We already informed about the appearance of the V (V like 5 and not “v”) from Ayon on the market during our may report from the visit of Gerhard Hirt in the Warsaw Nautilus showroom. Additionally that news was not only backed up by pictures, but also some listening impressions of the new Austrian integrated amplifier. But as it happens, such events are mostly about meeting other people, and something that reaches the ears is only a background add-on to the more or less formal talks. This is the reasons, that we waited patiently for the proper time, to have the chance to calmly listen to this novelty in our listening room, where we control the situation. And finally this chance came and we grabbed it immediately, to verify, as objectively as possible, the declarations of the constructor himself, that the V is something completely different, a new platform and new possibilities, which were not achievable to date, during the reign of the latest version of the Spirit 3 (we tested the second to latest version with a pair of 6SJ7, and not four of them). True, the lovers of the most musical of the KT family, the 150, could use the stereophonic power amplifier Spirit PA, but Gerhard claimed, he cannot extract anything more from this platform. Now three years have passed, and that what seemed reaching the summit … now seems to be a promising starting point. So if you are interested in what has changed in the newest version of the Spirit, there is nothing more for me to do, than to invite you to read on.
Looking at the pictures of this and the previous versions of the Spirit, there is no going around the impression, that something must have happened in Ayon, what changed the approach to the key construction aspects, as you can see at first glance, that the V was somehow “slimmed” when compared to its older brethren. Was it the case, that the constructors noticed, that instead of the natural expansion, the truth is in the minimalism and somehow admitted to Albert Einstein, that “everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”? I do not know that, but before we verify the audible effects of those actions, let us just look at the tested device.
I probably do not need to tell you, how the Spirit V looks like. It is enough to mention, that it looks like a typical Ayon, and everything should be clear. It is a solid construction made from brushed aluminum, black anodized, massive plates and rounded profiles in the edges, with characteristic chromed pots covering the transformers in the back of the chassis and the tubes in the front. In the center of the fascia the company logo was cut. It is backlit red during normal operation, while after powering on it pulsates for a dozen seconds, needed by the amplifier to warm up and apply the Ayon designed tube measurement and calibration procedure auto-fixed-bias (AFB). To the left, there is a knurled volume knob, to the right a source selector combined with a mode switch (D – direct to power amplifier, T – triode mode).
On the top, the eye-catching tube layout was quite significantly modified compared to the previous versions. In the amplifier section we find a pair of 12AX7 from Electro-Harmonix, in the driver section double octal triodes 6SN7 (in the tested unit exchanged for the Russian 6H8C) and in the power amp section the KT150 from Tung Sol. On a side note, I am impatiently waiting for the moment, when one of the independent amplifier manufacturers will decide to use the competitive, but also much more expensive (about 300 Euro a piece) versions offered by KR Audio.
The back panel is pure classic in Austrian version. Looking from the left we have the power socket with a toggle switch above, used for disconnecting the ground from the chassis, a ground bolt, a switch for toggling the amplification mode (triode/pentode) and another toggle – this time used to adjust the amplifier to the impedance of the loudspeakers (1 is set when the speakers do not fall below 3Ohm, while 2 – when they do). The loudspeaker terminals, dedicated to 4 and 8Ohm loads, are the WBT NextGen. We have also four pairs of inputs – three RCAs and one XLRs, all from Neutrik, which are amended by a power amp direct input and a pre-out.
Despite an almost identical external design to the III, in the V we have the power section, which is 50% more powerful, based on two toroidal transformers, the volume control circuitry was modified as was the auto-bias circuit and mass guidance. Additionally the electronic volume control was exchanged for a classic, motorized potentiometer, and the omnipresent relays were dropped in favor of a seemingly old-fashioned switch.
I absolutely understand, that the looks of the Ayon, as well as its genesis, do not have much for the seasoned audiophiles and music lovers, not even mentioning the acolytes of the brand. If I am not mistaken, for the last 15 years or so, from the moment that the first version of the Spirit was presented to the world, Gerhard Hirt managed to get us accustomed to the fact, that each new version of its most popular integrated amplifier is better than its predecessor, not only construction wise, but most of all, sound wise. Of course we cannot deny the obvious, and think, that the change would only be a derivative of the changes in the circuitry, the used components, etc., as with tube amplifiers things tend to depend somewhat on the tubes themselves. In this case the Austrians went over almost all the available tetrodes from the KT family. However until they moved to the KT150, the base remained the same, and the various steps in development were limited to their application and the topology of the circuitry where they are working in. Returning to the main topic and being “used to” the constant improvement, when I looked at the V and compared it to the previous version of the Spirit, before the listening test, I had some doubts, as previously the subsequent incarnations had visibly expanded sections, larger volume of the used tubes, etc., so everything that impacts the so called perceived value. Yet in the case of the V there is a kind of back to the basics approach, what could raise some concerns about the return to the “Sound of the Ayon” from fifteen years ago, which at that time was far from the stereotypical tube sound. Half-jokingly, half seriously one could say, that more than a decade ago Ayon and Octave clearly showed the disbelievers, that a tube can be more analytical and detailed than many transistors.
In short, I was not sure what to expect after the intensive accommodation of the amplifier in my system, so I reached for the art-rock “Sorceress” Opeth with the phenomenal, oriental piece, which can easily compete with “Kashmir” from Page and Plant, called “Seventh Sojourn” or the prog-rock-jazz “Strange Brew”, where some of the listeners seem to find narcotic visions from the Beatles era. In general the repertoire was not very aggressive, yet multilayered and complex enough in terms of melody, to stir around in the final assessment. The Spirit V went through this material like a mighty, atomic powered icebreaker through thin ice on a nearby lake. With perfect precision it was able to extract the smallest nuances whilst keeping the funeral character, mass and depth of the recording. Interestingly, the masterful resolution, one of its strongest points, was enriched with addictive dynamics in both the micro (aetheric acoustic guitars) and macro scale – when the team from Opeth reminded themselves their past times full of growling and blasts. I need to state clearly now, that the above and all subsequent listening was done using the pentode mode, as the more “audiophile” and refined triode mode was not working with my Dynaudio Contour 30, as on the level of my expectations it was visibly behind the pentode in terms of control of the reproduced sound spectrum and ability to convey emotion. Everything became aetheric and airy, although I must underline, that those are my private impressions, and I am aware, that for some of the listeners, such kind of presentation might be more to their liking. If I was to make some musical analogies, I would compare the pentode mode to the Peter Gabriel duo on “Don’t Give Up” with Kate Bush, and the triode mode to the same song with Ane Brun. This is the reason, that on the seemingly delicate “Lowlight” I always chose 65 instead of 40W. It is worth mentioning, that regardless of the operating mode, the tonal balance was always around the middle, not becoming too euphonic or laboratory analytical, and the differences in the way of presentation, besides the mentioned dynamics, were in the precision of the drawing of the contours and their thickness. Using “artistic” analogies, the pentode would be using a “sharp” H3 pencil while the triode a B2 one.
Reaching back in my memory and reminding myself how the Spirit III sounded, when we reviewed it, I must confess, that the current version is faring very well. The improvement is not only regarding motoric (in pentode mode), but also the widely understood resolution, through which grand symphonics (like “Verdi” by Ildar Abdrazakov, Chœur Métropolitain, Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, Yannick Nézet-Séguin) is more addictive than hard drugs. Not only do we have full insight into the multilayered and vast amount of instruments, the Austrian integrated reproduces the positioning of the virtual sources with incredible precision, including their spacing, making the created sound stage have a truly holographic palpability.
Conform with the declaration of the manufacturer of the Ayon Spirit V, it turned out to be a much more mature construction to its predecessors. The simplification of the circuitry resulted in more freedom and refinement of the sound, and the new “platform” brought the Austrian integrated onto a new, higher level. So if you are wondering, if it is worth to bother about the Spirit V, then with full responsibility I claim it is, and that regardless of the fact if you are searching for a tube or solid state amplifier, as its sonic values must be regarded in absolute terms. So if the purely functional aspects (little children, free flying birds, etc.) do not influence your final decision too much, you should ask the distributor to take one home for testing, and you will not hurry to take it out from your system to return it.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35 (Preamp + Signature)
– Network player: Lumin U1 Mini
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Dynavector DV-10X5
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Power amplifier: Bryston 4B³
– Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Contour 30
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: Organic Audio; Vermöuth Audio Reference
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver; Audiomica Laboratory Pebble Consequence USB; Fidata HFU2
– Speaker cables: Signal Projects Hydra
– Power cablese: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power + Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Furutech Nanoflux Power NCF
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+; Audiomica Laboratory Anort Consequence
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
It is just natural, that some audio devices, when they populate the market for prolonged periods of time, and thus their real limitations become known, found by their users as well as their manufacturers, get new versions. And it does not matter if we are talking about electronics or loudspeakers here, as with the passage of time you can find shortcomings even in very successful components, what, at some points, ends in a new version being introduced, named MkII or similar. This is the case with the integrated amplifier we are going to test today, which received already its fifth versions, due to the engagement of the brand owner and constructor in one, Mr. Gerhard Hirt. Do you think this is overkill? I do not think so, as from my experience of testing his constructions, every changes were improvements, steps forward, compared to the predecessors. Would it be the same this time? If you are interested in my observations, after a few weeks with the mentioned amplifier, then I would like to invite you to read on about the known and successful model Ayon Spirit, in the version “V”, which was brought to my listening room by the Katowice and Warsaw based distributor Nautilus.
So how does the Ayon Spirit V look like? Well, describing an amplifier, which can be described as a cult product, and also looking similar to any other Ayon device, seems to be a lost cause, as it would be a rehash of the same sentences I already used describing those very distinct and recognizable products. But regardless of this introduction, the main chassis is again a flat platform with rounded edges, finished in black brushed aluminum. In the front part there are the electron tubes with the splendid KT150 amongst them, and at the back end the transformers hidden in shiny silver cylinders. The front of the Ayon has two, widely spread knobs: volume on the left and input selector on the right. Finally the back plate carries all a demanding user might need: from the left a power socket, grounding bolt, phase selector, mode switch between pentode and triode, loudspeaker terminals with separate outputs for 4 and 8 Ohm, power amplifier direct input and preamplifier output, three line RCA inputs and one XLR. A nice accent is the remote controller, supplied by the manufacturer as standard accessory, which controls all the necessary functions of the amplifier. The whole is placed on four solid feet, and the main power switch is placed on the bottom, just below the dark red company logo.
I will say it like this: I will not beat around the bush, but fully consciously claim, that the Ayon Spirit V is much better than its predecessor. What is the reason for that? It offers better resolution, what makes it more sonically refined not only in terms of the amount of information, but also in quality of its reproduction. Any examples? Sure. Just please look at the recent test of the British loudspeakers Spendor A7 (review in Polish) where it was the main amplification. This amplifier was the reason I could admire the way those speakers created not only a wide, but also phenomenally musical stage with ideally placed, even large, amounts of musicians with their virtuoso performances, challenging energy and musical parades, often changing within short amounts of time. Without a package of appropriately readable information being supplied, it would not be possible to get the effect of transferring into the concerts I was listening to, but the Ayon mastered it. It provided an additional positive surprise with every edition of John Zorn “Masada” concerts and emotional, neck-breaking free-jazz performances of Ken Vandenmark, where it performed very well also with my, much larger and thus much harder to master, loudspeakers. This is evidently a nod to the universality of this device. When the music demanded there was attack, and a moment later long decay, allowing the musicians to take a breath before another mad ride written in the notes.
But this is just one side of the medal, because the described amplifier does have an option to change the operating mode into triode, what immediately resulted in a different temperature of the sound and a more euphonic structure of the music reaching me. Who would need that, when the music is already fantastic in pentode mode? Those were my thoughts initially. But I did not need wait too long to test this assumption. It was enough to take a disc of the beautiful Korean Youn Sun Nah, who would not be able to utilize her biggest asset, her beautiful, smooth, melodic and at times momentous voice, if not supported by some juiciness and warmth coming from the amplification. Anyone who knows her repertoire, also knows, that soulless reproduction of her musical stories would only be like listening to elevator music, while with an appropriate level of juiciness and with a package of breath, the mentioned dive will not allow us to withdraw attention from her until the last piece on the disc.
Interestingly, when I tried to exchange the two musical worlds associated with the two operating modes of the Austrian amplifier, it turned out, that there was no setback, not at all. Of course, with music emphasizing speed and instantaneous changes of energy things would get slower than in the ideal reproduction, but with instruments like saxophones, grand pianos or contrabasses they decayed with a much deeper, naturally more focused sound, what coincided with my expectations when I was set to relax with music. In terms of vocals, when reproduced in the more signal speed oriented pentode mode, it was also without any spectacular flaws, only the gravity center was placed a tad higher. Also the mentioned singer, with her full voice, did not care and enchanted us until the laser returned to the stand-by position. Am I stretching the facts? Not at all, I was just listening to different kind of music in different modes of the amplifier depending on my mood, and I never had any issues in adopting it, it was just my decision, if I wanted to expand on the ideas of the musicians or not.
I do not know if I encouraged you enough to test the new version (“V”) of the well-known Ayon Spirit with my musical examples. But I believe strongly, that this further attempt on improvement of the sound versus its predecessor gives reason enough to try it out in your own systems. In my opinion this one is much better than the last incarnation, so when you decide to make some upgrades in your system, even if you are more into solid state devices, you should try out this tube amplifier. It has two different faces when talking about its sound, what increases the chances of meeting your expectations in your systems.
System used in this test:
– CD transport” CEC TL 0 3.0
– DAC: dCS Vivaldi DAC 2.0
– Reference clock: Mutec REF 10
– Reclocker: Mutec MC-3+USB
– Shunyata Research Sigma CLOCK
– Shunyata Sigma NR
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777, Gryphon Antileon EVO Stereo, TAD D1000 MK2-S
– Loudspeakers: Trenner & Friedl “ISIS”
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC RCA: Hijri „Million”, Vermouth Audio Reference
– IC XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, Furutech NanoFlux NCF Furutech DPS-4 + FI-E50 NCF(R)/ FI-50(R), Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: 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
– Acoustic treatments by Artnovion
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Step-up: Thrax Trajan
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA
• Class of Operation: Triode or Pentode mode, Class-A
• Tube Complement: 4 × KT150
• Load Impedance: 4-8 Ω
• Frequency response (+/- 3 dB): 10 Hz-60 kHz
• Output Power (Pentode mode): 2 × 65 W
• Output Power (Triode mode): 2 × 40 W
• Input Impedance (1 kHz): 100 kΩ
• Input sensitivity (for full power): 500 mV
• NFB: 0 dB
• Volume Control: Alps Potentiometer
• Remote Control: Yes
• Inputs : 3 × Line In, 1 × XLR In, 1 × Direct In
• Outputs: 1 × Pre-out
• Dimensions (WxDxH): 480 × 370 × 250 mm
• Weight: 33 kg