"Dagogo", September 2009, US
September 2009
Doug Schroeder immersed in digital the
Austrian way via the $5,500 Ayon Audio CD-2
CD player
Doug Schroeder
Specifications:
Conversation rate: 192kHz / 24 bit
Tube complement: 4 x 6H30 EH
Dynamic range: > 110dB
Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB: 0 – 4.8 V rms variable
Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB: 10 V / peak
Output impedance Single-Ended-RCA: 300 Ohms
Output impedance Balanced-XLR: 300 Ohms
Digital output: 75 Ohm S/PDIF (RCA), 110 Ohm AES / EBU (XLR)
Digital input: 75 Ohm S/PDIF (RCA)
S/N ratio: > 105 dB
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz +/- 0.3dB
Total harmonic distortion @ 1kHz: < 0.001%
Remote control: Yes
Output complement: RCA & XLR
Dimension (WxDxH) cm: 48x33x12 cm
Weight: 13 kg
MSRP: $5,500
U.S. / Canada / Mexico Distributor:
Ayon Audio USA
8390 E. Via De Ventura - F110-194
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Tel. 1-888-593-8477 or 1-310-601-7976
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52-55-8525-6102 (Mexico)
URL: www.ayonaudiousa.com
Email: sales@ayonaudiousa.com
I walked into the local Best Buy the other day and spied an alternative future, a display of
Micro-SD Chips preloaded with music. The things were so small that if you were to drop one
while standing on a lawn you might not find it! I shuddered as I considered what such
technology, along with dynamically compressed recordings and mid-fi electronics will portend
for the industry. I thought to myself that it will take another generation of geniuses to extract
from that format anything approaching the quality of the upsampled CD. But by then, in order
to keep pace with innovation, another concept will be spawned which will keep convenience
alive and audiophile sound at bay.
I have not yet experienced any portable, drive- or streaming audio-based music source to rival
the quality of a high profile player; I currently use Sonos’ coaxial output to an outboard DAC
to handle streaming audio and files of my collection on a NAS. There is no doubt that one can
obtain pleasing results through these other venues, but the silver disc is still king in my
listening room. One of the reasons why is a machine called the Ayon CD-2, a top-loading,
tubed, upsampling redbook player. It is the third effort of Gerhard Hirt, an Austrian designer
who continues to hone his craft. I have had the privilege of reviewing all but one of his players
and have seen consistent improvement in them. The CD-2 is an outstanding mix of artistry,
technological innovation and lush music reproduction.
When introducing the CD-3, which preceded the model under review, I noted “I have not found
another player which has bettered the CD-3 in terms of putting me in a state of rapture when
listening.” I have now found that player - it’s called the Ayon CD-2. A raft of improvements,
from the stunning new lid with integrated clamp to the beefier chassis, has resulted in another
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step forward for the Ayon team. I keep my eyes open regarding public perception of designers
whose products I review, and I am seeing increasing positive perception of the Ayon gear. In
my experience this is warranted, as not only the players but also the Spirit integrated amp I
wrote about are exceptional products.
The CD-2 is the replacement for the two-chassis CD-3: think CD-3 with 15% additional
advancement. This is no small feat, as the CD-3 was a fine source for my $100K Super-review
rig. Take nearly any parameter of the CD-3 and consider the CD-2 to have bested it by no less
than 15% perceptually. I heard the two together in my room for an extended period, and both
my heart and ears gravitated toward the CD-2. I consider it refined, rich, sweet and potent, a
combination beguiling to me.
The original CD-1 is being retired to make way for the already released CD-1s. The CD-3 will
be phased out later this year or in 2010. There are no plans to revive the twin chassis design.
Rather, when the reference quality CD-5 (You can be sure I’ll be setting my sights on that
one!) is released it too will have a single chassis, so that will be the look of Ayon for the
foreseeable future. I do like its looks, as the black anodized aluminum casing is now a tad
wider, thicker and taller. It not only appears more substantial, but also aids in repressing
operational vibrations. Other than the redesigned lid, the player looks like a cousin to the
transport of the CD-3.
Numerous design changes include:
Bur Brown 1704 D/A converter
Upsampling process
Dual R-core Transformers
New CD-drive controller board
New Display and Remote control
Gold PCBs
New 6H30 analogue output stage L/R separated
Integral Lid/Clamp system
Elimination of repetitive commands to read disc
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In other words, this is a whole new machine, one that is more pleasurable to use than the CD-3.
It is a complete reworking, not a “re-warming”. You may have seen plenty of look-alikes in
similarly rounded cases, Ayon is not particularly impressed by the clone-ish players which
have followed on the heels of their work. So, they’re making it much more difficult through
these advancements for others to copy them. Gerhard points out the CD-2 “is a completely new
design and has no relation with the previous CD player designs.” Ayon products are
brainiac’ed and assembled in Austria, the buyer is getting a calibrated musical piece, not a
piece of musical equipment lacking calibration. There is a critical difference.
The unit retains the red backlit logo and top mounted controls of previous designs. New are the
approximately 1.5” x 3” Chrome grills at the left and right rear of the cover over the tubes to
allow them to dissipate what little heat they generate. According to Ayon the unit needs only
about 4” (10cm) clearance underneath a shelf, however in principle I would recommend much
more clearance.
At the back there is a red light which illuminates when the unit is plugged in. It reads, “Phase”.
I scratched my head, “Phase!” I wondered how the unit was determining the proper phase, and
just how I was supposed to invert the plug when the prongs are sized to only enter oriented one
way without the travesty of using a cheater plug! I couldn’t foresee having to return the unit to
have its phase reversed. Upon inquiry, it turns out that the North American model’s purpose for
the red light is to indicate “On”, not phase. European plugs look similar on both poles, so that
one might have the plug inserted such that the player is out of phase. The “Phase” light
indicates proper connection of the European player for best performance.
The flimsy ball and chuck disc retention system of the previous model is history, in favor of the
integral weighted magnetic clamp. I sing the praises of Ayon for making this move, as it makes
the player more user-friendly. Now, rather than juggle player parts, then punch multiple
buttons to get a song going, all one need do is pick up the integrated lid, place the disc and put
the lid on top. The alignment of the internal magnets of the lid and base grasp the disc tightly
for playback. I found that approximately once every 20 times when a disc was inserted the
magnets were not aligned and did not “grab” each other’s magnetic field to lock. It sounded as
a clattering, as though a critical part was loose. In reality, nothing is hurt and a quick lift of the
lid to reset the disc fixes it. After a while I wanted to believe that I had developed superior disc
clamp placement skills, but I know better. Just when I think I’ve got it down perfectly, I get a
“rattler”.
Another quibble is the occasional skittering of a slightly warped disc. It does not take much
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warping for a disc to skitter its edges rapidly while spinning in the CD-2, as the gap between
the seated disc and transport disc’s “floor” is very small. It only happened with two or three
discs of several dozens played, and I never found the sound to be loud enough to disrupt my
music. Only with very exceptionally quiet passages of music would it be discernible
(Remember, I have a custom listening room with about an 8dB drop in ambient noise; In a
normal living environment this might not be heard at all). I rate this about a 1 on a scale of 1 to
10 as a concern.
Initialization is swift and smooth, the player is raring to go before you can get back to your
seat. The Ayon is equipped with the Stream Unlimited – Vienna transport made by the
Austrian company Stream Unlimited, which is also the transport of choice for the Ayon CDP
CD07 and CD-1S. A spinoff of Phillips, Stream Unlimited’s engineers includes some who
were designers of the original CD format-standard. Stream Unlimited also collaborated on the
CD-drive servo board. Also adding to the upgrades, the top plate of the chassis was thickened
to add extra stability to the lid/CD holder mechanism.
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The Sound of CD-2
There is not a world of difference between the CD-2 and the CD-3 when it comes to the
performance. Charlie Harrison of Ayon Audio USA, the U.S. distributor for Ayon, indicated
that they would be similar, and he was right. The CD-3 seemed to my ears a bit more mellow
and indistinct. The CD-2 has been tuned to be a touch tighter and has superior detail resolution,
but not by much. Considering that the two-chassis CD-3 was the top of the line previously, it’s
a marvelous accomplishment for Ayon to be able to reduce the price by approximately $2,000
and still come up with performance advancement.
As I indicated in my previously published Audio Blast, the CD-2 in the tradition of Ayon
players, is not an attempt to extract every last bit of warm, root beer-ish (sweet, dark and goes
down smooth) flavor of tube performance from a player. I would liken the experience of the
CD-2 more to Mountain Dew, as a sweet, highly charged, vibrant brew. You can get your buzz
of detail to your limit with the player, or you can pair it with mellow electronics to tone it
down.
Two amps which I used extensively with the Ayon each had their own personality akin to the
aforementioned beverages. The Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amp is like a shot of liquid
adrenaline, a highly charged affair with copious power and scintillating clarity. Conversely, the
Moscode 402Au, by comparison, is a root beer float. The Moscode lays the tube vibe all over
the music, suppressing a bit of detail to add bloom to the music. When paired with the Ayon,
each shone in its own way.
One of the best aspects of the CD-2 is that it does not flood the musical experience with tube
warmth. One can bring whatever warmth they wish to the system in the amp and speakers. The
Ayon players all exhibit a lovely expansiveness in which the instruments extend naturally. I
pulled out Michael McDonald’s Motown disc and relived “Heard it Through the Grapevine”
and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”. If I wanted to flood the sound with a “heavier”
nostalgic feel, the Moscode 402Au thickened Michael’s voice and fattened the bass.
Conversely, the Azur amps had the speakers chasing the myriad of stereophonic background
effects from left to right with the lightness of a fly darting to and fro. I find the Ayon players to
be balanced very well between the plumpness of tubes and the precision of solid-state. The
CD-2 dances on an even thinner tightrope between those two extremes than its siblings, which
makes its balancing act all the more captivating.
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
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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.
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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.
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.
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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
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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 CD2 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.
Here’s how the Macro-system would look like, starting with the Ayon CD-2:
1. The CD-2 has volume control. With the Pathos integrateds set to bridged mode, the
volume on the player will remain at “max” setting and listening level controlled via the
integrated amps. Conversely, with any other power amp, tubed or SS, the CD-2 will maintain at
the listening level.
2. There is no dedicated preamp used anywhere in this system; the Pathos will be one
destination direct from the player and can accommodate other inputs, while the amp(s) of my
choice will be the other destination. It is quite likely I would utilize solid-state amps for the
second option, as the Pathos have a tube preamp stage. Since the CD-2 has both RCA and XLR
outs, each can be directed to each amplifier destination. Note, again, that in both cases the
preamp is eschewed. This is a critical point, as the presence of an additional set of cables and a
preamp is highly obscuring to the ultimate performance of the system. I chose those words
carefully, as I know how important a preamp is to many rigs, but the vast improvement of the
system by honing the signal transmission from player to amp is unassailable (Of course, the
player must be up to the task!).
3. The interconnect becomes critically important, as it is the umbilical to the sound being
birthed. Any fault or weakness is immediately evident. I often utilize an extremely high quality
XLR interconnect.
4. The amp(s): The necessity would be to switch speaker cables when switching amps. The
destination amp is determined by the XLR/RCA switch on the back of the CD-2. There is the
one possibility of major damage to power amps fed directly from the CD-2. If the level remains
at “Max” when reconnected to power amps, damage could occur. The volume of the Pathos
integrateds are always muted at start-up, but your integrated may not be.The CD-2’s level must
be reduced at the time of the switch to different amps! One mistake could be very costly, so
consider this approach carefully.
5. One would need a highly appealing brand and model of speaker cable which would be
enjoyed with either amp; it is not advised that one keeps two sets of speaker cables attached to
the amps simultaneously. Care must be taken to assure that the leads will reach posts located
further apart – amps which are bridged often use widely spaced binding posts. Also, the
speaker cables must reach to both sets of amps if they are left in a permanent installation.
Further, consideration of terminations is necessary, as some amps accommodate only one set of
spades (i.e. the Pathos Classic One), while others accommodate only spades (i.e. Jeff Rowland
amps using the Cardas “wheel” post). Consequently, I have three sets of speaker cables
available, two sets with all spades, and one set with all BFA banana terminations,so that I can
work with any configuration of binding posts.
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Just as a Macro-molecule is larger/longer than a “simple” molecule, but (amazingly!) folds up
automatically into its three-dimensional form to carry out its functions efficiently, so also the
Macro-System is larger than normal, but operates more efficiently than most traditional rigs. It
is authentically a full-fledged component “separates” system which is also streamlined and
yields a very high level of performance in two parallel rigs!
There are profound advantages to this setup, among them:
1.
An extremely streamlined signal path in a system with two distinct amplification
schemes.
2.
Nearly complete flexibility and availability instantly. No “retooling” the rig.
3.
Nothing sacrificed in terms of audio excellence. One amp can be SS while the other
tubed (both integrated, both power amps, etc), and both can be repurposed if desired. One
having no secondary sources while the other accommodated the panoply of HT and internet
sources.
4.
Direct high-end DAC treatment of the streaming audio (via the CD-2).
5.
If at least one integrated is used, no need to swap cables and reconfigure the system to
switch sources.
6.
High cost-to-performance efficiency; elimination of a set of cables and preamp aids
purchase of second amp(s).
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It may be argued that one might make more progress toward their ultimate sound of their
system by merely using one power amplifier with the CD-2. I would not advocate
abandonment of one’s sonic ideals, but extension of them. Running two parallel amplification
schemes allows for comparison between amps as well as additional inputs via an integrated.
There are likely more issues and advantages, but let these suffice to introduce the idea.
Upsampling Intrigue
The CD-2 is an upsampling player, and frankly is the first of its kind to convince me that
upsampling is a necessity for the audiophile. I was not overwhelmed by the upsampling feature
of the very respectable Cambridge Audio Azur 840C player, a unit which is good enough to be
considered a budget reference player. On numerous comparisons between standard 16/44
processing and upsampled music, there was a questionable trade-off between the smoothness of
the upsampling and the indistinctness it added. For quite a while using the Ayon CD-2, I had
concluded the same; one had to choose between the tightness of the standard Redbook
playback and the smoother, but less distinct upsampling.
Then it happened, a result of a combination of cables and processing I’m still trying to
understand. I have made it a habit to try with every rig a pair of Wireworld Gold Starlight
Digital cables as interconnects. Why? It sounds fairly fantastic! There is a supple tonal richness
imparted with the digital cables, tuned to 75 Ohm versus the traditional interconnect at 110
Ohm, which I have not been able to hear using any manufacturer’s RCA or XLR 110 Ohm
interconnects (Recently I discovered at least one manufacturer who includes among their
interconnects a set of digital cables as interconnects! “My idea” is being surreptitiously
utilized by cable makers!). David Salz of Wireworld is a bit frustrated by this, as he has told me
that the digital cables are less clean than the proper interconnects. I have politely held my
ground, saying that what miniscule loss of detail may exist is more than compensated
subjectively by the decadent increase in fullness and ever so elusive element of “live” sound.
Meanwhile, in discussion with Gerhard he described the Upsample mode as, “Most clients
prefer the upsampling; the soundstage is more 3D and holographic – I personally prefer it.”
Regarding the non-upsampled mode, “…it is a bit more focused and compact, but again it
depends also on the rest of your components, room acoustic and taste.” For me, cables were the
key which unlocked the upsampling magic of the CD-2.
Consistently in trial after trial, in rig after rig, individually the Gold Starlight digital cables and
the Ayon’s Upsample mode were each a touch less sharp than their counterparts. But using
them together released a power of acoustic clarity and depth akin to splitting the atom(How’s
that for reviewer hyperbole?)!I have put together dozens of digital sources and cables in my
systems over 20 years and have never experienced anything approaching that scale of
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performance change in a digital product. It was literally as if a chain reaction had occurred,
unleashing a far more powerful acoustic energy that was waiting to explode from the disc.
I had the King Sound the King speakers running at the time, and they shattered an invisible
barrier of restraint which previously stood between the system and myself.
A much more subdued facet of performance was the tip given by Gerhard to not leave both pair
of RCA and XLR interconnects connected to the unit at the same time. The new signal path is
extremely short and efficient, such that, “If you connect the RCA and XLR together…it has an
immediately negative side effect to all electrical circuit parameters and decreases the sound
quality significantly.” In my listening I found that the difference was marginal, and it did not
pass the Law of Efficacy. I left both sets of interconnects connected. The change effected by
the use of the digital cables as interconnects was perceptually on an order of magnitudes larger.
“You get the CD player thrown in!”
If I were to recommend a terrific, high-end stand alone DAC, based on my listening sessions, I
might recommend the CD-2 and observe that you get a CD player with the deal. I have been
enjoying Sonos, the modest whole house internet and NAS source with surprising quality. Over
the months I have worked to ramp up its performance to match that of Redbook. With the
Digital Input capabilities of the CD-2, I have fairly reached that point. For this review I used
the SPDIF output of the Sonos directly to the CD-2. The digital cable is of critical importance,
and Wireworld’s hot new design, the Gold Starlight 6 was critical to the elevation of this
internet source to Redbook level. In this case the single Gold Starlight 6 linked the Sonos and
CD-2.
One of the groups ready to be queued at any time on Sonos is the Little River Band (I know,
syrupy nostalgia!). I played their music incessantly as a teen, and I have a few of their discs to
compare head-to-head with a streaming source. One of my frustrations with internet-sourced
music to this point has been its lack of depth, character and richness. Even on very good
systems it seems flat and relatively uninviting, which is why I always end up back to the
Redbook source.
This review was a new experience for me in that I used internet-based music to assess quality
of sound every bit as much as physical media (NAS based music is a distant third place at the
moment). The quality of the experience hearing LRB was so good that I at times forgot I was
hearing streaming audio – sent wirelessly from the opposite end of the house! The CD-2
showed itself to have an immensely forgiving nature, taking the humble Sonos’ signal and
crafting it into satisfying music.
What’s all the more impressive about this feat is that I was using a most exquisitely articulate
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full-range ESL speaker, King Sound’s the King. If a DAC can’t cut it, the King will make
mincemeat of it. Any lack of fluidity, any digititis will not escape unnoticed. The CD-2 was
fully up to the challenge, and had a fluidity which I normally associate with analogue. When
the opening line of “It’s a Long Way There” was sung in the expanse of the auditorium, “Hey
everybody, yeah, don’t you feel that there’s something,” yeah, I felt it! It was not a long way to
the stage, and it most definitely was not a long way to mentally place myself in the audience.
These are older recordings, so one might not expect superb resolution and dynamics, but it was
right there, parallel in quality to the Redbook playback. If I walked into the room and did not
know the source, I would not be able to name it by listening – it was that close! The more
affordable and pleasing Monarchy M24 DAC/Pre could not keep up with the depth of sound
field, precision and fullness of the CD-2. One could purchase very respectable separate player
and DAC, but with the level of quality of the CD-2 it’s not necessary; you get extremely high
performance from both functions of the player. The quality of the CD-2’s digital treatment was
such that it could not be pushed “beyond the edge” to sound harsh. With rising levels, the
music was not jagged or edgy. Even more poorly recorded classic rock such as Boston or
Kansas on full-range ESL speakers was incapable of being irritating to the ears! That’s a real
world test showing the mettle of an ultra-smooth player.
There will be yet another
Very soon on the horizon a new player will appear from Ayon, it’s named the CD-5. At some
point it will take up temporary residence in my room, extending my experience to the full line
of Ayon players. As has become the norm, the expectation is that Gerhard will once again top
his last effort. That would take some doing, but from the experiences with three of his players I
wouldn’t want to bet against the man.
Where does the CD-2 stack up? Consider that for most serious audiophiles who want
outstanding Redbook performance, the CD-2 easily earns the right to be their reference player.
That in addition you would get an outstanding DAC for alternative digital sources is a
marvelous design gift from Ayon. I would keep the CD-2 for my reference if not for one thing
– I know the CD-5 is coming.
©DAGOGO 2009 – reprint by permission for non-online distribution only
Page 14
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