After two weeks of very tiring reportage marathon, during which our day easily reached eighteen-nineteen working hours, finally we can sit down for a while, take a deep breath and tackle some things we did not manage before the AVS. Well, it seemed that we had things photographed, some draft texts were also in place, waiting only to be put in some more formal form, but we were absolutely aware, that during the first two weeks of November all eyes and ears are on the Warsaw Show, so everything else is just being ignored. This is the reason, that when the Show became history, we decided to return to our standard way of reviewing things and to warm up again, have a closer look at the device, that Gerhard Hirt newly produced.
Having listened to all, and I also believe, that we have reviewed all of them, versions of the most popular integrated amplifiers introduced to the market by Ayon, I just realized, that from the test of the newest – at that time – version of the Spirit, as this is the amplifier I am talking about, using KT150 tubes, three years have passed. For digital devices such an interval is like eternity, but for analog lovers, or tubes, the clock ticks a lot slower, and changes happen slowly, in intervals measured in decades. But slower does not mean they do not happen, as comparing the version we tested with the model depicted on the manufacturer’s web page we can see that the number of 6SJ7 tubes was doubled from two to four. Now we received another Spirit for testing, but not in the form of an integrated amplifier, but … a stereophonic power amplifier called Spirit PA.
Most manufacturers, who want to create a pre + power set on the basis of an integrated amplifier, work according to a set schema. They amputate the preamplifier section, leaving only the input stage of the power amp and enhances the left over organs adding extra power supply or improving one thing or another. However I do not know what happened to the preamplifier section from the Spirit, as looking at the PA we can notice, the knobs and buttons disappeared from the front completely, but there are not any tubes less. But first things first.
As usual with power amplifiers, the front panel of the Spirit houses only a centrally located, backlit logo and the model name on the lower left corner. Much more is happening on the top cover, where besides four power tubes KT150 there are four 12AU7 tubes (American NOS 6189W JAN Sylvania) and a pair 6SJ7 NOS General Electric per side. Of course there are also the round covers hiding the transformers.
The power switch is hidden on the bottom – close to the front left edge, so it does not disfigure the round form of the front. The back panel is limited to the vital connections. So there are single loudspeaker terminals (brilliant WBT) and line input sockets in RCA and XLR standards, with a switch selector activating the required input. The whole is amended with a ground loop break switch, a mode switch (triode/pentode) and a power socket integrated with a fuse. Next to the latter there is a small information display.
From the construction side, it is worth mentioning, that the PA is a fully balanced device, and the tube’s condition is taken care of by soft-start and stop procedures supported by electronic protection circuitry. The device does not have a global negative feedback loop, the constructors made sure the signal paths are as short as possible, and obviously, that the chassis is masterfully rigid and resonance free. The cabinet of the Ayon is made from thick, brushed aluminum plates and fittings, and thus is almost completely quiet and resistant, what does keep the tubes, so sensitive to vibration and other interference, quiet.
Going over to the listening part, I must let you know, that first attempts were with the amplifier in triode mode, and although at first they were promising, I quickly changed to pentode mode, as my Gauder are not the easiest load to manage and were hungry for the extra watts the second mode could provide. Of course this is an open question, what anyone prefers or likes, but with “Rhapsodies” Stokowski, or “The Astonishing” Dream Theater you could feel an invisible wall, through which the sound did not want, or could not, pass at culmination moments. But please do not think too much about this, as to date no tube amplifier, having both operating modes, was able to master my Arcona in triode mode, using my usual repertoire. Looking ahead I can only mention, that the Octave V110 I listened to lately (review coming shortly) equipped with four KT150 tubes had exactly the same issue. It is just how things are, and me checking every time, if maybe this time it will work, is just another question. But if, instead of rumble, as some people name it, and symphonic music, you are listening to things from the land of softness, with queens ruling it like Diana Krall, who’s “Wallflower (The Complete Sessions)” sounded absolutely captivating with the Ayon, but everything will depend on the power hungriness of the loudspeakers, the size of your listening room and volume level, still I would not worry about the end result.
Having mentioned, what the working conditions of the tested power amplifier were, we can now look closer at the unit itself, or rather at what it does with the inputted signal. Letting the obvious fact of amplifying it aside, with the Spirit it would be hard to assume, that it is just an “amplifying wire”, absolutely transparent and unnoticeable in the sound path, as it would not be true. And against expectations, this is not bad, but very good news, as when we decide to have the more than thirty kilograms heavy dragon in our room, with proudly exposed tubes and chromed transformer covers then we rather do not expect laboratory grade anti-septic and analytical capabilities. In case of the Ayon you can hear, that this is a product coming from the hands of a man loving music, and trying to approach with his products to what we can hear live. This is for sure not the work of an accountant adding numbers. So we have saturation, juiciness and musicality, but spiced with proper amounts of dynamics and resolution. This is not the warm, slowed down or even mudded, stereotypical “tubey” sound, absolutely not. The Austrian tube amps were always, and despite some warming of their image, still are very careful with serving too much of the caramel sweetness. Instead they rely on the tube smoothness, and from the moment the KT150 tubes appeared on the market, and were “tamed” by Gerhard Hirt, they became one my favorite kind of tubes, as they have also none of the edginess or nervousness, that was attributed to the KT family. This does not mean, that when we want to play not so nice sounds, like the one recorded on “Abyss (Deluxe Edition)” Chelsea Wolfe – warmly recommended – we do not get the right roughness or harshness. Please do not worry about that, we do. Maybe not everybody will be happy with that, as, and we should not hide that, there are many people, who want to have permanently “nice” sound, regardless of the repertoire; but for most people, infected with audiophilia nervosa, the authenticity of the owned rough and garage recordings is not as much a necessity, as any kind of smoothing this out, sweetening such sounds or crusting it would be perceived as desecration. The mentioned Chelsea disc is dark, disturbing and almost depressive, but from the seemingly impenetrable darkness the Ayon very neatly separated not only the ambient sounds but also the palpable contours of the virtual sources. The voice of the singer is also not fuzzy, but despite its ethereality, materializes immediately in our listening room. To make the climate on the disc more accessible to you, I will tell you, that it is something close to the last album from Dead Can Dance, but with a slower pace and additionally loaded with lots of coarseness and electronic grain. For sure it sounds more rough and brawler than DCD, but this is what it is about. Because going further and playing the live soundtrack to “Metallica Through The Never” no sound thinking person would expect angel-like vocals and ethereal musical passages like coming from Monteverdi. This is why the Ayon quite suggestively reproduces Metallica rampaging the stage as well as the shouting of the red heated crowd. Here is no place for any audiophile exultation and carving each sound apart, or playing with silence. Here is no silence at all, because there can be none. But there is a huge, at times even terrifying metal pandemonium, where instead of the black hole we have the sweaty, almost insane fans of this legendary group. True, the guitar riffs are somewhat dim, but this is not the amplifier’s fault, this is just how the disc was recorded. So we get the truth about the recording – there is no tampering with the sound, only the midrange got a little boosted, but this should not come in the way.
Fortunately, with the more differentiated material, like on the „Django Unchained” soundtrack, allows the universality of the Austrian amplification come to voice, and this allows to draw a lot of happiness not only from the timbre of the acoustic instruments, but also from sophisticated symphonic-synthetic mixes like those in “Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable)”. Speed, immediate tempo and climate changes do not pose any kind of trouble for the tested amplifier, in contrary. The more unpredictable the music is we feed into it, the more action changes there are and the whole resembles a rollercoaster ride, the better. You do not believe me? Then I propose to purchase “Pandoras Pinata” Diablo Swing Orchestra, play it and then measure your blood pressure. Pure madness? Of course, but in this madness is the recipe for success. When with such demanding music you do not have any shortcomings in terms of power or resolution, even at the furthest plane, then with less demanding music it will for sure be fine. It is just that this kind of cacophony is very good at exposing any kind of bottleneck in the system or device, and in case of the PA there are no such weak points. Of course in absolute terms things can be done better, faster, stronger, but you have to keep in mind, that at 20-30 thousand zloty level each “slightly better” in any aspect of the sound will result with a painful drainage of your wallet.
Instead of concentrating on ways of satisfying a very narrow group of customers from some niche climates, or addressing the vast amount of people not yet aware of better sound, following the mainstream pulp promoted by the major labels, the Ayon is able to satisfy almost everybody. This might seem utopian, but having this amplifier in your sound chain, the final effect will be dependent on the source and the loudspeakers, what makes the amount of combinations almost infinite, and the way we go will only be limited with our imagination. Its “tubeyness” is only a road to reach the goal set by its constructor, and not a limitation, as it is absolutely capable of playing with most loudspeakers available on the market. So if you are searching for a power amplifier, which besides power is able to find some sweetness and magic in your system, or beloved music, then please listen to the Spirit PA, as on this price level this is absolutely one of the most interesting propositions. One more thing – this time the attractive company design is gratis, as the sound alone is absolutely worth every penny spent on it.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-1sx
– Digital player: Lenovo Z70-80 i7/16GB RAM/240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY
– Digital source selector:: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Turntable: Abyssound ASV-1000
– Integrated amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Octave V110 na KT150
– Preamplifier: Audionet PRE I G3
– Power amplifier: Audionet AMP I V
– Loudspeakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cable: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall Socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Antivibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
If some of you would like to depreciate all audio constructions based on vacuum tube technology claiming that everything has been already proposed, then I officially state, he or she is absolutely mistaken. Yes, many solutions were already somehow sanctioned, but the development of the division responsible for reproducing of music is so innovative, that vacuum tube manufacturers are also constructing new products, usually allowing to draw some extra watts of amplification from them. There are many constructors, that do have some successes in their portfolio, do not like such novelties, but they seem to be in defensive mode lately, as we have more and more products for testing, that utilize new electron tubes. What am I hinting to? I am talking about the armament race in amplifiers, which started with the KT88, then went through the KT90 and 120 and now use the KT150, something expelled by some die-hard SET topology lovers. Yes, those tubes, looking like Easter Eggs, are now trendy, as we can see with our tested amplifier from Austria, the Spirit PA, a stereo power amplifier made by Ayon Audio and supplied to us by the Krakow based Nautilus.
The design of the Ayon, and most other devices of its kind, consists of a larger or smaller platform, upon which all the tubes and transformers are placed, which would not fit into a chassis anyway. Looking at the Ayon from aerial view, then it becomes clear, that its cabinet is quite wide and has rounded edges. To the back we have transformers covered with silver cups, while in the front a whole battery of vacuum tubes, control and power ones. And I will immediately calm down all readers, who think, they would not be able to set such an amplifier up – the manual has very detailed information where each one of the tubes will be placed. Finishing the description of the top part of the amplifier, I will only mention, that in the front and the back there are a few holes allowing the device to be cooled appropriately. In the front we have only a red company logo and model name placed in the lower left. The back of the power amp has only line inputs in RCA and XLR standards, single loudspeaker terminals a power socket and a triode/pentode mode switch. The main power switch is located on the bottom, close to the front panel. An important thing is, regardless of how we like or dislike tube based devices, that the combination of the silver transformer cups, glowing tubes and the black chassis poses an subconscious purchase impulse, at least for me. I know, it is maybe not very nice to attack our taste, our perception of beauty, but it must be said, that the presented design fits ideally in the current design trends, so even if we lose the battle, we will be conform with the newest design ideas.
When the Spirit became ready for the test (meaning reached the desired working temperature) it turned out, that compared to my solid state power amplifier, it brought an additional level of homogeneity, timbre and mass. Although my poweramp should be like tube amplifiers by design, and has already a built-in set of attributes making listening very pleasurable, yet the tested amplifier went a step further. Fortunately this did not degrade the sound in any way, but resulted in being exposed to just a different way sounding. This kind of presentation is loved by ones and despised by others. And I must say, that although now I am on the road of making the sound of my system more open, a few years ago I was very close to the way created by the PA. But this is by far not all, that the tested power amplifier can do, as there is a small switch on the back, that allows to convert from pentode to triode mode and back. And if we would look at the confrontation of those two topologies, then going over to triode mode results in the sound world becoming even more palpable and noble than I described in the previous few sentences. This has of course repercussions in the form of power issues, which with large orchestras, and even small jazz trios, but at high volume levels, which can be recognized by some deficiencies in controlling the sound, like washing out of the sound stage. However the constructor gives us the choice, so that we can adapt the sound to fit our taste and chosen repertoire. To better describe what happened during the testing, I will call upon a few discs I played and the conclusions I drew. In the beginning I played the Enrico Rava and Dino Saluzzi Quintet from the vinyl “Volver”. Conclusions? It was an interesting spectacle, with the difference, that the melancholically painted world of the accordion playing somewhere in the back became a tad heavier, and at the same time a bit thicker on the edges compared to what I hear on a daily basis. It was readable, very ethereal, but not so ideally cut from the background of the virtual stage. No, it was not bad at all. I knew the Spirit makes the sounds a tad rounder, so I played a vinyl in the beginning, and still it showed, it will absolutely not give up. Trying to help a little, I changed its mode to pentode, but after more thorough analysis of both modes, I came to the conclusion, that the tested device has a strong character, and this needs to be taken into consideration when choosing other components of your system. Finishing talking about this discs compilation I will only add, that reproducing the spirit of the recording session turned out very good, and the things I mentioned will be captured only by a very experienced, and small, group of clients, which, on the other hand, might be on the search for that kind of sound. But let us continue. Next disc was silver in color, and it contained songs from France, from the fifteenth century. When the main content were male and female vocalizes, it turned out, that direct comparison of Reimyo and Ayon resulted in a completely different perception of the additional saturation of human voices, and their reverberation in churches. And it may seem funny to you, but when I assessed the work of the singers via the Austrian amp, regardless of their higher weight, they were closer to my taste. Yes, the contours of the phonemes lost a little of their sharpness, and their decays a tad of their shine, what resulted in less of them being present under the church roof, but they were presented so juicy, that I could not talk about them being defective, but about spicing-up the world of the sound. So I can still be surprised. And we also add to that the very good placement of the artists on the stage, it turns out, that the PA from Ayon is very capable. Till this moment I put emphasis on ethereality, so nearing the end of the sparring between the tube and solid state, time came to compare the items related to power. So what did I choose? Of course on the Buliet Baritone Nation, something that lately helps me to verify the speed of how quickly power is developed, three baritone saxophones with percussion on the concert disc “Libation For The Baritone Saxophone Nation”. In this case, the triode mode could not be used, so this part of the test was done in pentode mode. I could write, that there was a bit less freshness and contour compared to my Japanese amp, but there is one thing I cannot refuse the Ayon. I am talking about the attack time of the mass of the sound coming from the lowest piston of the sax, which was on par with the solid state. For those who do not know it – it is like an unexpected blow to the head, and for me, fully aware of what is going to happen, it should be the fulfillment, or the discomfiture of my expectations. In this aspect the Spirit, although having some weaker sides, fared very well. Maybe not as the winner, but as a worthy sparring partner. Of course in absolute values, it subdued to the competition, but frankly speaking, there are not many devices capable of competing with my system, that I setup through years and years, and especially amplifiers from the vestibule of High End rarely can.
I do not know what would happen, if the tested power amplifier would not have such powerful tubes as it did. I can only guess, as the previous version of the Spirit had different tubes, but also was an intergrated amplifier and not a power amp. Nevertheless, the current version, with the mentioned slight thickening of the sound, loss of sparkle in the upper registers, and very good sound, depending on the amplifier mode and repertoire, is a very interesting proposition for people, searching for some tube sound in their systems. Of course you should keep restraint, but even in my system, especially designed for timbre and smoothness, it was interesting, so with systems oscillating around neutrality, or only slight coloring, there is good chance for synergy with the tested amp. So the only thing left for you is to listen and make the right decision, based on the enjoyment of music.
Class of Operation: Triode or Pentode mode, Class-A
Tube Complement : 4 x KT 150, 4 x 12AU7, 4 x 6SJ7
Load Impedance: 8 Ω
Bandwidth: 12Hz – 60kHz
Output Power-Pentode mode KT88: 2 x 70 W
Output Power-Triode mode KT88: 2 x 45W
Input sensitivity for full power: 700mV
Input Impedance (1 kHz): 100 KΩ
NFB: 0 dB
Inputs: pair XLR, pair RCA
Dimensions (WxDxH): 48x37x25 cm
Weight: 32 kg
System used in this test:
– CD: ReimyoCDT – 777 + ReimyoDAP – 999 EX Limited
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL “ISIS”
– Loudspeakers: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (bass section)
– IC RCA: 聖HIJIRI HGP-RCA “Million”
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro, Furutech NanoFlux – NCF
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA