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Meeting No. 110
Super Audio CD player


Manufacturer: AYON AUDIO
Price: €20,000




hen, during one of his visits in Japan, at the Tokyo International Audio Show exhibition, Gerhard Hirt asked those who came to his presentation how many of them had over 10,000 Compact Discs at home, almost half of the participants raised their hands. It was supposed to be a joke – an introduction to the fact that the best time for that format was gone and that music lovers had two choices: either to return to vinyl or to jump into the unknown, i.e. hi-res files.

That seemingly unimportant event gave the owner of the Ayon Audio company some food for thought. He is a man of the analog himself, but has been offering excellent CD players for many years and, thanks to his close cooperation with his friends from the Austrian StreamUnlimited Engineering company, he has had access to the latest technologies connected with CD (and SACD) transport control, as well as to digital signal processing systems. In spite of that, he was convinced that those were the last days of the format – and he was not the only one. In contrast to others, Gerhard decided to do something about it. The result of those efforts was the CD-35 player, available in two versions: Standard and Signature (read HERE and HERE).


The device was designed as a high-quality CD player with a bonus – the possibility to play SACDs. A really good drive (but not the best one, as Gerhard himself admits) was used in it. The player produced as good sound as similar devices costing two or three times more, mainly as a result of work on the drive control software and an innovative digital section. It is clear that a tube output circuit with tube amplification also did their job. However, it was the digital section that brought the sound to a level thanks to which the CD-35 became one of Ayon Audio bestsellers – a device that is discussed, talked about or even argued about by many people.

The player had its world premiere during the 105th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society in November 2016. Soon afterwards, its first review ever was published, also in “High Fidelity”. It was because we already knew then that the device was Gerhard’s and his people’s success – created by a group of engineers and their friends who listen to prototypes together. A special thing about it was that an exceptionally functional device producing unique sound was offered at a sensible (as for high-end) price.

While listening to music with Gerhard then, it came to Janusz’s (the host’s) and my mind that this could somehow be continued. In the end, one of the basic limitations imposed on the CD-35 was the price that was not to exceed €10,000. So, in December the same year we met the Ayon Audio owner at a pleasant restaurant at the Old Town Market Square in Cracow, where we agreed that we would prepare a special version of the CD-35 that would somehow honor our passion.


Based on our suggestions, on feedback from users and the Ayon Audio design team members’ own ideas, the “no-compromise” CD-35 High Fidelity Edition player (“HF Edition” for short) was to be created. The starting point was the CD-35 Signature model, so the form and structure of the device were to stay the same. It seemed to Gerhard, as he says, that it would be a quite simple operation (if anything can be simple in such cases), i.e. he would change, improve, replace or enhance something – in the end, the budget was to be much bigger than in the case of the CD-35.

That did not happen. Subsequent changes made it necessary to change things further and improvements necessitated further improvements, etc. For example, when 2-Watt resistors in the tube circuit were replaced with their tantalum equivalents (€20/unit, bought at a discounted price using our informal connections, 20 per player), it appeared that the power supply circuit had to be changed, as it was possible to make it better. That meant redesigning the whole circuit board.

When the output circuit was ready, the DAC section was looked at. In the standard version that was the AKM AK4490 circuit which proved to be very effective in this role. This time, a decision was made to try out its special selected version – the AK4490EQ. Gerhard did not expect too much but the changes surprised them all – the sound became dark, dense and less “artificial”. Although the sound of the CD-35 did not previously lack anything, there was no turning back as comparisons always demolish the current hierarchy. In order to be able to make the change, Ayon Audio had to prepare full implementation documentation for that DAC and send it to Japan, to the AKM company, with a request for approval. The Japanese reserve the right to issue opinions on circuits using the EQ version. When permission was granted, Gerhard breathed with relief.

There were more such changes and their range surprised everyone in Ayon Audio. The company owner told me that if he had known things would change like that, he probably would not have decided to do it all, as the project was very costly and took him a lot of time. He will get no return on the investment and could have spent the time on profitable projects. Profits from the sales of the CD-35 HF will never cover the amount of money spent on its development. It is because it was to be a prestigious project since the very beginning, some kind of a quest of friends, such as the Argonauts looking for the mythical golden fleece. Moreover, had it not been for the success of the basic versions of the CD-35, the HF Edition version would have never been created.

It is a strictly limited version – only 50 units have been manufactured, i.e. less than nothing. It is enough to mention that Ayon Audio has 55 distributors all over the world. Each ordered a few to several units straight away already before the version was created. Now it is up to people from Ayon Audio to divide them somehow… Each unit has a special plate at the back panel, with the “High Fidelity” logo, a subsequent number (x/50) and Gerhard’s signature. One of the most important features of the HF Edition is the presence of anti-vibration Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc feet in a special finish. The RCA plugs (WBT NextGen) are also new. When it comes to elements such as the buttons, cooling shields or the cover holder, etc., they are black. Only the CD chamber collar remains silver.

One of the most important changes was the change of the point of reference for sound. For many years, Gerhard had been using a turntable (also the expensive Lumen White). This time, partly under the influence of articles from “High Fidelity” and partly because of the suggestions of Dirk Sommer from and Sommelier Du Son, the point of reference was an analog master tape. Two Studer tape recorders were bought for Ayon Audio specially for this purpose and tapes were lent by Dirk. I do not think I need to remind you that the LP and tape are two different worlds, so the effect of this change had to be special.


Just like previously, Gerhard himself brought the player to the meeting. As he said, the device had only been used for 24 hours and needed ca. 100 hours for a full warm-up time. He also remarked that tube devices should not be left turned on at night. It is because supply voltage increases at night, usually to considerably more than 230V, which badly affects their lifespan.

The new Ayon Audio player was compared to our reference Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE player (A/B and B/A comparisons, where ‘A’ was the Ayon Audio player and ‘B’ was the Ancient Audio player. After the first part, we had a short break. Each participant brought one or two (SA)CDs and we listened to a 2-minute part of one track from each of them. We only compared CDs and then listened to SACDs after the official listening session.

Recordings listened to during the meeting

  • Harmonie Universelle II, wyk. Montserrat Figueras, Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial De Catalunya, Le Concert Des Nations, Alia Vox AV9839, CD (2005)
  • Tron – Legacy, soundtrack, muz. Daft Punk, Walt Disney Records 9472892, “Special Edition”, 2 x CD (2010)
  • Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne & Ray Brown , The Pool Winners Rides Again!, Contemporary Records/JVC VICJ-41595, K2 CD (1957/2006)
  • Cat Stevens, Icon, A&M Records 0600753330425, CD (2011)
  • Kraftwerk, 3-D The Catalogue, KlingKlang | Parlophone 95873424, 7 x CD (2017)
  • Marilyn Manson, Personal Jesus, Interscope Records 9864166, SP CD (2004)
  • Mrozu, Zew, Warner Music Poland 9585932, CD (2017)
  • Norah Jones, Not Too Late, Blue Note/Universal Music Japan 3117176, SHM-CD (2006/2016)
  • Takeshi Inomata, The Dialogue, Audio Lab. Record/Octavia Records OVXA-00008, SACD/CD (1977/2001)
  • Verdi, Verdi Choruses, wyk. The Chorus And Orchestra Of L'Accademia Di Santa Cecilia, Rome, Decca/Lasting Impression Music LIM XR24 018, XRCD24 (1964/2007)
  • Yes, Fragile, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan WPCR-17604, “7” mini-LP”, SACD/CD (1971/2017)

Krakow Sonic Society

Frankly speaking, I do not know how to adequately summarize this listening session, but I know one thing: the difference is enormous. The sound of the Ayon Audio player is much deeper, has better dynamics, more space and depth, and there is mass in this sound. These are the main differences that repeatedly characterized each piece of music that we listened to, no matter what type of music it was. However, I will also say that some things were more precise with the Lektor. Despite that, if I were to compare pros and cons, I would give 20 – 30% to the Lektor and 70 – 80% to the Ayon Audio player. It is no use analyzing details as the new CD-35 is simply fantastic.

Krakow Sonic Society

I must put it this way: I know one should not use bad language in such a magazine, but if I could use one strong word, I will do it in a moment. I have been coming here for about 15 years and my point of reference has always been my first visit that completely blew me up and redefined my idea of what should be pursued in sound, of what is important and what is not. After these 15 years I am totally fucked to pieces by how the Ayon CD-35 High Fidelity Edition played music.

This is sound that is absolutely out of this world, incomparable to anything else – enormous, emphatic and dynamic, showing events in a “fleshy” way. What we heard at the previous meeting and what seemed to be great now comes across as rickety when that system can be compared to the Ayon player and there is absolutely nothing to talk about (the comment is related to the first part of the Krakow Sonic Society meeting No. 111 when we tested a new Ancient Audio amplifier – an article is going to be published in September – Editor’s note).

None of these pieces of music – jazz, classical or electronic – sounded as outstanding with the Ancient Audio as with the Ayon Audio player and the difference is exceptionally huge. For example, Personal Jesus performed by Marylin Manson that me and Bartek saw literally a moment ago in Katowice and that proved to be extremely badly recorded, was possible to listen to with the Ayon Audio player. It still sounded like a badly recorded album but I had no problem with listening to it, whereas with the Ancient Audio player it sounded terrible and there was no music in it at all. One could have as well play it on a portable CD player and it would have sounded better.

Why talk about it a lot if there is nothing to talk about, as our host says. For me, this is undoubtedly “The Sound of the Year” – at least “the year”.

Bartosz Pacuła |
Krakow Sonic Society

Similarly to Tomek, since I came here for the first time (i.e. some ten years ago), it has been the point of reference for me, especially when it comes to the soundstage and dynamics. For the first time I hear something that, as Tomek says, fucks to pieces. It is as Gerhard said – it is sound close to a master tape – it moves towards this direction. The main feature of the sound of the Ayon Audio player is that it, similarly to the sound of a master tape, seems a little flat (at least at the beginning). It is very broad, but not deep. I missed that sometimes as the Ancient Audio player does it in a spectacular way. Nevertheless, it did not mean anything. There is only one player that I would like to compare the Ayon Audio device to – the Chord Blu MkII i DAVE, but here and now the Ayon Audio player rules. I respect the constructor of the Ancient Audio player but it seems to me that this is the moment to pass the crown to a new king.

Krakow Sonic Society

It is a very interesting event – these two devices differ significantly. I experienced the phenomenon of adaptation – adaptation to sound. As I had come to the meeting earlier, I had been listening to the device already since 1 p.m. When we turned the music on for the first time (and it was only classical music), I paid attention to an exceptional amount of low midrange in the sound – there was a lot of it and it seemed to me to be too much, although the whole thing was great straight away. I like it – I play music using an Ayon Audio source (transport + DAC) myself, but it seemed to me that there was a surplus of it in the CD-35 HF Edition. I also got the impression that the sound was a little heavy and that too dark.

While I was listening, my perception was changing – when I listened to Yes, for example. Now I know that this is not the problem of the Ayon Audio player but the Ayon Audio and Ancient Audio players are simply and literally like the day and night. When we started listening to the Ancient Audio player during the first round of the listening session, I had the impression of being suddenly exposed to full sunlight – I experienced shock and an unpleasant feeling of sharpness. While I was continuing to listen, I liked some of the albums (like Barney Kessel) more with the Ancient Audio player, but Mozart, for example, was really more interesting, pleasant and physiological when I listened to it on the Ayon Audio player. Apart from that, what Marcin said is true, indeed – the sound is denser, fuller and heavier – there is mass. I would not cross the Lektor out as it is still an outstanding device, but here and now I am astonished by the sound of the CD-35 HF Edition.

Rysiek B.
Krakow Sonic Society

Let us start with the fact that these are two different sound philosophies and two different aesthetics. For me, the sound of the Ayon Audio player is close to what we hear at a concert, while the Ancient Audio player produces “studio” sound. It sounds the way it was engineered at the studio – points out individual instruments and perfectly differentiates tone colors. However, it does not fill the soundstage with such density as the Ayon Audio player which, in turn, is musical. However, when it comes to tone colors, the Ayon Audio device is poor, in my opinion. I think that Gerhard will need to work on it, focusing mostly on tone colors.

The Ayon Audio player also has its advantages when it comes to dynamics, while bass is often out of control and that needs to be improved. I liked albums with electronic music more with this player as they were full of swing, pleasant, nice to listen to, with a filled and dense soundstage. The Lektor showed the weaknesses of these albums resulting from poor sound engineering, which can either be regarded as a disadvantage or an advantage. For me, the viola da gamba from the album that I brought sounded better with the Lektor, similarly to Mozart brought by Wiciu, whereas Barney Kessel and electronic music were much better with the Ayon Audio player. I think that Jarek and Gerhard should listen to their players, find their weaknesses and correct them.

Krakow Sonic Society

I am still getting used to this sound, as it is completely different from everything that I have listened to so far. However, I am enough acquainted with it to be able to say that changing the player to my Lektor that I have “always” owned (let me also remind you that I was the first owner of the Grand player and then of the Grand SE version) can be summarized in three words: it was painful. Very painful, let me add.

What does that mean? Here I heard what can be heard straight away (if you have certain equipment and somebody tells you about it from the outside, you regard it as good will and believe in it): an analog master tape sounds dark and seems flat. Only operations that aim to “tune” players bring out artificial details, artificial depth and unnatural effects. One can instantly hear upper midrange in the sound of the Lektor! So, I fundamentally disagree with Rysio! We even have nothing to talk about…

Why? The Lektor represents different sound aesthetics and offers a different range. Perhaps this is why such a comparison does not make sense, because it is as if we were comparing a master tape with a digital CD. For me, this is no comparison at all. I knew how that would end. But, ok, “show must go on”.

Rysiek B.: How come there is nothing to compare? Someone likes A and someone else likes B, right?

Wiciu: Sure, everything can be compared – both devices play CDs, don’t they?

Janusz: No, don’t talk bullshit. I know this player, this system and I am telling you in full knowledge of the facts that this comparison does not make sense. It is because the Lektor “bluntly shouts”. Now it can be seen that it plays unnatural sound.

Wiciu: How come unnatural? Two weeks ago it sounded natural and now it doesn’t? Everyone praised the sound when we were listening to Jarek’s new amplifier... So, what’s happened?

Janusz: Listen, unlike many people that I know personally, I can admit making a mistake – I’ve clearly been wrong for the last few years! However, I hadn’t been able to get to know that until I heard something as radically different from the Lektor and, additionally, so much better. This comparison changes one’s hierarchy of values and one must be a fool not to admit changing their mind – if there are differences, of course.

Wiciu: No, no – I don’t agree. If something was good before, it can’t be bad now! I am shocked by the difference between the players, but one can’t deny something that they used to value only because they’ve heard something better.

Janusz: Time will pass until I become fully accustomed to this sound. It is not that everything is perfect now and this is the end of the road. The fact is that the sound shows that the Lektor represents a completely different “area” – it is a different category of sound – excellent sound, but now I’m at a completely different place. It is like comparing travelling by the TGV and the Soviet Trans-Siberian Railway – I travelled by both. They are both top-class, but I floated in the TGV and got off the Trans-Siberian train shaking like a bat.

Let me make things clear – this is not an eulogy of the Ayon Audio player, as it still needs to warm up for us to be able to claim anything for sure. However, even now we can hear that the Lektor does not even attempt to do certain things – it is because it constantly provides us with beautiful upper midrange, without differentiating anything there. There is no filling of the lower midrange, as the player barely knows it, but mostly there is no bass saturation. After these few hours of listening, I know that there is no returning to the Lektor for me anymore.

Wojciech Pacuła
„High Fidelity” | Krakow Sonic Society

We have made no agreements with Janusz at all and it is not that we need to defend anything – in the end, we’ve both been successfully using Ancient Audio players for years. However, I would like to say that I don’t understand what you’re saying at all, Rysiek. It is not that I disagree with you, which often happens, but my mind cannot comprehend what you said.

Rysiek B.: So, let me add something: for me, the Ayon Audio player produces sepia sound and the Lektor is multicolored, live. Tone colors constitute the greatest difference between them for me – I think the Lektor is better in this respect.

Wiciu: Well, yes, one could say that the Lektor provides sharper tone colors while the Ayon Audio player – more balanced ones.

Rysiek B: Exactly – and I like differences, “action”. Besides, bass, as you will probably agree, is out of control in the Ayon Audio player!

Tomek: No, absolutely not for me!

Janusz: What are you talking about, Rysiek? Nothing gets out of control!

Rysiek B.: Guys, it was impossible to listen to Wiciu’s Mozart on the Ayon Audio player. The double bass was simply too large!

Wiciu, Janusz: No, no, it’s not true!

Wiciu: When I listened to the double bass, it really seemed to me that there was a little too much of it, but not that it was uncontrolled – it was more about proportions. Anyway, perhaps it is just the matter of being used to something?

Wojciech Pacuła: Rysiu, I don’t understand what you’re saying, as when it comes to tone color, the Lektor was – in this comparison, not generally speaking – as flat as a plank. I am not thinking about the soundstage and dynamics, but about tone color differentiation. I think these are neither two aesthetics, nor it is a comparison of two “offers”, but two different values that play next to each other and are hard to compare. The Lektor is a perfect example of playing a CD on the highest level. Perhaps only listening to a full dCS Vivaldi system showed what can be done better. The Ayon Audio player is an attempt to come close to the source, to tape, with its special features that are not present in LPs, CD players manufactured to date, not to mention files.

It is rare for a constructor to have said something that is almost 100% per cent consistent with what I hear. When Gerhard talked about using a master tape as the reference, I had doubts whether he knew what he was talking about, as most people have never heard it and I thought he was only telling fairy tales. Only working with tape, i.e. recording, editing, etc., contributes to establishing a certain model in one’s head. This is why people from recording studios often do not value the LP, as they hear changes that take place between tape and vinyl.

If we assume that the starting point is analog master tape…

Rysiek B.: The starting point is a live performance, not any tape!

Janusz: No, no, no!

Wojciech Pacuła: I agree with Janusz – a recording is a completely different event than a concert, or even a performance in front of microphones. It is a completely new work of art which depends on the arrangement and selection of microphones, editing, reverberation, and many other things. It is like Edwin van der Kley said at the previous meeting – a recording is like a painting. A live event constitutes a frame, but is only a secondary point of reference, while the primary one should be mother tape, i.e. a specific standard for the given recording.

Tomek: Sure – last week I attended a Paradise Lost concert and it was so bad that I would not like to hear it at home.

Rysiek B.: But I am talking about acoustic instruments played without a sound system, not about a rock concert.

Janusz: But this way you throw out half of all music, as there is also electronic music, right? What is the standard for it? Besides, an acoustic concert is a unique event – it takes place once and is never repeated. You don’t get a chance to attend CD recording sessions and then play these recordings at home, and remember what it sounded like at a concert. What you’re talking about is only an attempt to approximate, most often a weak one, some concert to a completely different recording.



A similar discussion went on for another hour. It is symptomatic – only the most interesting products provoke us to ask fundamental questions. Both the Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE and the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition are outstanding devices. However, the latter produces completely different sound – it sounds like an analog master tape to a large extent. At first sight, it seems nothing is happening there. In reality, so many things happen there that it is hard to believe. Everything else compared to it is, in my opinion, untrue and artificial. It is a player which creates incredibly engaging sound that will be understood by few. Please do not get me wrong, it is not that I am boasting about my listening skills – I stay as far away from it as possible. However, one needs to mature to perceive certain things and it is no use pretending that it is not so – it is not democracy and equality, but everything depends on experience. It is wonderful that now we have a device that can help us gain it.

Having said that, let us return to the Lektor and Jarek for a while. I must stress something again: this man is a visionary. Several years ago he offered a CD player that then turned my outlook on digital sound upside down, has not changed much, but until recently had been a point of reference for all other digital sources. Only lately, the best sources such as CEC, Métronome Technologie, Totaldac, Chord and the top-class dCS have shown that others have made progress in the meantime, mostly when it comes to processing digital signal, which is connected with very high costs. It is something Jarek will not overcome, unless he comes up with a new idea.

So, the situation is as follows: the CD-35 HF Edition player is an outstanding device, but one needs experience to appreciate what it represents. Not everyone will fully like it, as one must remember about Rysiek’s “different opinion”. The player’s premiere will take place in September or October and Gerhard is not planning to test the device, as he says it is unnecessary – we know very well what we are dealing with.

The only test that will be made available is going to be published in “High Fidelity” – I do not know in which edition yet, but most probably in October or November, depending on how long it is going to take the device to warm up. I think I will use the player during an “out-of-the-office” meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society – a workshop devoted to Master CD-Rs during the Audio Video Show 2017 exhibition – please feel invited!

Finally: Janusz already owns the CD-35 HF Edition No. 2/50, Gerhard has kept No. 3/50 for himself, while No. 1/50 is kept at the “High Fidelity” office as a reference. So, only 47 units are going to be sold. Therefore, perhaps it is worth planning, ordering, booking a listening session now, before it is too late.


Ayon Audio products are distributed in Poland by the NAUTILUS.