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Line preamplifier

Price: 118 000 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 | Eter Audio/Piksel Studio
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

I own the preamplifier Ayon Audio Polaris – first in the version II, now in the version III, since the beginning of 2009. And I am happy with it. This is one of the best, least interfering preamplifiers I know. It is not the best one, for example the Thrax Audio Dionysos, or Convergent Audio Technology CL1 Legend showed a few things the Polaris III could not do, but there was no tragedy. I know that there is still uncharted land in front of me, with preamplifiers from Soulution, Kondo, Aesthetix, Vitus Audio etc. Despite that, for now, the Polaris III defends itself with incredible transparency, regardless of how expensive the systems is in which we plug it in.
I think, that the main reason for this is the incredible simplicity of the sound path – there are only three elements in it – a coupling capacitor, the C3m tube from Siemens (working as a triode in this application) and a transformer with many windings and a selector of output voltage (volume). Actually it resembles a passive circuitry, like in the preamplifier Music First Audio MkII Copper, with an added amplification module. There is a second company, which uses a similar setup – the Greek Ypsilon, with the recently tested in “Stereophile” (Michael Fremer, Vol.34 No.7, July 2011) model PST-100 MkII, where we can choose between the passive mode (only with transformers) or the active one (with the transformer and tube).
The power supply is equally important. Testing the model Polaris II, which was presented before the AC-Regenerator was designed, I admired its sound, but at the same time I showed some elements, which could have been improved. And the biggest shortcoming of the version II, the slight fogging of the treble, was alleviated by the new power supply, changing my version to Polaris III. At the same time the resolution was also improved. The improvement was really big, and for a long time I forgot, that I have a preamplifier in my system – I forgot it so badly, that I also forgot to test it, to let you know, what I am using to test other gear. I just took the Polaris III with what it gave me and did not want to share with anybody… I only hope, that this text will compensate for that, at least partially – because besides other preamplifiers, my preamplifier will be the basis of the comparison, and its character will be shown and recalled many times as a reference point.

At the same time I have to mention, that for a long time I ignored the existence of the Spheris, first in the basic version, then in the version II, because I thought, that it is simply a balanced Polaris. And nothing more. I wrote that to Gerhard, and he answered:

Dear Wojtek,

you have to know, that Polaris III is a fantastic preamplifier and many top reviewers and audiophiles from the whole world has an incredible respect for it, and they think, that it is one of the best tube preamplifiers on the market, regardless the money you have at your disposal.
When we would make the Polaris in a balanced version, there would be no difference in sound between the two modes. This is wrongful understanding of the problem by many audiophiles, who think: “oh, I have a balanced preamplifier and now everything sounds better”, and many times it is worse than with RCA. I know, that many companies dealing with tube gear uses the trick with the balanced sound path in their top models to justify their existence, to have a “top model”. In fact the sound is not much better than in the basic, unbalanced versions.
Talking about the Polaris III and Spheris II we have a huge difference in price: Spheris II – Linestage is 30000 euro, and you have to add the Spheris II – Phonostage, and this is additional 25000 euro. So we are talking about a preamplifier costing 55000 euro…

So I understand people, who cannot believe, that there is such a huge difference between the Spheris II and the Polaris III. We invested so much energy and time in the Spheris just to make it the ultimate device – and if the Spheris is balanced or not balanced does not matter here. The sound comes from the single-ended section (unbalanced), and never the balanced. As you can see, we do not follow the trends blindly, just to be trendy. We go our own way and only the results matter, and not the technology, the circuit design, etc.
It becomes clear when you open the Spheris and Polaris and you will see, that they differ significantly from devices from other companies. We came to this circuit design step by step, after many years of hard work and making improvements. The shorter the sound path you reach, the bigger are the problems ahead – but you get the best sound – of course, when everything is done right…


What could I respond to that: “Amen brother, amen…”

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:

  • Beverly Kenney, Lonely And Blue, Cellar Door Records/Sinatra Society of Japan, XQAM-1-22, CD.
  • Brahms, Piano Concerto No.1, Kristian Zimerman, Berliner Philharmoniken, dyr. Simon Rattle, Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classic & Jazz [Japan], UCCG-50061, SHM-CD.
  • Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10076, SACD/CD; · Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10078, SACD/CD;
  • Depeche Mode, Personal Jesus 2011, cdbong43, SP CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Remixes 81-11: 2, Mute, cdmutel18, CD.
  • Frank Sinatra, Nice’N’Easy, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 790, gold-CD;
  • Frank Sinatra, Only The Lonely, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 792, gold-CD;
  • Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Pacific Jazz/EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90035, HQCD.
  • 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, Special Version, silver-CD.
  • John and Vangelis, The Friends Of Mr Cairo, Polydor/Universal Music K.K. [Japan], UICY-9376, CD.
  • Kraftwerk, Minimum-Maximum, EMI, 334 996 2, 2 x SACD/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.
  • Madeleine Peyroux, Standing On The Rooftop, EmArcy/Pennywell Productions [Japan], UCCU-1335, CD.
  • Max Roach & Clifford Brown, Daahoud, Mainstream Records/Mobile Fidelity, MFCD826, CD.
  • 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;

Japanese versions of the discs available on CD Japan.

„Did you see in the morning light
I really talked, yes I did, to Gods early dawning light
And I was privileged to be as I am to this day
To be with you. To be with you” –
sings John Anderson in The Friends Of Mr. Cairo. This is how I feel, when I am listening to something, that encloses me in its world and what makes everything around disappear. This have to be a coincidence or music and its reproduction. The Spheris II results in something like that. Despite the fact, that each device is a result of compromises, and other preamplifiers also have something to say, and each one of them tells its story with its own, distinct voice, the Ayon device allows us to “fly away”.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Spheris II is an incredibly “silent” device, in the sense, that it has almost no noise. Actually the noise is at the threshold of perception – I spent some time with my ear at the ceramic tweeter of the Ayon GyrFalcon loudspeakers and I thought I hear something like a slight “halo”. But I am not sure, if this wasn’t the noise of my own blood rushing through my veins. The same thing was with hum – there was absolutely no hum at all. I was helped in reaching those conclusions by my power amplifier Soulution 710, which distortion in on the threshold level of the best measuring devices, but the fact alone, that a tube preamplifier is similarly “silent” is something special. This allows to show the music alone, without any side elements, without any disruption.
The Spheris II is also an incredibly resolving and transparent device. This is not the clinical transparency of preamplifiers like the Music First Audio MkII Copper, but rather something like true disappearance, like a magical trick.
The timbre of the devise was set very nicely, because it was directed on the upper bass and midrange. I want to mention at this time that the Thrax Audio Dionysos, Convergent Audio Technology CL1 Legend, Vitus Audio SL-102 and Nagra PL-P (HERE and HERE) had a better saturated lower part of the midrange. Ayon tries to add nothing from itself, without going to colder regions (this is a rather warm device, if at all), but this fleshy sound of guitars, male vocals or warm female vocals, like Madelaine Peyroux is presented better in the mentioned preamplifiers, in a more ripe, or even overripe form.

But the differences are not big. Without a direct comparison it will be hard to find that out for anybody. Especially if they will use Ayon power amplifiers – the Triton Mono, and the Vulcan II, have their timbre moved slightly to the bottom, and with them all preamplifiers can sound a bit too heavy, a bit too sweet. Because the main asset of the Spheris II is neutrality. But this is true neutrality, related to naturalness. The device does not add anything from itself. I mean it does not color anything, because it does something with the signal, that passive preamplifiers and the preamplifier integrated with the player Ancient Audio Air cannot do. On the other hand it does not take almost anything away. I verified that connecting to the power amplifiers from Ayon and Soulution the CD player Ancient Audio Air directly and via the Spheris II. And the differences between those two connections were very big.
It turned out, that without any exception, without any “but” and without any reservations, everything was better with the Spheris. Like I wrote some time ago, there are systems designed to work without a preamplifier – this is the case in the systems from Ancient Audio, and also the Leben CS-660p sounded better connected directly to the Air. But those are exceptions. With the Ayon you could hear, that something is usually missing in such connections, and the listening is not as comfortable as with a preamplifier.

An important positive change with this preamplifier was the saturation of the subranges and slight lowering of the timbre, just shifting the accent downwards. But more important was the fact, that the preamplifier gives energy, life to the sound, as if it would emboss the virtual sources, which were flattened before. This is a unique ability. At the same time it kept a splendid timbre, this was no “frequency job”, none of the subranges was underlined. The sound was just clearer, better organized and through this softer and warmer. This was nicely shown by the disc Gerry Mulligan Quartet from 1952, the first ever recording from the label Pacific Jazz Records, with a warm, soft sound. This is of course a technically weak recording, but incredibly “alive”, communicative and energetic – regardless if it was Mulligan’s saxophone or Baker’s trumpet – it was always an event, something enclosed in a few cadences or phrases. Already there you could hear the exceptional quality of the treble.

This recording has a cut-off frequency response, recordings were done in a different way than today, but it was not cut with a steep filter, which would introduce changes in the usable range. This is why the base sounds are so clean and strong. That was confirmed by the disc We Get Request The Oscar Peterson Trio, prepared by Winston Ma for his label Lasting Impression Music. This is an exemplumof what can be found on analog tapes. And there is a lot on them. The bells opening the disc, or the passage on the strings of the piano in the beginning of Corcovado were almost terrifying in their presence. The sound became more compressed later on, and not as palpable, but it still knocked-out newer recordings.

The Spheris II showed all this nicely, lightly and with flair. Its treble and resolution are – relatively, keeping things in proportion – much better than in the Polaris III. Like I wrote in the introduction, for a long time I thought, that the more expensive preamplifier is just a balanced form of the cheaper one. This is not the case. Well, it is, but at the same time it is something more. The first time I felt some anxiety (because the thought that you own something worse is not a nice one, is it?) when I looked inside the Spheris II. The differences between those two preamplifiers were obvious and undisputed. But you had to make a head to head comparison to see, how those differences translate into the sound. The Spheris II has a much deeper and much more vivid sound. At first sight the Polaris III seems quicker and more open, but this is a deceiving impression. It is just lighter, a bit shallower. There is a lot of the “a bit” statements in my description, so it may seem that “a bit” is not much. But in high-end even “a bit” grows to a big thing. You see, when you have binoculars and small magnification, then the bigger things are visible, and the smaller ones go unnoticed. But when you increase the zoom, then the smaller things come into play. And so on. In audio we do not “zoom” anything, the full picture is what counts, but this “zooming” takes place in our heads, we hear more, and there is more audible. In this context “a bit” of the Spheris II is just a lot!

And how does the Spheris II sound? It sounds with a slightly warm, but very open sound with a large scale. The sound is quite relaxed, I mean that the stage is built rather behind the loudspeakers, and the virtual sources do not stand out to the listener. Due to this the orchestral recordings fare better, like the disc Piano Concerto No.1 Brahms performed by Kristian Zimerman and Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Simon Rattle. This dis was recently re-issued in Japan on SHM-CD and sounds really nice. With the Spheris in the sound path the sound was really spacious, and slightly gentle, in the right meaning of that word. It was similar with the disc of Dead Can Dance – just to listen to something Gerhard listens to at home (please look at the interview with Gerhard in this issue of “High Fidelity”). This was a SPECTACLE in gigantic space and very big momentum. With smaller ensembles, like with the super intimate, newest disc of Madeleine Peyroux Standing On The Rooftop the big sizes of the sound sources were kept, a slight distance, but nothing was bloated. The voice of the vocalist was closer to us, the instruments were further away, the proportions were good, the dynamic as well as the special ones. I confirmed that with the disc Nice’N’Easy - Sinatra’s voice, especially in the title track, was big, saturated and concise. You could hear the feeling of how it was sung, looseness, and something like haste – it is known, that under the doors of the recording studio a limo waited for Sinatra, because usually he was going to some kind of party…
The device does not extract the solids, like some other preamplifiers do. This can be the line dividing those, who like the sound further away, but with greater swing, and those who like everything closer, more intimate, but in a more compressed way. Both ways are far away from reality, but in audio we only deal with an attempt to copy what happens on a real stage, in a club or studio.
I did not tell anything about bass – let’s listen to the mentioned disc from Peyroux, of the single Personal Jesus 2011 Depeche Mode, and we will smile contended. The bass is not contoured, and yet it is very selective. And it has splendid timbre. It is a bit soft, but extremely rhythmical. And this rhythm can surprise many people. There is no transistor or tube in that sound, I mean, in a blind test I would not be able to tell what technology was used. This is just high-end in the best possible form.


The Austrian preamplifier has a different enclosure compared to the previous version – now it is the same as the Polaris III. It is still made from aluminum, but now more solid and with rounded edges, and the power supply has exactly the same dimensions as the main unit. The top cover is very similar – it is a thick aluminum cover with six big holes, where chrome plated meshes are mounted. At first sight it looks identical to the Polaris III, but when we look closer it can be noticed, that the holes are milled differently in both cases. And the bolts mounting the plate are standard in my unit, and here are chromed. There are more of such, seemingly minor, differences.

Amplifying section

Front and back
The front of the Spheris II is quite sparse, and yet there is more happening there than in the Polaris III. We have three big, chromed knobs with embedded LEDs. The LEDs are also under the transparent rings around the knobs. The middle one is used for controlling volume, the left one selects inputs and the right one controls the balance. Between those there are two more LEDs – “Mute” and the power indicator. It is worth noticing, that the volume knob starts at the bottom, and not as usual slightly to the side. Rotating it we notice, that we have more volume levels at our disposal and the knob rotates smoother and nicer than in the Polaris III. On the back it is seemingly similar to the cheaper preamplifier, but in fact the differences are substantial. Most of all we have balanced inputs and outputs, and the unbalanced sockets are the very nice WBT 0244. There are six inputs, one of them is balanced. The sockets are far apart, so you can use any cable without having to worry, that it will not fit. Interesting is the fact, that the left channel inputs (white) are above the red ones, so exactly as it is done usually, and in my Polaris those are on the bottom… On the back the inputs are marked as: Line 1 … Line 6, while in the front, at the selector it is different – Line 1 is B1, and Line 6 is PH (“Phono”). There are three outputs – two unbalanced and one balanced. To the side there is a big, multi-pin, military grade socket with gold plated pins for the power supply connection. The cable connecting to the power supply is different to the one used in the Polaris – it has a different mesh and is more flexible. Next to the socket there are two switched – one is used to toggle the lighting of the knobs on the front panel, and the other disconnects earth from the cabinet. The last one is useful if we hear hum in our system.

The inside of the Spheris II Linestage differs from the Polaris quite significantly. The circuitry is distributed between the individual sections, but the inside is quite crowded. It is interesting, that in the sound path we have only three elements – the coupling capacitor, amplifying tube and transformer with many windings, used to control volume. But this is only apparent simplicity.
The most important difference is the number of channels – here we have four, meaning two channels in balanced form. So we have four Siemens C3m tubes, two per channel. Each channel has a separate PCB with gold plated traces. On those PCBs we find splendid, precise, carbon resistors, electrolytic capacitors from Rifa and polypropylene ones – in the sound path the Jantzen Audio Silver Z-Cap and Mundorf M-Cap Supreme Silver/Gold. The circuit boards for the channels are placed horizontally one atop of the other. The tubes were bolted also horizontally to an aluminum shape.
The signal goes there from an input PCB. It houses the relays and Lundhal transformers, used to make the unbalanced input signal symmetrical. On this PCB there are also switches, that can make one of the RCA outputs serve as a tape out. However it cannot be used for a headphone amplifier, as the signal is muted when the unit is powered off.
The circuitry for controlling the output voltage is equally important as the tube. This consists of four (two per channel) transformers with windings selected by a hermetical switch. And this is connected to a motor controlled by a remote. This looks a bit better than in the Polaris. On top of everything aluminum shield is bolted.
To the side we have a very worked out power supply. This is a complete novelty, it is much smaller in the Polaris III. Here we have a big Pi type filter with two huge polypropylene capacitors and a Lundhal choke. This is interesting, as the power supply, AC-Regenerator, is supposed to output an ideal sinus wave. But visibly this circuit gives clear benefits.

On the outside the power supply looks identical to the one powering the Polaris – the cabinet is the same as in the amplifying section. In the front there is a chromed (this is the only change) power switch and an alphanumeric display, which shows the frequency of the current feeding the tube anodes, chosen by Gerhard Hirt. After many experiments he fixed it at 60Hz. In the American test of the Polaris (Peter Breuninger, Blurring the Line Between Real & Reproduction Music, „The Absolute Sound”, Issue 211, March 2011, p. 120-128) the reviewer made a mistake – this is not an indicator of the mains frequency, but of the output frequency – for the tubes. And this is independent from the frequency of mains in a given country – actually this is a true conditioner, generating a perfect sine wave powering the tubes with a frequency of 60Hz and voltage exactly as needed by the tube anodes. And I think, that this indication is not needed, it does never change. In fact it could have been better to show there the mains voltage. On the back there is only the multi-pin socket, ICE socket with a power switch and an indicator of wrongly connected mains cord (on the Schuko side).

I did not write that yet, but the power supply is much heavier than the other box. This is a very advanced product, resembling a strong power amplifier. Its basis is formed by two big toroidal transformers, one of which looks like a 1:1 separator (or a gigantic choke). The voltage is rectified in four tube diodes CV135 Adzam, creating a full wave rectifier. After them the voltage is filtered in the same big polypropylene cap as in the main unit, and a big choke. Next there is the clou of the device – a powerful amplifier, working as a voltage generator for powering the tubes. It is bolted to a big heat sink. On a separate PCB we have a big, solid state heating power supply.

Technical specification (according to manufacturer):
Operating mode: pure class A, pentode in triode mode
Tubes: C3m Siemens
Maximum output voltage (1kHz): 40V rms
S/NR: > 98dB
Output impedance: 30Ω
Input impedance: > 1MΩ
Frequency response: 0.5Hz-500kHz
THD (1kHz): < 0.01%
Inputs 5 x RCA,1 x XLR
Outputs 2 x RCA, 1 x XLR
Power consumption (max): 300W
Dimesnions pre (WxDxH): 500 x 430 x 110mm
Dimensions AC-Regenerator (WxDxH): 500 x 430 x 110mm
Weight (pre & zasilacz): 43kg

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)
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  • 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)
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