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Integrated amplifier
Ayon Audio ORION II

Price: 8420 zł

Manufacturer: Ayon Audio

Gerhard Hirt | Hart 18 | A-8101 Gratkorn | Austria
tel.: +43 3124 24954 | fax: +43 3124 24955


Country of origin: Austria

WWW: Ayon Audio
Polish language www: Ayon Audio

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła | Piksel Studio
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

WThe amplifier Orion II is an integrated amplifier with the amplifying circuits based on tubes with solid state power supply. Orion II, as indicated by its name, replaces the model Orion. On first sight changes are not substantial – changed knobs, different lettering, additional input “Direct”, etc. The output power did not change – it is still 2x30W in triode mode and 2x50W in pentode mode. The weight was increased by 1kg.
But when we look closer, it turns out, that beside the external design – and the amplifier looks better now – the second version has the innovative bias regulation circuitry, the key element of the newest “revolution” of Ayon. During first calibration or after exchanging the tubes you have to set it manually, but then it adjusts the appropriate parameters of each tube automatically, counteracting its aging and improving its matching. The company pays special attention to the power supply – and that for a good reason. The tubes are protected by a soft start and soft switch off sequence – this is a combination of starting and stopping of the heating and anode voltages in a regulated way.
And finally the tubes themselves. In the previous generation of KT88 amplifiers Ayon used Genalex Golden Lion tubes. However it turned out, that they are faulty, after measurements most of them had to be trashed. So Gerhard Hirt, the owner of Ayon decided to exchange them for the anniversary edition of the Shuguang Black Treasure tubes (50th anniversary!). I heard them and I think, that those are among the best KT88 tubes on the market! In the Orion, which was a scaled down version of the Spirit by design, cheaper tubes had to be used – those were the KT88 EH Electro-Harmonix. Those were good tubes, and there were no problems with them. But Gerhard is a man, who keeps on searching and researching, so together with one of the tube manufacturers (at the time I wrote this text I did not know which one) he prepared his own version of the tube called KT-88s and those were installed in the version II.
There are two elements, which are, in my opinion, a step backwards – the headphone output was removed and the obsolete USB input remained. Earlier the same chip was used in all Ayon CD players, but their newer ‘s’ versions already have new receivers, accepting signals up to 24/96. Here we are locked at 16 bits and 48kHz. This is a bad thing. A similar situation was with the headphone output – the Orion II should be an all-rounder for the beginners, what it turned out not to be. I think, that it is worth to think about the return of this feature – but after improvement! I remember, that the headphone sound of the Orion was not especially catching.

To date we tested the following Ayon Audio devices:

  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-2s; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-1s (in a system); review HERE
  • DAC Skylla; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-1; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-3; review HERE
  • Compact Disc Player Ayon Audio CD-07; review HERE
  • Integrated Amplifier Ayon Audio 300B; review HERE
  • Preamplifier Ayon Audio Polaris II; review HERE


    A selection of recordings used in the test:

  • Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus 2011, cdbong43, SP CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Remixes 81-11: 2, Mute, cdmutel18, CD.
  • George Michael, Faith, Epic/Sony Music, 7753020, Special Edition 2 x CD+DVD.
  • Holst, The Planets, Buzz Ensemble, Mélanie Barney, Fidelio Musique, FACD028, CD.
  • Jan Fukumachi, Jan Fukumachi at Steinway (Take 2), First Impression Music/Lasting Impression Music, LIM DXD 038, silver-CD.
  • Jonas Knutson + Johan Norberg, Cow Cow: Norrland II, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9425-2, CD.
  • Laurie Allyn, Paradise, Mode Records/Muzak, MZCS-1124, CD.
  • Leszek Możdżer, Komeda, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9516-2, CD.
  • Lionel Richie, Can’t Slow Down [DeLuxe Edition], Motown/Universal, 181202, 2 x CD.
  • Lisa Gerrard, The Silver Tree, 4AD/Sonic Records, SON212, CD.
  • Madeleine Peyroux, Standing On The Rooftop, EmArcy/Pennywell Productions [Japan], UCCU-1335, CD.
  • Max Roach & Clifford Brown, Daahoud, Mainstream Records/Mobile Fidelity, MFCD826, CD.
  • Michael Jackson, Thriller. 25th Anniversary, Epic/Sony Music Japan, EICP 963-4, CD + DVD.
  • Nina Simone, Silk&Soul, RCA/BMG, 596202, CD.
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet, Pyramid, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25125, CD.
  • The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 032, K2HD; recenzja TUTAJ.

Japanese versions of the discs available on CD Japan.

I divided the listening sessions into a few distinct parts. I thought, that the way the unit works using line inputs is most important, in both modes ‘T’ and ‘P’. Second important was how it works as an integrated amplifier and USB DAC. But because there was still the old type receiver, I did not test the USB input, sorry… And finally I listened to the Ayon using the direct to power amplifier input, connecting it to my CD player Ancient Audio Air, which has an integrated preamplifier, and the DAC Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2, which is using a digital volume control. It is worth mentioning, that the latter is so interesting, so consistent in what it does, that it stays in the test system as a reference for the up to 2000USD price range.

Line input – “pentode” and “triode” modes
Listening to the Orion II we can easily forget, that this is the cheapest amplifier in the company portfolio. I had similar thought when testing the player CD-07s, which – similar to the Orion II – opens the catalog of digital players. To not fall into any extremes I just want to say, that it is not better than any other amplifier at the price, not even mentioning the more expensive Ayon amplifiers – absolutely not! It is just about the fact, that it has its sound tuned in such a way, that its assets are brought to the light, while pushing the – inevitable – weaker elements into the shadow.
The most important aspect of that sound, around which all the others are placed, is for me the depth of the sound. This is something found more or less alongside other things, described in various ways, but also difficult to define unanimously.
Listening to a high class stereo we notice timbre in a natural way, I mean how treble and midrange sound, how is the reproduction of detail, sound stage, etc. But for me one of the most important discriminators of good sound is something, that can be called depth or saturation – depending on what aspects are key for us. This can be heard best in direct comparison with a weaker, cheaper product, which sounds, almost always, thin, as if something would have been taken away from its sound. It may seem that there is exactly as much bass as needed, that not much changed in the tonal balance, but something disappears from the sound, something that makes it obsolete to talk about the sub-ranges – there is no “depth”. The Orion II shows very nicely what this all is about, and maybe this is the reason, that it can be mistaken for a more expensive amplifier than it really is.

But this element is related to the mode the output tubes are working in. Although I wrote about that already, I will repeat it one more time: in almost all Ayon first generation amplifiers I chose the “pentode” mode, as the one resulting in a more resolved, vivid and better defined sound. The “triode” mode seemed to me as too compromised, too muffled for its nicer, darker timbre to stand in for that. In the new amplifiers, with the automatic bias circuitry, with new tubes, etc it is exactly the opposite – the “triode” mode is THE right one.
I verified this with many discs and got the same answer every time: in the ‘P’ mode the timbre went up, the saturation got lost and the upper midrange dominated too much. It was important, that the element that was not to overestimate before, meaning the much better control of the speakers in this mode, better bass, better speed, etc, did not define anything now. The differences in that aspect between the two modes were not that unanimous anymore, and in blind listening I would say, that everything is better defined in the ‘triode’ mode, and that the bass reaches also lower. Not even mentioning the midrange, especially in its upper part. The listening session of the amplifier was preceded by an evening with the new disc of Madeleine Peyroux Standing On The Rooftop, which just arrived from Japan. I listened to it with my headphones, Sennheiser HD800 and my modified Leben CS-300 X [Custom Version]. The sound of that disc seemed to me to be incredibly warm and dark – exactly the same as in her previous recordings. However within the whole there was also place for depth and detail, although the vocal was always in the first place. This is also how the Ayon presented it – in the ‘T’ mode. In ‘P’ mode everything went up and got brightened, and in Peyroux’ voice, for which I have a weakness (I am not saying for the artist herself, as my wife or my kids could be reading this…) there was too much of the upper midrange. And that destroyed the coherence of the sound. This repeated with the disc Jun Fukamachi Jun Fukamachi at Steinway (Take 2), especially with the strings from the bonus track Day Tripper - in the ‘P’ mode the domination of the upper midrange was for me unbearable.
I do not claim, that it will be the same with you, but with me, even with the warm Harbeth Monitor 30 I did not want to listen in other mode than ‘triode’. The sound was softer, more saturated and – and that was really surprising – it had better bass. Never, with no loudspeakers (at reasonable sound levels of course) I did not hear lack of power. Slight compression of the whole was only with dynamic recordings like The Planets, but player from Master Flash 24/96. It was not an unpleasant event – everything just got slightly flatter. But when I turned back the volume everything got back to normal, and it was still loud. This rather a problem of listening at home and of the futile attempts of recreating dynamics and scale of a real event with small loudspeakers (yes, even the Ayon Transcendent and Ayon GurFalcon are in fact small), and not of the amplifier itself. It is just when pursuing an unobtainable goal we destroy something more important in the process – the communicativeness of the sound.

And in fact the Orion II sounds in a very well mannered, slightly warm way (note – the whole description is about the ‘T’ mode, in which – in my opinion – the amplifier sounds best). The bass is low and strong, not only on acoustic material, but also with electronics like Depeche Mode or Brian Eno. But, like I said, most important is the depth of the sound. The whole is coherent and works well together – nothing is favored at the cost of anything else. The space is not so precisely defined as in more expensive amplifiers, it is not so deep, but we will not necessarily notice that – we would need to make 1:1 comparisons at home, with large loudspeakers in a spacious room to make this observation. In normal listening conditions this will not be important, because the sound has a large scale and is not “thin” in the sense, that the details do not dominate above the whole.

The sound is not as resolved as with the more expensive Ayon, even in the ‘P’ mode. This is the only element that was better in that mode. But I think, that this can be sacrificed easily on the altar of the greater good, being the sound. And this is at the same time gentle and determined. The dynamics is quite high and you cannot hear any power restrictions. The treble is not as vivid and natural as from better amplifiers, but – again – this is for “searchers”. Listening at home, with loudspeakers from a similar price range, this should not be a problem.

Direct input
Do you remember what I wrote about high-end? If you want to verify with your own ears the element I was talking about, then please connect the Orion II to a high class player with a variable output and switch between the line and “Direct” inputs. The amplifier working as a standard integrated amp is very nice – dynamic, with a great timbre, etc. But you can hear, that it is not a very expensive unit, especially due to the not so worked out shapes of the virtual sources and not so high resolution. With the Ancient Audio Air, an expensive CD player, the “Direct” input was much, much better. Everything that was good improved even more. You need to hear it to believe it – more vivid cymbals and percussion instruments on the disc We Get Request The Oscar Peterson Trio, beautiful and deep voice of Laurie Allyn from the disc Paradise, and even deeper and better accented synthetic bass from the single Personal Jesus 2011 Depeche Mode – everything just shouted: YES!
But the Air is expensive and has a splendid preamplifier section. With the DAC-2 Wyred 4 Sound it was not so overwhelming, but progression in the direction I described was clear and worthwhile. The volume control in the DAC-2 is digital, what has to have an influence on the sound, but even in that configuration I had no doubt, that bypassing some of the elements in the sound path was a good idea.

USB input
Like I said, I was disappointed with the USB input from the technical point of view – limiting it to 16 bits and 48 kHz is an anachronism. I know, I know – the Orion II is designed for beginners, music lovers who just came from mp3s and CD quality is a revelation to them. But I think that this is flawed logic – Orion II is not cheap and should offer a much better solutions than entry level units from China. This is the reason, that I refuse to test this input. I take for granted that this is a kind of functional aide and as such it does not interest me sound wise. I think, that the USB 24/96 inputs, used by this manufacturer in the new versions of the CD players are the absolute minimum, and the PCB with the nice Tenor chip decoding the USB signal should also be installed here.

The Orion II, compared to its predecessor, has a much better controlled, deeper and naturally matte sound. I am talking about the ‘triode’ mode. In the ‘pentode’ mode the sound is too bright, at least for me. And this is a big change compared to the previous version – now the ‘T’ mode is strong, dynamic and resolved enough to be able to consume the beautiful timbre coming with it, not having to think about the characteristics I just mentioned.
The Orion II just sounds very well. Depriving it from high quality sockets, chrome plated elements does not influence the sound, and aesthetically – again, in my opinion – has a positive effect. The external design is much nicer, due to nice lettering and beautiful, knurled knobs. The whole effect is a little damaged by the lack of the headphone output and an old fashioned USB input.
The Orion II is a very solid, well made and versatile amplifier with very stable tube operation. We can improve it even further by exchanging the tubes (as usual), but also connecting it to an external preamplifier or a good CD player (or DAC) or a phonostage to the ‘direct’ input. This results in the foretaste of the high-end, with its matte, but nicely selective sound. This is a very well made construction with an own character, but nicely masked by a few elements like depth of sound and high dynamics.


The Ayon Orion II is a classic integrated amplifier only equipped with an USB DAC. Its external design is characteristic for the new generation of devices coming from this manufacturer. This is a massive, incredibly rigid cabinet made from aluminum elements bolted together. In the front we have two, beautiful, knurled knobs – one for controlling the volume, the other for changing inputs. Between them, there is a milled, red lit logo, blinking during the warm-up and power down sequence. The on-off switch is mechanical and located on the bottom, near the left side of the enclosure. Next to the input selector knob there are red LEDs for the inputs – three for the line inputs, one USB and one for direct input, which bypasses the preamplifier section. There are two more LEDs – “Mute” and “Triode”. The last one indicates the mode selected by a knob on the top plate of the amplifier – “Triode” or “Pentode”. The first one is in fact a tetrode mode – Ayon uses the KT88 tubes. All lettering, also on the back plate, is deeply engraved and then varnished white. It will last forever…

On the back plate we’ll find three pairs of RCA line inputs, and USB type B one (rectangular), preamplifier output and the “Direct” input. The sockets are nice, but nothing extraordinary. Also the loudspeaker terminals – separate for 4 and 8Ω - are reasonable, but standard, gold plated sockets made in China. The USB input is limited to 16 bits and 48 kHz. Next there is a button and diodes used to set the bias, a mechanical power switch and a control light for correct connection of the power cable. When the cable is connected properly, the control light should be off.

Top and bottom
In tube amplifiers with a similar construction, there is a lot to write about in this context. The Orion II has a classic setup for today’s tube amplifiers, I mean that the output tubes are to the sides – here the KT88 with Ayon logo. According to Gerhard Hirt those are Chinese tubes, made as a joint venture with Ayon by the company Shuguang. They are preparing a big change, because shortly all other Ayon amplifiers will be equipped with an improved version of the KT-88Z Black Treasure tube from Shuguang – those will be the KT-88sx tubes, also manufactured in a joint-venture.
In the middle there is the input tube and the control tubes – those are all double triodes 12AU7/ECC82 EH from Electro-Harmonix and behind them there are the cans with the transformers inside. The transformers are wound by Ayon and are soaked with a special material, that has two purposes – it damps vibration and shields from RF and EMI radiation, while at the same time allows for good cooling. Between the tubes there is a switch for setting the working mode of the output tubes.
The bottom plate is very solid – usually companies tend to make savings there. Here it is thick and rigid, although it is full of venting holes. The device is supported on four feet made from rubber and aluminum – Ayon tells those are anti-vibration feet. Next to one of them, there is the second power switch.
All mechanical elements were made in the Ayon factory (Ayon Audio Ltd.) in Hong Kong, including the metal remote controller. It can only be used to control the volume of the Orion II.

The circuits inside are divided among many PCBs connected together with lots of cables. The traces on the PCBs are thick and gold plated. A change compared to the previous generation of Ayon amplifiers is the way the cables are interconnected – they are not soldered anymore, but connected together with big, gold plated pins. The circuit is rather simple – much more complicated is the supportive circuitry, like the auto-bias one. In the sound path precision, high power resistors were used, and polypropylene capacitors couple the stages together. Unfortunately they have no markings on them. The same kind of capacitors is used to couple the USB input. The latter uses and old Burr-Brown chip PCM2704, which limits the signals to 16 bits and 48 kHz. Also the DAC included in that chip was used here – so I would treat that input as a auxiliary one. The inputs are keyed with relays. From the inputs the signal flows to the black Alps potentiometer at the fascia. The cables are different to the ones used previously, but again, there are no markings on them. We only know that those are made from copper and isolated with Teflon.
The power supply is nice, but it supplies (anode voltage) both channels at the same time – using a discrete rectifying bridge, eight capacitors 220µF each and a choke. The heating voltage has a separate rectifier bridge and capacitors. The auxiliary circuits are also powered separately.
The ground is consistently conducted in a star configuration – the cables from all the PCBs run to one point. The company writes that the amplifier has no feedback loops – neither global nor local.

Technical specification (according to manufacturer):

Modes of the power stage: triode or pentode
Tubes: 4x KT88s + 3 x 12AU7/ECC82 EH
Load impedance: 4 or 8Ω
Frequency response: 15Hz - 50kHz (+/- 3 dB)
Output power (pentode mode): 2 x 50W
Output power (triode mode): 2 x 30W
Input sensitivity: 600mV
Input impedance (1 kHz): 100kΩ
Feedback: 0dB
Volume control: potentiometer
Remote control: yes
Inputs: 3 x line, 1 x direct, 1 x USB
Dimensions (WxDxH): 460 x 340 x 260mm
Weight: 29kg

Distribution in Poland: Eter Audio

Eter Audio
ul. Malborska 24
30-646 Kraków

tel./fax: 0048 12 425 51 20/30
tel. kom.: 0048 507 011 858



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  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD