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Compact Disc Player

Ayon Audio
(№ 2/35)

Producent: AYON AUDIO
Price (when reviewed): 20 000 €

Contact: Gerhard Hirt
Hart 18 | 8101 Gratkorn | AUSTRIA |


Provided for test by: NAUTILUS Dystrybucja


Images: Wojciech Pacuła

No 200

January 1, 2021

AYON AUDIO is a company specializing in manufacturing expensive and very expensive audio components: amplifiers, digital sources and loudspeakers. For the „High fidelity’s” 15th Anniversary they prepared a special version of the CD-35 SACD Player. The CD-35 II HF Edition on the other hand was developed to celebrate 200th issue of our magazine.

DENTICAL TWINS: CD-35 HF Edition and CD-35 II HF Edition, almost perfectly identical, virtually indistinguishable to the most of people. One look at these two players and one can swear that they are two units of the same model. And yet ... This mute 'almost' introduces a distinction, which a skilled eye will confirm by reading the sticker on the back panel with the inscription 'CD-35 II HF Edition' (HF Edition = HIGH FIDELITY EDITION) or by lifting the lid of the CD transport that now includes an integrated clamp - in the 2017 model it would lock down a disc before closing the lid.

The fundamental difference, the difference in their "personality", which makes them separate entities, is that the Mk I was a Super Audio CD player, i.e. it played SACDs as well as CDs (and CD-R / RW), and the Mk II plays "only" Compact Discs (including CD-Audio, CD-R / RW). I think that unlocking the ability to play SACDs in the previous model was a kind of experiment - an experiment whose effects apparently did not satisfy GERHARD HIRT, the owner of AYON AUDIO.

The thing is that playing CDs and SACDs is different and requires different software. Ayon’s experience showed that when one uses the StreamUnlimited transport to play only Compact Discs, it does it better than when it has to play two different types of discs. Gerhard has never really been a fan of the SACD format, he focuses more on DSD files, but above all he’s an analog man. Therefore, when preparing the new version of the CD-35, he again opted for the older format, but one of which music fans have hundreds of millions, if not billions in their music libraries.


The CD-35 II HIGH FIDELITY EDITION, "HF Edition" for short, is the second "special" product in the history of Ayon Audio. The first was the Super Audio CD CD-35 HF Edition player, which we co-invented with Gerhard Hirt for two reasons, which I would call "qualitative" and "prestigious". The former was, as it turned out, about the CD-35 being one of the best devices of this type for its price which also showed the potential for much more. The latter reason connected the Ayon Audio brand with our magazine - it was supposed to be a model celebrating the 15th anniversary of "High Fidelity", a kind of "seal" confirming our long-term friendship.

The division of labor on the design of the special version was such that Gerhard did almost all the work with his engineers and friends, with whom he tests new products. My role came down to indicating the elements that I would like to be improved and to suggesting a few solutions, for example usage of anti-vibration feet made by the Polish manufacturer. From the very beginning it was also clear that only 50 units of this version would be made, numbered and signed by the owner of Ayon Audio. As a result of these arrangements, a device was developed that changed my (and others) perception of how a digital source can sound like.

The new player was prepared by Gerhard on his own. However, it is based on the previous model, like the basic version of the CD-35 II on the basic version of the CD-35. Among the features that distinguish the new version, the owner of Ayon pointed to the optimized Sanyo-Stream Unlimited CD mechanism, improved servo section with only CD playback in mind, integrated clamping system, optimized low-pass filter, refined PCM-DSD converter, new capacitor values for the tube stage output.

The HF EDITION version is in its assumptions very similar to the basic CD-35 II player, about which we already wrote (more HERE). If you are interested, let me refer you to this test. In order not to repeat myself, I will only provide the most important information about the reviewed device below.

DESIGN The CD-35 II HF Edition is a top-loader Compact Disc player, with a tube, Class-A, no feedback analog output stage, using a tube power supply. Manufacturer decided to use two double triodes: 6H30 + 5687; the former made by Electro-Harmonix and the latter by General Electric, coming from military stocks (JAN 5687WB). The power supply features two R-core transformers, and the GZ30 tube rectifier in the analog section, one coming still from Soviet stocks.

It is not only a CD player, but also a versatile DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter). It offers a wide range of digital inputs: in addition to the classic 75 Ω S / PDIF (RCA + BNC), 110 Ω AES / EBU and USB inputs, there is also an I2S input (with RJ45 socket) for the PCM signal and an unprecedented in home audio products professional 3 x BNC input for DSD signal.

The digital to analog conversion is done by two AKM 4497EQ converters, one per channel, supporting PCM signals up to 768kHz / 32 bits and DSD to DSD256. The "Signature" version features additionally a D/D converter that may be used to convert the PCM signal to DSD - we can choose between DSD128 and DSD256.

Before we get to them, we can use the "secret component" of Ayon Audio, namely the proprietary digital D/D converter. It’s an optional feature, for which you have to pay extra, but without it the CD-35 II will be a bit crippled. In this system, the PCM signal from CDs or digital inputs is converted into DSD.

There are two values to choose from: DSD128 and DSD256. I always use the latter because it leaves much less high-frequency noise (beyond the frequency range) in the signal than the classic DSD conversion. But you can also upsample the DSD signal, for example from the USB input; 3xBNC inputs will not benefit from this.

Another option is the preamp section. The signal in the CD-35 II is amplified in a balanced circuit, so next to the two analog RCA inputs there is also an XLR input. The volume control is carried out in an integrated PGA series resistor ladder. The volume can be adjusted either using buttons on the top panel or using an aluminum remote control, which also offers access to upsampling and we can use it to select one of the two digital filters - I use the filter number 1. This information is displayed on the front of the device, as well as track number, time and volume level.

DIFFERENCES The differences between the basic version of the tested player and the version prepared for the 200th edition of "High Fidelity" are mostly hidden inside the device. They are also some visible on the outside, but one will notice them only if they know the basic version. The change that can be seen from the start are the new feet, the Ceramic Disc Classic model from the Polish company Franc Audio Accessories, in a special finish prepared exclusively for Ayon. Anodized black, not silver, grilles covering cooling openings, also buttons, and a grip in the transport’s lid are also noteworthy.

There is no information on the front of the device that this is the Mk II version, or that it is its "HF Edition" version. It is shown on the back panel. The information about it being the "special" version is shown on a sticker signed by Gerhard Hirt, the owner of the company. It also includes a serial number - this is a limited device and only 35 units will be made.

We'll find more changes inside. They were introduced in the power and output sections - the transport and the digital section are the same in both versions. The changes in question are as follows:

⸜20 pieces 2-Watt Tantalum resistors in the signal path,
⸜4 x Vcap TFTF and 4 x Mundorf Supreme SGO capacitors , and 4 pcs. Special bypass caps,4
⸜WBT Net-Gen RCA jacks,
⸜the tube output stage is adjusted for higher current in comparison to the regular CD-35 II,
⸜all important components (mostly in the Signal path)  are high precision matched below 1% tolerances,
⸜the low-pass filter is added perfectly tuned for best sound performances,
⸜all tubes are ultra-precise and matched directly to their specific tube socket.


HOW WE TESTED The player was evaluated in the "High Fidelity" reference system. It was compared to two SACD players - the reference player of our editorial office, the AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF EDITION, and to the ESOTERIC K-01XD player tested at the same time.

The device was placed on the top shelf of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition (Mk I) rack, without an additional anti-vibration platform. When I listened to the reviewed unit exclusively, it was powered by the SILTECH TRIPLE CROWN cable, and the signal was sent via the RCA Siltech Triple Crown interconnect. During direct comparisons, both players - the tested and reference ones - were powered by ACOUSTIC REVIVE ABSOLUTE POWER cables, and the signal was sent via ACOUSTIC REVIVE ABSOLUTE RCA-1.0 interconnects.

Recordings used for the test | a selection

AUDIOPHILE ANALOG COLLECTION Vol. 1 + Vol. 2, 2xHD 2HDFT-C1143/1167 | 2 x CD (2020); ⸤ AQUAVOICE, Nocturne, Zoharum Release ZOHAR 077-2, Master CD-R (2014)
⸤ JOHN SCOFIELD, Swallow Tales, ECM Records /Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCE-1183, CD (2020); ⸤ KEITH JARRETT, Creation, ECM Records/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCE-1150, Promo CD-R (2015)
⸤ ROSEMARY CLOONEY, Rosemary Clooney sings Ballads, Concord/Stereo Sound SSCDR-007, „Flat Transfer Series”, Master CD-R (1985/2016)
⸤ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice/Impex Records IMP8308, Gold HDCD (1974/2004)

A Day at Jazz Spot 'Basie'. Selected by Shoji "Swifty" Sugawara, Stereo Sound Reference Record SSRR6-7, 2 x SACD/CD (2011)
⸤ BILL EVANS TRIO, Portrait in Jazz, Riverside/Fantasy RISA-1162-6, SACD/CD (1959/2003)
⸤ DEPECHE MODE, Abroken Frame, Mute Records Limited DMCD2, Collectors Edition, SACD/CD+DVD (1982/2006)
⸤ FRANK SINATRA, Sinatra at the Sands, Reprise/Stereo Sound Reference Record SSVS-011/014, „Stereo Sound Reference Record”, SACD + CD (1966/2019); ⸤ MERL SAUNDERS, JERRY GARCIA, JOHN KAHN, BILL VITT, Live At Keystone. Vol. 1, Fantasy ‎Records FSA7701-6, SACD/CD (1973/2004);


LISTENING TO BOTH HF EDITION PLAYERS side by side, in various combinations, it is not difficult to conclude that they are very similar devices. In the sense that they are more different from other digital players on the market than from each other. Their sound is based on the same assumptions and the same aesthetics, so to a casual observer they might even seem the same - maybe not identical, but similar enough that such someone could consider the differences between them as insignificant.

However, I assume that the readers of "High Fidelity" are not random listeners, but those who know what they want and are properly prepared for it, so what differentiates these two models may turn out to be crucial in reaching the place they would like to be sonically. In your case, these shifts of emphasis, a slight change of perspective, and seemingly minor differences will turn out to be greater than one might assume from reading the previous paragraph. For you, these differences may decide "to be or not to be."

Because they are not the "same". They sound in a similar way, they build the sound with the same attitude, that's clear, but the differences between them - paradoxically, in the context of what said in the first paragraph - make it easier for me to compare any of them to a high-end player from another brand, say the fantastic Gryphon Ethos or Esoteric K-01XD and point out their common features, than comparing the CD-35 HF Edition and CD-35 II HF Edition.

But there are things that are clearly different, like the PERSPECTIVE - the new player builds it in a completely different way. While the Mk I shows the events relatively close, it saturates them so that bodies are large and tangible, the Mk II moves the foreground, though not too much, about a meter, away. By presenting images quite closely, my player tries to saturate the performance with emotions, to ensure the best possible energy transfer - and the closer we sit to the sound source, the more tangible and direct it is, right?

It turns out that both answers, yes and no, can be true - while listening to the CD-35 II HF Edition, we will notice that the tangibility and energy transfer can be „captured” in a different way. The device by moving the foreground away from us focuses it and enlarges it. Yes, we get a more compact image with it, positioned further from the line connecting the speakers, but also a bigger one. "Compacting an image" usually means making it smaller, because since the same information must be clearer, it must be compressed and compacted. And it usually is so. But in this case, not with the Mk II.

The new Ayon player focuses the sound and enlarges it at the same time. I would also like to add that it saturates it too, because it provides more information. Both players are phenomenal in this respect, but the Mk II does it better. There is an audiophile expression about "tearing off the veil" from the presentation - it means that after switching to a better sounding product the sound becomes clearer and purer. And maybe the scale of the difference is not that big, it is much more subtle, but yes, after switching from the Mk I to the Mk II version, we get a similar impression.

The new player does not so much offer a more detailed sound, as it does not, but rather reveals more information. Its sound is denser and clearer at the same time, the phantom images are clearer, stronger, but they also have more "air" around them, their micro-acoustics are more unambiguous. Which brings us directly to the point of reference, which for Gerhard is the sound of the analog master tape. Not other digital players, not even his beloved LPs, but tapes.

As in the case of this carrier, also in the sound of the Mk II the phantom images are not clearly defined, it is impossible to point out exactly where the musicians are on the stage. They are „combined” with reverberation - natural or added in the studio - which also in the real world does not allow you to locate the sound source immediately. It was perfectly audible with the purist recordings made with the use of two microphones on a Nagra tape recorder and released on the 2xHD sampler titled Audiophile Analog Collection Vol. 1 + Vol. 2. What I am talking about was beautifully presented with it, i.e. pushing the foreground further away by the tested player, showing clearer phantom images, that are also larger and better saturated. And also - it was a complete surprise - they seemed also darker.

The first version of the device was unique in this respect, as it was so similar to what you can hear listening to a tape. It is not "the same sound", but "the same kind of sound" - after all, these are two different formats and recording methods. The CD-35 player in each version is closer to the sound of an analog tape recorder than to an LP and much more so than I have heard from any other digital disc player, not to mention files. And the new version is even closer, also through the darkness of the presentation.

I know that not everyone likes the Ayon player I use. And that's good, audio is the art of choices and compromises. In any case, the main complaints I heard from those who didn’t like it were "too little details" and "sounding too dark". And it is true, this is not a device that would display details and it is a device that sounds dark. But, from my point of view, it's a great choice offering great sonic results. And when I heard how the Mk II played the discs prepared by René Laflamme, how the discs from the Three Blind Mice label sounded like, for example the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio’s Midnight Sugar from the gold HDCD disc, how did John Scofield's album entitled Swallow Tales sounded like, I was surprised to hear that the manufacturer was able to go even further in that direction and achieve even more.

To the great perspective and a large volume of sound, also an outstanding dynamics was added. You know how the percussion sounds like from a distance of two meters, right? It can even „kill” you with a sudden, immediately extinguished strike. It cannot be repeated in a recording, it is impossible, but it can be indicated in a good way - and the Mk II does it very suggestively. Because the close-microphone percussion elements from the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio album sounded so suggestive, so natural as they rarely ever do. The Mk II softened them a bit and rounded them. Its sound was a bit more pleasant, but also less real, and yet the impression of being in front of the real instrument was extremely strong.

And finally there is the bass. Not only is it there, but in the new version it is also strong and deep. Its mid-range seems clearer, maybe even more expressive than in the Mk I version. The whole range in both devices sounds similar in its softness and richness, as well as delivering a good slam, though without exaggeration in its hardening. In the new player it is better focused, but it is still on the nice, real side of the sound.

It is also so, that the older version of the player offers a softer and more velvety presentation, you can hear it with every album. But it is partly due to a slightly more blurred sound attack. Compared to other high-end devices, it provides equally precise attack and decay, although Gryphon Ethos and dCS Vivaldi, for example, do it differently, emphasizing the attack's phase more strongly. The Ayon CD-35 HF Edition, i.e. the first version, "enters" the sound not so hard, somewhat hiding the "stiffness" of the attack behind its filling. These are two equivalent ways of looking at sound, but - let me repeat this - different ones.

In the new version, the Ayon player goes one step closer to the aforementioned players, although it is still closer to the Mk I and devices such as emm Labs and MSB in this regard. Perhaps that is why its bass seems to be tighter than in the older version, although this is not really the case. My eyebrow only twitched when I listened to discs with higher compression and strong, electric or even electronic bass, for example Aquavoice’s Nocturne from the Master CD-R, burned for me by its mastering engineer, Marcin Bociński.

The point is that compared to the Mk I with the new player you can hear a slight, but still "tweaked" version of this range, a bit similar to what you can hear with turntables. The best turntables sound great in the lower range and it is hard to accuse them of exaggeration, but after listening to the same material from the tape it is clear that the LP version is a bit "made". It was similar with the CD-35 II HF Edition, playing strong, electric material. You will like it, because there is a good "drive" and a "power". But it was also clear to me that the older version does it more subtly.


LISTENIGN TO CDs has shown that the new version of the top Ayon Audio player is in several respects better than its older version. For laymen, the differences may seem not so big, but for anyone who has listened to a lot of CDs, spent years with live music, it will be clear that these are significant differences, sometimes even basic ones. Because the Mk II is simply a device that differentiates the sound from CDs better, both in terms of timbre, dynamics and space. It shows more information, thanks to which it can build an even more credible presentation.

The situation becomes less clear and the events take a bit different turn when we think about the CD-35 HF Edition, i.e. the older version, not as a COMPACT DISC player, but as a SUPER AUDIO CD and Compact disc player in one. Because in audio we always get some and loose some. Gerhard disabled the ability to play SACDs in the new device for a specific reason - to improve the performance of the device as a CD player. And it worked. The SACDs, however, turn out to be so different and so attractive that a comparison of the same recordings played from CDs or from the CD layer of hybrid SACDs on the new player and SACDs on the older one showed them both from a slightly different perspective.

My "old" player shows this world in a unique way. The sound from SACDs is deeper, denser and, above all, truer. The differences between the Mk I playing a SACD and the Mk II with a CD (CD with the same material or a CD layer on a hybrid SACD disc) are considerable, at least in the context of the high-end in which we operate. I would say that this is a similar distance as between the new player and the older CD player, this time in favor of the CD-35 HF Edition, i.e. the SACD player.

However, while all the advantages of the new player with CDs were constant, predictable, that is homogeneous, in the case of SACDs the spread of results was much larger. The biggest differences in favor of SACDs and my player can be found with the transfer from analog tapes straight to DSD files. Here, the amount of information we get is simply difficult (if not impossible) to be replicated by a CD player, even as unique as the CD-35 II HF Edition.

However, if the source were PCM files converted in the studio to DSD, the results were not as clear. Yes, I still preferred the SACD versions, but listening to their CD counterparts from the new player, I quickly forgot that it was "only" a Compact Disc player, because the advantages in the form of better focus, better depth and much better stereo imaging, also in the spatial dimension, offered me something special.

In any case, the differences between the SACD player from the reference system and the new CD player with the "High Fidelity" logo boil down to "presence", that is the feeling that we are in front of a real event. It is more pronounced with most SACDs. It is with them that everything is more credible, more pleasant, more like the sound I am looking for.

| Summary

Gerhard Hirt has been predicting the end of the Super Audio CDs for many years, ever since I've known him. And he is right when he says that it is a tiny niche within a small niche, which is high end audio. On the other hand, it is a format that still has its supporters and in which many great titles are still released, mainly with classical and jazz music. And, ultimately, we strive for the best possible sound no matter what, so we even reach for copies of analog master tapes, even though this is just a super-niche!

And for the fans of format, the CD-35 HF Edition SACD player will still be one of the best money can buy. If you want something of a similar, maybe even higher level, but not quite the same, you will have to spend a lot more money, with no guarantee of success.

The situation is completely different if our main digital medium is a Compact Disc. Gerhard and his associates and friends managed to prepare an incredible player. It has everything that the Mk I has to offer, plus better differentiation, focus, imaging and vividness. The sound is shown a bit further away from us, but - somehow - it is not smaller, but bigger in terms of scale!

It's simply a better CD player than the Mk I. Its example shows how the progress in digital signal processing - the PCM-DSD converter - and the improvements in the analog circuit offer a real progress - a progress that we could only dream about a few years ago.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Supported digital signals up to: 768 kHz / 32 bits & DSD256
DAC: 2 x AKM 4497EQ
Tubes: 6H30 + 5687

Dynamics: >120 dB
Output signal (1 kHz):
- „Low”: 2.5 V fixed or 0 – 2.5 V rms variable
- „High”: 5 V fixed or 0 – 5 V rms variable
Output impedance (XLR | RCA): ~ 300 Ω | ~ 300 Ω

Digital output: 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA)
Digital inputs: 75 Ω S/PDIF (RCA + BNC), USB, I2S, BNC, AES/EBU, 3 x BNC for DSD
S/N: > 119 dB
Frequency range: 20 Hz – 50 kHz (+/- 0.3 dB)
THD (1 kHz): < 0.001%
Dimensions (W x D x H): 480 x 390 x 120 mm
Weight: 22 kg


Reference system 2020

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC