Established in 1991, Ayon Audio quickly outgrew its domestic Austrian market to reach a global audience with a line of tube amplifiers. Its first CD player arrived in 2006, and with Gerhard Hirt as CEO, innovative digital products have become commonplace at Ayon.
The CD-10 CD/SACD player reviewed here represents a major re-design of the CD-1sx and is available in two versions, standard and signature. The latter is the only version sold in the U.S. It offers two additional features, a switchable PCM-to-DSD converter DSP module, and eight Mundorf coupling caps. In addition to playback of conventional music CDs, the CD-10 handles CD-R/RW discs and SACDs. With the PCM-DSD converter activated, incoming PCM signals, at any resolution, whether from the coaxial, optical, or USB digital inputs, are upsampled and converted to DSD, either DSD128 or DSD256. SACD playback can also be converted from native DSD64 to DSD256. The converter is based on AKM’s third-generation 32-bit stereo DAC, the AKM AK4490EQ, which supports up to 768kHz PCM and 11.2MHz DSD (DSD256). It is complemented by the AK4136 32-bit sampling rate converter IC. To my mind, it’s the DSP module that elevates the CD-10 to spectacular sonic heights.
So, who needs a CD-SACD player nowadays, you ask? Probably no serious computer audiophile who enjoys a hi-res streaming service such as Tidal in conjunction with Audirvana software. But for someone like me, with a substantial silver-disc collection and zero interest in spending days ripping my collection to a hard drive, the CD-10 is a perfect device. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I had ripped a small subset of my CD collection onto my Mac BookPro, but that only captured the tip of the iceberg and still leaves my SACDs in search of a player. To be honest, I derive a measure of satisfaction from playing back music the “old-fashioned” way.
The CD-10 is designed around a top-loading Philips Pro 2 transport—the best there is. The transport is outfitted with an anti-vibration magnetic disc clamp, and the loading well is covered by an attractive acrylic lid. With its substantial brushed-aluminum chassis and overall heft, the initial impression is of a high-quality product. It’s also reassuring to know that each unit is hand-assembled in Austria and undergoes substantial quality control before leaving the factory.
The Ayon checks a lot of boxes for me and it feels a bit surreal, almost as if the unit were designed to meet my priorities. First and foremost is the Class A vacuum-tube triode-based output stage for both single-ended and balanced operation. For many years I have advocated for a tube gain stage or buffer at the output of a CD player as an ideal means of defanging digital nasties. Ayon gets it. A single Russian 6H30 dual triode is used per channel. This is a very linear and robust tube with a 4-watt plate dissipation and low plate resistance, making it a good choice for voltage amplification and line-drive applications. Not only that, but the output stage is also tube-rectified using a Chinese 6Z4 which is similar to a 6X4 but with a different pinout. In my experience, tube rectification is a critical factor in achieving a vintage sonic character. I am suspicious of any tube preamp that lacks tube rectification, and to be brutally honest, such preamps usually fail to deliver the sort of big-tone balance that pushes my buttons.
Nominal output level is switchable on the back panel between low (2.2V) or high (4.4V). Either balanced (XLR) or single-ended (RCA) analog outputs may be selected. The output impedance is approximately 300 ohms, sufficiently low to drive long interconnect runs. When the unit is powered up it enters a warm-up cycle allowing tube filaments to reach their operating temperature before high voltage is applied—a good idea for extending tube life.
Ayon strongly discourages tube rolling because factory tubes are rigorously selected and tested to meet performance specifications. Tube life expectancy is said to be about 8000 hours of use, though retubing is recommended after about 5000 to 6000 hours of operation. If you ever need to change tubes, be sure to check out the online video that shows you how (http://vidmails.com/v/wGRyTqamWt). It doesn’t appear to be a difficult process, just time-consuming, as it requires the removal of 18 screws. The tubes vent to the exterior though two small grilles on top of the chassis. It would be a bad idea to cover these up, or in general, to place anything on top of the chassis.
The AKM DAC includes a digital volume attenuator ahead of the delta-sigma modulator. As implemented in the CD-10, it increments the volume in 1dB steps from 0 (maximum volume) to -60dB (minimum volume). Channel balance is adjustable in six steps from 0dB to -6dB. In the 0dB position the audio signal is bypassed directly to the analog output stage. Two analog output modes are selectable from the back panel: normal and direct amp. For direct connection to a power amp, it’s best to use the direct-amp mode because the digital volume control is automatically set to -40dB during each power-on sequence, and the remote control’s volume-bypass function is locked out in order to protect the speakers.