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Ayon Audio

Manufacturer: AYON AUDIO
Price (when reviewed): 8495 euro

Contact: Ayon Audio of Austria
Hart 18, A-8101 Gratkorn


Provided for test by: NAUTILUS Dystrybucja


photos „High Fidelity” | Ayon Audio

No 232

September 1, 2023

AYON AUDIO is an Austrian audio manufacturer that has existed for more than 30 years, whose head and chief designer is GERHARD HIRT. The company offers a range of tube devices - amplifiers, preamplifiers, CD and files players, DACs, but also high-end loudspeakers. Most of them are products categorized as high-end. This time the S-10 II-T file transport in the SIGNATURE version was delivered for the test.

he S-10 II-T IS the LATEST audio files transport from Ayon Audio. Its full name, as used by the manufacturer, is the S-10 II-T Vacuum Tube Class-A Music Network-Transport Player. Phew... Modernity still hasn't managed to classify new audio products.

This is probably the third version of this device, after the S-10 and S-10 II (Gerhard will tell you more about it - see below), but this time it's just a files transport - hence the letter "T" in its name. It's not about tubes ("tube"), although they too are an important component of the device. Ayon comes in three versions, Standard, Signature and Server. Its special feature, of which we are informed in the name, is the presence of a tubes in the digital output stage. This is a technology Ayon has been developing for years and is designed to improve digital signal transmission.

The basic version of the S-10 II-T can be turned into a Signature if several components are installed in it, such as the PCM→DSD converter module, which Ayon has already mastered in the SACD CD-35 HF Edition player. PCM signals are then converted to DSD128 or DSD256 (selectable), but the converter does not work for the USB output. This version will also add a second tube, so that not only RCA and BNC outputs, but AES/EBU will be buffered. On the other hand, we will go to the Server version by installing a hard drive along with a USB-SATA adapter. Conversion/upgrade to any version can be done at any time.

The software and the entire microcomputer chip were jointly developed by Gerhard Hirt and Austrian company StreamUnlimited. This digital specialist, whose team includes engineers who once worked for Philips and whose credits include the CD Pro-2 transport and, more recently, its new Blue Tiger CD-Pro 8 version, has been writing software for audio files players for years. Gerhard is usually their first reviewer and recipient.


| A few simple words

owner, designer

HISTORY OF AYON'S AUDIO FILES PLAYERS began in 2008, when we started working on streaming devices. In 2011, we presented the S-3, the world's first files player with a tube output, which over time gained legendary status. About a year later we released another device, the S-5 files player with a separate tube power supply.

NW-T (NetWork Transport) was launched in 2013. The first product in the '10' series, the S-10 model, came in 2016. It took us another five years to prepare its 'II' version. And, finally, this year (2023) the S-10 II files Transport was added to the lineup. Our goal was to prepare a device intended to offer absolutely the best performance in terms of streaming sound, equipped with multiple connection options.

⸜ The following models of Ayon's streaming products (from left to right, top to bottom): S-3, S-5, NW-T, S-10, S-10II and S-10 II-T

Some key technical information:
• Power transformer with R-core for lowest digital distortion level
• A low-noise power supply operating with a "star" ground circuit.
• All important voltages are independently regulated.
• Digital semiconductor and tube (200 MHz high-frequency tube) outputs for AES/EBU, BNC and SPDIF, switchable between transistor and tube.
• Professional DSD output via 3 x BNC: 1 x DSD-L, 1 x DSD-R and WCLK - the only DSD connection that is lossless.
• USB output, which supports all PCM and PCM formats via DSD (DoP) and native DSD.
PCM-DSD converter (optional).
• BlackBox - JRiver server 1 TB or 2 TB (optional). GH.


S-10 II-T

AUSTRIAN TRANSPORT has a form factor similar to all other products from this manufacturer. It is a black, compact piece of aluminum with a color display on the front. The transport plays all types of audio files you'll encounter today, with WAV and FLAC up to 24 bits and 384.2 kHz, and DSD up to DSD264. The S-10 II-T also supports major streaming services, including Tidal and Qobuz. However, it does not decode MQA files, nor does any DAC from this company. Gerhard is an opponent of this form of lossy encoding of hi-res files. However, since the transport is Roon Ready certified, we can control it with this very software and decode MQA files in it.

The S-10 II-T has several features that make it a special device. The first is a vacuum tube at the S/PDIF and AES/EBU outputs - the latter in the Signature version. It is an output buffer that stabilizes the digital signal transmission. Tried originally in the company's CD transports, it has also found use in its files transports. These tubes work with signals up to 200 MHz.

The second thing is professional output for DSD signal. We are used to the fact that in order to decode this type of signal in an external D/A converter we have to use a USB or S/PDIF connection with DoP (DSD-over-PCM) protocol. As experience has shown, and as we regularly write about, USB is the worst way to transmit an audio signal, and DoP is no better, as it requires additional work by the input and output processors, which increases jitter. Gerhard Hirt has therefore from the beginning, consistently, proposed in its devices a professional link based on three BNC cables - with signals for the left and right channels and a third for the clock.

⸜ OUTPUTS Digital audio signals can of course be output through a whole host of other outputs, such as coaxial RCA and BNC, balanced AES/EBU, USB, and even I2S (on RJ45 jacks). There is also, of course, a TOSLINK optical output. Outputs with tube buffer and solid-state buffer are grouped separately. We choose between them with a small switch, and their set on the rear panel is very impressive.

However, to get the most out of the Signature's top-of-the-line capabilities, you'll also want to use the upsampler, which converts the PCM signal to DSD - you can choose between: DSD128 or DSD256. The exception is files with a DSD signal, which is then sent without upsampling - which is a pity, because neither the Kronos DAC nor the CD-35 in both versions upsample the DSD signal from the digital inputs, only the signal from SACD discs. Anyway, if you use the company's DAC or CD (SACD) player, a triple BNC connection is enough to get the best of the S-10 II-T.

⸜ INPUTS We can transfer files to the transport via UPnP (Universal Plug-and-Play) protocol from a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. We plug the drive into a router or LAN switch with an Ethernet cable (RJ45) and connect the transport itself to the same router or switch. We can also connect a USB drive to it, for which there is a port on the front of the chassis. I used all these options, and for the first time the difference in favor of the NAS was not as big as it usually is.

Let’s add that the transport can be connected to an Ethernet network via cable or via Wi-Fi. It is best to use the former option.

⸜ CONTROLS One of Gerhard's priorities, as long as I can remember, has been that his network devices can be operated without using an application. Hence the elaborate user interface on the front panel in his early designs. When I tested one of the company's first (if not the first) network transports, the NW-T model, in 2012, it had no less than nine (!) buttons (more → HERE ⸜ PL). Ten years later, only one remained, used to turn off the power supply.

While it was initially unclear how to treat such products, the evolution of control programs and their applications has resulted in transferring all manipulators to tablets and smartphones. When it comes to displays, there has been specialization. Some companies, like XACT, have let them go completely, while others, like Linn, HiFi Rose and AURENDER have opted for very large, beautiful OLED touch displays occupying the entire front panel of the device. And there are, of course, intermediate devices like LUMIN, with a small text display.

Ayon remained somewhere in between - between Lumin and Aurender. On its front panel you'll find a QVGA 5" TFT display, where you'll see the cover art and read all, really all, the file information. Its appearance, however, cannot compare to the OLED. Additional information, such as the type of upsampling, appears next to the display. Because in addition to converting the signal to DSD, we can convert all signals to PCM or DoP. The latter option will come in handy if we are using a third-party DAC, and we don't want to send the signal via USB, but RCA or BNC.

However, let's return to the controls. The buttons I mentioned earlier have been moved to the remote control. I tried them out, and indeed file playback then resembles CD playback. The vast majority of audiophiles, however, will want to use the apps; we've already grown accustomed to their ubiquity. Ayon recommends JRemote in combination with JRiver Media Server, Ayon's own A+ application or Mconnect Player. If you use Tidal, you can do so through the Tidal app, as Ayon offers a Tidal Connect mode, in which the signal is played through the S-10 II-T, and the app is just a driver.


˻ HOW WE LISTENED ˺ The S-10 II-T transport was used in the "High Fidelity" reference system and connected to the D/A section of the SACD CD-35 HF Edition player. I compared the files played by the Ayon transport to SACDs and CDs with the same recordings and masters played by the SACD CD-35 HF Edition player, using its DAC.

The options section should prepare you for the fact that the Ayon transport can be connected in many different ways. During the test, I tried two. The most important is a 3 x BNC link with upsampling of all signals to DSD128. Since the CD-35 HF Edition does not accept signals above DSD128, I could not try the DSD256 option. The connection was provided by BNC cables from Acoustic Revive.

The second option was a "hybrid" connection. The DSD signal is then sent through the BNC outputs, and the PCM through one of the S/PDIF or AES/EBU outputs. In the former case, the advantage is that the upsampler works right next to the files player module. In the latter, it's that the PCM signal is sent out through a tube-buffered output. In the CD-35 HF, it was then converted to DSD256. In my case, the PCM signal was sent via an Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6100 cable.

The player was powered by a Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version cable.


⸜ LEONARD COHEN, Popular Problems.
CD Columbia | Sony Music Labels SICP-4329 (2014).
FILE FLAC 24-bit, 96 kHz.
CD Briphonic BRPN-7007GL, Extreme Hard Glass CD-R (2017); more → HERE.
FILE Briphonic, Master DSD128.
⸜ LED ZEPPELIN, Led Zeppelin (I).
CD Atlantic | Warner Music 8122796439 (1969/2014).
FILE Atlantic | Warner Music, FLAC 24-bit, 96 kHz.
⸜ HERB ELLIS/JOE PASS, Seven, Come Eleven.
SACD Concord Records SACD-1015-6 (1974/2003).
FILE rip dsf (DSD) from SACD-1015-6.
⸜ ART PEPPER, The Way It Was!.
SACD Contemporary Records/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2034, #0880/2500 (1972/2008).
FILE rip dsf (DSD) from UDSACD 2034.


ALL OF THE TRACKS I LISTENED to with the S-10 II-T had in common a characteristic we didn't associate with files players for a long time: density. Subsequent changes, corrections, adjustments changed the way we experience files, changed them for the better. Initially, manufacturers focused on something that was the result, and they thought the cause, that is, selectivity and details. The sound of most of the players was therefore difficult to tolerate in extended listening. Jazzy, punched-up treble and a complete lack of fill, and over time simply deadness, is their shortest review.

However, I understood where it was coming from - and it was coming from powerlessness. After all, the problem with files players in general is low resolution, the direct cause of which was high digital noise. And if you can't play musical material in a resolving way, then to make it clear and selective, you need to emphasize the signal's attack, maybe even compress it slightly, and raise the signal's higher frequencies. And that's how these devices played, too.

It is astonishing that it took so long for the engineers who write the programs used to play files and the engineers who apply them to audio devices to understand the things we in perfectionist audio have been talking about all along. I can't explain it to myself any other way than self-confidence, outsized egos and complexes. For when we played a CD and a file, the latter was impossible to listen to. So a short trial was enough to start wondering what they were doing so wrong. However, it took many years for this kind of reflection to take place, and only recently has a paradigm shift become apparent.

It's fair to say that Gerhard was one of the first people to point out the problems with USB, the way CDs are ripped, and finally the way files are played themselves. However, Ayon Audio is a tiny company, so his voice was not heard enough. Or if it was, it was - like the voice of audiophiles - ignored. You could see how difficult it was with subsequent versions of Ayon's transports and file players, which were, after all, created in close cooperation with StreamUnlimited. They were really very good, and it still took a long time to get to where we are today, which is how the S-10 II-T plays.

And Ayon's transport is one of the best devices of this type I've heard, regardless of price. It sounds soft, has a slightly lower center of gravity than the same recordings played from CDs and SACDs, and above all is very resolving. When John Paul Jones' bass enters at the beginning of Dazed and Confused, a track from LED ZEPPELIN's debut album, it has great volume. We know that the band wanted the sound to have momentum.

However, on the third strike of the string in the left channel, you can hear not only the bass, but also the snare spring, from John Bonham's drums - this happens very often in the studio and on stage, when the springs fall into resonance. Ayon demonstrated this magnificently. And it's not often that this element of recording technique is so clear. Anyway, the bass itself was very strong and big. In truth, the same recording, prepared from the same files, but played from CD sounded lighter, not in such a weighted way.

I've heard a similar effort to give recordings a natural softness before, with the XACT S-1 transport. Here, perhaps thanks to the DSD link, it was stretched even harder, even lower. More clearly from the file one could also hear a slightly stronger "p", this so-called "pop", that the CD somewhat masked. The silver disc, on the other hand, had the advantage of better spatial differentiation. The files had a lot of mass, the bodies were nicely shown, but it was the CD that better defined them in space and within themselves.

Very similarly, the differences became apparent when listening to LEONARD COHEN's Almost Like A Blues. This track was entirely composed and played on synthesizers, including that, very distinctive, bass. The files sounded stronger, deeper, and the bass extended lower with them. On the other hand, this CD controlled everything better and differentiated the depth of the stage. In doing so, the S-10 II-T showed events close to us, pulling up the rear layers, thus creating a dense, saturated grid, a sort of saturated panorama.

Ayon's file player does it completely effortlessly. It's a thing you can hear in the very first seconds. The familiar "forced" playing of many high-end devices from the past doesn't seem to apply to it. The friendliness of this sound just came out perfectly with Cohen. His scratchy voice, recorded without fill, was smoother, more pleasant from the files, although not as well defined as from CD.

In fact, I had an identical feeling, or at least a very similar one, when listening to SACDs. The file was denser, warmer and had a stronger foreground, while the disc sounded more accurate, had better defined space, and the foreground was further away from me. The file thus sounded extremely pleasant. The longer I listened to it, the more I appreciated how remarkably refined the music was conveyed with them.

And it's not that there was little treble in the recordings. When, in the intro of the In A Mellow Tone, taken from HERB ELLIS and JOE PASS's Seven, Come Eleven album Jake Hanna hits the brass gently, making his presence known, the Ayon's files player showed it brilliantly, vibrant, with weight, dense. The thing is that the lower midrange and bass are stronger here, a bit like I remembered from Rega turntables.

I got exactly the same impression listening to ART PEPPER's album The Way It Was!. Remastered in the Mobile Fidelity studio, it sounds incredibly natural and simply cool. It was with it that it occurred to me that Ayon's files player, using the PCM→DSD upsampling via the BNC outputs, brings everything closer to us, the listeners. It does this so nicely that the presentation becomes denser, stronger, more enjoyable and incredibly natural. In contrast, the same recordings listened to from CDs and SACDs seem, in comparison, as if the engineer placed the microphones closer to the instruments.

Seemingly similar, yet completely different. But I think for the first time I was willing to accept what the files have to offer without whining. A direct comparison raised no doubt that CDs and SACDs produce a better defined sound without brightening it. They also differentiate stage depth more clearly. However, the S-10 II-T did something that made me sit there in owe for how nicely it all unfolds. Files are reproduced by it in a beautiful way, because they are resolving, with rich tonal harmony and with great dynamics.


I MUST ADD, however, is that tape sounds a bit different, as it sounds rougher and "raw," and the best CD and SACD players, SUCH AS AYON's CD-35 HF and CD-35 II, go in that direction. Recordings recorded or digitally remastered are a different matter. These, by definition, are more "smoothed out," and it was with them that the files player from Austria amazed me with its directness of sound, its palbability, velvety and credibility. It did it by emphasizing the foreground and highlighting some of the bass in the range between 200 and 300 Hz. Something I don't read as a flaw, however.

For it is perfectly audible that this is how this device was "tuned". It is because of this that many listeners will point to it as the winner. After all, the track Manha de Carnaval, from the MAYO NAKANO PIANO Miwaku CD, played from the DSD128 master file and compared to the wonderful, damn expensive Glass Master CD-R, no longer stood out as much as it usually does.

I still believe that a signal recorded on a CD or SACD sounds better than a source file played by a files player - without delving into the sources of those differences. But, as transports such as the Aurender N20, XACT S-1, and - perhaps most notably - the Ayon S-10 II-T demonstrate, it is possible to listen to files in an extremely enjoyable way, experiencing differentiation, resolution and dynamics, and above all naturalness. Which is a big advantage of the DSD link offered by the Austrian device, its algorithm that converts PCM to DSD, as well as its excellent design. Great respect and commendation ˻ RED FINGERPRINT ˺.


The Ayon S-10 II-T IS AN AUDIO FILES TRANSPORT. This means that it takes files from external media, such as NAS, USB SSD (HDD), and extracts them into a PCM or DSD digital signal. The next step is for the playback software to play these files and send them out via one of the digital inputs. Since a hard drive can be installed inside the Ayon in one version, it can also be used as a server. The manufacturer has also provided for the possibility of digitally adjusting the volume level and balance between channels, but only if you convert all signals to PCM.

" FRONT AND BACK The unit is solidly constructed of thick aluminum plates and stands on four legs. On the front, all we have is a QVGA 5" TFT display, a USB input and a standby button; next to the display, the upsampling information is illuminated. The rear is incredibly rich in connections. For here we have BNC jacks for DSD transfer, Ethernet jacks for PCM signal transfer via I2S and a second one for connecting the transport to that company's D/A converters, USB, optical, AES/EBU, coaxial RCA and single BNC. RCA, BNC and AES/EBU are duplicated - the signal can be sent either through classically buffered outputs, or through vacuum tube buffered outputs. All sockets are solid gold-plated.

" INSIDE The interior of the device is not at all empty, which is often the case with file transports. The circuitry is divided among three main boards: 1 ˺ the input one with the DSP chip, which houses the DSD/PCM converter, 2. ˺ a proper file transport with space for HDD/SSD, and 3 an output board with 4 ˺ a power supply.

1 ˺ At the input, we find a separate module, bolted to the main board, the center of which is occupied by Analog Devices' SHARC-series DSP chip. It is here, as I understand it, that algorithms are applied to convert signals PCM → DSD or DSD → PCM, to change the volume level and balance between channels. The signal from here, via short paths on the adjacent board, goes by tape to the transport/server board. I put a "slash" between these two, functionally similar, but not identical, devices, because the S-10 II-T can be one or the other.

˻ 2 ˺ Here we also have the main board, with a Cirrus Logic CS8406 digital signal encoder and opto-electronic circuitry isolating this part from the output, as well as a small board on which the microprocessor and Wi-Fi circuitry are soldered. The board has markings that say it was still designed for the S-10 player, while on the main board the markings already say S-10 II-T. Above the whole there is a metal rack, designed for mounting an SSD or HDD.

3 ˺ The largest is the board with the output circuitry and power supply. This is where the two (this is the Signature version) output buffer tubes are placed. They are Soviet (unfortunately) NOS-type tubes, model 6H4Π (6N4P). This is a 9-pin dual triode once used in radio and TV receivers, a replacement for the 6922 (ECC88) tube. Let me remind you, that earlier Ayon used an EL84 pentode for the output. An additional impedance matching transformer was placed at the S/PDIF. The same, but two, were placed on the auxiliary board with outputs bypassing the tubes.

4 ˺ The power supply, as it is a standard in Ayon products, is extensive. Its base is a large R-Core type transformer, often chosen by Japanese manufacturers, with multiple secondary windings. The transformer is bolted not directly to the bottom of the chassis, but to rails that stiffen it, in addition through rubber pads. This, I assume, is to counteract the transmission of vibrations to the components.

The output board shows four large rectifier bridges and a battery of capacitors smoothing supply voltage ripple; Rubycon capacitors have been allocated for the tubes. The voltage is stabilized in a battery of integrated circuits, working with Wima polypropylene capacitors. There are quite a few fuses in the power supply, so nothing prevents you from replacing them with better ones in the future. Keep in mind, however, that by doing so you may lose the right to warranty repair. .


Reference system 2022

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