down treble would tend to smooth over. Yes, the Spirit does have a slightly darker balance than the solid-state Unison, but my net impression is that the Spirit makes the Unison sound a bit cooler and more clinical than the real thing, rather than the Unison making the Spirit sound too warm. 
 
For me, the Spirit managed to retain all of the typical strengths of tube amplification while avoiding most of the pitfalls. Although amps of this type often specialize in small-scale acoustic music, I found the Spirit to be an excellent all-rounder. It was able to communicate the scale of a large orchestra, and also did surprisingly well with rock 'n roll—it didn't soften and dull the edges of electric guitars the way some tube amps do.  On LPs like R.E.M.'s new Accelerate, the Spirit captured the crunch of Peter Buck's guitar parts with visceral impact, and on Elvis Costello's latest, Momofuku (again, on vinyl), the raw, live-in-the-studio vibe was captured to a tee. 
 
The Spirit and my E.A.R. phono preamp were very happy partners, but the amp and my new digital reference, the Bel Canto PL-2 universal player, were a match made in heaven. The Bel Canto is a big step up from my previous player, the (unmodded) Sony DVP-NS999ES, a unit which also played CD, SACD and DVD (but not DVD-A, which the Bel Canto does support). The PL-2 has a deep, detailed, involving sound, and is the first CD player I've owned that does not induce the fatigue factor that occurs so often after an hour (or less) of digital listening. About the only tiny fault I've found—at least through my reference amp—is a slight dryness that removes just a bit of the "air" from certain recordings. 
 
When teamed with the Spirit, though, this sense of additive dryness almost completely disappeared—that is, recordings simply sounded dry or "wet" according to the source. Whether the recording was of a live performance in a natural acoustic (the church venue of the Bach 'cello suites CD was instantly identifiable) or a layered, studio production like Beck's folky Sea Change (reasonably warm but dry as a bone), the Spirit conveyed the ambience of each CD or LP with impressive versatility and range. 
 
The Spirit also did well with the hi-rez digital formats. I've auditioned a couple of warmish amps lately (one tube and one solid-state) whose chaste top end performance essentially negated the extended dynamic and frequency range that the SACD and DVD-A formats deliver. That was not the case here. To give just one example, the recent Living Stereo SACD of Jascha Heifetz playing the Sibelius violin concerto was absolutely stunning. This is a well-known audiophile classic, but I've never heard it sound so beautiful, so powerful, so majestic. Some of the Living Stereo SACDs have been criticized for being a little leaner than previous issues of the same performances, but through the Spirit, this particular remastering (and others, like the Reiner/CSO Scheherazade and the Munch/BSO Daphnis and Chloe) sounded perfectly judged.
 
Most of my initial listening was done (and all of the above observations were made) in pentode mode. This was a purposeful strategy. Just about every review I've read of a switchable tube amp seems to conclude that the triode setting simply smokes the push-pull pentode mode. And as a company, Ayon is very much associated with its triode designs. So I wanted to get a baseline on the amp via pentode and then see if triode kicked it up to a whole new level. The fact that I found the sound in pentode to be very, very good set that baseline pretty darn high. 
 
Switching to triode revealed that this form of amplification does have something uniquely magical about it. The first track of jazz lion Charles Lloyd's wonderful new CD, Rabo de Nube, features Lloyd playing saxophone, initially accompanied only by percussionist Eric Harland, who occupies the rear left-center of the stage switching between several different shaker instruments. Through pentode mode, it sounded superb, but in triode it was uncanny: the reach-out-and-touch-it quality of both Lloyd's saxophone and, especially, of Harland's percussion was incredible—the most strikingly real reproduction I've heard in my home.
 
This "uncanny" experience was repeated with several subsequent recordings. The Tokyo Quartet's recent double-CD of the early Beethoven string quartets on Harmonia Mundi is another state-of-the-art recording, but through the Spirit's pentode mode it has just a bit of digital edge—still first-class, but a little toward the bright side of neutral. In triode, though, it's another miracle: the quartet is right there in front of me, with proper scale, gorgeous tone and three-dimensionality.  
 
Those two recordings, and numerous other small-ensemble acoustic offerings, made clear the Spirit's superior mid-range purity when in triode operation. But at least with my average-efficiency Harbeth and Spendor speakers, triode function did have its limitations. That Heifetz/Sibelius disc, which sounded so majestic in pentode, was less so in triode; and rock music in general lost too much testosterone. It didn't sound like the amp was running out of watts—climaxes in the Sibelius and other orchestral recordings held together just fine—but musical power, authority and bass foundation suffered in these larger-scale (or, as the case may be, simply louder) works. So while the most spine-tingling moments I spent with the Spirit came courtesy of its triode mode, it was not a slam-dunk winner to the point where I'd listen to it exclusively; I appreciated having both options to choose from. 
 
After 12 or so years of engaging in this hobby in earnest, I have reached a point where my system components all fall within a range that might be called "the serious but sensible audiophile." My Harbeth speakers currently retail for US$3500; my Coda integrated is about SU$4K, as is my Nottingham turntable/Grado cartridge combo; and my Bel Canto digital player, the now-discontinued PL-2, originally retailed for US$5K. 
 
I point this out only because I think it's important for readers to know the perspective that a reviewer brings to his/her job. I am not a mega-buck reviewer. Some audio writers who have a continual stream of high-end products in their living rooms—and more power to them—can sound a bit blasé when faced with a less-than-super-luxe item. That's inevitable and understandable, but as a reader, I often find myself trying to handicap their somewhat tempered impressions against what my own might be. The Ayon Audio Spirit integrated, is right in the range with which I'm most familiar. And I've auditioned quite a few products in that range that I liked and/or respected, but that just didn't thrill me. But for NZ$6,875 (incl GST), I want and expect something to thrill me. 
 
Well, the Ayon Audio Spirit integrated thrilled me. It is beautifully built and beautifully engineered, and while I often find tube amps to be jazz and classical specialists – and not particularly strong with rock or other types of popular music—I found the Spirit convincing with just about everything I threw at it (with pentode operation being better for rock and large-scale classical, and triode best for smaller, acoustic ensembles). It is, on balance, the finest amplifier I've heard in my system, and will now join the Audience adeptResponse power conditioner as one of the two components I've found hardest to return to its distributor.
 
I have to think that the Spirit is some type of loss leader as Ayon tries to establish itself in the U.S. market.  So act now—if you are looking for an integrated amplifier in this range or even a little above, it is a must-audition.
......Tom Campbell
 
its dynamic capabilities generate tangible atmosphere through picking up on reverberation and the subtlest of spatial clues.
TechRadar

This review was on earlier MkI model, now replaced with new upgraded MkIII version)

Triode mode is a timbre-lover’s dream....it is exceptionally and delightfully revealing of timbre, tonality and small dynamic shifts.
And especially with voices, that can be truly captivating. If you’re keen on stereo imagery you’ll find much to like here, too. The Spirit creates a broad and deep soundstage with sympathetically recorded material, and its dynamic capabilities generate tangible atmosphere through picking up on reverberation and the subtlest of spatial clues.

 

The amplifier really shifts up a gear when presented with the John McLaughlin Trio recording Live at The Royal Festival Hall, which it savours for its mix of vibrant acoustic guitar, sonorous electric bass and Trilok Gurtu’s dazzling array of percussion. It portrays this last element with an appropriately deft mix of delicacy and dynamics to complement McLaughlin’s nimble guitar play and Kai Eckhardt’s fluid bass-lines.

Ayon Audio might not be that well known to UK enthusiasts, but it’s a situation that is sure to change. Brought into the UK by John Jeffries’ Sussex-based distribution firm, Metropolis Music, Ayon is based in Gratkorn in the Styrian region of Austria, where it produces high-end valve amplifiers, cables, loudspeakers and a pair of CD players.
 
As if that wasn’t enough, the company even designs and manufactures its own valves. All of these products, according to Ayon, are designed to: "reward music lovers with an authentic and excitingly realistic reproduction of music as a real live event."
 
The new Ayon Spirit is an entry-level, four-input, integrated design that can operate in either Pentode or Triode mode thanks to a small rotary switch that nestles on the amplifier’s top-plate, between the valves and the shrouded transformers. The layout of the Spirit is delightfully straightforward. The fascia houses a volume knob, an infra-red eye for the remote control, a backlit logo that glows red when the amplifier is powered up and an input selector to choose between the four line-level inputs.
 
Connectivity
 
At the rear, you’ll find RCA phono connectors for the inputs, two sets of chunky binding posts for four-ohm or eight-ohm speaker connections, trimpots and test points for setting the bias on the output valves, and the mains connector/switch alongside a phase-indicating lamp that illuminates to tell you whether your mains is wired with the correct polarity.
 
Unless you are of a super-tweaky disposition, or have to change the valves without help from your dealer, you can safely ignore the trimpots and test points and simply plug your speaker cables and interconnects into the relevant orifices. The only concern will be whether to use the four- or eight-ohm sockets: if you are in any doubt, phone your dealer.
 
On top of the amplifier you’ll find two shrouded output transformers flanking a similarly encased mains transformer and seven exposed valves: a trio of 12AU7s and two pairs of KT88 output types. Apart from its substantial weight and bulk, the Spirit gives the impression of being very well built, no matter from which angle you assess it.
 
Every part of its construction, is reassuringly solid and robust. If the Spirit were a 4WD vehicle it would definitely be a no-nonsense, farmer’s Land Rover, rather than some prissy school-run special. Its 50-watt power output speaks volumes for this amplifier. In fact, that wouldn’t be a shameful figure if this were a push-pull design, which it can be, but 50 watts is very respectable for a single-ended Triode.
 
Sound quality
 
To fully assess the Spirit’s performance it was hooked it up to a Naim CDS CD player, with Chord Company Indigo interconnects and Signature bi-wire speaker cable to Neat Acoustics’ Momentum 4i speakers. The Spirit happily drives these to the sort of listening levels we enjoy with enthusiasm and ease, even in its lower-powered, single-ended Triode mode.
 
Mind you, the Spirit does encourage you to listen to rather more thoughtful music than you might do under other (solid-state powered) circumstances. This certainly isn’t an amplifier designed for a drum’n’bass fan, for example. That’s not because it can’t handle the genre, but because such music doesn’t really offer it appropriate scope for expression. We’re not being snobby, simply pointing out that the range of musical ‘colour’ and expressive vocabulary that this amplifier is capable of delivering is wasted on music that doesn’t properly exploit it.
 
The Spirit seems particularly enamoured with vocalists, especially female ones. A selection of our favourite female singers sounds particularly splendid through this amplifier, especially when it’s in Triode operating mode, which seems to bring out the subtlest qualities in their voices. The way in which Christine Collister or Pat Mears can dig into the lower, almost masculine registers of their ranges, yet retain the obvious femininity in their voices is particularly rewarding, while it simply adores Nancy Griffiths.
 
Similarly, the male voice also relishes Triode operation. The Spirit, despite its Austrian origins, does a superb job of unravelling Christy Moore’s often convoluted Irish lyricism and Dr John’s lazy Louisiana drawl, rendering both with the utmost clarity and expressive feeling.
 
Switching to Pentode mode does seem to benefit some music. The aforementioned D’n’B has more punch and rhythmic impetus, as does Rage Against The Machine, where the percussion and bass guitar have more overt snap and leading edge impact. Nonetheless, in Triode mode it is far clearer how, for example, Tom Morello is extracting the weird and wonderful tones from his guitar.
Ultimately, Triode operation beats Pentode into a cocked hat with all musical genres. The slight lessening of rhythmic snap and impetus, along with the reduction in volume, is a small price to pay for the enhanced exposition of timbre, tonality and three-dimensionality that is so evident on vocals and all instruments.
 
Broad and deep soundstage
 
The amplifier really shifts up a gear when presented with the John McLaughlin Trio recording Live at The Royal Festival Hall, which it savours for its mix of vibrant acoustic guitar, sonorous electric bass and Trilok Gurtu’s dazzling array of percussion. It portrays this last element with an appropriately deft mix of delicacy and dynamics to complement McLaughlin’s nimble guitar play and Kai Eckhardt’s fluid bass-lines. And therein lie the strengths and weaknesses of the Spirit. It isn’t the ultimate pace, rhythm, and timing machine (understandably, it can’t match our solid-state reference amps), but it is exceptionally and delightfully revealing of timbre, tonality and small dynamic shifts. And especially with voices, that can be truly captivating. If you’re keen on stereo imagery you’ll find much to like here, too. The Spirit creates a broad and deep soundstage with sympathetically recorded material, and its dynamic capabilities generate tangible atmosphere through picking up on reverberation and the subtlest of spatial clues.
 
The same ability also makes light work of discriminating between period and modern orchestral instrumentation. Interestingly, the Spirit also seems to time more insistently with classical recordings than it does with rock, such that its musical presentation is on a par with the more cosmetic aspects.
 
In fact, the only question we really can’t answer is why Ayon bothered with the Triode/Pentode switching when the single-ended mode sounds so superior to the push-pull alternative.
They are champagne for a person with a wine box budget.
Doug Schroeder

These two dodge the warm, wet blanket sound of an all-tube system with a tube source, yet retain the best of the glow and vitality of tubes. As a relatively new name to North America, and to win the hearts of audiophiles, Ayon’s products have to be not only good, but very good. Having run this pairing through my gauntlet, I can recommend them without reservation. Putting myself in the shoes of an audiophile who wants a taste of the authentic high-end, but without the worry of component matching or spending one’s self into the poor house, Ayon is a name to remember! Individually or in tandem these pieces play well with elegance and effervescence.

The amplifier is capable of conveying not only the basic sonic components but of something over and above, like the recording atmosphere or the type of remaster in its upper layer, where we talk about artistic expression.
Wojciech Pacula

Gerhard Hirt belongs to a group of designers who know what they are doing. He seems to fully control all aspects of his products, from their enclosure design to their sonic characteristics. .....the Ayon is a really refreshing perspective. The new

This new version of Spirit III presents us with a big, saturated sound. A large, expansive soundstage is well controlled and "grasped" so there’s no need to worry that something may be too "puffed up". The bass extends low and deep and has a nice colour. It skilfully differentiates colour and attack, which also stretches over to the midrange. 

n November 2010, Ayon sent out information about having completed a new version of its classic Spirit amplifier. Some time later, I reviewed it for the "Audio" magazine and it turned out to be a good amp. Maybe not outstanding, in the sense that it would put everything else to shame, but very well built and sounding very solid and well ordered. A strong “B” to denote a good, safe choice. I recently heard the news about the launch of a new version Spirit III 
 
It turns out that the Spirit III (New) is based on some design solutions recently introduced in the higher Triton III integrated amplifier and in the Eris line preamp. From the latter it’s taken the preamp section in the form of new circuits and new signal attenuator. Now it’s electronically controlled with an alphanumeric display visible on the front next to the volume knob. The tube driver section is also new and sports 6SJ7 metal vacuum tubes for a much better protection against signal noise, including hum. The tube output section in turn uses brand new speaker transformers with a wider frequency response and better protected against vibration - both self induced and coming from the outside.
 
I asked Gerhard for details:
 
We’ve done a mild exterior facelift and a few upgrades inside but didn’t want to brag about it, hence the amplifier is still called Spirit III. The implemented changes are, in fact, quite extensive: a new volume control with a display screen, a new driver stage, the latest version of the "auto-fixed-bias" circuit and an advanced tube protection circuit, which all brought a big sonic improvement.
 
Regardless of what we think about the amplifier name, the basic specification is not based on “numbers”. We know that it is an integrated amplifier with pre-out but also with direct-in. While the pre-out is a classic, the direct power amp input is quite rare for a tube integrated amplifier. Apparently, however, it is Gerhard’s nod towards home theatre owners as the Spirit can work in home theatre systems. Just connect your AV’s stereo pre-out to Ayon’s direct-in and you end up with a pimped out stereo and multi-channel system in one. The input can of course be use for something else and if you have a better preamplifier or a source with an integrated preamp that is better than the one in the Austrian amplifier, this way you can skip the Spirit’s preamp. The output stage is based on a pair of KT88sx power tubes per channel, driven by interesting 6SJ7 pentodes in triode mode, housed in characteristic metal cups instead of usual glass bulbs. KT88sx is a variant of the KT88 manufactured for Ayon by Shuguang. 
 
A new addition on the front panel is a an alphanumeric display with volume indication. Already in the previous Spirit 'III' the volume control was electronic, but the volume level indication was conventional via the volume knob position. The volume logic was controlled by a classic rotary potentiometer with a start and end point. Hence, there was no need for a separate indicator. 
 
How do we understand the term "tube sound"? I, for one, am deeply convinced that it is commonly understood in a rather clear-cut way. It is naturally a stereotype, but like any such simplification it helps to quickly assess the situation and there is lots of truth to it. Mostly historical, granted, but truth nevertheless. So how do we understand "tube sound"? Everybody knows it is warm. It also has a rolled off and rounded treble and not fully controlled bass. And there is no use expecting good speaker control unless we are talking about tube monsters. These are the minuses. Among the advantages the first is the so-called musicality. While itself a buzzword disliked by many, in such cases it automatically springs up to mind. It’s a bit like describing a stereotype with another stereotype, but it often works! Musicality would be understood here as vividness, smoothness and fluidity, combined with the absence of irritating sharpness and distortion. If that’s how we understand the "tube sound", then Gerhard Hirt has been for years doing everything to make his amps deny such a stereotype.
 
I'm talking about amplifiers instead of products, generally, because Gerhard "handles" his digital sources in a different way and his preamps in yet another way. At least that’s my understanding based on a comparison to other such products from leading manufacturers. His preamps seem to be the most neutral. Not only are they neutral but they take away the least from the sound. It’s because they are also natural. Gerhard’s digital sources sound incredibly natural, too, except that in their case it’s more difficult to talk about neutrality. Their bass is usually beefed-up and midrange strongly emphasised. It's very likeable and sounds great so it’s not surprising that to many they represent the “Ayon sound”. Last but not least, the amplifiers sound less natural than the preamps but perhaps even more neutral. If anyone is for example worried about tube amp’s bass control, Ayon shows that the problem is largely not in the technology itself but in its proper application. Ayon will prove wrong anyone who finds it hard to believe that a tube amp can drive speakers with a lower-than-average sensitivity. It will also cure of any complexes related to the treble presentation.
For all these years, what I appreciated the most was what Gerhard did with his preamplifiers and digital sources (I basically don’t know his speakers). Although his amplifiers sounded great and were liked by many music lovers, I missed a better tonal balance and their sound seemed to me a little too calculated. Not always so, as there were exceptions, but this is how I generally remembered them. Naturally, a careful selection of the accompanying components would be a great remedy and often brought spectacular results. I've heard it many times.
 
The Spirit III is the first Ayon amplifier that goes in exactly the same direction as the best sources from this manufacturer, such as the CD-5s Special. It doesn’t ruin the image Gerhard worked for years to achieve, but it adds to it some characteristics that make it now an extremely versatile machine.
 
Upon firing it up we get a large volume of sound. It is a bit "tubey" but is not identical with such presentation. The volume that we get with the new Spirit III is not based on emphasised midrange and rolled off highs, which usually results in vividness. Here big simply means big. Listening to Daft Punk we get pushed in a big balloon, into a dense, expansive sound cocoon. It’s not a midrange chirp-chirp just in front of our nose, but an impetuous, colourful sound. The lower bass is massive and well-defined. It is complemented with the treble that’s not harsh but can be feisty and present when needed, such as on Nirvana's In Utero. A heavy compression did not hamper the album from showing the dirty sound created by the musicians together with the sound producer.  The Spirit has a tendency to sound just that way. With smaller ensembles where silence, pause and reflection are equally important, such as on Bach’s violin concertos performed by Yehudi Menuhin, the amp was held back, as if lurking. One could sense it was only temporary, just to play with the rules of the game, and it would strike back when needed. Yet it do never crossed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not.
 
It seems that it results from a kind of focusing on the sound. It's not as much an excessive control as "mindfulness." Although the Ayon has an inclination towards a strong and slightly beefed-up sound, it stays within the operating limits of a high-end amplifier and is very versatile. It differentiates well without blending the material into a pulp. The difference between the new remaster of the said Concerts… supervised by Mr. Kiuchi from Combak Corporation, and their previous version was huge, indeed; nothing of the sort of "a little better here, a little worse there". The classical EMI remaster from 1990s could only be rejected as lacking in comparison. The amplifier is capable of conveying not only the basic sonic components but of something over and above, like the recording atmosphere or the type of remaster in its upper layer, where we talk about artistic expression. The Spirit is at the same time a very safe choice. It may not be exceptionally resolving, but neither does it blend everything together - it just accentuates the larger groups, bigger planes rather than individual sounds.
 
You'll love the soundstage it creates. It is a large and expansive. I think it has been achieved through the saturation of the bottom end. While the common opinion is that the accuracy and size of soundstage is determined by the treble, the reality is that its quality and maturity depends more on what happens on the other end of the frequency band. For the soundstage to have a reliable size, that is to resemble what we know a live event, the sound can’t be rolled off at the bottom or compressed. I know it well from practice. Almost every mixing console sports a switchable high pass filter, typically 100 Hz, at the microphone input. Sound engineers often use it to prevent the speakers from accidental pops and hum (50 Hz and harmonics) and as a kind of general "protection". Theoretically, the relatively low set filter shouldn’t specifically affect the vocals. And yet even a high female voice is thinner and shallower with the filter on. I have experienced this many times and avoid using it now, if possible. Linear bass means a higher sound volume and its better anchoring on the soundstage.
 
That’s exactly what I faced, listening to the Spirit. Its bass was very low and deep, also in the triode mode. Gerhard told me once that he drives the tubes quite hard running them at high plate voltages, but the sound is muffled and "rounded" otherwise. Fortunately, that’s not a big problem for the new Spirit as it employs the latest version of bias adjustment and an integrated soft-start circuit for extended tube life. This translates into the kind of sound we don’t expect from vacuum tubes. In addition to a slightly soft and colorful sound known from good tube amplifiers, we also get here high dynamics and a very good control extending to the bottom end.
 
Conclusion
 
Gerhard Hirt belongs to a group of designers who know what they are doing. He seems to fully control all aspects of his products, from their enclosure design to their sonic characteristics. We may not always agree with him, as these are HIS choices to which WE can say "no" and everything will be fine. But it will be a response to his specific, well thought-out proposition. One that helps us make an equally informed decision. After an endless parade of products that happen to turn out better or worse, sometimes with their designers not even knowing why, the Ayon is a really refreshing perspective. Here, we don’t need to reject the designer’s wrong and accidental decisions but can simply react to his quality proposition.
 
The new version of Spirit III presents us with a big, saturated sound. A large, expansive soundstage is well controlled and "grasped" so there’s no need to worry that something may be too "puffed up". The bass extends low and has a nice colour. It skilfully differentiates colour and attack, which also stretches over to the midrange.  This new set of compromises suits me much better than the previous one. Gerhard’s new integrated amplifiers sound more like his preamps, in not try to hide they employ tube technology. But they don’t show it off, either. Instead, they manage to keep everything in balance. That’s something needed most in audio. A truly great paradigm shift!
 
Testing Methodology:
 
I spent with the Spirit much more time than usual because I also used to review all anti-vibration platforms presented in the previous issue of "High Fidelity", (see the archive HERE). While its mechanical design is very good, it sounded different and usually better with each of them. The best results were with the CEC ASB3545WF Wellfloat and the HRS M3X. They are expensive accessories but will help us achieve a much better sound without the need to upgrade the component. It’s also worth trying out the Resonator 1000 Hz from Finite Elemente, which brings clearly positive results. Or to check out quartz resonators, putting them on output transformer casings. The review had a character of an A/B comparison with the A and B known. The reference point was my reference system amplifier and the Corus + the 625 from Jeff Rowland as a two-box amplifier. Music samples were 2 minutes long. The power cord used was the Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved Version, while the interconnects and speaker cables were from Acoustic Revive ("System II").
 
Design:
 
As strange as it may seem, Ayon components didn’t always have a "typical" Ayon look. Have a look at a 300B amplifier from this manufacturer reviewed by us in June 2008 (see HERE) to find out what I’m talking about. As you can see, its shape and enclosure design solutions brought to mind small manufacturers employing several people, which is actually what Ayon was back then. It turned out to be the last such design from early Ayon whose next components were soon to look like the CD-3, reviewed by us a month later (see HERE). Except for some details, it was the shape that remained with us till today – thick aluminium plates, rounded corners and hidden mounting screws. And a big Ayon logo in the centre of the front panel. It all started in 2006 with digital players. Their enclosures were manufactured for Ayon in China by Raysonic. However, as often happens in such cases, this cooperation got out of Gerhard’s control and the market saw CD players and amplifiers with Raysonic’s logo and electronics that didn’t have much in common with the Austrian company. They were, however, associated with it as they looked similar and used similar enclosure design concepts. Gerhard ended it quickly by buying his own factory in Hong Kong, in which he has since manufactured all the mechanical components. And what about Raysonic? Well… Some time ago, Mr. Steven Leung, its owner, embezzled its money and fled, leaving the plant with despairing employees (part of the story can be found HERE). Once a thief, always a thief, it seems.
 
After transferring production to its own factory Ayon visibly improved assembly and finish quality of its products. Eventually, the contemporary "Ayon look" came about. It is based on black-anodized aluminium with touches of chrome. In the Spirit III, the latter is used for transformer casings, located behind the tubes. Silver are also octal valve holders for the KT88sx (Black Treasure) tubes, here one pair per channel working in push-pull AB. The tubes have Ayon logo and a distinctive black glass container. They are manufactured for the Austrian company by Chinese giant Shuguang that also sells them under the name "Black Glass" Treasure Tubes. The rest of the Spirit enclosure is black, including the two knurled knobs for volume control and input selector respectively. Next to the former we find a display screen that distinguishes model III from the II. It shows the current volume level (on an absolute scale, in dB) for a few seconds before going off. It's a proof that volume control is not via a resistive potentiometer but is probably based on a digitally controlled analog resistor ladder network. There are of course more differences, such as improved bias auto-calibration system, of which Gerhard is very proud, and different driver tubes. The input stage is classic, built on the 12AU7W from Tung-Sol, but next we see black metal containers of the 6SJ7, here NOS Russian military 6Ж8 from 1972. Registered for the first time in 1938, this octal base tube was originally intended for radio and then also television sets. It’s a pentode, unlike the input tubes, here working in triode mode.
 
The other knob is the input selector. Adjacent to it we see red LEDs indicating the current active input as well as the “mute” and "triode" modes. Ayon quite often lets the user choose the operating mode of the output tubes. They can be operated either as classic beam tetrodes (which they are) or as triodes. The output power drops in the triode mode but the sound character changes, too. Switch between the modes with a small knob visible in front of the input tubes.
 
I mentioned the auto-bias circuit. In fact, it is semi-automatic as the initial calibration is performed manually. Once that’s completed, auto-calibration is used on each power-up of the amplifier. It doesn’t take long and is signalled by a flashing illuminated logo on the front panel. During this power up time the soft-start circuit gradually increases filament voltage to warm up the tubes before full plate voltage is applied. This significantly extends tube life. A part of this circuit are the LEDs on the rear panel, a "reset" switch and a USB port used to measure voltages.
 
The rear panel also sports two rows of large, solid speaker binding posts manufactured in-house by Ayon. There are three posts per channel – the ground, 4 Ω and 8 Ω taps. Next you we see three pairs of equally solid RCA connectors and one pair of XLR connectors. There is also the "Direct In" input to bypass the preamp and volume control, useful in home theatre systems. Adjacent to it is the pre-out connector that can be used for bi-amping. Next to the IEC mains socket there is a switch to decouple the signal ground from the chassis and a red light indicating incorrect phase of the power cord. If it’s on, the mains plug needs to be turned over – if it’s a Shuko. The power-off switch is mechanical and placed on the bottom, close to the front panel. The amplifier can be operated by a small remote control that features volume control and "mute" buttons.
 
The bottom panel is made of perforated aluminium plate, visibly thinner than the other panels. Electronic components are mounted on gold plated circuit boards and yet the interior is full of wires that connect individual sections. Some of them are used in other amplifiers from the manufacturer. Power supply and logic circuits take the most space. Output stage voltage is filtered by eight sizeable capacitors with Ayon’s logo and two large chokes, one per channel. Separate power supplies are used for the preamplifier and logic circuits including the volume control chip, and for filament voltage. The tubes are coupled via polypropylene capacitors without any logo. Attention is drawn to an oversized AC line filter on a massive choke and a capacitor. One of the circuit boards is potted with a black material, which prevents identification of its components. The audio circuit uses no feedback.
Realistic speed and pace were their most striking features. The Ayons thus achieve that very rare combination of being delicate and musically natural whilst being articulate and accurately precise.
Joel Chevassus

.....the new Orthos XS proved supremely transparent and revealing of subtle detail and small-scale signal. This high degree of transparency did not default into spurious artificial brightness or harshness. 

....they never sound dull and nor miss microdynamic or large scale voltage shifts.

.....their impressive depth and profusion of musical detail seemed effortless without the added artifice that many amplifiers inject to reach this level of accuracy. 

.....the Orthos XS also delivered effortless high-speed musical transients whilst maintaining adequate delicacy of natural sound without artificial edge or sharpness. 

.....articulation was clearly among the best I ever heard from tube amplification. These monos were able to delineate transients even on massive orchestral recordings .

.....a perfect rendering of dynamics and precise placement of each instrument in a three-dimensional soundstage. The level of silence provided was really impressive.

......the bass was rather rich, full and superbly defined. 

.....Winner of a rare and highly coverted 6MOONS BLUE-MOON award

Weightlifting Round #1 – Ayon's KT150 Orthos XS. This review is the starting point for what you might call my curious weightlifting exercise. My next few reviews will focus on some of the most powerful commercially available monaural amps. Today's Ayon Orthos XS will be closely followed by Karan's most powerful KAM 2000, then Chord's SPM-6000. These will get compared to my own more modestly powered Orpheus and Luxman amplifiers. Despite the fact that ultra demanding loads have become quite rare in the current high-end speaker market, manufacturers still offer a few big amps with massive reserves of current and power. The relationship between power and sound quality is obviously not implicit. Dinosaurial amp eaters like Apogee Scintilla or Infinity Kappa speakers seem like a musty old story today. That makes a waste of money and crazy electrical consumption out of yesteryear's amps designed to drive them.
 
Yet brutish power remains a prerequisite for very ambitious speakers from average to low sensitivity to avoid overload and clipping. If your amp has insufficient power to match the logarithmic demands of SPL increases (each 10dB increase in acoustic loudness, say from 90 to 100dB, requires 10 x as much electrical power), the top and bottom of the waveforms representing the audio signal are clipped off to generate speaker-eating distortion. The next step leads the amplifier to activate its protection circuits to remove the signal portions causing the overload to generate further distortion. Another option are high-sensitivity speakers and low-power amps. Quite often this choice represents a thornier path to the audio heavens considering the degradation in tonal accuracy when such speakers are asked to play loud. There's also harshness and complete loss of off-axis performance as the weak points of horn-loaded designs.
 
Rest assured though that my intentions here are not as underhanded apologist for low-sensitivity speakers and high-powered amplifiers. Audio is made up of many options and choices. Synergy between the various components in your system remains key. My considerations only aim to highlight the interest one might nowadays have to acquire such massively potent monaural amps in the first place.
 
Small rooms and neighbours tend to limit our interest in them. But when somebody means to reproduce real-life acoustic sound levels in a sizeable room without neighbourly considerations or big horns, big power requirements are mandatory. Here loudness should not be considered a kind of audio madness since clean undistorted loud sound often does not even sound that loud. In fact with most home playback small amounts of distortion are caused by lack of dynamic headroom. This distortion feeds into the 'loud' perception in a domestic setting. To remove those distortions and increase dynamic headroom now leads us to more powerful amplifiers. In the scheme of high fidelity, the last barrier to realism is having enough power to approximate real-life loudness levels. That is the central topic of my weightlifting series. Coming back now to Ayon’s new crown jewel, founder Gerhard Hirt has released an ambitious third version of the Orthos's first iteration with three possible sets of pentodes: KT88, KT120 and the new KT150. Released by the 6550’s father the Tung Sol label, the latter is an upgrade of the previous KT120 supposed to deliver enormous power, i.e. 35 to 40 watts per tube with utmost refinement and transparency. 400 watt of pure class A power from classic push-pull KT valves seems crazy for civilized watts and was previously reserved for a few OTL designs and the most powerful of Manley’s realizations. Yet that's also what Ayon's Orthos XS is about
 
There are in fact still more powerful tube amps such as the 800-watt VTL Siegfried monos, the older 1.250-watt VTL Wotan or the 450-watt VAC Statement. Those are cost-no-object realizations sold at indecent prices. For example the VAC 450 monos demand US$80.000 dollars whilst the Siegfrieds were introduced at US$65.000. In this context the new kid in town seems quite affordable at €23.500. Of course the new KT150 significantly boosts the Orthos XS power from 250 watts (KT88) and 300 watts (KT120) to finally 400 watts in maximal pentode mode. But the Ayon, acclaimed by its designer as "one of the absolutely best-sounding KT88 power amplifier in the world", also would seem to gather most of the refinement of the aforementioned monsters. This XS reference amplifier should thus provide unsurpassed sound quality and drive a truly wide range of speaker types to optimal and consistent performance under all conditions. As usual chef Gerhard applied his personal touch to this KT flagship with very short signal paths even for the PCB copper traces, 0dB negative feedback, no solid-state device in the signal path and a high-current/low-impedance design which operates its tubes in the sweet spot of their load lines with a dual-grounding system.
 
The Orthoss XS are shipped in two robust raw wooden boxes for a good level of protection during transportation. However no crazy amount of money was spent on these boxes. Gerhard Hirt focused exclusively on the quality of the product itself. His high-grade aluminum anodized and brushed anti-vibration chassis are hand assembled for the best level of craftsmanship. The previous XS chassis was improved for better heat ventilation. Its four aluminum feet are resonance-absorbing types to banish most mechanical interferences. All front and rear panel descriptions are engraved. On the front panel a backlit 'Ayon' logo blinks during thermal stabilisation. 
 
All fourteen valves of each monaural amplifier are numbered to indicate careful prior testing/matching and should be placed in their dedicated sockets. The new KT150 bottle looks very pretty compared to its KT88 grandpa and the amps look refined and modern, matching the cosmetics of Ayon's complete line The Orthos XS has an automatic bias circuit with a twist as Hirt has designed a new automatic fixed bias circuit to control the operating conditions of his power tubes reliably without a negative sonic influence. This intelligent auto-fixed bias system thus must not be mistaken for a semi-automatic or fully automatic bias which won't achieve comparable results. Ayon's circuit does not operate during actual playback. The Orthos XS auto-fixed bias circuit also adds a sophisticated electronic two-way protection circuit which kicks in during the tube test program and switch-on period. In case of excessive bias current or a defective tube, the high voltage switches off immediately either via the opto-coupler controlled comparator circuit or an A/D converter. These protection circuits are transparent and outside the signal path.
 
After the amplifier has run for more than 45 minutes to reach optimal tube operating temperature, an additional bias reference control happens after power-down confirmed with the rear display. The measured bias values are stored and used as reference value for the next session to always provide the best possible working points accounting for wear and aging. Logic-controlled automatic biasing of all tubes means constant optimal performance. Should the reference control detect that a tube can no longer attain its optimal value or that its perfect working status is no longer guaranteed (bias current showing too high a value), the high voltage switches off, the logo blinks and the respective tube is indicated by its display digit on the backside of the amp.
 
On the top plate an analog bias meter provides direct control of the bias value for each tube thanks to the bias selector switch on the rear panel. Above the meter a mode switch allows easy change between triode and pentode modes. As the relationship between circuitry, output transformers and speaker crossover network can be very complex, the manufacturer advises us to try both modes and see which one works best. With my Vivid speakers not being extremely demanding, triode mode was more convincing. Considering the specifications, the power level in triode mode is certainly high enough to drive almost any load whilst delivering a level of delicacy and sweetness that seems commonly unattainable with big pentodes.
 
From the rear panel there are a few details typical for Ayon gear: a ground switch useful to increase noise rejection; and an AC power polarity indicator that lights up under incorrect electrical phase. Ayon's output transformers are rather impressive. The biggest challenge with designing such big iron is that it needs to be maximally large for bass current which makes it harder and harder to maintain top-end finesse. If the coupling is not watched carefully, capacitance and leakage inductance will roll off the high frequencies. Technically the design of the new super-wide bandwidth output transformer is a substantial increase in the number of interleaved sections, "significantly improving the coupling between primary and the secondary windings (even the individual wires) and increasing the efficiency of the transformer by lowering the insertion loss." The output transformers are sealed in an anti-resonance potting compound.
 
The Orthos XS operates in a push-pull pentode or triode mode and class A. The power supply was carefully implemented despite the more tolerant push-pull design. Quality took a significant leap forward due in part to the use of new precision-regulated power supplies. Benefits include increased dynamic headroom and a tighter more tuneful bass. The care bestowed on the power supply design is said to have brought vividness and a noticeable increase in agility and articulation. The balanced input stage keeps the noise floor vanishingly low. AC line filtration was enhanced and separate transformers, chokes and filters insure complete isolation between input and output stages. 
 
Hirt uses electrolytic capacitors with large storage capacity to compensate for the loss in filtering when using resistors in lieu of inductors. Each Orthos XS has two separate low-noise insulated power transformers encased, fully damped and RFI/EMI shielded. A logic sequenced soft-start power up extends tube life. All passive components seem of premium quality such as high-speed coupling capacitors, gold-plated PCB and tube sockets with beryllium-copper spring pins.
 
Base specifications are bandwidth of 8Hz to 70kHz into 4 & 8 ohms, 1kHz input impedance of 47KΩ, input sensitivity of 1200mV for full power, S/N ratio of 98dB, dimensions of 35x61x25cm and weight of 50kg.
 
Sound.
To my ears the new Orthos XS proved supremely transparent and revealing of subtle detail and small-scale signal. This high degree of transparency did not default into spurious artificial brightness or harshness. Contrarily to imperfect KT88 designs, the big Ayons were examples of sheer delicacy from the go. They never sound dull and nor miss microdynamic or large scale voltage shifts. Their impressive depth and profusion of musical detail seemed effortless without the added artifice that many amplifiers inject to reach this level of accuracy. 
 
The Orthos XS also delivered effortless high-speed musical transients whilst maintaining adequate delicacy of natural sound without artificial edge or sharpness. Compared to my Orpheus Thee M and Luxman M800a monos They might have tended to soften the grain of violins and voices but deftly avoided putting too much emphasis on the midrange or a euphonic rendering. 
 
Articulation was clearly among the best I ever heard from tube amplification. These monos were able to delineate transients even on massive orchestral recordings such as the Third Symphony of Saint Saëns without smearing the various details and instruments together. Realistic speed and pace were their most striking features. The Ayons thus achieve that very rare combination of being delicate and musically natural whilst being articulate and accurately precise. The two Orthoss XS had impressive reserves of dynamics which felt distilled with an uncommon sense of relaxed ease. I never had the sensation that the Ayons started to congest under loud or complex signals. Clipping levels seemed in fact quite unachievable. 
 
My Austrian loaners exhibited that typical blackness which makes for a perfect rendering of dynamics and precise placement of each instrument in a three-dimensional soundstage. The level of silence provided was really impressive. The new Orthoss delivered one of the quietest noise floors I ever experienced with tube amplification very close to best solid-state realizations like big Mark Levinson. Thus overall clarity and transparency were outstanding for devices of this class. Each subtle textural detail and minor transient often buried and obscured were effortlessly revealed. The Ayons also delivered plenty of subtle imaging cues such as hall ambience, localization and depth information and even information about the air and space surrounding each performer on stage. 
 
Accuracy of tone is not the strongest point of a KT88 push-pull design. Here the potential buyer will obviously not expect a 300B midrange. Gerhard Hirt nevertheless succeeded in tone which stands in my opinion above average for this class of amplifier. This may also depend on the choice of valves and associated equipment particularly the preamplifier. The Orthoss have a kind of honesty in the upper midrange that further helps the accurate depth layering and portrayal of concert hall ambience. They are very linear and never gave me the sensation of overemphasized treble or upper midrange.
 
The bass was rather rich, full and superbly defined. My loaners demonstrated excellent skills with rhythm and articulation. Their low register were never preeminent or boomy and clarity across the entire bandwidth was another strong feature of the Austrian amps. Accuracy of string attacks was impressive. I thought that my Orpheus Three M were amongst the best to get such energy and accuracy from transients but the Orthoss XS performed nearly as well with more subtle decays. My two Luxman M800a amplifiers deliver less energy but a bit more density and texture on strings instruments. 
 
The sound in triode mode compared to pentode was certainly not night and day. Triode mode brought a bit more openness and air that made the sound a bit more natural. Pentode had a bit more dynamics with better bass impact. It should be more matter of taste than compromise between higher power and better sound. 300 watts should perfectly drive most speakers on the market. Going for an extra 100 watts should only benefit a few very difficult loads. In either mode the Orthos XS remained accurate and delicate. Here they remained slightly different versus what I experienced with other big valve amplifiers. They sounded truly effortless and far more civilized than a CAT JL2 or JL3 for example. Their huge delivery of raw power always was accompanied by both ease and delicacy, never brute force.
 
On Sarah Lenka's Hush [Emotive Records] the jazz club ambience was superbly reproduced and with utmost clarity. So were the incredible presence and vocal fragility of the young singer. Over my two Luxman M-800a the soundstage was wider and the sound more liquid. Ayon's midrange was perhaps not as gorgeous and warm but still more accurate than my Orpheus Three M. With my Japanese amps the sound had a kind of organic density not obtainable from the others. On naturalness I'd say that the Ayons delivered the most realism followed by the Luxman then Orpheus Labs. In fact the Orthos XS had the kind of SET sound that made textural subtlety quite incomparable to the others. Sarah Lenka’s voice had all the soft subtle detail that clued me to the notion of closeness to how the music was recorded whilst the Luxmans provided a bit more romance and forward projection. In the end the Orthos XS did not sound ethereal like other tube amps I tried on my Vivids but were more holographic and three-dimensional. 
 
On Peer Gynt conducted by Paavo Järvi [Virgin Classics] the depth was impressive and the accuracy and speed of transients outstanding. The Orpheus Three M are truly very good at this but the Orthos XS stood a clear step above my Swiss amps, demonstrating an effortless nature which eludes these transistors. Treble purity and the resultant soundstage enveloped me in the musical event. Powerful, taut and deep bass suggested a real-life experience because of its amazing linearity. In any area of the bandwidth the Orthos XS sounded natural due to this rare alliance between absence of compression and presence of organic feel. The Orthos XS had me hear the initial attack in adequate proportion to the subsequent resonant fundamental and resultant harmonics. 
 
Listening to Cantate Domino featuring the Oscar Motet Choir [Proprius] the Orthos delivered a pleasant and realistic rendering of this very natural analog recording captured with only two Pearl TC4 microphones and one Revox A77 open-reel recorder. Accurate localization of each voice, extension in the bottom end and sensation of depth all felt completely respected. The Ayons were top performers with recorded acoustics and a profusion of ambient detail. On each track of this audiophile recording and despite its age I was able to feel the air floating inside the church within a fluid organ rendition. Church pipe organs are definitely a meaningful indicator of hifi accuracy especially for speakers and amps. Most audio systems cannot reproduce the correct intensity of the whole bandwidth and the first two octaves often sound too recessed or uncontrollably loud but never right.
 
A very stable amplifier associated with accurately designed speakers should resize the organ to its normal scale and make it breathe softly. [Ahem – normal size relative to even Joël's dedicated room really remains a misnomer when dealing with a church organ. When is the last time you tried to get an organ in there? - Ed]. That’s where the Orthos XS seemed very much at ease, opening up a huge soundstage well outside the Vivid K1s.
Blue Moon award bestowed by a solid-state lover who could very easily live with Ayon's very big tube amps.
Joël Chevassus

The Orthos XS monoblocks put an end to the guesswork formerly inherent in large tube amplifiers whilst crossing new thresholds of sonic performance. The sheer quantity of detail, drive, space and emotion revealed in familiar recordings was nothing short of outstanding. Thanks to their huge precision-regulated power supplies these monaural amplifiers handle the most demanding loads with ease, ensuring consistency of performance under seemingly any condition. 400 watts of class A power result in impressive dynamic headroom and tight deep resounding bass. .....the new Orthos XS come close to truly vanishing with an effortless naturalness commonly reserved to low-powered single ended triodes. Conceived as a cost-no-object tour de force, this final iteration of the circuit still seems affordable in absolute terms once we contemplate its actual competitors in the market place. That’s why a reasonable price for this kind of beast allied to top design quality, apparent reliability and fabulous sonics call for a Blue Moon award

Weightlifting Round #1 – Ayon's KT150 Orthos XS. This review is the starting point for what you might call my curious weightlifting exercise. My next few reviews will focus on some of the most powerful commercially available monaural amps. Today's Ayon Orthos XS will be closely followed by Karan's most powerful KAM 2000, then Chord's SPM-6000. These will get compared to my own more modestly powered Orpheus and Luxman amplifiers. Despite the fact that ultra demanding loads have become quite rare in the current high-end speaker market, manufacturers still offer a few big amps with massive reserves of current and power. The relationship between power and sound quality is obviously not implicit. Dinosaurial amp eaters like Apogee Scintilla or Infinity Kappa speakers seem like a musty old story today. That makes a waste of money and crazy electrical consumption out of yesteryear's amps designed to drive them.
 
Yet brutish power remains a prerequisite for very ambitious speakers from average to low sensitivity to avoid overload and clipping. If your amp has insufficient power to match the logarithmic demands of SPL increases (each 10dB increase in acoustic loudness, say from 90 to 100dB, requires 10 x as much electrical power), the top and bottom of the waveforms representing the audio signal are clipped off to generate speaker-eating distortion. The next step leads the amplifier to activate its protection circuits to remove the signal portions causing the overload to generate further distortion. Another option are high-sensitivity speakers and low-power amps. Quite often this choice represents a thornier path to the audio heavens considering the degradation in tonal accuracy when such speakers are asked to play loud. There's also harshness and complete loss of off-axis performance as the weak points of horn-loaded designs.
 
Rest assured though that my intentions here are not as underhanded apologist for low-sensitivity speakers and high-powered amplifiers. Audio is made up of many options and choices. Synergy between the various components in your system remains key. My considerations only aim to highlight the interest one might nowadays have to acquire such massively potent monaural amps in the first place.
 
Small rooms and neighbors tend to limit our interest in them. But when somebody means to reproduce real-life acoustic sound levels in a sizable room without neighbourly considerations or big horns, big power requirements are mandatory. Here loudness should not be considered a kind of audio madness since clean undistorted loud sound often does not even sound that loud. In fact with most home playback small amounts of distortion are caused by lack of dynamic headroom. This distortion feeds into the 'loud' perception in a domestic setting. To remove those distortions and increase dynamic headroom now leads us to more powerful amplifiers. In the scheme of high fidelity, the last barrier to realism is having enough power to approximate real-life loudness levels. That is the central topic of my weightlifting series. Coming back now to Ayon’s new crown jewel, founder Gerhard Hirt has released an ambitious third version of the Orthos's first iteration with three possible sets of pentodes: KT88, KT120 and the new KT150. Released by the 6550’s father the Tung Sol label, the latter is an upgrade of the previous KT120 supposed to deliver enormous power, i.e. 35 to 40 watts per tube with utmost refinement and transparency. 400 watt of pure class A power from classic push-pull KT valves seems crazy for civilised watts and was previously reserved for a few OTL designs and the most powerful of Manley’s realisations. Yet that's also what Ayon's Orthos XS is about.
 
There are in fact still more powerful tube amps such as the 800-watt VTL Siegfried monos, the older 1.250-watt VTL Wotan or the 450-watt VAC Statement. Those are cost-no-object realisations sold at indecent prices. For example the VAC 450 monos demand $80.000 dollars whilst the Siegfrieds were introduced at $65.000. In this context the new kid in town seems quite affordable at €23.500. Of course the new KT150 significantly boosts the Orthos XS power from 250 watts (KT88) and 300 watts (KT120) to finally 400 watts in maximal pentode mode. But the Ayon, acclaimed by its designer as "one of the absolutely best-sounding KT88 power amplifier in the world", also would seem to gather most of the refinement of the aforementioned monsters. This XS reference amplifier should thus provide unsurpassed sound quality and drive a truly wide range of speaker types to optimal and consistent performance under all conditions. As usual chef Gerhard applied his personal touch to this KT flagship with very short signal paths even for the PCB copper traces, 0dB negative feedback, no solid-state device in the signal path and a high-current/low-impedance design which operates its tubes in the sweet spot of their load lines with a dual-grounding system.
 
The Orthoss XS are shipped in two robust raw wooden boxes for a good level of protection during transportation. However no crazy amount of money was spent on these boxes. Gerhard Hirt focused exclusively on the quality of the product itself. His high-grade aluminium anodised and brushed anti-vibration chassis are hand assembled for the best level of craftsmanship. The previous XS chassis was improved for better heat ventilation. Its four aluminium feet are resonance-absorbing types to banish most mechanical interferences. All front and rear panel descriptions are engraved. On the front panel a backlit 'Ayon' logo blinks during thermal stabilisation.
 
All fourteen valves of each monaural amplifier are numbered to indicate careful prior testing/matching and should be placed in their dedicated sockets. The new KT150 bottle looks very pretty compared to its KT88 grandpa and the amps look refined and modern, matching the cosmetics of Ayon's complete line The Orthos XS has an automatic bias circuit with a twist as Hirt has designed a new automatic fixed bias circuit to control the operating conditions of his power tubes reliably without a negative sonic influence. This intelligent auto-fixed bias system thus must not be mistaken for a semi-automatic or fully automatic bias which won't achieve comparable results. Ayon's circuit does not operate during actual playback. The Orthos XS auto-fixed bias circuit also adds a sophisticated electronic two-way protection circuit which kicks in during the tube test program and switch-on period. In case of excessive bias current or a defective tube, the high voltage switches off immediately either via the opto-coupler controlled comparator circuit or an A/D converter. These protection circuits are transparent and outside the signal path.
 
After the amplifier has run for more than 45 minutes to reach optimal tube operating temperature, an additional bias reference control happens after power-down confirmed with the rear display. The measured bias values are stored and used as reference value for the next session to always provide the best possible working points accounting for wear and aging. Logic-controlled automatic biasing of all tubes means constant optimal performance. Should the reference control detect that a tube can no longer attain its optimal value or that its perfect working status is no longer guaranteed (bias current showing too high a value), the high voltage switches off, the logo blinks and the respective tube is indicated by its display digit on the backside of the amp.
 
On the top plate an analog bias meter provides direct control of the bias value for each tube thanks to the bias selector switch on the rear panel. Above the meter a mode switch allows easy change between triode and pentode modes. As the relationship between circuitry, output transformers and speaker crossover network can be very complex, the manufacturer advises us to try both modes and see which one works best. With my Vivid speakers not being extremely demanding, triode mode was more convincing. Considering the specifications, the power level in triode mode is certainly high enough to drive almost any load whilst delivering a level of delicacy and sweetness that seems commonly unattainable with big pentodes.
 
From the rear panel there are a few details typical for Ayon gear: a ground switch useful to increase noise rejection; and an AC power polarity indicator that lights up under incorrect electrical phase. Ayon's output transformers are rather impressive. The biggest challenge with designing such big iron is that it needs to be maximally large for bass current which makes it harder and harder to maintain top-end finesse. If the coupling is not watched carefully, capacitance and leakage inductance will roll off the high frequencies. Technically the design of the new super-wide bandwidth output transformer is a substantial increase in the number of interleaved sections, "significantly improving the coupling between primary and the secondary windings (even the individual wires) and increasing the efficiency of the transformer by lowering the insertion loss." The output transformers are sealed in an anti-resonance potting compound.
 
The Orthos XS operates in a push-pull pentode or triode mode and class A. The power supply was carefully implemented despite the more tolerant push-pull design. Quality took a significant leap forward due in part to the use of new precision-regulated power supplies. Benefits include increased dynamic headroom and a tighter more tuneful bass. The care bestowed on the power supply design is said to have brought vividness and a noticeable increase in agility and articulation. The balanced input stage keeps the noise floor vanishingly low. AC line filtration was enhanced and separate transformers, chokes and filters insure complete isolation between input and output stages. 
 
Hirt uses electrolytic capacitors with large storage capacity to compensate for the loss in filtering when using resistors in lieu of inductors. Each Orthos XS has two separate low-noise insulated power transformers encased, fully damped and RFI/EMI shielded. A logic sequenced soft-start power up extends tube life. All passive components seem of premium quality such as high-speed coupling capacitors, gold-plated PCB and tube sockets with beryllium-copper spring pins.
 
Base specifications are bandwidth of 8Hz to 70kHz into 4 & 8 ohms, 1kHz input impedance of 47KΩ, input sensitivity of 1200mV for full power, S/N ratio of 98dB, dimensions of 35x61x25cm and weight of 50kg.
 
Sound. To my ears the new Orthos XS proved supremely transparent and revealing of subtle detail and small-scale signal. This high degree of transparency did not default into spurious artificial brightness or harshness. Contrarily to imperfect KT88 designs, the big Ayons were examples of sheer delicacy from the go. They did never sound dull and nor miss microdynamic or large scale voltage shifts. Their impressive depth and profusion of musical detail seemed effortless without the added artifice that many amplifiers inject to reach this level of accuracy. 
 
The Orthos XS also delivered effortless high-speed musical transients whilst maintaining adequate delicacy of natural sound without artificial edge or sharpness. Compared to my Orpheus Thee M and Luxman M800a monos They might have tended to soften the grain of violins and voices but deftly avoided putting too much emphasis on the midrange or a euphonic rendering. 
 
Articulation was clearly among the best I ever heard from tube amplification. These monos were able to delineate transients even on massive orchestral recordings such as the Third Symphony of Saint Saëns without smearing the various details and instruments together. Realistic speed and pace were their most striking features. The Ayons thus achieve that very rare combination of being delicate and musically natural whilst being articulate and accurately precise. The two Orthoss XS had impressive reserves of dynamics which felt distilled with an uncommon sense of relaxed ease. I never had the sensation that the Ayons started to congest under loud or complex signals. Clipping levels seemed in fact quite unachievable. 
 
My Austrian loaners exhibited that typical blackness which makes for a perfect rendering of dynamics and precise placement of each instrument in a three-dimensional soundstage. The level of silence provided was really impressive. The new Orthoss delivered one of the quietest noise floors I ever experienced with tube amplification very close to best solid-state realisations like big Mark Levinson. Thus overall clarity and transparency were outstanding for devices of this class. Each subtle textural detail and minor transient often buried and obscured were effortlessly revealed. The Ayons also delivered plenty of subtle imaging cues such as hall ambience, localisation and depth information and even information about the air and space surrounding each performer on stage. 
 
Accuracy of tone is not the strongest point of a KT88 push-pull design. Here the potential buyer will obviously not expect a 300B midrange. Gerhard Hirt nevertheless succeeded in tone which stands in my opinion above average for this class of amplifier. This may also depend on the choice of valves and associated equipment particularly the preamplifier. The Orthoss have a kind of honesty in the upper midrange that further helps the accurate depth layering and portrayal of concert hall ambience. They are very linear and never gave me the sensation of over emphasized treble or upper midrange.
 
The bass was rather rich, full and superbly defined. My loaners demonstrated excellent skills with rhythm and articulation. Their low register were never preeminent or boomy and clarity across the entire bandwidth was another strong feature of the Austrian amps. Accuracy of string attacks was impressive. I thought that my Orpheus Three M were amongst the best to get such energy and accuracy from transients but the Orthoss XS performed nearly as well with more subtle decays. My two Luxman M800a amplifiers deliver less energy but a bit more density and texture on strings instruments.
 
The sound in triode mode compared to pentode was certainly not night and day. Triode mode brought a bit more openness and air that made the sound a bit more natural. Pentode had a bit more dynamics with better bass impact. It should be more matter of taste than compromise between higher power and better sound. 300 watts should perfectly drive most speakers on the market. Going for an extra 100 watts should only benefit a few very difficult loads. In either mode the Orthos XS remained accurate and delicate. Here they remained slightly different versus what I experienced with other big valve amplifiers. They sounded truly effortless and far more civilized than a CAT JL2 or JL3 for example. Their huge delivery of raw power always was accompanied by both ease and delicacy, never brute force.
 
n Sarah Lenka's Hush [Emotive Records] the jazz club ambience was superbly reproduced and with utmost clarity. So were the incredible presence and vocal fragility of the young singer. Over my two Luxman M-800a the soundstage was wider and the sound more liquid. Ayon's midrange was perhaps not as gorgeous and warm but still more accurate than my Orpheus Three M. With my Japanese amps the sound had a kind of organic density not obtainable from the others. On naturalness I'd say that the Ayons delivered the most realism followed by the Luxman then Orpheus Labs. In fact the Orthos XS had the kind of SET sound that made textural subtlety quite incomparable to the others. Sarah Lenka’s voice had all the soft subtle detail that clued me to the notion of closeness to how the music was recorded whilst the Luxmans provided a bit more romance and forward projection. In the end the Orthos XS did not sound ethereal like other tube amps I tried on my Vivids but were more holographic and three-dimensional. 
 
On Peer Gynt conducted by Paavo Järvi [Virgin Classics] the depth was impressive and the accuracy and speed of transients outstanding. The Orpheus Three M are truly very good at this but the Orthos XS stood a clear step above my Swiss amps, demonstrating an effortless nature which eludes these transistors. Treble purity and the resultant soundstage enveloped me in the musical event. Powerful, taut and deep bass suggested a real-life experience because of its amazing linearity. In any area of the bandwidth the Orthos XS sounded natural due to this rare alliance between absence of compression and presence of organic feel. The Orthos XS had me hear the initial attack in adequate proportion to the subsequent resonant fundamental and resultant harmonics. 
 
Listening to Cantate Domino featuring the Oscar Motet Choir [Proprius] the Orthos delivered a pleasant and realistic rendering of this very natural analog recording captured with only two Pearl TC4 microphones and one Revox A77 open-reel recorder. Accurate localisation of each voice, extension in the bottom end and sensation of depth all felt completely respected. The Ayons were top performers with recorded acoustics and a profusion of ambient detail. On each track of this audiophile recording and despite its age I was able to feel the air floating inside the church within a fluid organ rendition. Church pipe organs are definitely a meaningful indicator of hifi accuracy especially for speakers and amps. Most audio systems cannot reproduce the correct intensity of the whole bandwidth and the first two octaves often sound too recessed or uncontrollably loud but never right.
 
A very stable amplifier associated with accurately designed speakers should resize the organ to its normal scale and make it breathe softly. [Ahem – normal size relative to even Joël's dedicated room really remains a misnomer when dealing with a church organ. When is the last time you tried to get an organ in there? - Ed]. That’s where the Orthos XS seemed very much at ease, opening up a huge soundstage well outside the Vivid K1s.
 
Playing sophisticated but more compressed music such as Tears For Fears’ Elemental [Mercury] the Orthos XS did not slam as hard as as my solid-state contenders but nevertheless demonstrated great skill with pop and electronica. Listening to the last opus of Tears For Fears after Curt Smith's leave at insane levels, the Austrian amps still remained very clean and cast a large deep soundstage. Very often big tube amplifiers do not offer the required density to get involving with Pop and Rock but the Orthos XS did. That was no small feat. The new KT150 seemed to be particularly efficient with this musical genre. Its huge reserves of power allowed for an effortless reproduction of large dynamic swings
 
Conclusion. 
 
The Orthos XS monoblocks put an end to the guesswork formerly inherent in large tube amplifiers whilst crossing new thresholds of sonic performance. The sheer quantity of detail, drive, space and emotion revealed in familiar recordings was nothing short of outstanding. Thanks to their huge precision-regulated power supplies these monaural amplifiers handle the most demanding loads with ease, ensuring consistency of performance under seemingly any condition. 400 watts of class A power result in impressive dynamic headroom and tight deep resounding bass. Ultra-short circuits and audiophile-grade components convey a bold vivid freshness. Like other previously mentioned Germanic heroes of legend, the new Orthos XS come close to truly vanishing with an effortless naturalness commonly reserved to low-powered single ended triodes. Conceived as a cost-no-object tour de force, this final iteration of the circuit still seems affordable in absolute terms once we contemplate its actual competitors in the market place. That’s why a reasonable price for this kind of beast allied to top design quality, apparent reliability and fabulous sonics call for a Blue Moon award bestowed by a solid-state lover who could very easily live with Ayon's very big tube amps.
……Joel Chevassus
So I have to sell my beloved, Leben..... (Wojciech bought the Ayon Polaris)
Wojciech Pacuła

Brief summary:
Ayon is at the very top, in the company of several other sophisticated devices. His sound is incredibly vivid and engaging, making parting with it is painful for me. At least I know that I have a better preamp than now, because the rest of the system to change it clearly shows. So I have to sell my beloved Leben. 

Extended review: 

AYON POLARIS II

(note - Since been updated to new POLARIS III)   
Sometimes I wish I had given up the habit of transmitting each test a separate title. I was forced to do this, because although variety to read, in the long run is not always needed. To a portion of text titles were actually assigned, grew themselves, and parts were not at all needed. Because I wanted to avoid situations such as the letters printed (targets including "Hi-Fi Choice" and "Hi-Fi News" , but it is also familiar and "Stereophile'i" and "Hi-Fi +" ), where the boundary of good taste is often exceeded, resigned from them at all. Sometimes I think that is a mistake, because there is something missing to give the whole clip, something that immediately shows what we're dealing with. The most important consequence of this, however, so the purity of the case, the names does not and is not going to change. But if I briefly suspended this rule, the text of the Ayon Polaris II nadałbym title: Fulfilled dreams of flying .
 
Big, consisting of two equally large and equally heavy elements the device whose utility function equally well can "settle" with a small scalaczka size of a fingernail, costing as much as a nice car. And it is, actually, unnecessary. Because preamplifier is an element that can be eliminated in the system, but rather turn to something else, in a very simple manner, thereby simplifying the signal path. You can replace it with a passive attenuator (passive preamp) or integrate with CD player (as in the Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE ). And each of these methods has its strongest supporters and offers specific, measurable benefit. And yet, at least on my system, the sound system was always better when the track was bloated, active preamp. Improved then almost everything, including the state of a bank account outside of resolution and soundstage. Therefore, taking into account the pros and cons I never had a problem with an indication of active external device. I know, I've heard both fantastic pasywki and CD (and SACD dCS and EMM Labs ) connected directly to the power amplifier and some of these systems was simply brilliant. And yet, almost always, they were compiled systems is that angle around this idea. They were so very "compatible", so to speak, with other devices. In my system, where weekly guests several new devices such exclusivity can not afford. Egalitarianism is a key word in my case - equal opportunities must be any device, regardless of the price and origin.
 
Therefore, the preamplifier is with me in the spotlight. After a few devices that do not fully meet the expectations placed in them, I finally found the preamp, which amazed me, and he was not at the same time somehow terribly expensive - in truth was less than two times more expensive than a network cable ( 7N-PC7100 Acrolink ), where it later was allocated. I am very attached to him, because not once and not twice proved that he is worth much more money. Even he is not perfect. I know a much better device (about them in the listening part), and one of them is the Ayon Polaris II. This is a new version of the Polaris, with a much better housing and more powerful power supply. Its foundation, however, are the same, ultra-rare, but highly valued lamp - packaged in a metal enclosure Siemens pentode (working here in triode) C3M, one per channel. This is one of the best low-power lamps, which says so (after TubeDepot ):
 
"It pentode special purpose applications AF and RF, built specifically for the German mail withstand 10 000 operating hours. It truly ultimatum to the preamp tubes. If you are looking for the least rustling, least michrophonic tubes on the planet, this is your chance. 
Their main features are: 
∙ very high gain 
very low noise ∙ 
∙ very low microphonics 
metal screen ∙ 
∙ pentode, which can also be used as a triode (gain curve looks then exactly as if it were a triode) 
∙ individually numbered.
 
How is it possible that we only have one lamp in each channel? On the one hand, because these lamps have a very high gain (even when, as here, working in triode), on the other hand, because instead of resistive attenuator used in the extremely rare because costly solution called VTC - "Volume Control Transformer ": an adjusting signal level, based on a 24-position switch with gold contacts, changing the output ... matching transformer. Yes, Ayon uses the old as the world, which, however, together with the improvement of cores, winding wires, etc. gained a second chance. This is not all. Polaris II is in fact a full-fledged phono preamp. And if he is a closer look, one could say that the RIAA preamp is more than linear, because the correction circuits occupy in the middle of a lot more space and use up the four lamps Siemens. We must add to this the presence of a large power-supply unit, with a separate transformer for the motor moving said switch and the power supply lamp-based, full-wave rectifier operating in four lamp CV135. All this adds up to a preamplifier, which I just had to look at.
 
Music used in the test (selection):
∙ Bill Evans You Must Believe In Spring , Warner Bros. / Warner Music Japan, WPCR-13176, CD. 
∙ Christian Willisohn, Hold On , Stockfisch, SFR 357.4038.2, SACD / CD; review HERE . 
∙ Danielsson / Dell / Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water , ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9445-2, CD; review HERE . 
∙ Depeche Mode Only When I Lose Myself , Mute CD BONG 29X, SP CD. 
∙ Derek And The Dominos, The Layla Sessions. 20th Anniversary Edition , Polydor / Universal Music Japan, UICY-93958/60, 3 x SHM-CD. 
∙ GF Handel, Acis & Galatea , Dunedin Consort & Players, Linn Records, CKD 319, 2 x SACD / CD; review HERE . 
∙ GF Handel, Oratorios. Saul & Messiah , Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908280.83, 4 x CD; review HERE . 
∙ Kenny Burrell Soul Call , Prestige / JVC JVCXR-0210-2, XRCD2. 
∙ Lars Danielsson, Mélange Bleu , ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9604 -2, CD; review HERE . 
∙ Martin L. Gore, Counterfeit2 , Mute, 582477, CCD. 
∙ Patricia Barber Companion , Premonition / Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2023, SACD / CD player. 
∙ Thom Yorke, The Eraser , XL / Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD; reviewed the European version HERE . 
∙ Wlodek Pawlik, Grand Piano , Arms Records, ZP 140770 06-07, 2 x gold-CD. 
∙ Wynton Kelly, Kelly Blue , Riverside / JVC, JVCXR-0050 -2, XRCD. 
∙ Depeche Mode, Violator , Mute, STUMM64, Limited Edition, 180 g LP; review HERE . 
∙ Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter My Capitol. Pickwick Series, SPC-3463, LP. 
∙ Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love , Rounder / Mobile Fidelity, MSFL 1-284, 180 g LP; review HERE . 
∙ Mel Tormé, Oh, You Beautiful Doll , Past Perfect / The Trumpets of Jericho , 904333-980, 180 g LP. 
∙ Paul Desmond Summertime , CTI / A & M Records / / Speakers Corner, A & M SP 3015, 180 g LP.
 
SOUND
 
As I wrote, the player Ayon listened to music for over two months - first in order to understand the phenomenon of the sound, and then with pure pleasure, extending to obscenity, the term of his devotion. As I mentioned a long time I use the phenomenal preamp Leben RS-28CX , which is hard to beat. I think that we have to deliver two times more money. Apart from a few details, rather than explicitly opposing worse, Polaris II presented the sound of several classes better, coming out even with deadlines devoted hi-endowi and free swimming of something more akin to playing live than with mechanical restoration. A little bit, of course, I'm exaggerating, but I'm not doing this for the empty effect, whether painted for Ayon splendour, but because the discussion about audio in general is to some extent crippled: you have on hand just copy, reflection, trying to play it and compare to reality . And the way it is recorded and the physical limitations of the media. Therefore, talking about any "reality" is an abuse. Only that it is difficult to judge what comes out of the speakers or headphone choosing some, even unattainable, the reference point. Therefore, in the case of this device make it easier to refer to the sound of live instruments than for other preamplifiers.
 
Ayon plugging into the plug in it but not in place of "holes" or slice of reality, and instead of another device. Therefore, it must be said that the Polaris II different from what we know. 
transition from my Leben was a shock. Both in terms of the quality of what is opened Copper speakers, but also a shock, you say, culturally. It is in fact a completely different vision of the world. The first impression is that the Austrian preamplifier game considerably softer way. For a while I thought it was not quite good that Leben, with his powerful attack, a clearer line of "rising" sound is closer to what it actually is. After a few concerts, and - maybe it was even more important - after returning to my preamp turned out, however, that I was wrong about this, that our experience of reality has nothing to do with any "strong", "clear", "visible", etc . way of presenting the audio system. Everything comes to us very naturally and further this method is what showed Ayon. His sound is extremely balanced. Therefore, it may sometimes seem "soft". When I listen to it longer, it appears that few common elements here softening or delaying, and it mostly on the inner richness of communication, its maturity, with razor-resolution. This last feature struck me particularly strongly (and painfully) when I returned to Leben. It's incredibly retail and distribution unit, but costs so much and I know how much that can be done better. Polaris II shows that eating lots can be better.
 
All vocals, regardless of timbre, the method of recording, colors etc. are incredibly energy therein and just clear. Earlier I thought that clearly presents them Leben. And he does it, at least in comparison with all other devices up to 20 000 - 30 000 zł. Austrian preamplifier showed them not so much that "clearly" - it was just the effect - and simply deeper, fuller, with much better marked microdynamics and better defined "inter-individual" expression of any songbird. I remember first hearing of the new version of the classic board Layla Derek And The Dominos, in a wonderful edition of Universal Music Japan (available at CD Japan ). This disc recorded on a multitrack tape recorder and it is not exactly correct, the rather weak dynamics, clearly flattened in compressors and quite deeply embedded in the mix vocals Clapton. With Ayon everything was clear, explicit and hear the choices, decisions, etc., which make up the final result. And this is, after all, loved it. But it was not "pushing" the vocals, it was not their insulation, the preamp does not. "Heat" here is a derivative of incredible purity, and not the distortion. This phenomenon, which can be heard in a very good system. Suddenly, most of the plates, which we thought was far too difficult to listen to - because of the poor quality of the recording - gives to listen. We know what is wrong with them, but - pardon the expression - I do not care, because the "package" that we get is absolutely satisfactory, mainly because you can hear the music, and only "for" her record.
 
So it was just out of Layla , but also eg solo album Martin L. Gore Counterfeid2 , recorded with copy protection, and so largely destroyed before it was sold. Do not listen to it often, because this protection can be heard as the incredibly gritty up and the presence of something after a short time leads to a headache (like a sub-harmonic, or something like that). With Ayon also was not fireworks, but it was not so annoying, do not reject the disc. Here, too, the vocals were incredibly good (as in this implementation), which immediately repeated the voice of Patricia Barber on Companion . Songs from this album have played with passion and a rare virtuosity. This is a live recording, and the club was on the doorstep. I'm talking about the energy and dynamics, though, as I wrote, Leben seems to be more lively device. Other devices, moreover, too, that remind even the VK-3iX Preamp BAT or integrated amplifier Belles IA-01 . This, however, is not exactly as I thought. They just "go", rather "suggest" the dynamics and microdynamics, playing in a more penetrating way. I do not mean lightening, because it is not a fairy tale, but that insight. Ayon seems much calmer, because I never allow such a play. Never. When the volume up Leben, BAT, or other preamps, get stronger, louder sound. Well and good. Only that Polaris II does not increase selectively, but increases the sound, magnifies the virtual sources, their volume, not the volume level. I hope you understand me - playing louder does not increase the irritation, but rather fills the room sounds, expanding "bubble" growing out of the column.
 
However, the most beautiful, and for many it can be a decisive factor, Ayon treats the piano. It is both sonorous and smooth. When recording, where there is only one of the equivalent elements heard this his feature, but it is not dominant. However, if we take in hand such as a disc Bil Evans, for example, a wonderful album You Must Believe In Spring (recently bought all his discs recorded for Warner Bros.. - are available in an extremely refined reissue on SHM-CD from CD Japan ) and listen even while the first song Fri B Minor Waltz (For Ellaine) first on Ayon, then at Leben, we will just sorry - that it's all "sit" with a cheaper device. It's not his fault, without comparing everything is great, but only Ayon brings out deep tones and beautiful bass instrument basis Evans. Similarly, the piano sounded Willisohn from the album Hold On , which, combined with his deep voice gave an amazing effect "exit" from the framework imposed by the column, without attacking us, as do the classic tube amps, and simply by blurring (erase) the border between the stage created by the columns and the stage of recording. Although the Polaris II sound really "out" to us - it was such a beautiful piano Lars Denielssona from the album Mélange Bleu , who in the opening, title track Mangle emerged from oblivion near, very near, was large and vibrate emotions. The same impression I had while listening to a disc Salzau Music On The Water This music, recorded with Christopher Dell, Nils Landgren and live on a wooden platform on the lake, about 5 in the morning. The intensity of these sounds is overwhelming, provided that it will reproduce well. Leben tip Luxman M-800A handled this much better than all integrated amplifiers I know. Ayon moved but this performance to a new level, fill the space between the instruments, "air", silence, giving them facilities in the form of something "for" them.
 
Of special note is the bass. I remember clearly how well this respect presented itself already invoked the BAT VK-3iX. Better than him, at least in my experience, there were only two preamps, I know: VK-52SE (I do not know REX-a) of the same company and Reference 3 Audio Research . These are two of the four best devices of this type that I've heard in a controlled environment and peace. To them and to the Polaris II must also add the NHB-128NS Swiss company darTZeel . And even CAT-777 Reimyo . Thus we come to the comparisons with the best in the world. I will repeat what at each comparison: I'm talking only about the devices that I know well that I have heard in the circumstances known to me and for which I am absolutely sure that this is how they play. Next are obviously products, which are also great, but I heard that just shows, or at all, and only heard of them or read. These include the KX-R American Ayre and TL-7.5 is also an American company VTL . The rest I do not know, so I can not speak. In any case, only the Audio Research and BAT descend on bass lower than Ayon. At the bottom of the Austrian machine game nicely diverse, well-defined sound, where my Leben sounds a bit as if not quite understand what's out there, at the bottom (think of a very low bass, like in the song Macro of Mélange Bleu or bass with single Only When I Loose Myself Depeche Mode) is happening. Both American preamplifiers play this range a little harder than Ayon, but I'm not sure that the presentation is more correct - most will depend on the particular system. If I had but something likened the sound of the Polaris II, it would be a different preamp, surprisingly - transistor. It happens once in a thousand, but the company darTZeel of a semiconductor can bring things unique, making it a model NHB-128NS is phenomenal. Playing in a slightly sweeter than Ayon way and can show a deeper soundstage. Perfect reproduction of high frequencies of the latter is not at risk, the Swiss machine game a little smoother in this respect, not so rich internally (remember that both are absolute top!) Sound. The dynamics of AR and BAT also seems a bit better than the Polaris II. The latter was also heard after returning to Leben, which shows better built, maybe not as intense and not so natural, but still - a deeper stage. At first, it seems that the top is in it more, which is probably true, but it is clearly simplified.
 
Polaris II is a preamplifier, though, when we look to the interior, we see that a larger plate 9a actually two) takes phono section. You see, I just feel that this is one of the "horses" constructor. Built around the same lamp as a linear section, it also has a similar sound signature. The message is the ultra-comfortable, super-nice, or whatever else we came up with. And this is regardless of the music - and Depeche Mode Violator , and Madeleine Peyroux from Careless Love , and above all Paul Demond of Sumertime - all these performers played very good "sets", an equal, extremely balanced. The mountain is a lot, this is not a case of its withdrawal, but her breakthrough diameter and the bottom is slightly rounded. The bottom is fed in a balanced way rather than with unrestrained dynamics. This causes the recording bit to converge. When the turntable Kuzma Reference was extremely pleasant, just like the earlier of the SME 10 and Avid Volvere (test "Audio" ). Bass is not descended so low as to my preamp RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC , but the tonal balance was not disturbed, because it balances the heat, the full diameter. Actually what presents Ayon is very similar to playing ASR Basis , partly to C-27 Accuphase and card phono preamplifiers (AD-20) of this company. Interestingly, both of which are based on semiconductors, and they play, as a lamp. In turn, Manley Steelhead plays more like RCM ... American competition is more resolved and is strongly stretched the edges of the band. Also, the dynamics is in her higher. Section RIAA Polaris II is, however, difficult to obtain for any money flow and coherence. No, it is not the most resolved sound I ever heard, but at the same time is extremely attractive, because he has a "body", well-differentiated and defined vocals and everything that happens in the middle of the band. Also in the difficult mono recordings, like Oh, You Beautiful Doll Mel Tormé, coping also with no problem with a bit of crafted ("enhanced stereo") album Cole Porter My Frank Sinatra. With the latter, it was good to hear, too, that the device somewhat masks the noises, not allowing them to "get out" before the music.
 
 repeat: I have not heard all the preamps in the world. So far, however, Ayon is at the very top, in the company of several other sophisticated devices. His sound is incredibly vivid and engaging, making parting with it is painful for me. At least I know that I have a better preamp than now, because the rest of the system to change it clearly shows. So I have to sell my beloved Leben. If you are among your willing - please contact us. But this is just a digression. Clue of this summary is this: Ayon is not a perfect device, such does not exist..... It gives, however, the sound in an extremely satisfying. You have to listen to him longer to appreciate, but it is. Perhaps it would be better if it was balanced device, (newer Polaris III now has: Inputs: 4 x Line RCA, 1 x Line XLR, 1 x Phono MC / Outputs: 2x RCA, 1x XLR ) - it's hard. It's big and black :) ....It's great.
Stratos is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best DACs I've ever heard. It makes music, and the best possible way,
Thierry Nkaoua - Audiophile magazine (French / English translation)

Review Summary: we are overwhelmed by the orchestra, his passion, his rage and pain. The tubes, capacitors, chips, cables, everything is forgotten when the symphony begins.

"STRATOS is without any doubt one of the best DAC I ever listened to. It makes Music, and in the best possible way. It is comfortable in any situation, from Rock dynamics, to Opera sweetness or Blues laments. With DSD, simply on USB, it takes advantage over SACD players that cost twice or 3 times more. With PCM, Stratos is very close to the wonderful Ayon S5 streamer. Again, it takes advantage over DAC that costs twice or 3 times more. And you get a full preamplifier with the DAC! A close integration between DAC and preamplifier seems to really become a design Must

You said "cloud music"?
What we call "Dematerialised Music", the Anglo-Saxons, more pragmatic, but perhaps less poetic, have called "Computer Audio.

However, to replace physical media, CD, which disappear (maybe) one day, never much "material" was necessary.

 
In addition to traditional amplifier and speakers, you need a computer to rip CD's, internet connection for shopping, a PS3 to rip SACD its a DAC or a network drive, or a network drive and DAC, a computer (silent if possible), or else a NAS software to decode tracks or UPNP server software to organise his nightclub, another or the same label for his albums with tags, a USB cable for direct connection computer-DAC, any USB / SPDIF interface then an additional SPDIF cable, ethernet cables and switches to network drives, hard drives to store his albums and others to save a tablet to control everything.
 
Not to mention a box of aspirin: to "dematerialise", one could imagine a more simple. Given this profusion of technologies and equipment, much of audiophiles hesitates, and as we understand!, To take the step of dematerialisation. Is this really the time to get rid of the CD player or SACD, and small cakes that nourish? cakes that while we often difficult to find in many furniture where they are arranged and everything perennial ranking is doomed when the discotheque grows.
 
Some caution is probably in order, for example, by making the hand and ear from the DAC access a CD player powered by a computer. Personally, tests on this type of configuration during the last two years have often random or incomprehensible results: heightened sensitivity to USB cable, for example, or significant deviations following software decoding employees, and results a little too far from what is obtained with the CD player itself.
 
Under these conditions, the acquisition of DCA seemed hardly appropriate. Depend on both the firm of Richmond, or the Cuppertino, and a USB cable with the protocols seemed neither established nor really effective, was hardly engaging.

The missing link

The key to paperless seems to revolve around a actually quite simple question:

 
DACs work very well for many years "in" CD decks, how, with what technologies and what materials feed from Flac files, Alac, AIF or DFS? In other words, what is the link which cooperate computer and DAC, which transmits the decoded audio stream on the computer to the DAC?

On one side of the PC or Mac with USB, Firewire, Ethernet, some cards with SPDIF or AES / EBU outputs, the other DAC with SPDIF or AES / EBU inputs.

 
Without going into the details of the reasons more or less good and disreputable that led to it is the USB has become the interface "up to date" on which many PC-DAC connections were built.
 
In the protocol USB Audio Class 1 is the clock of the computer, not really "consistent" with upmarket DAC, which controls the audio stream to the DAC.
 
With the term "USB 2", still some confusion. ports 2 USB allow greater throughput than USB 1, thereby exceeding the limit of 24/96 USB 1, but that does not mean that the audio protocol used is different or better ...
 
It then appeared DAC interfaces and USB / SPDIF asynchronous based on USB 2 in terms of throughput, but everyone from the proprietary protocol to pass the audio stream to the USB pipe.
This has been in many cases (but not always) an improvement over the protocol USB Audio Class 1. But as nobody knew and will never know what there is in these proprietary protocols ... Still that it is with this kind of asynchronous USB 2 owner I knew disappointments and misunderstandings mentioned above.
 
May 31, 2006 was nevertheless output a protocol standard USB Audio Class 2, available on the website of the e USB consortium . The standard is distributed as 3 documents totalling 187 pages. But as always, it is not because a standard lot enacted, manufacturers have invested in developments owners generally want to recoup their investments before making other.
 
The first advantage of USB Audio Class 2, this is simply to be a standard! This allows players to control their technological development and buyers know where they put their money.
USB Audio Class 2 is available natively on Apple OSX (and Linux) without additional drivers since mid 2010. For Windows, 7 years after the release of the standard, this is not always the case.
The second advantage is technological and undoubtedly audiophile DAC is a side which controls the transmission of the audio stream of the computer clock, and filling / emptying a buffer containing the audio stream as close to the DAC.
This can be summarised brutally, albeit a little absuivement, saying that USB Audio Class 2, the DAC takes control of the computer. The rest of the advantages (and constraints), it is in the 187 pages of the standard.
 
Of chip designers (like that provided XMOS USB interface for DAC Ayon Stratos) produce shelf components, interfacing with I2S a receiver chip USB Audio Class 2 to DAC cards.
 
7 years after the release of this standard, there is not yet finally been "massive" adoption of this standard. Mention may be made naturally Ayon with his two new DAC Stratos and Stealth, but also TotalDAC or Antelope. But others prefer to continue to use their proprietary protocols as Esoteric, DCS or Audio Research. Only tracks will naturally make sense of things.

Do not let the computer do the audio?

It seems to some, I admit part, the computer may not be the "ideal" device to be integrated with a High End HiFi system.

The computer has a very basic diet, its connectivity is not an exemplary quality of workmanship, and its operating system must manage graphics card, keyboard, screen, etc.; in a myriad of processes.
 
If  "everything that's not designed for this computer"  was in fact closer to the DAC IN HiFi equipment and dedicated chips and not an operating system généralsite, things could / should be a priori best and simpler. View may be simplistic.
Certainly, it is then necessary audio software engineers and engineers work hand in hand (which is undoubtedly a challenge in itself), but Linn, Upper Range, with streamers (network drives) or Sonos with more modest but very robust products, showed a path that seemed to be good.
For a little over a year, we see the arrival of network drives in the catalog of many manufacturers, all segments of the Consumer the Most High Range. For example (non-exhaustive list of course): Atoll, Audio Research, Ayon, Cambridge, Denon, Marrantz, NAD, Naim, Pioneer, Rotel, Simple Audio, Yamaha. But among the great names of DAC, some still do not offer, or DCS Esoteric example.
 
An early move towards this integrated architecture therefore seemed to begin to emerge. In this architecture, the computer no longer has any audio function, merely to send files to the device: decoding transport to the DAC and DAC are integrated into the network drive, which ultimately mirrors the architecture of a good old CD player.
 
I followed this movement by not crossing the dematerialisation late 2012 with the acquisition of a Ayon S5 network drive, then Lumin a network drive, it can treat the DSD. Both giving me satisfaction far beyond all my old CD players and SACD. The test bench on 6 moons of  Ayon S5  shows "best source PCM ever heard" and that of  Lumin  on Audiophile Magazine is of the same ilk as regards the DSD.
 
The earliest appearance of these two products seemed to sound the tocsin more or less long term (presumably long) for CD and SACD moribund two network Upscale readers were at least as good as or better than the best plates CD and SACD. The variation in the ranges of manufacturers should be able to engage.

Ayon against the foot

That's when we decided to take qu'Ayon against the foot. After having designed and produced a stunning network drive, Ayon makes his catalog two new DAC, called Stealth and Stratos. Mass between Computer Audio and Network drives would not be called?

 
The new DAC accept DSD. This is against a second floor, when we know that Gerhard Hirt, owner of Ayon and supporter of DSD in its creation, expresses doubts about the commercial durability of this format, too many studios merely converting their decision PCM to DSD, which is of little interest.
 
When Gerhard Hirt proposed DAC Stratos Audiophile Magazine for Test Bench, it is with great anticipation and curiosity that I expected delivery: would I have to revise my position on the Computer Audio? Is it possible to reach the level of resitution one of the best existing network drives with Audio Computer architecture, computer resuming service to decode tracks?
 
This test bench then follow the following three red son:
How is the Stratos DSD to PCM and USB?
The USB 2 Audio Does it solve the problems usually encountered in USB and Computer Audio has he made ​​significant progress? 
How is PCM DAC Admiral Stratos compared to S5 Player Network Admiral Ayon
DAC Stratos (like his little brother Stealth) consists of integrating a DAC and a preamp tubes. Ayon has also changed the corporate name to "DAC-Pre".
 
Three elements are often cited as key in the operation of a DAC:
The output stage
Power
The conversion stage
 
As we will see in the description that follows, Ayon pushed far the design of each of these parts, and component selection.
 

Gerhard Hirt provided additional information to what is found on the Ayon website:

Preamp output stage of the Stratos is the same as the streamer S5.
feeding Stratos is a little "below" that of S5. Although the case of Stratos took a few cm deeper compared to S5, S5 external power could not stay in the case of Stratos. There is then a choice of positioning and market segmentation.
DAC chips, Sabre ESS9018 were chosen after several disappointing attempts with chips from other manufacturers.
In fact, the regret is that Gerhard Hirt BB 1704k chips that fit the previous DAC SKYLLA II, the former range of CD players and S5 are not DSD compatible. He enjoys both the chip he bought all the stock available there a few years ago.

EXTERNAL

Stratos comes in a double carton. Stratos and the remote control are wrapped in black fabric cover.
A user manual in English, and a CD containing the necessary USB drivers for Windows 7 and 8 complement the packaging (Mac OSX natively handles the USB 2 Audio and requires no drivers).
 
In front façade, a volume knob and another to select the entries around a screen giving some information operation:
 
Volume level
Selected digital input
PCM or DSD
Sampling
Filter 1 or 2
Balance
 
The rear panel offers a more than full connectivity.
 
At both ends, are the analog outputs, RCA and XLR. 
 
Right, four configuration switches:
Connecting to an integrated amplifier or power
RCA, XLR or RCA and XLR output simultaneous
Output level Low or High
Acoustic phase inversion
 
In the next section surrounded by a white line, moving to the left is all digital inputs:
USB 2 Audio, ready to support USB 3 (PCM and DSD)
I2S RJ45 (PCM)
I2S RJ45 (optional DSD DoP)
Toslink SPDIF (PCM)
BNC SPDIF (PCM)
RCA SPDIF (PCM)
AES / EBU (PCM)
3 BNC (R, L, WorldClock DSD)
 
To the left of the entrance area, an indicator identifies the AC phase, as all Ayon products. A handy device.
 
In the last white box, analog inputs and outputs of the integrated preamp:
an XLR input
two RCA inputs
an output for connecting headphones or a subwoofer.
 
The remote allows you to control the amps, preamps, DAC and CD players of the brand.
For Stratos, useful buttons are for volume, balance, upsampling, mute, and input filter.
 
Two types of filters are available, the second being advertised as more "stiff". Sabre ESS9018 chips allow programming of these filters.
 
As a kind of protest Credo for all amps, preamps and sources Ayon highlights some characteristics of the output stage, such as:
0 feedback
Audio path ultra-short and simple as possible
Low output impedance
No buffer or follower on audio path

Configurations Listening:

Given the wealth of available connections, several configurations were naturally used their discretion will be given over the listening found later account. It has used the USB input PCM and DSD, SPDIF PCM since S5 used network drive (configuration probably close to the use of drive Ayon NWT), the BNC input from the PCM Lumin on a network drive.
 
Alas, it was not possible to test the 3 BNC DSD announced by Gerhard Hirt as "superior" to the USB inputs. For USB, all tracks have been made with the new cable Tellurium Q Black Diamond. A comparison with a "computer" Monster Cable High Speed ​​will be given at the end of Test Bench.
 
Stratos has always been utilise in output level "low" as recommended by Ayon for the type of amp used.
 
It seems important to note that the Stratos has always been used "on its own preamp." When comparisons were made with the Lumin, it has also benefited from the preamp Stratos.

Impressions "out of the box"

After quickly connected the Stratos Mac Mini with the USB cable Tellurium Q Black Diamond, small satisfaction, Mac immediately recognized the XMOS USB Audio 2 Stratos interface, JRiver was then configured in 3 clicks to get out of this interface to send "DSD bitstream DoP" for DSD tracks.
 
IPad in hand, Jremote application, choose the player (player JRiver) choice of the album, click on the track, the sound works! Second small satisfaction (those who have struggled with Computer Audio readily understand these childish satisfactions).
 
Program, one of my favorite albums DSD, the 7th Symphony by Beethoven Ivan Fischer Channel Classics in an absolute highlight of interpretation and miking. Second movement, Allegretto.
 
I find instantly the "signature" of my beloved Ayon S5, the image is wide and deep, sound clips between winds and strings are well spaced, stamps winds ring true, the presence of the musicians is realistic hair the arms are there.
 
I pursue these first impressions by listening to the fourth movement of the same album. Allegro con brio. You look up to the "shots" copper, basically, that punctuate the massive orchestral movement and Onsite this Allegro con brio. But when the solo flute is telling us naif theme of this movement, the difference in volume and dynamics seems totally natural and no impulsive movement toward the remote would be taken to increase the sound.
 
Tubes with non-functioning, a simple connection that works the first time, I am very far from my previous experiences of "Computer Audio", with Music and Emotions from the first listen.
 
But to make plays in the best conditions, it takes me fifty hours required for the breaking-tubes 6:30 (culminating means very easily).
 
Tic Tac, 50 hours of breaking-tubes pass.

The tracks

First impressions are confirmed throughout the plays, whatever the style of music. 
What strikes first, just like the S5 is the breadth and depth of the soundstage.
When Gerhard Hirt speaks holographic scene, one can think of an expression of marketing. And not at all! This 3-dimensional perception of music is very real, and also present on the Stratos on the S5.
 
Undoubtedly, the quality of "holographic" scene also depends on the amplifier, speakers and listening room. But "other fixed system", I heard more often than I would have liked, complete loss scene is by changing DAC or by changing decoding system used before the DAC, computers , or audio servers.
 
Through all the albums, no systematic or special colouring. Each album in PCM and DSD retains its personality. No standardisation of listening. Fluidity and naturalness are also waiting for you. The emotion and music "pass" without question.
 
What surprises me "really" is that all these features, 3D scene, absence of colour, fluidity and naturalness are to go "despite" the USB connection, including DSD. My previous experiences with asynchronous USB 2 (owner, not USB Audio Class 2) systematically leads to staining in acute and / or narrowing of the stage and / or flow.
 
So USB Audio Class 2 implemented with care, coupled with what seems an excellent USB cable, a DAC with a very neat and integrated with a fabulous power output stage achieves a quality that I had never yet heard with a "computer decoder tracks."
 
Much to say right now, it was not easy for me to conduct "analytical" plays this Stratos.
Music and Emotions are so present that must whip his brain to get him to listen to "bat" mode as the saying goes, and not to indulge in simply listening to music. So it took time, and many tracks "return" between the material to be something else to write that "WOW, what DAC".
 
Live in New York with Bruce Springsteen (DSD), the shouts and whistles from the crowd are accurate remaining distant. My streamer Lumin already gives excellent results in DSD on my system. In comparison, it also benefits the preamp Stratos (XLR connection). But it must yet bow on this album before the Stratos. It produces a lot more "en bloc" and further. The accuracy of Stratos as related to its power to its competition floor conversion makes the difference. The crowd and cries seem more natural with the Stratos, without turning to the formicary. In "The River" instruments are also more clearly placed on stage with Stratos. The voice of the Boss is better focused.
 
The legendary Kind of Blue remastered in DSD DSD my two competitors are at par, impossible to decide blindly. The differences are completely irrelevant. Really straining his ears, there is quite a few differences in tonal balance, but nothing allows me to prefer one to the other. The type of miking, and his age, full battery left, full right piano, trumpet centred, is probably not capable of clearly differentiating DAC that level.
 
With Hiromi Another Mind (DSD), the frenzy of Dancando No Paraiso is more impactful on the Stratos on the Lumin (volumes are controlled by a small portable sound level meter). The cymbals are made even more finely on the Stratos.
 
But I also have this album on CD. A comparison with the S5 PCM is therefore required. It takes this much time to strain to understand the differences. If the differences with the Lumin jumped ears with Bruce Springsteen, the ones with the S5 are more subtle. The sequence begins to 2mn12, pulsed field led by battery-cymbal is a bit better drawn on the S5 on the Stratos. The bass punctuates this sequence is more focused, less floating on the S5. The differences are indeed very small, but they do exist.
 
I take this album to try the S5 and Lumin network drive (PCM) of Stratos. And I am almost on my hunger reviewer! Everything fits in a pocket handkerchief. Lumin in the drive network Stratos indiscernible USB. As for the S5 networked drive, it can partially erase the already minimal differences between S5 and Stratos. The improvement is mainly the bass on this track, but also on other comparisons of this type (Enter Sandman, Metallica).
 
With the dramatic Adam Fischer version of the Mozart 25th Symphony, 16/44, once again the illustration that the sound is paramount, before or HD format. The readability of this squeaky symphony under the baton of Adam Fischer is quite amazing with the Stratos. Any sound alchemy of this symphony pass the test without flinching. Everything is audible, according to layout plans, flawless, but while maintaining fluiditié of the overall movement. Stamps winds, horns, oboes and bassoons are fully restored, the dynamics of horns that emphasise the whole first movement is particularly involved; punctuation oboe-bassoon is clear without take over the underlying sentences. Attacks bows on bass strings squeak like Adam Fischer has no doubt desired.
 
On this album, we are overwhelmed by the orchestra, his passion, his rage and pain. The tubes, capacitors, chips, cables, everything is forgotten when the symphony begins.

Conclusion

Stratos is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best DACs I've ever heard. It makes music, and the best possible way, it never tires, and also feels comfortable in the dynamics of the Rock as the sweetness of the Opera or the lament of Blues.
DSD, USB and simply, it takes a good step ahead of many decks SACD whose price will double to triple that of Stratos. 
PCM, it reaches the performance and musicality of S5 network drive ... a hair close. Again, competition is at prices ranging from double to triple.
 
We must not forget that the Stratos has a real preamp tubes 6:30, with an XLR input and two RCA inputs, usable for other sources.
 
Extensive integration preamp-DAC really seems to be a must in the design of DAC, and we better understand the new name "DAC-Pre" chosen by Ayon for its DAC.
 
Even if the chip is only one of many elements that contribute to the final quality of a DAC, one might have feared that the passage of the beloved smart Bur-Brown 1704k Gehard of Hirt another chip can lead certain technological difficulties and reduced musicality or a narrowing of the magnificent scene of S5, the CD player or DAC CD5S Skylla II. There is nothing. Sabre selected chip is completely forgotten, also like the rest of all other components handpicked.
 
Whether in Computer Audio DAC with the Stratos, or network drive with the S5, Ayon has clearly raised two major milestones on the two channels of dematerialisation, and pathways that are completely open.
 .........Thierry Nkaoua -  August 2013
"The Orbis has all magic from a SE tube preamp with a bit warm in the midrange and its huge and holographic sound stage."
Melbguy - comments off a forum:
Melbguy comments off a forum:
Hi Scott, 
I have spoken directly to Gerhard Hirt at Ayon regarding the Ayon Orbis on several occasions and compiled these responses regarding the Orbis

"The new Orbis will be the next milestone of our preamp history. It is always difficult to give you 100% correct sound description because it depends from so many factors. 
 
Fact is that the Orbis is an ultra new Linestage concept, with an amazing 6H30 circuit ( parallel single-ended design with high current bias point – yes we are talking about a preamp) 
 
Also there is a Re-Generator power supply built in and we are using a special 4 channel volume potentiometer from Japan, custom modified and motorized. As an ayon standard we included special chokes for the power supply.
 
I dare to say that this preamp doesn’t have any competitor in its class."
 
"Orbis: it is an analog preamp and not need to bring any update, there will be no any MK II version in the future, the design is done. BTW the Orbis is not yet released.
 
"I can tell you that the new coming Orbis will be a new milestone in its preamp class, the design what we using is a bit different from others and we designed without any compromise to get out a new performance standard.
 
Please know on the preamps side there is since a longer time not really any step ahead , all preamp manufacture in real moved back our using their old concept ( 10 or 20 years old design – just around a new chassis) because the preamp business is not a real business for the bigger manufactures. 
 
But we set up a new reference standard with the Spheris II – it is a design which no others could do it or let’s say nobody would be crazy enough to invest a big amount and research and time to realize a preamp like the Spheris II nowadays.
 
Even the Orbis is using a bit different technology as the big Spheris, but the Orbis is truly outstanding and we invest a lot of brain to make it happen, and we were crazy enough to invest a lot of time in the Orbis again and even preamp business is not so attractive, for us is more important the result and that we set up a new standard and besides them still a very good price value."
 
"The Orbis has all magic from a SE tube preamp with a bit warm in the midrange and its huge and holographic sound stage."
 
Regards,
Melbguy. 
If I want to continue to really love music then somehow I'll need to get the money together to buy one,
Geoff Husband - TNT France
SUMARRY REVIEW: This is the most transparent amp I've ever heard - including similarly priced 300b amps from Wavac, Audion, Audionote, Loth-x and Opera, not to mention half a dozen other valve amps, five of the new digital wonders and the shed load of more prosaic transistor amplifiers...

You could listen to it (as I did) at high levels for hour after hour. Because the presentation is so open and there's so much space for it all to breath it never becomes congested.....underpinning this is the best bass I've ever heard from a valve amp, a street ahead of any 300b - in fact in terms of speed, and tunefulness, and verve it bests even the Korato Class 'A' transistor monsters that have been my reference. But that bass doesn't stand out - it just integrates in a seamless sweep through the mid-band and onto the high treble....How significant is this? - Just before the Ayon arrived Kate said "you don't seem to listen to music any more" and she was right. ..... I'd starting reading without music. Watching the odd DVD. Or just putting the nearest CD to the player on (and on and on) - I couldn't be arsed to put an LP on. Maybe I was just getting old - maybe just jaded after having so much hi-fi go through my hands and having to dissect every piece of music they produced - Yea, I was jaded.....Then the Ayon landed, and though it was hard to fundamentally pin down what it was doing to me, I found I listened every evening. Vinyl came out and sleeves spread on the floor. My enthusiasm for music and even hi-fi came back. Suddenly I was back to checking tracking weights, fiddling with supports and so on. 

EXTENDED EVIEW: 've bemoaned the lack of originality in valve amps more than once in this august publication. It seems odd that the majority of the better valve amps are based around 50+ year-old valves and circuits. Perhaps there was a 'golden age' when perfection was attained, but that the 300a/b valve should be widely seen as the greatest of them all, a valve designed in 1933, is just a little disappointing.
 
So having spent a lot of time reviewing, and owning various Single-Ended (of course) 300b amps, I've decided my next quest is to chase up the alternatives, whether they are less well known 'classic' valves or part of the new-wave of modern variations on the theme. That these latter valves should surface now is hugely gratifying - it's easy to forget that though the transistor almost entirely replaced valves in the West over 40 years ago, in the old Communist Bloc and China valves were actively developed well into the 1980's. My fear has been that the expertise, and more importantly the manufacturing facilities of these would be lost as their markets collapsed with the free passage of technology.
 
The 300b is of course a great valve, and in single-ended mode it has powered my system in one amp or another for the last 5 years. But it does have limitations and the most serious in the real world is that the power is limited to somewhere around 8 Watts, you can get more but only at the cost of greater distortion and shortened valve life. Though 8 watts may sound OK compared to some flea-powered SET's using 2a3 or 45's it's still a factor that limits it's applications to systems with high efficiency speakers - not necessarily horns, but not mainstream speakers either, you just need more power and driving ability. Of course the 845 and 211 and derivatives manage this trick but these transmitting valves were not, unlike the 300b, designed specifically for audio. So for now most of the newer audio valves have primarily sought to improve on the 300b in the area of output.
 
Design/construction
 
Which brings us neatly to the first amplifier in this series, the Ayon Crossfire. Ayon are a relatively new name in amplifiers, but they bought the Viac company and name - which was one of the biggest and most respected valve and amplifier manufacturers, and one of the few pushing new valve designs. This factory in the Czek republic makes all the Ayon valves (and some other OEM valves) and those valves are exclusive to them. All Ayon amps are built in-house in Austria using mostly German components.
 
This pedigree was why I so wanted to play with one of their designs, and to my great delight a very large and heavy box arrived on my doorstep on the day promised (top marks for that for a start!). The amplifier I decided to review was the new Crossfire. There were several reasons - it's the cheapest model that showcases Ayons top AA62B power tube, it's price was not a million miles away from the majority of 300b amps I've had here, and I was quite keen to see how such an amp stacked up against my own Audionote M3 preamp (circa 7000 Euro), and Opera 300b PSE monoblocks (ditto), a combination that cost considerably more than the Ayon.
 
Opening the box won Ayon some more points in their favour - well boxed and with the amp and each chrome transformer cover covered in deep red velvet. These are small points but when you shell out the price of a small family car on an amplifier you need a feel-good factor when it comes to unpacking your new toy.
 
And that feeling continued because the Crossfire is a very beautiful piece of kit. It looks very different to the wood and alloy delights of my gorgeous Opera amps, but in it's own way - all black anodised alloy and those huge transformer covers - it looks as good. This is an expensive amplifier, but it looks the part and in my book that's important too.
 
It's also very heavy, and at 40 kgs it's at the very limit that this reviewer is happy to move about. In fact leaning into my equipment shelf and gently lowering it whilst bending over I felt the strings of my old back pinging - people smaller/less stupid than me should get help...
 
The weight is mainly because of the huge transformers needed to feed the AA62B power tubes. These are monsters, considerably bigger than any 300b and with a different shape to the glass. They are beautifully made, very solid and reassuring - the only valve that matches its build quality in my experience is the KR300b. This valve allows the Ayon to produce a claimed 30 Watt per channel continuous, 45 watt peak. That is a huge output for any single-ended amp. Even the best 845/211 struggles to match that, and my own parallel 300b amps (2 x 300b per channel) are left well behind.
 
Talking to Ayon it transpires that the '62 is a cousin of the 300b - it's connections are the same for example - but it is in no way a plug-in replacement - certainly the internals are quite different, it is just too distant a family member.
 
These valves, as already stated, are only available as service items to Ayon owners, and at a price of 350 Euro. Ayon apologised that they were so expensive, but in my opinion they are better made than most of the boutique 300bs which command similar prices, and produce more power than pairs 300b's. The other thing I like about these valves is that Ayon have great confidence in their longevity. The '62's come with a 12 month guarantee, a failed valve being replaced by a pair of new valves free of charge. If in the second year a valve fails, the pair are replaced for the cost of a single valve - very impressive, but not as generous as it sounds, because to date Ayon tell me they have yet to have a failure! To put that in perspective, my Opera PSE's ate a set of two matched pairs of Full-Music 300b mesh plates in just over 12 months at a cost of about 700 Euro, and few manufacturers extent valve guarantees past 3 months.
 
Both the pre-amp stage (yes this is a proper integrated - not a power amp with a pot) and the driver are powered by one of the hot valves of the moment - the 6h30 - two for each section.
 
Beyond that the technical specs can be found here so I won't repeat it all and pretend I know what I'm talking about.
 
The controls are a simple volume and selector for the 4 inputs, and the volume is operable using the simple remote - what else would you need?
 
At the back are the usual phono inputs and speaker binding posts (with 4 and 8 ohm taps) - all excellent as you'd expect. The power valves need to have their valve bias adjusted using the meter on the top plate and two screws behind - no chore and rather exciting in a hands-on way;-) There is also a 'direct in', which completely bypasses all controls and the pre-amp section to leave you with a pure power-amp, more on this later.
 
On the front the Ayon logo is cut through the front plate and glows red when the amp is on - it's different and I quite liked the effect - YMMV.
 
Lastly there is a little neon light on the back panel that will glow if the polarity of your mains is in reversed phase - nice touch.
 
Sound
 
"My" Crossfire was brand new and so needed running in. I always hate this bit and try to do it in my new music/review room where I can leave it on without disturbing people. However the Crossfire was to be tested in my living room, where my own, personal system resides (i.e. the stuff that belongs to me) - and blowed if I was going to haul 40 kgs back and forth more than I had to.
 
So it was plugged into my Loth-X Polaris horns. Now I know what you are going to say, "here is a new, relatively high-powered SE amp and he's gone and plugged it into a pair of speakers that can make your ears bleed with a Watt".
 
Yes you're right - but for me the point of these reviews is not to find out what SE amplifiers are available to drive real-world speakers. No. For me I wanted to see what the sound quality was of amplifiers using alternatives to the 300b. I took it as read that the Crossfire will drive more difficult speakers, but that's not my point, any more than I will criticise the 2a3 amp due in a few weeks for low power...
 
And of course that's a bit tricky for Ayon - if in this review I ignore the one undeniable advantage the Crossfire has then its task is all the more difficult. The Ayon was to be judged on sound quality alone.
 
Driving the amp were my Acoustic Solid turntable with Opera ST600 fitted, and the Dynavector Karat 17 into my ESE Nibiru phono stage. But sitting next to the amp was it's matching sister - the Ayon CD-2 CD player. I will be reviewing this in a couple of months so I won't spoil that review by giving the game away but needless to say it didn't let the side down.
 
After checking the connections half a dozen times (I'm paranoid) I switched everything on. With it cold and new, I wasn't expecting to hear the best from the amp, but in such circumstances I often find that you get a clear, if a little mechanical presentation that can be quite appealing - for a few minutes until you start to get bored with it. In fact it sounds like a good transistor amp, and the Ayon certainly filled the stereotype. But there were some promising signs. Firstly the amp had one characteristic I hadn't considered - as an integrated the Crossfire regulate volume by reducing the output of the power section.
 
Let me explain. Amplifiers have background noise - all of them. Valve amps are poorer than transistor amps and SE amps the worse of all. Here there is double-trouble because the speakers needed for such amps, e.g. my horns, will make this background far louder than normal speakers. In the case of my own Loth-x horns, two SE 300b amps have been returned to their manufacturer before review simply because they were so noisy as to be unusable.
 
With my own Audionote / Opera combination the background noise is a hiss and slight hum - it's enough to irritate my wife when I'm not playing music, but no worse than any other valve pre/power I've had here. And because the power-amps are in effect flat-out waiting for the signal then there's no way of getting rid of this background.
 
With the Ayon, turning the volume to zero left a silent speaker, racking up the volume to max (with no signal) increased the background noise to similar levels to my pre/power. You see the point? With very high sensitivity speakers the integrated had a major advantage over the pre/power. The noise levels only rose when volume was turned up and of course then it's utterly drowned out by the music. My wife liked this... This is not insignificant - especially if listening to music at low levels.
 
So we have a very pleasant amp, sounding a bit glassy but very promising. A day or two later it sounded a little dull and restrained and then on day 4 it started to sing.
 
Gushing review alert...
 
Transparency. I'm trying to hold back on the hyperbole here, especially as I'm painfully aware that next week another amp may arrive that sounds even better and so going over the top will leave me little 'headroom'.
 
Nah - what the hell, tell it how it is...
 
This is the most transparent amp I've ever heard - including similarly priced 300b amps from Wavac, Audion, Audionote, Loth-x and Opera, not to mention half a dozen other valve amps, five of the new digital wonders and the shed load of more prosaic transistor amplifiers...
 
Through the Loth-x Polaris the veils were removed, the crystal clear mountain stream babbled down the mountainside - it sounded like after I have my ears waxed, but not so glassy. It was as transparent as a see-through thing. The sheer natural, openness of the thing had me in raptures. How can this sound better than 12,000 Euro of pre/power? Sheesh I maybe I should write for someone other than TNT because I'm in danger of talking about palpability and I always promised not to...
 
Examples? 
 
You want examples? Well you've read my eulogising of the 'King James' album, well if ever there was an amp made to demolish your back wall and insert the Wylie Chapel and a big band in the hole then this is it. I'm not (I think) talking about extra detail, new tunes, massive soundstage - though it has all that - but simply the opening of a window, I honestly cannot think of a better, and less cliche'd description.
 
And it didn't sound like any of the 300b amps I've had here. I've never considered the 300b to be particularly warm, but it was as if the 300b amps were putting a little rosy haze over the midband and the Ayon had just ripped it off. It's NOT a question of balance. The Loth-X 300b actually sounded brighter and more forward - it's possible to engineer almost any balance, but even with the Loth-X amp, there was something that the Ayon stripped away. The best I can do is to imagine that the air around you somehow damps down what you are hearing, and the Ayon removes this effect.
 
Let me emphasis the point, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea - the Crossfire isn't forward, bright, pushy, aggressive, etched. At no time did those adjectives come to mind, in fact you could listen to it (as I did) at high levels for hour after hour. Because the presentation is so open and there's so much space for it all to breath it never becomes congested.
 
Underpinning this is the best bass I've ever heard from a valve amp, a street ahead of any 300b - in fact in terms of speed, and tunefulness, and verve it bests even the Korato Class 'A' transistor monsters that have been my reference. But that bass doesn't stand out - it just integrates in a seamless sweep through the mid-band and onto the high treble.
 
How significant is this? - Just before the Ayon arrived Kate said "you don't seem to listen to music any more" and she was right. Sure I'd put on the Stones and dance around whilst doing the washing up, but it was getting to the point where I'd just as likely put it on the kids ghetto blaster as playing it through the 30,000 euro system in the living room. I'd starting reading without music. Watching the odd DVD. Or just putting the nearest CD to the player on (and on and on) - I couldn't be arsed to put an LP on.
 
Maybe I was just getting old - maybe just jaded after having so much hi-fi go through my hands and having to dissect every piece of music they produced - Yea, I was jaded.
 
Then the Ayon landed, and though it was hard to fundamentally pin down what it was doing to me, I found I listened every evening. Vinyl came out and sleeves spread on the floor. My enthusiasm for music and even hi-fi came back. Suddenly I was back to checking tracking weights, fiddling with supports and so on. Why? How can an amp that is providing only subtle changes over a very fine system possibly have this effect? I have no idea...
 
As the amp works as a dedicated power-amp I did try a pre-amp direct into it. As I suspected the big advantage of that low noise at low level was gone, the combination becoming as noisy as my own pre/power. The music took a small, but noticeable step back. What that tells me is that the Crossfire pre-amp section, gaining all the advantages of no cabling, no connections and perfectly matched to the power section would be very difficult to improve on. Indeed, for my application I would think it unlikely I'd improve on the Crossfire by using one of Ayon's pre/power amp combinations. I don't need the extra power, I'd miss the silent background and I'm not sure I could cope with more information:-) However there's a twist to this. The 'direct' setting is just the fifth stop on the input selector. There's nothing stopping you running four line-inputs AND a pre with as many extra inputs as you want, or a CD player with a variable output direct. The Ayon could easily run 10 inputs in such a way, or be used as the front amplifier for a surround system run from a five-channel pre and so-on - it's a remarkable flexibility.
 
So now I get to the bit where I say that I was "so impressed I bought the review amplifier". And here the wheels came off.
 
I've used and loved my Audionote preamp for four years now, but in my system, for the very first time I could see myself letting it go. And of course those gorgeous Opera amps would have to go too. Before I knew what I was doing they were on EBAY. In order to buy them in the first place I'd sort of "borrowed" from the family kitty on the condition I'd pay it back, but I'd every confidence there would still be enough to buy the Ayon. Well you've guessed it. They sold, but they didn't sell well. A week of agony followed, but though far from destitute it's not a good year in the cycling holiday business and so I took a deep breath and unplugged the amp, slipped the velvet over it and boxed it up...
 
Then after the Ayon had gone. What then...
 
I took a valve pre-amp I have here and played it into the Lehmann Stamp digital power amp - sheeeesh it sounds so grey! It improved once warm, but this fine little amp, the best of the digital breed just seems to lay a slightly grubby layer over everything - a dull putty filled the spaces between instruments where before there had been nothing - nothing at all... True the Stamp costs a fraction of the Ayon but the total cost including the pre-amp was close. I couldn't live with it...
 
So out comes one of my favourite amps, the SQF Son-of-Pharao. At much the same size, weight and cost as the Ayon this EL34 PP amp produces more power, and through the Polaris it sounded... well... very good. Anyone walking into that room who had heard the Ayon there the day before would have recognised another fine amp and thought nothing more of it. But then you sit down and you listen. Or rather, in my case you don't. Because it's as if a dead hand has been put over the music. The life, and sparkle and the damned transparency have gone - Since the Ayon left and been replaced by the two amps above I can honestly say I've not sat down and listened to music for pleasure, rather than background, once in six-weeks. It's pathetic and I hate myself for it because it's the music that matters, but once you've tasted that magic everything else seems to turn sour.
 
Conclusion
 
I've been reviewing hi-fi for well over 10 years now and in that time I've heard very few poor systems, quite a few reasonable ones, a few excellent ones that frequently I ended up buying, but only three components that changed the way I listened to music so much that once sampled, everything else sounded wrong. The first were my Loth-X Polaris, a pair of speakers that at the time cost more than the rest of my system combined. Again it was difficult to pin down why they were so good, but over the review period they got under my skin so much that when they had gone I was bereft. Though they cost more than I could possibly justify, I managed to get the money together to buy them and I've not regretted that for one millisecond. The second was the ESE Nibiru phono stage which just was an order of magnitude better than any phono stage I'd heard, and more to the point showed me just how much most people missed from their vinyl. Hideously expensive and well out of my price range, the manufacturer made me an offer I couldn't refuse and so it now sits on the equipment shelf and I can't see it ever being replaced.
 
And the last is the Ayon Crossfire. It shares with the two previously mentioned components a transparency that takes you ever closer to the musical event, and because each is voiced in this way they share a stunning synergy. The Crossfire too is very expensive, but not ludicrously so, and in a way that almost makes it worse, because I can almost afford it... But I'm coming to the conclusion that if I want to continue to really love music then somehow I'll need to get the money together to buy one, or find something out there that matches it. Such is the sad life of the Audio addict.
 
And if I do you the reader will be the poorer. I don't review speakers in my main room any more because I just don't want to move the Polaris and I really don't want my personal listening screwed up. Ditto the ESE, I've stopped reviewing all stages. In fact I've now built a reviewing room where all these pretenders can come and go to be listened to, and reviewed and appreciated, but never loved, without disturbing my personal system. The Crossfire I fear, would shut all other amps out of my living room - they too banished to the also rans. But on the other hand, at least my enthusiasm for the subject would be rekindled.
.........Geoff Husband - TNT France
know this, Gerhard is doing superb work, and the CD-3 is a winner.
Doug Schroeder

REVIEW SUMMARY: The CD-3 is a superb match for the Helix speakers, the Rowland amp and the Wire World Cables. The CD-3 brings to the Helix the exactitude necessary to feed a world-class speaker with stunning resolution and absolutely faithful signal. It energises the Rowland class D amplification. In fact, the Rowland MC-606 was not as satisfactory to my ear without the CD-3. T

EXTENDED REVIEW: - NOTE this review is of the earlier CD3 model in 2009, that has since been replaced by latest CD3s which is a significant upgrade and AYON's top model)

Now an It was after eight in the evening and darkness had fallen. I settled in my chair, tapping into the reserve two hours of brainpower to be applied to the craft of reviewing. There came a sharp knock at the front door. Opening it, I saw a silhouetted figure in the darkness (the blasted front light was out!), “Hi Doug, it’s Jeff.” Jeff…the tree man! I had called him a week prior to grind two tree stumps, and here he was, suggesting that since he was in the neighborhood might he get it done now. I was elated; Jeff’s a great worker, and I knew that if I was flexible it would be done in short order. I had the great responsibility of handling the flashlight as he worked the heavy equipment. Thirty eight minutes later, I was back at the keyboard, resuming my work, with a gleeful feeling of satisfaction that another job was marked off the “To Do” list.

I love people who do their work well! It is very satisfying to observe a plumber, service agent, teacher – anyone who puts their heart and soul into the task. An individual I admire, a shadow figure whom I have not yet seen, is Gerhard Hirt, the Chief Designer for Ayon Audio. I have heard his “voice” only through the components he has designed, but it is a voice that seems to speak with eloquence. Allow me to share with you the message that one particular player, the Ayon Audio CD-3, conveys.

In the spring of 2008, I was pleasantly surprised by Bill Dudleston of Legacy Audio’s offer to review his flagship speaker, the Helix. In assessing the needs for attending components with which to review the Helix, I returned to manufacturers and distributors whose products impressed me and I sought their best equipment. I determined to write a “Super-review”, a series of reviews which dovetail by overlapping coverage of the system’s components. I wanted to work with a source that would be fitting, so immediately I contacted Charlie Harrison of Ayon Audio USA, the U.S. distributor for Ayon. Having enjoyed the Ayon Audio CD-1 previously it was natural to pursue the CD-3 (a two-chassis, top-loading, tube-output design) for the front-end. This review highlights not only the Ayon CD-3, but also discusses the working of it in a specific arrangement which I have put together with an eye toward system synergy with the Helix speakers. Aside from the aforementioned Helix and CD-3, the other members of this Super-review set are the Jeff Rowland Capri preamp and MC-606 multi-channel amp, and a suite of Wire World Silver Eclipse 5 Squared and Silver Electra Power Cables. The reader is strongly encouraged to consider the other components in conjunction with the CD-3 as potential partners.

 
Ayon Audio strikes me as a company which is on the ascendancy. Gerhard is young at 45, and already producing components to be reckoned with. He had been designing electronic devices for BMW, as well as working with electrical systems for Ferrari prior to setting out on his own. In 1990, he started his own company, offering his first piece, the Ayon 52 SET amp.
 
Even from the start, Gerhard’s designs garnished attention for their musicality. Not long ago I reviewed the Ayon Spirit integrated, and confirmed that it is an extremely agreeable, economical integrated. Ayon likely would have been able to hold its own by manufacturing amps only, but Gerhard has too much talent to let a large segment of his design skills languish. He wanted to make a CD player, so he entered a cooperative effort with Raysonic.
 
Ayon Audio CD3 CD PlayerMany audiophiles in touch with current CD player offerings know that the Ayon CD-1 and Raysonic CD128 players are strikingly similar in appearance, including the remote. There is much misunderstanding and misinformation about the players circulating, such as Ayon being a division of Raysonic and inappropriately cross-selling to the U.S., or that the two players are made in the same factory. Neither is true. When the CD-1 was first being developed by Gerhard, he chose to partner with Raysonic. The collaborative effort to have Raysonic manufacture the chassis, not internals, began in 2005 and ended in 2006.
 
Sometimes partnerships are golden, as seems to be the case with Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, of the ubiquitous Conrad-Johnson. Other times they can be, oh let’s say, problematic. Bill Dudleston resumed ownership of Legacy Audio after a partnership with the Allen Organ Company. Likewise, Gerhard ended the Raysonic partnership in order to pursue his vision.
 
Since then the two players, though outwardly similar, have developed independently. It may look as though all that separates the two players is the eerie blue illumination of the Raysonic 128, but the internals are quite different. Gerhard emphatically points out, “The Ayon CD-1 uses a different upsampler, the Crystal Semiconductor, different regulator, different tubes, different output stage…” There are critical design differences, whereas the CD-1 is 24 bit/192 kHz, the Raysonic 128 is 24 bit/92 kHz. This is but just one of the subtle subtractive differences the casual purchaser will not notice. A consumer should not think that because two units share the same skin they are the same. Caveat emptor applies between seemingly identical products.
 
Understandably Gerhard wants the distinction between Ayon and Raysonic widened, as a similar pattern followed his CD-3, with the Raysonic two-chassis model, the CD228, showing up approximately two years later. He is emphatic, “The new Ayon CD-2 will be released in 2/2009 and there is no relation or collaboration with Raysonic – 100% Ayon Audio, made in Austria.” Gerhard seems quite content lately to have Ayon fly solo; the freshly minted CD-2, which I have just received and will be putting through its paces for its own review, marks a drastic departure from previous designs. I wish him a smooth flight.
 
Bomb Proof
 
All Ayon products arrive with the most “bomb-proof” packaging I have encountered in audio. Triple boxed, individually packaged chasses for the CD-3 ensure little possibility of damage. I would be comfortable to ship one of these units in the factory packaging to Tunisia if necessary. A sleight, no-nonsense manual lays out the functions clearly. As was mentioned in the CD-1 review, the remote is a mistake; the mistake is putting too much at the fingertip. I get the feeling Gerhard has to be a techno-dweeb (Hey, it’s not so bad! People I know think I’m one. I just tell myself it’s a comment born of jealousy!) as he has put nearly every conceivable function on the remote. I have been using the remote for a couple months and still have to take a look at it to forward tracks. Ayon needs to consider giving its customers an additional, simple, clean remote with only the critical functions. It will endear the remote-happy user to the player.
 
I will get the only other quibble about this player out of my system. As a reviewer, I sometimes must accept used units, i.e. show units or previously reviewed pieces. This particular player had been used previously, and obviously not with the utmost tenderness and care, which I am learning means “high degree of potential for anomalies.” In this particular case, the transport was noisy, emitting a clicking noise upon reset of the laser.
 
I have no problem with manufacturers and distributors wanting to send me show pieces or previously reviewed units. If I were a manufacturer, I would consider it as well. Occasionally there is a glitch, and the reader should know that this was not a pristine, unopened unit. I only mention it as I have committed to sharing with readers my full experience with the components; rarely have I found as attentive a distributor as Charlie Harrison of Ayon Audio USA. He did an exchange for me pronto, and as expected the new transport operated flawlessly.
 
As a brief physical introduction to the CD-3, it is comprised of twin, horizontal, 8mm black anodized aluminum slabs with smoothly contoured corners. The transport retains the CD-1 top mounted illuminated (in this model red) controls, and flying saucer shaped collar and lid. The smoked Lexan lid is also a carryover from the previous model. In the back, one sees both single-ended and balanced outputs, as well as digital coaxial output. The tube power supply resides under the transport, connected by a seriously thick power umbilical. In an unusual move by Ayon, the umbilical is so short that the units can only be stacked, not set beside each other. However, Ayon does offer a longer umbilical as an option. My guess is that Gerhard has subjectively tested the two options and felt the longer umbilical ever so slightly diminishes the sound, thereby selecting the shorter umbilical as the standard.
 
If that is indeed the case, I’m not sure such a difference would pass the Law of Efficacy. In other words, I’m not sure that the difference would be immediately noticeable and confer a large advantage. If a sonic difference does exist, I estimate that one would need a refined audio system in approximately the $70K range or higher (as a crude measurement of quality) to hear the distinction clearly.
 
The transport of the CD-3 is the same Sony KSS-213Q used in the CD-1. The Crystal Semiconductor chipset yields 24 bit/192 kHz conversion. A matched quad of 6H30 tubes are used in the class A output stage. The highest quality internal components are utilized in the build, including Mundorf capacitors and hand assembly with silver solder. Ayon is working for a reputation of quality, and this is evident with the CD-3.
 
The most pedantic aspect of the player is the lack of an automatic reset of the laser assembly when play ceases. Reset is manual; as with the CD-1, the listener must press the stop button two times to get the unit to read “Open” and read the newly inserted disc. Fumbling with the lid, magnetic puck, removing CD and putting in a CD is not quite a Cirque du Soleil act, but employs both hands. I find that I cannot get too annoyed with the fiddling around, as I never fail to be impressed with the event created by the CD-3. People wear Rolex watches, which are far from mechanically perfect, because there is something ineffably sublime about them. So it is with the CD-3; there is something sublime about the rightness of its sound.
 
I have been through a lot of players lately, almost a dozen in the past two years. I have been purposely moving toward a “steep end” reference quality spinner – not just an overachiever, but a player which would slip right into the best of rigs. The CD-3 is a contender. It’s embarrassingly rich compared to the best economical players. This past year, I have worked with the Rega Saturn, and the Cambridge Audio Azur 840C. Both of these players have large followings, and both have their fans who claim them to be best in class and/or best under several thousand dollars. I share this next thought with the utmost respect, but the CD-3 makes them sound unrefined. Yes, unrefined. I know that seems impossible to the many who would defend these players with their honor, but it’s the truth. In fact, the CD-3 is quite a bit more refined than its stable mate, the CD-1. The amount of refinement is such that for those in the enviable position of being unconcerned about the expense of the player, I would coach them to pass by the CD-1 and move directly to the CD-3 without hesitancy.
 
As an analogy, when a speaker owner finally moves to a new brand and is awed to hear acoustic vistas opening to him, he is at once gleeful and regretful. Gleeful that he is hearing from a vantage point never before achieved, and regretful that he didn’t know, or act, sooner. I am very happy that I did not succumb to the delusion that the mightiest of the sub $2,500 players was approaching state-of-the-art Redbook sound. They don’t, at least not while the CD-3 is around. This is in no way a slight to these other players, as I greatly admire their performance relative to their price. The CD-3, on the other hand, is a connoisseur’s player, fitted for extravagant performance.
 
Just what makes the Ayon so much better? A major contribution is its tube power supply. The 6H30 output stage is extended and improved over the CD-1. What is so important about these tubes? Gerhard thinks, “…it is perhaps the ‘best’ signal tube in the world.” It is a product of the Russian military, has low impedance, low distortion and very good harmonic behavior. However, it is difficult to drive, and requires a doubling of the power supply, something which is unnecessary with any other signal tube. It is used only in very expensive amps, such as top-of-the-line products from Audio Research and Balanced Audio Technology. The tube has only one manufacturer, and it is in Russia, but there are a few retailers such as Electro Harmonic and Sovtek. I’m seeing a fair bit of Russian tubes in gear I’m working with. If I recall correctly, Pathos in their third iteration of the Classic One tube hybrid integrated, made the switch from Sovtek to EH.
 
As I said previously, the CD-3 can embarrass even good players. What does a steep end player like the CD-3 sound like? If the Ayon is any gauge, then they sound a lot like high quality SET amps! That should not be surprising as a tube power supply rightly utilized in the service of a CD player should obtain many of the benefits of low powered amps. It hinges on how well the designer can pull it off.
 
Clarity, clarity, clarity…I could say it another nine times to emphasize. The CD-3 has gobs of clarity (Poor diction, I know, but oh, so emphatic)! I thrill to the lucidity of this player. Just the other night, I once again ran the digital output of the CD-3 to the $1,590 Monarchy M24 pre/DAC so that I might use that tube DAC with the Ayon acting as transport. The M24 has a bit of a warmer tonality and I like it. But every time I switch back to the CD-3’s DAC, it sounds significantly cleaner. I attribute this to the additional cable and component utilized with the outboard DAC. It cannot be avoided; if you send the digital signal out, it will degrade.
 
No combination of transport and DAC or straight-up CD player has bested the svelte CD-3. I have heard previously some highly respected digital sources, including the Linn Akurate and the EMM Labs CDSA, and to my ear the CD-3 belongs in such company. This is a music lover’s player, and it can capture the passion in the performance of nearly any recording.
 
I spent a fair bit of time listening to older discs, which often lack the vibrancy and immediacy of newer releases (Heaven forbid I get into music with compression issues!). I like returning to my nostalgia favorites such as Al Stewart, Jackson Brown, and rock groups like E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra). These are compromised digital recordings, and on lesser players I have difficulty getting involved with the music. Let me point out some examples of how the CD-3 breathes life into these discs…
 
As a teen, I listened to E.L.O. over and over. I couldn’t get enough of their odd rock orchestration. They open their song “Fire on High” with a hazy, ethereal background which is intruded upon by sound effects and backwards masked voice – strange stuff at the time, which is why it was so fascinating. On even decent players like the Saturn or Azur 840C, the background sounds like someone synthesizing in the studio. Through the CD-3, it sounds more limitless, like background radiation from the expansion of the universe.
 
The CD-3 animates seemingly “digitally dead” music. Jackson Brown’s piano in the song “Stay” sounds like it’s on the set. It’s so stark and open that one can envision roadies breaking down the stage while he’s playing. He pumps out the words, “PPack it up and TTear it down…” and I sense the force of the words as they hit the microphone. No other player had me relating to “The Pretender” like the CD-3. I almost felt sorry for Brown; the sap builds his house under a freeway – but Brown’s voice is so visceral, so honestly open and uncluttered that you want to root for the guy.
 
Then there’s Al Stewart, whom I recall hearing the first time as I walked past a dorm room and heard his voice emanating from a stereo, “The fishing boats go out across the evening water, smuggling guns and arms across the Spanish border…” Stuart’s music had a way of instantly placing me in a movie setting. However, the recordings sound tired, and the better the gear the more tired they sound. The tube magic of the CD-3 restores the newness, the freshness of these limp recordings. The track “Song on the Radio” begins with a blaring sax, ala David Sanborn style, but it sounds harsh and removed on most players. With the CD-3, the whole instrument can be heard, not just the note which emanates, and the sax sounds throaty, not thin-lipped.
 
What this all means in terms of sonics, is that the CD-3 has an uncannily similar set of characteristics to a SET amp (repeating a second time for emphasis)! I recall the clarity and “fragility” of the Melody Hi Fi P1688 preamplifier & S88 mono blocks – not a physical fragility, but a tender, clean sound. The strength of the Melody gear was their ability to reflect an image cleanly, like a still pool in a cave floor reflecting the ceiling overhead. The CD-3 has the same capacity to reflect a pure image of the information retrieved from the disc. The effect sonically is not unlike the picture quality difference between standard television and HDTV.
 
I have seen comments over time that the Ayon CD-1 does not sound like a tube player. There is a misperception in regards to tube equipment, that all such components should generate a sonic “warm fuzzy.” To readers who are seeking that warmth above other sonic considerations, I suggest they look into Van Alstine components and Vandersteen speakers. In other words, they all should have at least a taste of the syrupy, golden toned – and often slightly muddled sounding – presentation. Speaking for myself, I can only take so much of that; I do not care to listen long to equipment which sacrifices definition for tone. I do not care to sacrifice anything; I want it all!
 
Ayon CD players do not turn warm and wooly, even with other tube gear. That is a very good thing, as music which is too plump and relaxed sounding tends to put me to sleep, and it’s hard to enjoy music if I’m missing it! Depending on the player and the cabling, the CD-3 can sound less tube-like than some solid-state players. A Case in point is the Cambridge Audio Azur 840C, with the new top-of-the-line cable from Wire World, the Platinum Eclipse. I was able to get the Azur 840C to sound warmer than the CD-3, but I was never able to get it to surpass the exactitude and involvement of the CD-3. I have not found another player which has bettered the CD-3 in terms of putting me in a state of rapture when listening. When I am finished with a listening session of the CD-3, my spirit feels restored from being in touch with the music. Gerhard has indeed done outstanding work.
 
The CD-3 in Relation to the Super-review System
 
A few words about the Super-review and the equipment involved. The CD-3 was paired with some extremely fine gear, which meant any flaw in its complexion would be easily heard. After all, I can hear some pretty subtle things with 1,000wpc amps and true, full-range actively crossed speakers. A compromised player is going to show signs of roughness around the edges in such circumstances, which is why the CD-3 is all the more impressive.
 
Again, I mean no disrespect to these players, but the Ayon makes other players sound flat. I found it nearly impossible to listen to them long term after the CD-3 experience. Even running the digital output from the Azur 840C to the Monarchy DAC failed to evoke my emotions as thoroughly as the Ayon.
 
I asked Gerhard about tube rolling, and he was forthright: it’s not likely to improve the performance. He stated, “We designed our output stage ‘on the limit’ which means we matched and selected the 6H30 perfectly to the output stage.” He further admits, “…with tube rolling you can change a bit of the sound characteristic, but you can’t really improve the original matched tubes.” In my experience with other critically selected tubes in components, I have found that to be true. I tried rolling new tubes into the Pathos Classic One amps and found that while distinctively different, they were not an absolute improvement; I ended up removing them. I certainly had no impetus to swap out tubes in this instance. I knew that doing so would just as likely mess up the sound as improve it. What that means is there was no glaring error, no gaping hole in the CD-3’s 
performance.
 
The best part of the CD-3 is that it makes music sound so effortless! Vinyl is rich to the ear because the ease with which it sounds like music is made. Even when artists are breaking their collective necks playing, the analogue experience makes it sound like it’s easy. Digital players typically can’t do that, but the Ayon comes close. It relaxes you the same way that a massage shower head can do something a normal one can’t – it’s got extra capabilities. Just as all those pulsing little drops of water sooth the skin, so also the more perfectly presented digits caress the ears.
 
The CD-3 is a superb match for the Helix speakers, the Rowland amp and the Wire World Cables. The CD-3 brings to the Helix the exactitude necessary to feed a world-class speaker with stunning resolution and absolutely faithful signal. It energises the Rowland class D amplification. In fact, the Rowland MC-606 was not as satisfactory to my ear without the CD-3. The Wire World cabling is awfully difficult to understate as to its importance in capturing the nuances of the CD-3. Together, these components are an approximately $70K rig, and in purely aesthetic terms they are worth it. That’s coming from a man who spent the better part of 15 years cobbling together very modest systems. I have a very hard time justifying the expenditure of that kind of money for a two-channel rig. But you may not have as much difficulty defending such an expenditure, and if you go this route, you will have an entire system of exceptional sound for the price of some super-speakers alone.
 
In addition, the CD-3 was part of another terrific sounding, far more economical rig, which was the best all SS system I have yet to assemble. No, it was not the Super-review system, although it is a reference sound at its price point. It was the smaller set of the Legacy Focus HD speakers, the same Wire World Silver Eclipse 5 Squared suite (a more economical choice would be the Wire World Equinox 5 Squared cables), the new Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amps, and the Rowland Capri preamp. I will have much to say about this particular assemblage of gear in the Cambridge review.
 
By now in my reviews you should notice that I’m giving hints at excellent entire systems, as opposed to merely components. I try to call attention to outstanding matches of components, not merely the isolated review piece. If you understand my descriptors of the review piece, and you gravitate toward the sound I’m describing, then you will likely have a much better chance than average of enjoying the accompanying components.
 
I’ll be looking into that. I usually have a very strong preference for my source equipment, at least for “top source” position. I aim to address the similarities and differences between them in the CD-2 review. For now, know this, Gerhard is doing superb work, and the CD-3 is a winner.
 
Ayon Stealth DAC/Preamplifier = Long Term Satisfaction
Dick Olsher

REVIEW SUMMARY: In the pursuit of digital playback perfection, the Stealth ranks in the DAC elite. It’s all about the music and the Stealth delivers a superb musical experience. You could do a lot worse at a higher price point, but I doubt that you would do any better at its asking price. It’s a DAC that I could happily live with for years to come. 

EXTENDED REVIEW What’s in a model name? Well, sometimes not much at all when it’s merely an arbitrary numerical designation and a potential source of confusion for my slightly dyslexic mind. On the other hand, Ayon’s choice of model name strikes me as perfectly befitting a DAC, implying an unobtrusive delivery of the musical message by a digital device. The Stealth does just that by following a road less traveled. To be clear, the Stealth is more than just a DAC. Think line-level preamp offering two line level inputs, an electronic volume control, as well as a world-class DAC. 

Let’s start by taking a peak at the analog side of this DAC/pre. The massive aluminium chassis hides several vacuum tubes which are allowed to “breath” through a number of small grilles in the top plate and sides. Ayon is a firm believer in tube technology, and in particular triodes, for reasons that have to do with inherent linearity under minimal or zero-feedback conditions, benign distortion and overload characteristics, and capacity for simple circuitry. The analog output stage is amplified in balanced fashion to allow for both RCA and XLR analog outputs. Each signal leg consists of a Russian 6H30 dual triode, connected in parallel, and operated as a pure, no-feedback, Class A voltage amplifier. That’s as purist as it gets, and Ayon is proud of the fact that there are only five components in each 6H30 signal path. This is a great-sounding tube, but if and when it fails, replacement as I discovered is a tedious task. Several weeks into the review process, one of the left channel 6H30s went bad. To remove the top panel requires loosening ten Allen-head screws through access holes in the bottom panel. As compensation, you get to ogle the beautiful hand-assembled internals.

All filament supplies are DC, and voltage levels are regulated. There is also an automatic tube soft-start during each turn-on cycle. Voltage gain can be toggled on the back panel between low-gain (2.5V) and high-gain (5V) settings. The power supply features two power transformers and a choke-coupled filter bank. I was surprised to learn that the Stealth is tube rectified. A quartet of Chinese 6Z4 rectifier tubes is connected as a bridge rectifier. This is not the cheapest scheme to implement, and the question that comes to mind is why tube rectifiers in a digital device? The answer, according to Ayon, is because this approach sounds more dynamic than any other means of rectification. That alone should inform you about Ayon’s commitment to the best technical solutions irrespective of cost.

A Cirrus Logic CS8416 192kHz receiver chip decodes incoming PCM digital data from the coaxial, BNC, TosLink, I2S, and AES/EBU inputs. An XMOS asynchronous USB input accommodates up to 24/192kHz PCM data. Indicators on the right side of the display show the incoming PCM frequency rate: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz. Incoming SPDIF data can be up-sampled to 24/192kHz. This feature can be “switched” on and off on the remote control. All sample rate conversion is performed by a Burr-Brown SRC4193 asynchronous sample-rate converter timed by an external crystal clock oscillator operating at 24.575MHz. DSD inputs include two BNC (DSD-L and DSD-R) digital inputs and one BNC for word clock. In addition, the Stealth is also outfitted with one optional I2S DSD-overPCM (DoP) digital input. I’m not that sophisticated

a digital user. Hence, the scope of the review was limited to PCM data inputs, either PCM digital out from a Sony XA-5400ES SACD player or USB input from my MacBook Pro computer running Amarra V2.6 software.

The DAC chipset is the highly regarded ESS Sabre ES9018, a 32-bit audio DAC that features ultra-low distortion levels, a time domain jitter eliminator, and integrated DSP functions. Customisable filter characteristics allow for user-programmable filters with custom roll-off slopes. The Filter button on the remote allows selection of either Filter 1 (slow roll-off) or Filter 2 (fast roll-off). Filter 1 is said to sound a bit smoother than Filter 2, which is characterised by Ayon as being a bit more analytical. I suspect that your ultimate preference would be system-dependent; however in the context of the ENIGMAcoustics Mythology M1 loudspeaker, I had a clear preference for Filter 2. I found it to be simply more resolving of micro-dynamic nuances and more incisive spatially. Filter 1 did sound smoother but at the cost of homogenising spatial outlines and dissipating some dynamic tension. I also had a clear preference for upsampling 44.1kHz PCM data to 24/192kHz. Taken together, the resulting presentation was not only more spacious and better focused, but also dug a bit more deeply into the mix and retrieved more ambient information. It’s easy enough to click these buttons on the remote and experiment in real time to determine what sounds best in your system.

The volume control is based on the Texas Instruments (Burr-Brown Division) PGA2320 IC, a digitally controlled analog volume control designed specifically for professional and high-end consumer-audio applications. Internal operational amplifier stages are used to generate an attenuation / gain range of -95.5dB to 31.5dB. According to Ayon, this control is strictly used for analog signal attenuation with all of the gain being developed in the tube linestage. Thus, the display volume range is from 0 (max volume) to -60 (minimum volume) in 1dB steps. There is also a built-in balance function accessible from the remote that allows left-right channel attenuation in 1dB steps up to a total of 6dB.

I’ve run the Stealth directly into a power amp and have found its volume control to exhibit low coloration levels. I love its functionality; nevertheless, the question of how the PGA2320 compares to a conventional resistive potentiometer deserved an answer. It turns out that the Stealth’s volume control can be bypassed by switching over to Fixed Volume mode on the remote control, in which case the audio signal goes directly to the analog output stage. I connected the Stealth to the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium line preamplifier with its conventional Alps Blue Velvet motorised conductive-plastic potentiometer. I was then able to switch between Fixed and Variable volume modes on the Stealth and at equal volume levels try to discern any sonic difference with the PGA2320 in and out of the signal path. Although not necessarily a definite test, I did prefer listening with the Stealth in Fixed (2.5V) volume mode. There were improvements in spatial presentation (depth perspective and image outline separation). Additionally, the treble range was a bit purer sounding. These results suggest that the Stealth’s volume control does introduce a slight solid-state sonic signature.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I was in the company of a superb DAC, one that was free from annoying digital artefacts and that could flesh out tone colours with startling realism. One of the hardest things for a DAC to get right is violin overtones, especially on recordings that are less than perfect. Many DACs don’t react well to recording hot spots adding spurious grain, hash, and even sizzle to the reproduction. Not a pleasant phenomenon and one that had soured me on digital sound for many years. By contrast, the Stealth sailed right through recordings that had given me trouble in the past. Solo violin’s upper range was reproduced with proper levels of sheen and textural purity. The sound of massed strings, and in particular that of violins, the most numerous orchestral string instruments, represents another difficult challenge for any digital device, and one in which most CD players have scored poorly. The sound of massed violins should be layered and the spatial impression ought to float like a feather within the confines of the soundstage with plenty of tonal warmth and textural purity. And in these respects, the

Stealth was able to put a smile on my face. Its performance at the frequency extremes bettered that of all previous DACs I’ve lived with, including the EAR-Yoshino DACute I reviewed in Issue 238. Treble transients were exquisitely refined and bass lines left nothing to be desired, being well defined and pitch-perfect.

The Stealth wasn’t just about tonal colour fidelity and textural refinement. It lit a fire under the soundstage. Musical lines boogied with passion and drama. The dynamic range from loud to very loud was reproduced without hesitation or compression. A recording’s ambient information was readily discernible, as was low-level detail often fuzzed over by lesser DACs. I’m fussy about soprano voice and like to discern vibrato to the point of being able to count the number of pitch modulations per second. Not many divas out there can hit the ideal of seven cycles per second. With the Stealth in your system you’ll be able to resolve this sort of detail.

After auditioning numerous DACs over the years I have come to realise that a large slice of the sonic difference between individual units could be ascribed to the analog stage, and specifically tube versus solid state designs. A tubed output stage appeared to present the soundstage more dimensionally. No matter how sophisticated the digital circuitry was, when mated to an op-amp buffer or gain stage, image outlines pancaked and depth perspective took a hit. And then there was the matter of textural grain. That’s the stuff that my auditory system generally finds to be indigestible. Some solid-state buffers had achieved a respectable level of smoothness, but it usually came at the cost of dynamic sterility. It seems to me that the best approach to defanging a DAC is to introduce tubes into the mix as early as possible. And that’s exactly what Ayon has done with the Stealth. It is perhaps a tad richer harmonically than the real thing, but it is far removed tonally from the sort of romantic, overly lush presentation that has been dubbed “vintage tube sound.” The Stealth is about tonal accuracy, but what you think of it will depend greatly on the associated amplifier and speakers. Mate it with reference-caliber gear and it will walk the line of neutrality.

In the pursuit of digital playback perfection, the Stealth ranks in the DAC elite. It’s all about the music and the Stealth delivers a superb musical experience. You could do a lot worse at a higher price point, but I doubt that you would do any better at its asking price. It’s a DAC that I could happily live with for years to come. 

…….Dick Olsher

Ayon Crossfire PA shows all advantages of triode without its weaknesses. I’ll remember how it sounded with Avalon Transcendent speakers for very long time. Beautiful sound ‐ full synergy. Listening to this amp I was happy as a child.
“Hifi-Muzyka” Magazine – Poland (English translation)

REVIEW SUMMARY: In one of his messages Gerhard stated that Crossfire PA can get people into serious addiction. After three weeks of listening I wanted to disagree but it was too late. I would like to but this amp so much but I just can’t, because I need very versatile transistor for my work. This is the only thing which makes Ayon go back to its distributor. Such a shame, especially as it doesn’t neglect the lowest and highest end of acoustical range. The highest and lowest tones are not rounded nor overheated, but always clear and present with the rest of sound spectrum, precise all the time. Especially the bass is a huge surprise. Beautiful trebles of triode – that’s not a big deal. But to get precise bass of it – it’s sort of magic trick. And Ayon made it possible. Power triodes and transformers have to be really top quality, resulting in very massive and consistent low frequencies. Usually the base of SET – if there is any base at all – is very soft and round. The depth is not a problem but its contours and permanent lasting during longer accumulation – it’s usually a problem. Crossfire generates very strong and energetic low frequencies with satisfying amount and depth. Of course you can get some better bass, let’s say Mark Levinson mono blocks or power amp from Solution will show you no mercy, but that’s not the idea. Crossfire is so much full range, it doesn’t leave any deficiency here. You don’t have to put some sort of handicap on it and constantly say “even as a SE triode”.  It just sound linear and any justification won’t be necessary here.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Ayon Audio was created in Austria in 1999 by Gerhard Hirt, who has been cooperating with AVVT – which was lead by Alesa Vaic, well known man in audiophile’s world – since 1993.  Vaic produced tubes which Hirt used in his amplifiers. Alesa Vaic Vacuum Technology had big history in producing high power tubes. One of the events was re‐launching production of 2A3 triode in mesh plate (anode) version which produced 18 watts. Mesh plate was used also in 300B triode, giving even 22‐28 watts depending of version. But even that did not helped and the company bankrupted in 2001. Hirt bought part of the company. Its factory belonged to TESLA earlier and hired highly qualified personnel. The Ayon owner decided to continue production, and after some time he upgraded some tubes to his needs and this practice works until today. Triodes with AA mark made in Prague are destined for Ayon amplifiers only. They are not available for other brands and hobbyists. Of course the factory is making other tubes as it would not be possible to live only from Ayon orders, but few models are exclusive for Ayon and they are created under full control of Gerhard Hirt.

Ayon Catalog
Ayon product catalogue is impressive. In audiophile world there is a saying: „ weekend without Gerhard’s idea for a new model ( or improving an old one) is a weekend lost” and like every joke there’s a little piece of truth in it, as Ayon has almost every type of product in their offer: sources, amplifiers, pre‐amplifiers and speakers. It’s a list of several dozens of models, starting from hi‐level to ultra hi‐end. Further it is also full range of speakers from Lumen White brand ( it also belong to Ayon Brand). If budget is not a problem, you can easily build completely satisfying stereo set by this brand. The core of Ayon catalog is amplifiers: pre‐, power and integrated. Ayon is focused on vacuum tube technology, letting semi‐conductors perform additional function only.

Crossfire amp is available in two versions: Crossfire III Integrated and Crossfire-PA stereo power amp. This model is something special for several reasons. At first, despite high price, it’s very popular among end users. Second, it’s the cheapest Ayon amp containing AA62B tube. Ayon Crossfire is not a weakling. Four transformers hidden in chrome caps, the same amount of chokes, massive and rigid 45‐kg housing can impress even an amateur, no doubt about that.

Audiophiles will be even more surprised with AA62B power triodes capable to produce 30 crystal clear watts. Such power coming of single‐ended triode is a rarity. No problem to drive standard efficiency speakers at all. A set with Avalon Transcendent was worth to remember.  

The sound was free of “plush” and rounded low frequencies. It was clear, dynamic and natural. Ayon is rather far away from cheating with warmth and sweetness of typical “tube”. It also doesn’t limit the clarity. Accompanied by a quality source and preamplifier it will take us up to higher level of listening culture. With its presence chamber as well as symphonic music sounds superb while the rock and pop music surprises us with huge energy and discipline. Crossfire PA is an amplifier able to

convince even great skeptic for SET configuration. And enthusiasts will become even more assured. Huge applause here.

AA62B
It is not an ordinary tube as it’s strong and very universal. Its built is similar to legendary Western Electric 300B: it’s Directly Heated Triode just like the original, but overall dimensions are much bigger. It generates more than 30 watts of power so it can be clearly named high performance version – as the original one was only 8 watts.

High power is a result of using high current capacity cathode and high temperature resistant anode. AA62 is closed inside huge glass, about 1.5 size of original 300B which means that bigger electrodes can be used. The cathode is directly heated and it consists of spirally bent large diameter rods. Original 300B had only four of those and AA62 has eight. The anode is much bigger as well and it’s cooled with wide heat sink plates, therefore overall cooling surface is much larger. Additionally, small tubs cool the first grid. The transparent tube itself, containing all these goods, is made of high temperature proof laboratory glass. It’s not exaggeration as the temperature inside may rise to 1200 Celsius. Wherever temperature is highest, the tube is shaped wider as it helps to minimise internal tensions. Inside the glass we can see three getter rings – two lower and one upper. Their aim is to preserve vacuum inside, which is necessary for proper working conditions of the tube. Similar job is done by zirconium coating, which absorbs possible contamination emitted by heated electrodes. Base is ceramic and pins – thick and gold‐plated. The idea of AA62 originates in the best valve traditions, with addition of modern thinking and use of very durable materials.

As mentioned before, this version of tube offers over 30 watts with low distortions. Manufacturer says it should work without problems for over 10 years. In many cases owners use them for 15 years and nothing bad happens. Lifespan is extended thanks to delayed anode power up and initial bias control. Starting sequence takes about one minute and after that time the amp is ready to play.

Ayon gives 2 years warranty for these tubes (3 months for the rest). More to say, power triodes don’t need to be replaced in pairs for the first 6 years. If any of them gets damaged, one can replace it easily and Auto‐Fixed Bias system is going to pair it with the remaining one.

Like the two other power triodes, AA32B and AA52B, AA62B can be found only in Ayon amplifiers. It is the strongest one, but it can be changed in nearest future as Gerhard Hirt is working on more powerful AA82B which is going to create output of 35‐40 watts. If this tube hits the market, I am pretty sure that it’s going to be used in the new amplifier model and it will become highly desired by music enthusiast who don’t own high efficiency speakers. But before we take a trip into the future, let’s focus on Crossfire PA and its 30 watts. Serious stuff.

Other tubes
You can find 9 tubes in Austrian amplifier and 8 of them are in signal path. The 9th – General Electric 5U4G – is a rectifier tube which powers up low level section. At the input and pre‐amp section there are 6SJ7 pentodes, two for the channel. They are NOS (New Old Stock – brand new from old stock) made in March 1983 in Novosibirsk. Their main feature is low amplifying factor and relatively high power of 2.5 watt. Their designed reaches back in the past to end of 40s. They are closed in nonstandard black metal cases which makes them able to dissipate heat better. They are usually used in low frequency amplifying circuits due to their low hum and nice sound.  And they don’t have microphone effect. The driver tuber are modern double 6H30 produced by Electro‐Harmonix. These are long‐life tubes with high amplification factor and tensioned grid.  

Every 6H30 drives one power triode in this amp.

Build
Crossfire PA is very reliable and carefully designed device. The housing is made of brushed and anodised aluminium. The colouring process allowed gaining very deep black tint and it makes a great match to chrome transformer caps. 12 mm thick profiles come from Hungary, Slovenia and Austria and in Austria all of that is put together. Ayon amplifier doesn’t look Spartan, but it’s not extravagant at all. We can find discretely lit logotype and engraved model name (without PA letters though). 

On/off switch is placed underneath the unit which helped to keep the front panel clear. Rear panel is equipped with 2 line inputs: RCA and XLR. The second one is technically not that important and it serves only as optional: only two pins of three total are used (signal and ground). It is the best to use classic good quality RCA cables as any 1 cm of signal is not balanced inside the amp. The input can be chosen by the first small switch. The second serves to decrease amplification by 6dB which helps us use the amp in case of high efficiency speakers. The rest of switches are used to choose the power tube we want to set BIAS and to cut off ground in case any hum in speakers is heard. Crossfire PA is able to work with wide range of speakers. We can select between 4 and 8 Ohm impedance. WBT NExtGen terminals are nicely marked with colourful rings, but we can use spades or bananas only. No chance to use bare wires. Beside the tubes, on the top of chassis we can find four huge capsules made of extruded steel. Two of them hide output transformers and other two – the power supply ones, separate for anode voltage and heating. All transformers are high‐class E‐I type designs, shielded and insulated with specially produced (and apparently very expensive) resin. We can also see last and clearly smaller capsule. This is the housing for big electrolytic capacitor which along with rectifier 5U4G tube prepares the voltage for pre‐amp.

Interior
As we gaze at open Crossfire, we can get very surprised at first while. Gerhard Hirt calls himself a supporter of short signal path but we can find a lot of circuit boards and components inside. Well, after we take a closer look, we can see that whole sound path is fitted into two boards and the rest is very sophisticated power supply and parameter control circuits.

The designer of this device kept in mind that tubes have to work in optimum environment to cast a spell with their sound and they shouldn’t be any worry for their user in long time run. Long power‐up sequence equals not only to the time needed for switching on delayed anode voltage, as cathode is initially heated up. It’s also used for control / correction of power tubes initial bias and checking the proper working conditions inside the amp. As we turn the amp on, the keeps blinking and “mute” LED stays on. Once everything’s correct, the logo is permanently lit and LED is off, the input is switched on and amp is ready to use.

The interior is filled mostly with power supply circuits. Similar to its integrated brother, Crossfire PA is the 3rd and so far most refined generation so far. The rectifier in power amp section is a semiconductor one and it’s placed on the same board with anode filter. The latter consists of eight 220 μF / 400 V capacitors signed by Ayon Audio and fused by 330 kΩ resistors. There are also 4 H /200 mA chokes in case of electricity oscillations. Another six 4700 μF / 16 V capacitors smooth the heating voltage. Ayon’s designer is not the enemy of semiconductors and uses them consequently wherever needed – i.e. outside the signal path. Voltage rectification, delays, fuses, but not for musical signal itself. Crossfire PA is not exception here.

During the whole test, which took 3 weeks, Crossfire PA worked perfectly. Not even a single hum nor crack was heard in my room. I can say it was a dead silence. Only two relays during power‐up procedure and that was the only sound – apart from music. Even if I put my ear close to the speaker, I was not able to hear any noise. Most of transistors give some signs of life but this tube amp – none.

The only thing I was able to catch was crackling of incoming call on my mobile phone – ah, the power tubes have some microphone effect. Beside this, Crossfire was dead‐silent to the point when you’re able to perceive the amp is on only by the glowing tubes and logo on the front.

Configuration
Crossfire PA was hooked up directly to Accuphase DP‐700’s variable output at first. After that I used the newest Ayon Auris preamplifier. Both setups were driving Avalon Transcendent speakers. Signal was flowing through Kondo KSL‐LPz and Acrolink 7N‐DA2090 interconnects as well as Acrolink 7NS8000 speaker cable. The electricity was filtered by Gigawatt PC‐1 Evo and Acrolink PC‐6100 together with Gigawatt LS‐1MKII. Unit was put onto table rack from Sroka and StandArt STO MkII.   It was insulated additionally by Symposium Acoustics Ultrapad elements. The room was 16.5 square meters, acoustically treated a little bit.

Sound review
I was fond of Single‐Ended. Let’s say it’s sort of weakness of mine, once every couple years. Listening to something that far away from technical perfection, being able to sound magical on vocals and chamber music at the same time. SE triode has many limits but it speaks seductive voice which invites you to another world. You can be so conscious of rounded bass, warmed up midrange and lack of power, but you want to feel full taste of vocals and enjoy full microdynamic scale. The dissonance on mind‐heart line seems to be relatively deep but there’s no sign of discomfort about it. We suspect what can go wrong but enjoy music anyway. And there’s only one flash of thought from time to time: couldn’t this magic be equipped with versatility of transistors? But it can be possible yet. Really?

Crossfire PA tempted me with its power. As to regular Single‐Ended based on lonely triode per channel, this amp is unusually efficient. I hope for at least proper driving of my Avalons. The Transcendence are not that demanding for the amps, nevertheless 88 dB efficiency makes you keep at least the minimum of sense. 8 watts from 300B couldn’t make it, but 30? Come on, it should work.

During this review it turned out all my concerns are worthless. As I was exchanging e‐mails with Gerhard Hirt, he mentioned one of his very demanding German customers asked him for specialist opinion for hooking up Crossfire PA to his Avalon Eidolon speakers. As Gerhard used to be the distributor of the American company to Austria, he knew the speakers very well, and their appetite for high power, to say the least. Acting against his own business, he told the customer not to use

Crossfire and recommended a way to use a more powerful amp. To Gerhard’s surprise the customer was back after a few months, saying he wouldn’t follow the advice, tried the amp on and it was the sound he had been looking for more than two years. He’d bought Crossfire that time and wasn’t able to stop listening since then. He also claimed Eidolons worked in the proper environment at last. I can really imagine that. Or I don’t even have to, because I managed to achieve some spectacular sound with Transcendent model. And the amp refused typical accusations for “SE triode” sound, by the way. The sound of Ayon amp is very clear and transparent and free of technical vapours at the same time, which is not surprise as it’s a a SET, but it’s extremely precise and easy‐going. Crossfire PA is going to show you every single change inside your system. It’s so neutral I was able to perceive immediately what happened after switching to Auris preamp, or even after replacing one mains filter by another. Transparency of this power is worth big respect and makes the work of reviewer who’s comparing different hi‐fi elements so easy.

Ayon fed directly from DP‐700 showed a bit thinner midrange and cooler tones. The soundstage was wider but I wouldn’t be offended by some more accurate depth. After switching to Auris preamp the sound got some more body and warmth. It showed some more details, precisely melted into the background. Soundstage got closer to its centre and depth was shown way better. Another advantage was very full and “round” sound from the very beginning of volume level. I didn’t have to turn it loud to get all the round shapes and fluent finishes. Crossfire didn’t make it with DP‐700 connected directly. Once I listened quietly, I was able to notice serrated edges – probably as a result of resolution limited by digital volume control of Accuphase. It’s a bit disturbing in a long run and it’s so much better to use the power amp partnered by its mate Auris. Besides, both are just a perfect match. Crossfire PA has really detailed and precise sound, but so refined at the same time. The timbre doesn’t even try to get too bright and it won’t sting your ears with no reason to do that. Even muted trumpet – though very realistic – didn’t do any discomfort. The grand piano formant gives just a tiny bit of pleasant sharpness but smoothness and culture are the main players here.

Crossfire PA shows maximum details, but it doesn’t push it to the border of non‐homogeneity.  The sound is not bright. We get a huge palette of information’s which makes the musical picture complete and clear. At the same time we can relax and enjoy the harmony of sound.  

No range favoured, nor neglected.
Ayon shows music full being of nuances and contrasts, without a bit of exaggeration. Overall message is attractive and multicoloured. You won’t get tired but even more interested after long hours.

In one of his messages Gerhard stated that Crossfire PA can get people into serious addiction. After three weeks of listening I wanted to disagree but it was too late. I would like to but this amp so much but I just can’t, because I need very versatile transistor for my work. This is the only thing which makes Ayon go back to its distributor. Such a shame, especially as it doesn’t neglect the lowest and highest end of acoustical range. The highest and lowest tones are not rounded nor overheated, but always clear and present with the rest of sound spectrum, precise all the time. Especially the bass is a huge surprise. Beautiful trebles of triode – that’s not a big deal. But to get precise bass of it – it’s sort of magic trick. And Ayon made it possible. Power triodes and transformers have to be really top quality, resulting in very massive and consistent low frequencies. Usually the base of SET – if there is any base at all – is very soft and round. The depth is not a problem but its contours and permanent lasting during longer accumulation – it’s usually a problem. Crossfire generates very strong and energetic low frequencies with satisfying amount and depth. Of course you can get some better bass, let’s say Mark Levinson mono blocks or power amp from Solution will show you no mercy, but that’s not the idea. Crossfire is so much full range, it doesn’t leave any deficiency here. You don’t have to put some sort of handicap on it and constantly say “even as a SE triode”.  It just sound linear and any justification won’t be necessary here.

You don’t have to read a review of mid range in this case as well. SE triodes are famous for it and this is what makes your heartbeat louder. Thanks to this people are put into a spell and forgive any drawbacks. Let’s make it straight: you don’t have to forgive Ayon anything. The mids are just fascinating, not overplayed at all and warmth is only icing on a cake. Even in this range of frequencies the amp so neutral and gets no coloration. It tries to remain as close to original as possible and show all the smallest details.

Microdynamics is another advantage of triode. Full dynamics might be another side of the coin but you really don’t have to worry about Ayon as its powerful enough. Of course you’ll need more sensitive speakers if you have larger room but in the average one (25‐30 m2) the amp will do very well. I wasn’t able to reach the end of scale in CD, not to mention pre‐amp… Crossfire will give you some serious power capacity and you can hear it straight away. The sound is so live, full of energy, not restricted by transients and fortissimos. There are no coloration's even if we listen very loud and soundstage remains clear and precise. Ayon guides the signal, shows all the contrasts and doesn’t do shortcuts. Full of dynamics, verve and momentum – the only accusation may be that listening pleasure is so exceptional.

Conclusion
Ayon Crossfire PA shows all advantages of triode without its weaknesses. I’ll remember how it sounded with Avalon Transcendent speakers for very long time. Beautiful sound ‐ full synergy. Listening to this amp I was happy as a child. Now I have to stay under very adult impression.

Awarded!
● Awarded as the best SE power amp 2015 !

Highly Recommended. The Ayon CD-1sc Tube Top Loader CD Player incorporates a splendid proportion of resolution, tonal balance, and timing that makes this well-made player a final destination for many music lovers.
Dean Seislove

REVIEW SUMMARY: All in all, the Ayon CD-1sc compact disc player offers tremendous performance at a price that, while still substantial for this neoteric listener, is certainly in line with the sort of player that one can enjoy for years and years.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Admittedly, paying nearly US$5000 (excl tax) for a CD player may seem like a dodgy deal for those who wonder, "Is CD dead?" It's a fair question, and there's no denying that plenty of audiophiles (and more than a fair number of my Positive Feedback colleagues) believe that the best place for CDs are at the bottom of a landfill, right next to the 8-track tapes and VHS players. But people said the same thing about vinyl, and look how that worked out. Sure, I love using the reasonably priced Audioengine D2 DAC or CEntrance DACmini PX for the majority of my listening, but trying to guess where computer audio will be even two years from now requires a gift of prophecy on the order of Cassandra, and that's why you don't see me lining up to buy the next DAC of Ages. Even though my editor, David Robinson, tells me that the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC will blow my little mind and that more and more DSD music is in the offing, the stinging memory of dumping a couple of thousand albums on the used marked at 50 cents a pound makes me a little nervous about unloading a substantial CD collection that took decades to assemble. I figure that, as long as people are asking five hundred bones for sealed DCC Gold versions of Cosmos Factory, a compact disc player capable of spinning this gold is not such a risky venture. Hence the need, then, for an exceptional product like the Ayon CD-1sc compact disc player.

I started out the audition of the Ayon CD-1sc by using my reference Stereolab Reference I-700 RX interconnects. After a little listening, however, I realized that it would be far more helpful to employ two pair of affordable Kimber Hero interconnects in order to easily and fairly compare the Ayon player to my Arcam CD-82 compact disc player. Evaluating compact disc players without a reference point is a tall order. Unlike switching out one pair of speakers for another, the difference between CD players is much more subtle, especially a CD player that is cold out of the box (Ayon recommends at least 50 hours of break in to get a clear indication of what the CD-1sc is really all about, by the way). In any event, when I wrote about the Audioblock C-100 compact disc player earlier this year, being able to A/B various CD players really helped to nail down the nature of their respective sonic characteristics. If you recall, I ultimately preferred the C-100 to my Arcam model, but it wasn't a blowout by any measure, and I was able to return to the British player without too much consternation. This time, unfortunately, the Arcam was summarily stomped into little pieces by a much better (and far more expensive) CD player. Whether straight up or upsampled, the Ayon provided a richer, broader, and far more substantial presentation of music. In comparison, the Arcam sounded, well... pretty crappy. I brought back the Stereolab interconnects, making sure each player was played using the same interconnects, going through the same input, wearing the same lucky "Frankie Says Relax" t-shirt. Everything, anything! Nothing doing, the results stayed the same.

So how do the two players differ? Well, for starters, it is immediately apparent that the Ayon is exceptionally quiet and absent of extraneous noise; which is good, because the Ayon's musical presentation deserves to be heard without a lot of internal rumbling to mar the performance. Indeed, the CD-1sc plays music sumptuously, while still retaining the clarity of individual performers and the interspaces between them, and it's very much akin to the performance of the Ayon Orion II integrated amplifier that I wrote about earlier this year. Spinning standard issue red book CDs like Gram Parsons'sGrievous Angel, one easily discerns the bright strings used on the tentative guitar strums opening the gentle lament, "Love Hurts." The CD-1sc beautifully renders this detail without imparting edginess to the pedal steel accompaniment that follows. Similarly, the incomparable duet of Parsons and Emmylou Harris takes advantage of the Ayon's sure handling of vocals: body and texture of each singer's part in the harmony is both distinct and fulsome. For a laugh, I cued up the screeching magnificence that is the cover of the same song by Scottish hard-rockers, Nazareth, and was pleased to see that the Ayon enjoyed dishing out a bit of nastiness, as well. Personally, I like CD players that bite a little, and I'm all right with making a "resolution-for-mellowness" trade off, but the Ayon player proves that you can dig into a recording's details without sacrificing warmth or beauty. Muddy Waters's Folk Singer CD poses all sorts of problems for a compact disc player. There are lots of little musical details here that some players can't catch, and plenty of slide guitar and vocal shouts that can harden in an instant if the CD player is too unforgiving. The Arcam is clearly audiophile entry level and the Ayon is just as clearly audiophile mid-level, so it's fair to ask: "What do you get?" Well, playing this CD on the Ayon, it's readily apparent that everything is fuller, more defined, and presented in a far broader field of space than with the cheaper, but still not cheap, Arcam player. The usual cliché is to say that it sounds more analog than digital, but that's not exactly right. This is still a CD sound that you and I know and like (well, at least, I like) but there's more dimension, body, and richness than before: it sounds more like music. As I said, I usually like a little edge when playing CDs, a remnant from my days of avoiding cheesy processed guitar tones, so I thought I'd be perfectly fine with turning off the upsampling option. After awhile, though, the increased sense of soundstage imparted at 24/192kHz became addictive, and I left it on for the majority of listening.

The Ayon CD-1sc Tube Top Loader CD-Player embodies the company's belief that excellent sound can best be achieved keeping the signal path short, the quality of parts high, and the power supply quiet. Which is all easier said than done, of course, especially when trying to meet price points and the unpredictable whims of a global audiophile community. It's worth visiting the Ayon website to see how much effort the company takes to ensure that all of its products adhere to its design principles. Some things, like no DC servo to degrade the signal or 10 separate voltage regulators will have to be left to the DIY tribe for verification, as that's beyond my scope, but even the mechanically challenged can appreciate the heft and seamless exterior of this product instills confidence in its quality. Many of the key attributes that I liked about the Ayon Orion II integrated amplifier are included in the CD-1sc compact disc player. For one thing, the CD-1sc incorporates the same soft-start power up, high quality RCA and XLR jacks, and hefty aluminum chassis that made the Orion II such a reassuringly well-built piece of audio gear. Little touches, maybe, and probably not nearly as important to the sound as the fact that both products have the same meticulous detail to separate and isolate the power supplies. Still, these safety features meet my absolute requirement that an audio product avoids going "ffffffft!," falling apart, or blowing up. Other features of note include a low impedance output to facilitate long interconnect runs and/or compatibility with a variety of amps. A 6H30 high-current tube is employed in the high-gain output stage. A Burr Brown chip handles the D/A converter chores (available inputs include 24/192 asynchronous USB, SPDIF coaxial and TosLink), and 24bit/192kHz upsampling can be switched on or off via the solid, easily-read metal remote.

The top loading anti-vibration magnetic CD-clamp system and dark acrylic CD puck works without a hitch. The product manual warns that a slight clipping noise may occur when loading the CD "eccentrically"––you have to love German to English translations!––but I loaded a boxful of CDs and never had this problem. Cocktail hour devotees and un-smooth operators have been warned, though. The volume attenuator goes from -60 to zero, which could be a big, BIG! surprise for the unwary user. Fortunately, for those who plan to directly connect the CD-1sc to a power amp, the amp is automatically set to -40 every time the player is powered on in this configuration. I had hoped to try this feature out for myself, but the vagaries of products-promised-to-products-delivered left me high and dry without a suitable power amp for the moment, so the CD-1sc was paired with my Peachtree Audio iNova integrated amplifier, and a pair of Nola Contender speakers, with the aforementioned Arcam CD-82 CD player. All in all, the Ayon CD-1sc compact disc player offers tremendous performance at a price that, while still substantial for this neoteric listener, is certainly in line with the sort of player that one can enjoy for years and years.

This is really one of the best tube amplifiers you can buy to a price level of 30-40 thousand zlotys I have heard.
Marcin Olszewski

SUMMARY: Starting with “Rhapsodies” Stokowski and ending with “Orchestral Works, Vol. 2” Lutoslawski, the newest Spirit produced a reference setup of a symphonic orchestra, building it far beyond the boundaries of my loudspeakers, and allowing to look inside the recordings, look at individual musicians, but without losing the overall view and coherence. It seems, that Gerhard Hirt finally combined fire with water – the, characteristic for older Ayon, analyticity with the legendary, tube musicality and emotionality. From the more “Hollywood-like” productions I often used the soundtrack of the “Space Battleship Yamato” Naoki Sato & Yasushi Miyagawa, which combines the romantic notes from “Pearl Harbor” and the bombastic apocalyptic vision from “Gladiator” by Hans Zimmer with elements characteristic for Japan. For such albums dynamics and breath are key. The sound must be big, bombastic, to be able to have the “wow!” effect. It was doable with the Spirit 3. I should say, it was the nature of this amplifier.

EXTENDED REVIEW: As I already mentioned on Facebook, this is my third meeting with the model Spirit 3 from the Austrian manufacturer Ayon. This situation may be seen as a joke, because you might think, that the distributor is sending the device as many times as needed for the amount of superlatives and positive remarks reaches the desired level, or that the reviewer has memory problems and does not remember what he already reviewed. But both, the Krakow based distributor Eter Audio as well as myself, we have esteem for the readers and would not allow ourselves to act like that. This confusing situation is caused by the manufacturer. The company modifies the product heavily without changing the name. No mk2, 3, or anything. The amplifier started its existence and as Spirit 3 and continues it under the same name, so we cannot determine the version based on it. Theoretically we could use the tubes as reference, but when the owner tends to change them often, the only way of detection of the version remains the serial number.

Let us start with some history of this product, looking on how the Spirit 3 changed over the last 24 months. The first version I reviewed in May 2011, was equipped with the jubilee Shuguang Treasure Series KT88 (50th anniversary) tubes, while the other stages were built around the JAN Philips 12AU7. The next version, described on the Soundrebels portal (link), used KT88 tubes branded by Ayon, while the JAN tubes were replaced by a pair of Tungsol 12AU7 and a pair of 6SJ7 NOS General Electric tubes. The newest version, we are reviewing now, boast changes in the output section, where instead of the 88 tubes the Tungsol KT150 were employed, which are gaining popularity among advanced tube lovers. No other modifications were mentioned to me, however there is a change increasing user friendliness of the device – the LEDs indicating faulty tubes, that were on the back plate, were replaced by a display, that has a similar function and additionally displays the countdown during power-up. Also the service USB port was removed, as many do-it-yourself freaks tried to use it, and the manufacturer was not happy about that. Besides those, quite insignificant, changes, the device looks the same as the previous version. There is a phase correctness indicator, massive loudspeaker terminals, dedicated to 4 and 8Ω speakers, four inputs (one of them XLRs), preamplifier output and power amplifier direct input. There is also a mode selector present (Normal/Direct).

The front panel of the current version of the Spirit does not differ from its predecessor – the centrally placed and red backlit logo (it blinks during start-up and power-down), knurled knobs for volume control (with a dedicated display) and input selector placed on the sides, with a column of ruby colored LEDs indicating the input and showing the mode of the amplifier. There is also a IR receiver. We can also see the close relationship between the older and newer version looking at the top plate of the amplifier, where we can see, that initially KT88 tubes were planned to be used for the amplifier. This was also confirmed by the manufacturer, who confirms, if we can use KT150 tubes based on the serial number of the unit. Of course we can also switch between triode and pentode mode for the output stage. To cut things short, when you know at least one model from the Ayon offering, you know them all. One more thing – to alleviate any conspiracy theories – in May I tested the amplifier with the serial number 04191, while the current unit bears the number 04402.

Before I unpacked the hero of this test from the double box and the perfectly fitting foam shapes, I was thinking, if Gerhard Hirt allowed the more lyrical side to surface, like in the newest version of the Crossfire 3 (link), or returned to the transparency he promoted for years. Because the tested unit came to me directly from a listening session, preceded by a two-week burn-in, I decided that the time required for fitting the tubes, setting up some internet radio broadcast, as well as preparing a brownie and placing it in the oven is more than enough for trying to listen to the Ayon using some of my favorite recordings.

In the beginning a small digression. Because the manufacturer/distributor provided the amplifier with a manual referring to the KT88 version only, I had to perform a small research. The web pages of the manufacturer and distributor quoted only “archival” data, only with some pictures of the newest version, so I needed to search further. Finally, the pages of a distributor in New Zealand quoted very important parameters, including the output power of this version. So I quote after Audio Reference Co. (15 Graham Street; Victoria Quarter; Auckland 1010; New Zealand) – pentode mode: KT88 2x55W / KT120 2x60W / KT150 2x80W; triode mode: KT88 2x35W / KT120 2x40W / KT150 2x60W. As you can see, the power output increases significantly, so that even the triode mode is fully usable even with conventional speakers.

So I turned the output mode selector to the magical “T” and founded myself some repeat treat and turned on “La Tarantella - Antidotum Tarantulae” (L'Arpeggiata / Christina Pluhar). Before the first notes of „La Carpinese (Tarantella)” faded I had already a smile on my face, which later could only be removed surgically. The ethereal and aerial tube sound was supported by contours stable like a concrete wall and such an immediate articulation of the vocalist supported by the virtuoso playing of the ensemble, that I got up from my couch to verify the settings of the amplifier. There was place for beautiful timbres, passion and romance in “Lu Gattu la Sonava la Zampogna (Ninna Nanna)” or fiery, catching, Spanish rhythms in “Tarantella Napoletana, Tono Hypodorico”, which sounded with the Spirit almost like the guitar acrobatics of Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Well, I thought. OK, let me give you something to try – and keeping the previous playlist in mind I fed the player with the album “Lento” Youn Sun Nah and … I do not know, when I finished listening to the whole album. Each tap on a string was so clear and palpable, as if Ulf Wakenius would sit between the loudspeakers and play in my room. To be sure I listened also to “Enter Sandman” from the album “Some Girl”, by the same lovely artist, and I did not detect any veiling, rounding, slowing down or losing any agility or savageness. However this idyllic mood slowly disappeared when I started to play heavier repertoire. Although “Misplaced Childhood” Marillion was still OK, although I expected more kick from the drums solo opening the “Bitter Suite (I: Brief Encounter/Ii: Lost Weekend/Iii: Blue Angel)”, already with “American Idiot” Green Day I decided to stop torturing the Austrian integrated switching it off, as preparation for switching over to pentode mode. Cooling down the unit before the switch is recommended by the manufacturer.

Putting the switch over was like starting a second turbo, and the sound run forward as a classy, absolutely not ecologic, but very macho V8. Mad tempo, rough music, hitting your heart directly, did not allow to just sit down quietly. You could feel the hard rock roughness, roguish sparks in the eyes and lack of care for tomorrow. There was no finesse in that sound, and that was right, as trying to place rock musicians into black suits often results in hilarious, tragic or hilarious and tragic events. So I stayed in the area of untamed harshness and reached for things like “Countdown to Extinction” Megadeth, issued by MFSL, or “Inhuman Rampage” Dragon Force with the virtuoso “Through the Fire and Flames”. Both albums allowed me to quickly verify my ideas about placing tube amplification into my system. While the Crossfire 3 with Avantgarde speakers still seems unbeatable, given you will the main prize in a lottery, yet the newest Siprit 3, equipped with a quartet of 150 tubes, seems like a winner when your pockets are not so deep. It really can be very satisfactory, regardless of what we are used to listen to. Please believe me, or better try it for yourselves in your own listening rooms, but to date no other tube amplifier was able to reproduce the potential of the phenomenal melodic line, ornamented with truly byzantine guitar sounds, of the “Hangar 18” Megadeth (“Rust in Peace”) with such a finesse backed with a titanium skeleton and a touch of sweetness. I start to believe, that the presence of at least one Rammstein album during the presentation of Ayon electronics is not pure coincidence. I searched through my library, found “Reise, Reise” and played “Ohne Dich” and “Amour”. It was pure sweetness like in marzipan covered with dark chocolate and enjoyed with a cup of double espresso. The vocals of Till Lindemann, boosted appropriately, sibilants present, audible but far from becoming offensive, and the German edginess became a nice prelude to more civilized, yet placing the threshold even higher, challenges.

Starting with “Rhapsodies” Stokowski and ending with “Orchestral Works, Vol. 2” Lutoslawski, the newest Spirit produced a reference setup of a symphonic orchestra, building it far beyond the boundaries of my loudspeakers, and allowing to look inside the recordings, look at individual musicians, but without losing the overall view and coherence. It seems, that Gerhard Hirt finally combined fire with water – the, characteristic for older Ayon, analyticity with the legendary, tube musicality and emotionality. From the more “Hollywood-like” productions I often used the soundtrack of the “Space Battleship Yamato” Naoki Sato & Yasushi Miyagawa, which combines the romantic notes from “Pearl Harbor” and the bombastic apocalyptic vision from “Gladiator” by Hans Zimmer with elements characteristic for Japan. For such albums dynamics and breath are key. The sound must be big, bombastic, to be able to have the “wow!” effect. It was doable with the Spirit 3. I should say, it was the nature of this amplifier.

Now with all those positive things I wrote about the newest version of the Ayon Spirit 3, equipped with the Tungsol KT150 tubes, we should think, if there are any shortcomings there? Well … given the price you have to pay for it, I cannot find any. Maybe one thing – with the covers for the tubes in place, it looks horrible, but on the other hand, they protect well against over active youngsters, or animals. This is really one of the best tube amplifiers you can buy to a price level of 30-40 thousand zlotys I have heard.
.......... Marcin Olszewski

"the Orbis (Eris) has all magic from a SE tube preamp with a bit warm in the midrange and its huge and holographic sound stage."
Melbguy comments off a forum:
Gerhard's (Ayon CEO) comments:
Dear Terry, 
Actually the Eris is the same as Orbis, the main difference is that the Orbis is fully balanced.
Kind regards,
Gerhard
 
 
Melbguy comments off a forum:
Hi Scott, 
I have spoken directly to Gerhard Hirt at Ayon regarding the Ayon Orbis on several occasions and compiled these responses regarding the Orbis (Eris) :

"The new Orbis (Eris) be the next milestone of our preamp history. It is always difficult to give you 100% correct sound description because it depends from so many factors. 
 
Fact is that the Orbis (Eris) is an ultra new Linestage concept, with an amazing 6H30 circuit ( parallel single-ended design with high current bias point – yes we are talking about a preamp) 
 
Also there is a Re-Generator power supply built in and we are using a special 4 channel volume potentiometer from Japan, custom modified and motorized. As an ayon standard we included special chokes for the power supply.
 
I dare to say that this preamp doesn’t have any competitor in its class."
 
"Orbis (Eris):  is an analog preamp and not need to bring any update, there will be no any MK II version in the future, the design is done. BTW the Orbis is not yet released.
 
"I can tell you that the new coming Orbis (Eris) is a new milestone in its preamp class, the design what we using is a bit different from others and we designed without any compromise to get out a new performance standard.
 
Please know on the preamps side there is since a longer time not really any step ahead , all preamp manufacture in real moved back our using their old concept ( 10 or 20 years old design – just around a new chassis) because the preamp business is not a real business for the bigger manufactures. 
 
But we set up a new reference standard with the Spheris II – it is a design which no others could do it or let’s say nobody would be crazy enough to invest a big amount and research and time to realize a preamp like the Spheris II nowadays.
 
Even the Orbis (Eris) is using a bit different technology as the big Spheris, but the Orbis (Eris) is truly outstanding and we invest a lot of brain to make it happen, and we were crazy enough to invest a lot of time in the Orbis again and even preamp business is not so attractive, for us is more important the result and that we set up a new standard and besides them still a very good price value."
 
"the Orbis (Eris) has all magic from a SE tube preamp with a bit warm in the midrange and its huge and holographic sound stage."
 
Regards,
Melbguy. 
INTERVIEW WITH GERHARD HIRT - “Simplicity is the best way to get out the maximum sound performance, but also the most difficult way”.
Wojciech Pacula
TIMELESS DESIGN – MAGIC SOUND
By Gerhard Hirt / Ayon Audio - 

“Simplicity is the best way to get out the maximum sound performance, but also the most difficult way”.

I n 1994 we began to make our first tube amplifier in Italy under the brand name “ Vaic”, it called Vaic 52B monoblock and was a single-ended triode power amp and with this amplifier our career starts up internationally. 1996, we got for this amp a 5-star review from Harry Pearson “Absolute Sound”. 
Power tubes were made by Alesa Vaic in Prague at that time and he was only responsible for tubes and was not engaged with our amplifiers although we used his name. “Vaic” is still our brand name but we don’t use up this name any more.

1998 Alesa Vaic stopped tube production. 1999 we merged “Vaic” to Ayon Audio and in the same year we took over a part of the old Alesa Vaic tube factory and renew many things there and involved add the former Tesla chief tube engineer. Since 2000 we are producing our own Ayon single-ended triode power tubes in Prague. We can say that the Ayon tube quality nowadays is perhaps one of the best in the world, over more then10 years we optimized everything and made it perfect, for an example we are using “laboratory” glass the highest glass standard, gold wire for filament, special zirconium coating for anode plate and special welding progress to keep highest precision which is extremely important for high power SE-triode tubes.
During we merged the brand name to Ayon we also moved from Italy back to Austria, because our Italian manufacturer was on the limit with their skill and expertise and we felt we have to go a new way with much more power and engineering in the background. 
We had to turn around totally to make the next big step ahead to bring Ayon quickly forward and increased our engineer team rapidly. With this important step ahead, I had a vision in my mind to bring Ayon close to the top of the top tube manufacturer companies. 
We start up to design a new generation of amplifiers with Aluminium chassis which produce a much better sound performance as stainless steel chassis and combined with new circuit and output transformer design.
EXTENDED INTERVIEW: 
2001 we exhibited at the CES with the Ayon Reference 52B monoblock and Lumen White Loudspeaker; we got best sound of the Show by the most important top High-End magazines around the world.
2002 we build our first SE integrated amp the Ayon 300B.
2003 we introduced the first Ayon loudspeaker, the Dragon.
2005 comes the next important milestone for ayon, we introduced the “state of the Art” Spheris preamplifier with a complete new preamp design and tube power supply technologies. 
2006 we introduced a new intergraded amplifier line based with KT88 ( Spirit ) and 6C33 ( Spark) to expand the amplifier line and open new price classes. 
In the same year 2006 we introduced also our first digital product, the CD-Player CD-1.
Our first digital project became a big success therefore we decided to pay more attention about it and we were ready for the next CD-Player design. 
2008 we introduced the Polaris preamp with outstanding design and ReGenerator power supply.
2009 we developed the second CD-Player generation ( CD-2, CD-1s ) with new digital technologies in cooperation with “Stream unlimited” based in Vienna, (they are the former original Philips engineers which were responsible for the CD standard and format/design) this was the ideal “digital” partner for the new Ayon Players. Besides them we designed a new 6H30 outputstage without any feedback and with the shortest 6H30 circuit design without any compromise in sound performance, features, handling and built quality in their classes. 
2010: We introduced the CD-5 reference CD-Player and the Reference DAC – Skylla. 
Also the new 4 chassis Spheris II – Linestage and Sperhis II – Phonostage combination, non cost object. 
End of the year 2010 we introduced the next milestone, the new “AUTO-FIXED-BAIS” system for amplifier combined together with a tubes testing program. This system has absolutely no loss in sound or power or other negative concomitants.
2011: we will complete our line with the new Orbis and Eris Linestage preamps, the Orbis-Phonostage will follow up, and in the autumn season we will introduce the S-3 DAC/Preamp/Network-Player with tube outputstage and tube regulated power supply.
 
 
Here are also some technical highlights – short description.
 
Intelligent Ayon auto-fixed-bias (AFB) design
 
The bias setting has a clear impact on the tone and attack. The bias can be set “colder” for cleans or more “hot” for punch and easier saturation. If the tube is running too hot it will wear out fast. With a correct bias setting you have a good compromise of punch and headroom. With this in mind you can choose the tone and attack you prefer.
For tube amplifiers an “automatic” bias-control of the power tubes would be advantageous to compensate differences, ageing or voltage shifts in an easier and faster way. Furthermore the customer does not need to check the correct adjustment of the bias value. Unfortunately this desirable automatic device has some severe disadvantages such as significant loss in sound quality and power.
For the Ayon team it was a serious development task to create a new automatic „Fixed-Bias“ circuitry that reliably controls the operating conditions of the power tubes WITHOUT deteriorating the sound or the power. This intelligent Auto-Fixed-Bias system must not be mixed up with a semi-automatic or so-called fully automated bias-control that can never achieve a result comparable with the new Ayon Auto-Fixed-Bias system. The Ayon Auto-Fixed-Bias system provides the best possible combination of sound properties, measured power and usability, because it does not take action during the music listening operation. This system has absolutely no loss in sound or power or other negative concomitants.
An added benefit to this approach is that, should a tube fail prematurely, the single tube can be replaced without having to purchase a matched set.
 
Simpler, purer circuits
At Ayon Audio, we feel that tubes are the sonically superior technology for audio, as their generally simpler circuits and smaller number of components provide for a purer signal path and consequently more truthful signal handling. This is because fewer components provide for fewer elements in a circuit to degrade the signal, distort and muddle the sound. Simple circuits also provide for inherently higher reliability, since there are fewer parts which can fail. Tubes are also more tolerant of circuit drifts and deviations in component specifications, and thus can be used in simpler, purer circuits.
 
 
V a c u u m   T u b e s
The choice of signal and power tubes have a significant influence on the sound and hence on the inspiration and joy of listening. This is not only the decision between good and bad tubes but finally the interaction of the different types of tubes and their combination that are used in the various Ayon amplifiers. Today only few manufacturers still produce tubes for pure audio amplification; one of them is Ayon Audio with its outstanding single-ended triode power tubes (AA32B-S, AA52B-S and AA62B) based on the WE 300B.
 
D u a l     G r o u n d i n g   S y s t e m 
The modification of the grounding topology leads to increased rejection of noise from the power supply and other areas. The dual grounding topology used in all of our amplifiers is quite unique to the whole hi-end tube amplification industry. Such extensive topology provides for quieter backdrop for which the music can unfold in its entirety. It further establishes the quick and controlled bass response and the full bodied expression of the high frequency. The ground leg of the signal has not been neglected and given meticulous attention in its implementation. The importance of proper grounding cannot be over emphasized.
 
M e c h a n i c a l    C o n s t r u c t i o n 
The high grade aluminum chassis impart a richer, more lustrous tonality with a cleaner background and less hash and grain. All brushed anodized anti-vibration-resonance and non-magnetic chassis’s are fully hand assembled to insure the highest level of craftsmanship.
 
Ayon tube testing process
Every power and signal tube is visually examined and tested by our own special custom made tube testing machine with burn in feature and add on the industry's most advanced computerized electron tube testing system – Amplitrex AT1000 tube tester, for all 5 specs: Plate current, trans-conductance, heater-to-cathode leakage, internal gas and microphonics. Actually tube manufacturer only tests mostly one spec – the plate current in their factory QC process; we test all 5. For tubes with multiple sections such as “dual triode” types, we test all sections of the tube and match the sections as close as possible.
 
INTERVIEW WITH GERHARD HIRT BY WOJCIECH PACUŁA
 
Wojciech Pacuła: What kind of music do you listen? 
Gerhard Hirt: I am listen a lot of mystical music too, like (“dead can dance” or “Mercedes Sosa – Misa Criolla” or RY Cooder – Paris-Texas ), or Jazz (like Gianlugi Trovesi Nonet – Round about a midsummer’s dream or Chuck Mangione – Children of Sanchez, Don Cherry - Codona) and classical ( Like Mozart, Strauss, Haydn) and sophisticated pop like ( Riky Lee Jones, Kari Bremnes)
 
 
WP: How it connects with the sound of your gear? 
GH: Especially “mystical” music, classical and Jazz can superior perform with 3 dimensional soundstage when the recording is well done, and it has a big side effect to the Ayon sound, the ayon sounds with a big 3-D holographic soundstage and natural combined with an open and fast performance.
 
WP: What is hierarchy of the sources - I mean CD, HDD, LP? 
GH: LP, CD. That’s it.
 
WP: Why in some products you are using tube power supply and in the other not?
GH: We are using in all our preamps the Re-Generator tube power supply, I think we are the only one who is using this technology for Tube equipment; and then in the CD-5s, Skylla, Mercury II, Crossfire II, Vulcan II tube regulated power supplies. Wirth the tube power supplies, the sound is a bit more “liquid” as with the standard solid-state rectifier concept, but it is always the total design and how we include it and what we want to get out.
 
WP: And why output impedance is the same for RCA and XLR? I thought XLR should be twice RCA…
GH: Actually in 90% of the cases the XLR mode has double impedance value as RCA, but we are using a different loading/driver system therefore both value are almost equal. Also we are using a RCA/XLR switch, we can’t use both output jack ( XLR and RCA) at the same time and besides them what most of the customer doesn’t know is that when you use both output configurations at the same time the sound quality drops down a lot. We are using an unbalanced/balanced converter for XLR output. For us the most important is the single-ended ( unbalanced ) signal in our CD-players. Balanced has not really advances in a tube circuit design, actually the signal have to pass double length etc., “make it short and simple as much you can” then you are already a big step ahead.
 
WP: What exactly the audio-bias of Aoyn is about? 
GH: It is not an auto bias system, it’s an auto-fixed-bias system, totally different from the conventional auto bias. See also above.
 
WP: Weren't you tempted to build your own KT88 or small tubes? 
GH: Yes, we are building now our own KT88 tubes, the new Ayon Kt88sx Black treasure version – next week we are ready to introduce this tube, it is a joint venture, this tube is now build with our standard, our specification, our quality standard and we brought in all our knowledge from our tube factory in Prague where we make the AA300B, AA32B, AA52B and 62B tubes. This new Kt88sx will set up a new standard for KT88 tubes, it’s a big step ahead and we can control all specifications and reliability.
 
WP: You have so many new products in very short time - everyone is way better than old one - what happened? 
GH: We export in almost 60 countries and the USA, Asian and EU market are a bit different from each other. We have 3 amplifier lines: KT88, 6C33 and 52/62B. We have many countries they want to have also besides the SE design also amps with high power like the KT88 amplifiers. Others like the SE very much but can’t afford always the 52/62B amps and therefore the 6C33 amps are the right one for them. Last year we made a technical and optical “face-lifting” for all amps. It was also clear for us that with this face-lifting we want to put in the maximum on technology to get out the best performance without any comprise in their price ranges. As you know we build the Ayon equipment compromise less with heavy alu-chassis and transformers, real tube hi-end “hardcore” with still fair prices, not over priced.
 
WP: Where exactly are build PCB's with the items on them?
GH: It depends: for most of the units (mid to high price class) we make the PCB with all components in Austria. For our entry level units (like CD-07s, Orion II & Spirit III) we are making the PCB in Taiwan and assembling the components here in Austria.
 
 
WP: What kind of reference system do you use? 
WP: Ayon Crane, Ayon Firefox and Lumen White Loudspeaker, Vulcan II Monoblock, Sperhis II and Polaris III preamplifer, CD-5s, Lumen White - Mystere Turntable with Helios Tonearm and Shun Mook MC reference cartridge, Ayon Pearl Interconnect and Ayon Pearl Loudspeaker cables. 
WP: What exactly is Lumen White for Ayon? 
GH: We separate both brand names strictly and we do not want to mix up both brand names too much. Well, it is already known that both brands are operating under the same “roof”.
 
WP: How Ayon's loudspeakers differ from LW ones? Besides the shape of course... 
GH: We are using a different crossover technology for LW and also different attunment.
These monoblock amplifiers are also one of the best I ever experienced here within my listening room. Absolutely beautiful, remarkable sound!
Wojciech Pacuła

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Crossfire EVO delivers an amazingly rich, tuneful sound with tonal balance set lower then usual. It is highly resolving and wonderfully defined while it impresses with a leading edge and explosive dynamics. Despite relatively low output power, we are thrilled with the remarkable way these Crossfire EVO amplifiers drive our loudspeakers. This, along with Ayon Audio's Spheris III linestage, are the best devices Ayon Audio has released during the last, say, 10 years. These monoblock amplifiers are also one of the best I ever experienced here within my listening room. Absolutely beautiful, remarkable sound!

Tonality - 4.5/5
Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz) - 4/5
Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz) - 4.5/5
Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz) - 5/5
High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up) - 4.5/5
Attack - 4/5
Decay - 4.5/5
Inner Resolution - 5/5
Soundscape Width Front - 5/5
Soundscape Width Rear - 4.5/5
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers - 4.5/5
Soundscape Extension into Room - 5/5
Imaging - 4.5/5
Fit And Finish - 4.5/5
Self Noise - 5/5
Value For The Money - 4.5/5

EXTENDED REVIEW:  When we carried Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblock amplifier for review to my apartment on the fourth floor, my mind flooded with memories of a Germany reviewer that uses Ayon Audio's Epsilon mono amplifiers for quite some time. He use them in both his mastering work while preparing vinyl re-issues and for reviewing purposes. His amplifiers use eight KT150 tubes each to produce sound. Attendees of the Audio Show 2014 in Warsaw (Poland) could find that out for themselves listening to how well these amps handled the mighty Dynaudio Platinum Evidence loudspeakers. So while going up the many floors to my home, Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblocks might not be particularly heavy since most of the weight is concentrated on their backs due to the large transformers. There are two power transformers as one powers up only the output tube, as the other serves for input and driver tubes. All transformers' housings are filled with damping material. These transformers are very nice, capped with shiny housings of the two large power transformers and a huge output transformer. Carrying them upstairs isn't that easy!

Yet, as we found out, it was doable. It gets even more interesting when one takes a closer look on this latest addition to Ayon Audio's range, reviewed here for the first time in the world. They sport a long chassis, weight 40 kg a piece (88 lbs.), and as I said earlier deliver 35 wpc from a single power tube. That's how much power one of these special A82B triodes is able to deliver! They are custom build according to Ayon Audio's specification by a company that derives from a Czech manufacturer Tesla. These tubes are larger than a classic 300B, yet smaller than other larger tubes like the 211/VT4C and 845. Naturally they sport gold-plated pins and ceramic bases to achieve the very best in sound quality.

The A82B vacuum tube requires significant gain from a driver tube. Gerhard, the chief designer at Ayon Audio, uses different drivers for his SET amplifiers. For the Crossfire Evo, a newly developed triode AA20B is used. It is smaller than AA82B and has almost identical shape as the 5U4G rectifier for this amplifier. All tubes are branded with Ayon's logo and are the results of Gerhards cooperation with this Czech artisan company (tubes are still made by hand). Two Soviet NOS tubes - triodes 6SJ7 – work in amplifier's input stage. These are placed inside metal cups and are used by Soviet military for their very low microphonics and resistance to radiation.

A Few Simple Words From Gerhard Hirt, Ayon Audio's CEO

Wojciech Pacuła:  Please tell me about AA20B and why you deiced to use this tube.

Gerhard Hirt: It is a DHT (direct heated triode) tube, which I think is the best way to drive such a high power SE triode tube like the 82B. We use it for the Crossfire Evo driver design (AA20B) plus only one very special resistor (Vishay non-magnetic type) and one coupling cap within the signal path to drive to 82B. It is a very short signal path, with all components beginning from the transformer, choke or AA20B itself, must be perfect matched together. Also, there is zero global or local negative feedback engaged. The next advantage of the AA20B is that we make them in-house and thus we can control the electrical parameter and the quality. The tube is direct heated and has a large vacuum bulb, which is always an advantage for a big soundstage. With the AA20B as a driver, it allows us to operate only with one gain stage!

Wojciech Pacuła: Tube rectifier is just for the output tube or for all of them?

Gerhard Hirt: With the AA5U4G we can use it only for the pre (6SJ7) and driver stage (AA20B).

Wojciech Pacuła: What was the most important thing you wanted to achieve with Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo?

Gerhard Hirt: The "heart" of the Crossfire Evo design is a special driver tube and an extremely short signal path plus of course the very powerful 82B. This combination allows the Crossfire Evo to drive very common speaker designs of medium sensitivity with enough power and punch. The major target was also to create a big 3D soundstage that is very liquid and airy.

Wojciech Pacuła: What genres of music do you listen to within your home?

Gerhard Hirt: I am listing a wide range of "real" music and am always hunting for good recordings in combination with impressive musicians and wonderful interpretation. Music  with soul and emotions, as it doesn't matter if it is on LP, CD or High-Resolution file format! I do not like so much of the so-called "super recordings" because, mostly, I can't listen to them because their musicianship and their interpretation are mostly poor.

Build Quality And Operation

A very solid chassis is made of thick aluminum plates, which are fixed together in the four corners with aluminum quarter rounds. On the front there is Ayon's backlit logo. After one switches the amplifier on, with the switch placed underneath, the logo blinks for some time. At the same time the Mute LED is on. This indicates that an automatic procedure in running tests on all vacuum tubes as the highly regulated voltage is slowly raised. Once the tubes' filament reaches a correct temperature it also starts to supply voltage to the tubes' anodes. The whole sequence takes around 60 seconds to complete.

When the amplifiers are turned in for the first time, the “intelligent bias” process called Auto-Fixed-Bias, needs to calibrate itself. This process is necessary in order for amplifier to “learn” the voltage delivered from a particular power outlet. Only after that it is able to determine a proper anode voltage. If a user doesn't run this procedure, after four hours the amplifier will turn itself off and then run calibration by themselves. This entire procedure is run by a highly advanced circuit that is controlled by a microprocessor. It is nothing like other auto-bias systems used in many other amplifiers. As it says in the owner's manual, this system has nothing to do with semi-automatic or classic fixed-bias systems. It operates completely outside the signal's path. Due to Ayon Audio's solution, the vacuum tubes always work within their optimal conditions and are protected from damages. This also helps to ensure each tube's lifespan.

All this might sound complicated in theory, yet in a real world all we have to do is push a button on the back of each amplifier which starts the initial, one-time calibration process. From this time on, we just turn each Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO monoblock amplifier on and off as one would do with any other amplifier.  Now all that is left to do is to deliver signal via unbalanced WBT NextGen RCA or balanced signal XLR sockets, connect your speaker cables to the fantastic WBT NextGen speaker posts you're your music amplification system is ready to play. These SET amplifiers are not fully balanced in design, so Ayon Audio says they prefer an unbalanced signal since a signal delivered via balanced XLR inputs needs to be altered.

So to summarize, Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo are a pair of mono amplifiers, working in a pure Class A. These are SET amplifiers with a single power tube in each channel working without negative feedback (neither global, nor local), with the current delivered to each tube being completely controlled by a microprocessor for optimum performance. That's what we like best!

Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO Design

The power supply section is also quite complex. When I opened chassis I counted six chokes – each tube has its separate one, and input tubes use even two of these. One will also find a large bank of capacitors and a few independent diode bridges. These supply each tubes' filaments and anode voltage that are rectified by a 5U4G. tube rectifier. All tubes sit on the top cover together with a small VU meter that provides the user with information concerning the value of said bias. Ayon Audio uses high quality HD Synthetic Compound Material tube sockets with rhodium-plated pins. It seems that they were made by Ayon themselves. Although the power supply circuit and a microprocessor controlling circuit are mounted on PCBs, the gain stage uses point-to-point wiring connections. All inner-stage capacitors are oil silver-gold Mundorf capacitors that are very nice indeed!

Test Method

I have been using Ayon's preamplifiers for few years now, including all three versions of Polaris linestage and Spheris III. I chose it after listening to many top preamplifiers from many different brands. Although there were some other very tempting options, it was decided that this Austrian product offered the most convincing set of features and very amazing performance. For this review of the Crossfire EVO came the signal from their Spheris III via unbalanced Acoustic Revive cables (from their latest Triple-C FM line). Signal from my CD player to linestage was delivered via Siltech Double Crown interconnects. Speaker cables were my trusted Tara Labs Omega Onyx. Amplifiers were placed on  Acoustic Revive RST-38H platforms and additionally on Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Discs – I had to use these as the length of amplifiers was slightly bigger than each platform.

The amplifiers' operation is completely silent as after one hour of use you'd have to place your ear very close to a driver tube to hear a very quiet noise, in part generated by a linestage. During all that time with amplifiers there was never had any problems, neither with starts, nor with any stage of operation. Fit and finish is simply fantastic! I compare these amplifiers directly to my Soulution 710 power amplifier (recently replaced by their 711). They drove my Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers that are placed on Acoustic Revive Custom stands. As for power cables, I chose the impressive Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9500.

Neither myself nor Gerhard of Ayon Audio knew what to expect. Gerhard, because of several unknown aspects like acoustic environment, speakers and source (fortunately, at least he knew a linestage pretty well). Me – because I knew nothing about the latest generation of his amplifiers as have never tested one before. On the other hand, Gerhard followed everything I wrote about his products and sometimes he surely also read some other articles that caught his attention. I, on the other hand, had a chance to listen to the third generation Epsilon mono amplifiers during Audio Show in Warsaw, and to Crossfire Evo in Munich during HIGH END Show. But I had never listened to any of them here within my home audio system. So on one hand we were wondering what would happen, and on the other we had some expectations and preconceptions. It seemed that we were both wrong. I could be absolutely sure only on my part, obviously. But having seen Gerhard's reactions when we listened to few albums… I would say that he also felt the same way. What's more, after two hours, when Gerhard had to leave, I came back to listening to these amplifiers and my impressions did not change a bit. Nor was there any change during the following days of continuing my adventure with Crossfire EVO.

Audio Reflections

I'd like to explain myself. Doing my job within a professional manner dictates repeating the same procedures for each test for each product. It also means that each time my main goal is to describe the sound of a particular device and only then to assess it. As far as description of the sound, it might be largely disassociated from a person as an assessment may be a rather personal affair. Despite my best efforts, experience also influences what I do and provides a base to my assessments on things pervious learned. So when I see and hear SET, I think about Ancient Audio Silver Mono SE (two 300B per channel), Kondo Kagura(two 211/VT4C per channel), Triode TRX-M300 Reference Edition (one 300B per channel) and Phasemation MA-1000 (one 2A3 per channel). Surely there were also others, but these four are the ones that I remember best. All of them work in a pure Class A, use (different but still) triodes working in SET configuration (SE or PSE), and all are mono amplifiers. Each sounded differently and yet they all had more in common with each other than with any other devices to my ears within my home audio system. Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblock amplifier is different.

Tonality - A Case Study

So first of all tonal balance, as presented by Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO, is set bit lower than some people may be accustom to, although is it not that unusual for vacuum tube devices. But most of them achieve that by delivering a warmer sound with a rather softer/rounder leading edge. Subjectively, we perceive such performance as calmer, quieter, and with a less aggressive treble with perhaps smaller-scale volume levels. That's how many tubes with standard high quality output transformers sound like when in SET configuration. By the way, many vintage amplifiers perform this way as well. Perhaps that is why they can be so seductive and those who fall for these amplifiers may find others as sounding too aggressively. One has to realize, though, that this is only one of possible strategy, yet a remarkably attractive one. Having a certain amount of money and facing such a choice I would also be considering purchasing one such device and enjoying them (perhaps) for the rest of my life. But we need to be aware that this is not the way to achieve the highest sound fidelity, which, I believe, is the whole point of perfectionist audio. SET amplifiers offer something different in return – the absolutely top amplifiers, and in my opinion these are the SET ones, go beyond ‘hi-fi' sound. They combine precision and fidelity with a natural richness. There is one problem, though. As to have the best of the best like Ancient Audio and Kondo, one has to be ready to spent a crazy amount of money to purchase them.

Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO mono amplifiers offer this type of performance: they are amazingly resolving yet their tonal balance more neutral. It creates an impression of a glorious big sound without even as much as a hint of any coloration. This powerful, rich if you will, perfectly defined bass and low tonal balance don't mean that there is any emphasis on any part of the frequency range. In cases like this one, a top quality and remarkable device, this effect is achieved via outstanding resolution, phase coherency, and most of all by a perfect reproduction of harmonics that are a base for instruments' resonances. This includes electric instruments as the recording dictates.

The Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO easily handles both electronic music like from Lisa Gerrard's The Silver Tree album and purist acoustic recordings likeVenecie Mundi Splendor performed by La Reverde. I also played Ultra by Depeche Mode and while I was totally immersed in music, I also appreciated the sound quality of this album as released in the ‘Blu-spec CD2 version'. I could easily recognize the guitars' drive, depth and density. Am absolutely sure this album sounded much better than ever before.

This was also supported by fantastic sounds of high definition. When talking about details and nuances, one describes what one knows from a hi-fi world. These are important elements of the sound, important components of a greater whole. But when it comes to high-end, top-high-end in particular, mentioning details or nuances – that may be in a very poor taste. Details and nuances simply are there, as they should be, what is very important is a level up, which is based on these elements. In Ayon's Crossfire EVO they build up in interesting, nicely differentiated sound depending on the quality of recording, with a listener-friendly presentation. I did not find a single recording that would have sounded unpleasant played by these amps. Having said that, I need also to clarify, that if there is some issue, like an emphasis on vocal's attack phase, or just vocal that is bright sounding – like Leonard Cohen's on his last album – these amplifiers won't hide that. If you want an amplifier that can sugarcoat such recordings, Phasemation or Triode might be a better choice.

Ayon, just like Kondo and Ancient Audio, play such pieces differently as they deliver what's there in the recording. Hats off for Ayon Audio! Hats off because despite the fact that these amplifier clearly show the weakness of certain recordings, their performance is nearly always enjoyable as within a properly mastered album. We always accept it as it is. I loved every album played despite the fact that some were recorded with boomy bass, some with bright vocals, and others that lacked ‘air'. Ayon clearly pointed out problems with trumpet timbre on certain jazz recordings, but it was me, the listener, who could decide whether this issue bothered me or not. The decision was mine alone, yet was not forced upon me.

An Issue Of Power

When arranging this review, Gerhard and I exchanged quite a few emails discussing an issue of output power required for my room. Matching an amplifier with loudspeakers, one's room size and acoustics plus music preference is key. This key consideration is for anyone who desires to create a serious audio system offering top-flight performance. The common belief is that SET amplifiers should be paired with high-sensitivity speakers, preferably with horns. Without delving deeply into this issue, let me just say that I don't agree with that. Low-power amplifiers, like all aforementioned SET ones within this review, but also some others were able to deliver performance loud enough within my room despite the fact that Harbeths were surely not an easy load. Obviously they all had some problems in bass range, some more serious ones, some just small ones. But in general they contradicted that normal audiophile belief to a great extent. And, let me repeat one more time, Harbeth M40.1 were not an easy load. And yet the more powerful amplifiers connected to these speakers, the better was the performance. They sound amazingly with my Soulution 710, and sounded even better driven by the Naim Statement NAC 51 preamp MAP 51 mono power amplifier.

An exception from this rule are tube amplifiers that sport high gain output stages and are able to deliver high current to the loudspeakers. In a case of such a design it seems irrelevant, as what we have here is a voltage gain stage. And yet now, for the third time in my life, I witnessed a situation where a SET amplifier, this time with a single output tube, delivered a better defined, more powerful bass than most solid-state amplifiers I ever listened to. Attack, slam, dynamics, sustain – brilliant in its naturalness, and fantastic decay kept me each time I played another record on my toes waiting for unexpected to happen. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the very open sound. Treble did not seem to be rounded nor too warm, which was a case with most previous Ayon Audio amplifiers. It was one of the things that could have steered my opinion towards amplifiers based on the 62B or 82B vacuum tube previously.

A Confession

I have to say it and am sure that Gerhard will understand, as he realizes that test are conducted also in order to find a way to improve current designs. Although I always respected his achievements in the field of SET amplifiers, as these were the apple of his eye, I could never fully accept the concept of sound they proposed. They delivered open and detailed sound, like solid-state amps, offered exceptional dynamics, yet they did not provide what I considered the advantages of vacuum tube devices. Why would I want a tube amplifier that doesn't sound like a tube, but as solid-state? That is also why I always enjoyed quite a bit of listening to Ayon's amplifiers using beam tetrodes like KT88, and now KT150, in push-pull configuration.

Summary

Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO vacuum tube monoblock amplifier delivers a better performance than any other amplifier Gerhard ever created previously. It combines the virtues of push-pull, SET and solid-state. Everything is mixed in proper proportions, perfectly working together. Actually, it would be difficult to point out which features of the sound came from which type of a design, as the amplifier's performance is simply perfect and thus couldn't care less about losing time for in-depth analyses to find that out. The Crossfire EVO delivers an amazingly rich, tuneful sound with tonal balance set lower then usual. It is highly resolving and wonderfully defined while it impresses with a leading edge and explosive dynamics. Despite relatively low output power, it is able to drive large loudspeakers to a high SPL. In a large room, with particularly ‘difficult' speakers, it might not work that well and these are things we have to accept with 35 watts of output power. If we manage to keep proper proportions, which are not influenced by some preconceptions, we'll be thrilled with the remarkable way these Crossfire EVO amplifiers drive our loudspeakers. This, along with Ayon Audio's Spheris III linestage, are the best devices Ayon Audio has released during the last, say, 10 years. These monoblock amplifiers are also one of the best I ever experienced here within my listening room. Absolutely beautiful, remarkable sound!
......Wojciech Pacuła

.......so real that hardly anyone had heard before something better.......42 kilos of the very finest tube sound.......this is one of the best sounding amplifiers in the world.
German magazine test translation
The Ayon Crossfire III is one of those rare specimens in the tradition of the legendary Western Electric 300B tube stand. Only do not always seek the old circuits, Ayon boss Gerhard Hirt. "It's nonsense, already completely rebuild the umpteenth version out lutschter circuits. We are always looking for something new, something better. 

Ayon Crossfire III: Construction

In the case of power tubes of the new Crossfire means: A pair AA62B provides a capacity of 30 watts (into 8 ohms) per channel in class A mode,  well above the not even 10 watts that are most out of a classic 300B.

The AA62B, is more or less an uprated 300B being built for the Czech Republic shepherd in the former Tesla factory. This tube is designed for low frequency and does not need this huge voltages of over 1,000 volts as some other power tube of this caliber. "For the classical (high frequency) radio tubes," says Shepherd, "you always have to drive a huge effort to get them quiet. This is not necessary in the AA62B "On the other hand, the AA62B is not so special that you have no other tubes you could use: If one changes the voltage, then a 52B is just as feasible as a 32B or even a 300B.

Interview: Ayon boss Gerhard Hirt on triode

And on we go in time with the unusual placement: The preamp tubes are not just classic ECC83, but models of type 6SJ7. These pentode dates back to the times before the Second World War (1935), but for various Hirt advantages: firstly, it was a relatively large lattice installed. This brings the 6SJ7 a "more loving" dealing with small signals. A popular saying in the 60s said: "The larger the grid, the better the sound tube." So here shepherd would hit a home run, especially since this tube is protected by a metallic coating to electromagnetic interference. From this preamp tube per channel two sit on the deck of the Crossfire III. What's the point?

More dynamic

Usually work preamp tubes to a fixed anode resistance. In the Crossfire circuit mutated the second 6SJ7 to resist, but to a variable. Then the 6SJ7 work in the so-called SRPP circuit (shunt regulated push pull), in which the "top" tube quasi a plate resistor forms, which is also controlled in time with the music. This facilitates the lower tube obvious manner the work, which reduces the harmonic distortion and offers more power when needed at the output.

So even the previous works Crossfire II New at III rock is, however, volume control implemented: Instead of a classic potentiometers successors when the volume is controlled by a processor that directs a network (analog) high precision resistors. Of these, Hirt promises even better noise performance and a longer service life.

Ayon Crossfire III: Hearing Test

Adorable. Alluring. Absolutely the essence of music aptly. At the JBL Studio 4365 and the small Cabasse Bora CrossFire conjured III sound images of such beauty, holographic depth and ultimately of such authenticity in the listening room that major Ayon-Monos Vulcan had II difficulties even in some areas to catch up. Of course, had tubes references at higher levels greater strength and stability, but these airiness, the completely natural representation of voices….

The Ayon triode manages that rare blend of the highest resolution and heat, a fine representation without any harshness. Compared to the Octave V 110, the most universal of Amp stereoplay history, voices had more timbre, the singing was still alive. In addition, was plasticity of representation so close, so real that hardly anyone had heard before something better.

We found many speaker with which the Crossfire harmonised well and was able to make decent level. On the right speakers this is one of the best sounding amplifiers in the world.

Because of its superlative build quality, ultra high level of performance and its level of power including the variety of two different sounding output modes, we award the Ayon Triton integrated amp our Maximum Mojo Award. Congratulations
James L. Darby

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Ayon Triton an all-tube class A operation, has few peers with its 120/80 watts per side. Most of its competitors use a hybrid design that incorporates a solid state output section. McIntosh makes the MA2275 but it only delivers 75 wpc and lacks the Triton’s dual modes,  the Jungson JA-99D that is all tube delivering 100 Wpc it too lacks the Triton's wonderful dual modes, but it does include balanced circuitry that the Triton does not (Note - the new Triton model is now fully balanced and also includes auto fixed biased).

Often we found that muscle amps deprive us of the micro qualities that breathe life into recorded music. The Triton hunts them down like a blue tick hound that's got the scent of a squirrel and delivers them like Tom Brady throwing a quick slant to Wes Welker.

With its highly polished, massive chrome transformers and brushed black aluminum chassis with the classy illuminated red logo on the front, the Triton definitely looks as if it costs a lot more than it does. Here is that it also sounds a lot more expensive than it is. Ayon has apparently spared little expense in the design and execution of this amplifier, as it's 125 pounds attests. They paid special attention to anti-resonance and isolation techniques that paid off handsomely. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: The first time I encountered the Ayon product line at an audio show, I had just walked into a large room filled with gleaming tube amplifiers and CD players sitting on about a dozen different racks. I vividly remember the initial impressions that Linda and I had. Everything looked immaculately made, beautifully designed and very expensive. As we began to look closer and inspect the individual products, we discovered that two of our impressions had been correct. However, we'd been wrong about the "very expensive" part, compared to what we had seen at that show and many previous audio events, the prices were not only reasonable, but appeared to be downright bargains. Seeing that, experience led us to believe that these products were made in China, wouldn't you assume the same?

A tall, silver haired gentleman came over and introduced himself as Charlie Harrison. (We later met his wife Susan who is much better looking...) He said he'd been following Stereomojo and was impressed with our honest reviews, something we hear quite often. He began telling us about the features of the different products and it didn't take long to conclude that he was very knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the products. We have written at length about how impossible it is to accurately judge the sonic qualities of the various demos under show conditions where you are listening to unfamiliar components, in unfamiliar rooms, that are usually acoustically awful at best, but when I handed him the Stereomojo Ultimate Evaluation Disk and he stuck it in one of the impressive

looking CD players, it was easy to determine that these Ayon products were not your run-of-the-mill components. We ended up staying in that room far too long, but that's what happens when you find something out of the ordinary, and here was a whole room filled with components that seem to be extraordinary. It was only in parting that I asked Charlie, "These ARE made in China, right?” Well, Mr. Harrison looked at me like I had just shot his dog. "No", he calmly replied, "Ayon is designed and built in Austria, not China." Linda and I looked at each other as if we were just told that O.J. Simpson confessed. Talk about surprise.

Not long after that we were sent the Ayon CD 2 that not only ended up receiving our Maximum Mojo Award, but also ended up being a Product of the Year. So it was with great anticipation that we received the Ayon Triton integrated tube amp. Would it be anywhere near the quality of the CD2? Let's find out.

THE BEAST

The Triton arrived in a huge box several times the size of the amplifier, which told me that Ayon cares about their products and their customers enough to go to the expense of triple boxing their amplifiers. When I finally laid down the box cutter, I found that Ayon had not only packed everything carefully, but had even dressed everything in red velvet, reminding me of the movie set of Gone with the Wind. I knew the amp was going to be heavy, but this thing weighs 125 pounds, that's why it affectionately became known as THE BEAST. It weighs more than my wife!

The Triton oozes power and quality and there's even more than meets the eye. We've said many times that vibration and resonance are The Great Enemy of sound quality; Ayon knows that too because the two separate power transformers, one for high-voltage and one for low voltage which is rather unique, are highly damped and RFI/EMI shielded and sealed with an anti-resonance compound. Even the ceramic tube sockets have beryllium spring contacts. The internal wiring is silver matrix and Teflon isolated. The whole aluminum anodized chassis is anti-vibration, anti-resonance and nonmagnetic. All these little details make a difference.

The amp also features zero negative feedback, delayed warm-up circuit that extends tube life as well as a automatic power protection circuit. Speaking of tubes, there are eight KT88 power tubes and six 12AU7 drivers. The 88s are Genelex Gold Lions made in Russia, carefully selected and matched by hand. In fact, the whole amplifier is hand assembled. The front panel is pretty simple with a volume knob on the left and a source selection knob on the right indicating four line ins and one "direct" which allows you to connect an external preamplifier and use the Triton as a power amp. When the amp is switched on, the red Ayon logo glows softly. Nice touch. I should mention that all of the switch craft has a very heavy duty, ultrahigh quality feel. When you felt as many knobs as I have, you get to know the difference. Wait... that didn't quite sound right did it. Oh well.

Yet another great feature is the amp's ability to play in either of two modes; triode or pentode. The latter gives you the most power at a muscular 125 W per channel while the triode mode reduces output to 80 W per channel. The two modes sound substantially different which we will describe in a minute, but it certainly is nice to have the equivalent of two different amplifiers to choose from without switching big, heavy components and tons of cables!

The Triton is designed and built for maximum sound quality, so it does not incorporate an auto biasing circuit -- you have to bias the tubes manually, so you will need to have or borrow a multi-tester. If you're a real audiophile, you should have one anyway and know how to use it. They are cheap with lots of them under $20. There are contacts and bias adjustments on the back; it's easy so don't sweat it. Also on the back you have gold plated RCA's for inputs and six gold-plated, very sturdy speaker posts so you can choose between 4 and 8-ohm operation. While the Triton comes with a high quality power cable, you can upgrade if you like. Rounding things out on the back side is the rocker style power switch and chrome ground lift.

The Ayon does come with a remote control that does volume and mute, but you can't switch between inputs. Though it only does the basics, the remote reflects the overall quality of the amp since it's constructed of matching black metal. You'd be surprised how many expensive components we've seen that have cheap plastic remotes. Kudos to Ayon for doing it right.

NO A-YAWNS HERE

After about 100 hours of burn in, we got down to business. We started out in the more powerful pentode mode. Right away you can't help but notice how grain free and midnight black the soundstage is, indicative of all the attention paid to the anti-resonance and isolation. Listening to our 2009 Recording of the Year, Winston Ma's FIM reissue of Oscar Peterson's classic "We Get Requests", the soundstage was very deep and wide without being exaggerated and again, exceptionally clean and beautifully detailed. As I've told you before, ever since I reviewed the Sanders electrostatics I have become acutely aware of speed, not only in speakers but in different components as well. Tube amps can sometimes sound a little dull and slow (so can solid state for that matter), but the Triton handles percussive attacks like piano and guitar and lightning transients very well. Nothing sounded sodden or like the musicians were covered in mud.

Oscar Peterson was a big man who played with great power and authority. I recently had the privilege of playing his personal Steinway that he used in his Toronto home. It was signed by both Mr. Peterson and Mr. Steinway. When I say Oscar played hard, we could see just below the keyboard long, gray trails where rivers of sweat had dripped from his hands and wrists. The action was also beaten to death, very uneven from the major pounding it taken and needed a technician's attention, but hey, it was Oscar's piano! On this and all subsequent recordings, running out of gas when the recordings went down loud and low was non-existent, whether something like orchestral timpani or synthesized sub-bass.

In fact, the bass was so stentorian that I just had to plumb its depths a bit more with a few more bass enhanced tracks. These days that's pretty easy using my new Qsonix music management system, Stereomojo's Product of the Year For 2009. I can sit in my listening position and queue up any track on any CD in my collection (about 1,600) instantly via my iPhone. As “The Hammer” would say, "U can't touch this!"

Perhaps my most torturous track for low bass and clarity is "The Kraken” from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. You have to hear this to believe it. I employed three different pairs of speakers during my time with the Triton, all of which have exemplary low bass extension, particularly another Stereomojo 2009 Product of the Year, The Vaughn Cabernet. I also got in a new speaker from Carl Marchisotto, the new Nola Micro Grand - it's rather small, sits on a stand and only has two 4-inch drivers in each cabinet, yet it puts out low bass that's just unbelievable. The Triton drove all three pairs to levels that were way too loud without breaking a sweat.

But it wasn't just the muscular qualities that were impressive, the Triton also did an outstanding job of retrieving the all important low end texture of the heavily bowed bass viols as well as the skin and mallet texture of the timpani. After the "Pirates" torture test, I guess I was feeling a bit diabolical, because I then queued up some of my favorite pipe organ recordings, a couple I recorded myself. The weight and texture of 32 foot organ pipes is difficult for most amps and impossible for others. Here the Triton really strutted its stuff and produced thundering yet impeccably controlled deep, deep bass without the rolloff usually found with tube amps.

But what about the high end? Would treble give it trouble? Since the new Qsonix natively plays back high resolution files up to 24/192, I dialed up another Stereomojo Recording of the Year, Reference Recordings HRx version of Percy Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy” performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony. This immaculate Prof. Johnson production features room shaking dynamic range and amazing timbrel texture and accuracy throughout the frequency spectrum, including the upper high-end. Here again, the Triton exhibited outstanding dynamics, especially in the pentode mode and its uncanny spatial qualities in both modes but more apparent in triode. The triode mode consistently added more old-school tube warmth - that famous golden glow and added airiness - to the festivities on every recording. But then, that's what it's supposed to do.

One thing that's important to note is that switching from one mode to the other requires you to turn off the amp. Not doing so could cause damage. We have reviewed dual-mode tube amps that can switch modes on-the-fly, even via the remote control, but again Ayon avoids extra circuitry and conveniences in favor of superior sound reproduction. That seems to have paid dividends in the high-end because piccolos, triangles, bells and cymbals all came through with the appropriate shimmer and sparkle as well as those extra degrees of texture and detail noted in the bass.

So, we've examined the frequency extremes, but how about the midrange where about 80% of the music lives? I don't know about you, but I have a passion for female vocals and since I'm putting together a special article on female vocalists about whom you may not be aware, I've been listening to a lot of them. Gwen Hughes, Katherine Jenkins, Lisbeth Scott and Beth Hirsch just to name a few, all ended up singing through the Triton. While both modes did an exemplary job of placing the girls in the room right in front of me, the triode mode with its extra spaciousness, 3-D presentation and added warmth really enhanced to the listening experience. Simply captivating. Some of these girls can rock baby, and the Triton rocked on right with them! The Triton does not discriminate among genres, it's equally at home with Black Sabbath as it is with a string or jazz quartet.

REFERENCE SHOOTOUT

Believe it or not, there are not a lot of pure-class-a tube integrated amps out there with this level of power output at this price or more. The only integrated in my arsenal is the LSA Statement which puts out 150 W per channel, but it is a hybrid type so only the preamp section has tubes, the power comes from solid state. Still, at $12,000, it's an amazing reference quality amplifier. It has more amenities than the Triton with its built-in phono section and balanced inputs, but then it costs considerably more, too. The Statement does not offer dual output modes, but the one mode it does have is exceptional. If we compare the Statement’s output to the Triton's pentode, the big LSA is even a bit more pristine with a more expansive soundstage and midrange definition, perhaps more extended in the high end. I think if I rolled in some NOS 6922 tubes, the LSA might sound even more like the Triton, but the Triton definitely has more of a tube quality, for better or worse depending on your tastes. In short, the LSA may be a bit more accurate, but the Triton is a bit more musical. Does that makes sense? A reminder; while we often pick what we like best, that really shouldn't matter to you that much. It is our job to report to you how something sounds and performs in order to give YOU the honest information you need to make decisions, never to make them for you. We don't sell stuff at Stereomojo like many others do.

The Triton's triode mode is more delicate, spacious and honey colored than the LSA, and I can't deny that the Ayon's triode mode is very attractive and seductive. I ended up preferring that mode about half the time, mostly on content that has a wide dynamic range and a limited soundstage. Also, if the recording has a cool, harsh or cold character, the triode mode makes things much more listenable, especially for extended periods. Many recordings that feature lead vocals such as those from the 70's and 80's or any recording that sounds too digital benefits from the triode mode. I really can't choose a clear winner here, anymore then I could choose the best marinara sauce for your spaghetti, but it is extremely nice to be able to choose between the two modes. I just wish you didn't have to power down the amp to switch between them.

I recently went to a new audio show in Jacksonville, Florida and while it was nowhere as large as the Denver show, much less CES, there were about 30 or so rooms to visit. By far, the best sound at the show was the combination of the Ayon Triton driving the huge Legacy Whispers, an opinion shared by almost everyone. I currently have the Whisper XD’s here and just wish I had the Triton back to which to marry them. The combo at that show attracted large crowds all the time, the sound was mesmerizing and i ended up returning there several times just to relax and listen to more music.

An added observation: since I live in South Florida, heat output is very important. The Triton surprised me with its very moderate heat output, not bad at all, and it sure does look gorgeous in the dark with the tubes reflecting off those four chrome silos! On another note, my demo unit did not ship nor are there any pictures of the Triton with tube guards for those of you that have curious little ones, whether of the toddler or furry kind. (if your toddler is furry, you have other issues...) Charlie assures me that there are tube guards/cages available for those of you who need them.

The Ayon Triton an all-tube class A operation, has few peers with its 120/80 watts per side. Most of its competitors use a hybrid design that incorporates a solid state output section. McIntosh makes the MA2275 but it only delivers 75 wpc and lacks the Triton’s dual modes. Our friends at Grant Audio sell the Jungson JA-99D that is all tube delivering 100 Wpc it too lacks the Triton's wonderful dual modes, but it does include balanced circuitry that the Triton does not (the new model is now filly balanced and auto fixed biased). If you like to actually see the tubes in action, both the Mac and the Grant hide them out of sight.

With its highly polished, massive chrome transformers and brushed black aluminum chassis with the classy illuminated red logo on the front, the Triton definitely looks as if it costs a lot more than it does. Here is that it also sounds a lot more expensive than it is. Ayon has apparently spared little expense in the design and execution of this amplifier, as it's 125 pounds attests. They paid special attention to anti-resonance and isolation techniques that paid off handsomely. Obviously, if you have very efficient, sensitive speakers at 96 dB or above, you may not need this much power. Anything less than that, depending on the size of your room and how loud you listen, you may be asking more of your 60 W or so amp then it can give. Often we found that muscle amps deprive us of the micro qualities that breathe life into recorded music. The Triton hunts them down like a blue tick hound that's got the scent of a squirrel and delivers them like Tom Brady throwing a quick slant to Wes Welker.

Its price is remarkable in that it is not sold direct but rather through a dealer network and still maintains a pricepoint that is more than reasonable.

All it takes is one trip to a high-end audio show and you will quickly discover that most of the amplifiers being sold are pure class-A tubes and there is a reason for that. It has nothing to do with nostalgia, it's just that at this point in time, tubes are more musical than pure solid state and the Triton is an outstanding example of why.

Because of its superlative build quality, ultra high level of performance and its level of power including the variety of two different sounding output modes, we award the Ayon Triton integrated amp our Maximum Mojo Award. Congratulations to the folks at Ayon.

I was very sad to send it back. It was excellent match with ModWright as well as Crossfire PA. Of course I can still listen to music straight from my CD player, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close to Auris.
Jacek Kłos - Hi-Fi i Muzyka
SUMMARY: Auris gave some body to this image. It put the whole sound more “stable onto the ground”. It filled the air with lively tissue and loaded some serious mass wherever needed. It was this pre‐amp, not the triode power amp which brought in some serious warmth and defined the overall tube impression. And it was so charming and smooth, the listener’s attention was all ears. Listening session pulsed with dynamics and surprised with so many highlights.  Its influence is subtle and clearly positive. It sneaks in a bit of warmth and softness but won’t overheat nor soften the contents. This delicate interference results in coherent sound and extraordinary micro‐dynamics and resolution. Even the best analog potentiometers implemented in very expensive CD players and DACs cannot guarantee this kind of performance.  And let’s not talk about digital volume controls because even the most advanced ones loose details during low volume playback. Auris is able to reproduce excellent body and saturation even on the level of silent whisper.

EXTENDED REVIEWS:  Modular type of design distinguishes Auris from the rest of Ayon pre‐amps. You can order it custom made to your current needs and wealth. But in case of any changes you just send it back to the manufacturer for upgrade. Of course that would cost you a bit more than better version at once, simple as that. In case of upgrade owner will pay not only for the parts but also costs of labor and transport, there and back. Good news is Ayon sets no limits to your demands – you can buy the basic configuration and order the highest possible upgrade. All inside the warranty and certainty that the job was done perfectly and by proper crew.
 
This kind of service is a huge value once you’re aware of very special off‐the‐record treats from Mr.Gerhard Hirt. Were there any general upgrades within the whole product line in the meantime? No problem, your device will be equipped in those as well. The owner might not be aware but there will be no additional costs on the invoice ‐ instead of that your device performs much better as expected. If you have this sort of impression, it’s not delusion but just a result of all extra upgrades.
 
In its basic version Auris’ internal circuits are unsymmetrical, built of very good (not state‐of‐the‐art though) quality components. Further steps of upgrade mean equipping it in phonostage ready for MM and MC cartridges. You can order the pre‐amp upgraded to balanced version later and – as we can take a look inside – it means real symmetrical circuit, not only adding XLR terminals. And the final stage would be upgrade to Signature specs, including i.e. very costly coupling capacitors. Of course you can skip various stages of upgrade and order the one you’re interested in. Maximum upgrade for Auris consists of all the treats. At first glance to the front panel there is no difference to the basic version but once you turn the device back to front, you’ll see XLRs and Signature sticker.
 
All versions of the pre‐amp are remote controlled. The cheapest Auris – unbalanced and un-phonostaged costs PLN 26 900. Signature upgrade will take another PLN 3 790. The version including MM/MC pre‐amp is PLN 31 690. Auris Balanced starts at PLN 39 900, further up the stairs we’ve got Balanced Phono (PLN 44 690) and Balanced Signature (PLN 47 390). And we’re testing the last one of this list.
 
Build
The new Ayon pre‐amp keeps on the design known of another Austrian devices. The chassis is made of round‐shaped side panels of brushed aluminium, put together into one rigid piece by screws. It’s available in black only, brushed surfaces all around. About a decade ago the manufacturer offered silver finish but it was ceased in time. Silver got unfashionable and black keeps up very strong, showing that nothing’s better than classic design. Thanks to that worldwide distributors as well as manufacturer have clearly put trouble off their shoulders – keeping double stock of chassis spare parts and ready‐to‐go devices means usually a higher risk as it generates higher costs and not necessary pays off better.
 
The front panel is decorated by subtle silver details – chromed volume control / source selector knobs and laser‐machined inscriptions. Red dot‐matrix display shows sound source, volume level and signal phase in very clear way and cartridge load in case of MC. As soon as “Muting” blinks on display, the device has been muted. You can also adjust balance. The display isn’t disturbing, even as it lights up in brightest setting, but if you feel uncomfortable with it, you can easily dim it or turn off.
 
We can see some chromed details on the top of chassis as well. These are cooling outlets – two of them dissipate heat directly of tubes underneath. The remaining two are there mainly for symmetry reasons although they can help with cooling too. We can see some outlets at the sides. Inside there are eight tubes – good heat dissipation is necessary for optimum performance and longer lifespan. 
It’s not recommended to put Auris inside the closed rack as we should leave some space around the device. The remote is all metal and very handy. You’d better not lose it because it gives you access to additional options. Once you grip, it gives you real high quality feeling, matching perfectly with to pre‐amp’s price range.
 
Main power switch is mounted underneath chassis, on the left front side. It’s a standard mechanical on/off button giving you possibility to cut off the power completely. No chance for standby here. Once we move to the back panel, we can see very good choice of connectors. Version tested here gives you choice of two XLR inputs, three RCAs and phono MM/MC. If pre‐amp hadn’t been equipped in phono module, we would have had one more RCA line in. Line 4 gives you pass‐through option for home theatre system. Once you’re interested in integration of your stereo and multichannel systems, we can connect processor or AV receiver’s pre‐out into these sockets. Home Theatre function is activated by bi‐positional switch on the back – factory set to Line 4. User can switch to HT after hooking up external processor, allowing internal signal to avoid pre‐amps circuits and go directly to the outputs.
Speaking of outputs, there are three here – two RCAs and one XLR. By switching we decide to use one type of both. The very last switch means to be used for gain selection – factory setting is “Low” and this will offer the best dynamic reproduction. In extreme cases we will have to use “High” – it boosts gain 6 dB up, but the sound becomes less subtle.
 
Power socket is standard IEC. The LED aside shows the proper polarity and it shouldn’t be lit up. Once it is, we have to reverse the plug in wall socket or plug board. Quality of components and parts is out of question. RCA sockets are gold plated and PTFE insulated. They are placed wide enough to receive very bulky plugs. Aluminium panels are very thick, make the device look exclusive and provide proper external resonance reduction. The only thing we have to care of would be cleaning – best way would be to use soft cloth and not move the pre‐amp too often because every single fingerprint is visible on anodised and brushed surfaces.
 
Interior
As we take a look inside, everything looks as good as it should. Although large chassis volume, everything is filled up to the roof. Not all parts are visible as they had been hidden inside protective shielding. The uncovered ones drive attention at once: top‐spec Mundorf Supreme Silver‐Gold coupling capacitors or foil capacitors at anode filter. The rest is nothing to complain as well, especially as they’re carefully mounted in double‐side technique – the circuit board is so stiff it doesn’t bend even under higher pressure. Soldered points are wrapped with golden rings and signal traces are lacquered, which prevents corrosion. The designer took care of proper space between modules, providing air circulation and making them work in comfortable conditions.
The signal path starts with source selector circuit board, operated by Takamisawa relays. It’s clear that input selector knob on the front panel is there mainly for design purpose (also it makes pre‐amp look traditional) – its position is read by microprocessor anyway. It passes command to switch the input on. Auris could have been equipped in immaculate smooth front panel then – leaving all functions remotely controlled. Same thing with volume control, which is free from mechanical potentiometer. Instead of that high quality Burr‐Brown PGA2320 stereo modules were used – one for each channel. This solution gives only advantages, providing stability of parameters in time and more than necessary resolution – volume is controlled in 80 steps. It works equally from the bottom of scale and it’s easy to build symmetrical circuit thanks to this solution. Additionally, you can use it for channel balance. You might not need it at all because volume control works perfectly, but in case of bad recordings or poor room acoustics, you can use electronic correction. On the pre‐amp circuit board we can see OPA2334 op‐amps. They’re probably used for buffering signal on potentiometer output and matching it to the tube stage.
 
Potentiometer circuit board is located just behind input selector. Thanks to this the signal path has been shortened. If the device is equipped in phonostage, it’s mounted aside in chromed box. Out of size estimation, its design must be solid state. Out of potentiometer, the signal goes to four 6N30P‐EW double triodes. They are modern Sovtek products, made in the year 2009. All of them our mounted in elastic sockets made of beryllium copper and work in class A. The whole circuit doesn’t have global feedback. At the end of signal path there are eight 1.5 μF / 1000 V Mundorf Supreme capacitors. They eliminate possible DC out of the signal. Manufacturer assures us it won’t affect the bandwidth at all. Considering their size, we can trust them in 100%, especially while there’s parallel pair of those for each half of the signal, doubling overall capacity.
 
The signal path is very simple but perfected in terms of assembling and quality of the components. Similar to recently reviewed Crossfire, the space is filled mainly by power supply circuits. The designer gives us a message that only clear, stable and ripple‐free voltage allows to extract the best sound performance of signal path. And he is not alone in this philosophy.
Power supply along with driver and control modules are place behind the front panel. Custom microprocessor IC programmed especially for Auris is exposed in small gap made for this purpose.
The rest is closed inside massive steel enclosure, hidden from sight of nosy users. Under the hood there must be power supply transformers (it’s the only possible place, I cannot see then anywhere, probably EI type because Ayon is not friendly to toroidal ones a t all), display and – considering description on manufacturer’s website – chokes being the part of power supply for signal tubes. The latter are treated in very special way, incorporating four 6Z4 double rectifier diodes.
These tubes are placed in ceramic sockets and pressed by thin wire clamps at the top. Thanks to this solution they are mechanically stable to stop vibrations cause additional noise.
These tubes are probably powered by separate transformer. The anode voltage is filtered by two electrolytic capacitors and four parallel polypropylene ones. The latter ones are responsible for more accurate “cleaning”. Heating voltage is 6.3 V – it’s taken from separate winding and stabilised. The remaining circuits are powered by rectifier diodes, separate electrolytic capacitors and solid state stabilisers. Additionally, there are adjustable resistors setting power voltage for op‐amps in more accurate way. The preamplifier is equipped in soft start circuit for signal tubes, increasing their lifespan.
Starting sequence goes for about 50 seconds and during this time cathodes are pre‐heated and parameters checked. If everything’s alright, relays switch on input and output sockets and the device is ready to use. The manufacturer states that Auris is at maximum sound performance after approx 1 hour of playback.
 
Configuration
Auris is not demanding for the rest of sound system at all. Input impedance is 100 kΩ which allows hooking up any music source easily. 300 Ω at the output means that apart from certain extreme transistor loads such as Soulution or Burmester power amps, the Austrian pre‐amp should be able to drive vast majority of amps. The battery of coupling capacitors guarantees that even if power amp has not very high input impedance, low frequencies will be reproduced in accurate and way of “full spectrum”.
 
Yes, the factors driving you to buy Auris won’t be only technical, but rather in terms of sound quality. It has to be said despite each available configuration means more variables. One should check first if the pre‐amp matches and what possible changes appear after hooking up. There is one certain thing: there will be changes – the Austrian device is not the one to hide in the shadows of others. It’s got character, very subtle but clear enough to spot by advanced listener.
 
For review purpose Auris was connected to three separate power amps: Ayon’s single‐ended Crossfire PA (HFiM 12/2014), ModWright KWA 150SE and Sanders Magtech. Note: the last one wasn’t the good choice at all. I wasn’t even able to describe the sound in terms of “hi‐fi”, not to say “high‐end”. Some frequencies were just filtered out and some exposed. 
Summing up: not even bandwidth at all. Swapping pre‐amp for Sanders Audio made the whole system sound very good – we had a preview of that during Audio Show in 2014 as it was powering up tiny Boenicke W8 speakers and the sound accompanied by British CAD got opinions of one of the best during the show. But let’s put the Sanders incident aside. Auris turned to be perfect match with 300B Crossfire and a ModWright. Beside power amps I mentioned the system consisted of Avalon Transcendent speakers and Accuphase DP700 CD/SACD player. Wires were taken from Acrolink catalogue: 7N‐DA2090 Speciale RCA and XLR interconnects and 7N‐S8000 speaker cable. The voltage was filtered by Gigawatt PC‐4 Evo along with Acrolink 6N‐PC6100 and Gigawatt LS‐1 MkII power cords. They were put onto Stand Art and Sroka audio racks and feet were put onto anti‐resonance elements: Symposium Acoustics Ultra Padz. It’s one of the best cost‐effective upgrades I’ve been able to experience. It does its best especially with amps. The system was playing in 16.5 m2 room with small acoustical treatments.
 
Sound review
It’s hard to imagine more underestimated hi‐fi component than line preamplifier. Phonostage modules are necessary as they linearise the uneven signal of cartridge. But what about line pre‐amp? I bet even power cords are treated more seriously. And it turns that line preamplifier not only sets the basic standards to whole audio system and allows to choose between music sources but also provides the proper drive for power amp – variable outputs of CD players are usually not good with that at all. Pre‐amp means putting the critical factor in hi‐fi systems, volume control, to another level. Potentiometer is always hearable in signal path – the matter of sound performance is how good the quality of volume control is then. In case of Auris it’s satisfying. Very satisfying. The device is showing its own character but works as perfect seasoning added to the delicious main course. It winds up impressions, enriches taste but doesn’t exaggerate and keeps all proportions.  
Its influence is subtle and clearly positive. It sneaks in a bit of warmth and softness but won’t overheat nor soften the contents. This delicate interference results in coherent sound and extraordinary micro‐dynamics and resolution. Even the best analog potentiometers implemented in very expensive CD players and DACs cannot guarantee this kind of performance.  And let’s not talk about digital volume controls because even the most advanced ones loose details during low volume playback. Auris is able to reproduce excellent body and saturation even on the level of silent whisper.
 
The Austrian preamplifier isn’t the one to pass the signal as it is and just put it to power amp. During the review of Crossfire PA it turned out that pre‐amp is much more likely to upgrade the system than power amp. The latter turned to be very transparent, almost neutrally colourless and gifted with somewhat shiny trebles. It sounded ethereally, very transparent, detailed and matched ideally to lightning‐bolt fast Avalons. Auris gave some body to this image. It put the whole sound more “stable onto the ground”. It filled the air with lively tissue and loaded some serious mass wherever needed.
It was this pre‐amp, not triode power amp which brought in some serious warmth and defined the overall tube impression. And it was so charming and smooth, the listener’s attention was all ears. Listening session pulsed with dynamics and surprised with so many highlights. Considering this context, the only excuse to use Crossfire PA without Auris would be the economical aspect. Otherwise sound performance leaves you with no doubt. But it’s not a result of synergy between devices made by the same manufacturer. 
 
Let’s swap Crossfire PA with ModWright KWA150SE and impressions will be exactly the same. Same aspects, same scale. The only exception was in range of lowest bass but ModWright has better current capacity thanks to its transistor muscle. Auris didn’t limit the power amp though nor slowed down the energy transmission. There was a doze of warmth, softness and rounded shape again but control and tonal richness were excellent. Listening pleasure was on very high level and I just couldn’t wait to play another albums. This is the way correct modern tube setups should sound like: all advantages of tube technology combined with full signal bandwidth. 
 
Auris plays some modern sound in best aspects of this meaning. You can hook it up to very fast and transparent system because it won’t slow down bass and filter out trebles. It’s another point for tubes as it shows all the natural warmth and macrodynamic energy. Once transistors have to make crucial aspects vague or averaged, Auris saves all available colours and resolution. It’s not necessary to turn volume up to enjoy your music. The sound is filled up and lively even at low levels. It allows enjoying music playing in the background as well.
 
The very last aspect is soundstage. There are so many details – no doubt for anyone I think – but there are way more visible comparing to lack of this pre‐amp. The soundstage is put between the speakers and it’s clear that artificial wideness is not priority here. The soundstage is wide enough to make necessary order and leave amount of air between instruments. Lack of exposed foreground is a great help here – there’s nothing push to the front out of speakers line. Everything starts behind this line and depth reaches back wherever it was recorded on the album. It seems to be unlimited but it’s not simple “stadium effect” but rather reproducing correct aspects of the recording. It can be huge as we listen to big symphonic and very domestic in case of acoustic jazz.
 
After two months spent with new Ayon preamplifier I was very sad to send it back. It was excellent match with ModWright as well as Crossfire PA. Of course I can still listen to music straight from my CD player, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close to Auris.
 
Conclusion
Don’t underestimate preamplifiers. Especially as strong as Auris is.
……Jacek Kłos - Hi-Fi i Muzyka
 
The Neoteric Listener - The Ayon Scorpio Integrated and CD-07s Compact Disc Player
Dean Seislove

REVIEW SUMMARY: Like all Ayon products, both the Scorpio and the CD-07s are massive, black aluminium affairs with wonderfully illuminated displays, plenty of inputs, and come with satisfyingly burly remotes. All of this appeals to me, and the sound is exactly in my comfort zone for long-term enjoyment of music. Like the Genesis tune, I know what I like and I like what I know, and I like both of these Ayon models. That they can be had for a more "affordable" price than the previous models is no small matter, either. Highly recommended for both. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Ayon Audio Scorpio is a heavy, Class A integrated amplifier made of high grade aluminium and powered by gleaming KT88 and 12AU7 tubes. One look and listen, and you know it's textbook audio, the perfect answer to your friends when they say, "So how's a high end amplifier any different from my Yamaha?" Like riding in a '56 Chevy Bel Air or planting a winter garden, the Scorpio experience is time-honoured and without pretension. Using the accompanying Ayon CD-07s compact disc player as a source, I paired the Scorpio with several speakers, including my Nola Contenders, a pair of Triangle Antals, and the new Eclipse TD508MKIII stand mounts. You couldn't find more disparate sounding speakers, yet all of them benefited from the savoury sonic grace imparted when paired with the Ayon Scorpio integrated. 

The Ayon Scorpio delivers an incredible sound for an amplifier at this price: Sumptuous tone, weight, and delivery, with plenty of power in reserve. Sonically, the Scorpio is a luxury sedan, guaranteed to deliver comfort and sophisticated ease. Some amps give you bumps and jolts and breathtaking thrills in equal measure. As much as I savour the latter, I've no patience for the former, especially when most of my music was not made with audiophiles in mind. The Scorpio integrated reflects the principles espoused throughout the Ayon line: "We believe that the simplest circuits work best together with the shortest signal path. The shorter the signal path is, the less possibility of sonic degradation from various sources, including the wire itself."

Listening to the Scorpio and reflecting back on the Orion II integrated (repaced by Scorpio) reviewed previously in this column, I can envision a circle of Austrian engineers, busily tinkering away to refine, but not replace, the sound of their entry level line. It's been some time since I had the Orion II in my home, so who the hell knows for sure, but if pressed to it, I'd say that the Scorpio has a sweeter touch than the Orion II. The pure class-A Scorpio integrated has all of the exemplary features of the Orion II (switchable between pentode and triode mode, sequenced soft-start power up for extended tube life, power tube and electronic protection circuit system, 0dB negative feedback). Granted, at this price point there are plenty of worthy integrated tube amps on offer. Nobody, not even Ayon, can deliver everything for aound NZ$6,000 and. Some manufacturers, therefore, aim for a lightning quick, highly transparent sound, where every cable switch and recording trick is as clear as glass: What's good sounds good, and what's bad, don't. Other companies, however, attempt to produce amps that are on good terms with even the prickliest recordings. This is an oversimplification, of course, and few amps are firmly ensconced in either sonic extreme, but it is fair to say that the Scorpio aims to please. I find it to be a sound that is warm, gracious, and mesmerising. 

Moving on to talk about Ayon's new entry level CD player, the Ayon CD-07s shares many of the visual and sonic traits of the CD-1sc Compact Disc player also reviewed in a previous column. Both are top-loading, Class-A triode tube output stage models, employing a Burr Brown D/A converter, upsampling at 24-bit/192kHz, with an asynchronous 24-bit/192kHz USB input. As a CD spinner, the Ayon CD-07s can be counted on to showcase CDs at their best: solid, articulate, and immediate. For those of us who turned dollar bills into jewel case columns of silver discs, the CD sound has tangible pleasures that escape the computer/music server experience. There's vibrancy to the sound of a good CD on a champion player that makes it worth the effort to select and load the CD (such a chore for our modern selves, yet we endure the burden heroically!). To illustrate, the pounding middle section of the Mynabirds's "What We Gained in the Fire" was dramatically better (stirring, even) when played via CD, as opposed to its downloaded version. Still, there are times when CD's can sound as fake as rock candy. Fortunately, playing computer files upsampled to 24-bit/192kHz via the CD-07s USB input is superb. Normally, I'm a bits-and-all sort of fellow, but the upsampling was so successfully done that I left it on at all times. I don't remember being impressed by the USB input in the CD-1sc model I reviewed earlier, but I certainly appreciated it with the CD-07s. I'm among the legion that finds a ton of new music via streaming, and the CD-07s is simply wonderful with tunes like "Can't Take You With Me" by Canadian musician, Bahamas. Ok, so maybe the notes of the acoustic guitar are a tad overblown via Tidal, but complaining that such rich melodiousness is "untrue" is best left to those who hate this sort of sound, anyway. The CD-07s is a real bargain for a CD player and DAC that performs at this destination-place performance level.  

Like all Ayon products, both the Scorpio and the CD-07s are massive, black aluminium affairs with wonderfully illuminated displays, plenty of inputs, and come with satisfyingly burly remotes. All of this appeals to me, and the sound is exactly in my comfort zone for long-term enjoyment of music. Like the Genesis tune, I know what I like and I like what I know, and I like both of these Ayon models.
That they can be had for a more "affordable" price than the previous models is no small matter, either.

Highly recommended for both. 

...... Dean Seislove

With Scorpio one gets a sweet - both in terms of appearance and sound – compact monoblocks that can work easily with a wide range of loudspeakers, including those with a more difficult impedance curve. And the performance is sooooo enjoyable!
Wojciech Pacuta - Hi Fidelity

REVIEW SUMMARY: We are talking about a very well tonally balanced presentation, that is perceived as particularly rich, complete. The sound signature of this amplifier is quite similar to the Crossfire EVO, which I reviewed once for the „Enjoy The Music” magazine in terms of tonal balance, the setting of priorities, including how the objects in front of a listener are presented. Sound is warm, full, dense. Already these three words situate it in a slightly different place than amplifiers that manufacturer offered a few years ago. Older models were about being quick, transparent and delivering pure power. The new generation, perhaps in part due to the precise bias control of power tubes presents more traditional tube-ish sound, especially in the models that still use KT88, but adding to that good resolution and dynamics. This performance reminded me of other classic amplifiers using these tubes, such as: McIntosh MC275 and QUAD II. 

The Scorpio mono amplifiers very nicely fit the present Ayon's sound philosophy. It's an incredibly rich, dense performance of a warm character. Its dynamics is very high and powerful, low bass extremely well controlled. Even the Harbeth's 30- cm woofers performed accordingly, realising Gerhard's ideas about bass extension and punch. There is a proper momentum, fullness, and full control. What one gets with Ayon's more expensive amplifiers, especially triode ones, is a better resolution and selectivity. But with Scorpio one gets a sweet - both in terms of appearance and sound – compact monoblocks that can work easily with a wide range of loudspeakers, including those with a more difficult impedance curve. And the performance is sooooo enjoyable! 

I know Gerhard Hirt pretty well, I think I can call him my friend. He runs his company, Ayon Audio as a top class manager should but at the same time he is an audiophile and music lover too with a large collection of records, CDs and music files. He is so creative and full of ideas all the time that he can't help himself and he simply has to present an improved version of one of the products every now and then. He simply can't wait to share each of his achievements with the customers. Audio tycoons rather try to achieve at least certain level of profit from current products before introducing new ones. That's why one can see brands such as Accuphase, Mark Levinson, Audio Research and others to release new products or versions every 2-3 years. But Gerhard as a truly passionate man is sort of impatient and simply has to deliver all improvements to customers as soon as possible. 

I think that was the genesis of the first ever Ayon SACD player and the new files player that will premiere in November during Audio Video Show 2016 in Warsaw. Same goes for Scorpio monoblocks. These are sort of a "spin off" of an integrated amplifier carrying the same name, which we've known since the last year. I think they are supposed to show what this particular design and the KT88 tubes are truly capable of when one is ready to spend bit more and free the power amplifier from difficult duties by leaving the preamplifier section out and separating right and left channel. Thus one reduces a crosstalk between channels, improves power supply capacity (because now there are two of them) and lowers vibration level thus reducing microphonics of valves.

Scorpio Mono 

The amplifier does not cost much - for this type of product - and does not take up much space, because these monoblocks are surprisingly small. It's a real relief after other huge and heavy beast that seem to be a specialty of Ayon Audio. Manufacturer used here two beam tetrodes KT88 working in push-pull configuration in A class. These are readily available valves in a wide range of brands, both of the current production and NOS ones. So this is an amplifier for the "people", a “volksamp” if you will. Tubes are pre-selected, measured and paired. One can find specifications of each tube, including signal ones, on their boxes. That's a good practice for any tube device. 

The amplifier has been designed to operate within an optimum gain curve for tubes, which means that they are better utilised than usually. The problem is the higher the temperature and the need for constant monitoring of their work. Especially for the latter purpose a few years ago Gerhard designed, herewith utilised its latest version, an automatic calibration system called Intelligent Auto-Fixed-Bias (AFB). As highlighted in the manual, it is neither a system of semi-automatic adjustment, nor fixed bias system. 

Preparation of the amplifier to operate is pretty straight forward, but it does not hurt to ask your distributor or dealer to do that for you. Once the system is calibrated it will work perfectly operating in optimal conditions. One could, of course, prepare amplifier even easier to use, with multiple protective circuits but that would cause an inferior sound quality. 

One can indeed, within certain limits, change amplifiers sound depending on one's preference and loudspeakers one uses. For example, by choosing the mode tubes operate in - as a pentode or triode. To do this simply press the small button on the back of the amplifier. However, it should be done ONLY when the device is switched off! This is the case, where one definitely should read the manual or listen carefully to the advice of a party who sold him this device. 

In the pentode mode amplifier is capable of delivering 45W output, and while operating in triode mode a 25W (30W) output – that's what manufacturer specified. I've included the second value in two versions, because I found two different values on the website and in the manual. Please notice how the number is given at distortion of 5%. Let me remind you that for tube amplifiers, it is assumed that power is given usually at 3% (for transistor amplifiers is 1%). So when comparing values between Scorpio Mono and other amplifiers one should take that into consideration. 

This, of course, are mono power amplifiers, so there is a separate amplifier for each channel, each amplifier features a separate power cable. The devices are, however, extremely small and sleek; they actually occupy the same space as a stereo amplifier. 

I have a vague feeling that somehow, subconsciously engineers responsible for the Scorpio Black had to remember this sound signature It is not just a copy, but a new device inspired but some classics and in an interesting way too. The device delivers a very rich, dense sound. Everything is included - a 3D body and detail and space, accompanied by a focus on a large volume, although there is no doubt that the body of each phantom image is the most important element of the presentation. The instruments are so large in size, will never disappear in the background, they are presented with utmost attention to details. It is, I believe, a result of certain modification of the sound, ie. an emphasis in medium bass and lower midrange area. That's exactly a type of sound modification that one usually calls a "physiological" or “friendly” or simply “enjoyable”. 

I listened to some albums taking the above discovery into consideration and established that these recordings had with Scorpio their own, distinct sound characteristic. So when I listened to Bach cantatas performed by Bernarda Fink, her voice, but also the trumpets, sounded slightly leaner, had tonal balance gently shifted up, but they were not made artificially richer, heavier due to amplifier's emphasis. At the same time one clearly hear this features of the recording and accept it as something natural. And that's because Scorpio are “cruel” for imperfect recordings. They tend to “cover up" such shortcomings either with color saturation, or the volume of the sound, but should not emphasis weaknesses of any recording. 

Such, ie., warm sound with somewhat naturally soft attack usually results with a preference of a particular type of recordings, that sound best (please forget about the so-called "neutrality", it does not exist in real life, there are only successive approximations to it). I wouldn't really say that some particular music genre or type suits these amps best, and that one can not listen to other types, even though the above description usually ends with such conclusion. Ayon is too powerful, too fast, too dynamic for such limitation of repertoire to be true. Warm? - Yes, but not muddy. Rolled off treble? - I think it's safe to say, but the sound doesn't lack freshness and is surely not dark. 

We are talking about a very well tonally balanced presentation, that is perceived as particularly rich, complete. All events have their own importance and purpose, which I have heard before with some amplifiers of a completely different design, such as elinsAudio manufacture Concerto and also with Ayre AX-5 Twenty. Comparing this performance with more precise sounding devices, eg. next Polish integrated, Abyssound ASA- 1600, one can realise that Ayon stresses the importance of all instruments, combining all sound sources together at the expense of selectivity. 

When on a wonderful album, Il Canto D'Orfeo , that was sold in the main building of the National Museum in Warsaw (I bought it when visiting a very nice exhibition Brescia. Renaissance in Northern Italy) including works related to the myth of Orpheus I heard theorbo, it sounded pretty clear, warm and more "present" than in reality. The same is true when harpsichord or organ start to play. When one listens to these instruments during the concert, even when sitting close to them one identifies them mainly through the transient attack, more powerful plucks. The recording, of course, "highlights" them, but Ayon goes even a step further by aligning them eg. with vocals. Baroque music, vocal (Smolik!), Electronic (Jarre), jazz (Namysłowski), ie. every genre with a clear central point, a leader - all these discs sounded fabulously. 

Triode, my triode! 

Such type of presentation is usually associated with triode amplifiers. The Ayon delivers it right away, but in pentode mode. It is clear that the top triode amps are the single-ended ones (SET or Parallel SE), but everything below their price and quality is not so obvious. Because Ayon for example, when playing in triode mode delivers less clear, less tangible instruments. The sound is obviously more relaxed, because eg. classic albums in terms of sound character are more like a live performance – one “sees” it from a bigger distance, and the edges are subjected to diffusion. On the other hand sound is not resolving enough to deliver performance even close to live-like dynamics and resolution. That's why every time I returned to pentode mode as the one that better reflects full ability of Scorpio Mono, which gives sound a stronger character and differentiates it in a better way.

Sound


Recordings used for the test (a selection)
 

Il Canto D’Orfeo, wyk. Il Trionfo del Tempo, Et’Cetera | Klara KTC 4030, CD (2009) 

Brian Eno, The Ship, Warp Records | Beat Records BRC- 505CE, SHM-CD (2015) 

Depeche Mode, Ultra, Mute/Sony Music Labels SICP-30543, Bluspec CD2 (2007/2014) 

Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms, Vertigo/Mobile Fidelity Labs UDSACD 2099, „Original Master Recording, Special Limited Edition | No. 1808”, SACD/CD (1985/2013) 

Jean-Michel Jarre, Electronica Project. Vol. 1 Time Machine, Columbia | Sony Music Entertainment 88875108352 , Box No. 465/1000, CD + 2 x 180 g LP + FLAC 24/96 (2015);

Johann Sebastian Bach, Solo Cantatas BWV 35, 169, 170, wyk. Bernarda Fink, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Harmonia Mundi HMG 502016, CD (2009/2016) 

Michał Wróblewski Trio, City Album, Elite Records 11529024, CD (2014) 

Owlle, France, Sony Music Entertainment France, „Promotional Copy”, CD-R (2014) 

Smolik/Kev Fox, Smolik/Kev Fox, Kayax | Agora 92781141, CD (2015) 

Zbigniew Namysłowski Modern Jazz Quartet, Lola, Decca/Universal Music Japan UCCM-9173, „From Europe With Jazz. Vol. 2”, CD (1964/2003) 

Tube amplifiers are grateful object of experiments. Trials with various tubes - power and input one - anti-vibration elements (valves are prone to microphonics) and some others make it possible to adjust the sound to your taste and system. There are, of course, certain limits of those changes, even if you occasionally hear some people claiming that tube rolling resulted in "a totally different amplifier." At first one might observe particularly spectacular changes, but after some time it turns out that they are only slight modifications. It is not possible to achieve anything more because of the limitations of an electrical system, used parts, materials and the way they are put together. 

The same can be, in my opinion, said about the power tubes operating modes - triode and pentode. These are, of course, the same tubes - pentodes or, in this case, beam tetrode, which can however be used in two ways. Listening to Ayon while comparing its sound in either mode, I could always say that it was Scorpio, not two different devices. The basics sound qualities are in fact the same for 'triode' and 'pentode' mode. This does not mean, of course, that the sound is exactly the same, but the differences are in fact rather just slight modifications of the same sonic signature and not something totally different. To be honest I preferred the pentode mode and so I shall describe how these amps sound like when using it. At the end I will present the main differences between both modes and how they affect the perception of music.

The sound signature of this amplifier is quite similar to the Crossfire EVO, which I reviewed once for the „Enjoy The Music” magazine in terms of tonal balance, the setting of priorities, including how the objects in front of a listener are presented. Sound is warm, full, dense. Already these three words situate it in a slightly different place than amplifiers that manufacturer offered a few years ago. Older models were about being quick, transparent and delivering pure power. The new generation, perhaps in part due to the precise bias control of power tubes presents more traditional tube-ish sound, especially in the models that still use KT88, but adding to that good resolution and dynamics. This performance reminded me of other classic amplifiers using these tubes, such as: McIntosh MC275 and QUAD II. 

Summary 

I have not listened to Ayon amplifiers for quite some time, dealing with thousands of other products. It's time to catch up, because Gerhard's works are always interesting. Soon, we shall take a closer look at new Ayon players (CD35 CD/SACD and music files), both – in reviews and during the Krakow Sonic Society meeting. For the Audio Video Show 2016 we are also planning a joint presentation of Polish Jazz recordings, hosted by Jacek Gawłowski. 

The Scorpio mono amplifiers very nicely fit the present Ayon's sound philosophy. It's an incredibly rich, dense performance of a warm character. Its dynamics is very high and powerful, low bass extremely well controlled. Even the Harbeth's 30- cm woofers performed accordingly, realising Gerhard's ideas about bass extension and punch. There is a proper momentum, fullness, and full control. What one gets with Ayon's more expensive amplifiers, especially triode ones, is a better resolution and selectivity. But with Scorpio one gets a sweet - both in terms of appearance and sound – compact monoblocks that can work easily with a wide range of loudspeakers, including those with a more difficult impedance curve. And the performance is sooooo enjoyable! 

Design

Even in the dark it is clear that Scorpio Black is a product of Ayon Audio. The distinctive shape of the housings made of aluminium elements and the illuminated red logo (this is why in the dark is even easier to recognise this brand's products...) are unchanged for years. A novelty is the size of these particular devices – they are significantly smaller than any previous models, and it is because there is only one pair of power  tubes instead of two or even three of them. Gerhard decided to use KT88 beaming tetrodes, or to be exact the KT88sx, custom made for Ayon by a Chinese company Shuguang. The 12AU7 (unmarked) and 12AX7EH Russian Electro are employed as drivers and phase inverters. 

The power tubes work in class A in push-pull configuration, and one can choose the mode they work in - a classic pentode or triode. To change the mode one uses a button placed on the rear panel. Until recently, all amplifiers featured a toggle switch placed on top cover next to tubes. Ayon changed that for Scorpio for some reasons – either it didn't fit stylistically, or there was something else. From what I heard from some people, the Ayon devices are seen by some as an not reliable. I've been using their preamplifier for many, many years and nothing ever happened to it. The amplifiers used in accordance with instructions also perform very well for many years. Yet, they are not immune to stupidity. 

For years Gerhard has been developing his proprietary auto-bias system that allows tubes to always work in optimal conditions. Its calibration, however, was initially quite complicated, so many impatient users ruined their tubes and blamed amplifiers for that. And even after the procedure was simplified, nothing changed, except the direct cause of damage. Nowadays the tubes are usually damaged by the irresponsible use of the triode/pentode switch. And all one has to do to avoid that is to read the manual, which clearly states: DO NOT do this when the amplifier is switched on. First, turn off the power, wait 2 minutes to make a change and turn the power back on. And one does that - back to the description of this design – using a mechanical switch on the bottom panel. 

Behind the tubes there are two large housings with transformers inside – mains and output, cast in a special resin, which dampens vibrations and shields against RF and EM radiation. Each stage has a separate power supply and DC filament for tubes is regulated. The circuit includes choke for filtering power for tubes and a soft start system and inrush current limiting. The power on cycle takes approx. 1 minute, during which the illuminated logo on the front keeps flashing. 

On the back there is a single solid RCA input and three speaker terminals - separate one for 4 and 8 Ω loudspeakers (ground terminal is common for both). There is also a toggle switch that cuts off the signal's ground from chassis' ground. This might come handy if there is hum coming from speakers. 

It's a very solid device with the classic and characteristic Ayon design and appearance.

…….Wojciech Pacuta

...... a set of qualities that HA-3 proposes is hard to beat and simply irresistible. So could I not award it with RED Fingerprint? I simply don't have a choice here…
Wojciech Pacula

REVIEW SUMMARY - HA-3 presents music in an effortless way, with en ease but firmly. Anyone who has ever had earphones on his head for more than a short demo will be delighted with volume of the instruments. The sound is rich and dense, which translates into a large phantom images. It is especially clear when it comes to the vocal recordings and those with instruments that operate in the middle of the frequency range.

It's the kind of amplifier that doesn't force user to become picky about which music can and which shouldn't be played on it. 

Tube amplifiers occupy a special place in the audiophiles' heaven. The first Ayon's headphone amplifier sounds as if Austrians had years of experience designing this type of amps. It delivers a beautiful, big, warm sound, with absolutely no irritating, no bothering elements. This is high-end, so there is no masking of details and colors, not to mention the dynamics. I have no doubt that music lovers looking for excitement and emotion in the music will be delighted. Ayon by slightly emphasising lower midrange and not attacking listener with detail (and yet differentiating recording very well) will lead them to their own imaginary, private paradise.

s it possible to find even more refined, better sound? Sure – the top Woo Audio amplifiers (much more expensive, I should add) are even more resolving. But even they can not top Ayon in terms of this wonderful timbre presentation. And there is also Bakoon that goes even deeper into the recording, conveying in even better way its acoustics and more clearly emphasising the impact/attack that might have some significance for some eg. when listening to piano recordings. However, a set of qualities that HA-3 proposes is hard to beat and simply irresistible. So could I not award it with RED Fingerprint? I simply don't have a choice here…

EXTENDED REVIEW - It is very difficult to understand why companies specializing in devices based on electron tubes did not rush to the new market segment, which suddenly opened up to them - the headphone amplifiers' one. Very few really noticed this opportunity and made some effort to solve, it would seem, a simple problem, of creating an amplifier designed to drive headphones. Which is strange because this part of the audio market has been rapidly growing n the recent years attracting even some companies that never had anything to do with it.

It is no coincidence that today one finds headphones in lineups of many loudspeaker manufacturers even such prominent ones as: KEF, Bowers & Willkins , PSB, Focal JM-Lab etc., because all of them had the experience in the field of electromechanical transducers - although historically speaking, companies specializing in microphones became also specialist in headphone making. These are brands such as: Shure , AKG, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica, or Sony. But apart from them also some other companies with indirect experience, joined the “market fight” too, such as: Harman/Kardon (via Revel) or even some having no experience at all, such as: Audioquest and Cardas. The reason for this change was, it seems, a desire of expanding to a new market segment, that at the time wasn't that crowded as the other ones.

The number of new models, brands, designs available in the second decade of the 21st century is incredible. The more incomprehensible it seems to me the silence in this matter of such companies as: Kondo, Ancient Audio (apart from the solid-state P-1), Octave, Jadis http://www.jadis-electronics.com , and until recently also Ayon Audio. Why is this happening? Could it be, perhaps, because different laws apply to headphone amplifiers and one needs proper experience to design something that would be good enough to uphold company's reputation? Probably yes. But when someone takes the risk and devotes time and efforts to such purpose, they might come up with unique devices, such as ones offered by American Woo Audio. Let me remind you that in Poland, one of the most important pioneers of the tube headphone amplifiers was the Dubiel Accoustic company.

Or maybe there is another possibility - the owners and designers of companies focused on tube designs usually listen to music using high-efficiency loudspeakers, often large in size. It is not possible to transfer such sound into the world of headphones, because here room acoustics element is not involved. As it happens in life, probably both of these explanation include some truth but are incomplete and there must be some sort of a "trigger" to ignite a concept mechanism, a series of events that can culminate with the decision to build a headphone amplifier.

HA-3

HA-3, a tube headphone amplifier by Ayon Audio, was in a way, "inevitable", it just had to wait for the right time. And this time came, it seems to me, along with the Conquistador preamplifier, a completely new Ayon's design, which uses, instead of Siemens C3m pentode, used eg. by the German Post Office, the 45 triode, the AA45 Mesh version produced by Ayon. Precisely the same tubes can be found in the HA-3 amplifier. The are driven by the dual triode 12AU7, which is less common than 12AX7. The entire circuit works in class A.

The tubes look really nice in a small, but extremely robust housing, which is a smaller version of the chassis used, among the others, for Scorpio Black monoblocks. On the front side there is a knurled knob to adjust the volume, and next to it, an alphanumeric red LED display, which is lit only for a few seconds after one adjusts volume. HA-3 can be fed only with an unbalanced signal as it is an unbalanced design – the headphone output is also unbalanced. We can use a wide range of headphones with it - the manufacturer claims it will work fine with impedance loads between 16-600 Ω, which is very wide range.

HA-3 is a tube amplifier, but not entirely - is powered from the solid-state power supply. It received a separate chassis of the same size as the amplifier's, minus - of course - transformers and tubes on the top. The power features an on/off switch placed on its bottom. Both modules connect using a multi-core cable terminated with connectors similar to those used in Spheres III, only smaller.

A FEW WORDS WITH GERHARD HIRT - The Owner

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Who designed HA-3?

GERHARD HIRT: The HA-3 was designed by our two Preamp engineers, who are normally doing only Polaris, Spheris and Conquistador, but this time they got a special job and based on their preamp extensive experience they developed the HA-3.

Why did you choose 45 triode for this project?

We believe that the AA45 tube is the best sounding one for "low signal" designs, like in a preamp ( Conquistador) etc. and of course perfect for headphone amps, like the HA-3.

I've noticed that there are two coupling capacitors in signal's path instead of one, and additionally, two of different type …

Well observed: In this position where the cap is located, it is a very critical place and in the headphone amp more sensitive than in any other device.

We were trying so many caps but with none of them we were 100% satisfied until we started up with an unusual combination. Two totally different caps and also different values from even different series. The black one (Mundorf Supreme Evo – Silver Gold ) has only 0,001 uF capacity, which normally is too small to have any meaning, but when used in combination in this SET/DHT design with the white one, 0,47uF Mcap Evo, it delivers an outstanding performance. These two together add so much "air and space" – that caught us by surprise too, no other cap (of standard value between 0.1 to 0,47uF for this purpose) could do that. Again the black cap is not 0.1, or 0.01, it is ONLY 0.001uF, but is makes a huge difference in the HA-3 design!

The HA-3 is a two-box amplifier, powered from power grid. The power supply and the main part are connected using a flexible, quite long cable, so it's best if we put them on separate shelves. If side by side is necessary leave as much space between them as possible. During the test the amplifier section stood on its own feet, on the top shelf of Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack, while the power supply was placed on a lower shelf, additionally on the the Acoustic Revive RAF-48H anti-vibration platform. On top of the power supply I placed passive EMI/RFI Verictum X-Block filters. The device was powered using Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved Version (2 m) and Hijiri SMT 'Takumi' Maestro (2 m) power cables.

The amplifier was compared with a "High Fidelity's" reference, the battery-powered Bakoon Products HPA-21, using its current output. I used also the Synergistic Research HOT filter. The basic headphones for this test were the phenomenal HiFiMAN models - HE-1000 V2 and V2 Edition X, but I also tried it with: AKG K271 Studio, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Limited Edition (32 Ω), Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro (600 Ω), Sennheiser HD800 and HiFiMAN HE-6.

No one would probably say anything, if the HA-3 proved to be one of those devices that being the first in company's history, opening a new area of interest, was a good, successful, maybe even really successful product, and yet not quite as good as what this company offers in other areas o its activities. In the specialist, perfectionist industry, which audio is a part of, the first, second and third key factor when making a great sounding device is: experience, experience and experience, while money and reputation might only support it but never replace it.

But the truth is that the Ayon headphone amplifier is a mature product. That means that it delivers performance as if there were many other amps of this type in Austrian company's lineup before, and it was the culmination of this road towards perfection, a ripe fruit of many years of effort. This maturity/ripeness is based on filling in the outlines with a living tissue.

HA-3 presents music in an effortless way, with en ease but firmly. Anyone who has ever had earphones on his head for more than a short demo will be delighted with volume of the instruments. The sound is rich and dense, which translates into a large phantom images. It is especially clear when it comes to the vocal recordings and those with instruments that operate in the middle of the frequency range.

Madrygały by Gesualdo performed by La Compagnia del Madrigale are the best example, but it's not about narrowing the repertoire to the acoustic, ascetic music captured in a real acoustic environment of the church. Because I perceived exactly the same way the Rosemary Clooney Sings Ballads album and – which should better work for your imagination - Dummy by Portishead. Every album, whether jazz, rock, classic confirmed what I heard at the very first moment: Ayon offers a truly beautiful performance!

It's the kind of amplifier that doesn't force user to become picky about which music can and which shouldn't be played on it. Despite the fact that we're talking about a device that does not mask the own character of each recording, at most it appropriately corrects them. It's a real high-end amplifier, so it delivers a lot of information about the recording. Yes, these are slightly modified (every audio device modifies the signal in some way), but these are planned changes resulting from a certain idea for the sound, developed by Ayon's engineers and Gerhard Hirt's approved. They do not go towards blurring of differences, nor quench problems, but rather offer somewhat different perspective for each recording.

HE-3 proposes a big scale, warm sound. I'm not an orthodox and I don't blindly push for certain solutions, such as tube, for example. But I also understand perfectly what they bring to the sound which polarizes audiophile strongly – most either love tubes or hate them. Ayon clearly benefits from their advantages and raises them to the level of art. Above all, it saturates sound with harmonics, that we usually perceive as emotions. If emotions are what you are looking for in the music, you won't b disappointed, there will be plenty. As with that said Portishead album.

Being a pioneer of trip-hop, this group recorded their debut album in the lo-fi style, with two track even being recorded in mono. Still, with devices such as HA-3, the album makes an electrifying impression. The beautiful It Could Be Sweet and Glory Box tightly filled the space between the headphones without attacking with a mass of the sound, or even less so with excessive detail, which is not liked by both. headphone novices (those with claustrophobic sensation) and the experienced headfiers (those in turn, know this trick and how tiring it might get). I do not know whether this was the intention of Gerhard, but it seems to me that HE-3 in many respects emulates the sound qualities I know from Crossfire Evo amplifier, working with my Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers.

So: there is this richness and density of the sound. The attack is slightly mitigated, and the main emphasis is placed on the sustain phase of sound, which results in exactly what we talk about here, the “mass” of the sound. It's a presentation with large instruments, their have clearly rendered bodies, which promotes direct sound over the reflected (echo) one. If it was just a warm, dense sound, an impression foreground domination would be clear – I mean in headphone listening categories. And here the sound is a little more distant from us. The binaural recordings do part of the job for us, regardless of the system, but with the HA-3 the sound is not right in front of our noses, but rather a little further - both with this special type of recordings and with classic albums.

At the same time the edges of the "soundstage", meaning sounds located to the extreme left and right are shown wider (further away from each other) than with my reference, Bakoon Products HPA-21. It's one of the things that are so intriguing about the Ayon amplifier. The space in front of us is fully filled with sounds. Bakoon delivers a narrower stage, and the instruments have a slightly smaller volume. Paradoxically, it is Korean amplifier that presents events closer to the listener ie. the sound in axis is closer, more accurate and clearer. Ayon, because it delivers a large volume sound, makes similar an impression, but only for a moment.

Both range extremes are serving the midrange with Austrian device. Not to the narrow mids but to a wide sound panorama where cymbals in the top and lower end can be heard in a less clear and direct way, as with the Bakoon. This modification is unambiguous, but its assessment is not. Bakoon offers a cleaner sound and more accurately defined phantom images, so what? Ayon is not as resolving, does not define everything in such a perfect way, and yet the sound with it seems to be truer.

Which reminds me listening to Master CD-Rs and comparing them with regular CD version during the meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society # 105. Opinions were divided as Master CD-R sounded more like Bakoon and CD as Ayon. I know that what's on the CD-R is closer to the “truth” of mastering studio, I heard it, but I can not fail to notice that the CD changes the sound towards richness and sweetness of vinyl record. Hardly anyone will tell you that vinyl doesn't sound natural - not necessarily in a way one artist sees it (see. EMADE – (S)TWORZYCIEL ), but certainly it is never not natural. And that's how HA-3 sounds like.

It doesn't really matter what headphones will one use. Ayon will perfectly show their own character, but it implements its “filters” that add some density and weight to the sound and slightly rounds the top end. Bass is well extended and only Bakoon can control it a little better where other amplifiers fail at all. Even so difficult to drive headphones as AKG K271 Studio and 32-ohm version of the Limited Edition model DT-770 Pro Beyerdynamic sounded classy. But it turned out to be a phenomenal combination between HA-3 and my well over 15 years old DT-990 Pro (600 Ω). It delivered a great tonal balance and beautiful spacing. The amplifier proved powerful enough so that the HE-6, which is usually to difficult for most headphone amplifiers, played very well without compression and distortion.

SUMMARY

tbe amplifiers occupy a special place in the audiophiles' heaven. The first Ayon's headphone amplifier sounds as if Austrians had years of experience designing this type of amps. It delivers a beautiful, big, warm sound, with absolutely no irritating, no bothering elements. This is high-end, so there is no masking of details and colors, not to mention the dynamics. I have no doubt that music lovers looking for excitement and emotion in the music will be delighted. Ayon by slightly emphasizing lower midrange and not attacking listener with detail (and yet differentiating recording very well) will lead them to their own imaginary, private paradise.

Is it possible to find even more refined, better sound? Sure – the top Woo Audio amplifiers (much more expensive, I should add) are even more resolving. But even they can not top Ayon in terms of this wonderful timbre presentation. And there is also Bakoon that goes even deeper into the recording, conveying in even better way its acoustics and more clearly emphasizing the impact/attack that might have some significance for some eg. when listening to piano recordings. However, a set of qualities that HA-3 proposes is hard to beat and simply irresistible. So could I not award it with RED Fingerprint? Of course I simply don't have a choice here…

DESIGN

A robust aluminum housing, black anodized, is sort of Ayon's trademark. HA-3 received its smaller version, but it by no means is less rigid or less resistant to vibration. Theoretically, one could place one on the top of the other, but it would be contrary to the idea of separation - it's better to place them on separate shelves and, if there is no other choice, next to each other. The device feature small, plastic feet, which probably the owners will quickly swap with so specialized anti-vibration products – I'd recommend ones from Pro Audio Bono or flat ones made by Franz Audio Accessories.

The internal design seems quite elaborate, ie. high quality component were used and they didn't forget about such things as high current filament-regulator for pre/driver tubes. Gerhard says that there are "two regulators, 5 A each, or 10 A for a tube, also for the 12AU7 tubes." The power supply is built around large toroidal transformer with multiple secondary windings. The anode voltage is choke-filtered separately for each channel.

The amplifier circuit is mounted on several small PCBs. One of them is a driver section for power tubes, with two double 12AU7 triodes, one per channel. Tubes come from China and have no indication of the manufacturer. In turn, the output tubes are these great-looking AA45 triodes with Ayon logo. Selected polypropylene capacitors, soldered in parallel operate as couplers: Mundorf Supreme Evo - Silver Gold with a capacity of 0,001 uF Mundorf MCAP and Evo with a capacity of 0.47 uF. These particular caps were selected as a result of numerous listening tests.

Volume is changed in high-performance stereo volume control Burr Brown PGA2310 – a knob on the front panel works with encoder. For RCA inputs Ayon used gold-plated, high quality jacks. But I am more than confident that there will be those, who are going to ask for some Furutech or WBT ones instead. A signal to the tubes is delivered via long interconnects.

.....Wojciech Pacula

Spheris III is a perfect fit for me. I could easily enjoy music with every of the above mentioned preamplifiers and be really happy about it, but it is Ayon that comes closest to my personal expectations, that is the best "fit......
Wojciech Pacuła,

REVIEW SUMMARY: As of today the Spheris III really nor reasonably cannot be improved anymore; it is matured in itself for almost 23 years and brought to perfection as perhaps no other series tube preamplifier on the actual world market.

One can't really overrate preamplifier's role in audio system. From time perspective I can now see that preamplifier shapes the final sound in a way that is more difficult to perceive (unlike when one changes amplifier, speakers, or source). But it is a preamplifier that plays the key role, that sets a sonic direction for the whole system. In my opinion top models of speakers of most brands aren't really their best ones, when it comes to amplifiers and digital sources sometimes top models are the best and sometimes they are not, but when it comes to preamplifiers flagships always offer top performance.

Spheris III is not only Ayon's flagship linestage but it is also one of the best linestages I've listened so far to. What's more—the set of features it brings to the table, the way it shapes the sound of my system is almost perfectly "tailored" to my needs and expectations. In other words, Spheris III is a perfect addition to "High Fidelity's" reference system making it complete. I am sure that it is still possible to create even better device, and I am sure it will be developed. But I also realize that it will be very, very difficult and it will take a lot of time. How do I know that? Well, I've been waiting for Spheris III in its today's form for 10 years!

Spheris III allows listener to hear or understand exactly what I am talking about. It adds some density, richness to the sound, it increases the depth of the sound. That means it modifies sound in such a way to fit a huge church, stadium, or a large club into a very limited space listener has in his room. I like that! That's what I want/need/expect. I think that this sort of sound modification is the right one for a high-end audio in general. It allows a system to convey more layers of music.

With Spheris there are large, very distinct, palpable, intense phantom images rendered in space. Each of them combines many layers that overlap one another to create something that I would describe as "natural" sound, assuming that "natural" means: causing impressions similar to those we experience during live concert. That means that this "artificiality" of music reproduction is somehow not an issue here. It is still not the same thing as "live music", it is "an impression of naturalness". One listens to the music and gets sucked in.

EXTENDED REVIEW: My memories from (I think) the first edition of High End Show in Munich (after it moved from Frankfurt's Kempinsky Hotel), survived in few "capsules". Each of them contains a part of me, but also – as I can see it now – sort of prelude to the future events. That's what happened in 2005 in Munich where I met for the first time (among others) Mr Fabio Camorani, the owner of Audio Nemesie, Ms Eunice Kron, chief of KR Audio, Mr Hervé Delétraz—the boss of darTZeel and many, many others. It was also then when I first talked to Dirk Sommer, who, at the time, was a Chief Editor of Image Hi-Fi . and today is a Chief Editor of hifistatement.net.

All these people were really nice and friendly and I started a cooperation with some of them right away. One thing they all had in common was a certain reservation about Polish audio market and Polish audio journalist as they were all convinced that there was no high end market in our country. So they all suggested that if I wanted to review some of their products it should be rather something not too expensive. I mean, they all said that in a very nice, indirect way, but it was what they meant.

A year later even though I'd known many of them already for a year, their approach was still about the same. They were still nice, friendly and very professional but they still didn't see Poland as a market for their top products .

In 2006 I saw something that really stayed in my head for a long time: products of Ayon Audio. And again, just like a representative of Soulution later, someone for Ayon (probably the owner, Gerhard Hirt, but it was a long time ago so I can't be sure) didn't really think that any of their products could be reviewed by "HighFidelity" in a foreseeable future. I was disappointed since I fell in love at the first sight with Spheris preamplifier presented this year. It looked great (you can see its picture in my Show coverage), sounded even better and immediately became my personal Holy Grail.

As it turned out less then ten years was more then enough to completely change the (audio) world. Most manufacturers I met then now are present on Polish market and for many of them Poland is the second biggest, and sometimes even the biggest market in Europe. A Soulution power amplifier has been a part of my reference system for a few years now. And Gerhard Hirt (Ayon CEO) is a friend and an honorary member of Cracow Sonic Society. What's more, his preamplifier, Polaris (only second to the top of the line, Spheris), has been my pride and joy for the last few years. We live in interesting times and it is (unlike the meaning of this saying in China) a good sign.

The Polaris preamplifier, in its few versions, has been a part, or rather a heart, the key element of my reference system since 2009, meaning since my review that was published in "High Fidelity" in April that year (issue No. 60). Over this time it underwent several upgrades.

The more expenise Spreis version that is under review was already marked with number "II". The gain stage was based on Siemens C3m penthode working in triode mode, it sported a tube power supply and a volume control based on step-up transformer. After the review I bought this device as I couldn't image my system without it.

A little while later Gerhard with his engineers developed a completely new power supply, well—a power conditioner actually, still using tubes and generating high voltage sinusoid for signal tubes. Improvement of sound quality was significant but the character of the sound remained the same. I had no choice but to upgrade my preamplifier by purchasing the new power supply. The new version was now called Polaris III.

And I was happy. Until, in 2009, I listened to the top of the line Spheris II. This was a game changing experience despite the fact that I knew, more or less, what to expect. After this review, knowing I couldn't afford changing my Polaris III for Spheris II, I asked Gerhard if he could upgrade my preamplifier. It was a custom one-time job, and the result was called Polaris III [Custom Version]. The upgrades included changing all passive elements for the same as used in top preamplifier, and also upgrading few other details. Progress in sound quality was significant and while performance was still not the same as offered by Spheris, I was happy again.

But I knew then already that sooner or later I would have to get myself Ayon's top of the line preamp. So even when Ayon presented Polaris IV, despite the fact I appreciated another progress of performance it introduced, I still wanted Spheris III.

It took Ayon five years of hard work to develop improvements worth implementing. They concern mostly the volume control. It is still based on step-up transformers, but now these are controlled by sophisticated electronic system and contact relays instead of mechanical pot. Another element of this solution is an alphanumeric display on the front panel that allows user to read a current volume level.

The prototype of this device premiered in Munich in 2013 and the same unit was a part of a system awarded with Best Sound Audio Show 2013. It took Ayon another year to finalize the production of this device. I have received one of the first production units for a review. And it stayed for good…

A few simple words…

GERHARD HIRT (Ayon Audio | CEO)

Gerhard Hirt with Spheris III, prototype – Audio Show 2013, Warsaw
In the year 2000 one of the developers of my single-ended amplifiers visited me with a prototype of a free-wired preamplifier mounted on a wooden board. He succinctly asked me to completely unbiased listen to "the thing". It always was his hobby to make experiments with exceptional and crazy concepts (on this board he has worked secretly for almost 8 years, and he never mentioned about it) and he knew all our top preamplifiers very well we were distributing at that time. Actually he also made the service of all foreign brands.

But on this wooden board there were the cheapest components etc. and connections respectively and everything looked so different (even the C3m tubes) from a "normal" preamplifier which I was used to. Actually I did not really want to listen to this thing, but as luck would have it, my reference preamp struck and had to get the tubes changed.

What I heard then completely turned upside down all my imaginations of the previous preamps. Abruptly also tonally many things were different, an airiness, speed, incredible sound colors, plenty of transparency and deep dimensional picture and everything so tangibly true or a spatiality I did not know before - and this from a "wooden board model" with simplest components, barely enough to make it work. Spheris I (first version, with small power supply) – High End 2006, Munich

I said to myself that in the design of preamps this happens only once every 20 years. We sat together and talked about a possible small limited series production, but first the wooden board had to give way to a real prototype housing and we needed an adequate power supply. Then we started working, first with the components. We started to change the components on a high level, but then noticed that this preamp (a special C3m triode/penthode design) reacted very stubbornly to components and hence again and again we had to listen to every component and try out new arrangements. The component mix was very delicate and we reduced the unnecessary components wherever possible; but with every component less the total became "to the square" more difficult to master. Additionally also the C3m tube itself made life difficult: this posttube frivolously tends to microphony and therefore is difficult to handle for audio application. Its tonal properties are beyond any discussion, no small signal tube (e.g. ECC81, 82, 83, 88, 6SN7, 6H30 etc.) is able to hold a candle to it. For years we needed to reach deeply into our bag of technical tricks to eliminate this disadvantage. Until today we do not know, where someone seriously came to grips with this problem; however, immediately after the presentation of the Spheris there were 2 top preamps with C3m, but they disappeared after a very short time. I have also seen some "funny" power amps using a C3m as driver for the 300B, this never can work cleanly and satisfactorily.

5 more years passed until all critical points were finished or solved and the first serial Spheris was put on the market in 2005. We had never thought, that we had to go into so many uncharted waters to reach technical maturity; incredibly many difficulties as every piece in the preamp had a big influence on the sound, many in-house purpose-built items as the design was completely different from everything previously known; we even had to change the housing and the layout 3 times until we were completely satisfied. But the first success of the Spheris showed us that we were absolutely right and over and over we were overwhelmed by the worldwide feedback. But they were 15 long painful years with many setbacks, until this concept could be developed from the first prototype design to technical maturity.

This stimulated us further to promptly improve the original design and its peripherals around this circuitry.

Another 5 years passed until the Spheris II appeared on the market in 2010; a completely novel tube power supply with re-generator (a re-generator which now was adopted perfectly to all internal operating voltages and we bypassed the bothersome re-transformation to 230 V as is necessary for traditional re-generators). And we developed chokes combined with film cap filtering, the peak of feasibility for a preamp power supply.

Spheris II
Then came the next milestone: the step-switched 4-channel ELMA volume potentiometer with 192 resistors of the Spheris I had to be replaced. There was only one acceptable solution: super-permalloy transformers placed on the output (not one resistor in the volume control system); an extreme challenge as here a completely different requirement (voltages) had to be considered; in the sense of being different from positioning the volume control at the input as is the case of almost every conventional preamps. We used up an enormous number of test equipment of step-up transformers until the right tonal combination of number of coils and transformation etc. became evident.

The Spheris II again set a landmark based upon the legendary Spheris I and was built for 5 years. By the way, every Spheris is assembled by hand and tested by only one person (no work-share with others) from A to Z. This assembly is extremely complex and a great challenge of craftsmanship. 

Spheris III, prototype – Audio Show 2013, Warsaw
But there was still another "little something" that annoyed us to make the Spheris II absolutely perfect down to the very last detail; we wanted a volume control without any mechanical switching support via potentiometer. The idea was to drive the 4 super permalloy step up transformers not by means of a mechanical potentiometer (Spheris II) but by a sophisticated electronic control system. Consequently, we needed an encoder instead of a mechanical pot, every single super permalloy transformer got its PCB with 24 reed relays each and an MCU with special software (i.e. in total 96 relays an 4 MCU components). This MCU receives the switching signals from the encoder potentiometer, processes them accordingly and with every operation always switches 8 relay contacts with a switching speed of 2/1000th seconds.

The development of this system took 3 years and even our digital specialists had to tackle this task to scrupulously adopt the software for the precise 4 time MCU-control! Thus, the most complex volume control ever incorporated into a tube preamplifier was born. In 2014 at last the series production of the Spheris III preamplifier started.

As of today the Spheris III really nor reasonably cannot be improved anymore; it is matured in itself for almost 23 years and brought to perfection as perhaps no other series tube preamplifier on the actual world market.

SOUND

Recordings used during test (a selection)
Zapach psiej sierści, soundtrack, music by Włodzimierz Nahorny, GAD Records GAD CD 019, "Limited Edition 500 Copies", CD (2014)
• Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby, Riverside Records/Analogue Productions APJ009, "Top 25 Jazz", Limited Edition #0773, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1961/2008).
• Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby's Greatest Hits, Decca Records/MCA Records, MCA-3031, LP (1941-1945/1977).
• Chet Baker Quartet, Chet Baker Quartet feat. Dick Twardick, Barclay Disques/Sam Records, "Limited Edition", 180 g LP (1955/2011).
• Cream, Disraeli Gears, Polydor/Universal Music LLC UICY-40023, Platinum SHM-CD (1967/2013).
• Depeche Mode, Ultra, Mute/Sony Music Labels, Blu-spec CD2, (2007/2014).
• Hans Theesink, Live at Jazzland, Sommelier Du Son sds 0016-1, 180 g LP (2014).
• Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems, Sony Music Labels SICP-4329, CD (2014);
• Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonatas op. 109, 110 and 111, piano: Evgeni Korolov, Tacet 208, "The Koroliov Series Vol. XVI", CD (2014).
• Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCO-40005, Platinum SHM-CD, (1958/2013)
• Pet Shop Boys, PopArt: Pet Shop Boys – The Hits, Parlophone/Toshiba-EMI TOCP-66252-54, 3 x CCD (2003).
• Queen, Queen Forever, Virgin/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-15347/8, 2 x SHM-CD (2014).
• The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elektra Entertainment Group/Audio Fidelity AFZ 187, "Limited Edition No. 0115", SACD/CD (1965/2014).

One can't really overrate preamplifier's role in audio system. From time perspective I can now see that preamplifier shapes the final sound in a way that is more difficult to perceive (unlike when one changes amplifier, speakers, or source). But it is a preamplifier that plays the key role, that sets a sonic direction for the whole system. In my opinion top models of speakers of most brands aren't really their best ones, when it comes to amplifiers and digital sources sometimes top models are the best and sometimes they are not, but when it comes to preamplifiers flagships always offer top performance.

Spheris III is not only Ayon's flagship linestage but it is also one of the best linestages I've listened so far to. What's more—the set of features it brings to the table, the way it shapes the sound of my system is almost perfectly "tailored" to my needs and expectations. In other words, Spheris III is a perfect addition to "High Fidelity's" reference system making it complete. I am sure that it is still possible to create even better device, and I am sure it will be developed. But I also realize that it will be very, very difficult and it will take a lot of time. How do I know that? Well, I've been waiting for Spheris III in its today's form for 10 years!

It's primary feature is sound's density. This element can be also interpreted as rich, mature sound, as the ability to convey the full body of each sound and not just its leading edge. It's like a colouring book for children, or a painting in its frame. The more of this "something" that fills the frame in, the better, the more natural, or should I say: the more palpable the content of it is. Using the word "natural" for anything coming from a system that only reproduces live music probably isn't really justified. Transferring a live event in 1:1 proportions to our home using any audio system is not possible.

What we get is always sort of approximation of reality and an artistic creation at the same time. People responsible for it are: musicians, producers, sound engineers, and also (especially when it comes to pop music) record labels. It so happens that we, audiophiles, attribute significant role also to companies manufacturing the final audio medium, or selling audio file.

Anyway the "naturalness" is one of key features of any audio system. But it is not that easily defined, its definition might change or "bend" in particular cases. Because since the reproduction of music in our home is sort of creation that imitates live event, this "naturalness" has to be different from the one of live concert. It has to appeal to our sensitivity to beauty.

Spheris III allows listener to hear or understand exactly what I am talking about. It adds some density, richness to the sound, it increases the depth of the sound. That means it modifies sound in such a way to fit a huge church, stadium, or a large club into a very limited space listener has in his room. I like that! That's what I want/need/expect. I think that this sort of sound modification is the right one for a high-end audio in general. It allows a system to convey more layers of music.

Another amazing feature of Spheris is how resolving it is. It was already an advantage of Polaris III. But having a chance to compare it with competitors like: Thrax Dionysos (see HERE), Robert Koda's Takumi K-15, or ML Ni52, I realised that Polaris had its limitations. They didn't really bother me as they were a part of the whole sound concept that I liked, but I realised they existed. Top High end is about getting rid of any limitations, so surely I wanted these gone.

Spheris III in this aspect is a totally different device. Only the above mentioned Mark Levinson came close (among linestages I reviewed). And on top of that Ayon offered also this immense richness of the sound that Levinson couldn't quite match.

With Spheris there are large, very distinct, palpable, intense phantom images rendered in space. Each of them combines many layers that overlap one another to create something that I would describe as "natural" sound, assuming that "natural" means: causing impressions similar to those we experience during live concert. That means that this "artificiality" of music reproduction is somehow not an issue here. It is still not the same thing as "live music", it is "an impression of naturalness". One listens to the music and gets sucked in.

The reviewed preamplifier sports only a single gain stage using tubes. Such minimalist setups, especially one using tubes, are hardly something one would suspect of delivering a very focused sound and a truly deep bass at the same time. But that's exactly what this linestage delivers. It was were obvious with Soulution 710 power amp and Harbeth M40.1 and Trenner & Fried Isis speakers. Both loudspeakers sport huge bass woofers so are well equipped to deliver even lowest bass notes. Bass not only went really deep, it was also amazingly rich, and it seemed to still have some headroom no matter how deep it went or how much energy was already released. That allowed the system to present more of other things—it conveyed acoustics of the recording in a better way, more dynamics shades, tiniest tone shifts and so on. Almost all other preamplifiers I know tended to homogenise those tiny differences.

It wasn't cold, emotionless sound that we get—unfortunately—from most passive preamplifiers or from sources with adjustable output signal level (with some exceptions like from: dCS and Ancient Audio). Those devices do homogenize those small differences to even larger extent. They don't really differentiate them, they try to "carve" those differences out and that has nothing to do with music, it might, at most, has to do with technical issues.

I've praised bass so much because this part of the range is a foundation for everything that happens up the range. Yes, there is a beautiful, colorful, rich and resolving treble that seems to be bit darker than with Mark Levinson №52. It is not as warm as absolutely exceptional (in this aspect), but to be honest I don't think I've ever heard something like Canadian linestage before. Ayon presents a slightly subdued picture comparing with a true world. It's like it was saving us something, like it presented to us only what it "believes" is good for us. That's a very subtle feature of this preamplifier but since on this level of top high end every little detail matters, getting it the way we want it costs a lot of money, I had to mention it for you to know what to expect if you plan to buy it for your system.

Before I wrote this review I had listened to Spheris III for a few months, using it in combination with different systems and different speakers. And before that I had listened to it couple of times during shows in yet another systems. So I could keep writing about it for a long time. But it would be pointless really —if you decide to treat seriously what you have already read, putting for a moment aside a reasonable approach of not completely believing in what you read (which is reasonable and understandable!), if you really ACCEPT what I've already written you already know almost everything you need to about this preamplifier.

And yet, I'd like to add a few words about soundstage. The whole idea of delivering a three-dimensional space via two speakers is somewhat artificial. When it comes to recordings done with microphones, i.e. with acoustic or electric instruments (the latter with their own sound sources like Leslie speakers for Hammonds, or guitar amplifiers, and so on), the space/soundstage is determined by the microphone technique chosen by a person conducting this recording. Whatever choices this person makes they always have some downsides, but they also have something that other techniques do not offer. Putting few techniques together will result in emphasizing some elements at the expense of others—that's how it goes. When it comes to studio recordings stereo effect is always in fact a realization of recording's producer vision.

It is sometimes hard to understand how in a particular case such a believable holography of the recording was achieved using such a unreliable means that producers had at their disposal. I'd say that we play some active role here too—we just got used to certain way of presentation and, unconsciously, we adapt to it by using or applying our experiences from concerts to what we can hear at home. It kind of replaces what we can really hear. It seems to work really well.

The micro-information about phase and level are conveyed by Spheris III in a uniquely good way. Only Mark Levinson and Thrax did something similar, but they were different in presenting other elements.

With Ayon soundstage becomes a part of the room and speakers are no longer perceived as sources of the sound. Even when the sounds came directly from the speaker, which happens with some stereo recordings from 50ties and 60ties, I could usually hear them BEHIND speaker, or from the same place in space where the speaker was. If the idea behind particular recording was to surround listener with the sound I truly felt surrounded with it. Sounds coming from behind my head? Absolutely and not only with Roger Waters' Amused to Death but also with some stereophonic Opus3 recordings and some others too. A dense, focused presentation.

Summary

It's the richness of the sound, its energy that makes this presentation so emotionally engaging. Almost every recording I listened to was an interesting experience assuming that music was actually interesting, of course. But even these bit boring, or those I'd been avoiding (for whatever reason) became interesting, involving. I can't really image a better recommendation for an audio product.

It is still not an "absolute sound", as it doesn't exist, it's just an idea that everybody pursues. There are few more devices that I liked very much, each of them offering something that others didn't: Tenor Audio Line 1 - richness and warmth, Solution 720 - amazing smoothness and coherence, Dionysos Thrax Audio consistency, richness and smoothness, and Mark Levinson offered it all plus remarkable openness in higher frequency and sheer energy in each sub-range, ( but the Ayon Spheris III still wins out).

The point is that each of us has to find his/her perfect fit, like a perfect pair of gloves that fit. If the fit isn't perfect it will bother you on some level and it won't matter whether there will actually be a problem with a glove or a hand. Spheris III is a perfect fit for me. I could easily enjoy music with every of the above mentioned preamplifiers and be really happy about it, but it is Ayon that comes closest to my personal expectations, that is the best "fit" for me and my system. And that's why it has become a part of my reference system. It allows my system to sound in a very pleasant, satisfying way, while still being a useful tool for a reviewer. It encourages me to listen without hiding weaknesses but also allowing me to ignore them. But it is ME who ignores them and not my system, it is my choice. That's the role of a reference system.
........
Wojciech Pacuła,

GOLD FINGERPRINT

AYON AUDIO SPHERIS III
Development of current version of this preamplifier took 25 years—it is really hard to imagine—a quarter of a century! That also means 25 years of investing in a project—it took not only a lot of time but also effort and money. Spheris III playing music confirms in every millisecond that it's been a damn good investment worth every penny, sweat and minute spend on development. It is remarkable in every aspect. It offers its own vision of sound that is rather different then better than few other equally fantastic linestages.

This was a "no-brainer" for me. This device pushes all buttons inside my head that make listening to the music a pure pleasure and a challenge at the same time. This preamplifier works flawlessly with any power amplifier and any source. It is built of innovation and passion. And passion is a bonus we get with it, it is what makes it special and not just another product. This is priceless for every music lover.

DESIGN
The Spheris no. III repeats the idea Ayon used already in 2005 for version no. I—separate casings for power supply and the rest of the device. Starting with no. 'II' casing started to look similar to that of Polaris, i.e. with round corners and all panels made of aluminum. Also large chromed knobs are similar. These allow to select an active input, control volume and set balance between right and left channel. There is an additional element that makes it easy to differentiate Spheris from Polaris—all knobs have a round, red, backlit acrylic bands around them. The backlit can be switched off with a small switch placed on the back of the device. It is so discrete though that I never felt a need to do so. On a front panel there is another new element—a small alphanumeric display showing current volume.

This last element make you wonder—why there is exactly the same knob for volume control taken from version 'II' that sports a large dot that help you to recognize the position of this round knob. This dot was useful before but now the knob controls encoder and just turns round and round. So in fact this dot misleads user.

There are two small red LEDs next to the knob that indicate that device is on (same as those red bands around knobs) and the other shows when "mute" function is active.

The back panel looks very nice. There are two rows of RCA sockets and XLR input and output—it is a fully balanced device. There are six inputs—one balanced and five unbalanced, and as many as four outputs—one balanced and two unbalanced (with adjustable signal level), and one tape out that might be also use to send signal to headphone amplifier. But to use it the device must be on.

Sockets are arranged in a different way than in previous versions—before Gerhard used Audio Research's system, with right (red) channel on top, and left (white) below. Most manufacturers use opposite arrangement and this device also uses it.

All electronic circuits are mounted on few PCBs. The most important of them are the ones with four horizontally mounted Siemens C3m penthodes—the ones in my unit were made before II World War and come from a supply of German post. Each of them works in triode mode, a pair works in each channel—as channels are balanced they require two tubes for right and two tubes for left channel.

It is amazingly simple circuit, at least if we consider only a signal transfer. Signal goes from inputs to the PCB with relays. Then, with cables, it goes to the front of the device, to four (two per channel) transformers with multiple tappings. Signal level is changed via change of ratio between primary and secondary winding. It is the same solution as the one used in Music Firts Audio preamplifiers for example.

Transformers with classic core are made by Ayon in-house, and to switch windings they used an innovative system of relays instead of mechanical switch they used previously. And finally signal reaches tubes, and than the output via a single large Mundorf MCap Supreme Silver/Gold capacitor. All passive elements were carefully selected during listening sessions and all, obviously, are high class ones. There are Lundahl transformers in the input section—signal from RCA inputs is symmetrized and then processed in balanced form.

The power supply sits in a separate casing but its small part is located in the main casing of the device. There is a large Lundahl choke and two huge polypropylene capacitors that are a part of power supply circuit for anode. There are no electrolytic capacitors in tubes' power supply circuit.

The main unit is connected with external power supply with a multi-core umbilical. Cable for Spheris III is more flexible and it sports much larger plug than the one for Polaris III (have a look at the picture in the gallery).

Power supply sports two large (I mean high-power amplifier large) toroidal transformers, shielded with metal covers. The anode voltage is rectified in CV135 tubes, full-wave rectifier, with polypropylene capacitor following. As you can see both channels use the same power supply. It seems that the second transformer supplies a large PCB at the back of main unit's casing, that transforms voltage from power grid into pure sinusoid @ 60Hz. You can see this value displayed on the front panel of the device. Only this "re-generated" voltage is sent to transformer that supplies power to the main unit. This whole circuit is called: AC~ ReGenerator.

This device has a classic Ayon's looks with extremely solid casing, engraved writings on it and anty-vibration feet. It still benefits from a good anti-vibration platform and even more advanced feet – I use Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc Classic. The whole electronic circuit seems very simple from electric point of view but its execution is very complex. Power supply itself is as important as the circuit supplying it.

The Ayon Spheris III will be out of reach for most of us who can afford them but to which they had indulged! It is the best that the market has to offer.
JÜRGEN SAILE (review is a Google translation)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The precursor meets all sonic aspects of the high-Ender could want: high resolution, transparent reproduction, plenty of tone colours, excellent dynamics, Prat ... Did I forget something? The Ayon brings us the musicians back into the living room, so playback is a bit more direct. An important point I would like to highlight, which is the consistency of Play. No frequency range is preferred in some way, the music is presented as a whole. If I even arrive with the famous black background, it is immediately: hackneyed phrase! True, but if this is true anywhere, then at the Spheris! Here obviously makes the elaborate PSU paid. In this context, a further point: The Play differs much less of how the grid is loaded, or in other words: It sounds on Sunday evening not much different than on Monday, when all their electrical appliances running have. The Spheris III can depict instruments very vivid and three-dimensional, this I know, in the form actually only of amplifiers with directly heated triode.

The incredible stage presence of Baker in this piece comes across incredibly well. In other words, the Spheris III manages a frighteningly acting holographic reproduction.

A negative press deteriorates karma of the author. This is the conclusion one could come to what is read;however, it is much easier, I simply found nothing negative. The development of the model III has taken a long time, much has been tried, but it was worth it!

EXTENDED REVIEW: What happens when a company like Ayon Audio pulls out all the stops and the technicians of the leash can?The controller together with cutbacks in the holidays sends? That's what happened with the new Spheris III precursor. At least it seems. But I will do the devil and tell all equal

We have two adult units in front of us, the one containing the power supply, the other is the actual precursor.Together supple 43 kg and a width of 50 centimetres, which have to be housed in the rack. This is not enchanted integrated amplifier, but a Line Level! The enclosures have the typical Ayon-shape, black anodised with rounded corners and chrome knobs. In addition to volume and input selection, there is also a balance control, almost a rarity nowadays!

As the name suggests, is about to see the third incarnation. But before it is philosophically now and also outweighs the curiosity, we the device but to hear us once. Quick and dirty, so to speak. In addition I have Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan's Carnegie Hall Concert selected. West Coast jazz of the 50's at its best!However, here in a somewhat up Bretz sparkled cast with guitar, vibraphone and piano. Unusually, for a piano would only water down the sound, so Mulligan once said. Not to mention a guitar. The soft, lyrical tone of Bakers trumpet - at that time he still had all his teeth - with "My Funny Valentine" is about the Spheris III pure goosebumps music. Unless one is a goose. Only trumpet and bass, as if lost in the comparatively huge Carnegie Hall, the audience is quiet as a mouse. Toll like this probably unique atmosphere on the Ayon comes across. If that's not a good place to start, or otherwise thought: Actually, I did not expect anything else. Although it should be said that the device only has a half-day warm-up on the hump and you really should write about nothing at this stage. But the curiosity just ...

Usually family are used in the tube preamps for reinforcing European types of ECC .... This is a cost-effective solution, especially here mostly products from China or else where used. That came for Ayon course out of the question, so you have to use a "German authorities tube" chosen from the 50-ies. It uses a NOS C3m pentode, which had been constructed by Siemens and Lorenz for the telecommunications operation and was prepared exclusively for the German Post. If a price list from 1992 you look at, so hit them with 274 to Mark Beech, was therefore intended more for professional purposes. The tubes are individually numbered by the way, recognisable by the yellow band. This pentode - triode connected as here - was already used by Ayon in the previous models and has proved to be excellent. One of its features is the high reliability and durability. It was used, among other things to strengthen in relay stations for deep-sea underwater cables and as a malfunction in 4000m depth had arrived not so good. The demands on such a tube were therefore: high gain, no noise, no distortion, long life and small size. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. All together nothing to sneeze at! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you every day belongs to two hours of music, then take the pleasure of 13 years.

Another feature of the C3m is the high microphonic sensitivity. However, at the Spheris III is not much of it to remember, obviously, the housing is constructed so massive that no vibrations to the tube penetrate. Gerd Hirt said on this subject: There is a trick. But all he did not reveal. Suspicious to see is in the device unfortunately not.The tubes are installed horizontally, but what is not a problem with indirectly heated tubes. On display are four C3m tubes, the precursor is thus fully symmetrically and equipped with the requisite four amplification stages. The XLR inputs are therefore not - as is often seen in the professional sector - desymmetriert via transformers. The RCA inputs directly is of course nothing, here the signal via Lundahl transformers is balanced, so there is no unbalanced signal into the amplifier. The tubes have a metal casing around the actual glass body so that the tube lovers can see no lights the filaments. For indirect, red illumination of the three switches for a little tube feel makes.Apart from the fact that the tubes would anyway not be seen in the enclosed case.

If one lifts the lid, you finally get to see once something else, as is usually otherwise obstructed. Tube sockets from our own production with copper / beryllium contacts, switch from Swiss manufacturer ELMA, tantalum precision resistors with 0.5 percent, electrolytic capacitors of the company RIFA, the PCB boards are equipped with gold-plated conductor paths to prevent oxidation of the tracks over the years. These chokes and transformers from Lundahl, Mundorf Supreme Siber / Gold capacitors; to high-quality components has not been saved. But even more interesting is the volume control, Ayon relies on an inductive solution, ie control via auto-transformers with various Sekundärabgriffen, in this case 42! The volume control is used as a donor and selects a bank of relays the desired output - and thus the volume - from. When the unit is turned on again, it starts regularly at -42 dB attenuation, so he does not remember the last selected volume. After the controller for the 42 positions "spins", ie uses more than one revolution, the gag is pointed in a different direction. So one has to be based on the digital display. Or you follow the operating instructions (sic!) And adjusts the volume before switching to minimum.

From the solution over mechanical switches and a motor drive with gearbox have been abandoned again.Meanwhile, the transformer is placed in the output, thus the output impedance varies depending on the volume a bit. Here, however, were heard no tonal differences. With this principle, which is "excess" signal is not derived through mass, more or less transformed lossless down like a resistor network, but. This elaborate and costly solution is found sporadically in quality appliances such as those of Thomas Mayer or the Greek Ypsilon PST 100. Ayon makes this car the way shaper itself forth.

Also convenient is the fact that with the universal remote control of CDT drive the volume of Spheris III is adjustable. Wink with the fence post? Well, of course not enough to buy up the most expensive components and then zusammenzubasteln in any circuit just available. Since I knew someone once. No, somewhere the Ayon-people need to have a technician who knows where to go. Who's that, but knows except Ayon only the NSA. By Gerhard Hirt was only to learn that it is a duo that for 20 years now to the development of the Polaris and Spheris cares precursors.

Another very handy feature you get to see the inside, there are four switches (the amplifier's symmetrical), with which the gain to 0, -3 and -6 dB can be set. This is to prevent that at DA converters overridden with very high output voltage (about three volts) of the input. However, one should thereabouts play only when switched off. The C3m are capacitor coupled, here Mundorf Supreme Silver / Gold used capacitors. These are, incidentally, the only capacitors in the signal.

On the back you will find a ground lift switch, which serves to eliminate any ground loops. This signal ground and earth ground can be separated. However, the two positions usually do not sound the same, so you should try quite what fits best. If you have no problem with a ground loop has.

Very high effort - and here much more than in the previous models - Ayon operates in the power supply. For EIE is one of the sound-critical assemblies in each active Hifi device. After the crap that comes to us increasingly over the power line to the house, is in a conventional manner and lossless hardly filter out, there are really only two solutions: either a supply via batteries, which also has its pitfalls, or a complete regeneration of mains voltage. The latter way is Ayon went to his flagship. The front of the power supply is emblazoned the number "60", which would already be half the battle for fans of the TSV 1860 München ... um what I really wanted to say? Oh yes, the number now does not display the grid frequency - which would be here yes 50 Hertz - but the frequency that produces the generator itself. It provides a perfect sine wave having a frequency of 60 Hertz. Without Radio Yerevan.

A bit crazy that is already what we need to take today to get a clean anode voltage. From the wall outlet AC comes with a frequency of 50 hertz, this is generated from scratch in the generator, now has 60 Hz, then the alternating current is transformed via a transformer to 450 volts, then rectified by a Graetz bridge and with a choke-capacitor system smoothed. Ideally, the internal resistance of this system should then also be as low as possible, otherwise the dynamics suffer. The generator can provide 300 watts of power, which should be sufficient for both Shostakovich as well as for AC / DC.

Sodele, now we want everything but listen more closely again. The tubes - and not only this - you should treat yourself to a break-in period of at least 50 hours. At least. Better would be 100, as you have just carried. Although Simple Preheating helps the tubes, capacitors and transformers but also want to be busy, and there's only one thing: play music. This is now no Ayon-typical feature, but applies to every tube device. However, one can already hear where the journey will go well even with relatively uneingespieltem device.

Upon completion of this warming up it goes down to business. For that I first sought out a recording with the Concerto Köln. The Concerto Köln is an orchestra that specialises in historical performance practice of music of the 18th and 19th centuries. The present disc was created for 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. From the first track, the overture to the opera The Magic Flute.Already after the first few bars, one wonders, that here play only 11 musicians. The orchestral representation on the Spheris III is very spacious, our listeners across the Atlantic would this might be described as "large scale". Viewed spatially, the playback is a bit more broad than deep. It is very easy to hear that there are arranged left and right with respect to the violins, as it was customary end of the 18th century. The musicians made of flesh and blood. Nevertheless go intricacies of how the fact that here who also plays a harpsichord, not under.This speaks for the high resolution of the precursor. Even the special sound of historical musical instruments is very natural reproduced. By differentiated articulation of the orchestra here a very interesting and exciting interpretation has arisen which is somewhat reminiscent of Rossini.

Inspired by the highway toll-Kasperltheater we take but even the solo piano recording: Vignettes with Marilyn Crispell, appeared on ECM. Crispell has often been compared with Cecil Taylor and is an advocate of Modern Creative Jazz, but also has a strong sense of lyrical playing. This recording has partly a more introverted character; everyone gets older once. Nevertheless, the first piece is somewhat reminiscent of John Cage.

In this recording the sound engineer has probably helped along a little, the wing sounds sometimes extremely spectacular when the microphones were dropped into the instrument. The space Hall seems a bit artificial. The falls on a normal chain not in shape, but is extremely clear with the Spheris III. Has nothing to do with the actual music, I know. Anyway Crispell plays on Vignette # 1 obviously open pedal, that is, the individual tones and their reverberation overlap constantly and are also reflected in the body of the instrument umpteen times, with all the beats and resonances. At the end of the track you can still hear the quieter always expectant Reverberation of the strings, which are then absorbed by the pedal, shortly after the recording stops, the whole room is suddenly gone.Also impressive is the velocity, whereby the wing is rendered very lifelike. One gets the feeling, as he stands in front!

Finally and as a contrast a little Groovy, Manu Dibango Live '91. Dibango is a Cameroonian saxophonist, who had once created a new musical style, by having jazz elements connected to the Cameroonian Makossa dance music.Soul Makossa was in the 70s his first hit, which later even Michael Jackson had stolen the chorus. Anyway Dibango had in 1991 burned a firework at a live concert at the Munich theater factory, which it had in itself. The CD was now in the same year, with the same cast, only at a different Location. Unfortunately, in these years was the digital technology is not so advanced, so that the CD is not technically now the madness. If you would now consider the Spheris III as a man - about as James Butler in "Dinner for One" - you could see how he struggles to form from the existing material still something useful. I'll do my very best, so to speak.

Anyway, playing reminds me here very close to the concert at the time, in all the weaknesses of the CD. To let live this music, macro dynamic capabilities are needed that can provide an extraordinary degree of Ayon here. He succeeds in presenting a mediocre recording so that you can still have fun.

Whoever thinks that through the use of a historic tube all sounds a bit antique, I have to disappoint you. The precursor plays completely neutral, some favoring one frequency band does not exist. By this I do not mean that now everything sounds sober and cool, on the contrary! A timbre exists only at all somehow. If I did not know it before, I could not tell if this is a transistor or a tube is the potter. Now if you III reduces the performance of Spheris to any hi-fi attributes like bass, middle treble or space, then you will not get far in this preliminary stage. All you other in some form also. What the Ayon but has in addition it is a reproduction, responsive us and our concentration on the essentials, namely directs the music.

When described in an earlier test shot Egmont by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Munich Gasteig room acoustics and echo with the combined Spheris III comes - Mayer 211 ELROG extremely well over. The echo in this building for large ensembles was indeed one of the great problems of the Philharmonic. The strings are played with a great many tone colors and finer resolution. In this perfect form that's so far managed only a preliminary stage in my four walls. Do I have to mention that the precursor neither rushing nor buzzing, nor makes any antics?

Eventually, of course, come back to the discussion, which raison d'être as a device actually has. In the digital age, where many converters have a control possibility of output voltage and the DAC can thus be connected directly to the power amplifier. Low output impedance of the converter of course. And if the precursor already "not sound", then we can leave them out again? However, I have made in most cases the experience that it sounds even better with a potent line level, so to speak, as an afterburner. The music is more lifelike, gets more body to produce more energy, look more natural. Ultimately, depending on the quality of the precursor used. Incidentally, this is not just my opinion; However, you lose a touch of transparency by the additional electronics in the signal path. Not, however, if one uses a caliber like the Spheris III.

The precursor meets all sonic aspects of the high-Ender could want: high resolution, transparent reproduction, plenty of tone colours, excellent dynamics, Prat ... Did I forget something? The Ayon brings us the musicians back into the living room, so playback is a bit more direct. An important point I would like to highlight, which is the consistency of Play. No frequency range is preferred in some way, the music is presented as a whole. If I even arrive with the famous black background, it is immediately: hackneyed phrase! True, but if this is true anywhere, then at the Spheris! Here obviously makes the elaborate PSU paid. In this context, a further point: The Play differs much less of how the grid is loaded, or in other words: It sounds on Sunday evening not much different than on Monday, when all their electrical appliances running have. The Spheris III can depict instruments very vivid and three-dimensional, this I know, in the form actually only of amplifiers with directly heated triode.

We place to wind up again Gery Mulligan and Chet Baker on and look at what was harmed in the burn: a lot! Not only hifi attributes such as spaciousness or focusing have greatly improved, but also the natural flow of the music. Bakers' trumpet playing shows yet more finesse and above all more expressive. This is an important aspect for me, because not always accompanied all Hifi-typical improvements even with an improvement of musical expression. The incredible stage presence of Baker in this piece comes across incredibly well. In other words, the Spheris III manages a frighteningly acting holographic reproduction.

A negative press deteriorates karma of the author. This is the conclusion one could come to what is read;however, it is much easier, I simply found nothing negative. The development of the model III has taken a long time, much has been tried, but it was worth it!

STATEMENT
The precursor makes the music, this ancient wisdom has been confirmed here again. The Ayon Spheris III will be out of reach for most of us who can afford them but to which they had indulged! It is the best that the market has to offer.

Music has something to do with culture. With a classic drive as the CD-T it will be once again reminded., I can warmly recommend this highly. The Ayon CD-T is a module which brings us closer to the music.
JÜRGEN SAILE

SUMMARY: Overall it can be said that a very homogeneous, organic sound pattern. Very color reproduction with high resolution. The sometimes existing in digital equipment, technical mechanical sound is completely absent here. It sounds easy for music. Coarse and fine dynamics reach a new level. Attributes that have nothing to do with the music itself as space, focusing or depth extent are of course at the same high level. Even when the music plays softly, it will be exciting, you have no desire to ever louder to turn. It is amazing what is possible with the outdated Red Book CD format for sound quality.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The traun is what the people of Ayon! At the present time to bring a newly developed CD drive on the market. And then also with a tube in the digital part! Where but nowadays everyone only downloaded, rips, raps ... sorry latter indeed true, but does not belong here. I want nothing anticipate, but thankfully, the Austrians have dared!

As seen from the report on the Aurender could infer a high quality DAC is not sufficient alone for a sophisticated playback source. Only the perfect interaction of drive or streamer) and D / A converter ensures that not gets lost at the source much.

Now have been several people thought about the topic Data transfer via CD drive. One faction claiming each computer drive needs the data can completely read, no other PC would indeed work program. Sounds kind of logic. If you ask a technician to which is done with the topic very quickly: bits are bits, digital art work either at all or perfect! Perfect sound forever? That seems vaguely familiar! 

For this type of reasoning, the other group has prepared a very simple question: why do my 20,000-euro drive sounds better? Well, why is that now? To answer this question clearly, you would have to compare it with a suitable software each read raw data on deviations. Such programs do exist. But that is not all, the decisive factor is not only the correct sequence of zeros and ones, but also their temporal assignment. For this purpose, a suitable apparatus for jitter measurement would be required in addition. You see, that is very expensive, but everything else was going more in the direction of "Young Scientist". For jitter, the manufacturer, however, makes data: It is an internal jitter of 1 picosecond to; for clarification: In 1 picosecond light travels a distance of only 0.3 millimeters! What we really wanted? Oh, listen to music! 

Ayon Ayon would not, if not some smart idea would have been realized even when the CD-T. One can see the digital output a tube! A Russian 6H14 or equivalent ECC 84. What has lost at this point? The reasoning is simple: Many interference of signal occur on the way from the S / PDIF output chip for DAC, because the generator is too weak for this. Therefore Ayon has installed a buffer in the form of a cathode follower here. Thus, the chip has to control only the grid of the tube, which is easy for him. The tube used in this circuit works without reinforcement, ie acts as a pure impedance converter. Rectangular pulses look extremely clean, cable effects are likely here hardly affect. 

But which tube to take, for this rather unusual position? First of all, a tube of the audio range is out of the question due to insufficient bandwidth. The 6H14 employed here from the old Russian military stocks was used in the radar range. Therefore, it can handle frequencies up to 200 MHz and is ideally suited for this job.

If one sticks his nose into the device, you will find the proven Philips Pro drive, two R-core transformers, one for the supply of the I2S interface, the other for motor servo board, and the remaining interfaces. The conductor tracks are gilded, what you do not see every day. They are now not thought for the lady of the house, but also prevent aging effects due to oxidation. The laser unit is not screwed to the lid, but connected to the extremely stable base plate.

For connection to the DAC of the CD-T provides all kinds of opportunities. S / PDIF (with BNC connector!), AES / EBU, TOSLINK and I2S. The tube is of course only active in operation with S / PDIF or AES / EBU. For I2S connections unfortunately there is no international standard, so that when the contact assignment each manufacturer its own agenda. However Ayon has consequently given in the user guide, the pin assignment. So I use the S / PDIF connection, for I2S I would otherwise incur for my DAC for Irons.

First Count Basie has ran. Count Basie, the master of casual, top cool Piano Game. Sitting at the piano, grins and impressed with its economical chord objections the typical swinging sound of his big band. Without the Basie big band would still be outstanding, but it would the ultimate Something missing. A milestone among the many Basie albums is the 1957 released album The Complete Atomic Basie, the arranger Neal Hefti wrote for Basie and would shape the future style of the band. 

With the title "Lil 'Darlin'", a rather subdued played piece, the crackling internal stress of the big band has to be felt. When the music here only go ripples and the last then turns off the light, then the system can not transmit something crucial. This may be the CD-T, of course not alone, but it must be initiated by the drive / DAC. Otherwise the system would grooving even at a Requiem. .

Another example is Sketches of Spain, arranged by Gil Evans for Miles Davis. The most popular titles on the disc is the Adagio from the "Concierto de Aranjuez" by Joaquin Rodrigo, here arranged for a 21-member jazz orchestra. I'm normally not a fan of jazzy classics because usually comes out nothing rational case. But here is less improvised, it is more a rearranging for another orchestra and of course for trumpet instead guitar. Even with the opening bars can be the sultry atmosphere of the Spanish summer heat almost feel.

Now the muted trumpet of Miles has always been problematic during playback, in some situations, I can not help but think of the dentist. Add to that the huge wind ensemble, which places enormous demands on the ability to differentiate the chain. Here, the obtained to resolution and the color display by the CD-T pays, it provides the best possible information from the CD. The fact is just a poor imitation of the original Columbia Six Eye LP. To date, these CD always ran with me under the heading "due listenable," now I can even make friends with it. 

Scene Change, harpsichord music. The harpsichord is not easy to reproduce because of its overtones sound. Here the string is so touched by a keel and not posted as on the piano with a Filzhammer. 

To listen I have a piece, no retrieved THE piece of Padre Antonio Soler played by the Brazilian Nicolau de Figueiredo: "Fandango" from the CD Soler. This is about a sprawling merry dance which in Spain was very popular at that time, bringing the Father but he is is some problems in the church. The instrument is a replica of a harpsichord of Italian master Roberto and Frederigo Cresci. high resolution indispensable unusual sound - Here is a correct representation of the - for modern ears. And which provides the CD-T. The harpsichord is not particularly loud, but sprayed formally before force. You can hear not only the entire harmonic spectrum of the strings are touched, but also how the sounds in the instrument are still dozens of times reflected. The sound comes in fast melodies not go swimming, but always remains clear contours. Excellent! 

So what has changed with the CD-T in the system? Overall it can be said that a very homogeneous, organic sound pattern. Very color reproduction with high resolution. The sometimes existing in digital equipment, technical mechanical sound is completely absent here. It sounds easy for music. Coarse and fine dynamics reach a new level. Attributes that have nothing to do with the music itself as space, focusing or depth extent are of course at the same high level. Even when the music plays softly, it will be exciting, you have no desire to ever louder to turn. It is amazing what is possible with the outdated Red Book CD format for sound quality. 

Did I forgot something? True, there is still an upsampling function to 192kHz / 24bit, which can be conveniently operated via remote control. However I have heard no significant change here. Speaking Remote Control: The one could use as a melee weapon due to the sheer weight well. 

STATEMENT
Music has something to do with culture. With a classic drive as the CD-T it will be once again reminded..... I can warmly recommend this highly. The Ayon CD-T is a module which brings us closer to the music.

The S-3 is a top notch processed Network player with full-fledged Class-A triode tube preamp and mesmerising sound.
ROLAND DIETL - German / English translation

REVIEW SUMMARY: Playback of the 1st movement from Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola by Mozart with the Camerata de Lausanne (Mozart, Sinfonia Concertant e) becomes a pure pleasure. By booming dynamics coupled with stupendous space that make the interplay between the two soloists and the orchestra particularly impressive. After many hours of intense listening is clear to me: The outstanding feature of the S-3 is for me its transparency and clarity in the play that will be presented without a hint of sharpness. Use the analog inputs, the S-3 has proven to be an excellent preamp. It is thus quite obvious that the tube output stage has a significant share of the great sonic capabilities of the S-third For me, a clear proof of how important a good line level in a digital / analog converter. A fact which is often neglected.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Digital-to-analog converters have undergone rapid development in recent years and the times when music was frowned upon by the hard disk of high-end trailers, are long gone.

To little loss as possible to transport the music from a mass storage (NAS or USB hard disk) to the digital / analog converter, as a link (bridge), a streamer or network player is required. For this one can use a PC on Windows, MacOS X or Linux-based, connected to the domestic network. However, the integration of a PC in a home stereo with high end-points is anything but easy. A PC is not optimized for the "pure" music playback; just think of the variety in the background processes running on noise producing Switching Power Supplies and noisy fans. The USB connection is usually used with the digital / analog converter is simple to use, but sonically far from problem-free. I am always surprised when I even simple PCs antreffe in extremely expensive equipment off the shelf that have not been optimized. Not least because of these difficulties, but also for reasons of principle it is many music lovers downright contrary to integrate a PC in the local music system.

Another solution are specialized devices that do not compromise on pure audio streaming in the best possible quality with highly specialized components. Optimally, while the streaming unit is connected by the shortest route directly to a high-quality digital / analog converter. If the whole thing then is extended by a precursor with analog volume control and combined with a tube-equipped output stage, leads almost inevitably to Ayon S-3 or the big brother S-5 . At the Austrian specialist for high-quality tube devices it has no fear of contact with the digital technology and is engaged in for many years with the issue of streaming.From the excellent know-how I could talking to the owners of Ayon, Gerhard Hirt, convince himself.

The S-3 is presented in a solid, well-crafted aluminum body that stands on four solid brackets. The front consists of a 3.5-inch color TFT display and several small buttons that allow direct navigation through the different menus and its own library. Another small display indicates the selected volume, which is set on the left side with a large knob.

The selection of the various inputs by the input selector, which is located on the right side symmetrically to the volume control. In addition, all the important functions of the S-3 on the remote control can be controlled. Looking at his back is clear that we must have the motto "versatility and flexibility" gelautet when designing: So there are four digital inputs for XLR (AES / EBU), RCA (S / PDIF), BNC (S / PDIF) TOSLINK (S / PDIF) and I2S input, which is implemented via an RJ45 socket. All inputs accept PCM up to 24 bit / 192 KHz.In addition, the S-3 has two USB ports - one each on the front and back - for direct connection of a hard disk or USB sticks.

The connection to a network using either a wired cable via the RJ45 Ethernet port or wirelessly via the built-in Wi-Fi module, the transmission is limited here to 24 bit / 96 KHz. In addition, the S-3 has a coaxial digital output (S / PDIF) by connecting a digital recording device or external D / A processor.

The analog preamp has two RCA inputs and an RCA output for connecting a tape deck. The output side, the analog domain either an RCA output or a balanced XLR output. Using a toggle switch, the gain between high (+ 6dB) and Low (0 dB) can be switched, so the level ratios can be optimized in the chain. Another toggle switch allows selection between the operating modes "normal" when connected to a preamplifier and "Direct Amp" with a direct connection of the S-3 with a power amplifier. In "Direct Amp" is the volume down automatically back and on the remote control function "max to protect the amplifiers at power every time. volume "off.

Another practical detail on the back is the phase indicator which makes checking the in-phase connection of the power plug particularly comfortable and eliminates the otherwise necessary use of a measuring instrument. In Ayon you put on a clean and stable power supply has always been great value. Two powerful R-core transformers supply isolated digital and analogue sections. A total of ten voltage regulator ensure stable conditions and a decoupling of the individual modules. The power supply unit for supplying the output tubes is constructed with rectifier tubes and subsequent LC-filtering consisting of a large choke and capacitors.

The streaming unit comes from Austrian specialist StreamUnlimited and supports the most common for high-quality music playback playback WAV, FLAC and AIFF up to 24bit / 192KHz. The DSD format is not supported; Here you would have on other matches from the program Ayon as pure network player NW-T when necessary recourse. The digital audio section is constructed with two high-quality D / A chip type PCM 1792 in a separate channel balanced circuit. The fully analog volume control uses the excellent special block PGA2320 that attenuates the signal by means of a resistor network. The volume control can also be switched from the signal path if you connect the S-3 at a preliminary stage.

In the initial stage, is particularly proud when Ayon. It is designed in a purist circuit with the known double triode 6H30 and only a few components without negative feedback. The balanced outputs are operated completely separately and in real symmetric circuit. When connecting directly to a power amplifier whose input impedance is 47 kilohms or higher are, so that there are no mismatches in particular with symmetrical control. The components used in the S-3 are all of very high quality with audiophile coupling capacitors of Jentzen and close tolerance MKP film capacitors.

Since I wanted to focus my tests on the streaming with the S-3, I have included the S-3 via the Ethernet connection in my separate home network for music playback. The establishment of the network connection was done quickly and easily using the large display on S-3 and the well-illustrated instructions. Using the "Media Server" of the S-3 is followed by a list of available music network music server. During the burn in period I have used as a media server Asset UPnP, which is available for a variety of platforms. Another alternative would Minim Server or Twonky Server. The control of a media server is most comfortable with a UPnP controller app on a tablet or smartphone. An in-house app from Ayon is currently unavailable, but is not a problem, since a wide range available to third-party apps available. I have alternately used PlugPlayer and Kinsky on my iPad. The interplay of these apps with the S-3 and Asset UPnP worked without problems.

For my actual hearing test I have but then my personal favorite JRiver used as a media server, but can not be installed on any network drive. The control was very comfortable with JRemote on my iPad. On the output side of the S-3 was connected directly to my Omtec amplifiers.

First I hear myself on a hot summer evening through the album Hell Freezes Over by Eagles (XRCD): the live atmosphere at the all-time hit "Hotel California" is reproduced from the S-3 with great clarity and transparency, the really fun; added a massive, always crisp bass. In "Wonderland" by Nils Lofgren ( Acoustic Live ) touch the guitar and the resulting sound is captured perfectly. So plastic as with the S-3 I have seldom heard.

Change of scene: In the original composition "Life Stream Suite" by Tobias Becker (Tobias Becker Bigband,Lifestream ) to us presents a wonderfully diverse big-band sound: rich Bläsersätze and effective Tutti alternate with powerful solos. The S-3 is the full orchestral sound that repeatedly switches between light and dark tones, especially authentic covering again without the solos passages.

With its tonal capabilities of the S-3 is able to identify the differences of various recordings and interpretations of the same piece of clothes. At the 1st movement from Symphony No. 41 by Mozart sounds the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under René Leibowitz ( Mozart Symphony 35 & 41 ) wonderfully soft and a large area in the best classical tradition. The S3 will open here a wonderful room with great width and depth, the individual instrument groups are defining a whole clear of one another. In stark contrast, only 35 players comprehensive Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under René Jacobs (is Mozart, Symphonies 38 & 41 ) with its very analytical, applied to the smallest details and interpretation rugged "black and white contrasts." Here are the S-3 the brilliance of violins activating, but the bass kontuiert powerfully without unpleasant sharpness and timpani tough again.

Impressive are the capabilities of the S-3 with good HiRes Images: Playback of the 1st movement from Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola by Mozart with the Camerata de Lausanne (Mozart, Sinfonia Concertant e) becomes a pure pleasure. By booming dynamics coupled with stupendous space that make the interplay between the two soloists and the orchestra particularly impressive.

After many hours of intense listening is clear to me: The outstanding feature of the S-3 is for me its transparency and clarity in the play that will be presented without a hint of sharpness. Use the analog inputs, the S-3 has proven to be an excellent preamp. It is thus quite obvious that the tube output stage has a significant share of the great sonic capabilities of the S-third For me, a clear proof of how important a good line level in a digital / analog converter. A fact which is often neglected.

On the other hand you do it but too simple, if you wanted to reduce the S-3 on its excellent tube output stage. I think the superb sound of the S-3 is connected to the perfect technical integration and tonal vote streaming unit, digital-analog converter and output stage with great perfection in every small detail due.Once again it appears that it is not so much come in a chain on outstanding items on, but rather on the perfect interaction of all components.

STATEMENT

The S-3 is a top notch processed Network player with full-fledged Class-A triode tube preamp and mesmerising sound.

These monoblock amplifiers are also one of the best I ever experienced here within my listening room. Absolutely beautiful, remarkable sound!  
Wojciech Pacuła

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Crossfire EVO delivers an amazingly rich, tuneful sound with tonal balance set lower then usual. It is highly resolving and wonderfully defined while it impresses with a leading edge and explosive dynamics. Despite relatively low output power, it is able to drive large loudspeakers to a high SPL. In a large room, with particularly 'difficult' speakers, it might not work that well and these are things we have to accept with 35 watts of output power. If we manage to keep proper proportions, which are not influenced by some preconceptions, we'll be thrilled with the remarkable way these Crossfire EVO amplifiers drive our loudspeakers. This, along with Ayon Audio's Spheris III linestage, are the best devices Ayon Audio has released during the last, say, 10 years.

EXTENDED REVIEW: When we carried Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblock amplifier for review to my apartment on the fourth floor, my mind flooded with memories of a Germany reviewer that uses Ayon Audio's Epsilon mono amplifiers for quite some time. He use them in both his mastering work while preparing vinyl re-issues and for reviewing purposes. His amplifiers use eight KT150 tubes each to produce sound. Attendees of the Audio Show 2014 in Warsaw (Poland) could find that out for themselves listening to how well these amps handled the mighty Dynaudio Platinum Evidence loudspeakers. So while going up the many floors to my home, Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblocks might not be particularly heavy since most of the weight is concentrated on their backs due to the large transformers. There are two power transformers as one powers up only the output tube, as the other serves for input and driver tubes. All transformers' housings are filled with damping material. These transformers are very nice, capped with shiny housings of the two large power transformers and a huge output transformer. Carrying them upstairs isn't that easy!

Yet, as we found out, it was doable. It gets even more interesting when one takes a closer look on this latest addition to Ayon Audio's range, reviewed here for the first time in the world. They sport a long chassis, weight 40 kg a piece (88 lbs.), and as I said earlier deliver 35 wpc from a single power tube. That's how much power one of these special A82B triodes is able to deliver! They are custom build according to Ayon Audio's specification by a company that derives from a Czech manufacturer Tesla. These tubes are larger than a classic 300B, yet smaller than other larger tubes like the 211/VT4C and 845. Naturally they sport gold-plated pins and ceramic bases to achieve the very best in sound quality.

The A82B vacuum tube requires significant gain from a driver tube. Gerhard, the chief designer at Ayon Audio, uses different drivers for his SET amplifiers. For the Crossfire Evo, a newly developed triode AA20B is used. It is smaller than AA82B and has almost identical shape as the 5U4G rectifier for this amplifier. All tubes are branded with Ayon's logo and are the results of Gerhards cooperation with this Czech artisan company (tubes are still made by hand). Two Soviet NOS tubes – triodes 6SJ7 – work in amplifier's input stage. These are placed inside metal cups and are used by Soviet military for their very low microphonics and resistance to radiation.

A Few Simple Words From Gerhard Hirt, Ayon Audio's CEO

Wojciech Pacuła:  Please tell me about AA20B and why you deiced to use this tube.

Gerhard Hirt: It is a DHT (direct heated triode) tube, which I think is the best way to drive such a high power SE triode tube like the 82B. We use it for the Crossfire Evo driver design (AA20B) plus only one very special resistor (Vishay non-magnetic type) and one coupling cap within the signal path to drive to 82B. It is a very short signal path, with all components beginning from the transformer, choke or AA20B itself, must be perfect matched together. Also, there is zero global or local negative feedback engaged. The next advantage of the AA20B is that we make them in-house and thus we can control the electrical parameter and the quality. The tube is direct heated and has a large vacuum bulb, which is always an advantage for a big soundstage. With the AA20B as a driver, it allows us to operate only with one gain stage!

Wojciech Pacuła: Tube rectifier is just for the output tube or for all of them?

Gerhard Hirt: With the AA5U4G we can use it only for the pre (6SJ7) and driver stage (AA20B).

Wojciech Pacuła: What was the most important thing you wanted to achieve with Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo?

Gerhard Hirt: The "heart" of the Crossfire Evo design is a special driver tube and an extremely short signal path plus of course the very powerful 82B. This combination allows the Crossfire Evo to drive very common speaker designs of medium sensitivity with enough power and punch. The major target was also to create a big 3D soundstage that is very liquid and airy.

Wojciech Pacuła: What genres of music do you listen to within your home?

Gerhard Hirt: I am listing a wide range of "real" music and am always hunting for good recordings in combination with impressive musicians and wonderful interpretation. Music  with soul and emotions, as it doesn't matter if it is on LP, CD or High-Resolution file format! I do not like so much of the so-called "super recordings" because, mostly, I can't listen to them because their musicianship and their interpretation are mostly poor.

Build Quality And Operation

A very solid chassis is made of thick aluminum plates, which are fixed together in the four corners with aluminum quarter rounds. On the front there is Ayon's backlit logo. After one switches the amplifier on, with the switch placed underneath, the logo blinks for some time. At the same time the Mute LED is on. This indicates that an automatic procedure in running tests on all vacuum tubes as the highly regulated voltage is slowly raised. Once the tubes' filament reaches a correct temperature it also starts to supply voltage to the tubes' anodes. The whole sequence takes around 60 seconds to complete.

When the amplifiers are turned in for the first time, the “intelligent bias” process called Auto-Fixed-Bias, needs to calibrate itself. This process is necessary in order for amplifier to “learn” the voltage delivered from a particular power outlet. Only after that it is able to determine a proper anode voltage. If a user doesn't run this procedure, after four hours the amplifier will turn itself off and then run calibration by themselves. This entire procedure is run by a highly advanced circuit that is controlled by a microprocessor. It is nothing like other auto-bias systems used in many other amplifiers. As it says in the owner's manual, this system has nothing to do with semi-automatic or classic fixed-bias systems. It operates completely outside the signal's path. Due to Ayon Audio's solution, the vacuum tubes always work within their optimal conditions and are protected from damages. This also helps to ensure each tube's lifespan.

All this might sound complicated in theory, yet in a real world all we have to do is push a button on the back of each amplifier which starts the initial, one-time calibration process. From this time on, we just turn each Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO monoblock amplifier on and off as one would do with any other amplifier.  Now all that is left to do is to deliver signal via unbalanced WBT NextGen RCA or balanced signal XLR sockets, connect your speaker cables to the fantastic WBT NextGen speaker posts you're your music amplification system is ready to play. These SET amplifiers are not fully balanced in design, so Ayon Audio says they prefer an unbalanced signal since a signal delivered via balanced XLR inputs needs to be altered.

So to summarize, Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo are a pair of mono amplifiers, working in a pure Class A. These are SET amplifiers with a single power tube in each channel working without negative feedback (neither global, nor local), with the current delivered to each tube being completely controlled by a microprocessor for optimum performance. That's what we like best!

Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO Design

The power supply section is also quite complex. When I opened chassis I counted six chokes – each tube has its separate one, and input tubes use even two of these. One will also find a large bank of capacitors and a few independent diode bridges. These supply each tubes' filaments and anode voltage that are rectified by a 5U4G. tube rectifier. All tubes sit on the top cover together with a small VU meter that provides the user with information concerning the value of said bias. Ayon Audio uses high quality HD Synthetic Compound Material tube sockets with rhodium-plated pins. It seems that they were made by Ayon themselves. Although the power supply circuit and a microprocessor controlling circuit are mounted on PCBs, the gain stage uses point-to-point wiring connections. All inner-stage capacitors are oil silver-gold Mundorf capacitors that are very nice indeed!

Test Method

I have been using Ayon's preamplifiers for few years now, including all three versions of Polaris linestage and Spheris III. I chose it after listening to many top preamplifiers from many different brands. Although there were some other very tempting options, it was decided that this Austrian product offered the most convincing set of features and very amazing performance. For this review of the Crossfire EVO came the signal from their Spheris III via unbalanced Acoustic Revive cables (from their latest Triple-C FM line). Signal from my CD player to linestage was delivered via Siltech Double Crown interconnects. Speaker cables were my trusted Tara Labs Omega Onyx. Amplifiers were placed on  Acoustic Revive RST-38H platforms and additionally on Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Discs – I had to use these as the length of amplifiers was slightly bigger than each platform.

The amplifiers' operation is completely silent as after one hour of use you'd have to place your ear very close to a driver tube to hear a very quiet noise, in part generated by a linestage. During all that time with amplifiers there was never had any problems, neither with starts, nor with any stage of operation. Fit and finish is simply fantastic! I compare these amplifiers directly to my Soulution 710 power amplifier (recently replaced by their 711). They drove my Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers that are placed on Acoustic Revive Custom stands. As for power cables, I chose the impressive Acrolink Mexcel 7N-C90500.

Neither myself nor Gerhard of Ayon Audio knew what to expect. Gerhard, because of several unknown aspects like acoustic environment, speakers and source (fortunately, at least he knew a linestage pretty well). Me – because I knew nothing about the latest generation of his amplifiers as have never tested one before. On the other hand, Gerhard followed everything I wrote about his products and sometimes he surely also read some other articles that caught his attention. I, on the other hand, had a chance to listen to the third generation Epsilon mono amplifiers during Audio Show in Warsaw, and to Crossfire Evo in Munich during HIGH END Show. But I had never listened to any of them here within my home audio system. So on one hand we were wondering what would happen, and on the other we had some expectations and preconceptions. It seemed that we were both wrong. I could be absolutely sure only on my part, obviously. But having seen Gerhard's reactions when we listened to few albums… I would say that he also felt the same way. What's more, after two hours, when Gerhard had to leave, I came back to listening to these amplifiers and my impressions did not change a bit. Nor was there any change during the following days of continuing my adventure with Crossfire EVO.

Audio Reflections

I'd like to explain myself. Doing my job within a professional manner dictates repeating the same procedures for each test for each product. It also means that each time my main goal is to describe the sound of a particular device and only then to assess it. As far as description of the sound, it might be largely disassociated from a person as an assessment may be a rather personal affair. Despite my best efforts, experience also influences what I do and provides a base to my assessments on things pervious learned. So when I see and hear SET, I think about Ancient Audio Silver Mono SE (two 300B per channel), Kondo Kagura(two 211/VT4C per channel), Triode TRX-M300 Reference Edition (one 300B per channel) and Phasemation MA-1000 (one 2A3 per channel). Surely there were also others, but these four are the ones that I remember best. All of them work in a pure Class A, use (different but still) triodes working in SET configuration (SE or PSE), and all are mono amplifiers. Each sounded differently and yet they all had more in common with each other than with any other devices to my ears within my home audio system. Ayon Audio's Crossfire Evo monoblock amplifier is different.

Tonality - A Case Study

So first of all tonal balance, as presented by Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO, is set bit lower than some people may be accustom to, although is it not that unusual for vacuum tube devices. But most of them achieve that by delivering a warmer sound with a rather softer/rounder leading edge. Subjectively, we perceive such performance as calmer, quieter, and with a less aggressive treble with perhaps smaller-scale volume levels. That's how many tubes with standard high quality output transformers sound like when in SET configuration. By the way, many vintage amplifiers perform this way as well. Perhaps that is why they can be so seductive and those who fall for these amplifiers may find others as sounding too aggressively. One has to realize, though, that this is only one of possible strategy, yet a remarkably attractive one. Having a certain amount of money and facing such a choice I would also be considering purchasing one such device and enjoying them (perhaps) for the rest of my life. But we need to be aware that this is not the way to achieve the highest sound fidelity, which, I believe, is the whole point of perfectionist audio. SET amplifiers offer something different in return – the absolutely top amplifiers, and in my opinion these are the SET ones, go beyond 'hi-fi' sound. They combine precision and fidelity with a natural richness. There is one problem, though. As to have the best of the best like Ancient Audio and Kondo, one has to be ready to spent a crazy amount of money to purchase them.

Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO mono amplifiers offer this type of performance: they are amazingly resolving yet their tonal balance more neutral. It creates an impression of a glorious big sound without even as much as a hint of any coloration. This powerful, rich if you will, perfectly defined bass and low tonal balance don't mean that there is any emphasis on any part of the frequency range. In cases like this one, a top quality and remarkable device, this effect is achieved via outstanding resolution, phase coherency, and most of all by a perfect reproduction of harmonics that are a base for instruments' resonances. This includes electric instruments as the recording dictates.

The Ayon Audio Crossfire EVO easily handles both electronic music like from Lisa Gerrard's The Silver Tree album and purist acoustic recordings like Venecie Mundi Splendorperformed by La Reverde. I also played Ultra by Depeche Mode and while I was totally immersed in music, I also appreciated the sound quality of this album as released in the 'Blu-spec CD2 version'. I could easily recognize the guitars' drive, depth and density. Am absolutely sure this album sounded much better than ever before.

This was also supported by fantastic sounds of high definition. When talking about details and nuances, one describes what one knows from a hi-fi world. These are important elements of the sound, important components of a greater whole. But when it comes to high-end, top-high-end in particular, mentioning details or nuances – that may be in a very poor taste. Details and nuances simply are there, as they should be, what is very important is a level up, which is based on these elements. In Ayon's Crossfire EVO they build up in interesting, nicely differentiated sound depending on the quality of recording, with a listener-friendly presentation. I did not find a single recording that would have sounded unpleasant played by these amps. Having said that, I need also to clarify, that if there is some issue, like an emphasis on vocal's attack phase, or just vocal that is bright sounding – like Leonard Cohen's on his last album – these amplifiers won't hide that. If you want an amplifier that can sugarcoat such recordings, Phasemation or Triode might be a better choice.

Ayon, just like Kondo and Ancient Audio, play such pieces differently as they deliver what's there in the recording. Hats off for Ayon Audio! Hats off because despite the fact that these amplifier clearly show the weakness of certain recordings, their performance is nearly always enjoyable as within a properly mastered album. We always accept it as it is. I loved every album played despite the fact that some were recorded with boomy bass, some with bright vocals, and others that lacked 'air'. Ayon clearly pointed out problems with trumpet timbre on certain jazz recordings, but it was me, the listener, who could decide whether this issue bothered me or not. The decision was mine alone, yet was not forced upon me.

An Issue Of Power

When arranging this review, Gerhard and I exchanged quite a few emails discussing an issue of output power required for my room. Matching an amplifier with loudspeakers, one's room size and acoustics plus music preference is key. This key consideration is for anyone who desires to create a serious audio system offering top-flight performance. The common belief is that SET amplifiers should be paired with high-sensitivity speakers, preferably with horns. Without delving deeply into this issue, let me just say that I don't agree with that. Low-power amplifiers, like all aforementioned SET ones within this review, but also some others were able to deliver performance loud enough within my room despite the fact that Harbeths were surely not an easy load. Obviously they all had some problems in bass range, some more serious ones, some just small ones. But in general they contradicted that normal audiophile belief to a great extent. And, let me repeat one more time, Harbeth M40.1 were not an easy load. And yet the more powerful amplifiers connected to these speakers, the better was the performance. They sound amazingly with my Soulution 710, and sounded even better driven by the aim Statement NAC S1 preamp and NAP S1 mono power amps.

An exception from this rule are tube amplifiers that sport high gain output stages and are able to deliver high current to the loudspeakers. In a case of such a design it seems irrelevant, as what we have here is a voltage gain stage. And yet now, for the third time in my life, I witnessed a situation where a SET amplifier, this time with a single output tube, delivered a better defined, more powerful bass than most solid-state amplifiers I ever listened to. Attack, slam, dynamics, sustain – brilliant in its naturalness, and fantastic decay kept me each time I played another record on my toes waiting for unexpected to happen. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the very open sound. Treble did not seem to be rounded nor too warm, which was a case with most previous Ayon Audio amplifiers. It was one of the things that could have steered my opinion towards amplifiers based on the 62B or 82B vacuum tube previously.

A Confession

I have to say it and am sure that Gerhard will understand, as he realises that test are conducted also in order to find a way to improve current designs. Although I always respected his achievements in the field of SET amplifiers, as these were the apple of his eye, I could never fully accept the concept of sound they proposed. They delivered open and detailed sound, like solid-state amps, offered exceptional dynamics, yet they did not provide what I considered the advantages of vacuum tube devices. Why would I want a tube amplifier that doesn't sound like a tube, but as solid-state? That is also why I always enjoyed quite a bit of listening to Ayon's amplifiers using beam tetrodes like KT88, and now KT150, in push-pull configuration.

Summary

Ayon Audio's Crossfire EVO vacuum tube monoblock amplifier delivers a better performance than any other amplifier Gerhard ever created previously. It combines the virtues of push-pull, SET and solid-state. Everything is mixed in proper proportions, perfectly working together. Actually, it would be difficult to point out which features of the sound came from which type of a design, as the amplifier's performance is simply perfect and thus couldn't care less about losing time for in-depth analyses to find that out. 

The Crossfire EVO delivers an amazingly rich, tuneful sound with tonal balance set lower then usual. It is highly resolving and wonderfully defined while it impresses with a leading edge and explosive dynamics. Despite relatively low output power, it is able to drive large loudspeakers to a high SPL. In a large room, with particularly 'difficult' speakers, it might not work that well and these are things we have to accept with 35 watts of output power. If we manage to keep proper proportions, which are not influenced by some preconceptions, we'll be thrilled with the remarkable way these Crossfire EVO amplifiers drive our loudspeakers. This, along with Ayon Audio's Spheris III linestage, are the best devices Ayon Audio has released during the last, say, 10 years. These monoblock amplifiers are also one of the best I ever experienced here within my listening room. Absolutely beautiful, remarkable sound!
.......
Wojciech Pacuła

My resume is very simple: considering its price the Ayon CD-35 Signature SACD player aspires to one of the best buys in the high end audio industry.
AUDIOROM

SUMMARY: CD versus SACD versus DSD256: With CDs played back the Ayon CD-35 is a very musical machine. When music asked, the macrodynamical contrasts were huge and the player made lamps and chairs swing in the rhythm, while I was nailed speachless to my listening chair.
What I found interesting, though, was that the sound of the SACD was not 
that much different from the PCM upsampled with the DSD256. Does it mean that the Ayon neglects the SACD layer by virtue of an inferior technical solution, like Wadia or Soulution players? No, when I compared the SCAD layer with my reference player it was almost as good. What the Ayon does is that it digs out extra information, or better, it undigitalize the PCM layer through the very clever DSD256 upsampling towards higher fluidity and openness. I do not know any other player that is capable of similar magic.
My resume is very simple: considering its price the Ayon CD-35 Signature SACD player aspires to one of the best buys in the high end audio industry.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The CD-35 is one of the most versatile digital players available. In its “Signature” version (the one we used throughout this review) it replaces a CD and an SACD player, a highly capable DAC, and an excellent preamplifier. Thus the CD-35 can be used as a real source component for any media imaginable, except of vinyl. This versatility puts the Ayon into a very favorable price to performance ratio; no way that one can get standalone SACD, DAC and preamp at a comparable price with comparable sound. - 100% REFERENCE

The CD-35 player continues the Ayon’s tradition of rugged industrial design – the anodised black aluminium case with back-lit push buttons and red dot matrix display looks like out of hell in a dark room. This impression is further strengthened by the mysterious glow of tubes that can be seen through the ventilation grilles in the device’s top plate. Should you consider the acquisition of the CD-35 then make sure there is nothing too close to the upper part of the player because of the presence of 6H30 and 5687 double triodes – after 1-2 hours the top plate becomes too hot to keep the hand on it, not speaking about the ‘grilles’ that are about to melt.

It is not possible to block the top of the player: not only for the generated heat – the CD/SACD disc has to be placed directly from top on the motor shaft, manually magnetically clamped, and the transport silo has to be closed by a translucent acrylic cover that triggers TOC reading.

The CD-35 is available in several versions: the basic version (CD-35 Standard) that features the SACD player with a volume control, digital inputs and analog outputs, the CD-35 Preamp version that adds the preamp to the package, and the fully equipped CD-35 Signature which adds a module that upsamples PCM data to DSD. Ayon uses Japanese AKM DAC chips with two selectable digital filters (the fast roll-off filter and the slow roll-off filter), one can also spend some time switching between upsampling modes, as the device offers DSD128 and DSD256 resolution – more on this later. I cannot imagine a set-up where the Ayon CD-35 could not merge easily; if your preference is to run the CD-35 into a pair of mono block amplifiers then it is possible to increase the player preamp’s gain from 2.5V to 5.0V by a toggle switch in the back.

The CD-35 is ready to become a real digital hub of any system as it is equipped by S/PDIF RCA, USB, I2S (Ethernet RJ45), BNC and AES/EBU inputs on top of the standard RCA and XLR analog inputs/outputs. The USB input can handle PCM signals up to 32 bits and 356 kHz, as well as DSD up to DSD256.

PCM: The density of sound was what I heard from the very first moment - the Ayon's sound is downtuned to vinyl-like saturation which made me very comfortable with classical recordings. The introduction of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances stormed my room with like a tornado, as if orchestra players' wages were doubled right before the recording session. The tympanist put more pressure on mallets, winds were brassier and strings got closer to microphones. The symphonic sound was embracing and extremely lively, almost like a rock supergroup performance. The sound was not only enthusiastic and present, it was also very detailed and resolved, not less than I am used to hear with the best digital players. Finally, what I just described happened in the player's standard PCM resolution which can be further improved by touching the right button.

DSD upsampling: When I started to compare the PCM with the DSD256 upsampling I needed to match the volume levels first - in the DSD upsample mode the Ayon's volume goes up by 3 steps (measured on the Ayon's red display), thus I had to attenuate it every time I switched back and forth between the PCM and the DSD. Not doing so automatically results into preferring the louder mode. Even with the volumes carefully matched the DSD256 introduces more peace and natural resolution into music, together with better delineated soundstage and instruments within it. It was much easier to hear into the mix and the natural (or artificial) ambience of recordings. 

The DSD256 upsampling's improvements were consistent irrespective of what I listened to - it means that once I experienced its benefits, I had no reason to listen in standard PCM. I believe that the DSD256 might have been the default mode with no PCM option available.

If I liked the DSD256, I did not like DSD128. The latter was to my ears even less natural than the PCM without any upsampling. I understand that some dark sounding set-ups may benefit from its extra light. Your ears should be the last arbiter, like always.

Digital filters: Let's consider the Filter 1 to be the default one. Then the Filter two provided me with a bit shorter decays. I could hear it in Left Alone (Jiang Jianhua and the jazz trio, This is K2 HD Sound sampler) - the isntrumental parts are pure and simple and the Filter 1 let the piano reverberate with more natural decay, as well as I could better hear the essence of the Chinese traditional two-stringed erhu. The Filter 1 was a tad softer, however, so the rock music (Kiss, Strutter´78,from Double Platinum) benefited from Filter 2's cadence and clarity. I am not discussing big differences, though, rather nuancees. After few days of listening I settled on the FIlter 1 permanently as it gave the best balance to my ears. You may prefer a different setting - that's why the Ayon provides the option, right?

CD versus SACD versus DSD256: With CDs played back the Ayon CD-35 is a very musical machine. When music asked, the macrodynamical contrasts were huge and the player made lamps and chairs swing in the rhythm, while I was nailed speachless to my listening chair.

The spatial perspective, lateral and front-to-back, is wide and deep, with very fine resolution. If you are the soundstaging freak, then the Ayon CD-35 may be the right player for you. It paints the sonic pictures with robust strokes and a bit of pomp, not unlike in a cinema where the actors on the screen are bigger than life. This is an exhilarating experience in the audio world where soundstage is often miniaturised.

Well, I liked the sound very much in the red book format, but once the player is switched into the SACD mode I could hear immediately how inferior the sound of CD is to it. Take Orchestrio Zurich and Pictures from An Exhibition (Exton), play it through the Ayon CD-35 in both formats and here you are: in the SACD mode the room disappears and musicians start to wiggle in their chairs right in front of you, in your room. This recording has amazing ambience recorded and the Ayon could deliver it with aplomb.

What I found interesting, though, was that the sound of the SACD was not that much different from the PCM upsampled with the DSD256. Does it mean that the Ayon neglects the SACD layer by virtue of an inferior technical solution, like Wadia or Soulution players? No, when I compared the SCAD layer with my reference player it was almost as good. What the Ayon does is that it digs out extra information, or better, it undigitalize the PCM layer through the very clever DSD256 upsampling towards higher fluidity and openness. I do not know any other player that is capable of similar magic.

My resume is very simple: considering its price the Ayon CD-35 Signature SACD player aspires to one of the best buys in the high end audio industry.

“ The Ayon is a masterpiece of High End design and execution. ....Anne-Sophie Mutter’s violin sounds richer on the CD-35 than on the other players, and has impressive fluidity and texture.
JULIAN MUSGRAVE

 SUMMARY: The Ayon is a masterpiece of High End design and execution. Its few, very modest weaknesses are more than balanced by huge strengths, so let’s deal first with its sound. Initial listening compared to the T+A and Esoteric was simply too close to call. It took longer, quite a lot longer, to find that it lacks the last 5% of definition, both in detail and timing. But it is kinder to poorer recordings, makes voices sound angelic, and will sustain long, long listening sessions. With Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (CDC 7 47318 2) Anne-Sophie Mutter’s violin sounds richer on the CD-35 than on the other players, and has impressive fluidity and texture.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Are CD and SACD as dead as a dodo, or they the beating heart of high end audio? Perfect sound forever, or nails on blackboard? Precious collectible physical media, or cheap plastic dross? The point of these questions is that newcomers like cloud-streamed and NAS-served files is making us re-think our relationship with the silver disc, which has been the de facto king of the hill for nearly forty years now. Sure, we’re all playing with data files and its super-cool vocabulary, ripping WAVs to NASs, streaming FLACs to DACs, replaying DSD through USB and all the rest of it. But all that is a very different to relying entirely on non-physical media because, despite claims to the contrary, the whole thing just doesn’t work quite reliably enough to allow us that essential zen-like connection with the music. 

Add in the knowledge that this generation of players can make the silver disc sound better than ever, and mindful of the sheer quantity of music available in CD/SACD, a strong case can be made that the silver disc is just as current as ever, despite the invasion of the file-snatchers. Sure, its place in our rigs is changing subtly but as Chardin’s Third Law of Technology states: “Old technologies never die; they sublime to the sacred”. Just so. CD has joined vinyl as a simply wonderfully retro way to listen to and revere music. Listen without prejudice to this group of disc players on test, and it’s shock’n’awe all the way. So you’ll probably be needing some insight into your next CD/SACD player purchase. Secretly you want a dreadnought-build player much, much more than a poxy laptop, a hard drive in a sardine tin and a bunch of perfidious ‘computer says no gremlins’ ruining your evening. 

The Current Generation 

The first assumption for this survey is that, since a high end DAC is now virtually mandatory, we might as well get a disk player in the same box, and keep open the options on when (or whether) to rip those CDs to a hard drive. The second assumption is that we’re going to spend high-end money for a heritage product that should outlast us. These, therefore, are not cheap; they’re built for the long haul and cost from about £6,000 to £16,00

Ayon is an Austrian company with a product range that stretches from leading edge digital through to speakers. Most of them use valves and most of it is black – very black, but with silver highlights. 

Owner Gerhard Hirt agrees with us about the future of the silver disc: “In view of the still very popular CD and its high market share (even in 10 years there will be new CD-players, merely because of the factual existence of millions and millions of CDs and considering that, for example, in Germany circa 60% of the income of the music industry results from CDs), and because of the still good demand for exceptionally designed CD players, particularly with tube output stages, we have decided to launch a new SACD/CD reference top model.” 

This CD-35 is its latest CD/SACD/DAC offering and our sample had two additional upgrades from the base model. The first is an analogue pre-amp section, with a fully balanced, discrete-resistor volume control and three analogue inputs (1x XLR + 2x RCA/phonos). The Signature version has a DSP module that converts all PCM material (including CD replay) to DSD, and then upsamples DSD from 128x to 256x (switchable). It also has some Mundorf Silver/Gold capacitors. The back panel is clearly laid out and easy to access with excellent quality connectors. 

The ergonomics are good rather than superb. As a top-loader its top panel must be exposed, precluding many convenient locations. However, using the beast is a joy. Lift the acrylic lid to expose the large bowl that’s warm from the valve heat, drop CD onto spindle, ease in the magnetic puck, replace the lid and off we go. Does it look good? That’s a personal judgment, though the black disappears nicely. 

The specification and DAC connectivity is on the generous side of typical for the breed with no obvious gaps. The remote is a black plastic job that works well even if it is a bit pedestrian. During its stay here the CD-35 was kept on 24/7, worked perfectly at all times and despite being packed with valves, ran merely warm rather than hot.

Filters, Samples & Other Options 

With limited time and space available, this survey is going to concentrate on silver disc replay only and ignore the virtually infinite permutations of using the DAC separately. As with our previous survey on line stages, a mixture of panel and writer-only listening is used. The first thing to do was to investigate the various upsampling and filter options on each machine and then fix the preferred sound for comparative listening. 

Ayon CD-35: The Signature version of the CD-35 has PCM conversion to DSD then upsampling to x256. Having selected conversion and upsampling to x256, I wrote “makes a huge difference. Now full, lush textures with more bite and precision”….. Sorted.

Auditions 

We compared both CD and SACD replay on a variety of recordings where we had two copies in an A/B switch input comparison. The rig used was: all outputs from XLR to XLR input to a Hattor passive control unit. Power amps and speakers were ATC 100 anniversary actives, with a B&W DB1 sub. The Ayon is a masterpiece of High End design and execution. Its few, very modest weaknesses are more than balanced by huge strengths, so let’s deal first with its sound. Initial listening compared to the T+A and Esoteric was simply too close to call. It took longer, quite a lot longer, to find that it lacks the last 5% of definition, both in detail and timing. But it is kinder to poorer recordings, makes voices sound angelic, and will sustain long, long listening sessions. 

With Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (CDC 7 47318 2) Anne-Sophie Mutter’s violin sounds richer on the CD-35 than on the other players, and has impressive fluidity and texture. Am I making the CD-35 sound a tad valve-like? Probably, and here we come to the sort of problem that the high end is struggling with. Knowing that it was a valve piece, did my head make it sound like one? 

Its strengths, however, lie in its analogue inputs and volume control which, frankly, put it in a class of its own. Want a creamy CD/SACD player, DAC and preamp in one modest, but darkly gorgeous box? And all at a very realistic price? Nothing else even comes close. 

Conclusions 

As a music-lover’s system centrepiece, the Ayon wins hands down. At its price it is a snip; because unless you have a T+A or an Esoteric to hand you will never notice that slight lack of definition, and if your speakers are of the Focal or Triangle persuasion you may prefer it that way anyway

………JULIAN MUSGRAVE

This wonderful integrated amp could anchor a rather long term and totally satisfying system that would leave you wanting precious little in addition. Pairing it with equal quality components could make for one happy audiophile for a lifetime.

SUMMARY: with female voices, always a benchmark test in my opinion, the amp came through with such fine and delicate delivery. Eva Cassidy's, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow", from the album The Other Side with Chuck Brown (Liason Records 1992) is easily the best version of this song that I have ever heard. Stark in its arrangement but so rich in the depth and breadth of the emotional impact from her voice it is always part of any review I do. As with the best systems the Ayon helped deliver a soaring and detailed rendition of this recording. Tunefulness is something most any reproduction system can provide these days. The difference between an adequate system and one that is truly exceptional is the ability to deliver the emotion in the song unbridled and unrestrained. Here the Ayon delivered everything I have come to expect from the marque. Just brilliant. No strain, no distortion, the Ayon simply removed itself from the music and left it all there bare and naked.  For sheer slam I moved to a track off Joe Bonamassa's new Blues of Desperation album (JR.  Records 2016). the title track is a very deep and throbbing blues rock number featuring the rock solid drumming of Anton Fig. This track is heavy in the bass region and kick drum, tom tom action. It comes through with the exact right amount of slam. You van feel the bloom from the kick drum and it drives your gut right into the depths of the song. What is great about the delivery is that it supports, rather than dominates the rest of the band on the track. It brings the rhythm and pace right straight to your face and lets the rest of the band riff and build off of it. That is what I am talking about.

EXTENDED REVIEW: I have always been a fan of Ayon products. While many of their offerings are not for the faint of heart from a cost perspective you can generally count on the company to produce some of the finest gear around and you could spend a lifetime listening to an Ayon based system without complaint for a very long time indeed.

The Triton III integrated amplifier represents a financially effective way to jump into the benefits of Ayon ownership without going into negative income crisis and pairing it with the right components could create a great lifetime system and the perfect springboard to some of their heftier offerings which I have reviewed in the past. It is a full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amp switchable between pentode and triode mode making it ideal also for more difficult loudspeaker loads. Say, who does NOT like that? As always it does not hurt to have a friend to help you lift and place this amp. Ayon makes no lightweight gear that I have seen!

Ayon combines incredible build quality with a classic understated yet elegant beauty that never ceases to deliver an aesthetically pleasing experience to both ears and to the eyes. Suffice it to say the WAF is always high. Paula always takes note when we have an Ayon piece in the house from both the visual and audible perspectives. That is saying a lot since she is not so much the dedicated listener like her husband.

I do have one nitpicking, no, make that two nitpicking little things to complain about and I would prefer to get them out of the way now.

First nit to pick... If you are not familiar with the brand and you are a normal guy who reads the instructions only when it is a last resort, then you may spend days figuring out how to turn these things on! The placement of the power switches is on the bottom of the chassis and depending on unit can range from right at the lower left corner to somewhere east of that. A little visual clue as to location, say a dot on the front of the chassis directly above it would be nice, (its a great childproof switch location).

Okay I have that off my chest. Now for the more important and more positive things.

Let's take a look at the basics as described by the manufacturer:

  • Class of Operation is switchable between Triode or Pentode mode, Class-A. Power tube complement consists of 8 x KT150s. Load Impedance is either 4 & 8 Ohms. Bandwidth is stated at 8Hz-70kHz. That set of power tubes mentioned above with give you an output of 120 watts per channel in Pentode mode and 70 watts per channel in Triode mode. This integrated amp is no fly weight. Even in Triode you can push some serious air volume around the room.
  • Frequency Response is rated at 10Hz - 60kHz, with an Input Impedance at 1kHz 100KΩ.
  • The Input sensitivity (full power)is 1V NFB .0dB
  • It boasts a Volume Control that is MCU based with analog resistor switching circuit (1,5dB per step) operable with Remote Control! Love those remote controls more and more everyday as I climb into my 60s!
  • Input Compliment is 3 x Line IN, 1 x XLR IN, 1 x Direct IN, with Outputs being one 1 x Pre Out
  • Chassis dimensions (WxDxH) 21 x 17.25 x 10.25 inches
  • Weight 100 pounds.

Let me tell you it is every bit of that 100 pounds. The part I like less and less as I climb into said 60s. Find a good home for it and leave it there!

As is always the case with Ayon products they come with top notch packaging. Two boxes and incredible inner packing. All tubes have been pre matched to the unit and are clearly marked. Once you locate the amplifier where you want it the tube install is quick and easy! The operator's manual (for those inclined to use them) is very straightforward and simple just like I need in my golden years. Yay for the AARP crowd.

Once up and running I let it run in for at least 50 hours or so. I have found that with Ayon products letting them run in for sufficient time leads to a far more enjoyable listening experience. The Triton III was no exception.

As I always do I provide a space for the manufacturers description of pertinent facts and this piece is no exception. So without further delay here are a few words directly from Ayon:

Triton III Features and Specifications

Vacuum Tubes

  • The choice of signal and power tubes have a significant influence on the sound and hence on the inspiration and joy of listening. This is not only the decision between good and bad tubes but finally the interaction of the different types of tubes and their combination that are used in the various Ayon amplifiers.

Signal Path

  • We believe that the simplest circuits work best together with the shortest signal path. The shorter the signal path is, the less possibility of sonic degradation from various sources, including the wire itself. Even on the circuit boards, the copper traces are kept to a very minimum length. The completely redesigned circuit board provides a more straightforward and direct approach to the signal paths.
  • Logical sequenced soft-start power up for extended tube life
  • Power tube and electronic protection circuit system
  • 0dB negative feedback  (of any kind )
  • Ultra short signal path
  • Simplest direct circuit path for purest musical sound and high reliability
  • No solid state devices in the signal path
  • High current and low impedance design that operates tubes in the best areas their curves
  • Minimal discrete wiring for optimum signal propagation
  • Automatic and manual bias adjustment
  • No followers or buffers in the signal path
  • High quality parts throughout
  • Selector switch engages relays located near RCA jacks to switch all inputs

Power Supply

  • The power supplies have been further refined with new components and enhanced AC line noise filtration. Separate power transformers, chokes and filters provide total isolation between the input and output stages which makes this a pure power source. We also use electrolytic capacitors with much larger storage capacity to make up for the loss in filtering when using resistors in lieu of inductors.
  • 2 separate low noise - insulated power transformers
  • Power transformers are encased, excellent damped and RFI/EMI shielded
  • Innovative power supply provides a high speed energy delivery on transients
  • Dual choke filtered power supply for power tubes
  • Choke for pre and driver stage
  • Separate and isolated power supplies over each stage of amplification
  • Regulated DC filament supplies with soft start
  • AC power line filter to avoid noise and hash from entering into the unit.
  • High capacitance energy storage.
  • Current in-rush limiting
  • Auto sequencing - Power on cycle completes in 1 minute

Dual Grounding System

  • The modification of the grounding topology leads to increased rejection of noise from the power supply and other areas. The dual grounding topology used in all of our amplifiers is quite unique to the whole hi-end tube amplification industry. Such extensive topology provides for quieter backdrop for which the music can unfold in its entirety. It further establishes the quick and controlled bass response and the full bodied expression of the high frequency. The ground leg of the signal has not been neglected and given meticulous attention in its implementation. The importance of proper grounding cannot be over emphasized.
  • Ground switch
  • Central one-point star earth grounding
  • Dual grounding system (switchable)

Output Transformer

  • The super-wide bandwidth output transformer’s major strength is that it can deliver the current in the bass, while at the same time maintaining the speed in the high frequencies, dramatically improving the square wave response of the amplifier. The effect is a much more natural and relaxed sound with much better clarity, resolution and fluidity.
  • Super-wide bandwidth high performance output transformer
  • High efficiency with low insertion loss for optimal current and voltage transfer
  • Multiple tight layering and coupling for extended frequency response
  • Output transformers are sealed with an anti-resonance compound material

Components

  • The type of parts used therefore must have a synergistic relationship to the circuit they are placed in. It is this relationship of which type of part to use where, that ranks our products apart from the mass.
  • Selected, premium quality passive components used in all applications
  • High speed  & high quality audiophile grade coupling capacitors
  • Special tube sockets with beryllium- copper spring pins, custom made by Ayon
  • Ayon high quality - binding posts
  • High quality - RCA input jack
  • Neutrik/Swiss - XLR chassis connectors
  • Special isolated - internal wiring
  • Silver-copper matrix - internal signal cable
  • Gold-plated industrial grade PCB
  • All wiring to the circuit boards is done with the use of special pluggable pin- connectors.
  • This is done for easy of repair should ever the need arise.

High Grade Speaker Binding Posts

  • The new ayon gold plated solid body speaker binding posts provide performance levels that are truly in the very High End. The solid body construction ensures that there is no gap or breach in the flow of electrons. The gold plating provides for superior contact and resistance to oxidation. These binding posts are chosen primarily for their sonic performance, edging out even more expensive counterparts.

Mechanical Construction

  • The high grade aluminum chassis impart a richer, more lustrous tonality with a cleaner background and less hash and grain. All brushed anodized anti-vibration-resonance and non-magnetic chassis’s are fully hand assembled to insure the highest level of craftsmanship.
  • Improved heat ventilation chassis
  • Custom-made machined control knobs
  • The aluminium feet are resonance absorbing types
  • Backlit "ayon" logo
  • All front & rear panel descriptions are engraved
  • 4 line inputs & 1 direct input - for pure power amp operation
  • Ground switch
  • AC phase polarity control indicator
  • Volume & Mute function - RC
  • Metal remote commander
  • Chassis finish: black / chrome

Well what does all that actually add up to in the way of sonic satisfaction? Quite a bit actually! Once sufficiently run in the Ayon Triton III acquitted itself right smartly. This is one very refined sounding amplifier with the ability to move your homes foundation at full throttle. At more sane listening levels it is capable of providing punch in the bottom end, very accurately I might add and delicacy to the mid range finishing with suitable sparkle on the top end. That is a very nice hat trick to witness from an integrated amp.

At the same time I had the Triton in my listening room I also had the privilege of having the Ayon CD - 3SX (replaced by new CD-35 CD/SACD player). This combination was the prevailing setup during the visit but I also ran my Cary Audio CD player through the Ayon with outstanding results. There is a symbiosis between components from a singular manufacturer and this duo was no exception but I would mate any number of CD front ends with the Ayon with the full expectation of some serious audio bliss. That is always a matter of personal taste and some may want to mate a full digital CD with the tube amp for balance. What I can say is the amplifier handled everything I threw at it including my vinyl rig without so much as a hiccup, burp, fart or complaint.

Out of the box it sounded a bit lean in the bottom end which was not what I expected considering the tube compliment. After a good 80 hours of run in and some tweaking the bottom end came out in full bloom. I have always found that Ayon products benefit from a serious run in protocol to get the most out of them. Once they are sufficiently burned in they just come to life. This amp was no different than previous Ayon products I have reviewed.

Strong suits of the Titan III include, but are not limited to delicate highs, creamy smooth mids, and more than adequate bass at moderate listening levels. Want a bit more? Well much like a turbo charged car at moderate revs the thing performs admirably, but never sets your ears on fire. Kick up the revs (aka volume) and it becomes a monster capable of realistically replicating a live event with all the staging depth, width, height and slam you expect. I am not talking about a Jeckyl and Hyde comparison but rather something a little more refined. As the volume ramps up so do all the best things about this amp, but they come in a very nice linear progression to a point, and then it is like turning on the audible light switch and you can hear many, many more details.

I have recently changed up my standard listening selections to accommodate more diverse musical genre. When I sat down to do seriously focused listening I went to some newer stuff. Jack Thammarat is a up coming guitarist from Thailand. Jack is a phenomenal player and great tune writer. His compositions have a great balance between searing guitar pyrotechnics and lilting melody lines. The tune "Never Again" (direct download from iTunes) is a fine example. Jack does a great job of mixing up his picking technique between picking each note, sweep picking, finger picking and hammer on/pull off and often in the same run. Good systems will give you a smooth seamless presentation with plenty of bloom. A top tier system will allow you to instantly tell when the guitarist switches between techniques mid lick and that just always brings a smile to my face. Here is where the Titan elevates itself above good and straight into the realm of outstanding. The detail it is able to deliver at all levels caused me to sit up and take very serious notice and begin to look for tracks that could challenge this phenomenon to be sure it wasn't just one particular track.

The late and rather great Jimmie Spheeris' track, "For Roach", from the album Isle of View, (Columbia Records 1971) was so intimate that I felt like Jimmie had returned from the other side to sit in my listening room and perform this perennial favorite of mine. The light touch to the acoustic guitar and his almost whisper like voice were so real and delivered with a breathiness that is often lacking in recorder tracks versus intimate live tracks. This is a great track to tell if a system or a new addition to your existing system is going to measure up or not. The Ayon did NOT measure up! Oh no it did NOT. What it did was way exceed my expectation of delivering that intimate, up close experience. Quite honestly it did this better than most amps I have listened to that were not low power, single ended 300B based amplification sources.

With female voices, always a benchmark test in my opinion, the amp came through with such fine and delicate delivery. Eva Cassidy's, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow", from the album The Other Side with Chuck Brown (Liason Records 1992) is easily the best version of this song that I have ever heard. Stark in its arrangement but so rich in the depth and breadth of the emotional impact from her voice it is always part of any review I do. As with the best systems the Ayon helped deliver a soaring and detailed rendition of this recording. Tunefulness is something most any reproduction system can provide these days. The difference between an adequate system and one that is truly exceptional is the ability to deliver the emotion in the song unbridled and unrestrained. Here the Ayon delivered everything I have come to expect from the marque. Just brilliant. No strain, no distortion, the Ayon simply removed itself from the music and left it all there bare and naked.

For sheer slam I moved to a track off Joe Bonamassa's new Blues of Desperation album (JR.  Records 2016). the title track is a very deep and throbbing blues rock number featuring the rock solid drumming of Anton Fig. This track is heavy in the bass region and kick drum, tom tom action. It comes through with the exact right amount of slam. You van feel the bloom from the kick drum and it drives your gut right into the depths of the song. What is great about the delivery is that it supports, rather than dominates the rest of the band on the track. It brings the rhythm and pace right straight to your face and lets the rest of the band riff and build off of it. That is what I am talking about.

On violinist Nicola Benedetti's performance of "The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Concerto No.2 in G Minor, with The Scottish Chambers Orchestra her playing is almost savage in the intensity that she brings to the performance. There is no doubt about her confidence in this piece and her ability to deliver it with pure fire and explosive playing. The ability to isolate her performance within the orchestra without diminishing the overall performance of the other musicians is a hat trick. No doubt she is the star of the show but she is the featured musician in a all star type performance which is lifted by the rest of the musical cast. So balanced in the recording and equally so in the delivery by the Ayon.

In the end every single piece of gear that gets reviewed is subject to the personal bias of the reviewer and how neutral that writer can remain in their evaluation of the item in question. Ayon makes it relatively easy to maintain a neutrality because the gear delivers very neutral and balanced performance. In essence it removes itself and colors nothing but rather delivers the source material as close to the way it originally sounded without additions or subtractions.

As I stated at the beginning this wonderful integrated amp could anchor a rather long term and totally satisfying system that would leave you wanting precious little in addition. Pairing it with equal quality components could make for one happy audiophile for a lifetime. In particular a good match up is the Ayon CD-CD3sx (replaced by new CD-35 CD/SACD player), which I am also reviewing. I could live with the Ayon Triton III /CD3sx indefinitely in my system. This is a highly recommended unit for your auditioning. I am sure you will find it to be a great overall performer and at the price a real bargain in the land of high end audio! 
…… Gary Lea

.....there is no point in beating around the bush about it so I'll get right to it and say that CD-35 is a remarkable device. - for the first time ever I decided to grand the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product......
Wojciech Pacula

During the CD-35 test I listened to both CDs and SACDs. I have to say that the difference between them was not big, and with the upsampling to DSD it was actually small. The discs when converted to DSD256 sounded incredibly emotionally mature. I prefer simple solutions and changing the format always seems risky to me; I believe that music should be played in the format in which it was recorded. Therefore the PCM to DSD upsampling never appealed to me and for me (even in the case of the most expensive devices) it always confirmed my intuition resulting in a sound full of artifacts.

What people of StreamUnlimited managed to prepare together with Gerhard Hirt is a completely different story. Upsampling changes the sound in a very significant way (besides it also increases volume by 4-5 dB). These are not subtle adjustments, but a transition from a very good, tasteful hi-fi to a full-blown high-end performance. The best digital sources present a slightly better differentiated sound stage in the back, their performance is also more detailed and dCS Vivaldi delivers even smoother one.

However, none of the players that I listened at home wasn't able to deliver such a rich, saturated performance as Ayon did, nor such a big scale of the sound nor so large instruments. When one presses “Play” CD-35 fills the space between loudspeakers tightly with sound, and if particular disc includes such signals – equally dense sound surrounds listener.

I've never heard anything like that before. I'm not claiming that this is the best possible performance, because it is not. But it is, however, one of the most interesting sounds that I heard from any audio device. For the first time ever I decided to grand the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product that costs less than interconnects used to hook it up.

The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical products of this type, both in terms of technical aspects, the sound quality and price/performance ratio. We believe that this is the player that changes - in an “audio micro-world”, but still - rules of the game, because it aspires to the level previously reserved for true "high-end" while representing a surprising, to say the least, price level.

Thus we have decided to devote two separate articles to this device. We began with the coverage of a meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, where you could find basic information about the CD-35 and a concept behind it and the opinions of the people who were the first in the world to officially listen to this new Ayon Audio player prepared together with StreamUnlimited This time you can read a regular review of this product.

Krakow Sonic Society, or its members, are not particular optimists. I would even say that optimism is an alien concept to them – they have listened to so many top quality devices and audio products that they are aware of the technical limitations of those means for sound reproduction. And these limitations do not inspire optimism. From time to time, of course, they witness some special products that introduce something new. They confirm that although the base of our industry was established in the first two decades of the development of sound reproduction, however, there are still some elements that allow us to get even closer to the reproduced music, to experience it more intensely.

It so happens that these are almost exclusively top high end products, such as: Siltech Triple Crown (in Polish) and Tara Labs Evolution cables, digital sources such as: dCS Vivaldi, turntables such as: Transrotor Artus FMD, analogue master-tapes (see HERE and HERE) or digital processors, for example Accuphase DG-58.

The case of the Ayon Audio Super Audio CD CD-35 Player is different. Gerhard Hirt, the owner of Ayon, has set himself an ambitious goal - to design and produce a CD player, which would offer as good sound quality as possible while costing less than 10 000 EUR. It's still a large amount of money, no denying that, but compared to the products that I mentioned above, its price does no longer seem so high. I would even dare to say that it is low. As Gerhard said, he wanted to give music lovers a tool that will extract as much quality of a Red Book CD as possible, and that will not expose its owner to the problems with the rest of the family when they ask for the price of this device.

CD-35

CD-35 is a Super Audio CD top-loader. The disc is placed directly on the axis of the motor and one places a magnetic CD-clamp on top of it. In this case, to cause transport to load the TOC an acrylic cover, protecting mechanism against dust, has to be put on top. In some of the older players, one could play the music without this acrylic cover and I must say that the sound was than a bit better. As I mentioned, this is a SACD player, the first in the company's history. But not quite - Gerhard told us, that all his previous players, except for CD-5 and CD-T, were SACD players, but he deliberately blocked SACD playback, focusing on decoding PCM signal from a CDs. The CD-35 is the first Ayon player that offers a full functionality of the StreamUnlimited drive without any negative consequences for the CD playback.

What hasn't changed is a tube output stage. The CD-35 features a new circuit that combines the advantages of 6H30 and 5687 double triodes, powered by the next tube, full wave bridge rectifier, GZ30. The power supply features also R-core transformer and a choke. Interestingly, for filtration Ayon chose large, polypropylene capacitors, instead of electrolytic ones. The second transformer supplies power to the digital circuits.

It took the most time during the designing of the CD-35 - three years (!) - to prepare a digital section of the player. The DAC chips are nice, but classic ones – they come from a Japanese company AKM, one stereo chip per channel. The signal for them is firstly upsampled. The user can select one of two digital filters that have been implemented. The first is a conventional fast roll-off filter, and the other is a "slow roll-off" filter. They allow you to adjust the sound of the device to individual taste - in this particular case sonic differences are quite significant.

The Signature version – I'll get back to that – has even more to offer, because it features also a DSP, which uses an upsampling algorithm for PCM to convert it to DSD (DSD128 and DSD256). There are some of-the-shelf chips on the market that do just that, and companies such as dCS create such algorithms themselves. Gerhard Hirt invited his friends from the Viennese company StreamUnilimited, formed by former Philips engineers, co-creators of a CD-format, to work with him on CD-35. A conversion of this type is a mathematical operation and the result depends on the applied calculations. Gerhard told me that the CD-35 uses a unique conversion method, and that they are particularly proud of it.

The CD-35 has been designed so that it can be upgraded at any time. The basic version called CD-35 Standard (31 900 PLN) is simply a Super Audio CD player with adjustable volume, with digital inputs and two analog outputs - balanced and unbalanced (it is worth noting that the output stage is unbalanced). Another 1,990 PLN gets you a preamp stage with three inputs, one balanced XLR and two unbalanced RCA, and the player in this versions is called CD-35 Preamp. At the top of this lineup there is a version called CD-35 Signature - it's a player with preamplifier and additionally with the module that upsamples signal to DSD. That costs additional 5690 PLN. The latter is the version under review.

It is also a full-fledged DAC. This section features an abundance of inputs. In addition to the classic digital inputs, such as RCA, USB, I2S (RJ45), BNC and AES/EBU, there are also Ethernet (RJ45) and 3 x BNC ones, used for transmission of DSD Direct signal, eg. from the NW-T files player; Direct means in a native form. Note that USB input accepts PCM signals up to 32 bits and 356 kHz, as well as DSD up to DSD256.

TESTING METHODOLOGY

I listened to CD-35 for the first time in Janusz system, during Krakow Sonic Society Meeting, when we compared it to Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE CD Player. Next I placed it on a shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack in my reference system and I had a chance to compare it with two other CD players: Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-Edition and Métronome Technologie DREAM PLAY CD: KALISTA.

All players sent signal via Siltech Triple Crown RCA interconnect to Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier, and than with Cristal Cable Absolute Dream RCA IC to Soulution 710 amplifier. I used also Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers and Tara Labs Omega Onyx speaker cable. For all players I used Acrolink 7N-PC9500 Mexcel or 聖HIJIRI SMT ‘Takumi’ Maestro power cables.

I also performed listening sessions using a headphone rig comprised of tube Ayon Audio HA-3 and solid-state Bakoon HPA-21 headphone amplifiers and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2 headphones.

CD-35 Signature

I think there is no point in beating around the bush about it so I'll get right to it and say that CD-35 is a remarkable device. At first it surprises with its unique price/performance ratio, because it offers same level of performance as other, more expensive competitors. And I mean even those 2-3 times more expensive ones. The point is that in some aspects the CD-35 plays in the same league as the best digital players, and I know regardless the price. This does not mean that this is the best device of this type available on the market, because the top sources by such brands as: dCS, Metronome Technologie, CEC, Ancient Audio and totaldac are able to deliver even better, more surprising performance. But not always and not in every aspect of the sound.

Elements that cause jaw-dropping effect in CD-35 – yes, that's exactly what I mean and I'm not afraid of the consequences of these words - are incredible density and energy of the sound. It manifests itself, among others, in the extraordinary density of the sound. Phantom images are large and extremely palpable. They have a three-dimensional, almost holographic body. One might say that they are somewhat approximated to the listened, but not in the sense that they are placed right in front of listener's face. It's not about the bringing them closer along the axis of the presentation to the listener, but rather that the intensity of the sound creates an impression, or makes us fell like we are closer to the sound. Most other digital sources deliver presentation in a more distant way, and only analog sources present something similar to what CD-35 offers.

The said intensity is not associated with emphasis of the attack, and it is also not associated with a greater presence of detail, or - even more so – of the treble. It's a kind of maturity that results in a richer tone, slight emphasis in the midrange and incredible resolution. The latter is so surprising, that in conjunction with richness it creates a slightly different presentation than what other, even the best digital sources got us all used to.

Listening to Ayon we have no doubt that this is an attempt to re-create something very similar to the live event. It's a cliché, a stereotype used and abused by all audio companies in their promotional materials. Here, however, it is firmly anchored in reality. It is all about the intensity of the emotions that resonate within us while listening to music. Any music. While CD-35 differentiates recordings really well, in this respect is one of the best CD and SACD player I know, this differentiation results from something, not cause anything.

The differentiation here is a derivative of the resolution. CD-35 brings out as much information about the recording that we begin to ask ourselves, if there is any limit of information actually written into these discs, that even their creators didn't realize existed. Of course if you ask them they will all tell you they are well aware of that. But from my experience I can tell you that apart from a very few people in pro-audio, it is us, audiophiles with top quality systems, who are able to see much more than those who prepared the recordings. In achieving this goal a highly sophisticated devices can help us, and Ayon is one of the best there are.

There is a proper resolution and richness and dynamics. But all this would be nothing if it wasn't for that “something” behind the sound, something that captivates our attention with every successive recording. You should have seen the faces of members of the Krakow Sonic Society, who probably were not quite able to and probably simply didn't want to believe what they heard. My face probably looked the same. The intensity of the sound, its scale, ie. the volume of the instruments and the scale of space, are simply unparalleled. Only the best analog systems either with reel-to-reel tape recorder or turntable, are capable of delivering this type of performance.

It also didn't matter whether I was playing a CD or SACD. Carefully listening to both I could tell that SACDs offered a bit more depth and even more powerful harmonics' "punch". The difference is not significant though. CD upsampled to DSD delivered a similar performance. Maybe only a differentiation was a bit smaller, because the qualities of that sound with each CD were equally intense. Listening was therefor very comfortable and rewarding. Even so unsuccessful transfers as Sting's Sacred Love, with a SACD layer undoubtedly prepared using PCM files, will sound at least correctly.

And the best SACDs, I know, ie. SHM-SACD, will sound exceptionally well. And even if - as in the case of the Camel album - specificity of their sound, resulting from the times when these were recorded, will be more intense than with the other players, one should understand and accept it as an inherent feature of this recording. But, as I said, the difference between SACD and CD playback is not large, much smaller than with other SACD players.

CD-35 Preamp

One of the important features that can be added to the basic version of the CD-35 is that of an analog preamplifier. Thanks to it, one can minimize the number of components in the system and - potentially - to improve its sound. The latter may be true because this model introduces an integrated resistor ladder and relays while eliminating active elements of an external preamplifier and one pair of interconnects.

To find out what one could really gain and what to lose, I conducted a comparison between a setup with the CD-35 driving directly my power amplifier (Soulution 710), and with Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier working between these two devices. I also performed another comparison listening to my Ancient Audio Reader AIR V-edition connected to CD-35 preamplifier and then to Spheris III.

As you may recall, Janusz' system, in which for the first time together with other members of the Krakow Sonic Society we listened to the Gerhard's player, is a minimalist system with a CD player with adjustable volume driving power amplifiers. Any preamplifier in this system causes degradation of sound quality. My system is different – it sounds best with preamplifier. Personally, I think that a good preamplifier is in most cases the key to achieving a proper balance in the system, but as you can see, this is not an absolute truth.

The preamplifier section of the CD-35 may not have change my approach to the matter, but it directed my attention to some aspects of sound without active preamplifier in the system that were not so clearly present in my system before. The device connected directly to the power amplifier presented more distant sound, with elements such as reverb, reflected sounds, acoustics – so everything that creates what we like to call an ambiance or atmosphere of the recording – playing now more important role. The inclusion of Spheris III in the system resulted in bringing sound closer to me and shortening the distance between the musicians and listener.

This direct connection worked best with acoustic music. 1949 recording of Nat 'King' Cole probably had never sounded in my room in such an intimate and relaxed manner. Spheris III made his voice sound more “serious”, and the Cole seemed older. But this incredible ease offered by the system without external preamplifier simply vanished.

With the active preamp CD-35 sounded in a more focused way, as if it was more "busy" with something. It resulted in a better definition of sounds and a more powerful attack. Eliminating the preamp in a sense relieved the presentation from sort of a “strain”, but at the cost of blurred edges. The active preamp enlarged everything happening in the back of the soundstage, delivered it in a more distinct way. It didn't bring them closer to listener, I would even say that the scene was deeper, but by enlarging them it reduces the differences between what's in the front of the stage and what's in the back. Without preamplifier these relationships were more nuanced, and the soundstage more vivid; perhaps less precise, but also more natural.

With recordings with a lot of sound engineers' "intervention", ie. with rock and electronic music, the active preamp offers a lot of good, because it lowers tonal balance, improves low bass focus and deepens the lower midrange. It also allows more powerful sound delivery, which makes the performance sound more dynamic. In turn, with acoustic music the preamp in CD-35 was doing something "extra", giving a sense of distance, and at the same time of participation - a combination that in this type of music is highly required.

So I can not say for sure whether an internal preamplifier will offer sufficient benefits to dispense with an external preamp in your system. But you should note, that the comparison was done using a preamplifier from the top shelf, costing almost 150 000 PLN. Therefore I can say that without a doubt the Ayon CD-35 preamplifier is the most affordable and at the same time one of the most interesting high-end preamplifiers, I know.

CD-35 Standard, 

So what about UPSAMPLING
All the above considers the Signature version, ie. including full upsampling. But to be clear it is not like without upsampling Ayon sounds poorly, let alone that it is not worth the price. I would say that a little over 31 000 PLN gets you a Super Audio CD player that plays CDs better than others, costing the same amount of money devices of the same type. Only such a great sources as Ancient Audio AIR V-edition and Audionet Planck (with external power supply Amprere) are capable of delivering even better performance.

Ancient is more accurate, more resolving, with range's extremes better extended and it builds a far more expansive soundstage. On the other hand Audionet is even darker and denser, going in the direction in which the CD-35 is pushed by the DSD upsampling. For it is rich and smooth. But these are much more expensive players. The basic version of Ayon is in fact very competent. It nicely builds the presentation, it saturates timbre and tries in the most open way to present vocals and treble. At this or even slightly higher price level I can see no competition for the CD-35.

With that said I shall finish with one more thing: it is enough to listen to Ayon with upsampling module on for just one time to realize that there is no going back to listening to it without this module...

Filter 1 | Filter 2

Available to the listener is not only the upsampling, but also two digital filters. They are implemented in a DAC chip. The filter “1” is a fast roll-off one with a very good attenuation of mirror signals, and the symmetric oscillations before and after the impulse. Filter 2 is a "slow roll-off" one, that is, with milder filtering, but with lesser damping of reflections; its advantage is the absence of oscillations before the impulse, and hence less blur of signal's energy.

The choice will be user-dependent because there is no "right" one, both have advantages and disadvantages. In the CD-35 case, however, the matter is more complicated, because the choice will depend also on whether one uses SACD or CD, and if he uses the PCM-DSD upsampling.

In my system, with CDs without upsampling, I clearly preferred the filter “2”, which offered richer sound. It slightly emphasises part of the midrange which cause piano recordings to sound in a more illuminated manner than usually and with these the “1” filter seemed to be more neutral, less intrusive in the matter of sound. In all other cases Filter “2” made me more interested in music, because it had more layers, was more nuanced, and therefore richer.

It was different with SACDs. In this case, the filter “1” seemed to me more accurate, because it offered a more tonally balanced presentation. Filter “2” emphasized midrange, which was nice, but at the same it meant shifting tonal balance upward. It delivered more powerful bass and a more palpable sound image. Every time I eventually returned,to Filter “1”, which preserved a saturation of SACD, but with a better resolution.

Exactly the same happened with CDs with PCM-DSD upsampling. As if the DSD signal caused a multiplication of the smoothing of the sound caused by slow roll-off filter.

I know, there will be systems where the Filter 2 will assure an almost perfect copy of the "analog" sound and I can understand that some users will like that. However, I am more convinced by the neutrality of Filter 1, which combined with upsampling to DSD256 created an absolutely remarkable performance. Long story short, for those tired of this long explanation:
     CD no upsamplingu + Filter 2,
     CD + upsampling + Filter 1,
     SACD + Filter 1.

Plus / Minus

There is no doubt that the CD-35 is an remarkable device. But as each audio device it is not perfect. Even more so as it is not a particularly expensive one. Despite that, there are not many elements of the performance that more expensive players deliver clearly better. But let me try to indicated a few.

The Métronome and Ancient Players deliver low bass is a clearer way, it is better defined. It's not about the volume, but tightness, attack and dynamics. Ayon rounded low bass, which is extremely pleasant and works great for acoustic music, but when it comes to rock and electronic music it makes the sound a little milder. Softness and roundness gives the performance a characteristics of an intimate contact with the performer, connects us with him on a slightly different level. With more powerful music is causes exactly the opposite, it introduces distance between listener and the band.

The soundstage, ie. the space and instruments in it, are by the CD-35 shown in a similar way as by the CEC TL0/DA0 3.0, setup, ie. without a clear definition, that is, as in real life and so, as I know it from analog master tapes. We perceive rather a big picture and do not analyze where each musician/instrument is exactly located. We pick up these relations under this big picture as the chords, the size of the instruments, their timbre, but we do not perceive them directly. Let's say that it is how the Air Force One sounded like. But I also can not fail to notice that, in turn, in Jacek Gawłowski's mastering studio hi-res files sounded more like the players Ancient Audio and Métronome Players.

Summary

During the CD-35 test I listened to both CDs and SACDs. I have to say that the difference between them was not big, and with the upsampling to DSD it was actually small. The discs when converted to DSD256 sounded incredibly emotionally mature. I prefer simple solutions and changing the format always seems risky to me; I believe that music should be played in the format in which it was recorded. Therefore the PCM to DSD upsampling never appealed to me and for me (even in the case of the most expensive devices) it always confirmed my intuition resulting in a sound full of artifacts.

What people of StreamUnlimited managed to prepare together with Gerhard Hirt is a completely different story. Upsampling changes the sound in a very significant way (besides it also increases volume by 4-5 dB). These are not subtle adjustments, but a transition from a very good, tasteful hi-fi to a full-blown high-end performance. The best digital sources present a slightly better differentiated sound stage in the back, their performance is also more detailed and dCS Vivaldi delivers even smoother one.

However, none of the players that I listened at home wasn't able to deliver such a rich, saturated performance as Ayon did, nor such a big scale of the sound nor so large instruments. When one presses “Play” CD-35 fills the space between loudspeakers tightly with sound, and if particular disc includes such signals – equally dense sound surrounds listener.

I've never heard anything like that before. I'm not claiming that this is the best possible performance, because it is not. But it is, however, one of the most interesting sounds that I heard from any audio device. For the first time ever I decided to grand the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product that costs less than interconnects used to hook it up.

DESIGN

Ayon Audio CD-35 is a Super Audio CD top-loader player with digital inputs: 75 Ω S / PDIF (RCA), USB, I2S, BNC, AES / EBU and BNC x 3 for DSD. Optionally, it may also operate as an analog preamplifier with three inputs - one balanced XLR and two RCA unbalanced. It features also XLR and RCA outputs. A small switch allows user to select which of them is active, but they can be both active at the same time too.

The device sports a solid, aluminum housing, that we know from other Ayon products. On the front there is a large dot-matrix display with a red filter, that allows user to read a lot information. Except for CD-text and SACD-text, as these are not active. The icons on the sides and underneath inform about a selected filter, upsampling and the sampling frequency of the digital signal.

On the top side there are illuminated control buttons and a recess for a disc. The disc is placed directly on the motor shaft and pressed with a small magnetic clamp. It does not have such a sophisticated method of attachment as such players as: Vitus Audio Metronome Technologie or Audionet, but it seems to be well-centered and equipped with a point on the axis. On top one places an acrylic "grille" that suppresses noises coming from transport. But not entirely - one can hear it through the cut-out on the upper wall, that is there to help cooling tubes working inside the device.

On the back one finds really nice sockets - RCA come from CMC. There are also two more switches. One changes gain, ie the maximum output - "Low" equals 2.5 V, and the "High", 5 V. Using the second one determines whether the player shall work directly with a power amplifier or not. In the first position after turning the player on the volume is automatically set at - 40 dB and one can not turn the "Bypass" mode off, which bypasses the volume control. This is a safety measure not to damage the speakers if there is nor preamplifier between player and power amp.

Bypass can be accessed from the CD-3D remote control, that features also buttons allowing user to select a digital filter and upsampling, as well as the volume control. The remote is quite nice and its build quality is solid, but it features many identical buttons, which does not make its operation easy.

The circuits inside the device spread over several PCBs. At the outputs one finds PCBs with analogue output circuits, featuring 6H30 and the 5687 tubes. They are coupled using Mundorf capacitors. On the left there is a power supply for this section with GZ30 tube rectifier. The filtering circuit uses polypropylene capacitors. Next to the front panel, one can find R-Core transformer and a choke dedicated for this section. A second, identical transformer is used to power transport mechanism and the digital section. They are placed on two separate PCBs, and build around two analog-to-digital AKM converters.

The player's operation is pretty straightforward, despite its complexity. The remote might be a bit tricky, but one can get used to it. The only thing that is not so convenient and requires some more attention is a configuration of the digital filters and upsampling. Namely the CD-35 does not have a "standby" mode so one needs to turn it off using the mechanical on/off switch. When one turns it back on the “factory” settings are restored, ie. Filter “1” is on and upsampling is off. I would prefer if the player remembered the setting, if possible separately for CDs, SACDs and for the digital inputs.
......
Wojciech Pacula 

Wojciech Pacula with Krakow Sonic Society members audition the new AYON CD-35.
Wojciech Pacula

REVIEW SUMMARY: As you can see already after these short impressions the CD-35 stirred things up. Listening session during KSS meeting wasn't long (a few hours), but extremely fruitful. Tomek and Marcin clearly chose Ayon with upsampling, which compared to the Lektor was not an underdog at all. Wiciu and Janusz in their statements are more cautious, but I clearly remember their reactions in real time and I know that they were also surprised by the Ayon's performance. Probably never before, maybe except for dCS Vivaldi, we had to deal with so surprisingly mature, refined sound from the CD. And even if in this or that the reference Lektor is still better, the differences are not big.

So I'd like to encourage you to read the next part of the article covering a regular test performed in my own listening system - as early as next month (Vol. 2 | TEST). But I also would like to congratulate Gerhard and the StreamUnlimited crew already now on their achievement, because it is not so easy to move and excite Krakow Sonic Society members

The Super Audio CD Player, Ayon Audio CD-35 turned out to be significantly different from typical products of this type, both in terms of technical aspects, the sound quality and price/performance ratio. We believe that this is the player that changes - in a micro-world, but still - rules of the game, because it aspires to the level previously reserved for true "high-end" while representing a surprising, to say the least, price level.

Thus we have decided to devote two separate articles to this device. We begin by describing a meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, where you will find basic information about the CD-35 and a concept behind it and the opinions of the people who were the first in the world to officially listen to this new Ayon Audio player prepared together with StreamUnlimited. In the second part, which will publish in December, you will find the official test.

As I already mentioned more then once before, the fast and straightforward conversion of many vinyl lovers to music files user could be surprising. After all, "analog is analog", and we heard many times that "digital signal is just a highly shredded one" and "it is not possible for a digital player to ever match a turntable." It was hard to argue with that, because the truth is that there is something special in the vinyl, which draws people into the analog world, regardless of how much they actually spend on their turntable... It offers warmth, smoothness, high (subjective) dynamics, there is something very "humane" about the way the needle reads musical information from a groove of an analogue record.

one of the biggest fans of the black record always has been and is still Gerhard Hirt, the owner of the Austrian company Ayon Audio. He is our friend, an honorary member of the Krakow Sonic Society (with a safety certificate :)) whose products are often reviewed by numerous magazines around the world. Also we, in "High Fidelity" regularly discuss his new products and he also is one of the most frequent visitors of KSS meetings. And it is so because he creates not only high quality products, but from time to time also, to a certain extent, groundbreaking ones, pointing a direction audio world will follow shortly.

Such was the case, for example, of when he came to us to Krakow with the to present for the first time in the world his player that streamed DSD signal in its native form, not using the DoP protocol, as most companies do it today. I was surprised then with his enthusiasm when he spoke of DSD files. I knew that he was a collector of LPs and created a high-end turntable Mystere, which he sold under the Lumen White brand. Moreover, I perfectly remembered an interview he gave me in 2011, in which he excluded all SACDs from his interests (see HERE, No. 88 , August 2011, in Polish). More then once he also told me that his friends from StreamUnlimited, with whom he's been working closely for years, did not appreciate this format either, believing that it still wasn't able to offer sound quality comparable to the one of Red Book CD, as well as of PCM files.

And so we return to the question that opened this text, to the “conversion” of vinyl fans to DSD-men. Because it is not the Super Audio CD (SACD) that is in question here, but the Direct Stream Digital signal, in short DSD, that is used to code data for those discs. Direct transfer of DSD signal to Ayon file player was an idea that came from StreamUnlimited and it indicated that something had changed. It turned out that properly treated it is able to bring analog and digital worlds much closer together, and the reason behind it is that both formats feature similar sets of advantages and disadvantages. And that is, in my opinion, the key to understanding the said “conversion”.

Ayon Audio CD-35

I do not know whether this was Gerhard's intention, or maybe this is a results of brand's logic, but on the tenth anniversary of the premiere of the first ever Ayon Audio CD Player presented in 2006, called CD-1, now we get a product that doesn't have to much in common with it other than a similar chassis, being a top-loader and featuring tube output stage. And yet it is the culmination of research intended to close as much of a gap between analog and digital sound, as possible. Of course, I mean a culmination as a point in time, because perfectionist industries never stop their search for perfection, but it is such an important point that it should make a difference not only in the perception of the company, but in our way of thinking about the sound.

Its symbol – CD-35 - indicates Gerhard's main interest – the Compact Disc (playback). Nothing has changed in this regard and Gerhard during conversation pointed out that despite the fact that CD sales had been steadily decreasing in the world, the number of silver discs own by music fan makes it still a very important music medium. In addition, the player can play also SACDs – that's sort of a bonus for those who think that this is the format offering superior quality. The device plays SACDs, but only as a "bonus". The company materials emphasized that this is a "SACD/CD Player". It turns out that previous Ayon Audio players, except for CD-5 and CD-T, could also play SACD, but this function was turned off to focus efforts on delivering best possible performance with Red Book CDs.

The new model converts the PCM signal read from a CD to DSD. There are three user-selectable options – 64, 128 and 256 DSD. The idea is not new, it has been promoted for years by dCS (see HERE), and not it might be executed relatively cheap using off-the-shelf chip, such as the one used in Amare Musica Tube DAC DSD.

As always the devil is in the details. Digital conversion, especially from one format to another is an extremely complex mathematical operation that must be performed in real time. Any software engineer can create algorithms for such conversions, but same as with novel writing – anyone can write a novel but only very few are awarded the Booker Prize (The Man Booker Prize for Fiction). That is why for the years I claimed that it's best to listen to music in the format in which it was recorded.

StreamUnlimited created software for CD-35 and then it was tested by Ayon Audio for three years. That's why they stopped making CD-5s and there were no news about a successor. One can try different degrees of signal conversion from CDs, but also with SACDs, converting the signal up to DSD256. The detailed description of the device you will find in its review.
Now, let's just say that this player will be available in three versions:

    Basic, CD-35 Standard),
    With analog preamplifier,  (CD-35 Preamp),
    Signature version, ie with full upsampler and Mundorf Silver/Gold capacitors CD-35 Signature).

CD-35 is a modular design. It means that even after purchase any unit can be upgraded. For out listening session and review we used the top version. This is a player with a tube output, which was developed specially for this project. In each channel there are two 5687 and one 6H30 tubes powered via a rectifier tube - the Russian version of GZ30. Power supply features two R-core transformers. The CD-35 player is a top-loader with a magnetic clamp and cover made of acrylic.

LISTENING SESION

Gerhard came to us with his new player almost directly from Japan, where he's recently been spending a lot of time.

Recently for the first time I saw Ayon Audio's advertising in the "Stereo Sound" magazine. As he told us, his company is among the very few brand from outside of Japan, which were accepted by the retailers associations of this country. And in addition Ayon's products are highly appreciated by local audio journalists. Congratulations!

Our listening session of the CD-35 was an absolute world premiere. It was the very first time it was officially presented and evaluated. Comparison was simple – we threw into deep water from the start, ie. into a system that we know inside out since we participated as listeners and commentators in its evolution for the past several years. It's been built around devices made by Krakow based Ancient Audio company - active power conditioner, power amplifiers and three-box CD Player. Note that Lektor Grand SE version 2016 costs twice as much as the CD-35. We had a chance to listen to most available top digital sources in this system, including the majestic 4-box dCS Vivaldi SACD Player.

We first listened to several CDs using Lektor, and then the same CDs using Ayon. Then we compared all conversion modes still using CDs, and finally we played some SACDs.

Marcin
Comparing Lektor to Ayon when we played a CD without conversion was quite difficult for me. The differences were not big, and I admit that did not put attention to nuances, because when he played CD on Ayon and used DSD (probably 64) conversion my jaw dropped to the floor. I did not expect such an effect, such a huge difference in favor of Ayon. The depth and space that I heard was simply unbelievable. I was wondering how was Ayon even able to read so much information from a regular CD? It was MY sound, I would buy it without hesitation.

The next step (conversion to 128) was not so spectacular anymore. In fact, the differences compared to the previous sound were insignificant. Comparing this to the music played with the SACD layer is again difficult. With the SACD layer sound was fuller and denser than with a regular CD, but I still liked the sound of the CD converted to DSD64 more. Another upsampling – SACD to DSD128 and DSD256 also gave no significant improvement. It was good, but not as spectacular as before.

Tomek
I must admit that eagerly waited for the release of the new Ayon Audio "flagship" CD player. I was surprised by the fact that they stopped the production of CD-5s, and offered no successor. Now I know that Gerhard Hirt was busy over the years, and the long waiting time was due to work on the revolutionary, in a sense, technology.

Converting PCM signal read from a CD to DSD was a fantastic idea. The differences between "raw" CD and its “improved” version were in every case perfectly audible and the CD-35 delivered a large scale, pastel presentation that would be impossible not to like. The device has boldly challenged the Ancient Audio player in a complete and very hermetic system of this manufacturer, as in some respects it turned out even superior. I can not wait for the implementation of this converter in the next Ayon Audio devices, and I'd love an opportunity to assess it in my own system.

Wiciu
It was probably the most difficult KSS meeting. At least for me. It was nice to get to know the Ayon Audio boss personally and his opinions concerning. the market, but from my perspective there was not enough time for listening and comparing.

I had trouble recognizing Ayon CD-35 upsampling as a progress in sound quality, but at the moment I'm listening at home to Ayon player using AES/EBU cable and upsampling and it seems to me that in a way it sounds richer and more spatial. I discovered that this upsampling creates interesting opportunities in my system, so with great joy I will spend a few days alone with "35" in my room to discover its qualities, because it is surely worth it.

Therefore, my conclusion is as follows: before we decide to condemn indiscriminately or we praise like never before any audio device, whatever it might be, we should repeat the listening session and possibly more than one time. Single moment, momentary mood do not serve objectivity. Even when Gerhard Hirt is among us. Maybe especially then.

Janusz
I sat on the side, so I can't elaborate, go into details and I shall focus mainly on the overall impression. By far the best sound with upsampling to DSD256. The most improved aspects were: space, momentum and maybe even dynamics. The difference was obvious. When it came to playing the SACD layer and its upsampling I wasn't thrilled. To sum it up, I would like to once again listen to this CD player version with upsampling to DSD. This could be IT.

Summary

As you can see already after these short impressions the CD-35 stirred things up. Listening session during KSS meeting wasn't long (a few hours), but extremely fruitful. Tomek and Marcin clearly chose Ayon with upsampling, which compared to the Lektor was not an underdog at all. Wiciu and Janusz in their statements are more cautious, but I clearly remember their reactions in real time and I know that they were also surprised by the Ayon's performance. Probably never before, maybe except for dCS Vivaldi, we had to deal with so surprisingly mature, refined sound from the CD. And even if in this or that the reference Lektor is still better, the differences are not big.

So I'd like to encourage you to read the next part of the article covering a regular test performed in my own listening system - as early as next month (Vol. 2 | TEST). But I also would like to congratulate Gerhard and the StreamUnlimited crew already now on their achievement, because it is not so easy to move and excite Krakow Sonic Society members.
.......
Wojciech Pacula 

The Epsilon could be the first choice for you. they are for me,
DIRK SOMMER AND JÜRGEN SAILE

SUMMARY: whether you are looking for power amplifiers with immensely inexhaustible power reserves, a conspicuously extensive spatial representation, great detail inflexibility and despite all the ability to analyze a charming touch of warmth, without compromising on everyday life and reliability The Epsilon could be the first choice for you, they are for me. 

EXRENDED REVIEW (translation): Tube versus transistor, analogue to digital: these debates certainly had their charm, but for me, but since the rapid development of the high-bit and DSD technology snow yesterday. Completely free of ideology, it is a question of the sound of tubes, not least thanks to a good portion of high-tech. In short, it is about Ayons Epsilon - and the new KT150.

The longer I am concerned with Hifi , the less I dare to attribute certain sound characteristics to a circuit concept or detail . And, last but not least , it does not matter in principle which active components in my hi-fi components are responsible for the amplification . The first power amp of my Hifi story, which together with an Audiolabor preamplifier replaced a powerful Onkyo full-amplifier , was a Michaelson & Austin TVA-1, in which two KT-88 Gold Lion push-pull 75 watts . That she later had to give way to a transistor amplifier, lay alone because it did not harmonize with my new dream speakers. 

Although I have been using an analog drive with a tube section and a preamp in which tubes are at least partially amplified, I have never come to the reputation of being a tube fan. If you like to hear loudly and use a loudspeaker with a not even so low efficiency of 91 decibels for high-efficiency loudspeaker enthusiasts but still ridiculous, there would also be a lot of tube amps that have the necessary power, but my device selection Was never determined by the question tube or transistor.

The fact that an Ayon Epsilon has now landed with me is not that Jürgen Saile, who, as I like to say, knows every tube with first names and accordingly acts as a monopolist for all the glass- mounted devices in hiphadatement , for an amp of this performance not the right, say "efficiency weak" speaker has, but that after I the mishap with the exquisite, but critical impedance Göbel transducers, yet always on the lookout for new amplifiers for my listening room Ayon chief and LumenWhite sales GerhardShepherd asked for a proven game partner for the DiamondLight . He recommended the brand-new Epsilons and made a short decision

A couple to Gröbenzell. There, they would still give the author a lot of joy without any thought of a test - if not the KT150 had provided for a lot of unrest among the tube friends. There was the idea to convert the Epsilon to the new end tubes. A previously unknown Ayan output stage, which has also been equipped with one of the most exciting new tube developments of the past few years, to be alone in working and enjoying in my listening room, seemed to me too selfish. But before I report on my experience with the Epsilon, I let Jürgen Saile speak up, who can describe the technical characteristics of amplifier and tube far more competently than I do.

Jürgen Sailes Technical Excursions:
The Ayon Epsilon can be ordered in different versions, once equipped with KT88 power tubes or with the new KT150. The KT 150 is a new tube type developed and manufactured by the Russian company Tung-Sol. It belongs to the family of Beampower Tetroden and is therefore related to the famous KT88, or rather, emerged from it. With an anode loss of 70 watts, however, it represents a different caliber and is currently the most powerful beam bundle tetrode. A doped KT88 so to speak. If you look closely, you can see the anode small spoilers. They should make the Tetrode even faster ... nonsense, of course serve the heat dissipation.

The somewhat unusual shape reminds somehow of Easter, and was developed by the Russians to ensure a better heat radiation. In addition, Tung-Sol promises a lower propensity for microphony. The KT150 is pin-compatible with other KT types, such as the KT88, but requires higher heating currents compared to an ordinary KT88. A simple changeover is thus not so easily possible. The Epsilon is fully balanced with six KT150s per device. This allows the output power to be increased again compared to the KT88 version, namely to 180 watts. If this performance is still not enough, you should be serious about your loudspeaker.

As is customary with Ayon, a lush supply of mains power is of great importance. This is not the case with the Epsilon, the three chrome-plated pots contain two mains transformers, one for the anode voltage and one for the heating voltage. The third contains the output transformer. The pots are filled with an epoxy potting compound, which is to make the last vibrations the cooking out. Inside the housing, there is another transformer for the supply voltage of the control electronics. Thus, not enough, the anode voltage is additionally filtered through two chokes and a capacitor bank in a CLCLC configuration. The capacitor bank can have over 1700 μF of screen capacity; This may seem a transistor fan mickrig, but we must remember that voltages of 400 V and more are present. The driver level also contains a choke for filtering. This is very complicated!

In addition to the armada of KT150 tubes, there are four comparatively tiny tubes, two 6SJ7 pentodes with an American octal base as well as a 12AX7 and a 12AU7 with the European base of the Novalsockel. These two tubes are the American counterpart to ECC83 and ECC82. The 6SJ7 Pentodes (these are the tubes in the black metal case) are NOS goods, ie tubes, which were produced earlier and which have hitherto been unused in some store. The use of these tubes has nothing to do with money, quite the opposite, these old tubes have a quality standard, which is hardly achieved in the productions these days.

The output stage has four stages. First, the signal passes through the input tube, which provides the necessary voltage amplification of the LF signal; The Epsilon assumes the 12AU7 double triode. Since the amplifier is designed to be fully balanced, one half of the triode is responsible for both positive and negative. Then it goes over a 12AX7 double triode to the driver stage. Here a powerful driver tube is needed, which makes the KT150 not limp. Ayon uses the 6SJ7, which is switched as a triode for reasons of sound. The KT150 triple packs work in push-pull configuration.

Another specialty is the BIAS setting. We remember that each tube requires a certain grid bias, with which it can work at the optimum operating point. This changes in the course of the life of a tube and must always be readjusted. On some devices this works manually by means of setting potentiometer, in some cases, this is also automatically controlled. The latter has, of course, the advantage that one has to worry about nothing more. Unfortunately, these circuits are often accompanied by a loss of sound, so that Ayon has devised something different. Under the designation auto-fixed-bias the regulation also works automatically, but should function without the mentioned sound losses. The regulation does not interfere with the signal path nor does it regulate during operation.

The Ayons spent a longer time in my listening room, but not with the new KT150. Gerhard Hirt brought me a few months ago the standard version with the KT88. At the speed is quite specific that he packed the two epsilons including inserted tubes without further packaging in his already almost completely full car - which not all power amplifiers really goutiert. Without thinking about this unsuitable transport, I then happily connected the two optically appealing amplifiers and was equally enthusiastic about their sound: There was a touch of extra fullness in the upper bass for the LumenWhite to go a little less strictly , Suddenly also did not one hundred percent perfectly recorded and produced recordings fun, Where they were too relentlessly drawn to their mistakes. And the best thing: despite this small extraportion warmth, the DiamondLight lost almost nothing of its fantastic tracing and the enormous detailfulness. The spatial image even succeeded a little more convincingly than with the multitude of the amplifiers so far used in my chain.

The joy, however, lasted only a day or two, before she had a bump ended. Unfortunately, this was not a real timpani, but the bang of a tube, which during the playful operation blessed the temporal. You can imagine my horror. It was not about the Ayon, but first about my loudspeakers with their not cheap chassis. So I quickly joined the cello monoblocks - and was relieved to find that the protection circuits of the Epsilon were fast enough to save the DiamondLight from too much current. The loudspeakers had survived the incident undamaged. I was already thinking about a longer repair time for the epsilons, when I called Gerhard Hirt. He said, however, quite calmly that it was extremely unlikely that the defective tube caused damage to the amplifier. I should simply insert a spare tube, start with a mini screwdriver the tube test and calibration program and wait for what happens. The likelihood that a resistance would have been affected would be in the perimeter range. And so it was: After a few minutes, in which the Ayon worked out their test routine, she switched to the normal operating mode and played as fascinating as before. 
I would not have dreamed of a new, elaborate tube design as much as I could have done with everyday life. In which the Ayon worked out their test routine, switched it into the normal operating mode and played as fascinating as before. I would not have dreamed of a new, elaborate tube design as much as I could have done with everyday life. 

As a result of the somewhat rough transport over 500 kilometers, another tube has been adopted, but completely unspectacular: In the usual bias current measurement after switching off the power amplifiers, a fault was detected, one of the six LEDs on the rear of the amplifier signaled , Which tube should be exchanged and the illumination of the Ayon lettering blinked instead of going out. I disconnected the Epsilon from the network, replaced the incriminated tube, restored the mains connection, and started the test and calibration program again. After a few minutes, the Epsilon sounded as if nothing had happened. If you are wondering why I am describing these two small incidents at all, when only the positive experiences with test devices can be read almost everywhere: First, Because I would like to emphasize once again that it is in no way beneficial for the sensitive glass flasks to be transported in the amplifier instead of in the protective cardboard box - even over short distances. And secondly, to encourage all those who prefer the sound of tube amps to those of transistor amplifiers, but still do not invest in the former for fear that tubes are particularly susceptible and thus not very everyday, to follow their sonic preferences and to raise concerns - At least when the objects of Ayon's desire are descended or just as secure as the Austrian high-tech amps.

So it took me a few weeks before the epsilons returned to my listening room. Even the best acoustic memory is not enough to describe the changes in the sound caused by the change of the tube. Overall, the more powerful tubes play a more lucid and more relaxed way to deal with impulses all the more violently. The fact that the power amplifiers are still absolutely undisturbed even at fairly high levels is also manifested in a spatially wide and enormously stable sound picture, in which a wealth of details are integrated playfully and completely automatically. But bestsellers in a variety of hifi disciplines reach many very good amplifiers. The outstanding single performance will be a coherent, emotionally captivating experience, But only the best representatives of their kind. The Ayon Epsilon is one of them.

What makes me so much for the epsilons, is the pressureful Oberbass area and this certain warmth. These are characteristics that are often called for, but to avoid misunderstandings: the epsilons are far from what is commonly known as a tube sound: they do not allow any smearing effects, have the bass chassis firmly under control and do not tend to Euphony. They do not turn poorly made discs into drugs for audiophiles, but are not quite as ruthless as some of their transistorkolders. For me, the Ayon are the almost perfect addition to my existing chain.

Since I am happy with the sound of the epsilons, I do not really know why I should use the KT150 Pentodes as trimes. But first, the Ayon offer this mode and secondly the colleague mold was in the test of the Cayin amplifier in Triode mode so excited that I can not just ignore this kind of game. So I do not then quite prejudice-free to the comparison, whereby due to the switching-off procedure of the epsilon between the two versions of the same piece pass up to five minutes. With Ravi Shankar's "West Eats Meat", the instruments in the room are somewhat more plastic in triode operation, the playback becomes a touch of air. The deep timpani and the electric bass have more pressure and contour in the Pentode circuit. Here are the KT150 in their former mode of operation for me first choice. At Keith Jarrett's Cologne ConcertThe decision is even more difficult: The triode circuit lets the piano sing just more intensely, the sound picture appears more closed, Jarretts play emotionally even more gripping. For this reason, the pentodes in the mode according to the mode of operation allow the individual tones to sound even more differentiated in their positioning in space and in the dynamics. This comes a bit closer to the somewhat sobering lecture, which I had been accustomed to over the years by transistors. But after a few months with the KT88 equipped Epsilon, I can not assert a more calm conscience, which - let's call it: - the intellectual-analytical mode of the more emotional.

Today I am more concerned with the question whether the tube amplifiers in the pentode or triode operation fascinate me more. Since the chain in my study should have tool-character, but I will stay with the Pentodes for the time being - but I can not and will not rule out the charm of the triode circuit more and more often. How nice that the Ayons have a choice here. The change-over switch is therefore not as superfluous, as at first sight.

Am I after these tremendously positive experiences with the Epsilons from now tube fan? For me a rather idle question: I remain synonymous in the future all circuit concepts open up - digital amplifiers perhaps excepted, because before the A / D conversion of fine analog signals from record player and tape recorder still frightening back, Epsilon and KT150 fan.

STATEMENT
Whether you are looking for power amplifiers with immensely inexhaustible power reserves, a conspicuously extensive spatial representation, great detail inflexibility and despite all the ability to analyze a charming touch of warmth, without compromising on everyday life and reliability The Epsilon could be the first choice for you. they are for me, they are for me. 

PS: perfectionists are not around the equipment with the KT150 not around, but also with the standard KT88 guarantee the Ayon enormously much music enjoyment.

……DIRK SOMMER

I can say, that due to the Ayon we might become not only witnesses, but also the main role players, of the exhumation of the CD discs, already buried by some. You do not believe me? Then please listen for yourselves.
Marcin Olszewsk

SUMMARY: Most improvement was observed in terms of space, especially in depth of the stage and resolution. And at the same time the improvement of the latter did not result in the sound becoming overly analytical, known from digital samplers, but something completely opposite – going closer to the analog fabric and dynamics as known from vinyl discs. If you ever had the opportunity to listen to a professional reel-to-reel tape recorder and well maintained tapes (preferably one of the first copies of the master tapes) then please believe me, or better listen for yourselves, it goes in the direction of the Austrian player. To experience that you do not need to reach for the reference recordings like “Tartini secondo natura” , as it is absolutely sufficient to use something far from audiophile perfection like “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” Metallica or “Dystopia” Megadeth. For the part of population not directed toward this kind of repertoire it may seemingly only be the sound of a working scrap-heap, but it is art to show such kind of rumble in proper way and allow the listener to find the beauty hidden in such sound. And the Ayon not only gives that possibility, but serves this beauty on a golden plate.  But it does this job without any rounding off, smoothing down or softening or sweetening, but due to the mentioned analog touch makes even the rough guitar riffs to enchant with juiciness and might, while the bass kicks push you into the listening chair, but at the same time do not allow us to sit there without moving to the rhythm.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Despite rumors about the death of the CD format dwelling around for some time, the silver disc does not care about them and still holds its position. Although sales are going down slowly and new issues are selling better on vinyl and as files, or in streaming, but we cannot deny, that there are hundreds or even thousands of Red Book compatible discs in our home libraries, and we will for sure keep on listening to those. So it might be the case, that during the coming years, our libraries will not grow as quickly as before, but we will still be interested in extracting the best of what we have already stored. Of course you can pour out the baby with the bathwater and like Linn stop manufacturing players capable of reproducing music from the silver disc (they still manufacture turntables though), yet continue to propose music on such carriers, which is not a very consistent approach to the topic, is it? Another, and much less controversial, idea on how to stay on the market is to induce the buyers emotions and suggest, that if you want to buy a CD player, then it is the last possibility to do so and later it will be to late … and introduce to market the (last) Mohican, like the Norwegian Hegel did.

But there are such manufacturers, who did not scrap anything, they do also not foresee the end of the world as we know it or pronounce digital apocalypse, but just want their newest products to combine the past with the present and the future. To this last set of manufacturers we must count the Austrian company Ayon, which’s owner – Gerhard Hirt, carefully observes the changing reality we live in and draws conclusions from it, from time to time putting the cat to the pigeons when presenting a new product. And this is exactly the thing we deal with now. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present the Ayon CD-35, the “all having” CD/SACD player, DAC and preamplifier, introducing the fourth generation of Austrian players to the market.

Concentrating on the design of the CD-35 it is hard to add anything to what was already said, written and seen during the tests, listening sessions and touching of the previous models. Because you do not change things that is absolutely immediately recognizable, and in addition, due to the really armored build quality, also sympathy of its customers. This is the reason, that we have again the same kind of chassis, with rounded edges, and made from perfectly matching aluminum profiles, with a top-loading mechanism covered by a massive acrylic top.

Inside the chassis we have some tubes, not only in the output stage (one 5687 and 6H30 per channel) but also in the power supply (rectifying GZ30), so we should not be surprised, that there are venting holes in the plating, secured with silver plated grates. Talking about things we can find inside the player, I will just mention, that this time the DAC chip is the AKM “Verita” AK4490EQ, which provides support not only for PCM 768kHz/32 bit, but also DSD 256 (11.2MHz). Power is supplied by two R-Core transformers, one of which is dedicated to digital circuitry. Additionally the Signature version, we received for testing, is equipped with Mundorf Silver/Gold capacitors. But most work and time went into the programming of the unit, the creation of the firmware by StreamUnlimited took almost three years.

Going back outside it is worth mentioning, that besides the acrylic top, the disc is kept on the drive by a small and light magnetic puck, covered with the SACD emblem. You can also see the name of the format on the top, near the navigational buttons, which are traditionally placed there.

The front panel, as usual with the Austrian top-loaders, has only a centrally placed, red, display, the company logo on the left and the model name on the right. Full minimalism, not even distorted by the power switch, as this is located on the bottom, close to the left front foot. However no restrictions are to the back panel, which overwhelms with the amount of available connections and functions. So we have analog outputs in RCA and XLR version, a section of analog inputs, where instead of three RCA pairs like in the CD-3sx there are two such pairs and a XLR pair. There is only a single coaxial digital output, but there are a lot more digital inputs. We can choose from a coaxial, AES/EBU, BNC, I2S, USB and triple BNC dedicated to DSD. There are also dip switches allowing to select gain (high/low), input stage mode (Normal/Direct Amp) and the analog output mode (RCA, XLR and XLR/RCA). However the good news ends there, as I noticed that the unit is lacking a characteristic red LED, an indicator of proper polarization, something that is very helpful when reconfiguring the system. The manufacturer informed me with grief, that this was the result of implementing the EU law, or more precisely, the CE certification. Although it seems absurd, it turned out, that the EU bureaucrats decided, that this sensor, which operates on 230V, may pose a risk for the user. Incredible! What do you need to have between your ears to think of something like that? I do not know, what the bureaucrats responsible for the certifications are taking, but they should change their supplier quickly, as they may come with the idea, that a disc rotating in the drive also poses a deadly threat.

To dry our tears we get a few very useful functions, among which we need to distinguish the sixty step volume control done in the analog domain, which can be bypassed with one click of a button on the remote. There is also a choice between two available filters – with shallow slope (Filter 1) or steep slope (Filter 2) and upsampling of all signals to DSD 128 or DSD 256. There are also two switches hidden from full sight, located on the bottom plate, which allow to lower the output signal by 6dB, what can be welcomed with joy by people, who found the Ayon players being too loud compared to competition.

Before we continue to the part devoted to the description of the sound I would like to turn your attention to one thing. Unlocking the ability to read SACD discs resulted in the drive becoming much more noisy. This is not unexpected, as the CD rotates at a moderate 200-500 RPM, while with SACD this increases up to 1500 RPM. And this is something you can clearly hear. Interestingly when we tested the conventional drive C.E.C TL 0 3.0 this could be heard even more clearly, while the hybrid Accuphase players operate completely noiseless. On the other hand no one is sitting with his ear on the chassis, as this would not be very sensible, and furthermore you would probably burn your ear, as the unit gets significantly hot.

This time I want to mention upfront, that this review will be very subjective (as if the previous ones were not), but in addition it carries the burden of my over six years of “marriage” with players from the Ayon brand. But if you would think I always tackled the upper shelf of the catalog, then you are mistaken. When in 2011 I started my “romance” with Ayon players, then when I got to choose between the CD-07s and the CD-1sc, I consciously chose the 7, as I liked it better. The 1 sounded better, but the 7 enchanted me with incredible musicality, for its price. However this state did not last long, as on the turn of 2012/2013 the new version of the 1sc changed my mind completely and I replaced my player with that model. For the next two years there was a certain quiet, but in February 2015 I invited the CD-1X  which lasted until I got for testing the CD-3sx, the top model at the time (January 2016). This sparring turned out very interesting, as both models were from the third generation, the last one at the time, so the spotted differences were to show, where the evolution will go further. Or to cure my audiophila nervosa showing, that this is more a step sideways than forward. But when I became enchanted with the volume of the sound, resolution and nobleness I could not achieve in my player, and I was thinking about another change, I heard from the manufacturer to wait. I probably do not need to tell you, that this patience was rewarded, although my beginnings with the CD-35 cannot be described as nice and easy.

My first contact with the player was during the opening of the new Warsaw Nautilus shop, but listening there was absolutely not possible. Another chance was during the Audio Video Show, but meeting with people made listening not really possible. Fortunately things got better from there, and almost the complete set that was showcased during the Audio Show arrived in our listening room (minus the turntable).

The first listenings we did with Gerhard Hirt, who was so kind to visit us in person, we ended around 2 am, and next sessions made me more and more convinced, that the 35 sounds worrisomely good. Comparisons with the company streamer S-10, but also with our separated source Reimyo, only confirmed that, so after a few days, when the CD-35 was borrowed to our competition, I plugged it into my system and … I was completely sold. The CD-1sx was good and I liked it, especially as it was my fourth (I believe I had two 07s) Ayon player in a row, but it had to acknowledge superiority of the CD-35, as it was the case with the CD-3sx. However with the 3 I was thinking very hard about the change, here with the 35 there was absolutely nothing to think about.

But enough of that – now is time to continue to the most important part. Plugging the CD-35 into the system and you can immediately hear, that there is more sound, that it is better compared to the 1sx and 3sx, and the difference is audible even on the factory settings, without all the sound improvers switched on. However choosing the upsampling to DSD 256 is like engaging “nitro” in a sports car, we jump to another, to date unachievable on most price levels, musical galaxy. Interestingly the process is not limited to SACD discs, what would seem obvious, but also CDs and … files provided to the player by any of the digital inputs. In the last case we can notice another thing. The Ayon gets the best out of all file transports and streamers connected to it, minimizing its influence on the final quality of the sound, what turns out to be beneficial in 99.9% of the cases, as it allows to minimize additional expenditure, as you do not need anything from the offering of Bluesound, Auralic, Lumin or similar, not even mentioning a dedicated NW-T/DSD.

Let us start with the silver and “dense” discs, as this what the 35 extracted from the SACS resulted in most people hearing the new product of Gerhard Hirt not believing their ears. Unfortunately I do not own any heavier repertoire on discs recorded in this format, so I needed to start with items available in the catalogs of Linn and Alia Vox – folk and classical music. As you can make the first impression only once, I put everything on one card and placed the disc “Dixit Dominus” Jordi Saval under the acrylic cover. This is a seemingly not very “blockbuster” recording, but it can show the truth about the device playing it back, and due to the use of natural instruments and vocals, which were not computer treated, it can immediately show, if there are attempts to manipulate the signal. The sound was dark, but perfectly airy and full of internal calmness, what negates the common opinion, that the Austrian CDs sound with a strung sound, on the verge, or even surpassing, the border of nervousness. Nothing of that kind. Those are two different kind of things – a vulgar brightening, flashing contours of the sound on your eyes is something completely different than resolution, native to the 35, which gives a fully natural, and more or less truthful insight into the recording. Why only “more or less”? Well … this aspect was explained during the last meeting at the U22  by Maestro Maksymiuk himself. On “commercial” recordings everything can be heard better than live, and despite the fact, that live sound is the unreachable master, yet resolution and better, more precise insight into the performing apparatus is allowed during home listening. Of course if we have appropriate audio system to allow that.

Similar impressions were provided by “The Devil’s Trill”, what convinced me, that in terms of creating the climate and reproducing the timbre of the instruments as faithfully as possible, it will be very hard to find any reason, to criticize the Ayon even symbolically. So we search on. This is the reason I reached for the album “Notes From A Hebridean Island”  William Jackson and Sisters Mackenzie, which is very good with Scottish distilled products, and allowed me to assess how the tested player handles at time very shrill music, where the vocal part, quite far from the esthetics of Italian melody and fluency, gives quite good impressions of sibilants. But also in this case everything was very good, so instead of searching for any flaws I just listened on, putting the tablet I use for making my notes to the side.

Going over to CDs and files should be, as it often is, a very painfull, even traumatic, thing. Yet with switched of upsampling it was noticeable, and clearly a downgrade, but the emotions connected to this switch were far from hysteria and tearing of your robes. The sound was just more focused in the center and without the freedom it had. But the saturation of the timbres and motoric did not produce a grimace of distaste. You might say those were the limitations of the format. But were they? Well, not really, as it was enough to press the PCM-DSD button activating the upsampling, to live through a jaw breaking experience. The difference for better was colossal, and it was not limited to one or two aspects, but had a deep and global character, or shortly speaking, the conversion to DSD was a good thing.

Most improvement was observed in terms of space, especially in depth of the stage and resolution. And at the same time the improvement of the latter did not result in the sound becoming overly analytical, known from digital samplers, but something completely opposite – going closer to the analog fabric and dynamics as known from vinyl discs. If you ever had the opportunity to listen to a professional reel-to-reel tape recorder and well maintained tapes (preferably one of the first copies of the master tapes) then please believe me, or better listen for yourselves, it goes in the direction of the Austrian player. To experience that you do not need to reach for the reference recordings like “Tartini secondo natura” , as it is absolutely sufficient to use something far from audiophile perfection like “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” Metallica or “Dystopia” Megadeth. For the part of population not directed toward this kind of repertoire it may seemingly only be the sound of a working scrap-heap, but it is art to show such kind of rumble in proper way and allow the listener to find the beauty hidden in such sound. And the Ayon not only gives that possibility, but serves this beauty on a golden plate.  But it does this job without any rounding off, smoothing down or softening or sweetening, but due to the mentioned analog touch makes even the rough guitar riffs to enchant with juiciness and might, while the bass kicks push you into the listening chair, but at the same time do not allow us to sit there without moving to the rhythm.

Although due to its multitasking nature the Ayon CD-35 should be performing each of its functions more or less good and be very well perceived against competition due to this multitude of functions, called universality, yet in reality things are a bit different. It turned out, that Gerhard Hirt had enough time, when working on the fourth generation of his players in the form of the CD-35, that each of the available options was brought to perfection. What does this mean? I do not know what you think, but for myself, I can say, that due to the Ayon we might become not only witnesses, but also the main role players, of the exhumation of the CD discs, already buried by some. You do not believe me? Then please listen for yourselves. But please do not blame me, if your plans of limiting expenditure on audio gear just got shot.

......Marcin Olszewsk

Awards

For the first time ever I decided to grand the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product that costs less than interconnects used to hook it up.

Summary

During the CD-35 test I listened to both CDs and SACDs. I have to say that the difference between them was not big, and with the upsampling to DSD it was actually small. The discs when converted to DSD256 sounded incredibly emotionally mature. I prefer simple solutions and changing the format always seems risky to me; I believe that music should be played in the format in which it was recorded. Therefore the PCM to DSD upsampling never appealed to me and for me (even in the case of the most expensive devices) it always confirmed my intuition resulting in a sound full of artifacts.

What people of StreamUnlimited managed to prepare together with Gerhard Hirt is a completely different story. Upsampling changes the sound in a very significant way (besides it also increases volume by 4-5 dB). These are not subtle adjustments, but a transition from a very good, tasteful hi-fi to a full-blown high-end performance. The best digital sources present a slightly better differentiated sound stage in the back, their performance is also more detailed and dCS Vivaldi delivers even smoother one.

However, none of the players that I listened at home wasn't able to deliver such a rich, saturated performance as Ayon did, nor such a big scale of the sound nor so large instruments. When one presses “Play” CD-35 fills the space between loudspeakers tightly with sound, and if particular disc includes such signals – equally dense sound surrounds listener.

I've never heard anything like that before. I'm not claiming that this is the best possible performance, because it is not. But it is, however, one of the most interesting sounds that I heard from any audio device. For the first time ever I decided to grand the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product that costs less than interconnects used to hook it up.

AYON TRITON - winner of the 13th Annual Positive Feedback Writers' Choice Awards for 2016

Ayon Triton III Integrated Amplifier

Retail: NZ$16,995 

I have always been a fan of Ayon products. While many of their offerings are not for the faint of heart from a cost perspective you can generally count on the company to produce some of the finest gear around and you could spend a lifetime listening to an Ayon based system without complaint for a very long time indeed.

The Ayon Triton III amplifier is my pick for product of the year. Balanced, powerful enough to drive any speaker, delicate enough to deliver whispers that will make the hair on your arms stand up, dynamic enough to take you from the softest passages to the most dynamic orchestral passages with slam and presence to die for! This is an integrated amp that can and will deliver it all. All wrapped up in some of the best cabinet work with aesthetics that easily pass any WAF test with flying colors. (Just ask Paula—she is big thumbs up on aesthetics and sound).

Definitely recommended!

Testimonials

Iam impressed with this valve amp

hi terry  
i have just deposited the balance in to your bank ..i had a good listen to the AYON SPIRIT !!! valve amp over the weekend and it sounds VERY GOOD to me,  i am impressed with this valve amp,  very clear in the mids and trebles so I thank you VERY MUCH for your patience over this journey, and thanks for letting me have a home demo off those other two fine amps [hegel & sanders] .. again thanks heaps.
.....ian

Fantastic

Terry,
"After Saturday when we set up the new Ayon Crossfire 300B integrated I decided to look at using the Aurelic Vega DAC again. What a difference - with the Crossfire installed there is much more clarity, definition and texture.
I can also get a lot more volume and headroom; it's like using the previous Triton amp but with greater definition and timbre. Fantastic. You'll have to come and have a listen".
Regards,
.....Stephen

Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
Hi Terry,
All set up and going. Your advice is much appreciated. I am amazed at what it sounds like.
The new Ayon Scorpio tube amp in Triode mode is best and it's like sitting in front of the band with a sound scape all around you. I can hear sounds on the new Clearaudio Concept turntable with my old LP's I have never heard before.

I used to have a Bose 5 speaker system and this new system blows it away  - just on the warmth, depth and feel of the music. 

 
Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
 
Peter

Videos

http://youtu.be/fZ2yl5ERTAs