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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 6
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ayre acoustics

CX-7 CD player

as reviewed by Danny Kaey and Ed Morwaski

 

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DANNY KAEY'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Reimer McCullough.

ELECTRONICS
Cary Audio CAD808/Rocket 88 amplifier and SLP88 preamplifier.

SOURCES
Cary Audio 308T CD player.

CABLES
Analysis Plus interconnect and speaker cables.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)I feel that I should begin with the proverbial "Where do I begin?" First, I would like to apologize to my readers, as this review is, oh, about two or three months late! There are several reasons for the delay, some good, some bad, some downright sad, but more on that later. The item on hand is another addition to the fabulous Ayre lineup. I remember the first time I came into contact with Ayre, at a demo at a local dealer. This was back in 1997 or thereabouts, and I was in the market for a new system. I don’t remember what I was auditioning, but I recall the dealer saying something to the effect of, "I’ll let you in on a little secret from Colorado!" The secret was an Ayre preamp/power amp combo that sounded quite nice indeed. Ayre has come quite far since then, and has received a lot of press coverage. In Europe, Asia, and the Americas, everyone seems to be raving about the performance of these products—rightfully so, might I add.

I place great importance on the overall fit’n’finish and touch-me-if-you-can quality of a product. Sure, there are expensive components that justify their price with their high quality of finish, but the ones I admire are those that manage to retain most of that touch-and-feel quality yet cost thousands less. These products are typically built to a specific price point, and that is the case with the Ayre CX-7 CD player, but you can’t really tell unless you spend time looking for the tell-tale signs. The first of these is the remote control. This player may be manufactured to a price point, but so are many others, and unlike some of them, the CX-7’s remote control looks like it belongs to a K-mart special. Mind you, I have made this complaint about a number of other components in the past, so this one is really no different. (Who knows, maybe someday, someone, somewhere will actually listen.) Nevertheless, the tacky-looking, plastic Ayre remote shouldn’t be associated with an otherwise nicely designed component.

I very much liked the CX-7's minimalist chassis layout. There are only a few pushbuttons on the front, arranged to the right of the centrally located CD tray. The equally minimalist display affords the user the possibility of cycling through several operational modes: track and time, track only, or off. Another nice feature of the display is the subtle but effective blue light that adds a warm, "fuzzy" effect to the player’s beautiful faceplate. The solid rear end of the unit sports XLR and RCA inputs and an IEC power inlet. The most striking technical feature of this player, though, has to be the use of a computer CD tray and mechanism, very much like the tray you have in your home PC. I don’t know of any other manufacturer that has utilized such an approach, though that, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Nor could I tell what effect, audible or otherwise, it had on the performance of the unit.

After fit and finish, the next (and most important) trait of a component is the sound. Truth be told, this is where my difficulty in completing this review comes in. During the past several months, my reference system was not yet in place because other Positive Feedback writers were reviewing pieces of it. This review will be therefore be one of the last in which I am not able to make A/B comparisons with the components in my reference system. I do, however, know what my system sounds like—rich and sweet, yet open and dynamic. (Can you guess that it’s a tube system?)

I started listening to the CDX-7 with my usual do-all, be-all review CDs, and enjoyed the music this player made. The Ayre did soundstage—presence, width, depth, etc.—really well. Lets take, for example, Hugh Masekela’s work, Hope, recorded live in 1997. This recording is nothing short of awesome, with a tremendous aura. I have heard other players struggle to do justice to this recording, but the Ayre had it all. As Hugh and gang played song after song, the you-are-there feeling captivated me. This is one of my favorite CDs, so I have listened to it on all sorts of players, and the Ayre is near the top of my list. Another great soundstage test is The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, another live recording that has to rank among the best ever. Everyone’s favorite, "Hotel California," glowed. From the opening guitar chords through the onset of the conga drums, you get a sense of what it must have been like on that evening. The killer is always the "swoooooosh" flying across the room, in this case almost beyond the boundaries of my confined listening space. Lesser designs miss this to a degree. The Ayre provided the full spectrum of soundstage resolution, top to bottom, left to right and across the z-axis. Nice work!

Bass performance is one of my favorite tests of any piece of equipment, so I proceeded to play another of my favorites, Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Track 3 has a constant underpinning of low and ultra low bass. With lesser equipment, boominess is very apparent on this track. With the CX-7, it was nonexistent. On the contrary, the bass was clean, fast, and detailed, allowing the music to flow without any constriction. Nice job. Another bass check is Mino Cinellu’s debut CD. Played on a full range system, the bass on track 2 can be shattering. Grunt and agility must be there for this track to come over! The bass needs to keep up with the rest of the song, and the Ayre did so in a very convincing manner.

I always enjoy listening to equipment that brings some personality to the plate. The personality of the CX-7 is defined by a degree of resolution that, not too long ago, would have set you back much more than its $3000 retail price. My preference is for a sweet and involving sound like that of the Cary player, but I did not have my reference system up and running during the period of this review, and therefore had no opportunity to compare the Ayre and the Cary. I still feel that Ayre has a winner on their hands, and I can wholeheartedly give it a solid recommendation. Danny Kaey

 

 

 

ED MORAWSKI'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magnapan MG12.

ELECTRONICS
Plinius SA-102 amplifier and either an Audible Illusions Modulas 3 or E.A.R. 864 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player, Aries turntable w/ JWM 10 arm and a Dynavector 20X cartridge.

CABLES
Empirical Audio Clarity 7 speaker cables, Holophonic-PC interconnects, power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Dedicated balanced power with Brick Wall Surge Supression.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)The Ayre CX-7 has been getting plenty of attention on Audio Asylum, so I was particularly interested in reviewing it. When it arrived, all shiny in its aluminum case, it seemed very heavy for a CD player, so I couldn't resist taking a look under the hood. It's a little underwhelming. The weight is due to two large transformers. One appears to be for the display and transport, while the other powers the digital-to-analog converter. I noted that the transformers were not toroids. Some electronics gurus feel that toroids are not suited to audio because of their propensity to "squeeze" current under high demand. I think that is far outweighed by their resistance to hum and EMI/RFI, but I'm not the builder. I also noticed the computer-based Teac CD-ROM transport, a direction being taken by many manufacturers these days, including the makers of my reference player, Resolution Audio’s Opus 21.

The CX-7's DAC, while small, is sophisticated, with a switch on the rear to select between "Listen" and "Measure" filtering schemes. More on this later. It also has balanced outputs and an AES/EBU output, if your equipment can handle it. Single-ended outputs are also supplied. I used these for my audition, with the CX-7 connected to an Audible Illusions Modulus 3 tube preamp, and a Plinius SA-102 amp powering Magnepan MG12 speakers. Empirical Audio cables and power cords were used for most of the review. After letting the CX-7 warm up for 24 hours, I pressed the button to open the drawer and was quite pleased at how fast the transport read the first disc, Lara St John's Bach Concertos. It was also ultra quiet. I could detect no whir, hum, or noise of any kind.

The first thing I noticed was that there was an abundance of bass. Apparently the transformers have plenty of reserve after all! The second thing was that I had to turn my preamp's volume control down quite a bit. This seemed odd considering that the CX-7’s specs claim an output of 2.35mV, but it was confirmed over and over. The CX-7 has plenty of detail, perhaps a bit too much. Finding the highs rather fatiguing, I began reading the owner's manual regarding the filter switch. The manual states that moving it to the "Listen" position rolls off the highs ever so slightly, and this helped a tiny bit, but the brightness remained. This is through a tube preamp, mind you—one that I have found balances the Magnepans rather well.

I tried to listen around the brightness, and found that the soundstage was very good. The CX-7 seemed to have more depth than the Opus 21, and instruments had pinpoint accuracy in all three dimensions. I also felt that the bass was tighter and slightly deeper. Nevertheless, with the CX-7’s upward tilt, Lara St. John's violin became too much to bear. My head was actually starting to hurt, so I switched to Diana Krall's Look of Love. This exhibited exactly the same traits: good low end, great mids, but harsh on the high end. Although I actually liked what the CX-7 did with strings, again it was too much of a good thing.

The CX-7 had gotten so many raves that I felt I had to dig deeper. I swapped power cables and interconnects (Empirical, ZU, Synergistic Research). I moved the CX-7 to different shelves, and finally to the floor, where it seemed to sound best. The etched highs lingered. Comparing the CX-7 and the Opus 21, the Ayre sounded best on CDs with which I had an intimate familiarity. Am I biased? Probably, but once I played The Corrs’ Talk on Corners through the CX-7, then listened on the Opus 21, I still preferred the Resolution Audio player by a wide margin.

Desperate by now, I decided to try a different preamp. I have a trusty old Muse 1 I bought for its phono stage, and thought its laid back style might be the ticket. Ah! Everything smoothed out. Rickie Lee Jones' rendition of "Walk Away Rene" from her Girl At Her Volcano album now had a shimmering, dynamic, and forceful presentation without being overbearing. It seems crazy that a solid state preamp sounded less bright than a tube preamp, but there you go. Going back to familiar territory, I put on Norah Jones. "Don't Know Why" has some notes that can sound shrill on marginal equipment, but with the Muse in place, it sounded good. The ultimate test is The Corrs’ Unplugged. This CD has lots and lots of uncompressed highs. While the CX-7 sounded pretty good, I noticed it lacked the last tiny bit of spaciousness and air that the Opus 21 imparts.

I must say that I have not found any player better than the Opus 21 at any price, including the Linn and Burmeister players. The player that has come closest to competing with its breathtaking, yet musical attention to detail is the Cary 306/200, and I thought that player was a tad harsh. The CX-7, at $3000 (the same price as the Opus 21) does not threaten it either.

Is the Ayre CX-7 a bad player? Not at all! I would rate it number three among my favorites: the Opus 21, the Cary 306/200, then the Ayre. In fact, the CX-7 could have ended up in my system if I had never heard the Resolution Audio or Cary players. I suspect that the Ayre may be very system dependent. Since I do not have unlimited resources, I cannot say for sure, but that is why Positive Feedback uses the multiple-reviewer approach. Hopefully, one of my colleagues will hit upon the synergistic combination that will bring this player's true character to light. Ed Morawski

For a 3rd opinion, read John Brazier's review at: http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue4/ayrecx7.htm

 

 

 

CX-7 CD player
Retail: $2950

Ayre Acoustics
web address: http://www.ayre.com

 

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