Ayon CD-35 Signature CD/SACD player w/ PCM-DSD converter Preamp/DAC/USB/Streamer

AY 06 CD CD35SIG
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio

"The Bugatti of Audio" - according to respected TAS: The Absolute Sound magazine

New

CD-35 SIGNATURE CD/SACD player incl ANALOG PREAMP, USB DAC PCM-DSD CONVERTER, & STREAMER

Whipped up by the great success of the CD-35 we got more and more requests to launch a special and limited Version of the CD-35, quasi a "digital" machine that should as "analogue" as never before. All music lovers engaged in top analogue turntables and/or reel-to-reel tape recorders also may feel to be approached. Many ideas, thoughts, suggestions, and a dedicated assistance of the people of the HighFidelity.pl magazine also were incorporated in the CD-35 Signature project. Based upon the existing CD-35 technology every detail was re-examined carefully, refined, high-selected, re-adjusted, and the best-sounding components were implemented at the decisive points of the circuitry. Also, its slightly modified appearance, equipped with additional black elements, underline the exclusivity.

The CD-35 Signature reflects a deep magical illumination of space, paired with a dynamic black deployment of power second to none. With its enormous musical representation and its tranquility in detail also the "long-term listening" is always experienced as being relaxed and inspiring.

CD35 Signature version features special - Mundorf supreme Gold / Silver capacitors.

Herewith, a new era of digital/analogue CD-reproduction presents itself in the foreground, a masterpiece of the art of sound.

HIGH FIDELITY GOLD FINGERPRINT AWARD: 
"for the first time ever I decided to grant the GOLD Fingerprint award to the product that costs less than interconnects used to hook it up".

REVIEWERS COMMENT:
"The SACD format, which promised so much, has never really seduced me. Even the best players in my ears did not present any special advantage of SACD format over the CD. Ayon CD-35 was the first device that changed my mind about it," …..Wojciech Pacula  Sounds Inc Audio Solution

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 general DSD professional audio use. 

The CD-35 is in many respects a new ground-breaking CD/SACD-Player design with an advanced technology like a new vacuum tube output stage, new magnetic clamp system with separate CD-LID, new DAC design and a switchable PCM-DSD converter (DSP module). 

Note - the CD-35 replaces previous CD 5 which has been discontinued.

REVIEW 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.

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.

Based on a zero-feedback, pure tube circuit design and a tube rectified power supply, the CD-35 reveals the manifold layers of music with utmost transparency while projecting a deep and highly focused 3D soundstage. Its bass is extended and powerful, its midrange pure, liquid and permeated with natural warmth, while the top is extraordinarily clean and finely detailed. 

This Reference CD/SACD-Player offers an uncompromising quality level in every aspect. The CD-35 is one of the most exciting CD/SACD-Player with vacuum-tube output stage and the best sounding CD/SACD-Player what Ayon Audio ever built".

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Awards

Features

Full-featured Tube Top Loader CD/SACD-Player. Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended & balanced operation

Signal Path 
We believe that the simplest circuits work best together with the shortest signal path. That is why our pre-amplifiers to date have used single-ended pure class-A circuitry. 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 
● 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 
● The volume is controlled in the analogue domain 
● DAC digital input - S/PDIF (RCA) , AES/EBU (XLR), I2S, BNC, USB, 3 x BNC for DSD; 
● Digital output - S/PDIF (RCA) 
● Ultra-low jitter internal clock generator

Power Supply 
The power supplies have been further refined with new components and enhanced AC line noise filtration. Separate power transformer windings and filters provide total isolation between the input and output stage which makes this a pure power source and it is a critical attribute for a 6H30/5687 output stage. 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 R-Core / Low noise – insulated power transformer for digital & analog 
● Innovative power supply provides a high speed energy delivery on transients 
● Separate and isolated power supplies over each stage of amplification 
● Tube rectification for 6H30/5687 analog output stage 
● Choke filtering for 6H30/5687 
● Regulated DC filament supplies with soft start for 6H30/5687 
● AC power line filter to avoid noise and hash from entering into the unit. 
● 10 separate voltage regulators 

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 
● High quality special tube sockets with gold pins 
● Superior capacitors 
● High quality – RCA & XLR jack 
● Gold-plated industrial grade PCB 

Mechanical Construction 
The high grade aluminium chassis impart a richer, more lustrous tonality with a cleaner back-ground and less hash and grain. All brushed anodised anti-vibration-resonance and non-magnetic chassis’s are fully hand assembled to insure the highest level of craftsmanship.

● Backlit function buttons 
● Modified suspension system to isolate the SACD/CD-transport from mechanical vibrations 
● Anti-vibration magnetic CD-clamp system with dark acrylic CD-LID 
● Front panel descriptions are engraved 
● The aluminium feet are resonance absorbing types 
● Chassis finish: black / chrome

Specifications

SACD/CD-Player Ayon CD-35
Conversion rate 768kHz / 32 bit & DSD 256
DAC configuration Fully symmetrical / AKM-Japan
DSP module (option) PCM→DSD & DSD→DSD
Tube complement 6H30 & 5687
Dynamic range > 120dB
Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB Low 2.5V fixed or 0 – 2.5 V rms variable
Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB High 5V fixed or 0 – 5V rms variable
Output impedance Single-Ended-RCA ~ 300 Ω
Output impedance Balanced-XLR ~ 300 Ω
Digital output 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA)
Digital input 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA), USB, I2S, BNC, AES/EBU, 3 x BNC for DSD
S/N ratio > 119 dB
Frequency response 20Hz - 50kHz +/- 0.3dB
Total harmonic distortion @ 1kHz < 0.001%
Remote control Yes
Output complement RCA & XLR
Dimension (WxDxH) cm 48x39x12 cm
Weight 17 kg

Reviews

.....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 

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

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

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.