This onboard volume control is darn good. In my listening tests I used both modes and discovered that I always preferred the direct mode to routing the output through an external volume control, whether it be a line preamp or autoformer volume control. The levels of transparency and clarity achievable via the digital control were superior (at least at normal listening levels) to any of my external analog volume controls. And that was how I spent most of my time with the CD-10. It’s good to know that if you’re strictly a digital guy, the CD-10 can serve as a complete digital front end, and that you don’t really need the added expense of a line preamp and extra interconnects.
I should mention one more setting option, and that has to do with the DAC’s digital-filter roll-off. Filter 1 setting corresponds to a slow roll-off, while the Filter 2 position gives a fast roll-off. To my ears, Filter 1 sounded much smoother and that’s where it stayed for the remainder of the review period. The crux of the CD-10’s sonics has to do with the PCM-DSD converter. I realize that in some circles upsampling—and data manipulation in general—is controversial due to potential re-quantization noise, but my policy is to take an agnostic stance with regard to such technical issues and simply let my ears be the judge. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the converter. To be clear, I’m describing here the sonic impact of converting a Red Book 16/44 PCM signal from CD playback or USB input to DSD before conversion to analog. When it came to high-res 24/192 files via USB input, the converter didn’t help matters. In fact, it resulted in grainer textures. In this case, just switch the converter off. In general, high-res files via USB input never sounded any better due in part to the excellent XMOS xCORE USB interface. Similarly, SACD playback sounded artificial when upsampled to both DSD128 and DSD256, as transients became somewhat etched in character.
Think of the converter as a useful tool strictly for Red Book PCM. Time and time again my ears preferred the DSD256 conversion, and the effect wasn’t subtle at all. In the process, the upper octaves sounded airier and more spacious, allowing greater access to the inner recesses of the soundstage. Sheen of stringed instruments and upper registers of brass gained in textural purity and clarity. This greatly benefitted Jacqueline du Pré’s passionate rendition of the Dvorák Cello Concerto in B Minor [EMI CDC-7 47614-2], a 1970 recording in Chicago’s Medinah Temple, a favorite recording venue for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s. Commissioned by the Shriners in 1912, this Middle Eastern extravaganza included a large auditorium. I have my doubts about its excellence as a recording space, and the fact that the building now serves as a Bloomingdale’s furniture store attests to that. Since this recording, like most at the time, used a mix of spot mics together with overhead mics, the success of the recording was very much in the hands of the recording engineers. Du Pré’s spot mic seems to be a tad too distant during standard PCM playback. Upsampling to DSD256 brings the cello slightly forward and into greater relief, benefiting du Pré’s style of intensely passionate abandon.
To my surprise, image focus improved versus the raw 16/44.1 program material, making individual voices in an ensemble much more distinct and lifelike. The CD-10 was able to dig deeply into a complex mix with exceptional resolution of instrumental lines. Despite its tube output stage, bass authority was undiminished relative to a solid-state analog output stage. No need for any apologies here. One clear benefit of the tube output stage was enhanced soundstage dimensionality, and in particular, a clear perceptual gain in depth perspective. As EveAnna Manley is fond of saying, “tubes rule,” and that’s true when it comes to 3-D dimensionality, and it’s a major reason to continue embracing tube technology, as Ayon has done, in an increasingly digital age.
The overall effect of the PCM-DSD converter on 16/44.1 music may result in a discernible tonal balance shift, since the presentation tends to have a livelier and more vibrant character. In the context of a system with a neutral to slightly laid-back balance, the impact of the converter would be most welcome. I certainly embraced it with open arms and found it to make for a much more engaging musical experience during PCM signal playback. However, a system that is already voiced toward the brighter side of neutral may be nudged further in that direction.
Opus 3 Records’ Jan-Eric Persson was kind enough to send me a copy of the Eric Bibb & Needed Time Good Stuff SACD, a must-listen for any Eric Bibb fan. Since its inception, Opus 3 has been committed to single-point stereo recordings using a Blumlein array. Here an AKG C-24 vacuum-tube microphone (complemented by a Neumann U-89 for bass only) is used to perfection to capture the sound of a small ensemble. Playback through the CD-10 resulted in an exceptionally wide and linear soundstage, extending laterally well beyond the speakers, while image outlines were arranged with believable spatial extension.
For years now, my reference SACD player has been the ModWright-modified Sony XA-5400ES SACD player that features a 6SN7-based tube output stage. Its biggest limitation has been the lack of a USB input which forced me to use an external DAC for playback of high-res files. And now my immediate problem became the realization that the Sony was being sonically decimated by the Ayon in just about every category you can think of. Advances in the art have been swift over the past several years, and with the CD-10 Ayon has forged a nearly perfect marriage of digital and analog technologies. The PCM-to-DSD conversion capability is a big deal for Red Book CD playback. Add an excellent USB interface, top it all off with an all-tube analog output stage, and what you have is a superb player that I would be proud to own for years to come. Simply put, with the CD-10 you’re in for one helluva musical ride.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Hybrid CD/SACD player (solid-state input, tube output) with switchable PCM-DSD converter
Tube complement: 6H30; 6Z4 (power supply)
Conversion rate: 768kHz/32-bit, DSD256
Digital inputs: SPDIF (RCA), USB, TosLink
Digital output: SPDIF (RCA)
Frequency response: 20Hz–40kHz ±0.3dB
Total harmonic distortion: < 0.001% (1kHz)
Dynamic range: >119dB
Output impedance: 300 ohms (RCA and XLR)
USB interface: 24/384kHz, DSD 64/128
Dimensions: 19" x 4.7" x 14"
Weight: 28.6 lbs.
AYON AUDIO USA
8390 E. Via De Ventura
Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Loudspeaker: Analysis Audio Omega
Power amplifiers: VTL Manley Reference 200/100, D-Sonic M3a-1500M, Wyred 4 Sound monoblocks
Preamplifiers: Lamm Audio Industries L2.1, Blue Velvet (DIY), Supratek Chardonnay line preamps, Experience Music AVC
Cables: FMS Nexus-2 and Kimber KCAG interconnects, Acoustic Zen Hologram II, Wireworld speaker cable