No brainer. Ayre is superior.
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I'm also considering the Arcam FMJ 33 & Ayre CX-7, as well the Audio Aero Prima and the Sim Equinox.
My only concern with the Ayre CX-7 is its dependability... I'm certain that I've read some threads regarding problems with dependability. Thoughts on this?
Also, from a used pricing perspective, the CX-7 "E" version is running another $400 or so from the original version... is the "E" version really worth the extra $400, or is the original version still very worthy?
I have used both the FMJ33 and the Ayre CX7e. The Arcam products are sure better to operate from their remote. The Ayre loads up a little slower and doesn't respond to inputs as quick. Sonically, the Ayre is very dynamic and detailed but seem to be a touch brighter which I think accented the mids a little and lightened the overall sonic picture. It's a good player to be sure though and sonically I prefer it over the FMJ33.
To throw one more in here, I like the FMJ23 better than either one of them. It is smoother, decodes HDCD and voices take on a little fuller more natural presentation. It is not quite as dynamic as the Ayre but creates a fuller, more complete sonic picture IMO. I do prefer it to the FMJ33.
I currently use a Wadia 861se and I thought harmonically, the FMJ23 comes closer. I felt the other two gave more detail at the expense of harmonic richness. At any rate, they're all good players.
On a side note, I did have a little trouble with the Ayre spitting out CD's when you advanced the tracks forward. It was kind of random but annoying non the less. The Arcam(s) operated in a studier fashion and seemed to have a more refined operation overall. There's no doubt the Ayre is well built but their control solutions leaves a little to be desired. Ayre offered to change out the transport under warranty but I decided to let it go. It was the latest "E" model with "N" in the serial number. I definitely think the transport is the weak link in the Ayre for whatever reason.
I agree that I think the CD23 would be a better purchase for the price than the CD33. The 23 used the Wolfson ring dac technology. Then Arcam changed them out for the 33. And now the 36 is coming out. You can get the 23 for about $500 less than the 33, and the jury seems pretty split between which is better. And I agree with Bigtee's assessment, the 23 just has a very smooth, pleasing sound.
However, at least for me, the Ayre is superior. Primarily in the bass, fuller and deeper. With a wider and deeper soundstage where there is more space between each instrument. I agree also that the Ayre transport takes longer to load up than the Arcam. When I heard 1 upgraded to the e version, the transport became dead quiet. Before you could here the disc spinning when you listened at low volumes. And the bass and overrall dynamics improved. To me it was worth the $400 upgrade, but I think it's pretty special before it as well.
You really can't go wrong with any of these 3 players IMO. The biggest advantage I heard from the Ayre was when it was ran balanced instead of single-ended. If you currently run balanced or are planning to, that's the route I'd go. If single-ended, get the CD23 for $1100 or so and don't think twice about it. Good luck.
As a side note to Friz1313, the CD23 uses a DCS Ring DAC(actually very similiar to what DCS uses in their machine) while the CD33 uses the Wolfson DAC's.
I agree that the Ayre has fuller bass and is more dynamic. I never heard a non "E" model so I can't speak to the upgrade. The newer Ayre transport is quiet and they added direct track access at some point that the original CX7 didn't have. After speaking to Ayre about the transport glitch, they did admit some had the problem and changing out the transport cured them. They blamed it on the program which was sourced outside of Ayre.
At any rate, the Ayre is a well built and a good sounding player. In absolute terms, yea, it's better than the CD23 but at a premium.
Friz1313 is also correct, the Ayre is better run balanced.
Off to the side with all this,The question really is why did Arcam get rid of the ring dac?I mean was it a money thing as some have said,you know what I really ,really doubt it,Im pretty sure Arcam isnt hurting for any money.And they have a good enough track record for new products sounding better then the previous ones.They could have stuck with the ring dac,but they didnt,how bout somebody in the know really get down to whats up,Im happy with my cd 33,now they have the cd 36,lets see if in a year if they come again with the next best thing or not.