June 2, 2010

MaXed ayRe! Ayre MX-R Power Amp.

The Ayre MX-R in my room, it was as if the amp stand was custom made for them!

I had been bugging Kenny of Hi-Way Laser to allow me to try out the top Ayre KX-R pre amp and MX-R power amp combo for some time now. These are highly regarded products in the high end audio of today. By the time it came to my turn, the Ayre KX-R pre amp had been sold and I was left with a pair of MX-R mono blocks to play with.

Still, having the MX-R mono blocks in my room was an experience to remember. I'll start with the build quality. The Ayre mono power amps are impeccably built, with a one one piece heat sink/chassis hewn from a single piece of solid aluminium ingot. All the internal spaces are milled with compartments to mount parts like the dual power supply transformers, audio PCB board and wiring routes. All connectors are of high quality ones supplied by Cardas. I wish all power amp manufacturers should use the Cardas speaker cable binding post, they provided the most evenly secured grip, and safe contact with good user finger grip feel. The front mounted LED doubles up as a stand by switch and amp status indicator by colour changes like green, indicating "Standby" mode, blue indicating "On" mode, orange indicating "Under Current" mode and red indicating "Fault" or "Over heated". And each mono block weights about a good 25kgs or so!

Priced at nearly RM$78k a pair, I'll have to say that this is the most expensive piece of audio equipment to enter service in my audio cave since the departure of the Bladelius Saga pre amp, and Ymer power amp combo. Since the Ayre KX-R pre amp is not available, my humble Pass Labs X2.5 is pressed in to service. The source used is the resident Marantz CD 7, and speakers are my just purchased PMC Fact 8.
In "Standby" mode.

In "On" mode.

The organic signature sound of Ayre is highly evident upon first listening. I found the tonal quality to be amongst the best balanced I've heard. Highs have that tube like airiness and natural decay about them, only with more extension. There's a free ness the way the high frequencies are reproduced not matched by most solid state designs. Mids are open and grain free with no highlighting or spot lighting of the high mids to enhance vocals. I feel I need to make a correction in regards to my earlier review of the PMC Fact 8 speakers, which I felt were slightly coloured in an attractive sort of way, I can now confirm that the PMC was merely revealing the sonic colouration signature of my Pass Aleph 0, because with the Ayre MX-R mono blocks powering the Fact 8 speakers, I never heard any sort of colouration's what so ever, even if it was the musically beautifying type! The Ayre is supremely neutral, yet manages to avoid sounding analytical. The bass is solid yet articulate and pacey, never bloated or lean. String bass instrument notes have a natural wooden decay which is great for classical music. Kick drums are heard kicking hard with attack.
I've never heard this CD rocked this hard before!

I found the Ayre MX-R to be one of the most transparent sounding amplifiers available today. Every minute musical detail, instrument playing technique, studio noise, mixer panel induced hum/buzz, of the recording being played will be revealed. This level of transparency is only available to members of the most elite high end gears. The MX-R proves it self to be a full time member of this select club. Noise floor is none existent too, which aids to the perception of the amp's transparency factor.
Robert Palmer's Addicted To Love MTV. A lesson for today's MTV directors, how to make a sexy MTV with a touch of class! Go You Tube it.

Some of my hifi buddies have ridiculed my Pass Aleph 0 as a wussy of an amp. Totally gut less! They said. How about a pair of 300W mono blocks, my friends?

All I can say is that the Ayre MX-R pair totally transforms the level of transient, micro and macro dynamics that I am used to having in my system! My buddy "The Wise One" once said if it can't rock, it can't be any good! Rock hard the Ayre MX-R did, but with a class of refinement and clarity of it's own. I played Robert Palmer's CD called "Addictions" Volume 1 and came away very "Addicted To Love". On the same CD, Robert Palmer's partnership with 3 of the ex Duran-Duran guys to perform "Some Like It hot!" and it was a totally "hottest ever" performance when replayed thru the system with the Ayre MX-R in power. The blazing opening drums and bass guitar jam is the most intense I've heard on my(in fact, any other) system. Before I know it, I was so confused, between jamming the "air" drum kit or "air" bass guitar. I was sweating profusely in the air conditioned 25 degrees Celsius audio cave, from all the "air" instrument jamming and pseudo Robert Palmer wanna be activities. I've never been so busy while enjoying music, that this is a whole new level of performance at highly realistic "rock" concert like volume setting! The music volume was nearly full, at the edge of the system's performance envelope, yet the Ayre mono pair never showed any signs of distress. The highs never sounded course or grainy, the high level of dynamic contrast and transient speed never showed signs of nervousness and bass is still rock solid. In fact, the "Some Like It Hot" track sounds downright noisy in most flawed system, even at moderate volume levels. The Ayre's staging and imaging is still stable as ever, un like any lesser amplifier, which would have shown signs of a collapsed staging and un stable imaging properties. In short, the musicians were not only in my room at a certain volume level, they were still in room and yet, still presented in the correct scale even at near rock concert volume levels.
The excellent Cardas speaker cable binding post.

Only XLR input is allowed, as the MX-R is a fully balanced class A/B circuit design.

However, the Ayre pair just doesn't only favoured rock music, it played all music with equal zest. Always cordial yet retaining an air of organic ness to the sound. The Ayre's sonic prowess shows too when playing chamber music of small ensemble of violin and piano or viola and classical guitar. The natural wooden harmonics and timbre of the acoustic instruments are reproduced in all it's glory and beauty. The oboe as an instrument, which can often get buried in the wood wind section of an orchestra, stands out too, as when reproduced properly can be highly captivating in it's simple yet harmonically complex sound. Jazz recordings with saxophone lead is clearly intoxicating to listen to, especially when all the combination of mouth(piece)/finger movement, valve opening/closing sound, breathing technique and natural acoustic reverb after the burnish tone of the horn all reproduced in full clarity, and bite. I was totally lost in music.

Is the Ayre so perfect that I've got nothing else to say about it? No, not really, if I had to nit pick, and I can be down right prickly too. I have three concerns, first of which, the MX-R is so........ very transparent, if there's a proverbial wire with gain, this is it, or at least very close to being one. This places huge demands on partnering equipment quality and system set up. Every little imperfection, will certainly be let heard. Next, is the amp's bass response, while I had no complains with the Ayre, others may feel Krells can dynamically out do it. Lastly is just my personal preference of which some may agree and other's not. In the context of my system, I felt the mids could be just a tad more special, just like the high frequencies reproduction. It really wasn't bad, in fact, it's very good, but just lack the last bit of specialness to completeness, if you get my drift. However, as you have read in the above, that didn't detract my musical enjoyment one bit. In fact, I've never enjoyed music quite like this before, and not for a long, long time to come.
The back end, by the way, the heatsinks run very, very hot when the amp is pushed hard to perform.

When Wilson Wong forcefully removed the Ayre MX-R monos from my system, I reverted to the Pass Aleph 0, and was faced with the stark reality that the Pass is clearly not from the same exclusive elite high end club. The Pass Aleph 0 was phenomenal in it's days and nominated as Stereophile's "Amplifier Of The Decade", it now sounds so vintage! The Pass was clearly tonally coloured(in a nice sort of way that beautifies music), the high frequencies can sound a little untidy, suffered from veiling in terms of transparency and noise levels were clearly noted(only by A/B/A comparison). I suffered in anguish for a few days, knowing that I've been and will be continuing to listen to compromised hifi.

On the bright side, I am also happy to console my self, that I've finally found something to aspire towards in the future, when my ship from the other side of the rainbow docks. Till then, like "The Wise One" always says "Just enjoy the music la!"

Ayre electronics is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel: 03-78738325.

1 comment:

GCK said...

Big E, how about checking out something more affordable like the Oddysey Khartago or Stratos. You would be surprised how close it sounds like Soulution.