Ayon is one of those special concerns that doesn’t just make and sell products; it makes ideas, and then works hard to make sure those ideas spread far and wide throughout the hills and vales. Ayon’s big idea: Vacuum tubes are and always were, unapologetically, the best way to amplify an electronic signal. In other words, they hope to change hard-boiled folks like me, who view tube amplification as akin to having a real, live puppy for a pet: great fun, cute and cuddly, and then it pees all over the rug and chews on the chair leg. Tubes age, and as they age bias voltages need to be adjusted, and when a tube prematurely dies the question becomes does the owner replace only the one or the complete set of power tubes? All this fuss, care, and feeding are what drove me toward the solid-state world (well, that and price), where amplifiers run forever and never ask for more than an occasional dusting—and all the puppies are stuffed ones. It may not be the most interesting world in which to live, but it is clean.
This is pretty much the divide over which Ayon has set about building bridges, and it begins with “leave the bias adjusting to us.” This, an activity that dramatically distinguishes the “valve- o-philes” from the rest of us, has major consequences for the sound quality as well as for the longevity of what may be very expensive (and numerous) tubes. Manual tube-biasing may be held a badge of honor for some, but Ayon guessed, and I think correctly, that if this became something automatic, or at least something very easy to do, then one more reason for not “going tube” would be eliminated. Unlike fully automatic biasing systems Ayon’s auto-fixed-bias (AFB) does not operate during normal operation; rather, a push of a button at the back of the chassis mutes the amplifier then sets in play an automated tube- test program, which adjusts bias and checks for tube failure, noting which tube has failed via an LED at the back panel. The system will also automatically “break-in” new tubes for the first ten hours, reducing bias to 60% of normal during that period. While Ayon’s system does not completely eliminate owner involvement, it strikes an almost perfect balance between optimal performance, carefree listening, and satisfying user engagement.
And then there are the tubes themselves. Tubes are fun to watch and talk about. They project warmth both figuratively and literally. They are guaranteed conversation starters. The old reminisce and the young just stand there in awe. Tubes can also be maddeningly unreliable and, by nature, promote distracting behaviors such as “tube rolling.” Ayon understands all this. It acknowledges that tubes are, indeed, wonderful things and so displays them in all their skin-searing glory. Ayon doesn’t do tube cages. Cage your dog. Cage your cat. Cage your children. Don’t ask Ayon to cage its tubes.
But here’s some comforting news: Ayon does a five-point test on every tube it ships (so you don’t have to!) including plate current, transconductance, heater-to-cathode leakage, gas- ion current effects, and microphony. The Orion II comes with Ayon’s own Black Treasure SX KT88s and either Tungsram, RCA, or Mullard 12AU7 signal tubes. Ayon’s Charlie Harrison tells me Ayon will soon be providing its own BT SX signal tubes. My sample sounded fine with a trio of Tungsrams.