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Power monaural amplifiers
Ayon Audio VULCAN II

Price: 119 900 zł (za parę)

Manufacturer: Ayon Audio

Gerhard Hirt | Hart 18 | A-8101 Gratkorn | Austria
tel.: +43 3124 24954 | fax: +43 3124 24955


Country of origin: Austria

WWW: Ayon Audio
Polish language www: Ayon Audio

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła | Eter Audio/Piksel Studio
Translation: Marek Dyba

Vulcan II is mono power amplifier, the top product in Ayon Audio portfolio. Gerhard Hirt – owner of Ayon – uses them in his reference system. These amps sport two mighty AA62B power tubes (manufactured also by Ayon) per channel, working in SET mode. This SET working in class A delivers 55 W output power (and up to 100 W peak power).
These are fully tube amps which means that they sport not only power tubes but also tube rectifier. These are huge units weighting 46 kg each, and with their impressive dimensions (especially depth) they seem to dominate the whole room they are put in (unless it is a really big room). During this test I used them with Spheris II and Polaris III preamplifiers, and Ayon CD5s and Ancient Audio Air players. I tried also driving these monos directly with both players but I preferred the sound with preamplifier in signals path rather than without. For this test I used also couple of different loudspeakers including: Ayon GyrFalcon (most of the time), Avalon Transcendent and Harbeth Monitor 30.

To date we tested the following Ayon Audio devices:

  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-2s; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-1s (in a system); review HERE
  • DAC Skylla; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-1; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-3; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-07; review HERE
  • Integrated Amplifier Ayon Audio 300B; review HERE
  • Preamplifier Ayon Audio Polaris II; review HERE


Recordings used in the test (selection):

  • Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones, Capitol/EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90034, HQCD.
  • Bill Evans, You Must Believe in Spring, Warner Bros./Warner Music Japan, WPCR-13176, SHM-CD.
  • Chet Baker, Big Band, Pacific Jazz/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9442, CD.
  • Clan of Xymox, Darkest Hour, Trisol, TRI 419 CD, CD.
  • Clifford Brown, Clifford Brown With Strings, Verve/ Universal Music K.K. (Japan), UCCU-9525, gold-CD.
  • David Gilmour, Live In Gdańsk, EMI, 235488, 2 x CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus 2011, cdbong43, SP CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Remixes 81-11: 2, Mute, cdmutel18, CD.
  • Frank Sinatra, Nice’N’Easy, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 790, gold-CD;
  • Kraftwerk, Minimum-Maximum, EMI, 349962, 2 x SACD/CD.
  • Lisa Gerrard, The Silver Tree, 4AD/Sonic Records, SON212, CD.
  • Madeleine Peyroux, Standing On The Rooftop, EmArcy/Pennywell Productions [Japan], UCCU-1335, CD.
  • The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 032, K2HD;
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10078, SACD/CD;
  • Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels, Warner Bros., 25900, CD.
  • The Doors, L.A. Woman, Elektra/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-12721, CD.
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet, The Sheriff, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25129, CD.

Japan versions you can find on CD Japan.

Vulcan II delivers really huge sound. I was trying o ignore what Gerhard Hirt said during the interview, which was his declaration that his ideal soundstage was the very expansive one on Dead Can Dance recordings, but I couldn't, I had to fail. Ayon's top of the line amplifier simply presents huge soundstage. But also with a big sound which is not the same thing.
I had to listen do Dead Can Dance recordings obviously, but I was even more impressed by live recordings like, for example: David Gilmour's Live In Gdańsk or Kraftwerk's Minimum-Maximum. Width of the soundstage is significantly bigger than a distance between loudspeakers, and it goes really deep too. But as important is also the way all this almost holographic space is organized. It's a very natural sounding version of what was actually recorded. Sure I might try to analyze if the picture in the back of the soundstage was as precise and clear as in the front but why would I? No need, as everything seemed just right. Only if there is something wrong you need to find out what it is. Here we are at least one level up – we might think only about things like size of instruments, their placement on the stage – all the rest comes naturally, effortless, without listener even noticing.

One of the key elements of this presentation is natural timbre throughout the whole frequency range. That's what we usually expect from SET amplifiers (well maybe except the lowest bass) and what we usually get. But here, with Vulcan II this natural timbre is present even in the very low end, which by the way is the lowest bass I ever heard from 300B amp (AA62B is a based on a design of famous Western Electric 300B WE), including ingenious Silver Grand Mono from Ancient Audio. That's why I had to compare this sound rather to two brilliant solid-state devices – my own Soulution 710 and Vitus Audio SS-101. Both of these amps deliver bass that is surely better controlled and there is more of it, with Vitus Audio one being the leader here. Ayon seems to emphasis mid-bass (meaning somewhere around 200 Hz) rather stronger than Soulution 710 does, building in this way its „identity”, which is centered around bass range. Because Gerhard managed to build a SET amplifier that is capable of delivering nicer, richer, better extended and better controlled bass than many solid-state competitors. Fantastic differentiation of low end is surely another key foundation of this great performance. Lot of SS amps could not compete with Vulcan II in this area, as some of them try to achieve same result with brute force (e.g. Krell), or with some softness and smoothness (like BFA Tulip), but the final effect is no match for Ayon's presentation. The latter is using its amazing midrange resolution, lack of grain or any other unpleasant effects, to project large, liquid sound. Yes, I gave Vulcan II a hand using mostly Ayon's GyrFalcon loudspeakers, that were designed to work with tube amp, but there was no problem at all when this amplifier had to drive Avalon Transcendent. The performance and the amount of bass will surprise anybody – doesn't matter if you're a tube's fan or foe. Invite some friends and just play Elektro Kardiogram from Kraftwerk's Minimum-Maximum, and then just watch jaws dropping – there will be very low, dark pulse, and on top of it more distinct, brighter elements in the midrange.

As I already said resolution of midrange and treble is exceptional. The bodies on the stage might not be as 3-dimensional as delivered by before mentioned Ancient Audio, but the sound is bigger and soundstage more expansive. Even Soulution 710 doesn't deliver such depth when also vocal is in play (please remember that these are top-high-end devices so differences are exceptionally small). Vitus Audio SS-101 on the other hand pushes everything bit forward which, subjectively, might be perceived as more tangible presentation. Credit for that goes, at least partially, to emphasis in lower midrange, but that was designer's intention – presentation is supposed to be warm, palpable and delivered close to listener.
In comparison Ayon's sound seems bit more transparent. Tonal balance is set bit higher than with above mentioned amps, because there is less emphasis on lower midrange. This has nothing to do with bass, as it is superb. I can't tell for sure if it is really about transparency but for sure you need to chose other elements of the system carefully as Vulcan II will show differences between sources and loudspeakers clearly.
If this was a perfect world I would suggest to stick with Ayon's rig, but it's not so in particular listening rooms I would suggest trying also other speakers – maybe something from Harbeth or Spendor classic lines to add some particular character to the sound, some warmth maybe. It is just a suggestion – Ayon loudspeakers will deliver huge soundstage and dynamics, but when it comes to timbre you might want to try also other speakers I suggested.

On the other hand (still considering huge soundstage and huge sound) if you like to play some live concerts (also from Blu-ray in stereo), you will love what you hear, as you will feel like you were in the concert hall or stadium.

I got really curious to learn how Vulcan II would play some mono recordings like Clifford Brown with Strings, Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones or Chet Baker'sBig Band. When it comes to stereo recording it is possible to optimize it to make it more 3D, more spacial, but it can't be done with mono recording. For the latter you need a big sound to give you an impression of a space. Usually mono recordings are not so rich and we get what seems to be just a fragment of a space in front of us, that in extreme cases might be even a small spot. This usually results in a lean sound. Vulcan's II midrange isn't that rich either but despite that it delivers huge, occupying considerably big space, phantom images from mono recordings. How is it possible when both speakers reproduce exactly the same signal? I can't be sure but it has to have to do with this huge sound, as these two elements always come together. Big sound means big phantom images, always.
In this case I tested an amplifier fully capable of delivering exceptional depth of the soundstage. Let's add it to large, distinct phantom images and we get a spectacular presentation. And this is still not all – on top of all that there is this amazing differentiation that Ayon is capable of. That made telling one trumpet from the other on Baker's recording, or one “Freshman's” voice from the other really easy. I mean it was easy for a listener to tell, not that the complexity of the recording wasn't properly delivered. I could tell that Baker sat lower, and Norman Faye held his trumpet higher – yes, even such small details might be clear for you with such high performance system.

Vulcans II are literally vulcans of dynamics so their name is meaningful. I already mentioned one thing – well extended, rich bass. But there is also another thing related to dynamics – it's how powerful it is – this might be the factor that will convince many to buy this amplifier. Most tube amps compared with Vulcan II would sound flat and boring. With this device we get „T.N.T”/ pure energy with every strike, every bit. With slower, more peaceful pieces like You Must Believe In Spring by Bill Evans it results in what seems to be bit faster presentation than the one delivered by my Soulution. But hey, no amp is perfect – some aspects are fantastic and some might be delivered in a better way by some other top-high-end device. But if you prefer music with bit faster pace like swinging Sinatra from Nice’N’Easy, or something very rhythmic like Dark Hours by Clan of Xymox than you will understand immediately what Ayon is all about. Rhythm, drive, attack – these are advantages of Ayon and it makes a great use of them.
As you probably already got from my description Vulcan II is quite a different amplifier from „standard” tube ones, but it doesn't mean it sounds solid-state-liked. To be honest I'm under impression that in recent years all top-high-end devices (both tube and SS) sound more and more alike. I mean that while still each device has some particular qualities arising from its sound philosophy, or personality of its designer regardless of technology applied, there are less and less weaknesses of technology chosen for this design. That's why sound of tube based Ayon and solid-state Soulution have more in common than each of them with less expensive devices of the same kind. Very low distortion, wide frequency range, high dynamics – same advantages of both devices. There are some differences in timbre, but it seems that Soulution sounds more „tube-like”, at least when it comes to midrange saturation. On the other hand Ayon has advantage when it comes to delivering low-level subtleties in timbre, dynamics, distances on soundstage, size of the instruments and so on. Yes, the world is changing. So is Gerhard Hirt and his devices. For better.


Front and top
Vulcan II is a monaural power amplifier. Each piece is huge weighting 46 kg and won't fit to any regular stand – usually they would be put on the floor on dedicated stands.
Vulcans appearance is typical Ayon – casing is black with chrome-like finished transformer's cans on top. There are two separate low noise – insulated power transformers. Power transformers are encased, excellently damped and RFI/EMI shielded.
Tubes are placed in front of them – there is a double triode 12AX7 in the input stage – a high performance version - 12AX7WB from Russian Sovtek. Than two EL84 EH Electro-Harmonix penthodes, operating in triode mode. These drive output tubes – AA62B triodes. In previous version power tubes were driven by 6H30 triodes but obviously Gerhard recognized the need for more powerful drivers.
Amp is working without negative feedback, in triode mode – in fact the output stage operates in PSET mode, with two power tubes per channel working in parallel (just like in Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono). The sixth tube is a rectifier – Sovtec 5U4G. Three tubes in input sit in teflon tube sockets with beryllium- copper spring pins, custom made by Ayon. The other sockets are ceramic with gold-plated pins. Between tubes there is a bias analog-instrument with mV scale. Bias can be adjusted with a setting dial located on the back panel. All writings on the casing are engraved.

Back panel
There are separate binding posts for 4 and 8 Ω – very nice WBT 0765 ones. There are XLR and RCA inputs but since it's a SET it is obvious that it is not a balanced device so using RCA input is recommended. Anyway you can use only one of inputs – there is a simple switch activating either of inputs. Another switch activates bias measurement for one of the power tubes. And there is one more that disconnects ground from casing. It is not something you will find in many amplifiers. Ayon describes it as follows: „The dual grounding topology used in all of our amplifiers is quite unique to the whole hi-end tube amplification industry. Such extensive topology provides for quieter backdrop for which the music can unfold in its entirety. It further establishes the quick and controlled bass response and the full bodied expression of the high frequency. The ground leg of the signal has not been neglected and given meticulous attention in its implementation. The importance of proper grounding cannot be over emphasized.

  • Ground switch
  • Central one-point star earth grounding
  • Dual grounding system (switchable).

    After looking inside I could finally say that chokes were not hidden inside cans placed on top panel – these are bolted inside, four of them to be precise – one for each power tube and one for each input tube. It seems that rectifier feeds only one section, in array with powerful Pi-type filter and huge polypropylene capacitors (same ones as used in Spheris II and Polaris III preamplifiers). There is also a separate power supply with a solid-state rectifier that most likely feed input stage. It is mounted on PCB together with two filament power supplies (for power tubes and input tubes). Input stage also is mounted on PCB. I found there some coupling polypropylene capacitors with CJE logo (I don't know this brand). Signal to input tubes goes with quite long, shielded cable from the back panel The output stage is made in point-to-point technique.

    Technical data (according to manufacturer):
    Class of Operation: PSET (Parallel Singe-ended Triode), pure class A
    Tubes: 2 x AA62B, 2 x EL84, 1 x 12AX7, 1x 5U4G
    load impedance: 4 or 8 Ω
    Bandwidth: 10 Hz - 50 kHz (+/- 3 dB)
    Output power : 55 W
    Peak power: 100 W
    Input sensitivity: 600 mV
    Input impedance (1 kHz): 100 kΩ
    S/N ratio: 92 dB
    THD: <0,3%
    Negative feedback: 0 dB
    Volume control: no
    Remote control: no
    Inputs: 1 x RCA, 1 x XLR
    Dimensions (WxDxH): 360 x 580 x 250 mm
    Weight: 46 kg

    Distribution in Poland: Eter Audio

    Eter Audio
    ul. Malborska 24
    30-646 Kraków

    tel./fax: 0048 12 425 51 20/30
    tel. kom.: 0048 507 011 858



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