A touch of glass

Can this substantial valve output CD player mix it with the hardcore contenders? Jason Kennedy finds out

Ayon is an Austrian company that produces sources, amplifi ers and loudspeakers, as well as glass audio components. It makes its own power valves at a facility in the Czech Republic and builds some very high-end products – it’s most affordable power amp, for example, costs nearly £20,000.

The CD-07s sits at the opposite end of the scale and looks to be an attempt to break into a sector of the market with more potential buyers. A deeply competitive sector, of course, but this player is heavy on features.

Highs and lows

The casework on the CD-07s is very impressive for a player at this price and can be found on all of Ayon’s players, right up to the £7,300 CD-5s. It’s a top-loader with the disc-retaining puck built into the acrylic and aluminium lid. This makes disc-changing a quick and easy affair with a degree of manual interaction – you can open the lid while it’s playing and put another disc in without pressing a button.

The aluminium remote handset, that’s fi nished in the same anodised black aluminium as the casework, is a luxurious-looking design with controls for an Ayon amplifier. It can also adjust the analogue output level of this player, so that it can be connected directly to a power amplifier.

It doesn’t have any analogue inputs, but has digital inputs in coaxial and USB forms. It could, therefore, form the heart of an all-digital system. Analogue outputs are available on XLR and RCA phono sockets with the option of high and low gain – in other words, output level can be increased, doubled in fact, if you have a low-gain amplifier

The mesh covers at the back of the case are to let heat out from the valve output stages, each of which is built around a 5687 double triode, that operates in a circuit that’s free of negative feedback and has very short signal paths.

Ayon has given this player a low output impedance, so that it can drive long cables and/or amplifiers with a difficult input load. This is useful because lots of valve components have high-output impedances, which makes them harder to match with amplifiers.

The signal path is devoid of followers, buffers and solid-state devices, once it gets to the output stage and it seems that Ayon has done its best to keep things as direct and clean as it can.

The DAC chip is by a Burr-Brown that runs at 24-bit/192kHz, with the option of upsampling to this level from the handset. The power supply is the heart of any amplifi er and this effectively is what the output stage of a CD players is. Ayon has used a low-noise R-Core power transformer with separate windings for the various digital and analogue elements within the player. There is also filtering for noise on the mains in order to provide some isolation for the various power supplies within the player.

One unusual, but sensible feature is a soft start for the valve output stage, this is indicated by a countdown on the LCD display. The CD-07s runs too hot to be left on permanently, but doesn’t take long to get up to temperature.

Lustrous tonality

As we have alluded, this is a very nicely built player. The casework is all aluminium and the quality of finish is very high. The curved corners and thickness of metal means that it’s extremely rigid, which should help keep external resonance at bay and provide a degree of sinking for vibration created by the disc drive. Ayon goes so far as to suggest that the chassis ‘imparts a richer, more lustrous tonality’ to the resulting sound, which is hard to argue with as the player does possess this quality, but whether that’s down to the chassis is less obvious.

It does have a suspension system for the CD transport, however, which will have obvious benefits when it comes to resonance control. Internal parts include Teflon valve sockets with gold pins, which bodes well for longevity. Also of interest is the mains polarity indicator on the back panel, this is primarily for Europe where it’s easy to get this wrong, thanks to the way that Schuko-style plugs can be inverted, however it can happen in the UK and is always good to get right.

The quality of hardware on the back panel is about par for the price but the quantity of it is not. There are switches for output level, direct or normal output and XLR or RCA phono output. The former does not indicate that the CD-07s is a balanced component by the way, as that would be pushing the budget a bit too hard.

The USB input is able to take signals up to 96kHz, which is better than the more common 48kHz and the S/PDIF input can do the same if you have a source that can provide such a signal – a few DVD-A players are up to the job.

Palpable presence

The CD-07s is a highly entertaining player. We dropped it into one of the high-end systems that has come in for review in The Collection and revelled in a juicy, ripe tone. There’s plenty of valve flavour to be enjoyed here and in a good way, too. Some glass-powered machines are blowsy and slow, this one is relaxed but very much on the ball. You can’t help but be swept away by the groove the musicians are putting together. The advantage of this ancient technology is that, when done well, it brings out the vibrance of the music and presents it in a transparent, yet fluid fashion. You can do this with solid-state, but not usually for this sort of money.

The lack of grain is also delightful – turn the volume up and it will play pianos, horns and voices with no fear of edginess, even through a very revealing loudspeaker. Our Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond is just such a speaker and is a fine partner for the Ayon, exposing the way that it can deliver remarkably tactile imaging that, while not the most precisely etched, has a presence that’s totally real and engaging.

We compared the onboard volume control with that in the Leema Tucana II amp, which has a unity gain input so can be used as a power amp. The solid-state preamp presents a drier, tighter version of events than the Ayon volume control, which sounds more relaxed and bodacious. Which appeals to you will probably depend on material and speaker balance.

The USB input makes our digital files sound a little lazy, when compared with a solid-state DAC. Musical flow is good, as is tone again, but this feature is unlikely to turn you into a computer-audio enthusiast overnight.

It’s irresistible

The Ayon’s controlled exuberance and excellent sense of timing mean that it will play all manner of music in a way that is inspiring. This combined with substantial build quality and a rather nice remote handset makes the CD-07s look like a very worthy contender for your budget in the sub-two-grand stakes.

Those that prefer a more precise, measured sound may not be swayed, but anyone who is into music for the emotional communication will thoroughly enjoy this machine.

LIKE: Open, fluent, dynamic, with excellent pace
DISLIKE: Results with USB could be better
WE SAY: Thoroughly enjoyable player from a company that clearlyknows a thing or two about valve technology

Ayon CD-07s
CD player
• Digital input:
coaxial S/PDIF,
• Digital outputs:
coaxial S/PDIF
• Analogue outputs:
RCA phono, XLR
• Burr-Brown
upsampling DAC
• 24-bit/96kHz
USB input
• 5687 triode
output stage
15 Audio
08448 221115