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Krakow sonic society
Krakow Sonic Society, meeting #79:
Dr Ningsheng Liu (Synergy HiFi/Create Audio) and Ayon Audio KT88sx tubes

Price (tubes): 1200 PLN (quartet)

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


Manufacturer’s website: Ayon Audio

Country of origin: Austria

Polish Distributor: Eter Audio

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

79th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society starts a new season 2011/2012. And we start it with a guest visit by Mr. Ningsheng Liu, the representative of Synergy HiFi and Create Audio, who came to Europe especially to meet with Srajan Ebaen (“”) and with me, that is with “High Fidelity”. I do mention in my reviews products manufactured by both companies represented by him because they are impossible to miss – the tubes and fuses proposed by Create Audio are something exceptional in their price range. And Synergy HiFi amplifiers also bring happy smile to my face. The arrival of Mr. Liu to Krakow, besides a chance for sightseeing, tasting food and drinks was also meant to be an opportunity to meet with KSS members. Initially, about two months ago, I planned that the theme of the meeting will be the new KT88 tubes prepared by Create Audio. With that in mind, the meeting was planned at one of the Ryszards who owns a system built around the McIntosh MC275 with the KT88s in the output stage. What more – Ryszard uses in the input and control stages of his amplifiers double triodes from Create Audio.
However, just before our guest’s arrival I learned that Create decided not to start the production of the KT88 tubes. Only a test production run of 500 pieces was done to calculate the costs. Although the tubes were in Mr. Liu’s words outstanding, their price was very high, comparable with 300B tubes. The reason for that is their very complicated construction using nanotubes; complicated means expensive. So the company has put this project on hold – probably forever.


Maybe it was meant to be so, although I am not a fatalist. Just a few days before our guest’s visit I received tubes from Ayon, the KT88sx – a brand new product of Gerhard Hirt. I knew something was cooking because I reviewed the Orion II amplifier which used the KT88s, a Chinese product modified by Gerhard, sold with his company logo. I asked about his plans and it turned out that the KT88s will only be used in the basic Ayon amplifier; the more expensive ones will use completely new KT88sx tubes instead of the KT88 Shuguang Black Treasure. The KT88sx is a development version of the Black Treasure, designed according to Gerhard’s plans and manufactured by Shuguang. And the Austrian has vast experience in making vacuum tubes.
And here they are, beautiful, brilliantly made KT88sx Ayon Audio. Their sockets are made from gold plated metal, just like the pins. The glass is covered with carbon particles (Shuguang talks about a polymer alloy) to help with focusing the electrons in the anode. Another material used in their construction and called Super Alloy helps maintaining the tubes electrical parameters for prolonged period of time. It took three years to develop this technology and Shuguang is probably the biggest company in the world manufacturing vacuum tubes. You can find 65 differences between their tubes and KT88 from other companies. Gerhard made sure that there are even more of them…


As I said, the tubes were tested in the McIntosh MC275 amplifier (version IV). McIntosh MC301 SACD player was the source and the loudspeakers were Dynaudio Sapphire. Interconnects and loudspeaker cables were the Tara Labs 0.8; power cords Acrolink PC-7N9300 for the amplifier and Nordost Valhalla for the player. Both plugged in the Nordost Thor conditioner and via another Valhalla to the wall. The player was supported by the Acoustic Revive RAF-48 platform and the amplifier by the Cerapuc Finite Elemente feet.
In the input section of his amplifier Ryszard uses a mix of tubes from Create Audio and Telefunken NOS and in the output stage the expensive, reviewed by us some time ago, EAT KT88 Diamond tubes which turned out to be the best of all tubes we listened to that date. The EAT are now the reference point for most of us, the master of KT88 tubes. They cost about 1395 USD per quartet (about 4600zl), while the Ayon Audio are 1200zl per quartet.
The tubes sent by Gerhard were selected (a 4-piece set) at Ayon and initially burned in. However, we did not have time to put them to more intensive use before our meeting. And this showed in our listening session.


In case of tube amplifiers it is not possible to make A/B or A/B/X comparisons. Tubes have to warm up and after each change you need to wait about half an hour for that. This is why listening to tubes is a long term effort with long music samples.
We quickly learned how important time is for heating up the tubes. The plan was to listen first using EAT tubes and then change to Ayon. This is what we did. The differences were very clear, the KT88sx did not sound as good as we had expected. This is why I asked to repeat the operation. The second time Gerhard’s tubes sounded just beautiful – it was a completely different story… I will also add that we had two more guests during listening – Mr. Tomasz Król, the distributor of Synergy HiFi/Create Audio in Poland and Jarek Waszczyszyn, the owner of Ancient Audio.

During both sessions the differences were not the same – the first time they were much bigger, even very big. This is a result of the tubes warming up, but I think that there was also an influence of the power supply, capacitors, etc. For me the sound with the EATs, especially in this comparison, was too sharp. I liked the presentation with the Ayon more. The second time the EATs seemed live but not too sharp anymore, as if the differences between the tubes, at least when talking about the treble, were smaller. In general I think that after a longer listen the Ayons seem a bit dark, a bit smoothened. Our choice will depend on our configuration – in many systems the EATs will sound too bright.

Ningsheng Liu
For me the EATs sounded too insistent the first time. This is incredibly interesting how different our, I mean people from Asia and from the West, way of perceiving music is. For us the events should happen far behind the loudspeakers. However you, from what I observed, prefer the sound close, when it is palpable. Anyway, the EATs for me sounded too insistent, too much to the front. On the other hand the Ayons had worse control.

Their sound was more withdrawn and that is what I choose. It was withdrawn in a positive sense, it did not impose anything but rather suggested things. And I agree that the second time the sound of the Ayons changed more than the EATs, which suggests that the tubes need long warm-up times. The second time the Ayons sounded more to the front, but their presentation was still more pleasant for me, more natural. The control of the sound, the focus were not as good as with the EATs.

Rysiek B.
Gentlemen, initially I could not really tell these tubes apart. I mean, I heard they sounded different but could not really put my finger on it. Now I finally came to a clear answer. In terms of timbre differentiation, dynamics – clearly the EATs. And by a lot. We heard the same thing when we compared the EATs to the Golden Lions. It seemed to me that the Ayon tubes average the sound a bit, bringing it to a common divider. I have to mention the quite irritating upper midrange and the rather homogenous, not so well differentiated bass as the EAT’s disadvantages. But for me, taking everything into account – the EAT rulez…

Tomasz Król
I liked a few aspects of the Ayons more than the EATs. But first let’s admit that it was a good idea to make the second round, because it is clear that the Ayon tubes need a long warm-up. They lack a bit of dynamics and openness in the treble, both aspects handled splendidly by the EATs. Much better than most KT88 tubes I know. Unfortunately the sound of the EATs seems overdrawn for me. It somewhat depended on the kind of music played. My personal choice for now is the Ayon. Its sound is smoother, better interconnected, deeper, more “human”, less hi-fi. And I cannot agree with what Ryszard said, because for me, especially in the second listening session, the control of the sound was better with the Ayons. The EATs were so “trembling”. With the KT88sx there was fullness, some kind of plan, breath. But at the same time I need to say that it was not a class difference.

Rysiek S.
I listened to Mr. Liu’s opinion with interest – it is nice to see own reflection in somebody’s eyes. It turns out that we developed – we in the West, but also we in KSS – some pattern of sound which is “right” one for us. For me it can be described with the word “warmth” – if a system sounds “warm” then it is good. And for me warmth means boredom. This is why I like the EAT tubes.
The first listening session in my opinion was a classic example of their upsides and the downsides of other tubes. The EATs presented a quick, well differentiated sound with kick. But the second time round things changed a bit and the Ayons received some special attraction, to such extent that when we went back to the EATs I had an impression of a certain glassiness of the sound. The first change was like “let’s beat-up the master!”, as if a youngster (Ayon) faced a seasoned fighter (EAT). This never works, does it? Well, during the second listening session I lost my belief that the EATs are really better. They are probably the same class.
One thing that can be said 100% is that both tubes present completely different sound. Not better-worse, but just different. For me the more upfront sound of the EATs is an upside. But on the other hand CDs recorded closer, like Rollins, sounded better with the Ayons. I can’t make up my mind – I will have to listen to both tubes for longer time.

I am a bit sick at the moment, so what I say will be a bit distorted by that. For me the most important thing is that the human is a binaural being and listens spatially. And I have one sick ear and can only hear mono. Despite that, besides space some things were obvious for me. The EATs sounded a bit too insistent, too sharp. I did not hear that with the Ayons. But it is difficult for me to decide which sound better. The Ayons got a second chance during the second session and made the most of it.

After the first session I repeated after Ryszard – the EAT rulez! In every aspect. Better space, dynamics, speed, etc. During the second presentation I would have problems in choosing a clear winner. I have used 300B tubes from Shuguang in my system for 1.5 years, therefore I think I know this sound. Taking all into account, I would say that the EATs win by a hair. Although this session really showed what these tubes need. The black Ayon tubes have a very nice saturation of the bass and midrange. Bass, volume, etc. are better with those tubes but differentiation is worse. With the EATs I noticed a narrower spectrum of the sound, despite the fact that they seemed to have a better stretched frequency response at first sight – it seems not true. On the other hand with the EATs the timbres were better, their differentiation. Sound volume, abundance were again the Ayons domain. Anyway, neither are ideal tubes, which for me are the Takatsuki TA-300B. The EAT tubes are expressive but also vicious. The Ayons are tubes for connoisseurs, but have limited timbre differentiation.


And everything should be clear. They are equivalent tubes, with a slight nod towards the EAT. But the verdict comes with so many provisions that this comparison lacks sense. This is from the absolute point of view. But when we look at the price there is no discussion – the Ayon kills everything that moves. In the end it will be about choosing the tubes that sound better with our amplifier, with our system. I hope that this listening session suggested you this and that of what you can expect.

Distribution In Poland:

1. Ayon Audio

Eter Audio
ul. Malborska 24
30-646 Kraków

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


URL: www

2. Synergy HiFi

Synergy HiFi Europe

tel.: (+48) 509 278 949


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"High Fidelity OnLine" is an internet magazine, published since may 2004, devoted to high quality reproduction of sound and picture. It is a monthly magazine, but the articles are uploaded twice a month - in the beginning of the month and in the middle. The news column is updated on on-going basis, if possible. The main sections are: "Tests", "Events" (interviews, reportages, and similar), "Hyde Park" (user tests, opinions) and "Who asks..." (readers questions and HFOL answers). Articles from earlier issues can be read in the "Archive". Have a nice read!

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