May 5, 2011

All The Ayre You Need? Ayre DX-5 Universal A/V Engine.

The Ayre DX-5 A/V Engine, I could only test the audio side of things here.

The Ayre DX-5 A/V Engine(I'd call it a multi format disc player!) has been a controversial product since the day it hit the market! Hifi and audio forums around the globe engaged in heated debates as to weather if it's an Oppo Blu-ray player(a beer budget one too, mind you!) in glamorous drag? Frankly, after a week playing with the Ayre DX-5, I still find it hard to give you a direct answer!!!

The Oppo DNA is obvious the moment the CD tray slides out. The display window is pure Oppo too. In fact, a look inside the player will show you that the whole front end of the DX-5, from disc mechanism to logic control and A/V output board, is taken wholesale from Oppo. However, I also saw where Ayre put their handy little touches too, things that transform a great budget disc player to super high end performer, sound wise. The power supply has been completely reworked, with individual transformers for digital and analog sections, with each having multiple stages of regulation. The A/V board has been reworked with some sections by passed entirely(especially the DAC and audio section) for Ayre's handy work.

I did not get to test the Ayre DX-5's visual performance aspect as I do not have an AV system to do so(Odiosleuth already covered that part). However, my interest were more in to the audio side of things. Immediately, I hit two road blocks the moment I tried to play some music files via it's front panel USB input. First, this input only reads MP3, or WMA format resolution files. The second issue I faced was that I need to use a screen to scroll thru the Ayre's(or is it the Oppo's?) graphic interface menu. Well, there's always the other USB input at the rear panel for CAS purposes. I scanned thru the very thick manual only to find that the Ayre DX-5 will not read audio files off a passive storage device(like an USB thumb drive)! It only takes an active streaming signal from a PC for the Ayre to work as part of the CAS engine.

No worries, I know a guy who has an Ayre QB-9 in his high end CAS audio system, and he was very kind to obliged my request to do the CAS part of my review by comparing the DX-5 to his resident Ayre QB-9 Version II. As expected, streaming files off his dedicated audio PC via USB to the DX-5's back panel USB input worked flawlessly. The DX-5 would lock on to the signal every time on first stream, all the way from 16/44.1 to 24/192 audio resolution files. Once locked on to the in coming signal, the front display window would show the input bit/sampling rates. After about an hour of listening and comparing some tracks between the Ayre DX-5 and QB-9, all of us, Odiosleuth, the system owner, including your's truly agreed to the conclusion that the musical result via both the Ayre units sounded no different.
It's music maker supreme, when playing back CDs. Pictured here with the Phil Collins, Hits CD.

With CAS aside, I brought the Ayre DX-5 home for some disc spinning duties. I haven't played with my CDs for a while now, and it's nice to hold something tangible in my hands, and be able to read thru the liner notes as the music is played, something which is not possible with CAS. The Ayre excelled as a CD player, it's Ayre signature of warmed, refined tonal balance is clearly evident. The DX-5 also excelled at digging out almost all the data out of any 5 inch disc playable. Music was truly transparent, noise free, and true to the recordings. The Ayre would surely shine with excellent recordings, but will also let you know about the poorly recorded CDs. However, the Ayre is rather kind on the later as they still came across as musically relevant, despite the imperfections. The DX-5 can handle the most dynamic and transient response demanding CD and still come across sounding like effortless. It never sounds strained or displays any of those at it's limit's harshness. The real killer part is that the Ayre aces all the hifi check list yet still sounding homogeneous, coherent, natural and unforced.

Some say Ayre players can't rock, but the DX-5 proved otherwise. I was a little sad the day Phil Collins announced his retirement from the music business, after all, he was one of those few drummer's who could carry a decent vocal tune too! I went home and put on Phil Collin's, Hits compilation CD, and searched for the hardest rocking track, titled Easy Lover, a duet with Phillip Bailey. It was phenomenal for how the Ayre held it all together at near concert level volumes, in my tiny man cave. The searing guitar rifts, over enthusiastic vocals, aggressive bass lines and hard hitting drum kit, fused in to a solid, believable musical performance, that these great musicians were right in front of me, nearly live sized, it made me sweat! When it came to power ballad(another Phil Collins specialty) the track Against All Odds, left me nearly wet eyed(OK, I lied, I shed a tear alright, happy?) and heart ached, with a heart felt feeling of true love lost. Call me a SNAG(Sensitive New Age Guy), or even a softie if you want, but if a piece of high end audio equipment can tug my heart strings like this, for that, I would put the Ayre's CD performances even above the mighty Esoteric X-03SE or Wadia 381i, yes it's that good.

However, I was a little disappointed with the SACD performance of the DX-5. Compared to the excellence of the CD performance, the few hybrid SACDs that I have sounded soft, and slightly muted compared against the CD playback. While it still have that lovely refined mid range density of Ayre's sonic signature, it suffered from being just slightly on the overripe side of things. For some, and their systems it may find favour, but not in mine. I did not have any DVD-A format disc to play on this player.
The back lit remote with way too many buttons!

Taken on the whole, this Ayre DX-5 tries to be the Jack of all digital tricks, but ends up being the master of one(I did mentioned that it's CD playback is beyond superb! Well, master of two if you count it's excellent Blu-ray picture quality). I guess it would make perfect sense for those, who like Odiosleuth, have an integrated A/V & stereo system in one room, where the Ayre would do the duties of DVD, Blu-ray and CD play back with near perfection. SACD playback is an Achilles heel for Ayre, which after comparing to the superb CD playback performance, makes one naturally to expect more, given a superior disc format?

And lastly, for those who have migrated to CAS like me, may be left a little disappointed that the DX-5 did not read files off a passive data carrier like a thumb drive. For the money, priced at RM$38k, I would have expected Ayre to include the CAS audio file decoding(of FLAC, AIFF or WAV) engine inside the DX-5. However Ayre does not seem to think so?
The back panel of the Ayre DX-5, note the built in fan, which is noiseless when in use. The thick, informative owner's manual is a must read before you start playing around!

What ever the reason, the Ayre DX-5 is probably the perfect A/V Engine, for today's disc bound, high end A/V and stereo enthusiast, with a view for future CAS compatibility.

Ayre is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 03-78738325 or 019-2813399.


junchoon2989 said...

thanks for the write-up!

some, but not on all titles, i also find the SACD layer softer sounding too. yet if you increase the volume, the CD layer will fall apart while the sacd layer remain composed - with all the details and slam intact.

wonder how DX-5 sound with a 3 or 5 channels FACT 8 based system??? :)


Big E said...


If what you said about the SACDs being true, then there's probably nothing wrong with the Ayre DX-5 SACD performance.

The Ayre DX-5 is not set up for multi chanel output. Its strictly stereo only. You'll probably need an A/V processor to do multi chanel with the Ayre.

You intrested to get one? If you do, then I am indeed green in envy, and you're trully blessed to have one of the best CD players in the market today!

junchoon2989 said...

nah, i cannot afford DX-5! as you know i should be getting a processor soon. if u ever in need of one to check out how DX-5 perform, let me know lah.

of course this assume u have over 2 speakers at one time lah. eager to hear your FACT 8 in a mch setup! :)