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Integrated amplifier

Ayon Audio

Manufacturer: AYON AUDIO
Prices (in Poland): 13 900 PLN



Provided for test by: NAUTILUS Dystrybucja


Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Images: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba

No 196

September 1, 2020


AYON AUDIO is a manufacturer specializing in expensive and very expensive audio components: amplifiers, digital sources and loudspeakers. Yet, GERHARD HIRT, the owner, has always had Single Ended Triode circuits at heart. He can’t use them though in the less expensive models, hence the idea for the SPIRIT SE.

he Ayon Audio Spirit V integrated amplifier tested by us in June of 2019 was something of a Gerhard Hirt’s "statement of faith" - faith in what can be done in a small form amplifier with KT150 output tubes (HF № 182). The amplifier, which had its world premiere in the "High Fidelity", turned out to be a perfect pinnacle of the SPIRIT line, which was built since 2004.

Gerhard's latest idea is to propose similar solutions, but at a lower price and with a single-ended circuit, that is, with a single tube in the output circuit; such a tube - by definition - operates in class A. This is how the Spirit SE model was created. SE can be understood as both, "single-ended" and "Special Edition": the device is limited to 100 units. For a company the size of Ayon, this number has no economic significance. So I assume that this is to be a "personal" project of our Austrian friend in which he offers himself to us.

One can find an indirect confirmation of this thesis in the description that can be found on the manufacturer's website:

The Spirit SE represents a dramatic rethinking of economic Single-ended vacuum tube integrated amplifier design. The Spirit SE integrated amplifier combines neutrality, realistic dynamics and power projection, true musicality with high resolution. Perfect finish, elegant discrete design and outstanding sonic performance make the “Spirit SE” unique, setting a new price-to-value standard in its class.


Spirit SE is an integrated amplifier. It features a tube output stage powered by a semiconductor power supply - four in total. It offers four line inputs and a output of 12 watts per channel. It is controlled by a remote control, which, however, must be purchased separately. There is no in-build DAC, streamer, Bluetooth, or even a headphone output - this is an integrated amplifier in its purest form.

Owner, designer

This amplifier was actually developed and partially built 5 years ago, but we never fully finished and released it because we were so busy all the time and therefore had no production capacity. But during the Corona crisis, we activated the Spirit SE, but we had to limit it to 100 pieces worldwide!

The idea behind this amplifier was to develop a single-ended, which is based on KT150 tubes and offers an extremely excellent price-performance ratio, coupled with an exceptional sound performance. The Spirit SE should appeal to customers who do not hear so loudly and who also have an easy-to-use loudspeaker. This amplifier generates a lot of emotion and music without producing the typical so-called "hi-fi sound". It is a sound characteristic that leaves a lot of space to enjoy, also inspires the listener to experience and rediscover music. GH

This is a surprising amplifier for several reasons. The first surprise is tha fact that it was even introduced to the market. As I said, it doesn't make any economic sense to the company. The second thing has to do with its appearance. For many, many years, all Ayon Audio products have looked similar, i.e. they have had a wide front panel. The most expensive monoblocks and the headphone amplifier are an exception, but nothing more than an exception. Meanwhile, the Spirit SE features a narrow front panel and is relatively deep. If we turned it sideways, it would have almost the same dimensions as the Spirit V, differing from it only by a few centimeters and a few kilograms. However, the differences would not be significant. But thanks to this solution it seems smaller, and therefore more home environment "friendly".

And finally, there is also something that will warm our Polish hearts. It is well-known that Gerhard, along with his engineers, choose tubes for their project very carefully. Whenever possible, he uses modern tubes, but he always selects, measures and pairs them. And wherever it is possible he uses NOS tubes. The same is true this time - in the preamplifier and output tubes driver section he used tubes from the 1970s, produced by the Polish company POLAMP.

The PCL86 tube was designed for television sets. It is a double tube, because in one glass bulb there are two tubes: a low-power triode and a powerful pentode. The tube is inexpensive, because it is not used today. One can buy it for just PLN 20 with an original box. It is interesting that although these were made in Poland - I have several dozen EL34s from this company myself - they have a very good reputation among musicians looking for replacement tubes for their guitar amplifiers, even though they are almost unknown in the home audio environment. It seems therefore, that this particular choice is sort of a Gerhard’s gesture towards us, Poles.

| Polish tubes (POLskie LAMPy)

The history of Polish vacuum tubes is associated with the Dutch company PHILIPS and dates back to 1922. At that time, the Polish-Dutch Electric Lamps Factory was established, which in 1928 changed its name to Polskie Zakłady Philips S.A. It manufactured radio receivers and electron tubes were assembled from imported parts. During the World War II, in the occupied plants, the Germans organized the production of transmitting and receiving equipment for submarines and tanks. The plants were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.

As early as in the 1945, the State Radio Tubes Factory was launched in Dzierżoniów, where tubes were manufactured based on Telefunken designs. In 1948-49 it was moved to Warsaw and combined with what remained of the Tungsram plants on the premises of the former Philips plants - as a result of, as we would say today, the merger the Rosa Luxemburg Zakłady Wytwórcze Lamp Elektrycznych was established. The electron tubes produced there, first for radio receivers and then also for TV sets, were manufactured based on a license from Philips, which thus returned to be one of the main partners of this Polish industry.

In 1970, two new organisms came into being: the TELCOM Wired Communication Technology Combine and the POLAM Light Source Combine, which included tubes manufacturing plants. Based on the former, the UNITRA is established a year later, and the latter transforms into the POLAMP Union of Lighting and Electromechanical Equipment. In 1989, the Polamp Union was dissolved, and its plants began production under their own trademarks - mainly making lighting lamps. Today a large part of them is once again owned by Philips.

Let me add that by the end of 1965, 20.3 million electron tubes were produced in Poland, and in 1970 over 25 million units.

source: Zarys Historii Polskiego przemysłu Elektronicznego do 1985 roku, Stowarzyszenie Elektryków Polskich, „Zeszyt Historyczny” no. 2, Warzsawa 1994


I used two sources: the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition (№ 1/50) SACD player and the TechDAS Air Force III turntable with SAT LM-09 tonearm and X-quisite ST cartridge. The Ayon amplifier was compared directly to my amplification system, consisting of the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and the Soulution 710 power amplifier, but also to the Haiku-Audio SEnsei 211 integrated amplifier, with 211 tubes in the output stage.

Both amplifiers - tested and the reference one - drove the Harbeth M40.1 speakers via the NOS Western Electric WA310 speaker cable. The tested amplifier was placed on the top shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack and was powered by the Hijiri SM2R "Sound Matter" cable.

Recordings used for the test (a selec- tion)

  • Count Basie & Tony Bennett, Basie/Bennett, Roulette/Classic Records SR 25 072, “45 rpm series”, 4 x one side pressing, 200 g LP (1959/2006)
  • Jeff Buckley, The Grace+EPs, Sony Music Entertainment [Japan] SICP 2245-7, 3 x CD (2004, 2002/2009)
  • Karl Bartos, Communication, Home Records SAMPCD 13081 2, CD-R (2003)
  • Mayo Nakano Piano Trio, MIWAKU, Briphonic BRPN-7007GL, Extreme Hard Glass CD-R (2017);
  • Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Vitt, Live At Keystone. Vol. 1, Fantasy ‎Records FSA7701-6, SACD/CD (1973/2004)
  • Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Vitt, Live At Keystone, Fantasy ‎ Records F-79002, 2 x LP (1973)
  • Modern Jazz Quartet, Reunion at Budokan 1981, Pablo Live D 2308-243, LP (1985)
  • The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out, Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment/SME Records SRGS-4535, SACD (1959/2000)
  • Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela, Rejoice, World Circuit WCV094, 180 G LP (2020);

Oh my ... This amplifier offer a pure rock'n'roll! My point is that the device perfectly keeps the rhythm, pace, presents big instruments, gives proper mass to the presentation. It presents music in such a way that makes listeners feel like they (almost) participated in a real event. And the point is not that it is a real event, because it is impossible, but that the emotions that one feels when listening to it raise one’s blood pressure, energize one’s body and make the presentation something more than the appearance of probability.

Maybe I made it bit easy for Ayon, as I started the listening session with a fantastic live album Live At Keystone. Although it was recorded and mixed in analogue domain, in 1988 Fantasy Records prepared a new master - this time recording the signal on a Mitsubishi X-80 digital tape recorder. And this material was the basis for the SACD release. What a sound it offers! And the Ayon amplifier sustained this energy, this tempo, as if it had several dozen watts at its disposal.

Because it is a device that offers a big sound. The effect is achieved by bringing the foreground closer to us. I could hear it with the previous album and with the The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out , a single-layer SACD disc prepared from a master tape by SME Records, the "audiophile" branch of the Sony Music.

And it was with the latter that the incredible ability of Spirit SE to render big scale sound, keep the pace and play with momentum was confirmed. Here and now you can hear that it is a slightly warm sound, that the bass at the very bottom is not as precise and tight as with more powerful amplifiers of this manufacturer - all this is quite obvious and there is no point in pretending otherwise. However, I heard a really nice treble - with the previous album held rather back. It is not very selective, they probably didn’t even try to make it so, it is just nice, strong, and has its weight. And that's enough for me.

I had a whole stack of CDs and LPs prepared for this test, ones that allow me to quickly and quite confidently identify the strengths and weaknesses of the tested components. It included a variety of releases. Three Blind Mice on SACD, gold-HDCD, 45 rpm LP, Audio Lab Records, direct-to-discs releases and others. And finally I listened to all of them, but rather to make sure of what I’d already known and to have a clear conscience, not to discover something new.

This is because the Ayon Audio Spirit SE is an amplifier that brings some joy to life - I don’t know how explain it precisely. One listens to music with it in order to have "fun" with it - and I tried to conduct my test as usual. Therefore, right after the Time Out I returned to recordings with strong bass and wide sound stage - to Pink Floyd ‘s Wish You Were Here in the SACD Analogue Productions version and to Karl Bartos’ Communication.

I have a promotional copy version, on a CD-R disc, of the latter. Although the booklet claims that these are only fragments of individual recordings, in fact there is a complete material there. The Spirit SE presented it to me in a great version. There was fun, there was foot stamping, looking for the subtleties and colors. Because apart from rhythm, plasticity is the most important feature in this device’s presentation. The sound is not particularly selective and it does not seem very resolving. But it is probably resolving, because each of the discs I listened to had its own character. It was also immediately audible that Bartos compressed the signal quite strongly, that he rolled off the treble, that Communication played mainly with the low midrange and bass.

When in a series of consecutive albums I let the impulse of enjoying the fun factor fade away, my curiosity returned, and it is usually satisfied with the best recordings I have. With the albums I listened to, the Gerhard’s amplifier behaved similarly to the previous session with entertainment music. It offered an incredibly nice, rich, warm, slightly soft sound, but with lots of information. Details were masked, there was no "breathing of the musician in the third row" audible, but information about the recording and instruments is abundant.

So the MIWAKE by Mayo Nakano Piano Trio, which I have on a Master Glass-CD, sounded incredibly “organic”. On the one hand, the presentation was placed close to me, this is how this amplifier delivers music, but on the other, the depth of the soundstage was fantastic, and the so-called "breath" was very special. And it was repeated every time, regardless of the album and recording.


Spirit SE is not "transparent" to the signal in the sense that it does modify it (see above). But I don't think anyone even tried to pretend that it was a neutral sounding device. I have the impression that it was just about making it sound like it does, and if someone doesn't like it, then - well - they should buy something else.

The latest Ayon Audio amplifier is one of the most liquid, dense sounding devices produced by Gerhard Hirt and the company, regardless of the price. I heard the paradigm shift already with the Spirit V, and then with the Scorpio XS, but with the Spirit SE it goes even further down this road. It offers a low-based sound, with strong bass, fantastic dynamics and lots of information - all presented in the warm light of the tubes, this is what the Spirit SE is like.

Spirit SE is a tube integrated amplifier but with a solid state power supply. It looks different than most devices from this manufacturer - apart from the HA-3 headphone amplifier (review HERE), which makes it an unexpected return to devices from before the "unification era" of its enclosures, for example to the 300B amplifier.

Mechanical design | The chassis is made of thick aluminum elements joined together using semicircular corners. It featured black anodized finish. The bottom is a thinner, varnished metal sheet, but also made of aluminum. The knobs are made on CNC machines, and their knurling not only looks good, but also helps to conveniently operate them. The logo is varnished, not illuminated, but all the inscriptions are also milled, which guarantees their longevity.

There are two indicators, both of them are red LEDs. One of them is mounted on the volume knob, and around the other one there are four more of these, indicating the selected input. The power switch is placed underneath - a typical Ayon solution. After turning on the voltage, the LED in the volume knob is blinking for some time, and there is no signal at the output - it is a sign that the circuit extending the lifespan of the tubes does its job. It is worth reading the manual carefully as it tells you how to handle this system.

Electric design | The amplifier is based on four tubes, two per channel: the PCL86 double triode / pentode tube from the Polish manufacturer Polamp (NOS) and the KT150 beam tetrode by the Russian company Tung-Sol, the patent owner. One delivers signal from source using one of four inputs featuring nice RCA sockets, and drives speakers via gold-plated, solid speaker outputs - there are separate outputs for 4 and 8 Ω loadings. The output transformers are made of permalloy sheets and damped with a specially developed vibration damping resin.

This is a modular design - each circuit is placed on a separate PCB. It makes repairing and upgrading all units much easier, but it also means having to use a lot of cables. The audio signal is switched in hermetic relays, and then through a long interconnect it goes to the front, to an Alps (malachite) potentiometer, coupled with a motor. After purchasing a remote control, we will be able to adjust the volume remotely.

After signal attenuation (the potentiometer is placed in the input of the preamplifier) it goes to the PCL86 tubes board. There are nice high-power resistors and polypropylene capacitors (without identifying markings). In the triode section, the signal is amplified and the pentode controls the output tube - these are actually two amplifiers in one. The components cooperating with the output tubes are placed on small printed circuit boards, to which their sockets are soldered.

In fact, most of the chassis’ inside is taken up by the power supply - both, the PS itself and its microprocessor power supply. The company named this solution "Intelligent Auto-Fixed-Bias" (AFB). Both channels have a common power supply, but with two chokes. The filament voltage is also rectified separately.


Auto-fixed-bias is a proprietary solution developed by the Ayon Audio, which is to protect the output tubes, react to their aging, but above all, it is to allow the tubes to operate comfortably using their full potential. In Ayon Audio amplifiers tubes operate at 85% of their current capacity, and not - as in other amplifiers - at 75%. In order not to overload the tubes, they must be constantly monitored - and this is what the AFB ensures. An additional benefit is that the amplifier does not change the sound characteristics as the tubes age.

The AFB is an advanced system, which must be calibrated at the beginning, after connecting to the mains in our home - the amplifier must "know" the voltage value in the socket and determine the power supply parameters for the tubes. We do it by pressing a button on the back panel with a match (or something similar). The amplifier then enters the measurement mode and the LED on the front panel is blinking. It is a safe system that guarantees long, trouble-free operation of the tubes.

Remote control | Spirit SE is equipped with remote control, but only as an option. This is the RC-4A model, common to many Ayon products. It is small, made of aluminum and has only five buttons, two of which control the volume, one is a mute, and with other two we choose the type of device we want to control.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Frequency range: 15 Hz – 40kHz (-3dB)
Output: 2 x 12W
Input sensitivity (for full power): 350mV
Input impedance @1kHz: 100kΩ
NFB: 0dB
Volume control: Alps
Remote control: yes (optional)
Inputs: 4 x RCA
Power consumption: 75W
Dimensions (W x D x H): 300 x 430 x 230 mm
Weight: 22kg


Reference system 2020

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC