September 20, 2009

Love is in the Ayre CX-7eMP CD Player

The measure of how good a piece of equipment is is not whether you can live with it, but whether you can live without it.

Well, I did not come up with the above. It was Wes Phllips of Stereophile who put the thought into one of his review articles, quoting the wisdom of one of his readers.

And how true it was. Living with the Ayre CX-7eMP CD player for me was such that for the few times I took it out from my system, I had a really strong urge to want to put it back as soon as possible. I found living without it become more and more difficult as time went by... It was not love at first sight nor was it a fleeting crush, but more like love that crept up on you over some time and suddenly you realized that you have fallen head over heels for it.

You really do not have to go on to read my description of this cd player's performance, nothing is better than going out and auditioning it. Even better if you can do it in your own system over a few days. No need to do quick swaps for comparison, let the experience seep into your body - and see what happens to your music life.

Let me spoil this 'romantic' slant a bit now - you should live the CX-7eMP for a few days because I found that it sounded the best when it was put constantly on standby when not played. If it was left unplugged from the wall and cool down (say over a day), it would regain the best sound quality only after a day or two after being put into service again. So a quickie comparison/shoot-out may not tell you the true story. The first couple of days I had the cd player, I was feeling neutral about it, though it was no doubt technically accomplished. Only over time did I begin to really appreciate what this player could do.

The CX-7eMP was a very high resolution player, the amount of details it could dredge up from the cd format was amazing, the window on the music was wide open. The information was portrayed and arranged in a well organized manner, I was listening to the climactic last movement, 'The Great Gate of Kiev', from Mussorgsky's Picture of an Exhibition (Abbado Edition, DG 437016-2, not exactly an audiophile recording), which varied from a hush to a loud crescendo, from a few instruments to the entire orchestra belting it out. In all these, there was no confusion or the feeling that the instruments were knocking into each other, every thread was separated nicely while at the same time woven as a musical whole. I could really 'see' into the music.

Bass from the CX-7eMP was exceptional. It was easily the best that I have experienced in my own system. Each bass note was projected nicely by the player. Initially I got the feeling that there was less 'quantity' in the bass region, i.e., the bass was lighter, but with closer listening, I believe that was not the case. The feeling might arise because there was no 'fluff' in the bass note, each note was well defined and nuanced, it also went deep. The bass came off with impressive solidity - each note from the Ayre has a 'solid core', rather than the relatively slightly soft at the centre bass that I was more used to. Try Shelby Lynne's "Just a little lovin' " CD, on every track the bass was so well presented that there was no smearing of the rest of the frequency range. It was a rare occasion that I actually listened through every track and was enjoying not just the bass performance but more importantly the music too.

The bass was also nicely integrated into the mid and the high. The picture was seamless, such that I could not really circle on anything that 'stood out'. The timbre accuracy was very very good, each instrument just sounded natural and closer to the real thing. Soundstaging was also excellent, one of the best I ever had in my system, it was detached from the speakers and was nicely 3-dimensional.

The Ayre was not one of those frenetic or fast machine. Its demeanour could be described as gentlemanly, it refused to rush, though it can't be described as slow. Its preference was to paint you the entire sonic picture, to present every note fully. Each musical note was given its full measure, it has a beginning, sustain and an end that tapers off. I like this a lot, I got more music, instead of relatively truncated notes.

Musically, the Ayre CX-7eMP was very enjoyable. It was one of those rare machines that allowed me to put in many of my CDs, even those previously written off as badly recorded ones, and the music would come out quite coherent, allowing me to enjoy so much more of my collection. It did not do so by sweetening the sound or turning down the highs. It sounded just as even as ever. It made me think when we said that certain CDs were unlistenable, was it really because of the recording quality or was it the fault of the cdp that was playing it.

I have not heard earlier generations of the CX-7, so I can't tell you how big the improvement was. The MP apparently is the 3rd iteration in its evolution. Older cd players sounded harsh and 'digital' purportedly because of ringing in the sound. Ayre's new 'minimum phase (MP)' digital filter eliminated pre-ringing, and coupled with a gentler rolloff reduced the post-ringing to about just 1 cycle, Ayre contented that this gave the most musically natural playback. Ayre's claims seem to bear out in my listening session. If you are interested to read more about Ayre's approach, there is an excellent white paper on Ayre's website.
Back of the Ayre CX-7eMP. Click to display the bigger version, you'll notice the digital filter switch with the 'listen' and 'measure' settings

The CX-7eMP came with a switch at the back with 2 positions - 'listen' and 'measure'. The 'measure' position applies the 'minimum phase' filter but not the gentle rolloff, the 'listen' position applies both. I tried these 2 positions in my listening and preferred the 'listen' position with a wide margin. The 'listen' position sounded much more natural and gave all the qualities that I described above; while the 'measure' setting sounded more hifi-ish, superficially more detailed but not actually so, there was also some 'etching' and a hollowness in the sound, it could not hold my listening attention long.

For RM15.3k list price, you get a piece of equipment that is built like a tank, a pleasure to use and that has an excellent voice. Older generation of the CX-7 players can be updated to the MP status, however the local dealer has not finalized the price yet.

Yes, the Ayre CX-7eMP is a fabulous CD player that is easy to fall in love with. Go ahead and have a listen. This one is special.

Ayre is available from Hi-Way Laser 03-7873.8325; 019-281.3399 .

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