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Ayon CD-5 Reference CD Player With Integrated Preamplifier Review

That which gets Doug Schroeder so serious

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The red “Phase” light which was found on the CD-2 appears again. The manual notes clearly that its function is to indicate proper electrical phase and is not applicable to North American installations. Oddly, a Xindak FP-Gold power cord I had attached caused the red light to glow, and when I swapped it out for a Wireworld Silver Electra the light went off. It made me wonder if the Xindak was cross-wired so as to have reversed polarity, and how much it contributed to the Wireworld power cord sounding better. Charlie indicated that the LED in the sensor is extremely sensitive and seems to even respond to the electrical flow of individual cords differently. Who knows, maybe the light should be seen as a cable quality indicator?

Finally, one of my favoritefeatures is the GAIN switch, which allows one to choose either Low or High gain. Interestingly, this switch has three settings, though only two are labeled. The lowest position being unmarked is set at 4V output, while the middle position “Low” is at 6V and the “High” at 8V. The Gain feature has the effect of causing lower-power amps, such as single ended triode (SET) amps, to be seen by speakers as having much more power. Consequently, lower efficiency speakers sound much more like higher efficiency speakers. Says Gerhard of the Gain feature, “…you can put more signal power in a SET driver stage….” Below I will discuss the benefits of this feature in my usage of the CD-5.

Internally, the player has a full compliment of mechanical isolation goodies; absorber/damping feet, anti-resonance-damped mounted gold circuit boards and a suspension system isolating the CD….. Phillips CD-Pro 2 transport, four Burr Brown 1704K D/A chips, said by Gerhard to be, “…perhaps one of the best sounding D/A chips,” in a paired symmetrical configuration and switchable 24 bit/192kHz upsampling make for a solid design. Much of the magic of the CD-5’s sound is found in the highly cultivated power treatment, including a “dual choke” filtered and stabilized power supply with “bridge” tube rectification.

Rear Panel Ayon CD-5 Reference CD Player

Power To The People!

Considering the power supply, I have seen firsthand the impact of good power supply for a speaker. Recently, I acquired the Kingsound “The King” full-range ESL following its review. This is an exquisitely fine panel speaker at an economical price. Part of the economy of the speaker is the hapless 12V power supply – nothing more than a common wall wart, which I jettisoned as quickly as possible. I replaced it with something more serious, the custom made VAC (Valve Amplification Company) “Royal” Power Supply, made by Kevin Hayes specifically for use with the King. These little boxes of energy gave the King a big leg up to reach their fullest potential such that I would be loath to operate the speakers without them.

I enjoy well designed tube power supplies; VAC uses a tube power supply on the previously mentioned Renaissance Signature MkII pre and it’s an element of its superiority. I would not quickly trade away what the CD-5 does in terms of power management for the plethora of inexpensive “separate power supplies”, in some of the more popular solid-state CD player’s. Gerhard ventures, “We are using a special power supply… we think there is no other tube CD-player at the moment which is using such a p.s.” He’s fairly tight-lipped about the details, but it’s obvious to the ear that the highest quality is being applied to this aspect of the player’s development.

Which brings us to a process called “bridge” tube rectification. Normally, only one tube is needed and it works similar to a semiconductor design. The CD-5’s bridge rectification employs four tubes to handle the process. The advantage according to Gerhard is that, “… we can handle much more peak to peak current and we can increase dynamic headroom a lot.” The key is delivery of high current, hence the selection of the more expensive and difficult to work with 6H30 rectifier.

Putting together, a sweet power supply, primo D/A converters, bridge tube rectification and other features like gold-plated PCB boards and central one-point earth grounding, it combines to make a superior topology, one that is heard as instantly recognizable as superior. A good example was the brief comparison made between the CD-5 and the McIntosh MCD500 SACD/CD player.

Several days prior to the culmination of this review an audiophile friend who has heard the CD-5 in my system on two occasions had on loan the MCD500. He wanted a brief comparison to the CD-5; I agreed as I thought it would be interesting to see how the two compared. The CD-5 was quite a bit superior in every respect, especially in richness, smoothness, depth of the sound field, tonality and dynamics. My friend and I called a quit to the comparison fairly quickly as it was immediately evident that the players were not in the same league. It should be pointed out that the MCD500 is a $7,000 player, and the CD-5 is $2k more expensive. The distinction in sound was such that I would believe anyone who could afford either would not hesitate to own the Ayon.

Remote Possibility?

In previous articles about Ayon players I have been hounding Gerhard to include a simpler remote, but to date it has not happened. This would have made the player an even more pleasurable device. I have been using four different Ayon players in the past two years, and still have to look at the controller every time I enter a command! If I listen in dim light I still have to slide my fingers along the rows of buttons until I find the proper one to advance a track. A simplified, cheaper remote for daily use would be most welcome. If it were made available now, I would acquire it to avoid the hassles with button overload on the remote, half of which I have not used with regularity.

Close up insides of the Ayon CD-5 Reference CD Player

Regarding The Variable Output

The player now arrives with the level set to “Min”, or no output. Previously the CD-2 arrived with it set to “Max”, which would present a slight problem should an unwitting owner breeze through the manual (No self-respecting audiophile does that, right?), and ignore the caution on level settings when hooking up power amp(s) directly. Now that the CD-5 arrives prevented from harming speakers, being set at the “Min” setting, I’m sure Charlie Harrison at Ayon will get several calls insisting, “My player doesn’t work!” It works; directions need to be read to make it work to satisfaction!

I have an added advantage in using the Pathos Classic One MkIII integrateds, in that I can opt for either the player’s level control or the integrateds. There is a slight nuance difference in terms of dynamic impact, it being a bit better when the player is set to “Max” and level controlled by the Classic One units. However, when using power amps directly the CD-5’s preamp function is smooth and well calibrated to achieve fine enough gradations that one is not caught between settings too soft or too loud. In addition, it’s handy to manage track selection and volume from the player’s controller.

Operationally the CD-5 is quiet. Aside from a soft click at the end of play, functions including initialization, are as silent as one could wish. The readout is a problem for those with poorer eyesight at a distance, though it should be tolerable for those with good eyes. Aesthetically, the graceful curvature of the aluminum chassis is business-like and self-confident, not drawing undue attention. One can flip through the INPUTS either by remote or the top-of-player controls. Inputs which are active appear solidly illuminated while inactive inputs flash.

Operating the CD-5 occasionally means having to flip a switch on its backside. Moving from RCA to XLR outputs means tripping a toggle, as does a change to the GAIN setting. Occasionally I will switch inputs on the integrated amps in order to hear a comparison between interconnect cables, only to be reminded by the silence that the RCA/XLR switch had not been touched. Most users will only have one set of speakers or interconnects so that once the settings have been achieved they won’t need to be adjusted for quite some time. However, I do suggest the option of two pairs of interconnects for variety or in handling difficult recordings.

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