Integrated Amplifier : Ayre AX-5 (Part 3)

Meeting the challenge

The AX-5 didn’t fully pull its punches to conceal the recording’s shortcomings, leaving me craving a little more upper bass ‘bloom’ to flesh out the track’s stridency. But I was left convinced of the Ayre’s transparency as a consequence.

 Ayre AX-5, balanced input, volume control at “46,” frequency response at 2.83V into: simulated loudspeaker load (gray), 8 ohms (left channel blue, right red), 4 ohms (left cyan, right magenta), 2 ohms (green) (0.25dB/vertical div.)

Meanwhile it proved adept at serving up infectious rhythms and delivered a beguiling musical fluidity, with a fine sense of ‘body’ and definition to instruments, fast and detailed bass lines, a well projected and enticingly warm midrange and high frequencies free of grain or splashiness.

I’ve observed in the past that when I use my Levinson No383 amp to listen to Reference Recordings’ Testament album with the Dallas Wind Symphony and Turtle Creek Chorale [RR-49CD], the amplifier’s mellow warmth and ‘tubbiness’ tends to congeal the massed voices. The AX-5 proved far better at separating the voices in this challenging recording. Yes, the sound appeared leaner, nonetheless the tonal qualities of the orchestra were more clearly defined and the depth of the image enhanced.

Thanks to the amplifier’s supreme clarity, stereo imaging was exceptional when auditioning audiophile-quality recordings containing realistic spatial elements, with outstanding inner detailing.

Ayre AX-5, small-signal 10kHz squarewave into 8 ohms

Moreover the AX-5’s neutral honesty rendered brass in an appropriately aggressive manner: for example, the first movement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring [Telarc CD-80054]. Quite how it manages to sound so vivid and highly detailed yet ‘sweet’ at the same time is difficult to put into words. Perhaps it’s the absence of any over-bright glare, a condition that often plagues highly revealing solid-state electronics, that’s so refreshing.

This is a musically engrossing, gorgeous sounding amplifier that should be high on any hi-fi enthusiast’s wish list.

Hi-fi news verdict

Once you’re accustomed to the mechanical clunking of the volume control’s stepper motor, the AX-5 is a lovely amplifier to use thanks to its large display, customisable input naming and illuminated handset. It delivers fabulous detail and musical insight without sounding in the least bit analytical, its sweet tonality and subjective warmth adding charm and innate listenability. It really is a class act.

Sound quality: 88%

Ayre AX-5, spectrum of 1kHz sinewave, DC–1kHz, at 100W into 4 ohms (left channel blue, right red; linear frequency scale)

Lab report

This is the first Ayre amplifier to be comprehensively tested in Hi-Fi News and the results are intriguing. The AX-5 has a couple of exceptional measurement ‘features’ and others that may well account for the AX-5’s ‘character’. The frequency response, for example, is as ruler flat from near-DC to 100kHz as makes no difference (±0.04dB) while the A-wtd S/N ratio is possibly the widest I’ve ever encountered for an integrated amp at a massive 102.4dB (re. 0dBW). Many amplifiers are still 20dB behind this figure these days. The power output meets Ayre’s 125W/8ohm specification at 2x130W/8ohm but the 250W/ 4ohm rating is not, at least with a 1% THD criteria, at 2x225W/ 4ohm. There’s more available under dynamic conditions at 160W/280W into 8/4ohm but limited current restricts power to 215W/125W into 2/1ohm loads.

There’s also a marked difference in distortion versus level into 8, 4, 2 and 1ohm loads [see Graph 1, below]. While the trend into 8ohm is fairly uniform (0.008% at 1W, 0.045% at 10W and 0.35% at 100W), those into lower impedances are evidently more undulating. How the AX-5 performs will clearly be speaker-load dependent, at least to a degree. Perhaps because of its VGT topology, the volume position, or overall gain, also impacts on the AX-5’s distortion trend. For a fixed 10W power output, the lowest distortion is achieved at the maximum volume position (46), with THD increasing as the volume controlis reduced [see Graph 2 where the power output remains constant at 10W/8ohm].

Hi-fi news specifications

·         Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm): 130W / 225W

·         Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm): 159W / 280W / 215W / 125W

·         Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz): 0.164–0.170ohm

·         Frequency response (20Hz–100kHz): –0.01dB to +0.04dB

·         Input sensitivity (for 0dBW/125W): 70mV / 815mV (Balanced in)

·         A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/125W): 102.4dB / 123.4dB

·         Distortion(20Hz-20kHz re. 10W/8ohm): 0.0095–0.023% (max vol, ‘46’)

·         Power consumption (Idle/Rated o/p): 160W/480W

·         Dimensions(WHD) / Weight: 440x120x480mm / 21kg

Integrated Amplifier : Ayre AX-5 (Part 1)

Integrated Amplifier : Ayre AX-5 (Part 2)