Letters • November 2016

Kenwood L-07M

November 26, 2016


Are those Kenwood monoblocks listed in your Ayre review really so good that they can be used in your super-expensive and exotic system?

Patrick Vancompernolle

You have a keen eye to spot the Kenwood L-07M monoblocks in my Associated Equipment listing. I found the amps, which are 150W solid-state monoblocks and nearly 40 years old, by accident, while looking at a turntable that someone had for sale. I bought them on a whim, because I knew they were part of the same series that produced the Kenwood L-07D turntable. When I first heard them, I was shocked that they sounded as good as they did -- very pure and direct. I did some research and discovered that they were a favorite of Harry Pearson in the late 1970s. Since then, I've moved them into and out of my reference system (and the smaller system in my office), often just to hear how they drive a certain speaker. They aren't the equal of many expensive contemporary solid-state amps, but at around $400 for a pair used, they certainly outperform their cost many times over. When I get the time, I will write a blog on them, just to let readers know that they are a little gem worth buying if the price is right. -Marc Mickelson

". . . I made the right decision"

November 19, 2016


I very much enjoyed reading your review of the Ayre KX-5 Twenty preamp and VX-5 Twenty amp. Previously I owned the Ayre K-5XE MP preamp, which I had for nine years. I had this preamp upgraded to the MP version and enjoyed the improved sound quality that I heard.

Once I borrowed the new KX-5 Twenty from my dealer and inserted into my system, I could not believe the sound improvement I was hearing -- as though a veil was lifted from the music, allowing me to hear the tonality of each instrument from the lowest bass to the highest treble. This was not just a subtle change, but a transformation that occurred, allowing me to hear music that I never knew existed on my recordings.

The preamp is also very quiet. I could hear hiss from my tweeter from a few feet away with the previous system when I had the unit up at a fairly loud volume with nothing playing. With the new KX-5 Twenty, my ear needs to be right up against the tweeter, even at maximum volume, for me to hear even a faint hiss. I believe this is also partially responsible for the sound improvement I am hearing.

The other big benefit I noted was that even at low volumes, I could appreciate that the improvement was quite remarkable. Previously I would have to turn up the volume to a greater degree to hear the music fully fleshed out. So the new KX-5 sounds the same to me whether playing at low volumes or cranked up.

The bottom line is that I traded my K-5XE MP for a new Ayre KX-5 Twenty. The fact that after nine years of ownership I received trade-in value of approximately 75% of what I paid for my previous unit is a testament to Ayre and how well their products retain their value in the marketplace.

At first, with the preamp just out of the box, the sound was flat, and I thought I had made a mistake by trading out my previous unit, but after calling my dealer, he said “You need to let it break in for 50-plus hours and I can assure you it will sound the same as the loaner unit you had." At first I doubted this, but after a few weeks of listening it sounded more like my dealer's loaner, so I now believe that components such as this do need some break-in.

I have read that the heart of your system is the preamp, and after hearing the KX-5 Twenty, I believe it. I cannot imagine spending more money on something else unless Charles Hansen comes up with an upgrade for the Twenty series.

Thanks again for such a great review, which just confirms in my mind that I made the right decision.

Greg Gale

Reference Anniversary or Reference 6?

November 14, 2016


I really enjoyed your review of the Audio Research Reference 6 preamp. I have a question, though. Should a guy buy a used Audio Research Reference Anniversary preamp for $10,000 or a new Reference 6?

Rod Parks

I’ve not heard a Reference Anniversary preamp side by side with a Reference 6, and in fact I haven’t heard the older Reference preamp in quite a few years, so my memory buds are not fresh enough to make a reliable judgment on that basis. Here is what would go through my mind if I were wrestling with the decision you are trying to make. The Reference Anniversary is now about six years old and has been replaced by the Reference 10 as Audio Research's two-box Reference preamplifier. That means ARC incorporated its latest thinking into the Reference 10, which trickled down to the Reference 6. I’ve heard feedback from prior owners of the Reference Anniversary who have moved on to the the Reference 6 and preferred it; indeed, I’ve heard of owners who have preferred a switch from the Reference 10 to Reference 6. If I had to throw the dice and recall my memory of the sound of the Reference Anniversary, I would say that I prefer the sound of the Reference 6. I also happen to prefer a one-box solution, which would make the choice fairly easily for me. The only downside is that the new Reference 6 needs break-in, but that’s not much of a hardship. -Dennis Davis

Wilson Alexx so far

November 11, 2016


I really liked your latest Ayre review. Similar to you, I enjoy my Ayre, Shunyata, and Wilson Audio products.

Do you have an opinion on how the new Wilson Alexx compares to the Alexandria X-2 Series 2?

Scott Pearl

I'm still taking a measure of the Wilson Alexxes, which have been very impressive so far. It has been quite a while since I've heard any of the Alexandria-series speakers, but I think the Alexxes show a bit more sparkle on top than other Wilson speakers I've heard and the bass seems tighter and better delineated as well. So far, I've been able to drive the Alexxes with as few as 75 watts, so, like the various Alexandria models, they seem very sensitive; I would love to try them with a pair of the Lamm ML2.2 monoblocks, because I suspect their 18 watts would still be sufficient.

Of course, I will have much to say about the Alexxes when I review them, and so will Roy Gregory -- he also has a pair of them in his listening room. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre KX-R Twenty and MX-R Twenty follow-up, please

November 8, 2016


I read your take on the Ayre 5-series Twenty electronics. Their latest products truly are special, aren't they? I know your coverage can't be all Ayre, but I encourage you to do a follow-up on the Ayre KX-R Twenty and MX-R Twenty, for two reasons. One, it would be interesting to hear exactly what you do get for thirty large over the 5-series products. And second, you could use what you hear as justification to put them on The List. I personally think Ayre's latest and greatest are top-notch electronics at any price.

John Leosco

Ayre soundstaging and focus

November 6, 2016


Very nice review of the Ayre KX-5 Twenty and VX-5 Twenty. I’ve been contemplating the pair for a while, and in preparation, I have been eating peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch to accrue adequate funds.

My question to you is: How do these two perform with regard to soundstage width, depth, and focus? I know they get the other stuff right, but any store I’ve heard these in has had the usual demo problems -- fully formed soundstages never appear with pretty much any gear.

Clarke Greene

While I was in graduate school, my preferred "stretch the money" meal was hot dogs, which were as cheap as they were bad for me. I should have tried PB&J.

As for the soundstaging and focus of the Ayre VX-5 Twenty and KX-5 Twenty, no news in my review is good news. That is, they convey the qualities of the recordings, sounding big and spacious or small and intimate when the music itself does. They offer tight focus on the music, although not of the microscopic sort, which is unnatural (and ruthless) anyway. There are brands of electronics that sound bigger or smaller as a matter of course, but it seems to me that hearing the recording's own qualities is about as much as anyone should expect, and on that basis the VX-5 Twenty and KX-5 Twenty are a success. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre AX-5 Twenty: "If you don't need the power, does it sound just as good?"

November 3, 2016


Thank you very much for the review of the Ayre VX-5 Twenty and KX-20 Twenty. Do you have any idea how they compare to the AX-5 Twenty integrated? The integrated has a little bit less power but costs a third less. If you don't need the power, does it sound just as good?

Paul Bujold

Normally I'd tell you to audition the AX-5 Twenty yourself and rely on that audition (which is still solid advice), but a point I made in my review is pertinent here: the VX-5 Twenty and Kx-5 Twenty were "the products of a strict design philosophy whose outcome guarantees a similar sonic personality." That applies to the AX-5 Twenty too. It is a fully balanced, zero-feedback design that makes use of Charles Hansen's design innovations, including the Diamond Output, EquiLock and (perhaps especially) the Variable-Gain Transconductance volume control, which adjusts the gain of the amplifier stage instead of attenuating output. I'd therefore be very surprised if the AX-5 Twenty didn't sound as I report in my review of the '5 Twenty separates -- within the 125Wpc power range of the amplifier, that is. And, of course, there is also the advantage of having no interconnects between a preamp and power amp, saving you money and providing an even more direct path for the signal. -Marc Mickelson

VX-5 Twenty or MX-Rs?

November 1, 2016


I have enjoyed reading your many reviews over the years, especially those involving Ayre components, as I am a devoted purchaser of Mr. Hansen’s products. The recent exploration of the KX-5/VX-5 Twenty units caught my attention in particular, as I own the preamp (purchased originally as a KX-5 and then updated earlier this year -- a major revelation, but that is a different story). While I am currently using a tube power amp in my system, I expect that a solid-state option will enter the equation at some point. I have been considering a pair of the MX-Rs (original version, as I can’t justify the Twenty price tag), but your latest review suggests that the VX-5 Twenty might get me most of the distance. If you are able to offer any additional insight, I would be most grateful.

John Hall

You ask a pertinent question, but one that I unfortunately can't answer definitively, because it has been six years since I've heard the Ayre MX-R monoblocks in my system, which has also changed. I still respect those amps, even though I've not heard them with their Twenty-series updates; in their original form, they made my amplifier top-five list a half-dozen years ago. I can tell you, however, what I would do if I were in your position today, and that would be to purchase the VX-R Twenty. That amp is difficult to fault, and its use with the KX-5 Twenty preamp, which you already own, would be even harder to overlook. Also, if I bought MX-Rs, I'd be apt to upgrade them to the Twenty series, and that would just add to the financial outlay. With the VX-5 Twenty, the electronics shopping would be finished. -Marc Mickelson


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