Ayon S10-II Signature tube Music Streamer 32/192 DSD256 Roon Tidal Qobuz JRiver

AY 13 MS S10SIG
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio

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

New

In 2011 Ayon Audio has set a milestone with the S-3: the first network-player with top-class vacuum-tube technology worldwide, separate DAC section and an analogue preamp section. 6 years later we present the successor S-10 and it was created to embody, in more advanced technologies and very flexible player, all the know-how and expertise acquired developing our reference Network-Player products. 

The S-10 includes a network player, computer playback, analogue preamp, a world class PCM/DSD Digital to Analog converter and a PCM – DSD converter for all PCM signals that gives an outstanding sound performance that you would expect from an Ayon product. The S-10 is based on a modular platform and can be composed variably. There is a variety of choices available.

Of course, there are again a modern puristic and tonal significantly decisive tube output stage and a newly developed fully symmetrical dual mono DAC.

Its spacious 3D image combined with an enormous agility and stirring reproduction are only a few trademarks unified in this exceptional device.

This tube based network-player represents a new sound performance standard in its price category.

The key difference between S10 Standard’ and the S-10 Signature, is with the Signature version featuring Mundorf supreme capacitors.

Ayon Audio’s new S-10 Network Player combines a network player, computer playback, analogue preamp, DAC and PCM–DSD converter in a design that incorporates a valve output stage.

The output stage is a Class-A triode design with both balanced and single-ended outputs. Ayon not only uses the shortest signal paths possible but also says the circuit uses neither global nor nested negative feedback loops, no followers or buffers in the signal path and does not have a ‘signal-degrading d.c. servo circuit.’

The S-10 accepts UPnP streaming from NAS or PC, streaming audio from USB, and can handle DSD up to 256×, PCM up to 384kHz/24bit, FLAC up to 384kHz/24bit and AIFF up to 384kHz/24bit file formats, plus is also able to convert any PCM signals to either  DSD128 or 256. 

The multiple power supplies use enhanced a.c. line noise filtration, with separate R-core power transformer windings and eight separate voltage regulators to provide total isolation between the input stage and the 6H30 output stage.

The Ayon S-10 gives the outstanding sound performance with the spacious 3D imaging, enormous agility and stirring reproduction that you would expect from an Ayon product,’ said Boris Granovsky, of Absolute Hi End. ‘The S-10 is based on a modular platform and can be composed variably, with a variety of option choices available and there can be absolutely no doubt that this valve-based network-player represents a new sound performance standard for its price category.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

Full-featured Network Music Player with DAC
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.

Network Player

Functionality

●  User interface on QVGA 5” TFT display
●  Internet radio (vTuner)
●  Tidal
●  RoonReady  
●  UPnP streaming from NAS or PC
●  Streaming audio from USB HS (mass storage device)
 ° DSD – up to 128x (add *256x during 2017, via online FW update) 
 ° WAV - up to 384kHz/24bit
 ° FLAC - up to 384kHz/24bit
 ° AIFF- up to 384kHz/24bit
●  WIFI
●  Digital input - S/PDIF (RCA), Toslink and USB “B” ( PCM & DSD ) for computer playback
●  2 x USB “A” inputs 
●  Digital output - S/PDIF (RCA)
●  Analog line inputs: 2 pair RCA (optional)
●  Quadruple electrical -analogue volume control for preamp (optional)
●  PCM
DSD converter (up to 256x switchable) for all PCM signals (optional)
●  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
●  Separate analog output stage for left and right channel
●  Ethernet ( RJ45 )


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 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.

●  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
●  AC power line filter to avoid noise and hash from entering into the unit.
●  8 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 tube sockets with gold pins
●  Capacitors ( MKP 2% )
●  High quality – RCA & XLR jack
●  Gold-plated industrial grade PCB

Specifications

Conversion rate:  384kHz / 24 bit & DSD64/128/256*
PCM DSD converter:  All PCM signals DSD128 or 256 switchable
Dynamic range:  > 120dB
Channel separation:  >105dB 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB /RCA/XLR:  0 – 8V rms variable
Output impedance  Single-Ended-RCA:  ~ 700 Ω
Output impedance  Single-Ended-XLR:  ~ 700 Ω
Digital inputs:  75 Ω  S/PDIF (RCA & up to 24/192kHz), TosLink (up to 24/192kHz)

USB up to 192KHz and DSD64/128
Front mounted USB type ‘A’ socket for USB “pen”/hard disk drive
Rear mounted USB type ‘A’ socket for USB “pen”/hard disk drive

Network inputs
RP-SMA plug Wifi Aerial input (“wireless” network connection) 802.11b/g
UTP RJ45 10/100Mbps socket (“wired” network connection)

S/N ratio:  > 115 dB
Frequency response:   20Hz – 20kHz  +/- 0.3dB
Total harmonic distortion @ 1kHz:  < 0.002%
Remote control:  Yes
Analog line inputs:  2 pair RCA
Analog – Main outputs:  1 pair RCA & XLR
Dimension (480W x 360D – incl. terminals x 120H – incl. feet) mm
Weight, unit only: 12 kg

Specifications subject to change without notice

Reviews

The Ayon S-10 is a great device with outstanding tonal qualities and exceptionally versatile with a perfectly matched network player, converter and preamp. You can not find that every day. 
ROLAND DIETL

STATEMENT - The Ayon S-10 is a great device with outstanding tonal qualities and exceptionally versatile with a perfectly matched network player, converter and preamp. You can not find that every day. But the DSD conversion option is the icing on the cake and makes the S-10 sonically extra special.
ected music material and the set volume, the playback was always extremely transparent, clear and spatial.
In all three configurations, operating the S-10 was a great pleasure. The streaming unit responds quickly and smoothly. Especially in the integrated streamers I see one of the great strengths of the S-10: The sound result is excellent and you can do without a computer in the system.

At last year's High End, Gerhard Hirt, owner and CEO of Ayon, introduced me to his new development in the area of network players in detail and afterwards it was clear that we wanted to have this device tested as soon as possible. A few weeks ago it was time and we got the device exclusively for the test.

In our recent conversation, Gerhard Hirt told me completely relaxed that the S10 had actually already been done for about a year and you have deliberately used the time until the official appearance for fine-tuning. After all, the S-10 should be a "true Ayon" in every way.

From a purely external point of view, the S-10 can be recognised at first glance as a device from Ayon: solid, well-made, black aluminium housing with the characteristic rounded corners. The front panel is dominated by the large QVGA 5-inch color TFT display for displaying the various menus of the network player, which is still easy to read from a distance. Another small display to the right shows, among other things, volume, input, mute and balance. The S-10 is completely controlled via the included remote control. By eliminating any controls on the front panel, the S-10 looks very elegant, tidy and unfussy.

Technically, the S-10 connects to the well-known S-3, which has been on the market since 2011 - a long time for a hi-fi component in general and for a digital device in particular. I still have the sonic abilities of the S-3 in my best memory and sonically excellent components do not belong suddenly to the old iron. For this reason, the S-3 remains in the program of Ayon. On the other hand, a lot has happened in the digital sector in recent years: I would like to mention internet streaming services or the subject of DSD.

And this is exactly where Ayon has started the S-10. The streaming unit now consists of the new high-end streamer module "Stream 820" by Austrian specialist Stream Unlimited. This module contains a brisk 1 GHz Cortex-A8 processor as well as 4GB RAM and 4GB flash memory. Thus, sufficient computing power is available for processing PCM data in the formats WAV, FLAC or AIFF up to 24-bit / 384 KHz and DSD data up to 11.2 MHz (DSD256). The access to Tidal is already integrated as well as the Roon compatibility. Connection to a network is either wired through the RJ45 Ethernet port or wirelessly through the built-in Wi-Fi module. In addition, the network player has two USB inputs - one on the front and one on the back - for direct connection of a USB storage device. like stick or hard drive. In addition, the S10 still has a coaxial digital output (SPDIF).

At the heart of the digital audio section are two high-quality Texas Instruments DSD1792A D / A chips in a channel-separated symmetrical arrangement. To connect external digital components to the DAC, the S-10 has three digital inputs: coaxial S / PDIF (RCA), Toslink and USB-PC "B" type. The USB interface is based on an XMOS DSP chip and can transmit PCM up to 24 bit / 192 kHz and DSD up to 128x.

In the analogue output stage, Ayon has resorted to a well-proven concept in the S-3: a puristic single-ended class A circuit with the well-known double triode 6H30 and only a few components without negative feedback. The balanced outputs are operated separately and in true symmetrical circuit. On the output side, either a cinch output or a balanced output with XLR sockets is available on the analogue level. A parallel operation of both outputs is not provided.

For Ayon, a clean and stable power supply has always been the basis for excellent sound in all devices. With the S-10, a sophisticated line filter takes care of clean conditions at the mains input and a powerful R-core transformer supplies the digital and analog part with separate windings. Generously dimensioned screening capacities and a variety of voltage regulators create stable working conditions for the individual assemblies and their decoupling between them. The device described above runs at Ayon under "base" version. Because Ayon pursues the S10 for the first time a modular concept with various configuration options, which can also be retrofitted. The "preamp" version also includes a remote-controlled analog volume control (4-fold fully balanced) and two pairs of analog line inputs (RCA). The S-10 will be upgraded to an analog preamp with this option. For the volume control Ayon uses the proven special module PGA2320, which attenuates the signal on the analog level with the help of a resistor network. If you want to connect the S10 to a pre-amp, the volume control can also be switched out of the signal path.

The "Signature" version contains eight high-quality Mundorf capacitors of the type Silver / Gold in the analog part as coupling capacitors. The quality of the components used as coupling capacitors plays a decisive role in the sound overall result. The real highlight of this version, however, is the converter module, which converts all incoming PCM signals up to 24 bits / 192 KHz into DSD signals, whereby between DSD128 and DSD256 can be selected. For native DSD signals, the module is bypassed. The module essentially consists of a powerful digital signal processor (DSP), which converts the PCM signals into DSD with a corresponding algorithm. Understandably enough, Gerhard Hirt keeps a low profile over the exact content of the module, since this is a real competitive advantage. The module was developed in close cooperation with the specialists of Stream Unlimited and other external digital specialists. For Ayon alone, such a module would not have been feasible. Now the conversion from PCM to DSD is not completely new. Pioneers in this field were and are companies such as dCS, Meitner, Playback Designs or PS Audio, which use individually programmed algorithms for the conversion. Recently, there are also ready Sample Rate Converter chips. In addition, there are pure PC-based software solutions, such as HQ Player, Audirvana or, most recently, Roon. Now the conversion from PCM to DSD is not completely new. Pioneers in this field were and are companies such as dCS, Meitner, Playback Designs or PS Audio, which use individually programmed algorithms for the conversion. Recently, there are also ready Sample Rate Converter chips. In addition, there are pure PC-based software solutions, such as HQ Player, Audirvana or, most recently, Roon. Now the conversion from PCM to DSD is not completely new. Pioneers in this field were and are companies such as dCS, Meitner, Playback Designs or PS Audio, which use individually programmed algorithms for the conversion. Recently, there are also ready Sample Rate Converter chips. In addition, there are pure PC-based software solutions, such as HQ Player, Audirvana or, most recently, Roon.

But as always, the devil is in the details. The conversion of digital formats is a highly complex mathematical task and must happen in real time. Any good software engineer can write such algorithms, but in my experience, at least the solutions sound really good. That's why I usually prefer to do without upsampling and conversion and listen to the music in its original format. When asked about this, Gerhard Hirt told me that he was very well aware of this problem and that the S-10 uses a special conversion method that avoids the known disadvantages and that one is particularly proud of. Gerhard Hirt has given us the S-10 in the highest stage, so with "preamp" and "Signature" option.

I started my listening test this time with the analog preamp. My M2Tech Young DAC was connected to one of the analogue inputs and on the output side, the S-10 was directly connected to my Omtec power amplifiers. The S-10 proved to be a very good preamp. Regardless of the selected music material and the set volume, the playback was always extremely transparent, clear and spatial. Who does not own a preamp, I can highly recommend the "preamp" version only. For a separate preamp in comparable or even higher quality you have to make a much higher investment anyway.

On the digital side, I have the S10 then connected via the Ethernet port in my home network, which is designed specifically for music playback and usually requires no router and DHCP server. The required manual configuration of the network connection was quickly done with the help of the large display and the well-made manual.

As a media server came on the one hand JRiver in connection with the app JRemote and the other MinimServer controlled via the in-house Ayon App for use. In addition, I have yet tested the interaction of Roon with the S-10. In all three configurations, operating the S-10 was a great pleasure. The streaming unit responds quickly and smoothly. Especially in the integrated streamers I see one of the great strengths of the S-10: The sound result is excellent and you can do without a computer in the system. A comparison of MinimServer's alternative signal path through JPLAY and my two cascaded mutecs into the S-10's USB input confirmed this result. In the long term you can not do without a good music server, because the S-10 mercilessly reveals the differences.

I heard in the first step without DSD conversion. The S-10 opens a wide space with excellent depth graduation. Added to this is the excellent fine dynamics. Both together make good orchestral recordings with classical music sound impressive. Orchestral pieces such as "El Tambor De Granaderos" or "La Revolsta" from the album Music of Spain with the National Orchestra of Spain under the direction of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos ( Music of Spain- Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgo's Conducts of the National Orchestra of Spain - HDTT 24/192), who live from the colorful variety of instrumentation and stupendous dynamics, sound fantastic in the interplay with the fantastically captured depth of the imaginary sound stage. Change of Scene: At the beginning of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (Lyn Stanley: Interludes ), Lyn Stanley stands as if crystal clear between the speakers. One thing is clear, the S-10 does not have a soft tube sound. On the contrary: The live atmosphere of the all-time hit "Hotel California" from the album Hell Freezes Over by the Eagles is rendered extremely clear and transparent by the S-10, plus a crisp, rolling bass.

With great pleasure, I then heard again after a long time through the DSD Sampler Showcase 2 and 3 of OPUS 3. Especially with DSD recordings, I have often lacked a bit of dynamism in the past, so that everything sounded a bit dull and boring to my feelings. But now Eva Tylor "grooves" in "Everybody Loves My Baby" with an intensity that makes it really fun and the grip to the volume control does not fail. And suddenly my interest in DSD is back.

No, I will not now deal with the basic question PCM versus DSD, but limit myself to describe my listening impressions. Generally speaking, the DSD conversion gives a lot more shine to PCM recordings and maybe that extra bit. Also with regard to the depth of the spatial representation results with the DSD conversion an interesting effect. Compared to the PCM playback, it does not seem so deep to me, but the sound moves slightly forward and thus appears more present. At the same time, however, the spatial impression improves for me. A contradiction? Not necessarily, because the individual instruments are staggered much more natural and each instrument "breathes" and vibrates as it were in the room.This can be heard very well in the first movement from the "Symphony No. 34" by WA Mozart in the interpretation of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Josef Krips (Mozart: Symphony 35 & 41-Chesky). A recording in the best DECCA tradition with a nice soft sound paired with great space and at the same time enormously closed and compact. With the DSD conversion, the recording looks more present and everything looks a bit breezier. I attribute this to the distinctive ability of the S-10 to reproduce subtle nuances within a room. Thus, the spatial placement of the instruments in the interplay between the fast successive forte and piano passages, which characterize the first movement of this symphony, much clearer worked out. But not only recordings of large orchestras, but also recordings with chamber music ensembles benefit immensely from the DSD conversion. Take the string sonata by GA Rossini for two violins, cello and double bass (Salvatore Accardo - Rossini: 5 Sonata a Quattro - LIM UHD): with the DSD conversion the strings sound incredibly velvety and supple; You can hear the "breathing" of the musicians and feel, how fantastically the musicians interact with each other.

So far I have always chosen the conversion on DSD128. With the remote control, you can easily switch to DSD256 while listening. To my surprise, there is no further improvement here. On the contrary: the sound impression is subjectively somewhere between the original PCM version and DSD128. But somehow the above spell of conversion on DSD128 is gone. One explanation could be that when converting to DSD256, much more data has to be moved, resulting in a significantly greater burden on the system. You remember: AAuch in the DSD module is a processor. More is not always better!

Up to this point we have been exclusively concerned with the conversion of CD quality to DSD. But what does it look like if the source material is PCM in HiRes? I deliberately choose to record the Haydn Symphonies with the Philharmonica Hungarica under Antal Dorati (Haydn Symphonies No. 94 and 100 - Antal Dorati's The Philharmonia Hungarica - HDTT 24/192), as I like this recording in both 24-bit / 176kHz in 24-bit / 352 KHz quality. Dorati makes Haydn make music with chamber music. He prefers striking fast tempos and lets the orchestra play the symphonies with full force. This gives the symphonies an extremely lively character that is difficult to escape. The high-fidelity tape transfers of a two-track tape made in 24-bit / 352 KHz has succeeded perfectly. Tonality, dynamics and spaciousness are the finest. I could not imagine that the conversion of the 24-bit / 176-KHz version in DSD should bring a tonal gain. But here too, to my surprise, the same positive effects - airiness and spaciousness - come in, as with simple CD material. And the conversion to DSD256 in turn leads to a result that makes me prefer the original version in PCM 24 bit / 352 KHz. 

I can not give you a conclusive technical explanation for the advantages of the DSD conversion. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the DSD signal after the converter, unlike PCM, requires only a relatively simple low-pass filter consisting of resistors and capacitors and does not require complex circuits with additional chips. It is known that this low-pass filter has a great influence on the sound. But no matter, we have our ears to rely on.

Finally, it remains to be stated that in the long-term test I had always activated the DSD conversion and found it particularly pleasant. Without a doubt, the sound quality achieved with the conversion to DSD is amazing. This applies regardless of the resolution of the starting material. But of course, CD-quality music in particular benefits from the DSD conversion. And who of us already has only recordings in hires in his music collection?

STATEMENT
The Ayon S-10 is a great device with outstanding tonal qualities and exceptionally versatile with a perfectly matched network player, converter and preamp. You can not find that every day. But the DSD conversion option is the icing on the cake and makes the S-10 sonically extra special.

the unit sounds open, communicative and very dynamic. It has a foot-tapping and highly lyrical delivery has a more engulfing soundstage than many transistor-based competitors.
Christiaan Punter

CONCLUSION: While not inexpensive, the S-10 MkII offers a very complete package. It’s not only a streaming endpoint and a DAC but also an analog preamp complete with two analog inputs. And, unlike many competing products, the Ayon’s preamp can actually replace a very good separate analog preamp. I want one! Be careful. Because after having given it a listening session, I think you will want one, too. Highly recommended!

REVIEW: t’s becoming annoying…  Irrespective of what fancy equipment is set up in my system at any given time, pretty much every Ayon product that comes to visit immediately gets to my heart and makes me want to hang on to it. It happened with the Stealth DAC and preamp, the CD-T-II CD transport, the Scorpio amp, and the Spirit III amp. As regular readers know, I have held on to the Stealth and the Spirit III and after having performed fabulously in the star role of their own reviews as well as in a supporting role for countless other reviews, neither product has anything left to prove. And now Ayon has issued the S-10 MkII, the successor of the S-10 and big brother of the now discontinued S-3 Junior. Incidentally, the latter also surprised me even if its friendly price point meant it couldn’t quite match the Stealth’s performance. I’ll admit to having been prejudiced, thinking that a tube company was not likely to excel also in the streaming field. I was wrong. The streaming section is not just any board slapped on to the units but made by highly regarded Austrian company Stream Unlimited, who might be best known for their CD transport modules that are/were used by many high-end brands including Wadia.

Functionality

The S-10 MkII in its basic guise is more costly but for that it also offers a much better display and a very similarly high-quality output stage with the same tube complement as the Stealth and adds Roon support and Bluetooth connectivity and a host of other streaming options including Tidal and Quobuz support, still for less than the Stealth’s list price.

All it’s missing is I2S connectivity which only matters if you use the CD-T II CD transport and the front-panel knobs of which the latter is actually my only gripe with this unit. The centrally placed display is excellent but it does not have touch functionality and whereas the S-3 Junior offered various buttons and knobs, the S-10 MkII has no accessible front panel functionality other than the standby button. This would not be an issue if the functions could be controlled from the Ayon iOS/Android tablet app but it only allows streaming-related functionality, none of the preamplifier or DAC functions.

The unit does come with a very complete IR remote control but because the input and volume level are displayed on a tiny display next to the unit’s main display, the info cannot be read from any distance greater than a few meters. After a few days of use, I got accustomed to this by counting the number of steps to know what input is selected and the volume can be adjusted by ear but it’s not ideal. Anyway, as I said, this is my only gripe. Otherwise, I am in love with the S-10 MkII.

What’s really great is that all the music’s metadata is shown on the unit’s front panel, including the album cover. The display is of very high quality and looks great from any angle. In the Ayon tablet app, the same info is also visible, even when using Roon, in parallel with the Roon app. What’s especially great is that the Ayon’s IR remote control also controls the Roon stream, making pausing and skipping track very easy.

Above: the S-10 MkII has practically the same dimensions as the Stealth minus the curves on the rear

Incidentally, Ayon already has the answer to my gripes in the shape of the S-5 or the more affordable version of the S-5, the S-5 XS. Both have the same rotary front panel controls as found on the Stealth along with a range of pushbuttons in addition to offering an even higher sound quality than the S-10 MkII. Although I certainly can’t say that the S-10 MkII’s sound quality is in need of improvement.

Signature version with Preamp option

Reviewed here, is the Signature version of the unit with preamp option which adds 4-fold, fully symmetrical volume control and enables the twin set of analog inputs. The Signature version adds audiophile quality coupling capacitors and a DSD upsampling module. The precise configuration of the capacitors can vary depending on the availability of these components. For my review sample the Mundorf MKP MCap capacitors and Jantzen Silver-Gold Z-cap coupling capacitors were fitted. With preamp and in the Signature version, this brings the total to a not inconsiderable 9.360 euro. But as will become clear further down, I think this is justified. A server option will also become available, turning the unit into an all-contained music storage and playback system. At the time of writing this option is not yet available.

The DAC section employs dual AKM 4490’s, one per channel and can decode all of the popular bitrates and sample rates. Traditionally, I have always favored multi-bit DACs over Delta/Sigma DACs but these days, I’m afraid there is no escaping it anymore. Unless one opts for one of the few Discrete R2R ladder DAC implementations but in that case as well, the end result is heavily dependent on the implementation. In any event, of all Delta/Sigma chips, in my experience, those made by AKM’s have always lead to great results and as it would turn out later, this is also the case with the S-10MkII.

Setup

The S-10 MkII comes with two very comprehensive manuals: the main one for the unit’s day to day operation and one dedicated to general NAS, router, JRiver and Media Server settings. While some setups may require a bit of work, Roon functionality is Plug and Play and easy as pie and a nice upside of using Roon is that volume control is built into the app.

The S-3 Junior only worked with USB drives or UPnP via the network but the S-10 MkII also adds full Roon support. Starting with the S-10 MkII as a DAC with fixed volume level receiving its input from the Antipodes CX and EX combo via a Final Touch Audio Callisto USB cable and the output routed into the Lejonklou Sagatun dual-mono preamp and from there to the CH Precision A1.5 power amp, I was happy to find the endpoint in Roon right away and have music playing in no time. The S-10 MkII’s response to commands is a little slower than the Antipodes EX’s but it is certainly manageable and it works very stably.

Listening

Straight from the box, the unit sounds open, communicative and very dynamic. It has a foot-tapping and highly lyrical delivery along with what seems to be a more linear, more refined and more transparent sound than the Stealth. A direct comparison will provide more definitive results but I will get to that later.

When switching to the S-10 MkII’s direct Roon streaming function, the sound is even tighter and more direct, closer to the source, in a way. Along with the higher precision comes more dryness and a subjectively and comparatively more matter-of-fact sound which took me some getting used to but after repeated back and forth switching I have the strong feeling that the Ayon’s approach is the more accurate one and the cleaner and tighter delivery quickly grew on me. The EX does add a richer tonality and a nice sense of soundstage depth and it has a more forgiving delivery but it also loses some bass articulation and speed in the process. The direct Roon delivery counters with superb timing and very convincing timbre. These differences aside, I find both deliveries to be involving and lyrical. And because the Ayon is a tube product, it already has a more engulfing soundstage than many transistor-based competitors.

It has been suggested that more accurate signal processing can lead to a flatter sound or, turning that upside down, less accurate processing can add perceived depth. I’m not sure if one rules out the other but recent experiments do seem to indicate that they are at the very least correlated. Either way, I always encourage to choose the delivery that provides the most involving delivery, no matter if it is more or less accurate. The success of either delivery depends on the rest of the system and the speakers that are used. In my case, I much like the EX sound with the Martin Logan ESL15A’s but prefer the Ayon’s direct Roon sound with the Kroma Audio Carmens. Fortunately, with a component as versatile as the S-10 MkII all the options are there for the user to choose the one that gives the most-liked results in a given situation.

DSD upsampling

Although I had mixed results with the DSD upsampling offered by the CD-T II CD transport, this turned out to work absolutely fabulously with the S-10 MkII. Whereas I much preferred the direct non-DSD upsampled PCM stream with the CD-T II for its tighter and more lively sound, enabling the function with the S-10 MkII has only benefits. The bass remains as tight and articulate while the treble becomes a little airier and the soundstage becomes considerably deeper and more engulfing, without softening, thinning, or blurring anything. Between 128 and 256 fold, the differences are smaller, but still, they are profound enough for me to have a preference for the latter.

Throughout my listening tests and in various speaker- and amplifier combinations, I kept switching back and forth but, in spite of my general preference for PCM, I consistently prefer the DSD upsampled delivery.

CD playback

Using the Jay’s Audio CDT2-Mk2 CD transport I also tested the S-10 MkII’s digital coaxial input. Although both the player and the DAC offer I2S they are sadly on different connectors so I could not try this. Regardless, the sound via Coax was also fabulous. The CDT2-Mk2 uniquely uses a Philips CDM-4/19 swing-arm mechanism and these transport’s fluid delivery is present here, too. It’s very different from any music server playback, less accurate maybe but also less factual and very easy to get into. Smooth, fluid, and highly lyrical, this CD/Tube combo encourages to play CD after CD.

LP via the analog input

Using the Origin Live Calypso mk4 turntable with ViRa Aidas MC cartridge via the CH Precision P1 phono preamp either into the Stealth or the S-10 MkII, I set out to see how the S-10 MkII differed from the Stealth.

While I have heard other ESS Sabre-equipped DACs sound flat and lifeless, this certainly does not go for the Stealth. But while it has a bolder and more impactful delivery than the S10-MkII it is also less subtle and less finely resolved. However, these differences are also not earth-shattering and in practice, both products make music in the Ayon-typical toe-tapping, dynamic, and highly engaging manner. Although I can’t make any hard claims without having heard the basic S-1o MkII version, it seems plausible that the increased fluidity and refinement are specific benefits that come with the Signature Upgrade.

Rack placement

The Stealth worked most synergistically when set up on the Artesania Exoteryc rack which lends it some more transparency and refinement. Conversely, the S-10 MkII worked more synergistically on the Artesania Modular rack which lends it more drive and slam. However, as mentioned before, the differences between these two Ayons are not night and day and I’m sure that they will both work well on a wide range of audio racks.

As a preamp

The S10 MkII, direct into the power amp using Vermouth Reference XLR cables, sounded even more solid and chunky (in a good way!) than via the Lejonklou Sagatun preamp while retaining excellent treble fluidity and a great sense of flow. Clearly, the Ayon’s preamp functionality is not just an afterthought as it can be with some DACs that start to sound flat and overly dry when used without an analog preamp. With the S-10 MkII, an analog preamp can be omitted without any penalties. Via the Lejonklou is more supple still but I can’t really say that I prefer one delivery over the other. Both make my feet tap and both make music in a highly lyrical manner.

After finishing the review I read in the manual that the twin DMP switches on the bottom are to be used when deploying the S-10 as a preamp directly with a power amp. DMP reduces the level by 6dB and increases the damping factor, thereby reducing the audibility of tube-related noises. The manual doesn’t go into effects on the sound quality but going from this, I’d wager that DMP stands for “damping”, of which you do not want to have too much as it can reduce the musical flow. Perhaps it was worth checking but all I can say is that the S-10 never made any noise besides sweet music even when connected to the power amp directly.

XLR/Cinch outputs

The S-10 MkII’s output stage is built in true balanced form which means that the best way to connect it should be via its XLR outputs. Using a range of cables and with the S-10 MkII as a DAC and preamp straight into the CH A1.5 power amp, I set out to put this to the test.

Now, this is always a tricky assessment because it involves many variables, some of which have nothing to do with the source component’s outputs and this is further complicated by cinch and XLR cables tending to differ from one another even when of the same type and made by the same manufacturer.

The Final Touch Audio Ganymede XLR cable provided a very nice alternative to the Vermouth. Dreamy and sweet and very gentle, the sophisticated Ganymede is not as “on edge” as the Vermouths but it retains the speed and a big portion of the drive. Although it is perhaps not as immediately impactful and “impressive” as the Vermouths or some other cables, its lush and easy on the ear yet truly hi-res delivery soon grows on you, making it hard to switch back to soberer and more earthy sounding cables.

Especially with the Martin Logans, this combination worked very well. With the Kroma’s, which are relaxed and full-bodied themselves, I found that the presentation was better balanced when using the Vermouths. What also worked surprisingly well with the Ayon and the Kroma’s are the very affordable Siltech Paris MXT interlinks. Less colorful and full-bodied, they counter with very clean and articulate bass and an open midrange which works highly synergistically in this combination. Meanwhile, the Ayon proved that its output stage works splendidly with a wide range of cables, fully leaving the choice to the buyer rather than imposing restrictions.

MkII upgrade

Fortunately, the MkII upgrade will become available for existing owners of the S-10. 

Conclusion

 

While not inexpensive, the S-10 MkII offers a very complete package. It’s not only a streaming endpoint and a DAC but also an analog preamp complete with two analog inputs. And, unlike many competing products, the Ayon’s preamp can actually replace a very good separate analog preamp. I want one! Be careful. Because after having given it a listening session, I think you will want one, too. Highly recommended!