Ayon Crossfire Evo Monoblock Power Amplifier
I think, that most of you will agree with me, that the Austrian brand Ayon is part of the demanding world of audiophiles and High End for at least some years. And at that it is very recognizable. I know, that a statement in the manual, that the buyer now belongs to the elite, does not really mean anything, but I have met many people devoted to good sound, who endorse the brand, and the statement in the manual has essence behind it. Interesting is also the fact, that most of those people have devices from the medium, or medium-higher, price range of the brand, and not the most expensive items. We can only guess, what the result of that would be. And you know what? The Soundrebels project came to life just for that reason, also to test the top of the top. The main driver behind our portal is to be fully emotionally involved in our hobby and have an easier way in getting the top offerings of some brands in our listening room. And this is what allowed me to be able now to invite you to read a review from the few weeks I spent with the newest brainchild of Gerhard Hirt, very close to the top of his portfolio, the monophonic power amplifiers Ayon Crossfire Evo. But this is not the only device we’ve go, as the Polish distributor, the company Nautilus, decided to supply us also with the Spheris preamplifier as well as signal and speaker cabling from Siltech and power cords from Acrolink, to exploit full synergy of the amplifier. As you can see from the list, the distributor is fully aware, that on this level nothing can be left out, so he was really prepared for the test.
The description of the looks of the tested Austrian amplifier is a bit difficult, as trying to write something extra, we will not escape repeating ourselves, as the offering of the company is very much unified. Regardless of that, the design of the amplifiers, monoblocks, sound sources or preamplifiers are tasteful enough, that we are not able to destroy the positive perception of the brand with those repeated statements. But let us go back to the topic. Trying not to talk too much I will concentrate on the main topic of our test, the monstrously deep monoblocks. As you can see on the photos, the Evo power amplifiers are quite narrow, so the manufacturer decided to increase their depth to be able to place the big transformers, covered with silver cups on them. This, of course, increases the demand regarding the audio racks you need to place them on. But nobody said it will be easy in High End. The case is simple – if you have the money for the horse, you also need it for the carriage. Having told about the problems with placement, let us continue with the description. In the front of the chassis there is the main aspect of those amplifiers – the vacuum tubes. The ones used are mostly special, individual designs from Ayon, what makes changing them a bit more troublesome. But for me this is a non-issue, as I am only interested in the final sonic effect of the tested device, and I will try to write about that a bit later. Finishing the description of the external design I must add, that on the top, in front of the shining tubes, there is a VU meter, which is used to adjust their bias. On the front there is also a red company logo, while on the back panel two sets of loudspeaker terminals, one for 4 and one for 8 Ohm. There are also switches that allow for a ground break, as well as initiate the adjustment of the bias current. Of course we have there also the input terminals in XLR and RCA version. I think, that the significant weight of the amplifier is already obvious. This we need to take into account thinking about the placement of those units at home. The final, yet very important detail, is the placement of the main power switches on the bottom of the unit, near the left front foot.
The tested amplifier set is, if you consider the opinions of orthodox tube amp lovers, the most noble version of such set, as it works in class A and SE setting. Knowing this, there is one thing, you must consider when using those amplifier, namely to have some efficient, easy to drive loudspeakers at your disposal. Fortunately my Austrian cabinets (Trenner & Friedl Isis) are dedicated to amplifiers like the Ayon, so we dismissed this problem from the equation, as there should be synergy between the electronics and the speakers. Theoretically I should now be able to start describing my impressions, but after having played some discs and switched over a few times to my reference system, I noticed some things not working along my sound esthetics. What am I talking about? Let me explain. Like I mentioned before, the distributor provided a complete set of cabling with the electronics. Everything seemed fine, but knowing my system, especially my loudspeakers, all the time I felt some shortcomings in the area of midrange/bass turnover. This was not a big issue, a nuance at most, but knowing I have a class A Single Ended amp at home, it should be better. So how did I managed that? Very simple, I exchanged the signal Siltech for the Hijiri and immediately the sound got the signature I wanted, and I finally could start to inhale what the Austrian tubes installed in the Crossfire Evo can deliver.
Trying to put some general insight into the three weeks of playing around with the Ayon cannot go around a few very interesting points for considering by the potential buyers. First of all, the Evo sounds very pleasant, at first contact somewhat dark sound, but in fact, after looking into it a bit longer, very airy sound. There is no trying to put emphasis on timbre and mass of the sound. It is just that the virtual stage is presented against an absolutely fantastic, black background. We get the full spectrum of sound with good weight and resolution, what transfers into tight bass and dense midrange, at least for as far as it is possible with a 30 Watt A class SET. Interestingly, with such approach, when I used the cabling provided by Nautilus, I thought, the treble allows itself a bit more than my solid state amp, and I would expect something like that. It turned out this was just the result of the good resolution of the midrange, and not underlining of the treble per se. And this presentation of the treble was what made me change the cables, as I think that many people would leave the Dutch cables in their systems. For me, however, those cables were too eager to present their point of view on the music. Another fantastic point for the tested Crossfire Evo is the way it presents the sound stage. Showing its real dimensions, together with the building up of the 3D spectacle, are the confirmation of belonging to the elite. I know, that everyone has those sound attributes at home, but knowing the brute audiophile life, I recommend against checking the capabilities of the tested power amplifiers, as after that, that what you have may no longer be acceptable. The third theme, combining the positive aspects of the tube dragons into one, is the adding of the vividness to the sound, which can only be done by a turntable, a reel-to-reel tape deck or a tube amplifier. So when we look at the positive aspects of the tested duo, then it could look, as if we have an absolute here. And you know what? Taking into account of what I heard, it was almost like that. But almost does not mean, that the absolute was complete. So what shortcomings would I mention? Unfortunately, despite claims made by some audio owners, there are no universal items. The fight for most truthful reproduction of beauty in music, emphasizing the composure of the sound, almost always results in not being able to reproduce the heavier part of the genres. If you do not agree with me, then you can just switch off your computer, and I will not blame you, and you will have more time for yourself. But if you think I am right, then please read on. Before I will defend my views, I want to show you, that those are issues I forced to appear, as those are possible only when you cross the borders of the abilities of a given product, something a potential music lover surely will not do. Having explained why I am nitpicking, I will say, that most of the music I listened to, during the test, turned out fantastic. Was it baroque music, with its instruments, which love the smoothness, timbre and the spark in the highest parts of the spectrum, as well as the multitude of sustain, or a jazz trio, or even a bigger free-jazz formations, everything sounded in such a way, that only silence at the end of the played disc made me stand up from my listening chair. Music presented this way, although different to what I have on a daily basis, seemed devoted from any flaws. This was a meeting that does not happen often. I will not make a list of components I listened to, that had the same influence on me, but the Ayon easily joined the best. And it does not matter, that a similar perception was sometimes created by solid state devices, what is important, is the Ayon being part of the described stream. Here a small counterpoint. The world around us is not a fairytale, and while in one aspect we can be on top, in some others it might be worse. I am not sure, if this what I will describe now, was the flaw of the Austrian set, although 30 Watts has its limits, and my loudspeakers, while being easy to drive, are not the summit of efficiency. They have only 90, and not 95 or 100 dB. But enough of this description. You are all aware, that rock requires power. And it was with similar climates, like metal, folk-metal or old hard-rock of AC/DC that I felt, that my 200 Watt strong solid state Reimyo power amp did better. There was not this homogenous tube sound, but the drive, the reproduction of rhythm, or the speed of attack showed, that either we need to have easier loudspeakers connected to the EVO, or we should not listen to this kind of music. I defined my priorities long ago, and I am a follower of calmer music, and I assure you, that if I would be in for tubes, then the product from Gerhard Hirt would fully fulfill my expectations. But trying to be as conscientious as possible, I must try out also the genres that may make me lose my hearing, and those showed, that in this setup, the atmosphere of a rock concert might not be reproduced completely, in terms of volume, energy of the drums and the wall of sound created by the guitars. But I will repeat, this is an extreme, and for such kind of music, you do not look for refined tube amplification, but rather a monstrous solid state amplifier. Point.
Placing the tested monoblocks against the Japanese amp, and having somewhere in memory, that the Ayon sometimes sounds bright, despite having loads of tubes on the back, I feared a bit, that what I could achieve with the densely sounding solid state, would not be feasible with the Austrian. Well, in some aspects I was right (the madness of musical rebellions), but taking into account the repertoire I like, baroque and jazz, then the two different schools of making audio gear provided similar results. Of course, a tube is a tube, but regardless if the amplifier was using tubes or transistors, many aspects of the High End remained the same. But whatever I would write, if you are focused to have some glass tubes in your audio path, and would like to hear their charm on the highest level possible, then the tested dual mono amplifier from Ayon, the Crossfire EVO, should be the first step in your path. If you leave them out from your listening list, you will loose a lot. They are really worth learning to know them.
Among the vast number of brands available on the market, there is one, which despite good opinions, many years of being on the market and being very recognizable, still provokes an allergic reaction among some audiophiles. This not the time and place to try and find out, who did something to whom, but it is a fact, that each time when this brand appears in reviews, or even show reports – any mention of Ayon creates a wave of not very elaborate hate. Leaving the embarrassing fact aside, that most of the people suffering from Ayonfobia only saw the tested devices on pictures, and they never listened to them plugged in their own systems, or at least in places known to them, and it is clear, that those people are right, while all the others, who admit, they like the tubed technology wonders and would like to own them, must be deaf, insane and are cheated. Looking at this from a broader perspective, it is clear, that it is absolutely local, limited only to our country, and when I looked at different European and American forums and audio portals, I never encountered anything similar. Most probably the Western civilizations approach our hobby with some more distance, that our local “messiahs”. This hobby should be relaxing, and instead of black PR, Western people prefer to share their own experiences or be happy with the happiness of others.
We have a similar approach, and while the Krakow-Warsaw Nautilus always serves us with tasteful, audiophile chunks, it would be an indelicacy to say no to that, and not test them, just because someone’s keyboard will become red hot and another stream of calumny will flow into internet. This is the reason, that after the Ayon Conquistador / Ayon Vulcan Evo, which accompanied the loudspeakers Lumen White White Light Anniversary, time came to explore the Austrian specialties further. Fearing, that some of the softer readers could enter into some fearful-depressive state, we did not reach for the top of the catalog and test the Titan Evo, but instead of those, we decided to tackle the smaller Crossfire Evo monoblocks. This allowed us to have only 80 kg to carry around, instead of 130, what our backs welcomed, and we only narrowly went over the psychological threshold of 1 00 000 zlotys.
However those, who would think that the tested Ayon would have modest design and size, would be really mistaken. I am very sorry, but they would be really disappointed. First of all, the quality and solidity of manufacturing, as usual with products signed by Gerhard Hirt, do not leave any space for discontent, especially as unification of the product lines is the unmistakable proof, that you can make an armored chassis a recognizable element of the brand. The rounded edges and chassis made from centimeter thick aluminum slabs, brushed and anodized black, house rounded covers for the transformers at the back, while in the front you can find the vacuum tubes. Talking about the latter, it is worth mentioning, that we have the rectifying tubes 5U4G in the power supply, control stage 6SJ7 hidden in metal coats and finally, in the output stage, the AA82B, an Ayon design, manufactured by the Czech Tesla. Attention is also drawn by the fact, that the control stage was redesigned for the amplifiers, and besides the sound path being significantly shortened, to increase its efficiency, a directly heated triode is now its main item – the AA20B (DHT).
Standard details for the Austrian amplifiers are the company logo in the front, of course lit from the back, and the VU meter on top, used to adjust bias for the output tubes.
The back plate also does not leave us disappointed. We have at our disposal high quality loudspeaker terminals WBT NextGen with separate connections for 4 and 8 Ohm, line inputs in RCA (WBT NextGen) and XLR standards, bias and ground switches, an informational display and a power socket integrated with a fuse. The main power switch is hidden on the bottom, near the front left foot. Additionally it is worth mentioning, that assuring the longevity of the tubes, there is an automatic soft-start circuitry, which tests and slowly powers all the tubes within 60 seconds from power on.
As you will need to provide proper ventilation, I will just mention, that the Crossfire has a depth, which will be troublesome with standard audio racks. So if you are thinking about the Austrian amplifiers, you should have special racks in place, with at least 60 centimeter of depth.
Despite the small, at least theoretically and on paper (30-35 Watts) of the tested amplifiers, I decided to leave aside the conventions and non-essential hors d’euvres and go straight for the main dish. So in the player I placed the compilation “The Ozzman Commeth–The Best of Ozzy Osbourne” Ozzy Osbourne, which surprised me from the first notes not only with unusual fleshiness and truly caramel timbre, but also with the volume of the sound typical for big power amplifiers. Additionally, together with the power, went masterful control and lack of resolution loss even at concert volume levels. You cannot listen to Ozzy at low sound levels, so also this time, taking advantage from the fact that there are no neighbors around, and so there were no limits to the amount of decibels I could release into the air. So I did batter with great satisfaction. Leaving aside the fact the compilation has absolutely no chance of becoming an audiophile classic, it could carry the listeners easily. The legs started moving to rhythm on their own, and the balding head started to reminiscent days, when it was covered with a plentitude of hair. This was a classy, rock sound with appropriate swing and uncompromised energy, which was very close to the esthetics offered by the menstrual Octave Jubilee. Of course there was still some distance to the German “high towers”, but the association of the Ayon with the top Octave is for sure an ennoblement for the first.
Remaining in the typical rock esthetics, but enriching it with the feminine factor, I took the soundtrack “Songs of Anarchy, Vol. 4” where, amongst others Katey Sagal sings. The presence of the beautiful gender turned my attention to the beautiful timbre, slightly enlarged vocals and the first plane being presented a bit to the front, but without exceptional Gigantomania and impudence. It was rather about making the sound more attractive and not faked. I could also not find any signs of darkening and some viscosity of the sound, which is sometimes mistakenly with tube technology, although Ayon, from its beginnings, did not fall into too much of caramel. I am mentioning that not only from the obvious – reviewers point of view, but also due to a kind of stereotype mentioned during some audiophile meetings, that the Austrian electronics would sound too analytical, or even clinical and “solid state” in the negative aspect of this description. But there is absolutely no truth in that, and those statements can be regarded as fairy tales. The reality is dramatically different. This is masterful musicality based, on one hand, on the very noble presented resolution, while on the other, on very suggestive dynamics. The gradation of planes, air on the stage and holographic precision of the positioning of virtual sources were typical for top SET constructions, while the mentioned dynamics, both in micro and macro scale, declassed all conventional solutions, based on 2A3 and 300B tubes.
But please do not worry, that the Crossfire Evo is an untamed beast, able to dominate and subdue all recordings making a Rammstein concert out of them.
It was enough to reach for “Afro Bossa” Duke Ellington (& His Orchestra) or “Wallflower (The Complete Sessions)” Diana Krall, to allow being smoothened by Latin rhythms and lazy melodies of jazz standards. The two examples above allowed to tick off another point in the reviewer’s table – the ability of the tested electronics to discern and show differences of esthetical-recording nature of those pieces. There is, or at least there should not be, any doubt, that the “Afro Bossa” from 1963 was recorded in completely different technical reality than the “Wallflower” from 2014/2015, but I know that there is electronics, or loudspeakers, which imprint such own impression in the final sound of the system, in which they are placed, that the characteristics of the played material are suppressed, or in extreme cases, completely removed. Fortunately this time nothing like that happened, so we could enjoy the nuances present in the recordings done about half a century apart, and decide for ourselves, if the direction taken in the recording studios is the right one, and if the currently used, almost cosmic technology, helps or rather makes the contact between the artist and the public more difficult. Please do not get me wrong – I have nothing against Diana Krall, and I like her music very much, but compared with Ellington, the Canadian comes over a bit artificial, as if even the smallest detail needed to be polished, and the spontaneity and interactions between musicians were lost along the way. Everything is seemingly perfect, but with Ellington you can have a more natural feeling.
For the end I left the answer to the question, nurturing not only me, but also some of the owners of the integrated Crossfires, if, and if yes, how much better do the monoblocks sound. Well… Trying to keep a balanced tone of my writing, and trying not to fall into too much euphoria, I am inclined to say, that the mono Crossfire Evo are separated from the Crossfire 3 by an abyss, proportional to the difference in price. Gerhard Hirt told the truth, during his visit in Krakow, that the Cross 3 is the maximum he can get from this integrated platform. This is the reason, that additional increase in quality is possible only going over to separated versions, what is confirmed by the current test. You can try a workaround in the form of the stereo power amplifier Crossfire PA and the preamplifier Auris or Polaris, but going that way, we should think for a moment, how long we will be happy from the changes made, and after what time, we start to pester ourselves, if it would not be better to go for the audiophile finishing-line. But there is no doubt, if we already own a high quality preamplifier, or an equally refined sound source with regulated output stage, the Cross PA seems to be a very good proposal, what we learned while testing the Spirit and Spirit PA.
Presenting the monoblocks Crossfire Evo, Gerhard Hirt confirms another time, that the Ayon did not say his last word in terms of dynamics and resolution possible to achieve in the seemingly minimalist SET configuration, and the usage of the 82B triode controlled by 20B turned out to be bulls-eye. If somewhere in the edges of your audiophile soul there is a fire of desire for a classic, triode SET, and at the same time you are addicted to dynamics, typical for big symphonics and heavy rock, then you should give the tested monoblocks a listen. The Crossfire Evo combine those two elements making us achieve something seeming unreachable – eat a cake and still have a cake. Impossible? If you think so, then please listen to the Ayon, preferably in combination with a classy preamplifier of the class of the Spheris, which we received from the distributor to amend the test of the power amplifiers.
Class of Operation: SE- Triode, pure Class-A
Tube Complement: AA62B or AA82B
Load Impedance: 4 & 8 Ω
Negative Feedback: 0dB
Bandwidth: 10Hz – 60kHz
Output Power: 30W or 35 Watt
Input Impedance: 47 KΩ
Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 50 kHz
S/N ratio: 92 dB
Input sensitivity (full power): 600mV
Input: RCA & XLR
Dimensions (WxDxH): 32x60x25 cm
Weight per unit: 40kg
System used in this test:
– CD: ReimyoCDT – 777 + ReimyoDAP – 999 EX Limited
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL “ISIS”
– Loudspeakers: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, Harmonix SLC, Harmonix Exquisite EXQ
– IC RCA: 聖HIJIRI HGP-RCA “Million”
– IC XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro, Furutech NanoFlux – NCF, Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA