AYON Scorpio KT88 tube P45w/T30w class-A Integrated amp with AFB-auto fixed bias

AY 15 AI SCORPIO
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Ayon Audio

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

New

"The Entrance into High-End tube amplification".

New AYON SCORPIO Integrated amplifier has arrived in our showroom and available for audition.

It is a pleasure to introduce the new "Scorpio” KT88 class-A tube integrated amplifier from Ayon Audio, (replaces previous Orion model). The previous Orion model was considered perhaps one of the best sounding tube integrated amplifiers in its price class, the new Scorpio offers a significant step up again with its new design. 

The Scorpio retains the same basic architecture as our highly regarded “Spirit” amplifier. The Scorpio combines neutrality, realistic dynamics and power, smooth and musical soundstage with an authentic high-end soundstage resolution. 

A Distinctive, Perfect Elegant finish design with a superb sound performance makes the “Scorpio” unique in its price category, setting a new price value standard.

FEATURES & DESIGN 
Full-featured Pure Class A tube stereo integrated amplifier - Switchable between pentode and triode mode -  KT88 power output tubes are ideal for more difficult loudspeaker loads Vacuum Tubes The choice of signal and power tubes have a significant influence on the sound and hence on the inspiration and joy of listening. 

"We plugged the Scorpio into our Scansonic MB series speakers via an Antipodes music server and were immediately  impressed by its dynamic attack and vitality, it got the speakers dancing magnificently, producing a wide, informative soundstage, very impressive and really catching our attention bringing a smile :-) ..... I consider the Scorpio a significant step up from the more typical amplifiers, it is switchable between modes offering class A - 45w in pentode / 30w in triode modes, and even though its Ayon's entry level amp it still includes their unique AFB-auto fixed bias, so power tubes are maintained at optimum operation levels throughout their life". At only $5,995 it represents awesome value for such an quality amp...... Terry

Positive Feedback - 9th Annual Positive Feedback Online's Writers' Choice Awards - The Best of the Best

"I am seriously considering buying the Orion (replaced by new upgraded Scorpio) review unit. If you can find a higher level of performance—not to mention a higher level of build and finish-at anywhere near this price please let me know."
....Tom Campbell - Positive Feedback

"Compared to the Arcam and Peachtree amps on hand, the Orion II (replaced by new upgraded Scorpio) easily trumps the other two in presenting the illusion of a live recording.".....Dean Seislove - Positive Feedback 

Ayon Audio says its new Scorpio represents a dramatic rethinking of the economy-priced vacuum tube based integrated amplifier. ‘The Scorpio integrated amplifier combines neutrality, realistic dynamics, power projection and true musicality with high resolution,’ said Boris Granovsky of Absolute HiEnd, which distributes Ayon Audio in Australia 

The Ayon Scorpio uses four KT88s in its output stage, which can be configured in pentode mode to give a rated output of 45-watts per channel, or in triode mode for a rated output of 30-watts per channel. Bandwidth in both modes is claimed to be 15Hz–50kHz. On-board circuits to improve performance and valve life include a sequenced soft-start power up, electronic protection circuit system, both manual and automatic bias adjustment and relay switches on all four inputs. Unlike many valve amplifiers, it’s supplied with a remote control.

‘The Scorpio has no solid-state devices in the signal path, uses no negative feedback at all and has an ultra-short signal path to ensure the pursed musical sound,’ Granovsky told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. ‘It is for these reasons that it’s one of the best-sounding tube integrated amplifier in its price class, nowadays available.’

The Scorpio integrated amplifier combines neutrality, realistic dynamics and power projection, true musicality with high resolution. -  Inputs: 3x Line In, 1 x USB In, 1 x Direct In  /  Output: 1 x Pre out 

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Testimonials

Videos

Features

Full-featured pure class-A tube stereo integrated amplifier
Switchable between pentode and triode mode
AYON KT88 power output tubes
Ideal also for more difficult loudspeaker loads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

Class of Operation:  Triode* or Pentode mode, Class-A*
Tube Complement:  4 x AYON KT88 
Load Impedance: 8 Ohms 
Bandwidth: 15Hz - 50kHz 
Output Power-Pentode mode KT88: 2x 45W 
Output Power-Triode mode KT88:  2x 30W 
Input sensitivity for full power: 500mV 
Input Impedance at 1 kHz: 100 KΩ 
NFB: 0dB 
Volume Control: MCU based with analog resistor switching circuit (1,5dB per step)
Remote Control: Yes 
Inputs: 4x RCA Line In 
Dimensions (WxDxH) cm: 46x34x26 cm 
Weight: 29 kg 

Reviews

The Neoteric Listener - The Ayon Scorpio Integrated and CD-07s Compact Disc Player
Dean Seislove

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for both. 

...... Dean Seislove

the Orion II.....Connoisseur-Level Audio for those on a Budget....was Absolutely worth it.
Ron Doering

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

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

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

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

Start saving....Carl.

I am seriously considering buying the Orion review unit. If you can find a higher level of performance—not to mention a higher level of build and finish-at anywhere near this price please let me know.
Tom Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimonials

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

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

 
Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
 
Peter

Videos

Franco Serblin Ktema Ayon Scorpio Sigma Digibit Aria at Absolute Hi End