03-01-2017 | By Gary Lea Issue 90
The Ayon CD-3sx CD Player is a companion piece to the Ayon Triton III integrated amplifier that I reviewed. This is a full-featured Tube Top Loader CD-Player Class-A triode vacuum-tube output stage for single-ended & balanced operation,
All the superlatives that apply to any Ayon product apply to the CD3sx. It followed the Ayon formula of a stout build, impeccable fit and finish, impossible to find power switch without a sherpa guide, and immeasurable satisfaction in the use of the player.
From the marketing department of Ayon…
“The CD-3sx, is a new redesign of Ayon’s already very highly regarded CD-3s model offering. The CD-3sx is also prepared for computer playback and general DSD professional audio use. The CD-3sx is in many respects another ground-breaking CD-Player design with a new advanced technology like a new 6H30 output stage, new magnetic clamp system with separate CD-LID, new DAC, new analog volume control system and a special tube based power supply. This CD-Player is a miraculous blend of resolution, powerful dynamic contrast, 3D holographic soundstage and smooth natural, homogeneously textures. The soul of the music experienced first-hand. The CD-3sx is one of the most exciting CD-Player with vacuum-tube output stage and one of the best sounding CD-Player what Ayon Audio ever built.”
Really? That is some mighty strong boasting. Imagine that although I am rather familiar with Ayon products I might be a bit skeptical in those claims. That is my job!
Before we get to the evaluation as usual I will provide the manufacturer specifications for your enjoyment.
- Conversion rate – 192kHz / 32 bit & DSD,
- Tube complement – 6H30
- Dynamic range > 118dB
- Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB Low
- 2.5V fixed or 0 – 2.5 V rms variable
- Output level @1 kHz / 0,775V -0dB High
- 5V fixed or 0 – 5V rms variable
- Output impedance Single-Ended-RCA ~ 300 Ω
- Output impedance Balanced-XLR ~ 300 Ω
- Digital output
- 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA)
- Digital input
- 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA), USB – 24/192 kHz & DSD, I2S, AES/EBU, TosLink,
- 3 x BNC for DSD
- S/N ratio > 119 dB
- Frequency response – 20Hz – 20kHz +/- 0.3dB
- Total harmonic distortion @ 1kHz < 0.001%
- Remote control – Yes
- Output complement – RCA & XLR
- Dimension (WxDxH) cm 48x39x12 cm
- Weight – 17 kg
For more techno information you can go to the distributor website and look it up. I have to remind folks at times that I am neither an engineer, or physicist. I am a listener and end user. A lot of the scientific speak is somewhat Greek to me at times. I have always been far more interested in the results rather than the process. That is a credo I have used in running multiple successful businesses and in reviewing audio gear. So far it works…
Another stout offering from Ayon, the CD-3sx is a very robust top loading CD player/pre-amp analog domain. You can run the deck directly into an amp or amplifiers if you have no other front end source and bypass the need for a preamplifier. The unit features a volume control allowing you to start your system with an amp and the CD player or paring down a system to the basics. As a CD player in its own right the CD-3sx offers a lot of bang for the buck. At $10,500 for the unit, that means there had better be a whole lot of bang. Fortunately there is exactly that.
I kept this unit in my system with and without the Ayon Triton III integrated amplifier. It always did a superb job of delivering music in a neutral and relaxed way. Thanks in part to the tube output stage I am sure. This is a unit that can handle anything that you throw at it and simply extract the music as it was laid down and fire it right back at you in a very satisfying way. It does a better job of drawing attention to the amplification components in your system than it does in itself. That is precisely what you want from a front end component. Using the same source material as I did with the Triton review and replicating that with my normal system (see descriptions on our staff page) the difference in sound was all down to the amplification. With my normal reference system of original Jolie’s Music Envoys I noticed a bit of a deeper grunt out of the same pieces and a bit more slam. That is owing to the high power and dynamic headroom of a a pair of mono block amps utilizing 200 watts per channel from 211 tubes. A different sound to be sure but no less exciting or no better than with the Triton. Just a different presentation.
I have recently changed up my standard listening selections to accommodate more diverse musical genre.
When I sat down to do seriously focused listening I went to some newer stuff. Jack Thammarat is a up coming guitarist from Thailand. Jack is a phenomenal player and great tune writer. His compositions have a great balance between searing guitar pyrotechnics and lilting melody lines. The tune “Never Again” (direct download from iTunes) is a fine example. Jack does a great job of mixing up his picking technique between picking each note, sweep picking, finger picking and hammer on/pull off and often in the same run. Good systems will give you a smooth seamless presentation with plenty of bloom. A top tier system will allow you to instantly tell when the guitarist switches between techniques mid lick and that just always brings a smile to my face.
With the Ayon CD-3sx CD Player everything that I liked in the presentation of this track with the Triton was there and with even more slam. There is something extremely satisfying about listening to a guitar track where the player mixes up techniques to give you an “in your face” sort of performance and you are grooving with it full throttle yet you pick up on the little nuances that say, “he just went from sweep picking to a combo of sweep-finger picking!How did he do that?” All the while you are bouncing in your seat as though you were at a live rock concert! Having listened to this cut on every conceivable source I can it leaves me certain that the Ayon CD-3sx CD Player just simply delivers the music as purely as any digital device is capable of doing. It isn’t adding any of its own prejudices to the performance but rather bringing it to the system naked and letting it ride the system’s nuances to your ears. What that means to the end user is that it is a neutral delivery system. How neutral or unfettered your system reproduces that source and delivers it is another matter all together.
The late and rather great Jimmie Spheeris’ track, “For Roach”, from the album Isle of View, (Columbia Records 1971) was so intimate that I felt like Jimmie had returned from the other side to sit in my listening room and perform this perennial favorite of mine. The light touch to the acoustic guitar and his almost whisper like voice were so real and delivered with a breathiness that is often lacking in recorder tracks versus intimate live tracks. This is a great track to tell if a system or a new addition to your existing system is going to measure up or not. The Ayon CD-3sx CD Player is simply the best CD player I have had in my system, ever! I have reviewed other Ayon players but this one was just that much better. By that I mean the performance came across lighter and a bit more airy, while at the same time a little sharper around the edges.
With female voices, always a benchmark test in my opinion, the amp came through with such fine and delicate delivery. Eva Cassidy’s, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, from the album The Other Side with Chuck Brown (Liason Records 1992) is easily the best version of this song that I have ever heard. Stark in its arrangement but so rich in the depth and breadth of the emotional impact from her voice it is always part of any review I do. As with the best systems the Ayon helped deliver a soaring and detailed rendition of this recording. Tunefulness is something most any reproduction system can provide these days. The difference between an adequate system and one that is truly exceptional is the ability to deliver the emotion in the song unbridled and unrestrained. Here the Ayon delivered everything I have come to expect from the marque. Just brilliant. No strain, no distortion, the Ayon simply removed itself from the music and left it all there bare and naked.
For sheer slam I moved to a track off Joe Bonamassa’s new Blues of Desperation album (JR. Records 2016). the title track is a very deep and throbbing blues rock number featuring the rock solid drumming of Anton Fig. This track is heavy in the bass region and kick drum, tom tom action. It comes through with the exact right amount of slam. You can feel the bloom from the kick drum and it drives your gut right into the depths of the song. What is great about the delivery is that it supports, rather than dominates the rest of the band on the track. It brings the rhythm and pace right straight to your face and lets the rest of the band riff and build off of it. That is what I am talking about.
On violinist Nicola Benedetti’s performance of “The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Concerto No.2 in G Minor, with The Scottish Chambers Orchestra her playing is almost savage in the intensity that she brings to the performance. There is no doubt about her confidence in this piece and her ability to deliver it with pure fire and explosive playing. The ability to isolate her performance within the orchestra without diminishing the overall performance of the other musicians is a hat trick. No doubt she is the star of the show but she is the featured musician in a all star type performance which is lifted by the rest of the musical cast. So balanced in the recording and equally so in the delivery by the Ayon.
One of the interesting traits of this player is the incredible way to brings out details of recordings in startling detail. This is a general statement about older recordings that I have. Some bizarre and off kilter left over from the 60s and 70s that I inherited or bought for one track on the album. As an example Oliver, a two hit wonder from the 60s. On many systems early on the fact that he has significant speech impediment with the letter s never really become prominent but on this machine it was so clearly delivered that is became distracting. Same thing with some of my favorite tracks from bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers (for those of you too young to know search out the the songs (“Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”).
Missteps buried in the songs come out like they were somehow intended to be caught. I am sure that with time it would become less attention grabbing with these kinds of recordings but it is hard not to be distracted when you discover so many things in these recordings that simply were not so up front on other players. Every detail and I do mean every detail is there for you to hear and experience.
The most outstanding trait of the CD-3sx is nothing. Nothing at all. Therein lies the beauty. This unit simply extracts the music and presents it without coloring, bias or its own voice. It just gives you what the track has and steps back from the presentation to let you enjoy it uncolored and unaltered. You can easily pay less than $10,500 for a CD player and get 8/10ths of the CD-3sx but it is that last 2/10ths that makes it all the more worth the price. You can also pay a lot more and still end up with 8/10ths of what this unit provides. If you are looking for a very flexible unit that can provide a lifetime of enjoyment you should audition this unit and give it serious thought. Now if only I can find that Sherpa guide and get some blue lights in this thing I will reach nirvana.
Ayon CD-3sx CD Player