ARC VSi60 vs Ayon Spirit II/III

My experiment is over, and I officially miss the valve (no offense to friends of Solid State. Most of the rest of my world is SS).

Currently have a Krell S-300i, and am looking to move into a Tube Integrated. Used to have a McCormack DNA-50 & ARC SP9 MKII, then decided to save space, and moved to an SS integrated. Space saving remains in play. No capital outlay until January, but am doing the research now, and am soliciting opinions here, at the "Oracle".

And so the quandary: ARC VSi60 vs Ayon Spirit II/III.
A show of hands...please.
Here's my rig:

As always, any and all opinions/suggestions/rants are appreciated.

Out of the two, I would definitely go with the ARC. Audio Research has withstood the test of time, has good resale value, a great support network and will likely still be in business 10 years from now.

I own and recommend the McIntosh MA2275. This integrated will give you many of the benefits you would get from the Audio Research VSi60, along with unbeatable resale value, more power, and IMO, great looks.
Haven't heard the ARC so can't comment comparison wise, or otherwise about it. I have the Spirit 2 in my main system - very well built, have had zero issues with it, easy to bias, and it maintains its bias very well. I have had no synergy issues whether using Blue Circle, Audio Note or Stello DACs with it, nor with my Clearaudio TT, or with using either JM Reynauds or Tyler Acoustic speakers. To my ears, the Spirit ismusically engaging and non-fatiguing, has good dynamics, and plenty of power.
Hi Folks,

Thanks for the feedback!

I've had an SP9 MKII preamp previously and enjoyed it a lot. then I went the SS Integrated route.

I've heard the VSI60 with the Sonus speakers I have, and the Ayre CX-7eMP CDP that I have, and there is a fine synergy there. Still need to have a listen to the Ayon, which i'm looking forward to. McIntosh is always a great idea, and so I'll give it a listen, especially since my local shop carries both ARC & McIntosh (along with Ayre and Sonus Faber).

After reading a post response that referenced a recommendation for a sauce to accompany an undisclosed entree ;-), it would be good idea if I included the speakers I have:

Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home, second gen.

The link in my original post pointing to my "rig" was, of course, useless. The system link adjacent to my user name at the bottom of my posts does point to a current snapshot of my system.

A buddy of mine here on agon (the_kid) has had GP's for years & ran them w/a cary sli-80 & really liked the combo but has since moved onto a Unison integrated i believe. i used to have the ARC vsi55 that i bought new w/my present speakers & it didn't have good had plenty of punch but came off dry & not quite 20/20 vision if you get my drift. for my money i'd go w/the Ayon for the triode mode ability & more user friendliness...i.e. fused power tubes being the most important along w/conventional knobs instead of the push button ARC & my guess better sound.
I agree with Pehare and would go with an amp offering triode operation. Also, I prefer to be able to manually bias my tubes. The Spirit III has added auto-bias, so for me, I would go with the Spirit II unless there were some other compelling reason to go with the Spirit III.

Note too that I have not heard the ARC and do not intend for my remarks to be a comment on its sound qualities. I have heard a Spirit I and liked it just fine once the stock small tubes were replaced with some NOS tubes. The power tubes were Gold Lion KT88 and they were fine.
Hi Folks,

Thanks again for the input.

Pehare, I do agree about the ARC being a bit dry. At the same time, I was very impressed with the punch of the ARC, and I did enjoy the time I had listening to the vsi60 (which was matched with the Ayre CDP I have, and a more or less comparable pair of Sonus speakers). Of course, listening in my space would be a very different experience.

Reynolds853, I agree with you and Pehare with regards the availability of running in triode. The auto-bias on the Spirit III is not a deciding factor for me.

Bottom line right now is that I still haven't auditioned the Ayon, and so none of this will be resolved until that occurs.

Once again folks, thanks.

I took a Spirit-1 home with me over the holidays for a buddy to audition in his home. I listened to it for probably 12 hours over the holidays; my buddy several hours more. We were both very impressed with it. The amp will be part of his home office system - it's a small room with solid walls. It's a lively room for sure.

Here are some comments:

His current system: Denon PMA 2000-IV; Rega Saturn CD player; Audio Magic Sorcerer speaker cables and interconnects; Silverline SR17.5 speakers he got from me - I changed out the stock capacitors for Duelund VSF copper; resistors are Mundorf.

Listening to the Spirit was his first experience with tubes.

- Upon listening to the Spirit, he said, "I only thought I knew what texture in music sounded like."

- He also said that the amp made the music so "soulful."

-We had to swap out the Audio Magic. It was too sibilant. We ended up with Kimber 12TC speaker cable and Hero interconnects.

- I had taken some NOS RCA 12AU7 tubes with me, but the stock EH tubes seemed a bit warmer, so we left those in for the moment. I was actually surprised how good the EH's sounded. I think he may end up with an RCA for the signal tube and Mullards for the driver tubes.

- The amp is stone cold silent. There is virtually no hiss coming through the speakers. I turned the volume up all the way and put my ear next to the tweeter. No hiss at all. This amp is very quiet.

- I don't know if it is the Class-A output stage that does it, but this amp is very smooth, detailed and very musical. But then again, his system is very transparent.

- At one point he asked why anyone would not listen to the amp in triode. He liked it that much.

Here's my take though: The Spirit-1 sounds great; it is a very musical amp; it's a serious 30wpc.

We found ourselves playing the system way too loud for such a small room. But it was sooooo clear that we didn't realize how loud it was until one of his daughters came in and asked why we had it so loud.

And the thing is built like a tank too. I would be curious to hear what Ayon considers the improvements given in the Spirit-2, but the Spirit-1 was very nice! But as I mentioned before, I'd pass on the Spirit-3 - I'm just not too keen on autobias.

Thank you so much for the color. It's very important for me to hear just the kind of things you've been talking about.

Though I'm familiar with, and have owned ARC in the past, I'm just getting a real great gut feel about the Ayon.

Again, this will all flush itself out once I get some time with the Ayon. I live iin NYC, and the nearest dealer is a day trip, and so needs some planning. Wish it was as easy as jumping on the subway, but alas, NYC doesn't have everything, contrary to the beliefs of many.

Thanks again for your insightful, considered, and experiential thoughts about the Ayon.

Hope you're (and everyone else is) enjoying a great holiday season.

I was just on the Ayon website and noted mention in the Spirit-III specs of auto and manual bias. I'm not sure what this means, but maybe it's that one can bypass the autobias circuit. They also also mention that they use an "intelligent" auto bias circuit, so it may be an okay system.

My buddy back home initially decided not to get the Spirit-1. This was based not on the sound but for other reasons. During my drive back, however, he called me and said that he was reconsidering his decision. All of this meant that I ended up with the Spirt-1 for the time being, so I hooked it into my system when I got home last night.

My system:
Rogue M180 monoblocks w/ RCA NOS small tubes
Rogue 99 Magnum preamp w/ RCA NOS tubes
Silverline Bolero speakers
Kimber KS3035 speaker cable and Kimber Select interconnects
Rega Saturn CD player

Compared to the Rogue gear the Ayon was more textured and more extended in the high frequencies. It is a very, very musical amp. 30wpc in my large room, on the big speakers, had the expected limitations, but it sounded nice. Switching to pentode helped, and I was quite impressed with the amp in that mode. It wasn't quite as holographic at triode, but it sounded really good and I could live with it there.

My impression of the Ayon can be summed up as: clear, textured, soulful, very musical. I suspect that Class-A output stage and zero feedback design have a lot to do with what I hear through the amp.

The only thing that I wonder about is their customer service. I wrote them an email with a question about the small tubes. They wrote back but didn't quite answer my question. I have a few more questions so I may get back in touch with them. But the bottom line so far is that I think their not answering my question was inadvertent - but they did write back!

But that aside, in terms of the sound, I really like the amp and if I could afford it at the moment I would seriously consider their monoblocks or largest integrated.

I'm curious though about the system on which you will audition the amp. You mentioned a dealer about a day's drive from you. Will you listen to their components or take some of your gear with you? Or will they let you demo it in your home?

If you are going to demo one of the dealer's systems, could you give them a call and post what speakers, wire and source they would use?
I just found a Soundstage review of the VSi60. It mentioned that it has "less than" 7dB negative feedback and weighs 35lbs. I like the fact that Ayon has no negative feedback and weighs about 65lbs. I want to make it clear, however, that I have not heard the ARC piece.

Any updates. Have you auditioned the Ayon Spirit II/III?

I have a Spirit II and can highly recommend it. I've also had my eyes on the ARC vsi60 since I'm a bit of an Audio Research guy as well. But have the opposite problem - have not been able to audition it yet.

Feel free to email me if you have specific questions about the Spirit II.

- David.
I cannot give you the usual audiophile speak, but I had the VSi60 with some Vandersteen quatros, and I thought it was a great amp. Lovely mids and extended highs, very nice imaging, etc. OF course, those speakers had a powered lower end, but I have nothing but excellent marks for the VSi 60.

Really, if I went back to tubes, I think I would buy another. For the used money, I am not sure you can beat them.

In the end, though, you have to compare yourself, with your own speakers, etc. If you cannot, then buy used and if you dump it you won't lose nearly as much.
As always, it comes down to personal preferences and mine don't favour ARC. Nothing wrong with the company, I don't like ARC gear I have heard. I have auditioned the Ayon Spirit 2 and Orion and loved both of them and would happily have bought them.
It's just that I am cheap and go for second hand gear. You don't seem to see much second hand Ayon, which tells it's own story. I bought a Pathos Inpol2 instead, equally good in fact and an amp I would recommend to anyone.
I`ll admit I`m much more familliar with Audio Research gear than Ayon(formerly owned an AR preamp and have heard many AR setups over the years). Given the Ayon`s design and circuit I`d pay close attention to Reynold`s impressions. I would bet that purely on sonic performance the Ayon is superior. Class A/no NF/ and triode operation when done right is very hard to beat. There sould be a more alive,dynamic sound with a more organic tone and harmonic richness along with improved texture.I hope you have the chance to hear it in your system.
Hi Folks,

Unfortunately, I haven't yet had the opportunity to spend time with the Ayon. I have enjoyed the ARC equipment I've had in the past (and the audition time experienced with the VSi60), but just on gut feel alone, I know the Ayon is the right path for me.

I've been paying close attention to all commentary, and very much appreciate everyone's input. That's what I love about this community, the passion and interest people take in helping other's find that right path, with all its infinite variety. And yes, I'm paying particularly close attention to Reynolds perspective, especially since Reynolds seems to be the de facto Ayon subject matter expert.

Unfortunately, there's a very small window of opportunity to purchase a Spirit (any iteration) through Audiogon. It's not for lack of advertisement. There's virtually no useful information in the "Bluebook", which says a few things to me. The distribution network/available used inventory is limited, the product is that good, or most likely, a combination of the two. And, sadly enough for me (boo hoo), the capital outlay is a factor. But hey, where's there's a will, there's a wAy(on)...sorry, couldn't resist.

Thanks all!
You`re realistic and logical,this will serve you well. Patience is a virtrue and you`ll definitely get what you want. I`ve yet to be disappointed in audio when I follow my gut instincts.
I've always like the ARC house sound. What I really don't like though is that afaik ARC still does not fuse the output tubes. So when, and it is a when not an if, a tube blows on the ARC amps the tube will usually take out the biasing resistors. So unless one is a really handy diy'er this will involve either shipping the amp back to ARC (at the users expense) or finding a local repair shop to replace the resistors... Now the VSi60 may be different, but I don't think so. Ayon does fuse the tubes and avoids this problem.

I'm glad that my comments are helpful, though I sure don't think of myself as an Ayon subject matter expert. It has been fun playing with that little Spirit-1 though, I like it a lot.

There's a Spirit-2 listed now on Audiogon at what I think is a very fair price, but the seller requires pickup in New York City.
The Ayon Spirit at that price is a prayer answered LOL.

It sure is! My friend got his Spirit-1 with Gold Lion KT88 tubes for a few hundred less than that, but I think it's a great price for a Spirit-2 with Gold Lion KT88s. I'd drive a couple of days to get it.
If your budget means going with a used Spirit II, I'd jump on a used unit at the price offered for the unit listed currently, if the local pickup works for you.

I'd be making the trip to NYC if I could justify two units!
I'm late to the party, here, but I'm very interested in the Spirit III and other Ayon amps. I think it's important to note that a big feature of the III is that it comes with Shuguang Black Treasure KT88s. I'm led to believe by a few references that the Black Treasures are a big step up. On the importer website,, Grade A Black Treasure KT88s are listed at $480 per quad set! I believe there are other upgrades in the Spirit III, as well. If in doubt, call the U.S. distributor, !! Nothing like first-hand information. The III also can use KT120s...don't know anything about them. I presently use an Art Audio Diavolo SET with 842VHD output tubes, a superb amp.
Hi Folks,

Quick unproductive update. I was traveling on 09 March, and completely missed the Spirit II that sold. I imagine it was gobbled up rather quickly. For reference purposes, did anyone catch what price it sold for?

In looking for ways to avoid missing future opportunities, does anyone know if A'gon has a facility that sends alerts to members (i.e. an email or text alert, when an Ayon amp is posted)?

As always, many thanks.
I just swapped in a quad of Black Treasure KT88s into my Spirit 2 (prior Gold Lion Reissues) - 1st impressions, the Treasures are a musical step up , more detail and resolution to my ears
Just as a matter of interest, Ayon seem to positively discourage tube rolling in their user manuals, I have the Spark. This may be connected to there making the tubes themselves. I wonder, in reality, what possible drawback there could be, in trying upgraded tubes. I have never seen it so discouraged by other manufacturers.
I have experienced none whatsoever with my Spirit. Mine was originally tubed by USA Tube Audio with a choice of Gold Lion Reissue KT88s or what it was shipped with;I choose the GLs . The original signal tubes I think were EH current issue; some time afterwards I swapped in RCA'a after speaking with Paul at USA Tube Audio.I have since swapped out the 2 front signal tubes with CIFTE Mazda's, and this week swapped in Black Treasure KT88s - only thing that has happened is a more musical presentation. I once a month check the KT88 bias,but the amp runs fine.

I am not directly familiar with the performance of the ARC VSi60, never having owned one, but I do own a SPIRIT III. Without getting into immense detail, my overall impression of the sonic quality and overall performance of the SPIRIT III is not very favorable. The TRIODE mode is thin and "peaky" in the upper frequencies, and the PENTODE mode is "grainy", with a tendency toward overemphasized harmonic distortion in the high frequency spectrum. The entire matter has me a bit "boggled". So far I have tried various manipulations with different cables that I have and a few "swaps" with different source components, just to see what the differences reveal. It's pretty much a case of going from bad to worse. The amp doesn't seem too receptive to any of the cableing and component swaps I have made. If anything, my primary choice source components sound best. I have yet to put 200 - 300 hours on the SPIRIT III, and I intend to do so before I start getting totally hyper about the whole thing. Interesting fact is that my initial reaction to the sonic performance was good, and I expected to see major improvements with break-in. If anything the performance seem to be sliding "down hill". I am at a loss to understand why. At this point I can't recommend the SPIRIT III to anyone. If anything my significantly less expensive JOLIDA 502BRC sounds better and more satisfying. I switched back to the 502 just to make certain my ears hadn't " gone out of calibration". Right now the JOLIDA sounds better with the SHUGUANG "BLACK TREASURE" KT-88'S and NOS pre-amp tubes that I installed a couple of month before I took it out of service. I'm still astonished about that, especially considering that the JOLIDA is Class AB pure PENTODE operation. It may be nothing more than the SPIRIT III having a unusual break-in curve. I certainly hope that's true. An additional caviot - - I do not like the binding posts that AYON (in their infinite wisdom) decided to go with on the SPIRIT III. I can not apply enough finger pressure to keep spade terminations locked down tightly. Definitely contributing to bad interfacial conditions. There it is. If things suddenly improve, I'll let you know.
Lance0955 I am not sure I could agree with your critique of the Spirit, I liked it. I would say the similarly priced Spark. 20 watt Triode only amp, is clearly more refined. Better detail, more neutral across the frquency spectrum, better in every way. That is if you can manage with 20watts.

I spoke to a designer at a show a few years ago who disliked the compromises inherent in triode/pentode operation. The output transformers in particular, could not be optimised for either operation specifically. I don't know what others think about this theory, but my impression on various auditions, would seem to confirm it
The Vsi60 sounds great . but it's had some breakdown issues .
Lance0955, I sold my Mcintosh 275 and purchased the Ayon Spirit III about 4 months ago. I can tell you that it is for sure the sweetest amp I have ever owned and I have had a few. The Spirit III is airy, refined, smooth so musical and involving, totally non fatiguing. I switch between the triode or pentode modes for different music and they are are superb. I would never sell this amp.

I find the speakers taps to be excellent, easy to tighten and wow, these type of taps are used in amps costing 3 times as much.

Comparing the Spirit III to a Jolida is crazy! One man's passion is another man's poison!
In response to Lance0955 back 09/08/2010 you posted this about your Spirit II as regards the Cayin and Jolida amps that you said you also own:

"My main amp is the AYON SPIRIT II. It's more expensive but worth every penny and then some."

I'm a little puzzled, I'm assuming that you sold the Spirit II which you apparently loved, and at the time thought was better than the Jolida and Cayin amps and bought the Spirit III that you now don't love?

Everyone that's heard the III vs the II prefers the III, I have a Spirit III and it doesn't sound anything like what you describe, I suggest that you get it looked at because it much be broken. My Spirit III sounds big and fast, huge soundstage, punchy, dynamic, musical and killer base on pentode, on triode it has the classic triode lushness sweet mids, soft but detailed highs, bass a bit mushy, compared to pentode.. No grain glare nothing but great sound.. Frankly it sounds absolutely nothing like what you're describing, and it sounded pretty much that way out of the box. I really think you've either got a bad amp or bad tubes or it's hooked up wrong, maybe using the wrong taps?? I don't know, I just know my Spirit III sure isn't anything like what you've described.
Erikminer, I haven't heard the '#" but have the "2" and after Paul at USA Tube told me that,amongst other changes, that the "3" came with the Black Treasure tubes I decided to swap them in for the GL Reissues - they took a very good sounding amp up a coupleo f notches - net net- I, like you,don't hear what Lance0955 described even with the "2"
I have heard modified jolida and even the best Cayin is not in the same league as the New spirit mk3 for sure something is wrong for I have heard them, any pure class A amp with 0 negative feedback will better any ultralinear
tube I know of for it is a much cleaner signal, even in Pentode mode which is still much better than ultralinear
and still running Pure class A and 0 feedback. It is that simple .Please don't make that mistake if you have around $4500 to spend with discounts you will get this heavy duty amp and the preamp section with such a short signal path and the transformers are 1st class all the way Lundahs fron Sweeden,also the preamp section is better than most good preamps, direct is direct and even saves on the money on an extra pair of interconnects, as
well as power cords that in itself is at least $1k for anything decent .
Please, The Ayon is superior sounding! I have had the the VSi60 in my home. (not bad btw) but Key word is sound. I have never had any issues with my Ayon Triton and the the Spirit II gets you about 90% of the Triton. Yes a Toyota is very dependable and out sells Porsche. But I would still rather have the Porsche.
I've had my spirit 3 now for about 9 months I recently replaced the stock Philips driver tubes with a matched quad of 50's vintage RCA black plates from Andy Bowman of Vintage Tube Services all I can say is WOW amazing improvement, I was shocked at the increase in performance. Anyone had this amp upgrading the driver tubes is a no brainier.
The Ayon amps to me for my taste yield somewhat dryer less warm mids, yet a beautifully detailed presentation with liquid highs full of finese, compared to the average tube amp.

I think there may be good synergy of Ayon gear with warm speakers that require power. Otherwise, in my opiniion, although still quit nice, the Ayon sound may seem a little too solid state or analytical in presentation compared to the average more lush sounding tube amp.
Plangco.. I would have agreed 100% with you sonic assessment , Until I changed out the driver tubes to Nos RCA Blackplates.. that made a dramatic change for the better in my system.. The stock Phillips were sort of dry and bright sounding..To any one who has a Spirit or Triton and feels that it's bit on the bright side try rolling in some good NOS tubes and I think you'll be very pleased
Opinions? For my small law office, approximately 15' X 9' (yes I know small for any dipole, especially Maggie's), what are the group's thoughts on using an Ayon Spirit II, or III, to power Magnepan 1.7s or 3.7s? And, is the Spirit III that much superior to the Spirit II? I can likely acquire a new III for the low 4G range, and a used II in the low 2G range ...