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AYRE ACOUSTICS AX-7e audio streaming amplifier

ALTHOUGH Ayre Acoustics has been in the high-end audio business since the early 1990s, it wasn’t until recently that the US company’s profile took a major step up, thanks to a range of products that garnered raves in the specialist hi-fi press. The AX-7e is a fully balanced, zero feedback design that contains significant upgrades from the previous version of this amp. Chief among them are improved filtering of the AC signal, better peak current delivery and filtering of the rectifier switching noise.

The amp uses eight high-current output devices per channel and has a proprietary volume control with FET switches and metal film resistors. The volume control is a 66-step unit, with increments of 1dB per step. The onboard control microprocessor is designed to turn off when it isn’t executing any command operation, which helps reduce noise. Source inputs are completely disconnected when not in use.

Four inputs – two balanced and two single-ended – are provided, as is a tape output. Instead of the conventional naming of inputs on the front and back panels, Ayre uses icons like Star, Planet, Comet and Moon. There’s a display-off function, too, if you’re fussy about these things.

A remote handset is provided, although I had to make do without one for this review. Fortunately, the remote unit of a Krell KAV-400xi worked for setting volume and selecting inputs on the Ayre.

The speaker terminals are the oddest I’ve come across – you’ll need spades or bare-wire terminations on your cables, although I wouldn’t recommend the latter because there’s a short waiting to happen if you’re not careful.

Power is quoted at a modest 60 watts per channel continuously into eight ohms and 120 watts into half the load, with a frequency response of 2Hz to 200kHz. You can set the AX-7e to home theatre mode, for use with a surround processor and allowing two-channel signals to be routed directly to the amp.

The AX-7e measures 438 x 350 x 120mm (w/d/h) and weighs 12kg. I didn’t see anything to suggest the amp’s build and overall finish weren’t of the highest quality. Then again, for the price, I wasn’t expecting anything less. New Ayre components require a break-in period of between 100 and 500 hours, so if you’re going to audition one, ask if the dealer has a run-in unit.

Even run-in, there was a discernible improvement in the AX-7e’s performance after about a couple of hours in operation, so this is good reason to leave the amp on standby when you’re not using it. Once the AX-7e was sufficiently warmed up for each session, it began to sing … during the first session, I went from “hmm …” initially to “Hot damn!” a CD or three later.

My source was an upgraded Bluenote Stibbert CD player, a Pioneer PD-D6 SACD player and a Technics analogue tuner, via JPS Labs Superconductor Q balanced, and DH Labs Silver Sonic Air Matrix and JPS Ultraconductor single-ended interconnects respectively.

Speakers used to partner the AX-7e were the Audio Physics Tempos, variously through Siltech New York and Stereovox Firebird cables. For comparison, I had the Krell KAV-400xi integrated amp (see The Krell factor below) – the difference in approach was significant.

While the Ayre didn’t have the Krell’s natural authority and grunt in the lower extremes, it kept the bass well balanced in the mix – less dominant, but certainly very tightly defined and controlled, and downright tuneful. The four-ohm Tempos allowed the amp to output its higher power rating, and it never faltered even when pushed.

What got my attention, too, were the retrieval of detail at low levels, and the inherent musical nature of the AX-7e, even with the volume set at moderate-to-soft. Everything in the mix was clearly and cleanly presented without ever audio streaming sounding clinical.

The Ayre lent ample space around instruments and voices, and was never muddled even with difficult recordings – its sense of rhythm was impeccable, and it never lacked energy or panache.

The weight of electric/synth bass was as authoritative as the organic rasp of the upright bass, and acoustic drum tracks had all the impact of a live event. This blended with a smooth and crisp treble and a very natural midrange, resulting in a seamless and silky integration across the frequencies.

The more I listened to the Ayre, the more its rhythmic grace, lushness, musicality and poise endeared it to me – magically communicative is how I would describe the AX-7e, especially in balanced mode.

I have no reservations about concluding that the Ayre AX-7e is one of the most enchanting amps I’ve heard in the past two decades. If your budget lies in this territory, and you’re considering a pre/power combination – wait! Take a paradigm shift and listen to the Ayre. A rewarding experience is assured.

THERE has been much talk over the past couple of years about how the Krell audio streaming sound has changed over the years, especially in its entry-level products … like the KAV-400xi (RM11,888) integrated amplifier.

The amp was reviewed here about a year ago, around which time we didn’t have the Ayre AX-7e for comparison. Both models are priced not too far away from each other, so it seemed pertinent to see how they came off in a shootout. Those looking for visceral bass thrills may be a tad taken aback by the Krell - the KAV-400xi trades the brutish bass delivery of yore for a more natural and controlled presentation.

But you only have to compare the KAV-400xi against high-quality and similarly priced amps like the AX-7e to realise Krell’s low frequency resolution is no less effective, although it is an iron-fist-in-velvet glove approach. As I write this, a Naim Supernait (a bit over RM16,000) is on the burners, and even this doesn’t dig as deep into the lows as the Krell.

Of course, at 200 watts into eight-ohm loads and 400 watts into double the load, the KAV-400xi has some serious reserves of juice on tap … it also does get quite hot, so proper ventilation is mandatory.

Still, power isn’t everything, and the Ayre, despite its modest power output, was capable of getting the hard work done. The Krell has a crisp and natural texture to the highs and midrange, eschewing timbral additives for neutrality … but it will not be accused of audio streaming sounding sterile.

Overall, the KAV-400xi delivered a tight, metrical and dynamic audio streaming sound that did justice to varied material – it wasn’t held back by anything and the range of features makes it a long-lasting buy.

If you want power, solidity and a no-nonsense delivery, the Krell is the choice. If you’re looking for something more beguiling and indulgent, the Ayre stakes its claim. Either way, you’re getting a finely engineering amp that will let you drown happily in the music for years.


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