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Ayon Audio CD-2 CD Player Review

Doug Schroeder immersed in digital the Austrian way via the Ayon

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Direct Output from the CD-2 to Amps

With the CD-2 you can utilize the onboard variable output and run it directly into an amp, or pair of amps, and get to-die-for results!Years ago, when I had an Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 player with upsampler, I tried the “direct to amp” method – and was sorely disappointed. The Ah! Njoe Tjoeb modded Marantz player needed a preamp to excel. I was not alone in thinking I would be able to streamline the rig, recapture some money and get better sound all in one move. Many have failed, as their players have not delivered the finely contoured, velvety sound that comes from a good preamp.

The CD-2, however, is a different story! It has such a clean, well-balanced output that most preamps are not going to help it. Literally, there is a good chance that a preamp will detract from the CD-2’s sound.Lately,I have been using three respected preamps at various price points, namely the Cambridge Azur 840E, Jeff Rowland Capri, and VAC Renaissance Signature Preamplifier MkII, and every one of them has to work to recapture what is lost from the CD-2. Shoving the signal through an additional set of interconnects and another component simply is not conducive to the ultimate Redbook performance. Consider that adding preamps vastly increases the cabling and electronics after the source.The VAC preamp is exceptional, and gets one almost back to the point of the Ayon’s pristine signal. It takes some of the best gear available to pass on a signal from the CD-2 unmolested. The cleanest and most cost effective solution for the audiophile on a budget is to run it direct into the amp(s). There is, however, one caveat which I will address shortly.

Tried My Level Best

Part of the excitement of reviewing is that one never knows precisely what will be encountered when assembling a rig. A surprise is always just around the corner, hopefully of the fun kind and not the rude kind. I did not anticipate a rude surprise with the Ayon CD-2, but got one anyway. In this particular instance it wasn’t really the player’s fault, but mine – it would be foolish to assess fault to the player, somewhat akin to being in a one-car accident and saying, “The tree came out of nowhere…!”

I chose to try out the CD-2’s internal volume control with the Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amps, both set to Bridged Mono mode. I’m very happy Cambridge designed the 840W with five levels of protection circuitry, as they used at least one on that particular instance. When I fired up the rig they “blew” immediately and went into protect mode even though I had reduced the level-out from the Ayon to zero.

Under normal circumstances I would have been freaking out. However, having perused the amp’s manual, I was aware that the protection circuits would allow for a reset under such circumstances. So, it was with a “Huh” level of curiosity that I noted the flashing light on the front of the amps, turned off the player, reconfigured and powered up again. Click…pop, and presto – all better! “I love these amps,” I gushed. In assessing the situation, Gerhard thought that since I used XLR interconnects there might be a ground loop between the two units causing the failure, and if so I would need to “float” the amps.

I, however, believe the issue involved my using the Azur amps in Bridged Mono mode with the King Sound the King electrostatic panel speakers, as I had no issues with the Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers when the amps were in Bridged Mono. When I reconfigured the system with the same amps in the Dual Mono mode I encountered no problem. The “Mystery of the Blowing Monos” is not yet solved (Sounds like a techie Hardy Boys mystery; I think I read every one as a teen but don’t recall that title). My thought is that the impedance of the King speakers was too low for their operation in Bridged Mono mode.

Ayon Audio CD-2 CD player Rear Panel Close Up

The Sonar “ping”

Most of us are familiar with the sound of the classic sonar “ping”, the high pitched echoing tone which trails off. Using the CD-2 direct to amplification, the unit was found to emit such a ping through the speakers. Every time a new disc was initialized and the “Play” command was issued, the player emitted such a sound. It did seem that consistently the first instance after turning on the player produced the most intense “ping”, and playing subsequent discs did not cause as strong of a “ping”. As it is sent to full power amplification, this “ping” in certain systems can be a serious noise emitted though the speakers.

In use with the Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amps at their 250wpc setting, the ping was surprising, but I knew it was harmless to the speakers. After my initial surprise I learned to ignore it. The effect was similar to the popping sound made when a Naim amp is turned on, only at a much higher frequency. However, when I configured the amps to Bridged Mono mode, at 800wpc, the ping packed quite a wallop – the level of the burst was such that I did not like it at all – on the tweeter especially, and I felt it was not safe to continue subjecting the speakers to that burst of power.

Gerhard explained the reason the ping exists is that the Jantzen capacitors used in the CD-2 have a large diameter with many foil windings. As well, the 6H30 tubes have a big filament grid. When the relay contact is made and the unit first begins playing, the fully charged caps discharge. The ping could be eliminated any number of ways, including using different caps, reducing the output voltage, using a different tube with a smaller filament grid, or including 1dB of feedback at the output stage. However, in every instance Gerhard found the sound to suffer, thus the ping remains. As he states, “We designed the CD-2 without any sound performance limitation… For us, we can accept a tiny ping during pressing “play” the first time…but we can’t accept any sound limitation; we go ahead always without any compromise as much as we can.” I appreciate that engineering insistence when it comes to sound, and I feel it matters. I have always been of the mindset that I will often accept the idiosyncrasies of gear if it means better sound. However, I will not do so at the potential for concern over the equipment.

Yet, it should be noted that in my experience, necessarily, the higher the power of the amp coupled with higher efficiency speakers, the louder the ping.In a different configuration, the Pathos Classic One MkIII (270wpc into 4 Ohms in mono mode) integrated amps running mono along with the astounding King Sound the King speakers (very inefficient at 83 dB and 1.8 Ohms at 20,000 Hz) the ping was all but nonexistent. There is a continuum of intensity to it, and as one moves upward in power and speaker efficiency it is more of an issue. At some point, say 500wpc, the ping does become an issue of concern, at least to me. If I were to put 800 or 1,000 Watts on the system, I would use a preamp with the CD-2, which eliminates the ping altogether. The tradeoff in clarity (i.e. the loss of clarity by utilization of the preamp) would likely compel me to continue with less power and use the CD-2 direct to amp.

Direct Drive

If one can use the CD-2 directly to amp(s), caution must be exercised that the volume is down to the “Min” setting,as when I received the unit it was set to “Max” from the factory! Note: on the player’s display -60 is mute and 0 is maximum volume. Having talked to Charlie Harrison about it, he thinks Ayon may reverse gear and have the player set at the factory to minimum, instructing the owner to adjust the volume via remote (there is no level control on the chassis, only on the remote). This would avoid any unpleasant surprises if someone did choose to take the signal output directly into amplification.

In fact, experimentation using the Ayon directly to amp(s) has led to an idea which I call my “Macro-system”. Larger, more complex molecules are called macro-molecules, and similarly, my concept of this rig is a larger, more complex two-channel rig, one which operates, however, in a more streamlined fashion than most. My macro-system will consist of two options of tubed or SS amplification, either one available at the touch of a switch on the CD-2, and a switch of the speaker cables at the amp(s). The CD-2 would source two distinct amplification schemes, both anchored by the CD-2. It would allow two different, parallel options of dedicated player-to-amp performance, as well as system-wide integration of sources.

How can this be achieved? It requires a player with three critical features, all of which the CD-2 has already: 1. Level out control, 2. Digital inputs, and 3. Two analogue outputs; in the case of the CD-2, both RCA and XLR.

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