Review: Ayre Acoustics AX7e Amplifier
I usually give my ears about 100 hours to break in when getting a new amp before coming to conclusions about it. So although I have only had the Ayre AX7e a short time (about 20 hours of listening), I feel very comfortable declaring that it is delivering what I have been seeking in an integrated amp for the last few years. Having gone through Rotel, Arcam, Parasound, and Simaudio amps, I nearly concluded that it was about trade offs. One amp had clarity but was not musical, another musical but had no dynamic impact, another had good bass but brittle high frequencies. The Ayre somehow weaves all the qualities I look for without really compromising on anything.
As Art Dudley noted in his Stereophile article, the amp powered is silent. Even with my ears directly against the speakers, I could barely detect any energy or hum. This is important to me and I think contributes to the component's ability to reproduce dynamics. As another audiogonor put it "if there is hum, I don't buy it!"
Dynamics - this amp brings out dynamics like nothing I have heard before. It seems to respond without hesitation to quick changes in dynamics and reproduces them well at any volume. Listening to Rachel Podger's rendition of Bach's Violin Sonata's and partitas, the shifts in dynamics even as the bow is drawn across a note or in a rapid 3 part passage can be clearly heard.
Soundstage/clarity - Separation of instruments and vocals is excellent with a broad soundstage that has depth but is never too far forward. Listening to Crosby Stills Nash and Young sing Helplessly Hoping, each voice can be heard distinctly in it's place in soundstage.
Naturalness of instrumental timbres - I have heard amps that deliver exceptional separation of instruments in the soundstage but the instruments don't sound natural. Pianos in particular sound more natural and present in the room than I have heard. Pianos are particularly difficult to get right because of the range of frequencies, variety of attacks and the complexity of overtones in the notes. I nearly jumped off the couch when I first listened to my favorite Horowitz CD, The Last Concert. The piano was right in the room with me, the sound eminating from the right height and position, each attack clear, the timbre natural. Instruments sound just like they do when listening to them live. I found vocals to be exceptional on this amp both in timbre and relative placement and size in the soundstage.
Bass - One reviewer compared this amp to a Krell and suggested that it didn't have as much bass "slam". I am not sure what "slam" is. True, I don't listen to too much rock anymore but I do listen to some pretty driving dance and musicians like Afro Celt Soundsystem. I have also been a bass player all my life. My take on the bass is that is has the right amount of attack with the addition of an exceptional amount of timbre. I can tell whether the bass is a Gibson, Fender or Alembic; whether the acoustic bass has metal or gut strings. In fact, acoustic bass reproduction is exceptional on this amp. Additionally, when I first looked at buying this amp, I was concerned that it did not have pre-amp outputs for a sub-woofer. However, after tweaking my sub to use speaker outputs, I have found that integrating my sub was nearly seamless and the overall bass sound is greatly improved using the speaker outs.
Controls and connections - First I have to say, I love the CARDAS Speaker binding posts. Even connecting 2 sets of spades to each, I found that once I had everything lined up, it was simple and certain getting a tight connections without any tools. I also really appreciate that the volume control has 1 db increments. Previous amps that have had large jumps in volume steps have annoyed me to no end. The display and buttons are nothing remarkable but do work.
Musicality - This amp makes music, plain and simple. I can't compare it to tubes nor would I say it is tubelike. I don't really care if an amp has tubes or transistors as long as a violin sounds like a violin and a piano like a piano. (although with this amp I could probably tell whether it was a Yamaha or Steinway) When I asked my girlfriend if she noticed a difference, she thought for a moment and then said, "it has a pulse". Coming from someone who knows none of the audiphile "lingo", she described the amp perfectly. This amp moves with the music. I find myself dancing across the room and tapping my feet while listening. I can tell, this has not been my experience with other amps. I really had an epiphany when I heard Miles play My Funny Valentine (a great recording on The Essential Miles). I played jazz upright bass in Boston and New York for many years, and I could practically smell the drinks and cigarette smoke. It is the closest I have ever come to being back in a Jazz club in 30 years. The sound of Trane's saxaphone was sultry and sexy, not a bit harsh.
Performance at low volumes - Another reviewer made it a point to highlight this quality and now I understand why. This amp sounds good at any volume. There may be an optimal volume for a given recording that closely recreates the mixed volume, however,few amps sound so musical and vibrant at low volumes. The Ayre is fun to turn down and listen to. Somehow it still evokes the sense of excitement and drive. This is a nice feature if for late-at-night listening sessions.
So this is a keeper. I can imagine upgrading speakers at some point and maybe getting a new DAC or transport at some point but this amp is staying. I suppose if money was no object, I would get the Ayre separates! Clearly Ayre knows how to reproduce music and I am looking forward to re-experiencing all of mine over the next months.
Green Mountain Europa Speakers
Modified Paradigm PW 2100 sub - (bracing added, O-Audio BASH amplifier, added fiberglass acoustic stuffing)
Monarchy DAC-24 (Tube DAC used)
Anti-Cables Speaker Cables
Blue Jeans interconnects
Furman Power filter (on DAC and transport, Amp is plugged into dedicated circuit)
Sony, Rotel, Parasound (separates), Arcam, Simaudio Moon I-5.