October 31, 2009

Love Is In This Ayre Too - Ayre C-5xeMP Universal Stereo Player

In September, I posted a write-up on Ayre's excellent CX-7eMP CD player. I was smitten by its stellar performance, and I gushed about its performance to my hifi buddies, Big E included. I liked that machine tremendously, however, I was not ready to 'commit' myself, so to speak.

Big E, being someone not known of doing things by half measure, decided to do his utmost best to push me over the edge. He thought the top model, Ayre's C-5xeMP universal stereo player would do the job. So he went back to Hi-Way Laser and requested a review unit.


During my first listen to this Ayre C-5xeMP in my system, it was quite fresh out of the box, with just few hours clocked on it. My experience with the CX-7eMP indicated that Ayre's players needed a few hundred hours on it to bloom fully. In fact, the C-5xeMP's manual mentioned that 100-500 hours were required for full break-in.

However, I was gobsmacked during the first listen. It was like finding out that the girl you thought you'd fall in love with had an elder sister who was even more attractive, more beautiful. In that first session, the Ayre C-5xeMP handled my piano test piece, George Winston's piano solo album 'Autumn' with such aplomb that I sat through listening to the whole CD. The piano had excellent clarity and attack, and each note was very well defined. George Winston's sustain pedal, which he used a lot, was nicely resolved such that it did not muck up the main music line. The Ayre also impressed with Shelby Lynne's "Just A Little Lovin'", showing off with palpable air, solid bass and articulate vocal.

Before I go on further with my listening impression, let me get a few likes and dislikes about the Ayre C-5xeMP out of the way. I like the chunky and sturdy remote control, especially its simple layout and its backlit function. I like the fact that the player is built like a tank, an improvement even from the already very well built CX-7eMP, though the senior player is only 0.5kg heavier according to the spec sheets (12kg vs 11.5kg).

I dislike the small and relatively dimly lit display window of the C-5xeMP, I got to squint even from just 2.5m away to read the display, the C-7xeMP's large and bright display is much better. I also found that the C-5xeMP's disc drawer a little clunky, the CX-7eMP's and even my 85%-cheaper Marantz DVD player's drawers worked more smoothly. The last dislike is more serious in my opinion, the universal player defaulted to the high resolution layer on a hybrid discs and the user did not get to choose to play the CD layer if he wanted to. So on all my SACDs, I did not get to compare the performance of the SACD layer and the CD layer on the Ayre. Hmmm...this Ayre is a bit 'dictatorial' in what it wants you to listen, isn't it? :-)

Ayre, apparently, is the pioneer in 2-channel universal audio player - the Ayre C-5xeMP plays all types of silver disc (CD, MP3, DVD-A, DVD-V, SACD), but for multi-channel formats, the player will down-mix to 2 channels or play the stereo mix. This is fine with me and, I believe, with many audiophiles too as we have concentrated our dosh and effort on setting up as good a 2-channel system as we could muster, to expand it to an equally good full surround capability is a headache that I do not need. :-)


Ok, now, how had my courtship with the Ayre C-5xeMP proceeded? Well, just like in any relationship, things got a little bumpy later on. To anyone looking at evaluating this player, please heed the break-in advice. After the initial period, the Ayre's sound quality turned a bit worse, it had some mechanical-ness in the music flow and some nasality in the sound, it was not entirely interesting to listen to. These characteristics started to fade away when I hit the 200 hours break-in mark, and things went on an upward swing thereafter.

However, this player does have the same temperament as the CX-7eMP, I need to always keep the C-5xeMP on standby by hooking it up to the mains (by the way, it does not have a power switch, there is just a standby/on switch on the front panel). If it cools down, it needs a day or so of continuous disc spinning to get back on top. Even switching on from long term standby, I found that it sounded much better after 1-2 hours of spinning a disc (merely keeping the player on did not quite do the trick), so I decided to go through this warm-up routine every time I wanted to do some serious listening. I think I have just a bit to go before hitting the 500 hours mark, if this behaviour changes later, I'll report here too.

With these characteristics, anyone who would like to do quick A-B comparisons should beware, otherwise the Ayre might be put at a disadvantage.

How does the Ayre C-5xeMP's sound then? In one word - fabulous! I am basing my listening experience on CDs rather than high resolution formats, as that is my primary source. The descriptions I used for Ayre's CX-7eMP CD player earlier can be applied almost verbatim to this universal player too, just that in some areas, the C-5xeMP subtly or substantially improved on the junior model.

The sound from this universal player is just seamless, the frequencies are well balanced and beautifully integrated. It is also the most uncoloured player I ever heard in my system - with the many CDs that I fed it, it seemed to show up more sound characteristic differences among them than I ever heard from other players. I found listening to music much more enjoyable with the sound 'varieties' I could get from my CD collection.

The Ayre C-5xeMP was very listenable. It did not seem to just emphasize smoothness to the sound like some others, its excellent resolution and the way it played music just sounded more 'right' to my ears, therein its listenability. You can call it naturalness, timbre accuracy or whatever, I just felt that what it produced was what was on the recording and it got closer to the real thing.

The Ayre C-5xeMP also expanded the soundstage in all dimensions. There was excellent scale and a grandeur to the music, especially on orchestral performance.

With its improved resolution, there was also air and atmosphere aplenty. On some recordings, such as simple vocal track, the sound just floated on a cushion of air and had a palpability that I rarely experienced before.

I like to circle out its bass performance too, it was exemplary. Bass was solid, very well defined, powerful yet nuanced. The best I have had in my system.

On speed, like the CX-7eMP, the Ayre C-5xeMP did not rush, though it did come off as more capable rhythmically. Jazz music swung better but the rhythmic drive was not over-done, again it just sounded more 'right' to me compared to some other players (which could actually sound more exciting to some ears).

There was one area though, if my aural memory is correct, that the CX-7eMP did better. That is in the area of decay, the CD player seemed to hold music decay more steadily as it faded into silence, the universal player was just slightly wavering on the way down. I do not know if this is a run-in issue, I hope it is, because it is a quality that I valued highly in the CD player, as it made each musical phrase more complete.

On balance, the Ayre C-5xeMP universal player is a more capable player than the CX-7eMP CD player. It should be, the universal player has a list price of RM26,100, a more than 10 grand increase in price compared to the CD player (RM15,300). However, whether you think the improvements are worth the price increase is entirely up your own personal judgement.

I fell in love with the Ayre C-5xeMP. Many say love is blind, I admit it as much.

So I am not letting this beauty out of my life. I bought the review sample.

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

7 comments:

Big E said...

Odiosleuth,

Congrats on your latest upgrade. From what I've heard in your system with the Ayre CX-5MP, it certainly sounded very much better than the CX-7eMP.

Brilliant stuff!

PuchongWong said...

Odiosleuth,

I am very agree with Big E,CX-5MP is very very much better than CX-7eMP

The Wise One said...

Does it have HDCD decoding? How well can it handle the normal music discs like pop, rock, metal, dance, etc? Can it play DVD Audio as well? As a universal player, I would like to think so. What about blu-ray discs? Any comparison with this and the Marantz SA-1 or SA-7 or Sony SCD-1 on red book CDs?

mikelau.2 said...

Heehee Big E,
You are indeed the devil.. but there is a bigger devil behind this devil ! Wonder who he is heh heh. I know he is giggling..zipped.

PuchongWong said...

Big E,

Since when you have become the devil?

Odiosleuth,

You know who is the bigger devil?

OdioSleuth said...

The Wise One,

The C-5xeMP does not have HDCD decoding.

The music genres you mentioned are not my normal music diet. Though with both the CX-7eMP and the C-5xeMP I listened thru the entire Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon SACD/CD, which is something rare for me (this album admittedly is also much much better recorded than many other rock albums).

Yes, it can play DVD-A. No Blu-ray. If you want a full-fledged Blu-ray universal (both audio and visual), check out Ayre's DX-5 player.

No, I have not compared it to the other players you mentioned. I have no access to any of them. :-)

PuchongWong,
I don't know who the bigger devil is. But could he be in front of your own eyes, hehe.

junchoon2989 said...

i think the Berkeley Alpha DACs will allow the Ayre to decode HDCD. check this out:

http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=197254&page=3

cheers,
wps