HiFi Stmt logo

Ayon Spheris III

13.10.2014 // JÜRGEN SAILE

What happens when a company like Ayon Audio once pulls out all stops and leaves the technicians off the leash? Sends the controller together with red pencil on vacation? This is what happened with the new Spheris III precursor. At least it seems. But I will do the devil and betray everything immediately.

Externally, the Spheris III differs little from its predecessor
Externally, the Spheris III differs little from its predecessor

We have two full-size devices in front of us, one containing the power supply, the other the actual pre-amp. Together smooth 43 kilograms and a width of 50 centimeters, which must be accommodated in the rack. This is not an enchanted amplifier, but a Linestufe! The cases have the typical Ayon shape, black anodized with rounded corners and chrome-plated knobs. In addition to volume and input selection, there is also a balance controller, almost a rarity nowadays!

As the name suggests, this is the third incarnation. But before it becomes philosophical and curiosity outweighs, let’s just listen to the device. Quick and dirty, so to speak. I also have Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan’s Carnegiehall Concertselected. Westcoast Jazz of the 50s at its best! However, here in a somewhat stripped-up cast with guitar, vibes and piano. Unusual, because a piano would only dilute the sound, Mulligan once said. Not to mention a guitar. The soft, lyrical tone of Baker’s trumpet – at that time he still had all his teeth – on the Spheris III, “My funny Valentine” is pure goosebumps music. Unless you are a goose. Only trumpet and bass, as lost in the comparatively huge Carnegie ball, the audience is quiet. Great, how this probably unique mood over the Ayon comes over. If that’s not a good start, or thought differently: Actually, I did not expect anything else. It must be said that the device only has a half-day warm-up on its back and you should actually write anything at this stage. But the curiosity just …

In addition to RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, the Spheris III also offers a tape output for the audiobook friends among us. Has rarity value nowadays!
In addition to RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, the Spheris III also offers a tape output for the audiobook friends among us. Has rarity value nowadays!

Usually, the tube precursors for reinforcement use European types of the ECC … family. This is a cost-effective solution, especially as here are mostly used products from China or elsewhere. Of course that was out of the question for Ayon, so they decided on a “German authority tube” from the 50s. It uses a NOS C3m Pentode, which was designed by Siemens and Lorenz for the telecommunications industry and was manufactured exclusively for Deutsche Post. If you look at a price list from the year 1992, this hit with 274 marks to book, so was intended more for professional purposes. Incidentally, the tubes are individually numbered, recognizable by the yellow band. This pentode – here switched as triode – was used by Ayon already in the predecessor models and has proven itself outstanding. One of its features is its high reliability and durability. It was used among other things for reinforcement in relay stations for deep sea underwater cables and there would have been a malfunction in 4000m depth not so well. The demands on such a tube were therefore: high gain, no noise, no distortion, long life and small size. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. Everything together no cardboard stem! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you hear two hours of music every day, then the pleasure lasts 13 years. It was used among other things for reinforcement in relay stations for deep sea underwater cables and there would have been a malfunction in 4000m depth not so well. The demands on such a tube were therefore: high gain, no noise, no distortion, long life and small size. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. Everything together no cardboard stem! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you hear two hours of music every day, then the pleasure lasts 13 years. It was used among other things for reinforcement in relay stations for deep sea underwater cables and there would have been a malfunction in 4000m depth not so well. The demands on such a tube were therefore: high gain, no noise, no distortion, long life and small size. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. Everything together no cardboard stem! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you hear two hours of music every day, then the pleasure lasts 13 years. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. Everything together no cardboard stem! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you hear two hours of music every day, then the pleasure lasts 13 years. Unusually, the high heating voltage of 20 volts. Everything together no cardboard stem! Siemens had guaranteed at least 10,000 operating hours for this tube. So if you hear two hours of music every day, then the pleasure lasts 13 years.

The C3m tubes were only available with metal case, if you would remove this, a normal glass tube would come to light. However, they have nothing to do with "Volume Transformer Control"
The C3m tubes were only available with metal case, if you would remove this, a normal glass tube would come to light. However, they have nothing to do with “Volume Transformer Control”Another feature of the C3m is the high microphonic sensitivity. However, not much is noticeable in the Spheris III, obviously, the housing is so massive that hardly penetrate vibrations to the tube. Gerd Hirt says about this topic: There is a trick there. But he did not want to reveal more. Stupidly not to see suspicious in the device. The tubes are installed horizontally, which is not a problem with indirectly heated tubes. On display are four C3m tubes, the precursor is thus fully symmetrical and equipped with the necessary four amplifier trains. The XLR inputs are therefore not – as it is usually seen in the professional field – disbalanced via transformers. The RCA inputs are of course nothing directly Here the signal is balanced via Lundahl transformers, so that there is no unbalanced signal in the amplifier. The tubes have a metal housing around the actual glass body, so that the tube lovers can see no light filaments. The indirect, red lighting of the three switches ensures a little pipe feeling. Apart from the fact that the tubes would not be visible in a closed housing anyway.

If you now lift the lid, you finally get to see something else than is usually used otherwise. Self-made tube sockets with copper / beryllium contacts, switches from the Swiss manufacturer ELMA, tantalum precision resistors with 0.5 percent, Rifa Elkos, the PCB boards are provided with gold-plated tracks to prevent oxidation of the tracks over the years. Add chokes and transformers from Lundahl, Mundorf Supreme Siber / Gold capacitors; on high-quality components was not saved. But even more interesting is the volume control, Ayon relies here on an inductive solution, that is regulation via autotransformers with various secondary grab, in this case 42! The volume control acts as a transmitter and selects the desired output via a bank of relays – and thus the volume. When the unit is turned on again, it will periodically start at -42dB attenuation, so it will not remember the last selected volume. After the controller for the 42 positions “twisted”, ie more than one turn needed, the gag always points in a different direction. So you have to be based on the digital display. Or you stick to the manual (sic!) And regulates the volume before switching off to minimum. the gag always points in a different direction. So you have to be based on the digital display. Or you stick to the manual (sic!) And regulates the volume before switching off to minimum. the gag always points in a different direction. So you have to be based on the digital display. Or you stick to the manual (sic!) And regulates the volume before switching off to minimum.

The batteries of gas-filled relays do not switch any resistors here, but the secondary windings of the autoformers. Due to the symmetrical circuit four autoformers are needed
The batteries of gas-filled relays do not switch any resistors here, but the secondary windings of the autoformers. Due to the symmetrical circuit four autoformers are needed.

From the solution on mechanical switches and a motor drive with gear you have strayed again. Meanwhile, the transformer is placed in the output, so the output impedance changes a little depending on the volume. However, no tonal differences were heard here. In this principle, the “excess” signal is not derived via ground, as in a resistor network, but transformed down more or less lossless. This elaborate and costly solution can be found occasionally in high-quality devices such as those of Thomas Mayer or the Greek Ypsilon PST 100. Ayon makes this autoformer itself by the way.

The Lundahl transformers are among the best the market has to offer. The LL1570 is used to balance the signals on the RCA jacks.
The Lundahl transformers are among the best the market has to offer. The LL1570 is used to balance the signals on the RCA jacks.

Another practical feature is the fact that with the universal remote control of the CDT drive, the volume of the Spheris III is adjustable. Wink with the fence post? Of course, it is not enough to buy the most expensive components together and then put them together in any available circuit. That’s when I knew someone. No, somewhere the Ayon people have to have a technician who knows where to go. Who that is knows, except Ayon only the NSA. Gerhard Hirt was only to learn that it is a duo that has been taking care of the development of the Polaris and Spheris stages for 20 years.

Another, very practical feature you can see inside, here there are four switches (the amplifier is indeed symmetrical), with which the gain can be set to 0, -3 and -6 decibels. This is to prevent overdriving the input of DA converters with a very high output voltage (over three volts). However, you should only play around with the device off. The C3m are capacitor-coupled, here the Mundorf Supreme silver / gold capacitors are used. Incidentally, these are the only capacitors in the signal path.

On the back you will find a groundlift switch, which serves to turn off any ground loops. Signal ground and ground wire ground can be separated. However, the two positions usually do not sound the same, so you should definitely try which suits best. Unless you have a problem with a ground loop.

The AC Regenerator takes up almost half of the housing. In addition to the tube rectification, there is also a block rectifier for more profane tasks
The AC Regenerator takes up almost half of the housing. In addition to the tube rectification, there is also a block rectifier for more profane tasks.

Very high effort – and here much more than in the previous models – operates Ayon in the power supply. Because eie is one of the sound-critical assemblies in any active hi-fi device. After the crap, which comes to us more and more on the power line in the house, in the conventional way and lossless hardly filter out, there are really only two solutions: either a supply of batteries, which also has their pitfalls, or a complete regeneration of the mains voltage. The latter way Ayon has gone in his top model. The front of the power supply is emblazoned with the number “60”, which would be half the battle for fans of the TSV 1860 Munich … um, what did I actually want to say? Oh yes, the number does not show the grid frequency – that would be 50 hertz – but the frequency that the generator itself produces. It delivers a perfect sinusoid with a frequency of 60 hertz. Without Radio Yerevan.

This relatively inconspicuous board holds one of the secrets of Spheris III, the AC Regenerator. What makes a Power Choke different from a normal choke, I can not say
This relatively inconspicuous board holds one of the secrets of Spheris III, the AC Regenerator. What makes a Power Choke different from a normal choke, I can not say

It’s a bit crazy, what you have to do today to get a clean anode voltage. From the socket comes alternating current with a frequency of 50 hertz, this is completely regenerated in the generator, now has 60 Hz, then the alternating current is transformed by a transformer to 450 volts, then rectified via a Graetz bridge and with a choke capacitor system smoothed. Ideally, the internal resistance of this system should then also be as low as possible, otherwise the dynamics will suffer. The generator can provide 300 watts of power, which should be sufficient for both Shostakovich and AC / DC.

The rectification of the anode voltage is carried out by four CV 135 miniature rectifier tubes, here connected as full wave bridge.

Sodele, let’s take a closer look. The tubes – and not only these – should have a playing time of at least 50 hours. At least. It would be better 100, because you just have to go through. Although simple pre-heating helps the tubes, the capacitors and transformers but also want to be busy, and there is only one thing helps: play music. This is not an Ayon-typical property, but applies to each tube device. However, even with a relatively unplayed device you can already hear where the journey is going to go.

After completion of this warm-up phase, it goes to the preserves. For this I first picked out a recording with the Concerto Köln. The Concerto Köln is an orchestra specializing in the historical performance practice of 18th and 19th century music. The present disc was written for the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. From this the first title, the overture to the opera The Magic Flute, Already after the first bars one wonders that only 11 musicians play here. The orchestra portrayal of the Spheris III is very spacious, our listeners across the Atlantic might call this a “large scale”. Viewed spatially, the playback is a bit wider than deep. It is very easy to hear that here the violins are arranged to the left and to the right, as was customary at the end of the 18th century. The musicians are made of flesh and blood. Nevertheless subtleties, such as the fact that a harpsichord plays along here, are not lost. That speaks for the high resolution of the preliminary stage. Also the special sound of the historical musical instruments is reproduced very naturally.

Inspired by the Autobahnmaut-Kasperltheater, we take the solo piano recording: Vignetteswith Marilyn Crispell , published on ECM. Crispell has often been compared to Cecil Taylor and is considered an advocate of modern creative jazz, but also has a strong sense of lyrical play. This recording partly has a more introverted character; everyone gets older. Nevertheless, the first piece reminds a bit of John Cage.

In this recording, the sound engineer has probably helped a bit, the grand piano sounds sometimes extremely spectacular, as if the microphones had fallen into the instrument. The room reverb also looks a bit artificial. This is not noticeable in the form of a normal chain, but is extremely clear with the Spheris III. But has nothing to do with the actual music, I know. In any case, Crispell obviously plays with open pedal on Vignette # 1, that is, the individual tones and their reverberations are constantly superimposed and are also reflected in the body of the instrument umpteen times, with all the beats and resonances. At the end of the piece, one hears the ever decreasing reverberation of the strings, which are then dampened by the pedal, shortly thereafter the recording is stopped, the whole room is suddenly gone. Impressive also the touch dynamics, whereby the wing is rendered very lifelike. You get the feeling, there he is!

Finally, as a contrast something nasty, Manu Dibango Live ’91, Dibango is a saxophonist from Cameroon, who at the time had created a new style of music by combining jazz elements with the Cameroonian dance music Makossa. Soul Makossa was his first hit in the 70s, from which even Michael Jackson later stole the chorus. In any case, Dibango had burned a fireworks display at a live concert in the Munich theater factory in 1991, which had it all. The CD was written in the same year, with the same cast, only at a different location. Unfortunately, the digital technology was not so advanced in these years, so that the CD technically is not the madness. If you would now consider the Spheris III as a human being – for example, as James Butler in “Dinner For One” – you could see him struggling to make something usable out of the existing material.

Anyway, the playback reminds me a lot of the concert back then, with all the weaknesses of the CD. In order to let this music live, macro-dynamic skills are required, which the Ayon can deliver here to an extraordinary extent. He manages to present a mediocre recording so that you still have fun.

If you think that using a historical tube sounds a bit antiquated, then I have to disappoint you. The precursor plays completely neutral, there is no preference for a frequency band. But I do not mean that everything sounds sober and cool, on the contrary! A coloration just does not exist at all. If I did not know it before, I could not say if there is a transistor or a tube working here. If you now reduce the performance of the Spheris III to any hi-fi attributes such as bass, mid-treble or spaciousness, then you can not go far with this preliminary stage. All of this can be done by others in some way as well. What the Ayon has in addition is a rendition that appeals to us and directs our concentration back to the essentials, namely the music.

In the recording Egmont by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Munich Gasteig, which was described in a previous test , the room acoustics and the reverberation with the combination Spheris III – Mayer 211 ELROG come across extremely well. The echo in this building with large occupations was one of the great problems of the Philharmonic. The strings are also played back with very many timbres and fine resolution. In this perfect form, so far only one preliminary stage in my four walls has succeeded. Do I have to mention that the pre-amp does not rustle, buzz, or otherwise mess up?

At some point, of course, the discussion comes up again, which has the right to exist such a device actually. In the age of digital technology, where many converters have control of the output voltage and the DAC can thus be connected directly to the power amplifier. Of course, low output impedance of the transducer is required. And if the precursor already “does not sound”, then we can leave them out right? However, in most cases, I’ve found that it sounds even better with a potent Linestufe, so-called Nachbrenner. The music becomes more lifelike, gets more body, more energy, looks more natural. Ultimately, depending on the quality of the precursor used. Incidentally, that’s not just my opinion; however, one loses a touch of transparency through the additional electronics in the signal path. Not if you use a caliber like the Spheris III.

The pre-amp meets all the sonic aspects that the high-end can desire: high resolution, transparent playback, tons of timbres, excellent dynamics, PRaT … Did I forget something? The Ayon brings the musicians back into the living room, so the playback is a bit more direct. I would like to emphasize one important point, that is the coherence of the reproduction. No frequency range is preferred in any way, the music is presented as a whole. If I now arrive with the famous black background, it immediately says again: hackneyed phrase! True, but if that applies anywhere, then at the Spheris! This obviously makes the expensive power supply paid. In this context, another point: playback is much less different how the grid is charged, or in other words: It does not sound much different on Sunday night than on Monday when all of their electrical appliances are up and running. The Spheris III can reproduce instruments very plastically and three-dimensionally, this I know in the form really only of amplifiers with directly heated triodes.

Finally, we put Gery Mulligan and Chet Baker on again and see what has happened after the burn-in phase: a lot! Not only hi-fi attributes such as spatiality or focus have improved significantly, but also the natural flow of music. Baker’s trumpet shows even more finesse and, above all, more expression. This is an important aspect for me, because not all Hifi-typical improvements are accompanied by an improvement of the musical expression. Also, the incredible stage presence of Baker in this piece is incredibly well over. Or to put it another way: the Spheris III manages a haunting holographic rendering.

A negative press worsens the karma of the author. One could come to this conclusion after the read; But it’s a lot easier, I just did not find anything negative. The development of the model III took a long time, many things were tried, but it was worth it!

STATEMENT

The preliminary stage makes the music, this ancient wisdom has once again confirmed. The Ayon Spheris III will be unreachable for most of us, but whoever can afford it will be indulged! Belongs to the best the market has to offer.

Leave a Comment