In converting even a small portion of the mass market over to hi-res audio, Neil Young’s Pono Player was a failure. Perhaps Young’s sales pitch would have been more effective had it focused on how the Toblerone-shaped device could improve the sound quality of Redbook FLAC and even MP3 – music we own already and don’t have to buy anew.
No matter how good it sounded, hawking a hardware device predicated on downloads (and CD rips) just as the mass market shifted to streaming was always going to be a tough sell.
Behind the Pono player’s seriously impressive sonic prowess were Colorado’s Ayre Acoustics. The Boulder-based company designed the circuit. And like all Ayre products, a balanced topology with all discrete components and zero feedback were applied without negotiation. The subsequent Codex DAC/headphone amplifier, an extension and refinement of Pono’s circuit, showed off just how Ayre’s adherence to certain design principles can make mains-powered headphone listening really sing.
Like many companies featured within these pages, Ayre Acoustics are different with a Capital D. Marketing manager Alex Brinkmann describes Ayre as a twenty-three year old startup. It’s certainly true that they have held a robust reputation as purveyors of fine sound in the high-end audio niche for many years.
Those sniffing out Ayre on the back of Pono involvement might not be aware that their product range extends to some seriously high-performing power amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, a D/A converter, an A/D converter and a phono stage.
Earlier this year at the High-End Show in Munich, Ayre unveiled their latest product: the QX-5 Twenty is a Roon Ready digital pre-amplifier. A total of ten digital inputs and Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength™ code working the USB are tough to ignore. So too is the asking price: US$8995. According to Michael Lavorgna at AudioStream, you very much get what you pay for.
Ahead of my own review (delayed until my Berlin listening room is finalised), the first order of business upon landing in Colorado for RMAF 2016 in October was a tour of Ayre Acoustics’ Boulder facility.
I arrive at 11am to the sound of not very much at all. The atmosphere is busy but paradoxically quietly studious. Picture a university library just prior to finals season. A soldering iron buzzes here, a keyboard clatters there. Brinkmann walks us around and about:
This year, DAR went long on video coverage. The site’s Vimeo channel now carries over 200 (!) videos. The motivation behind such coverage is to better communicate a sense of “being there” to readers (turned viewers). Videos become particularly potent when featured as part of audio show coverage or when conducting factory tours. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth at least a million.
However, the over eager videographer can easily overdo it. Forever on my mind when filming and editing is the germ of truth at the heart of this Onion article: “Friend Who Sent Link To 8-Minute YouTube Video Must Be Fucking Delusional”. Quite.
But sometimes, more than a minute or two is absolutely necessary. For Ayre Acoustics’ lead engineer Charley Hansen to talk us through the guts of the QX-5 Twenty, a full five minutes are required because a) it contains so very much and b) Hansen’s attention to detail is unsurpassed in the high-end audio industry:
The beer at the nearby UpSlope brewpub wasn’t half bad either. How very Boulder.
Further information: Ayre Acoustics