Ayon Audio CD-35 II CD Player And
USA Labs RS9 Music
The Ayon Audio CD-35 II, as reviewed here, is the latest introduction to a long lineage of CD players that have been well regarded going back to the various models in the 3 and 5 series, along with ideas derived from their special edition CD35HF. But the CD-35 II is more than a CD player – it is also a fully functioning preamplifier and DAC. It is a single-ended triode pure Class A design using a 6H30 and a 5687 tube for each channel, and a GZ30 tube as a rectifier for the power supply. It is also a zero-feedback design.
Ayon's CD-35 II's built-in DAC can be used to play music files from your computer via the USB connection. The DAC also has a coaxial RCA input for S/PDIF, I2S, BNC, AES/EBU, and three other BNC inputs for DSD. For this review I also evaluated the RS9 music server to coordinate streaming of music from Qobuz. The USA Labs RS9 can be obtained at USA Tube Audio in Arizona, which is associated with Ayon Audio USA. I installed a CAT 6 line running from my router to the RS9 server, which was connected to the Ayon CD-35 II via an excellent sounding USB cable supplied by Synergistic Research.
The Ayon products are designed and made in Austria. I like their beautiful and massively built chassis forms, which share black rounded corner designs that seamlessly connect the thick faceplate with the sides, back, and base panels. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I love how this Bauhaus-influenced style made an elegant and profound statement on my music rack. The heft and weight, along with the fit and finish, provide a strong suggestion that this is likely to be an extraordinary piece of high-end kit. The Ayon RS9 server is made from a different cloth, compact and attractive, but purely functional and not intended for display at center stage.
I have a history of using tube-based CD players since the 1990s starting with a two-box DAC and matching transport from California Audio Labs followed by a Cary tube CD player. Currently, my system uses the special edition of the PrimaLuna CD player with a rectifier using two 5AR4 tubes. While such rectifiers are a more expensive implementation, a meticulously designed tube rectifier (also found in the Ayon) can assist in allowing the musical presentation to be natural sounding with a low noise floor. In past years I also had an integrated preamplifier and CD player, the Krell KPS 25s, as well as a Burmeister 089 CD player which had balanced analog inputs and a variable output so that it could work directly with a power amplifier. The Krell and Burmester sold for significantly higher prices a decade ago compared to the CD-35 II today.
The Sound Of Ayon
Two of my audiophile friends have Ayon equipment. Dan played French Horn in the Philadelphia Orchestra for 45 seasons and our friend Louis is an arts patron who attends many concerts in Philadelphia and New York. They both understood what I meant when I shared how realistically the Ayon was able to bring to life the breadth and depth of my favorite recordings.
A month passed by quickly while I was enjoying the presentations of CDs in new ways. The details, control, space, frequency ranges, dynamics, and speed all created a realistic sense of resolution and natural, musical sound. I decided it was time to adjust the settings on the back panel to allow the preamplifier circuits to be used. I proceeded to connect the Ayon CD-35 II to my Rogue Apollo Dark amplifiers with balanced cables provided by Furutech.
The USA LAbs RS9 Music Server
He also predicted that the USA Labs RS9 Server would introduce absolutely no computer-related artifacts into my stereo's sound. He was right. I had the server operating in less than an hour and must add that if a novice like me could get this to work then anybody can. This is the kind of design that will work to get hard-core media collectors of CD and vinyl such as myself to embrace using a music server.
I subscribed to Qobuz a couple of years ago when I reviewed the Bowers & Wilkins Formation self-powered speakers. I was aware of the incredibly large repertoire that is available to search and enjoy with a streamer. However, I did not want the complications of adding a typical server and external DAC to the components that occupy space on my racks. The combination of the almost-all-purpose Ayon and the RS9 server addressed this need nicely.
Now I felt that I had excellent options to hear music from three different music sources. I could enjoy the substantial collection of CDs and LPs that I own, and I could search and hear the vast collection of music available on Qobuz.
Power Amps A-Plenty
The Ayon preamp stage sounded quite good with the Rogue Apollo Amps. The sound of the Ayon preamplifier was clear and precise. The Ayon brought out the Rogue amp attributes of strength, power, and dynamics with their KT120 tubes and 175 Watts of power. The music was effortless and clear as I listened with my Magnepan 20.7 speakers. The Ayon and Rogue preamplifiers use the same 6H30 tube and seemed a bit similar in sound when connected to the Rogue Apollo amplifiers. However, that changed when I evaluated the Ayon with the CJ monoblocks.
I did extensive listening evaluations comparing the Rogue preamp against the Ayon CD-35 II preamplifier section, while also comparing the Rogue Apollo and the CJ Premier 8A power amps. The Rogue preamplifier had excellent resolution, polish, and clarity. It had a great deal of speed in a linear and straightforward way, with a very good level of detail. The Ayon also provided this level of technical prowess and details in the music, but in a more voluptuous way. The Ayon in combination with the CJ Premier 8A amps was highly engaging, with an alluring sense of depth and a sense of more acoustical ambiance. The soundscape of the performers and the space of the venue were more saturated.
So, I found musical improvements when using the Ayon CD-35 II as an integrated CD player and preamp compared to using it only as a CD player with the Rogue RP9 preamp. There also is the advantage with the elimination of another interconnect between the CD player and separate preamplifier. My conclusion is that even if a person has a great preamplifier in their system as I did, the Ayon CD-35 II is an amazingly good sounding and fully functioning preamp that also serves as a CD player and DAC. This enables a person to have one piece of equipment on a single shelf instead of occupying more space with a CD player, DAC, and preamp (along with their associated interconnects and power cords).
It is a highly creative razzle-dazzle combination that can be an endurance test for a stereo's dynamics and transients, yet quite charming musically to follow the variations of the theme. I have this recording on both vinyl LP HM 1050 and CD HM 90.1050. It is also available to stream on Qobuz. Through the CD-35 II, the three formats sounded a bit different, yet each format offered compelling and realistic presentations filled with details that enabled musical fulfillment in abundance.
Another favorite Harmonia Mundi CD I have enjoyed since the 1980s is Rene Clemencic's performance of La Fete De L'ane. I have played this CD [HM 901036] as an irreverent celebration and satire for celebrating Christmas and New Year's. Through the Ayon CD-35 II, all the instrumental textures and distinctive vocalizations on this CD sounded the best I had ever heard. The performers were rendered in a three-dimensional manner. I could follow their musical presentations from side to side, along with the front to the rear of the church acoustics.
The CD sounded so good that I decided to buy the LP [HM 1036], as a comparison to evaluate and compare. Upon ultrasonically cleaning the mint condition vintage LP, I heard differences due to the format. Yet the sound quality of the CD was so good through the Ayon that I do not feel compelled to say a person must have this recording on vinyl to hear everything in this fantastic performance.
In the past few years, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick have been recording a cycle of Rachmaninoff symphonic works. Daniil Trifonov has performed all four Piano Concertos. They are on Destination Rachmaninov - Arrival Piano Concertos 1 & 3 [Deutsche Grammophon 483 6617] and Destination Rachmaninov – Departure Piano Concertos 2 & 4 [Deutsche Grammophon B0028799-02]. Both recordings were released by DG on CD format and 180-gram vinyl gatefold double-LP albums. It was a perfect demo of the Ayon to hear how well it played these new DG CDs and records. The Ayon accurately recreated the sound and details from the recording sessions I attended at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. It was a realistic portrayal of the performances with the sound of musicians that I personally know, and have heard, for many years.
If you happen to have a great vinyl analog setup, then the sound of the Ayon preamplifier is going to portray and reach musical levels that are revealing and musically satisfying. If using the Ayon CD player with your own preamplifier, then once again the Ayon will achieve and deliver deeply rewarding and satisfying music. I enjoyed both as I compared many overlapping recordings in which I own both formats. The Ayon CD-35 II allowed me to enjoy CDs just as much as I enjoy LPs. And for me, that is saying a lot.
USA Labs RS9 Set Up
Charlie from Ayon USA / USA Labs recommended that I try a USB cable from Synergistic Research, and it turned out to be good advice. In fact, the USB cord played a vital role in the sound quality of the streamer. Andy Wierderspahn and Ted Denney from Synergistic Research provided a loan of their Galileo SX digital interconnect with the optional ground plug, silver, and gold tuning module bullets. I compared this SR cable to another excellent quality borrowed cable from an audiophile friend. The SR cable added finesse and level of musicality that gave the Ayon an analog-like sound, in the best sense of that word. The SR ground and tuning module added more refinements to the extremely sweet and beautiful sound while using the SR cable.
I find using an app on my phone to be an uncomplicated way of searching and using Qobuz while Roon is the core control set up on the computer. It would be just as easy to set up a notebook or laptop, however I personally prefer to not have those devices in my music room. USA Labs' RS9 can store from 2 TB on up depending on configuration, but I own so many CDs and records that I have not pursued the use of music files. It is simply a personal quirk from having served as the Principal Librarian for The Philadelphia Orchestra for many years and wanting to take a break from the computer when I am home. I admit I am a collector, and I love handling records and CDs. But streaming music through a service such as Qobuz is easy for me because it brings easy access to so many recordings that I do not own.
The Format War
While I have countless CDs and LPs, I found that listening to music with Qobuz provided some key advantages. It was an easier way to hear and enjoy music that I have on older original records that are not in good condition. And I found that older CDs from an era filled with limited mastering expertise and digital artifacts did not sound as good as streaming newer formatted and hi-rez masters.
I have not had the pleasure to meet Ayon's Gerhard Hirt, but I hope to one day. The Ayon website has extensive information about the company philosophy, designs, and approach to reproducing music. It seems obvious to me that Gerhard is a genuine music lover and patron of the arts. There is a keen sense of artistry and beauty in the sound of this Ayon. This elegant component accurately reflects the company's philosophy.
I have been a musician for over 50 years, while my dad was an electronics repair technician and salesperson. I wish he could be here to experience the fine design of the Ayon (and to explain all the circuits and tubes to me). He would be impressed with the build, fit and finish. He would question the expense yet would appreciate the added value of being a multitalented state-of-the-art performer as a preamplifier, CD player, and DAC in a beautiful chassis. I give the Ayon CD-35 II the highest of recommendations and would not want to be without the ability to hear music presented at this level now that I have experienced it.
At the conclusion of this review, it was an easy decision to buy the Ayon CD-35 II CD player and the USA Labs RS9 Music Server for my system. This is the highest compliment a reviewer can bestow upon a product for review.
USA Labs RS9 Music Server
Voice: (800) 676-1085