Ayon CD-35 State-Of-Art tube CD/SACD player / Preamp / DAC - fully balanced

AY 04 CD CD35PRE
NZ$ 14,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio

"The Bugatti of Audio" - TAS: The Absolute Sound magazine

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considering its price the Ayon CD-35 Signature SACD player aspires to one of the best buys in the high end audio industry.
THE AUDIODROM 

SUMMARY: 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.
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.

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

Function and form
EASE of USE - 85%
SOUND - 91%
APPEARANCE - 90%

The CD-35 player continues the Ayon’s tradition of rugged industrial design – the anodized black aluminum 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.

Bass management
WEIGHT - 92%
SLAM - 89%
ARTICULATION - 88%

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 perfromance. 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.

Clarity & delicacy
DETAIL - 90%
AIR - 88%
TRANSPARENCY - 88%

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. The DSD128 was too brilliant and almost shrieky at places, yet I understand that some dark sounding set-ups may benefit from its extra light. Your ears should be the last arbiter, like always.

Tonal accuracy
TIMBRE - 90%
DYNAMICS - 88%
TEMPORAL RESOLUTION - 90%

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 instrumental 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 nuances. 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?

Spatial resolution
HOLOGRAPHY - 91%
SOUNDSTAGE WIDTH  - 91%
SOUNDSTAGE DEPTH - 91%

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

The spatial perspective, lateral and front-to-back, is wide and deep, with very fine resolution. If you are the sound-staging 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.