It became loud about Ayon not so long ago. For years this Austrian company exhibited at the HIGH END in Frankfurt and Munich (report from the 2008 edition HERE) but the glory was not there. And this despite the worked out portfolio covering amplifiers, loudspeakers, CD players and even power tubes. It seems that the cause for this was a weak distribution network. In Germany Ayon was known and regarded, but outside the German speaking countries this was not the case. But recently things are starting to change, what can be seen by acquiring a distributor in Poland. And it is very good that this happened. Every time, when I saw and heard the Austrian devices at the High End show I wanted to grab them and listen to them at home. Nicely made, original, with proprietary tubes – everything spoke in favor of them. As soon as the Ayon products appeared in Krakow (here is the distributor, the company Nautilus Hi-End is located) I arranged for an agenda of tests. Hence the CD-1 player in April (No 48) now the 300B amplifier and next month the top player CD-3.
The tested amplifier is in my opinion the nicest looking device in Ayon portfolio. Big, but ‘light’ in perception, with brilliantly looking triodes Ayon 32 B-S in the front and the green chassis looking from beneath the chromed plates. I mentioned that before, maybe during the review of the TRI devices (TRV-CD4SE + TRV-35SE HERE), but I have a weakness for tube devices painted in an alternative way. And Ayon reached the bull’s-eye, because in my opinion this green color (Martini Racing Green varnish) could be fully visible on top instead of the chrome. But this is my opinion. The amplifier looks great nevertheless. Interestingly this is an integrated amplifier with a separate input directly to the power amplifier. So I could test it in three settings: as a classic integrated amplifier, as a power amplifier controlled from the variable output of my Lektor Prime and as a power amplifier controlled by the Leben RS-28CX.
I mentioned tubes – the name 300B suggests the usage of such triodes in the power stage. And this is true, the amplifier can be supplied in such configuration. But we have received the more interesting version, with the triodes 32 B-S, manufactured by Ayon, working without feedback. This gives a power of 2x20W. And this means limitations. But for those that prefer the sound of a SET triode should not be surprised.
The Ayon has a complicated and complex nature (yes, I believe, that we can anthropomorphize mechanical devices, regardless of what think the “correctness believers”) and cannot be easily put in a few words. The following claims are of equal importance, like this, that the 300B is an incredibly transparent device with a splendid resolution of the treble and this, that the dynamics is slightly quieter in places were the sound is bouffant. Or that the bass does not sound too strong, but not because it is not there, but because it does not prolong anything, and that the device is incredibly quiet, meaning without noise and hum. Only placing your ear directly to the tweeter makes you recognize that the amplifier is on. But I will try to put all things in the right place.
I think that there are two key items, that will define if the 300B will fit in our system or not. One, besides the need of using high efficiency loudspeakers (although I think, that 88dB would be enough for a medium size room) and flat impedance, is the avoidance of speakers with a metal midrange driver. Yes – midrange and not tweeter. The 300B sounds with an incredibly open and detailed upper midrange and treble. With the latter there is no problem – the better the speaker the better everything will be heard, regardless of the construction. The midrange is rather so strong and detailed, that when the following factors come together: a disc with some mastering flaws, a transparent CD player, Ayon 300B and a loudspeaker with a metal midrange then we get a bit hoarse, dirty upper midrange. It will not be pleasant. That was the case with strong electronics from the disc Diary Of Dreams Panik Manifesto (Accesion-Records, EFA 23452-2, CD), and with Norah Jones Not Too Late (Blue Note Records/EMI, 82035, CCD; review HERE). The latter comes from times, when EMI used an anti-piracy protection (hence those discs are Copy Controlled Discs and not Compact Discs) what can be heard mostly on the brightened and unpleasant voice of Jones. The instruments sound very nice, but the vocal is not always pleasant. And the Ayon with the Dobermann Harpia Acoustics showed this very quickly. With the loudspeakers Vescova by Isophon, where we have ceramic speakers it was much better. One could hear why the audiophiles despise CCD, but you could still listen.
The second important thing is related to the ‘direct’ input, that sends the signal directly to the power stage bypassing the preamplifier section. First I tried it with the variable output of my Lektor. The sound was even more resolved, even more precise than from the line input, but… I think that this was too much, I do not need that much information, because it does not come together to a whole. This is a classic example for the impossibility to put together too many elements. In addition the sound lost volume, and the virtual sources were too small. The situation changed completely when I put the Leben in the sound path. What a sound! Full, resolved and dynamic. And I think, that a good preamplifier is recommended to be used with the 300B. There is one problem however, with the variable CD output and the preamplifier the 300B run in clipping much easier, as if the headroom was smaller in that case. Without doubts the internal preamplifier is better in that aspect. But if the volume will be enough, then this is the way to go.
Like I wrote, the preamplifier pushed the 300B further. Not that the line inputs are bad – in contrary: 300B as an integrated amplifier keeps all the mentioned assets, but they are a tad smaller. Besides the choice of the loudspeakers also the source is important. If we use a player as precise as the Lektor Prime then we have to remember what I wrote earlier. But if we have a layer like the very good CD-1 from Ayon or the equally nice DP-78 Accuphase, we can ease down. I think that the 300B was designed cooperating with the CD-1 and CD-3, that have a phenomenally saturated, slightly warm midrange and that exactly in the place where the amplifier slightly exposes its higher sub range. Interesting enough, if a solid state amplifier would sound like that we would throw it out the window. Here the Ayon shows, what phenomenal invention is a power triode. There is no doubt, that due to it, the treble and a part of the midrange sound better than from the Luxmana M-800A, which is in my opinion completely exceptional in that aspect.
So lets think: we have CD-1 or CD-3 and loudspeakers that do not emphasize anything in the middle, and maybe are even a bit withdrawn there. As long as they are not mudded. And I mean not only withdrawn in one sub-range but also sanded and lack of resolution. Ayon plays with such a precise and natural sound, then it is not worth to lose it, even at the cost of right tonal balance. Anyway, a system setup in that way will sound with an incredibly resolving and good way. The bass does not appear many times, what can be heard mostly on discs with electronic music and rock, for example Hotel California The Eagles (Warner Music Japan, WPCR-11936, CD) and In Raibows Radiohead (XL Records, XLCD 324, CD). When needed it hits, and goes really low, as confirmed by the disc The Silver Three Lisa Gerard (Sonic Records, SON212, CD), where there is a lot of such sounds. But we have to remember that this is only 20W and some things cannot be surpassed and there will be no fleshy bass. A slight limitation of macro-dynamics is related to this (this is also a power derivative) that is also slightly softened. With jazz and chamber ensembles of classical music this will have absolutely no meaning, as with those discs the Ayon will sound marvelous – resolving, thorough, and with music under the skin. With larger ensembles and with rock there will be not enough ‘oomph’. Maybe this is the reason, that the lower midrange is not as physical as with the CD-1 of this company. And this maybe because the two devices are meant to complement each other. Many assumptions, but this is how this device is – here are no binary descriptions and a choice between good and bad.
This is especially well to hear, when we analyze the sound stage. I had to get accustomed to this kind of presentation for a long time, as this differs by much from what I usually have at home. First of all it is much better defined. This is SET in the best edition. Maybe the resolution at this level is not especially better, but Ayon can show the differences in timbre so incredibly well, that even the vibrations of the voice of Chris Connor from the disc ...Plays Lullabys of Birdland (Beethlehem/JVC, VICJ-61452, K2 HD CD; review HERE) were very well reproduced, as well as the band behind her, usually damped and disadvantaged in the access to microphones. With the Ayon the recording technique was obvious, but everything had its rightful place and time. Every change in phrasing, toying with counter-phase, etc, were clearly visible. With this amplifier the owners of the absolute phase switch will be forced to check it with every disc, because it will be simply audible. But the 300B is not without any flaw, finally this is no big money – in hi-end terms at least. We have no saturation in the further lanes. Everything is clear, but without the ‘audiophile plankton’ between the events.
And this is how it is – the 300B sounds brilliant and some characteristics are absolutely phenomenal, so good, that it tops the twice as expensive Luxman with them. On the other hand it has limitations that have to be remembered. But choosing a SET amplifier we know what we want and where we are in the musical universe. Let’s remember about the saturated source and it will be super. And in time we can think about an external preamplifier and then the dynamics and bass will jump up. Really a beautiful amplifier, with a distinct personality, that cannot be captured in simple sentences. One has to perceive it as a whole, and then everything will be clear.
The amplifier 300B of the company Ayon Audio is an integrated amplifier based on tubes. In the preamplifier section we have one 5687 tube per channel in the best Philips JAN version, so selected for military purposes. In the power control section we find the low power triodes 12AU7 EH, manufactured by the American-Russian company Electro-Harmonix. Most interesting are power tubes – those are the Ayon power triodes AA 32B-S, that are based on 300B tubes, that Ayon also manufactures. This is the smallest tube from Ayon, its direct predecessor was the AA 52B-S and it is characterized by a very big late and a high heating current, that should allow for bigger current fluctuations on the anode and lower distortion.
The device has a characteristic looks, with tubes on the outside, but the output tubes are in the front. This is a very good idea, as it shortens the sound path (the pre section is closer to the back plate where the input sockets are located) and also looks better. Behind the tubes we have three cups from chrome plated sheet metal – two are the output transformers and one is the power supply transformer – really huge. Everything gets quite hot, so we have to provide lots of space to the amplifier. In the front we have two nicely profiled knobs – one for volume control and the second selects the input. We can switch between the three line inputs and one ‘direct’ input connecting directly to the power stage. There is no remote. On the bottom, just near the front panel there is the power switch. After powering on the amplifier the green LED blinks, and after warming up and switching on the anode current it lights up steady. It is also quite simple on the back – four pairs of RCA sockets, high quality ones, gold plated and two pairs of loudspeaker terminals made by Ayon. Those are very easy to screw tight, but they are close together and placement of the RCA’s and the IEC socket suggests the use of bananas rather than spades. The whole stands on solid aluminum cones. Talking about the back plate I kept one important information for myself a little longer: there is a proud statement printed there – “Made in Italy” what does not correspond well with the Ayon being Austrian. But when we look inside then we see that this is true – maybe the idea and tuning of the sound happens in the country of Strauss, but the amplifier is made by the company Master Sound. Maybe that is the reason I am so enchanted by its presence?/p>
Anyway, the construction is very nice, based on a PCB. The passive elements are very good, those are, amongst others, polypropylene capacitors ERO/Vishay, separate secondary windings, and also the power supplies for each channel, with huge chokes, separate windings for the preamplifier channels (the voltage is stabilized here additionally) and for heating – also separately for each of the power triodes and for the tubes of the preamplifier. On a small PCB the anode current switch-on delay circuit is placed. It turned out that the change from 4 to 8 is very simple – it is sufficient to place the output fuses from one socket to the empty one – and that’s it. Unfortunately quite a long path is there for the signal, because it comes from the relay based source selector at the back to the preamplifier and then to potentiometer at the front. The latter is a motorized Alps ‘Blue Velvet’. This is interesting, because I have seen no remote for it and no opening for the IR diode… So I called the distributor and it turned out, that the amplifier has a remote, and a fantastic one! However until the end of the test I did not learn how it works. Anyway, it looks as good as the amplifier itself.
PŁYTY PROSTO Z JAPONII
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