Letters • January 2015

Ayre vs. Ayre

January 26, 2015


I loved your blog on the Ayre DX-5 DSD. I would love to hear your opinion on the Ayre QB-9 DSD, which is the same as the DAC in the DX-5 DSD, and how it would compare to DACs such as the Meitner MA-1, Esoteric DS-07x, and the dCS Debussy.

I don't have a way to compare these DACs and would really value your opinion, mostly because you compared the DX-5 DSD to the Esoteric K-01, and I am trading in my Esoteric UX-3pi (CD, SACD, DVD-A, and DVD playback) for a two-channel DAC.

Brent Searing

Actually, there are differences between the Ayre QB-9 DSD and the DAC in the DX-5 DSD. According to Charles Hansen of Ayre, "The USB input receivers are identical. What is different are two things in the audio signal path:

"(1) Immediately following the D/A chip outputs are ultra-low-noise JFETs in the DX-5 and low-noise BJTs in the QB-9. This results in a lower noise floor across the audio band with the DX-5.

"(2) The audio power supplies are doubly regulated in the DX-5, meaning that a regulator feeds another regulator. The QB-9 has a conventional single stage of regulation."

More from Charles: "Not huge audible differences but noticeable in side-by-side comparisons."

Unfortunately, I don't have any experience with the non-Ayre DACs you mention, but I am very happy with the DX-5 DSD. I mostly spin discs, so I use it as a player, but when I do connect the computer, I hear the same sonic signature. As Charles suggests, the QB-9 DSD will sound very similar to the DX-5 DSD. As I mentioned in my blog, the DX-5 DSD pushes closer to the sound of the Esoteric K-01, so given that you were using an Esoteric player, the QB-9 DSD may be a very good choice for you. As always, try and then buy. -Marc Mickelson

Reference 10 versus . . . ?

January 21, 2015


I really enjoyed your excellent review of the Audio Research Reference 10 preamp. I was hoping you would get to review it as it’s on my shortlist.

Would it be possible for you to comment on how Reference 10 would compare with the Lamm LL1 Signature and CAT SL-1 Legend in terms of timbres, microdynamics and low-level detail recovery? My guess is that Lamm and CAT are probably slightly richer-sounding, but Reference 10 is more detailed and possibly has better microdynamics than the CAT but on par with Lamm? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Ashish Varma

I didn't do any quick A/B listening to the Reference 10, the Lamm LL1 Signature and CAT SL-1 Legend, but I honestly wonder if you might have, because your observations are very accurate. The CAT is definitely the richest-sounding of the three, and it might have the weightiest bass as well. The Lamm LL1 Signature is the hardest to demo, because of its four chassis, and it sounds most like the Reference 10, but without quite the same bass definition and a touch more midrange purr and bass warmth. All three are very detailed, but the Reference 10, perhaps because of the way all Audio Research gear portrays space, sounds a bit more delicate and airy in the treble, imparting a greater sense of overall resolution. The LL1 Signature sounds more authoritative and forceful, and maybe more detailed to some listeners. In terms of microdynamics and the ability to uncover low-level detail, the Reference 10 is perhaps a little better than the Lamm or CAT preamps, but I emphasize "perhaps" because that's one of the hardest things to observe after changing products, especially tube preamps, which need proper warm-up. The Reference 10 is the quietest of the three, but only by a hair over either the CAT or Lamm preamps.

Frankly, the choice among these three may boil down more to the listener's need for a remote control (which the Lamm and CAT preamps don't offer) than any sonic considerations. One preamp you don't mention, and a real test for the Reference 10, is the VTL TL-7.5 III. I can't help you with a comparison there, however, because it has been too long since I heard it in my system. I will have one sometime soon, but by then the Reference 10 will be gone. -Marc Mickelson

Wilson Audio "WAMM"

January 16, 2015


I saw the little story in your CES coverage that said Wilson is coming out with a new high-end speaker code named "WAMM." The description sounds a lot like the Focal Grand Utopia EM. Both are way, way, way out of my price and space ranges, but it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Michael Doukas

Actually, the massive Focal Grande Utopia EM would be the smaller of the two speakers here, and it will likely cost far less as well. We are all anxious to hear the Wilson "WAMM" (and to know its final name). Not much information was given at the press briefing, and we couldn't photograph the prototype we saw, so this is a developing story, as they say. -Marc Mickelson

Digital upgrade

January 13, 2015


I have followed you for quite a while -- one of the very few reviewers whose comments and biases seem to parallel mine. I recently moved away from my Esoteric X-03se player to the Ayre C-5xe with MP upgrade and that worked nicely.

Where do I have to look to get significantly better sound than the C-5xe MP? Dynamics and soundstage size get me rolling. It sounds like the Esoteric X-01 LE is a sideways move. Any suggestions?

Best regards and much respect! I anxiously look forward to all your forthcoming reviews.

Bill Barotti

Thanks for the kind words. It's always good to hear that someone thinks you can hear.

Because of the continued rise of computer audio, new products that spin discs -- LPs aside -- are on the decline, so your choices are limited. The dCS Vivaldi stack is a definite upgrade, but at a price that is multiples of what most people spend on their entire systems.

Because you own the C-5xe MP, I'll assume you want to play DVD-As and SACDs in addition to CDs. Given this, I would certainly consider the Ayre DX-5 with the DSD update an upgrade for you, and I'm sure Ayre would say the same. However, this player is no longer made, so you'd have to find one used, which may be tough given that it's one of few true high-end stereo sources that plays Blu-ray Discs, and it's also a very good USB DAC.

The Esoteric players are exceptional, especially the K-01, but it won't play DVD-As. Beyond that and the DX-5 DSD, I'm not sure what to recommend. -Marc Mickelson

Joining the reader list

January 2, 2015


Please add me to your reader list.

Larry Briley

You're added! For others interested, e-mail rl@theaudiobeat.com and you'll be added to the e-mail list. You'll hear about all new articles first. -Marc Mickelson


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