April / May 2009
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Ayon Audio Triton Integrated Tube Amplifier
The Triton most certainly knows how to sing in my system.
Review By Ron Nagle
Ayon Audio Triton Integrated Tube Amplifier Love at first sight that may be right but what a sight to see. Domes mirrored with chrome on a satin black base and glass glowing a warm red. Even sitting idle on a side table I was drawn by the Triton. Insinuated by sleek lines and shear mass there was a powerful promise and a no nonsense aura about it. By my measure it was just plain sexy as anything audio could be. Clearly it was a case of lust, at the very least it would take another audiophile to understand my reaction. Most certainly it’s all about music but we must ask has Ayon Audio combined the visual and the aural esthetic into a single harmonious whole?
Ayon Audio USA of Scottsdale Arizona is the distributor for Ayon Audio in North America the Ayon Company is located in Gratkorn Austria. This company produces a full line of audio components and speakers. So you could build a very nice high-end audio system ranging from a source component to speakers with all of it made by Ayon Audio.
The Triton is the Ayon Company’s 97 lbs top-of-the-line integrated amplifier. There are many very high quality internal components like dual chokes and Teflon wiring used in the circuits. In this segment I can mention only a few significant features of this hand made amplifier these probably would influence the way it sounds. A detailed list will be included at the end of this report. The question must be does all this voice a fine musical instrument? That is the overriding question we must answer.
The Triton is a Class A integrated stereo amplifier switchable between Pentode and Triode operation and it is capable of producing either 125 or 80 watts per channel respectively. Volume levels and the mute function are controllable via a hand held remote control. The tube compliment consists of eight KT88 power pentodes and six 12AU7 dual triode driver tubes. All of the tubes are premium quality hand selected and matched. All the tube boxes are clearly marked as to their positions on the amplifier. The KT88 pentodes are labeled Genalex Gold Lion made in Russia obviously copies of the famous British Gold Lion tubes the 12AU7 dual triodes are labeled TAD Selected. On line I found one retailer selling a matched pair of these KT88 tubes for $100. The Operators Guide cautions you not to touch any of the tubes with bare hands and to use gloves or a clean cloth when installing the tubes. (That’s just plain common sense).
There are four round chrome plated transformer enclosures. All four transformers have been potted for stability and noise free operation. Two of them are the left and right channel output transformers. Directly in the center between these two is the circuits High Voltage power transformer and just in front of that is the Filament Transformer. The front panel has a Volume Control knob on the left side and in the center there is an eye catching red illuminated AYON logo. A five-position Source Selection knob is on the right side of the front panel. The source positions are simply marked as Inputs 1 thru 4 the last clockwise position is labeled direct. This last direct function is a feature that allows you to connect a preamplifier to the Triton and use it as a Stereo Power amplifier. The top surface of the chassis has two black knobs that allow you to switch the left and right channels between the two modes, Pentode and Triode. Caution: Never actuate these switches with the amplifier turned on.
Now we get to the business end of this amplifier, the back panel. Looking at the center back of the amplifier there are six large gold plated speaker terminals three per channel labeled 8 Ohms, 4 Ohms and Ground. On the left side arranged in horizontal parallel rows are the 12 left and right channel unbalanced RCA input connections. From left to right they are labeled Line-1 thru Line-4 the last two positions are labeled Pre out and Direct In. As I said the Direct In is an option that allows you to use the Triton as a Stereo Power Amplifier and the Direct Out can be used for a separate Sub-Woofer hook up. To the right of the speaker terminals are 8 trim pots used to adjust the Output tubes bias, that’s one trim pot for each KT88 tube. Just to the right of these are 8 test points labeled TP 1 thru 8. There are four things remaining on the right side, a small on/off switch and just below that is an IEC power cord receptacle. At the extreme right is a red Phase indication lamp and below that a Ground lift toggle switch. Now the Operating Manual tell us these last two things are for use in a foreign market. I had to make a phone call to find out that the toggle switch position points down for use in the United States
Amplifier Set Up
Wow! This was one large and heavy 121 lbs triple walled cardboard box to peel open. When you cut your way down to the last box and remove the slabs of plastic foam packing you will see a red velvet cloth bag with a drawstring. Inside that there are four smaller red velvet Fez like covers over the four chrome transformers. Several aspects of this amplifier mandates that it should be accessible from all sides not the least of these is provide proper ventilation. The power on/off switch is located on the rear of the chassis as are the test points and tube bias trim pots. In addition to that the dimensions and weight of the Triton made placement on my equipment rack highly impractical. With some help I placed the Triton on a small sturdy wooden table between my speakers. The Operators Manual cautions the user not to turn on the amplifier before the speaker cables and inputs are connected and this is advice worth repeating. Why? With no speakers connected resistance seen at the amplifier output is infinite and no amplifier can drive that kind of a load without a risk of possible damage to the amplifier.
With all connections made you should be ready to apply power but first double check to make sure all the bias trim pots are turned down, fully counter clockwise. When you actuate the rear power switch the Ayon logo on the front panel lights up and after a 40 second warm up a power on relay closes. With a digital voltmeter connected between a common speaker terminal and the Test Points-1 thru 8 you then proceed to adjust each of the corresponding trim pots close to the listed 430mv bias specification. After approximately one hour playing some type of music recheck the bias settings of all the tubes. You should expect these initial settings to change, some will increase and others will decrease. After the tubes settled in I ran the bias for all the tubes at a conservative 400mv. There is a fairly wide variation allowable between tubes roughly 15mv higher or lower than the target set point. The main thing is to try to keep all the tubes at about the same bias setting. Within these limits there should be no detectable change in performance so there is no reason for you to go tweak crazy.
As Winnie The Pooh might say, “O Bother!” I ran into a problem straight off. Just out of curiosity I connected my Audio Research SP9 MK3 preamplifier to the Direct In connection of the Triton and there was barely a whisper of sound coming out of my speakers. Could it be that there was an impedance mismatch? At any rate these two high tech beauties didn’t want to talk to each other. This is the first time I have ever had this problem and I have had a lot of amplifiers pass through my system. However the Audio Research preamplifier worked normally when connected to any of the other four Line Level Inputs of the Triton. Actually I achieved some very nice sounds with the Audio Research set up but obviously this review must be confined to the Triton amplifier. If you just asked why? It is because you probably would use a different preamplifier and get different results.
As you might expect the sound of the Triton slowly improved over time and at about 30 hours I began to do some serious listening. For purposes of this evaluation all sources went directly into the Line inputs. My sources are two CD players and my digital tuner. They are the Marantz DVD 8400 Universal CD player, Cambridge Audio Discmagic-1 CD transport, Cambridge S-700 Isomagic HDCD D/A Converter fed into ART Audio DI/O Tube D/A and A/D processor Up sampling output to 48/96, Magnum Dynalab FT101a tuner and Dynalab Signal Sleuth. I used three different pairs of speakers to find the essential qualities that form the Triton sound. I steadfastly stuck to only two of my reference CDs, Basia, Time and Tide and Roy Orbison (live) and Black and White Night. First up was a pair of $10,000 two-way Talon Hawk speakers. Listening to both recordings in Pentode mode I thought the sound was smooth clean and articulate with a flat response but focused primarily on the midrange. I then removed the Hawks speakers grill cloth for all my subsequent listening with these speakers. Farther along in this trial the top end of the Triton/Hawk combination opened up more and the soundstage became more dimensional. The answer of course is that the amplifier needs more than 30 hours to burn in and clear its throat. Switching the Triton into Triode mode the whole soundscape and each and every individual element within that space opened up and gained an airy dimensionality. There was an infusion of greater harmonic detailing and subtle overtones accompanied by a more resonant bass. Now voices and instruments were clearly separate elements surrounded in their own sound space. The whole performance was filled with more natural warmth. Clearly this Class A Triode mode would be my choice for long term listening. It sounds more like life and is easier to relate to. Additionally I wired up my floor standing four way AV123 Strata Mini speakers. These are great speakers but they have a built in 350 watt subwoofer so the bass response is not strictly relevant to our review component and this inquiry.
Ayon Audio Triton Integrated Tube AmplifierTo answer any doubts as to what I heard I swapped out the Hawks for a pair of two way Aurum Cantus SE2 speakers ($1600) placed on the same 24-inch high stands. The SE2 speakers are one of my references because they have a 70mm ribbon tweeter that is specified flat out to 40 kHz, plus I switched back to pentode operation with the SE2 in the system. The Triton exhibited better treble extension then when they powered the Hawks and I would judge the bass to be more articulate in the sense that it starts and stops faster. Moving forward with the Aurum Cantus SE2 speakers still in the system but now we switch the Triton amplifier into Triode operation. Once again it’s basically the same overall improvement with an increase of natural harmonic resonance and a more convincing portrayal of live music. Down at the low end the bass is a not as transient fast but I like the full resonant body it gives the performance. Once again the sound stage opens up it is wider but maybe a little less deep.
At this point I am slightly off balance because what I expected to happen didn’t.
Let me tell you about a very specific small slice of music from my Roy Orbison CD [Orbison Records 82876 78150 2] on track 2 titled Dream Baby. This is a very good example of what I have been trying to convey. On this cut as Roy sings the lyrics Bruce Springsteen sings along with him occasionally leaning over Roy’s left shoulder. The surprising thing for me is I can better separate and pick out Bruce’s voice from Roy’s when the Triton is running in Triode mode. This detailing is a really great example of the expansion of space around individual elements in the performance. My past experience with other amplifiers that could be switched in and out of triode and pentode operation is exactly the opposite of what I am hearing as I listen to the Triton. Typically pentode operation provides more power and is more detailed and dynamic and extended at the frequency extremes this is also true of the Triton. Whereas typical Triode operation is far warmer sounding less detailed and most of what you hear is contained in the midrange that is not what the Triton sounds like! The Triton does something very different and it is hard to describe. Let me try to rephrase and clarify: The triode mode opens the space around each and every element in the performance still it does not truncate the soundstage as I am accustomed to hearing with other triode amplifiers. Also it does not mire the sound in molasses it retains very decent and descriptive transient dynamics. The analogy I could use to describe this characteristic would be like a softer expansive flood lighting effect as opposed to a spotlight.
Let me add that various methods of feedback along with different classes of operation and of course differing types of output tubes these by themselves or in combination could account for this counter intuitive paradigm altering result. It is reminder to me nothing is trivial and that superior amplifier design is truly a complex multi faceted art form.
If I summarize my findings the first hurdle I need to overcome is the $8,450 price tag. To do that you need to take a broad view of what is comparable in today’s high-end market for a high power 125 watt Class A tube amplifier. And so even I am a bit surprised to find that at this level of construction and performance the price is quite reasonable.
If you get down to individual component parts it looks to me that everything from the hand assembled Teflon wiring to the selection of individual plastic film capacitors is not limited by cost considerations. Yes I prefer one mode of operation to the other. But that does not mean that there is anything wrong with the sound of the pentode mode. 125 watts of Class A power is nothing to sneeze at. Important to remember is that the increased transient speed and articulation of pentode operation is exactly what you might require in a system that lacks adequate definition. Most certainly you will need that kind of horsepower to drive many of the inefficient speakers sold in the high-end market place. There was one last minute experiment to tell you about. I hooked up a cheap subwoofer to the Triton output and that little rumble box sounded better than ever. It did in fact enhance the sound of my two-way speakers. Remember flexible options good no options bad. Again let me express my surprise and delight at the way music is reproduced as piped through 80 watts of Triton triode power. The Triton most certainly knows how to sing in my system I am enjoying myself immensely. It finds the extremely elusive musical middle ground between solid-state speed and the lush glow of single ended triodes it does not sacrifice one to get to the other. Congratulations Ayon Audio, this is a very fine piece of work, far more than just a pretty face. Let me end by saying I want the amplifier the only thing standing between me and the Triton is money. Semper Hi-Fi
Sanders ESL Power Amplifier, Prima Luna 2 Integrated Ultralinear tube amplifier, Ayon Audio Triton Amplifier, Audio Research SP9 MK3 Preamplifier, Marantz DV 8400 Universal CD player, Cambridge Audio Discmagic-1 CD transport, Cambridge S-700 Isomagic HDCD D/A Converter fed into ART Audio DI/O Tube D/A and A/D processor Up sampling output to 48/96, Magnum Dynalab FT101a tuner and Dynalab Signal Sleuth.
Talon Hawk speakers, Onix Rocket Strata Mini 4-way speakers by AV123, Aurum Cantus SE2
Three-meter Kimber Cable 12TC, 3 meter RCA, 3 meter, Wire World Eclipse-2, RCA, 1-meter Chord Silver Siren, 1-meter and Wire World 10 gauge IEC power cord, Audiobhan 0.5-meter unbalanced digital
Richard Gray 20 ampere Substation, Islatrol Industrial 20A ac line conditioner, Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Audio Power PE-1 power enhancer, Triad 2A isolation transformer
VPI Magic bricks, Argent Room Lens system, Room Tunes Panels, a comfortable chair.
Type: Vacuum tube integrated amplifier
Frequency Response: 8Hz – 70kHz
Operation: Class A Operation Triode or Pentode mode
Tube Complement: Eight KT88 and six 12AU7
Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 60 kHz ( -2.5dB)
Inputs: Four stereo pairs via RCA plus one stereo pair direct input
Output: One stereo pair
Loudspeaker Output Impedance: 4 and 8 Ohms
Output Power In Pentode: 125 wpc, two channels
Output Power Triode: 80 wpc, two channels
Input Impedance: 100 kOhm at 1 kHz
Input sensitivity: 260mV ( full power )
SNR At Full Output: 98dB
Negative Feedback: 0dB
Remote Control: Yes
Dimensions: 50 x 40 x 25 (WxDxH in cm)
Weight: 100 lbs
Review Sample Serial Number: 0456
Ayon Audio U.S.A.
8390 East Via De Ventura – F110-194
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Voice: (888) 593-8477 and (310) 601-79766