April 27, 2011

Music Maker Supreme - Ayre DX-5 Universal A/V Engine

I have, finally, listened to all 3 disc players from Ayre in my own system. They are the CX-7eMP CD player, the C-5xeMP Universal Stereo Player, which incidentally is also my resident digital frontend, and the latest top of the line DX-5 Universal A/V Engine.

I can only say that I am amazed how Ayre has managed to keep the pecking order in terms of sound quality among the trio, given that the 2 machines that came before the DX-5 are already performing at the very high level within their price point.

The DX-5 has all the virtues of Ayre house sound, and it renders them even better. The sound is full and organic, even more natural and more analogue than its own siblings.

This is a supremely listenable machine. With all my reference CDs that I played, whether it was classical, vocal, or jazz, they were all very easy yet very enjoyable to listen to. I could listen to every piece of music with great interest and without feeling any listening fatigue. The sound was unforced and so rich in details that it must surely be ranked as one of the best in this area. However the DX-5 just unfolded the details for the listeners rather than highlighting and forcing them onto the listener. The details served the musical message.

The DX-5 is not merely a piece of hifi, but a music maker. That is the one accolade I would bestow on this Ayre.

The DX-5 retails for RM38,000 list. It inherits the design cues of the C-5xeMP. If you just take a casual glance, both machines look similar from the front. The obvious difference is that the DX-5 is a few cm shorter than the C-5xeMP. Then, you would also notice that the disc tray is placed above the display in the DX-5 but the other way round on the C-5xeMP. I’d like to see a sturdier disc tray than the plastic one currently on the DX-5.

The USB input on the fascia. This one plays MP3 and WMA files only.

Another distinguishing feature easier to miss is the USB input at the left bottom area of the DX-5’s fascia. How convenient, I thought. With this USB port at the front, I was looking forward to plugging in a thumb drive and playing CD quality or high res material. Alas, it was not to be. I discovered that this USB port could not handle CD quality or high resolution files in AIFF or FLAC format, instead it only worked with down sampled files in MP3 and WMA.

Note the other USB input at the left bottom corner. This input allows you to stream digital music files from a PC. Note also the various options to output analog (balanced and single-ended) and digital (including AV via HDMI) signal

Anyhow, if you are set up for computer based audio, you can stream your music files to the USB port at the back of the player, i.e., the DX-5 can be utilized as a USB DAC, just like Ayre's own QB9 DAC. I don’t have a computer audio setup, so I relied on a friend who was heavily into this for a listening test. The DX-5 accepted the data stream from the computer without problem, up to 24/192, and the sampling and bit rates were shown on the DX-5’s display. Comparing music files ripped from a CD and the original CD itself played on the DX-5, we could not hear, for all intent and purposes, any meaningful difference.

I also briefly used the DX-5 as a Bluray and DVD player playing movies, using its HDMI output into an AV amp. The picture quality was better than my other disc players, it looked slightly more natural and smoother. However the improvement in the video sound quality was much easier to hear. I don’t know how and why, movie soundtrack from the DX-5 had a more natural quality.

Almost the entire time I used the DX-5 as an audio disc player though. I listened to CDs and SACDs. On classical music, such as Dvorak’s Symphony No.9 (Christoph von Dohnyanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra), the DX-5 conjured up a huge stage, the big orchestral spread filled the front of my listening room. The sound had excellent density, dynamics and weight, yet it was also agile. On vocals such as Pop Pop’s Brasileiro and 2v1g, the performanc was filled with emotion and it flowed organically. On classic jazz recordings, such as Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West, the saxophone was seductive, the double bass was thumping away with excellent rhythm, the drum had good attack and the cymbal/high hat had that spread in the air quality.

The sound from the DX-5 was so attractive, so easy and so enjoyable to listen to, I found it hard to pry myself away from a listening session.

It was always “Ok, this is the last CD, I need to go to bed now”, but then I’d find myself putting in yet another one and repeating the same phrase for another half dozen of times...

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

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