Publisher Profile

Ayon Audio CD-1 CD Player and Spirit Tube Integrated Amplifier Review

Doug Schroeder probes the prospect of authentic high-end in Ayon Audio's $4,299 CD-1 CD player & $3,999 Spirit tube integrated amplifier

By: |

The Spirit is a spirited-sounding amp which I felt was highly comparable to the Pathos Classic One MkIII. The distinctions between the two were not as large as I might have thought, given that the Classic One is 70Wpc and the Spirit 50Wpc. The Classic One is a romantic-sounding, smooth and slightly bass-emphasized amp. It’s utterly non-fatiguing, even with bright speakers. The top-end is conservative, and some might even say curtailed slightly.

On the other hand, the Spirit is surprisingly powerful for its 50 Watts in Pentode mode. I am guessing that what it lacks in watts is made up in current capacity, as I felt it drove all of my speakers with an ease equal to the Classic One. Whereas the former is slightly bottom heavy, the Spirit is lighter on the top-end with a better grasp of detail from the mids on up. When paired with the CD-1, it has a sound the equivalent of a filigreed vessel, with layers of detail. Its tubed nature kept it from overstraining in the treble.

I could easily listen to either of these amps for an indefinite period without feeling fatigue. I suggest that they are distinct in nature but very close in overall satisfaction. The Pathos Classic One MkIII might be likened to salt and the Ayon Spirit more like pepper – both with distinctly strong flavoring but very palatable. The Classic One is strong and straightforward; it will never offend because it stays well within conservative bounds. The Ayon, being more like pepper, is spicier and hot, yet very crisp and clean.

I myself love detail and seek to increase it in my system whenever it can be done without adding harshness. This is a difficult trick, and all it takes to tip the scale too far is one component. Gerhard has tuned his equipment to balance on the edge between detail and edginess, and my ear very much appreciates the finesse in that accomplishment.


Listening Impressions Of CD-1 and Spirit

Initially, I had the CD-1 prior to the arrival of the Spirit. I grouped the CD-1, McIntosh MA6300, Legacy Focus HD speakers and Wire World cables together. This combination had vibrancy, and clarity. I pulled out Dan Fogelberg’s Windows and Walls to hear “False Faces”. The CD-1 pulled out of the older recording details which had all but escaped the Rega Saturn. I was hearing runs on the harp, bells following the melody, and chimes, all of which had been discreetly tucked into the overall sound on the Saturn, but which stood out in contrast with the Ayon.

There is a sense of brightness, not harshness at all, but intensity from the CD-1 which the Saturn is not capable. I liken the difference to two bulbs, one frosted and the other clear, both with similar wattage but very different light. I tend to lean toward the CD-1 presentation, the “clear bulb”, as the signal seems clearer.

I like listening to echoes in recordings as they give superb spatial clues to the venue. A disc which I pull out for virtually every cdp review is a mellow collection of female vocals Women & Songs. I find myself clicking between three selections – Beth Nielsen Chapman’s “Sand and Water”, Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”, and Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist in my Sobriety”. I wonder what the captivation is, since all three are altos. I’m not sure, but I do find myself gravitating toward altos, possibly since it seems that sopranos claim the spotlight so often.

In a good system, changing cdp’s can reveal such ambient clues. In this particular case, the Saturn consistently presented less information in the background echoes, which were somewhat truncated. The Ayon, in contrast, revealed more extension to the reverberation, similar to the way a cymbal reproduced properly on a good audio system resonates long after struck.

Charlie Harrison of Ayon Audio USA has been among the most helpful, service-oriented of distributors I have worked with. I am impressed with the build quality of the Ayon equipment. I have had opportunity to review some hand wired rave reviewed components from other manufacturers which I wasn’t impressed by; when two amps from a manufacturer have binding posts which are loose when tightening speaker cables, it’s not a good sign. I felt the opposite about Ayon gear in that it’s built to be substantial and reliable. The solidity of binding posts, smooth operation of the volume control, and ruggedness of the casing all say to me that pride of craftsmanship is an emphasis at Ayon.

If a person has an issue with their unit, I get the distinct sense that Ayon will stand behind their products with superb service. The unit sent to me had been used on several occasions as a demo, and had been transported across the country three or four times. By the time it had reached me some damage had been done. I encountered an anomaly, an intermittent silencing of the unit playing as I commanded it to skip a track. When I stopped the unit and restarted, it emitted a plastic sounding rapid clicking sound, like a gear slipping prior to engaging. The other issue was a completely dead coaxial digital output. Obviously this unit had been mishandled, despite the thorough packing – a new unit was in order.

Charlie was quite concerned and jumped to action following my phone call. I get the distinct feeling a unit would have been on my doorstep in 24 hours had one been available. The CD-1 is popular as a newcomer and has been sold out of its initial run. In a few days I was sent a new unit with a black face plate to match the black Spirit amp which had just arrived. The new unit functioned normally, and better yet, its black finish matched the Spirit. I would love to have seen a similar glowing Ayon logo on the CD-1, as it would make the pair look formidable. As it is, the basic sea foam blue digits of the CD-1’s display are functional and inoffensive.

Near the end of the review period I acquired the Sonos Digital Music system for review, and I made sure to use the Spirit with it. Setting the wonders of internet-based music and server functionality aside for this review, saving it for the Sonos report, I will state that the experience was hugely positive. I have used the Sonos with three or four amplification schemes to date, being powered from Ayon’s 50 watts, to 1,000 watts. There is no doubt that expansion of the soundstage and control over the bass drivers comes with power. However, the Spirit was most commendable in this regard. I did not feel that I had stepped down substantially when using it. Know, however, that I am a conservative listener, as I find no delight in hastening hearing damage by overdriving equipment to ridiculous levels. If you must have ear bleed volume, or have tremendously inefficient speakers and play them at higher levels, then look elsewhere, since the Spirit does not have endless reserves of power. For most sensible listeners, this integrated will not run out of oomph.


One of the greatest assets the Spirit possesses is the ability to be configured with either 8-Ohm or 4-Ohm output and Triode or Pentode operation. This allowed me to find a pleasing sound no matter which speakers and cdp I used. With the efficient Tannoy Glenair speakers I set the amp to 8-Ohm Triode mode. Clean and distinct, the Spirit and CD-1 were a distinctively good match for the Glenair.

Conversely, with the Legacy Audio Focus HD, another speaker with higher sensitivity, at 96dB, I elected to use the 4-Ohm Triode mode. In both cases, I felt the clearer presentation offered in Triode was preferable. However, the Focus HD with its twin 12” woofers is capable of prodigious bass and I felt the 8-Ohm output was a bit lacking in the 30Wpc Triode mode. Using the 4-Ohm outs did the trick, and the presentation improved.

I did not encounter difficulties in terms of cable matching with the Ayon equipment. They are so well balanced that a cable which either gave a presentation more forward, or one that subdued the signal slightly didn’t elicit a negative reaction from me. The odds are good that a purchaser would be able to make numerous cabling combinations, even hodge-podge collections of cables, work relatively well with the CD-1 and Spirit. They are not tuned in such manner that one parameter will throw them off and make them sound ugly. This, and the fact that they passed muster with me on planar, dual concentric and larger dynamic speakers suggests they would be more than adequate for the music lover who wants better than just good sound, but doesn’t want to spend $15k to get it.

I am very cautious about recommending one brand solutions for audiophiles. While allegiance to a company is laudable, there are too many outstanding pieces which can bring a vitality, a synergy, to the experience. Ayon, however, is an exception, and I would heartily recommend an audition of the combination of the CD-1 and Spirit.

These two dodge the warm, wet blanket sound of an all-tube system with a tube source, yet retain the best of the glow and vitality of tubes. As a relatively new name to North America, and to win the hearts of audiophiles, Ayon’s products have to be not only good, but very good. Having run this pairing through my gauntlet, I can recommend them without reservation. Putting myself in the shoes of an audiophile who wants a taste of the authentic high-end, but without the worry of component matching or spending one’s self into the poor house, Ayon is a name to remember! Individually or in tandem these pieces play well with elegance and effervescence. They are champagne for a person with a wine box budget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :