IMO, it's very important to buy a "brand" that has good retail and great manufacturer support. It's fun to buy "exotic" but you are taking a chance you'll own a boat anchor some day.
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I am guessing once you're in exotic territory you're getting a product which performs at the highest level, but at the same time the very fact that makes them exotic makes them unreliable as well. Take for instance any supercar. The more exotic you get the more capricious they become.
That is why most supercar owners prefer to get vehicles which have a local dealership for reliable service.
Let me help out here, since I have real experienced with all 3 of them. So rest assured, my opinions are all mine, no conflict of interests, and would not answer your question with question(s).
Mastersound: I got one real cheap from a lawyer in NJ who cursed it. He let it go real cheap. But the true funny deal was he demo it with an *broken* Audio Physics speakers (broken and dented drivers, absolutely a scene!) --- just enough to show the amp still made sound. Gave away an nice power cord too. I had reliability issue with that amp. Got my local tech guy hands in the air quite few times. Didn’t sound right anyway --- I just got persistent noises and hum. Dumped it into trash in the end as none of my friend wanted it when I offered it for free.
Vaic: I got an "alleged" predecessor of an Ayon SET (I suspect it’s the Ayon Sunrise model) with Vaic badge. Look awfully similar, indeed. That seller from Europe claimed it was basically an Ayon. OK. I had quite a good experience with Vaic tubes before, so obviously, love to try out. My experience was good. Support was non-existence, so whenever it started to acted up (some noises / hum), my local tech’s hands in the air again. Having an 220v unit didn’t help neither. I sold it to a collector in New York City who simply put it on a shell as if it’s an trophy. A happy ending.
Ayon: Now this gets interesting and very long. Noticed the brand was constantly bombarded at various audio sites as ’best of show’, which automatically turned me off. Then got a crazy deal on an Spirit II for $600 or so. I was truly impressed because ....the previous owner who cursed this Ayon Spirit had no idea how to insert an KT88!!! Half the tubes were inserted incorrectly due to broken pins --- no wonder it kept dying on him. I replaced the fuses, put the new KT88s, the unit just *worked*! Not a single burnt mark nor smell, no sign of service, nothing loose, I saw very expensive parts inside, now this is true quality work!!!
I think some posters claimed Ayon is an Chinese product --- and unfortunately, some early low-end models were indeed assembled in China, possibly by Ray-sonic, which copied the Ayon designs (sounds like an Red Rose Music story, huh?) My opinion is simple: If an complete novice keep putting in tubes in the wrong way and didn’t blow the amp up, that says a lot. Who cares!
But Spirit II was just entry-level. I owned the Austrian made 220v Ayon Sunrise SET (thanks to the Vaic experience I mentioned earlier) - under powered for my taste, but the same outstanding workmanship. I had to sell it since the ultra expensive 52B (I think) need to be replaced. Cost a fortune --- almost the cost of the Sunrise itself for a pair.
Then Austrian made US-imported Ayon Triton --- love that amp, kept it for years. Not the most outstanding sounding amp I owned, but delightful and reliable for a long long time. The bias for each of 8 tubes barely moved after 3 years of use. No maintenance whatsoever. How about that.
But Ayon digital products are a different story. I owned Ayon CD1, CD2, CD2-S, CD7 and S-3. Not related to your question, but I’d not recommend the such models in used market.
Hope this helps.
Many thanks for your excellent reply. One day I hope to be an owner of a Mastersound SET. If one is able to get their hands on a used amp, do you offer any kind of service contracts or extended warranty? How are the evolution 845 from 2010-2013 in terms of reliability ? Would you say the newer ones that produce less heat are more reliable ? Are the parts readily available from the manufacturer ? I think I would be more comfortable knowing there is service tech/dealer somewhere on the east coast that would obviate shipping if the problems arise.
Bsimpson, I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with the MastersounD. It sounds like that unit might have had a hard life. Regardless, I wish I would have been able to help you with it. I'd love to know more of the story behind the unit like the known history and what issues you had. I'd also be curious who you worked with. A PM is welcome if you'd rather discuss privately.
Ei, per the case detailed above, Im quite hesitant to purchase second hand tube amps. I've done that in the past prior to entering the industry and had similar issues. It seems to be an often occurrence where some of these units might be a first foray into tubes for some and ignorance can be brutal on tube amps. I would have less issue if I knew the seller and he was the original owner or at least knew the full history of the amp and all previous owners.
The new Evolution is in its second generation I believe. It was 'evolved' from the Reference 845 which is what you will more than likely find on the used market. I've seen one Evolution 845 come up and it was swiftly purchased by a friend of a client who owned a current Evolution 845. The newest generation of MastersounD amplifiers have rounded wood accents vs the bullnose finish on previous models and also do not have the mirrored plate separating the tubes from the transformers. It simply has the mirrored plate that covers the top chassis.
I am not in a position to offer any warranty on older MastersounD amplifiers. I can offer my support in trying to fix any issues that arise by dealing directly with MastersounD. They are quite responsive and want to see their products have a lasting legacy.