Gerhard Hirt of Ayon Audio
Jürgen Saile Mr. Hirt, Ayon is well established internationally. Can you tell us something about the development of the company?
Gerhard Hirt When we built our first tube amplifiers in 1993, they were only intended for our home market here in Austria. Over the intervening years the amplifiers spread beyond the Austrian borders. In 2000 we had the courage to go to America for the first time, and started exhibiting at CES; since then the international market has evolved continuously. We expanded the product range and refined it tirelessly. In 2005 the first Ayon preamplifier debuted, with an almost revolutionary technology, i.e., a re-generator-tube power supply and the C3M tube in the input and output stages. One year later there was the first CD-player. In 2007 we presented a new series of loudspeakers. From that time on we received innumerable awards worldwide. In 2009 a novel CD-player/DAC-generation followed; and then in 2011 as the high point, the nomination "Bugatti of Audio" for the Vulcan II, Polaris II and CD-5s on the cover of the most renowned international High-End magazine worldwide, The Absolute Sound - USA. Particularly in the past few years we have expanded very much, and have quite a good position in the international market with our tube equipment. Meanwhile we export to more than 55 countries, with the EU, USA and Russia as our main markets.
J.S. Meanwhile you offer quite a broad range of equipment; I cannot imagine that all these developments come from one designer. Do you have different specialists for it, or are some developments subcontracted?
G.H. Yes, we have different specialists; otherwise our variety of products could not be developed. All these specialists are real experts in their specific area, but altogether are subordinate to the famous Ayon sound. I think that in the past 20 years nobody has pursued the Ayon sound, which actually is not a typical sound, as consistently as we did. We simply combined state-of-the-art technology with the irresistible old tube technology and this way realized a sound reproduction that did not really exist before. Fast, open, transparent, holographic and fluid, with affecting sound colors. Theretofore control of the bass was impossible for tubes for quite a long time, and with all the musical attributes simply waking emotions. I think the slogan of Ayon, "timeless design - magic sound," reveals a lot about this character.
Gerhard Hirt (right) and the author (left)
J.S. Meanwhile almost everything is produced in China, obviously with very different results. Looking at the elaborate design of your equipment I cannot imagine that they are produced in the Middle Kingdom.
G.H. This would be impossible, or could happen only if most of our technicians would move to the Far East. And even then there would always be enormous problems. E.g., our tube devices incorporate "high-tech" electronics; i.e., the MCU controlled AUTO-FIXED-BIAS-system, or the tube test program, or the internal diagnostic system, or a very elaborate software-based tube protection system circuitry. This requires continuous further development and an enormous quality assurance, and an even more sophisticated test procedure. All this is only possible with very experienced tube technicians here on-site.
J.S. Ayon is rather known as a tube specialist; you entered completely new ground with your digital technology. How much development effort is in a device like the S-5?
G.H. The S-5 contains a development of almost three years, with all our know-how we have acquired over the past seven years in the digital sector and, please keep in mind, our tube experience of twenty years.
J.S. The output stage of the S-5 is designed very elaborately and can also be used for other analogue devices. At which level you would rank it in comparison with your regular preamplifiers?
G.H. We are quite proud of the output-stage of the S-5: no degenerative feedback whatsoever, no compensation elements, the absolutely shortest 6H30 signal path, which was most difficult to achieve. Because shorter is more difficult. The output-stage of the S-5 can easily compete with absolutely the best tube preamplifiers worldwide.
J.S. In the S-5 the frequently encountered "computer sound" is completely missing. What is this due to? Or is it a company secret?
G.H. When we put the first Ayon CD-player CD-1 on the market, many customers were excited about the extraordinary musical sound quality, although we only used "conventional" digital technology at that time. Very quickly we realized that the sound cannot come out of the digital section. We did what we could do best, namely build proper power supplies with choke and tube rectification and "shortest" tube output-stages. And we invested all our attention in these areas. In the S-5 we took all "analogue" and "digital" to extremes and combined them with eight symmetrical designed BB1704 DAC chips, plus a dual electronic-analogue volume control disposing of an independent power supply.
J.S. Would you consider the analogue or rather the digital section of the S-5 to be responsible for the extraordinary sound?
G.H. The sound of the S-5 is characterized to 70% by the analogue section, the tube power supply, the dual ground path, the gold-plated conducting paths, the right design, the quality of the components or their tuning respectively and, last but not least, to quite a significant degree by the housing. In the overall design the digital section plays a rather subordinate role, although we have designed it very elaborately.
J.S. At the moment there is a race going on for the highest sampling frequencies of the DAC chips. You apply the BB 1704 dating from 1998. For a good reason?
G.H. In our opinion the 1704 is the best sounding DAC chip. Over the years we have tried out all, and always returned to the 1704 for our top models. However, meanwhile the development of prices of the 1704 is alarming. One of the biggest disappointments is, e.g., the newest BB 1795 (32/192): even with technical measuring you can easily recognize why the sound of this chip is significantly worse.
J.S. Thank you very much for the conversation!