During telephone calls on the occasion of the test of the third version of the Crossfire, as well as during face to face meetings in the Krakow location of Nautilus, I heard from Gerhard Hirt, that there is no room for improvement in an integrated platform, so I assumed he knows what he is telling, as he is the constructor of those devices. And I would still be living in this blissful conviction, if not … the newest model from Ayon, christened as Spitfire. Of course there would not be anything special in appearing of a new model on the market, if not for a few things. First of all, the seemingly mysterious, dissonance between the first news and that, what was finally published on the company pages. What am I talking about? At first, the Spitfire was announced as a development of its predecessor – the Crossfire, and later only a construction of similar topology. Well, I think, that when you start, you also need to finish, and when you play with high stakes, then you need to know how to bluff, or have a really strong hand. In case of the tested integrated the case seems to be clear – a similar, as it is based on the same tubes, the AA62B, output stage, a somewhat simplified preamplifier section and voila – the recipe for success is ready. This is even more valid because the price is calculated … below the less powerful (at least on paper) Mercury II. Does this look interesting? It does – as hell. The question remains, if the appetite can be stilled. But this we will try to describe below.
About the looks of the Spitfire it is hard to write anything more, than we know from afar that it is an Ayon, and it will not deny its brethren. But when recognizability is so high, then we should not expect from the manufacturer, that he would change something, that the clients like and what sells well. So we have a classic chassis, made from brushed aluminum and with rounded edges, which carries on its back big, chromed cans covering heavy transformers and an imposing array of tubes. The central square is occupied by two pairs of 12AU7 and 6H30 with the big, single triodes AA62B on the flanks. We do also have the bias indicator.
The front panel is the continuation of the master set many years ago. In its center we have a red lit logo, with two solid, knurled knobs on the sides, used to set the volume, confirmed in a window nearby, and source selection. The main power switch is found on the bottom, near the left front corner – as usual.
The back panel is also not disappointing, as it offers four line inputs, with one pair in the XLR standard, while the rest are RCAs, direct input to the power stage and preamplifier output. There is also a mode switch (normal/direct), bias with a small display and single loudspeaker terminals, belonging to my beloved, newest generation of WBT, accepting even the widest spades. This list is finalized with a power socket integrated with the fuse.
During the description it is also worth to mention one thing, which is very important in case of tube gear, and Spitfire is one of them, namely the cooling. In case of this amplifier, the amount of vent holes was increased.
I started listening from the seemingly disobliging album “Shadow of the Moon” Blackmore’s night. The soothing guitar riffs of the completely tamed, if not senile, Ritchie Blackmore, and melancholic vocals Candice Night, theoretically should result in almost catatonic state of boredom and somnolence. Yet the Austrian tube amp was able to create substantial amounts of drive and pace from this mixture of valerian and hypnotic. It was similar with the lazy making, full of movie standards, project “Ania Movie”. It was still sweet and nice, but for sure not boring. The whole time, maybe not on first plane, but somewhere under the skin, there was a pulsating muscle, ready to jump. Something similar we can sometimes observe with contemporary muscle-cars, full with BHP, when they are set into “comfort” mode. It is about the fact, that for some time we can forget about the racing heritage of the car, and be engulfed in the luxury of floating along a flat motorway. But let us return to the audio area. Both the selectivity and precision, with which the planes were drawn, remind of classic high-powered transistor amps, like the recently tested Pass INT-250, rather than a stereotypical, fuzzy, and rounded tube. But you should remember, that not so long ago, the Ayon, and another brand distributed by the Krakow Nautilus, the Octave, were absolutely able to extract such detail and precision from the glowing tubes, that most transistors could only dream about. And this experience, gained through the years, you can hear. I do not want to say, that the Spitfire plays chilled and with laboratory precision, but precision, in the positive meaning of the word, is there, no doubt about it. Due to this, you do not need to guess, to look for, or search for anything in the recordings. If something was registered in the source material, then we can assume with almost 100% certainty, that when the rest of the sound path will not mess it up, then we will hear it. This is the reason, that we can allow ourselves some nonchalance during listening, because everything, what happens on the very palpable, and present within our reach, sound stage, is visible clearly. Nothing is escaping us, nothing is hiding in the shadow, or behind the musicians.
Please remember, that we are still within a circle of small ensembles and somewhat tempered dynamics. So what happens, when we let go, and play something much more demanding? In general, we can compare this to a ride in a Formula Rossa rollercoaster in the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, where the cars accelerate from 0 to 240 km/h in … 4.9s. You do not believe me? Then I suggest to put the opening track “The Funeral Album” Sentenced, “May Today Become the Day” in the player and hold on to our seat. In the first seconds our innards will be bombarded by the bass guitar, and then we will be knocked out by the base drum. And this is only the beginning. But the Spitfire does not care about the fright in our eyes and convulsions of our body. Like the hell’s Cerberus released from the leash, it does not stop and just goes on. It lint and bites with guitar riffs, pushing such an amount of information into our ears, that it is hard to believe, especially taking into account the genre, in which Sentenced was, that such things were at all recorded. It is fast, brute, savage, what seems like science fiction, when looking at the seemingly low output power and the SET topology. (Un)fortunately truth is not only naked, but has muscle like Marit Bjørgen, so we should not argue with it. We can only become a yes-man, and when thrash climate fits our taste, we can follow the road to total madness, helped by the growls of Charles Rytkönen, recorded on „Aberrations of the Mind” Morgan Lefay. As you probably noticed, on purpose or by chance, I have chosen recordings, that are not so refined, and yet I have not had such fun listening to them for a long time, as it was now. Their obvious technical and recording shortcomings and limitations were pushed into the background. We were aware of them, but it did not matter, as our whole attention was devoted to follow the action happening on stage.
To balance out, at the end of the test, I took “Komeda” from Leszek Możdżer. Also here it was beautiful, but with classic beauty, normal – without special ado, and without unnecessary mad rhythm. There was space for playing with silence, reverie and concentration. The treble shone and glittered with a multitude of colors, reaching places, not often visited by the AMT drivers mounted in the Gauder. The whole time it was absolutely smooth, crystal clear – dazzling. The contours of each sound were so obvious, that we could feel them as easily, as the chair under our body, or the piano on which Możdżer played the lead theme from “The Law and the Fist”.
The Ayon Spitfire, being much cheaper than its archetype – Crossfire, should, or at least this is what common sense and economics tell us, be lower in the company hierarchy, if not in terms of scale of the sound, then at least with its quality. The problem is, that time does not only heal wounds, but also covers details of past listening. This is also what happened this time, so I would not stand-in for that, but if I would be looking to purchasing one of the might SETs from Ayon, I would start listening with the tested amplifier.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-1sx; Ayon CD-3sx
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Network Music Player: Olive O2M; laptop Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center
– Turntable: Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow + S.M.E M2 + Phasemation P-3G
– Phonostage: Abyssound ASV-1000; RCM Sensor 2
– Integrated amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Pass INT-250
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo; Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i
– 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; Ardento Power
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + 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 we look more closely onto the audio market, due to our hobby of course, then we can easily pick a few brands, which are very involved in presenting newer and newer versions of their products, or replacing the components in their portfolio completely. If this is good or bad, this depends on the point of view, but usually one thing is true about the novelties, that those are not just cashing in, but smaller or bigger improvement on the sound quality. You might say, that there is no other alternative for introducing new or updated products to market, yet I have seen some examples, where the manufacturers tried to cod on their clients. Fortunately, today’s company did not have any of similar ‘zonks’, so when information came out, that there is a successor of the Crossfire present, I was very intrigued, where the suspected substantial and positive changes were made. Yes, yes, we are talking about the Austrian company Ayon, which wants to boast with their newest child in the segment of the sound amplification, the integrated amplifier Spitfire, which was supported by the company player CD-3x during testing. I probably do not need to tell, that this brand is distributed in Poland by Nautilus.
The looks of the products from Austria is so well known, that trying to describe each of the visual nuances could be regarded as disregard to the readers, so I will just briefly show a few of the main visual aspects. So, as the tested devices are tube gear, the thing that gets most quickly to the client is the color palette, with the black chassis, silver transformer housings and gold glowing tubes. Despite some people complaining, that this is boring, such colors are timeless, and easily fit in all listening rooms of all music lovers, regardless of their décor. The approach of the constructor is very simple, but as it can be seen on the market, it is very convincing. At least I buy it. Of course the looks are only an addition to the product, and not its basic characteristic, and some brands I housed for testing showed this clearly to me. Talking about the chassis, we need to mention the company looks, with rounded edges, which either completely covers electronics and tubes – like in the CD players and DACs, or the tubes and transformers are proudly placed atop of it – like in all amplifiers. The front of the tested integrated has only a volume knob on the left, with a window showing the value of the volume next to it, in the middle a red glowing company logo, and to the right the input selector with LEDs indicating the current input. The back panel is equipped with single loudspeaker terminals, five RCA line inputs, one XLR, one tape loop, direct input (home cinema), power socket, ground lift switch and Bias switch. The main power switch is located on the bottom, near the front panel. The CD player is a typical top-loader, with a round disc window in the middle of the top plate, with an acrylic cover. In front of the disc spinner there is a row of function buttons, and to the sides there are vent holes. On the front we have only the print with the name of the model and the company logo and a medium sized, but very well readable red display. The back is the center for all possible digital signals, so besides the analog outputs we see there a multitude of digital inputs. There is also a power socket and some switches, to set the operating modes. The main power switch is located on the bottom, just like in the amplifier. So this is how the products look like from the outside, and what they offer in terms of functionality.
I started my encounter with the tested electronics from the amplifier alone, as the CD player, which was to be tested in combination with it, got somehow delayed and did not arrive at the same time. It was a very short delay, only a few days, but it was enough to give me some advice, that I should treat it differently to its predecessor. The main differences were based on better driving of my speakers, something that I grumbled about a bit, and it was now improved. Plese do not treat this as night and day, as from that previous meeting time did pass, and some of the sound nuances could have been lost in my memory. But when the fully completed set took its place in the listening room, I had no issues with cabling, as usually devices from one manufacturer work well together, and this was also the case here, what resulted in introducing me to a world of nice color, with well led bass and nicely sounding treble. The whole was so nicely tuned, that I quickly got fully involved in the world drawn with the sound of the Austrian devices, or better said created by Gerhard Hirt, the owner of the company. And I think, that this can be attributed to the fact, that the set sounds very at ease, but without losing any saturation. Often it happens, that we get something at the expense of something else, for example better loudspeaker control at the price of less colorful sound, while here, maybe due to the spread of testing procedures, although I do not think so, there was nothing like that. I think, that the constructor had a closer look at how to release the power hidden inside the amplifier and was able to boost this aspect using his experience. What I wrote was nicely converted into perception of music, regardless of what that music tried to achieve – relaxation or revolution. Whether it was the artistry of John Potter, based on vocalize and instruments from the era, which demand some color from the electronics, or the brute Percival, everything has something to say. What is important, the breath in music, related to the speakers being fully controlled, allowed not only for greater insight in the folk-metal texts, but it also helped with the showing the cooperation between the individual voice and the church environment with Monteverdi. It was obvious, that when two so distinct genres receive their moments, enough to interest me, I could not expect anything else with jazz or electronics. When the material demanded for that, I either got very solid, artificial bass from Massive Attack, or ethereal cymbals on discs from Bobo Stenson. To amend the list of information about the sound of the Ayon products, I need to mention how well the virtual musical stage was reproduced, with its full breadth and depth. The musicians were not cramped on each other, what made their localization very easy. And when I was wallowing with the Austrian specialties, time for a reflection came, that everything good comes to an end, and when the time of the test finished, I had a real issue, with how to summarize the meeting. The Spitfire is cheaper than the Crossfire, and when I compare it with what I remember of the second amplifier being tested, I think the first was better. But to be completely honest, we need to confront them head to head, so please look at this test as on a recommendation for the new amplifier, and not as on a sparring, where the former amplifier was knocked out.
Another brainchild of Gerhard Hirt and another quality progress. Theoretically, for some audiophiles the tempo of the changes can be too high, but sometimes when some, sensible, idea heard from a user falls on fertile lands in the head of the constructor, then there is no force on earth, that would block the changes in what he is offering. This iteration of the integrated amplifier, despite the seemingly small changes to its construction, brought many positive aspects as a consequence. It seems that the subjective perception of increase of the output power should not re-evaluate the perception of the whole, but please take also into account the time that passed between the tests of the two amplifiers. In High-End the keyword is “nuances”, which may get lost in time – as our brain is not very focused on them. But whatever we would say, the tested set enchanted me with the breath in the sound and the palette of timbres used for painting the music, and I think, such attraction is exactly, what the whole game is about. Don’t you think?
Class of Operation: Single- Ended, Pure Class-A
Tube Complement: 2xAA62B
Load Impedance: 8 Ω
Output Power: 2 x 30 Watt
Frequency Response: 8 Hz – 35 kHz/ 0 dB
Input Impedance at 1 kHz: 100 kΩ
S/N ratio at full power: 98 dB
Inputs & Output: 3xLine In, 1x XLR In, 1xDirect In, 1x Pre out
Dimensions (WxDxH): 51x39x25 cm
Weight: 36 kg
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Reimyo CDT – 777 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX
– Preamplifier: Reimyo CAT – 777 MK II
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL ISIS
– Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (bass section)
– IC RCA: Hiriji „Milion”
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, .Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA