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Audio Blast: Ayon CD-2

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Audio-Blast-by-Doug-SchroedDo you want a hot, top loading, single chassis disc player which will give you close to the ultimate in digital performance, but you don’t want to spend $20,000? Then ogle the Ayon CD-2! I’ve been living with the CD-2 for about three months now, and it’s a Super Spinner. It does not do SACD, but what it can do for Redbook is so superb that you’ll get the notion you might just as well be hearing SACD.

I’ve worked with every level of Ayon player from the original CD-1 to the two-chassis CD-3, and now the CD-2; I compared the CD-3 and CD-2 extensively, the only one I haven’t touched is the CD-1s, the replacement for the CD-1. This is the best of the bunch, not only in terms of refinement of sound, but ease of operation. Gone are the nuisance maneuvers to initialize and play discs. The transport is silky and speedy, the outputs and inputs plenteous, the usage as stand alone player or transport neigh unto unassailable (But come on, Gerhard, we need a clean, intuitive remote! Please, give us an additional, simple controller). Ayon has put together a player with nearly as much leisure and enjoyment appeal as a complimentary ten-day cruise! I’ll leave the hypothetical question, “If offered the trip or the player, which would you take,” to each one’s genius.

Why is the CD-2 so different? Virtually everything in it is reworked – it’s not a CD-3 tweaked, but the incarnation of a new design as is evidenced by changes to the following:
D/A Converter, the Bur Brown 1704
Upsampling section
Power Supply
(2) R-core transformers
CD Mechanisms
CD Drive Controller board
Remote Control, including volume control
Gold PCB’s
6H30 analogue output stage, left and right separated
Lid integral disc clamp system
The CD-2 sounds tight and neutral; it’s got the force of solid-state, with a slight tube cache. If you want syrupy, tube-like, warm sound like Vandersteen speakers and Van Alstine components (What is it with the Dutch and the molasses tube sound? Disclaimer: I haven’t heard the Vandy 7 yet.), then likely you’ll not be overwhelmed. There is a solution, however. Just take a set of digital cables – I’ve obtained good results with both Networked (MIT) and non-networked (Wireworld) brands – and use them as interconnects! I don’t care if it’s not protocol. I don’t care if no one else does it! The claim is that it will kill precision and add coloration to the signal. I have not found it to have any drastically negative effects. It is an amazing way to get very rich, tube-like sound from solid-state components, as well as CD players which, like the CD-2, are not swimming in tube-like character. I always keep a set or two of digital cables on hand now to tune the rigs I assemble; it makes a recommendable difference in being able to opt for a more tube-like performance.

Do you want to rock your world in terms of performance? Use the CD-2 in UPSAMPLE mode (24 bit /192 kHz) with the digital cables. It has XLR and RCA analogue outputs, 75 Ohm S/PDIF (RCA) and 110 Ohm, AES/EBU (XLR) digital outputs, and 75 Ohm S/PDIF (RCA) digital input! When I ran the non-upsampled mode I was partial to the dedicated interconnects, but as time has gone on I have shifted to the digital cables and the upsampling.

Let’s Hit it Hard:

Here’s a kick-ass system you actually might afford (if you want to get beyond the beach and into deep water), to reach out and grab seemingly endless focus and clarity, as well as a tight but not harsh top-end. You want worlds of detail, so much that it sounds like the event is unfolding right there in front of you, but not have your ears assaulted? Here’s a rig I have set up now which you may enjoy:
Ayon CD-2 $5,500
Cambridge Audio Azur 840E preamp $1,799
Two Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amps in Dual Mono mode (I would have put them into Bridged Mono (one channel per amp) but the speakers tripped their protection circuitry! You’ll understand why when you see the speakers!
Wireworld Electra Power Cords $359 2M
Silver Eclipse speaker cables $2,150 8’ pair
Gold Starlight Coaxial Digital Cables as interconnects $699 2M
Kingsound “King” speakers by King’s Audio $8,000 pair
I have been using Ayon players and these pieces of Cambridge Audio gear for about a year in many different rigs, and they mesh very well. You are going to hear plenty from me about the King speakers, as they are game changers in several respects. You’ll see a review of the Cambridge combo sooner.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because I recommended a solid, but not “sky’s the limit” rig that the CD-2 can’t attain to finer things. I used the CD-3 with the $100K Super-review system involving the Legacy Audio Helix speakers, and clearly I prefer the CD-2. I like the increased resolution of the CD-2; to my ear it’s more listenable and makes a fantastic top-end DAC for streaming audio. I send my Sonos Digital Music System internet feed right to the CD-2, and the results are so good that it’s nearly completely satisfactory for casual listening (Nothing less than perfect is truly satisfactory!). Lesser, very popular players whom audiophiles on a budget hope can compete, like the Cambridge 840C and the Rega Saturn, can’t touch it. They lack the refinement and maturity of the sound which the CD-2 bestows in an unforced manner. The CD-2 easily earns its keep in moderate rigs, and wouldn’t be kicked out of uber-systems.

Gerhard Hirt of Ayon is one of the bright design stars of the future for High-End two-channel enthusiasts. He’s making the right connections, as he has with the Austrian company StreamUnlimited, which modified the Sanyo transport and the CD-drive servo board. Likewise, the selection of whatever components will yield the best result, like gas-filled relays from Japan in the Digital Input/Output switching, is paying off handsomely! Indeed, I find it to be a handsome player, a Real Man’s Digit Mixer! Full Review coming soon.

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