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Positive Feedback ISSUE 4
december/january 2003


ayre acoustics

CX-7 CD player

as reviewed by John Brazier


cx7.jpg (17644 bytes)





Sennheiser HD 600 headphones.

EarMax Tube OTL headphone amplifier.

Rega Planet (transport only), Perpetual Technologies P1A Digital Correction Engine and a Perpetual Technologies P3A Upsampling DAC (both with IS2).

Acoustic Zen Silver Phantom digital cable and Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference interconnects.


I was excited to review the Ayre CX-7, as at $3000, it represents competition for my current front end. I have been using the Perpetual Technology P3A and P1A attached to an original Rega Planet for a few years now. With a combined original investment of about $1700, the expectation that such an outboard DAC could give a one box player twice its price a run for their money would be quite intriguing. Granted that the P3A up-sampling is limited to 24/96 against the Ayre's 24/176.4, but still, the pursuit would be "can I hear and appreciate the increase of 80.4 kHz sampling the Ayre CX-7 provides to the listener?"

This Ayre is a hefty unit. Solidly built it weights in at about 25 -30 lbs, partly reflected in the faceplate being constructed of a solid CNC'd piece of inch aluminum. The 8 buttons to the right of the illuminated display are stable to the press of a forefinger—very nice and assuring having the look and feel of a Mercedes. The actual display reads the typical track number and time and can be turned off for that late night "I want to be in the dark" listen session. There are the other typical features, but absent is the "random" or "shuffle" play option—sorely missed. There is also no HDCD—not so sorely missed due to the lack of HDCD software titles. The remote is not illuminated, but otherwise easy to use once you've learned intuitively where the desired buttons are located.

I will defer to Ayre's website for most of the specs. Like I said earlier, this is an up-sampling CD payer. The website states "Extremely sophisticated multi-stage digital filter system. First filter "up-samples" to 176.4 kHz at 24 bits. Second filter "oversamples" to 1.4112 MHz at 24 bits." My interest is a bit peaked as to the "176.4 kHz" when most up-sampling seem to go up from 44 to 96 to 192 kHz. Seems Ayre has chosen a different up-sampling path! But that is hear nor there. For whatever reason it works fine for me.

Truth be told, I was less than enthusiastic about writing this review, as it represented the fact that my time with the Ayre CD player was coming to an end. From the first CD I could hear the type of difference you’d expect with a higher sampling rate—more information. I could hear more air in the venue. The stage was set in a more three-dimensional environment, not a larger space but a better-defined one. The distance between the focal point of the recording, be it a vocal or an instrumental, and the backup musicians was more easily distinguishable. I could also hear more musical information, from guitar strums to piano key strikes. I would characterize these details as important, and not as hyper-detail. I feel that this is an important distinction. Hyper-detail can be annoying and fatiguing, but getting more musical information creates an involving and fully satisfying experience.

My real appreciation came from the Ayre player’s reproduction of the human voice. From Dave Matthews, Brandon Perry, and Ani Defranco to Johnny Cash and Van Morrison, every vocal track became more tangible. I don’t mean to suggest that I was hearing things I had never heard before. Everything I heard, I’d heard before, but with the Ayre I just heard it better. More importantly, the way I heard it allowed me to better suspend my disbelief that I was not in the concert or recording venue.

When it comes to harmonic truth, the Ayre is among the best CD players I have had the opportunity to spend time with. Its sound is very well balanced, not accentuating any particular segment of the frequency range. Each musical note is in its place. On the excellently recorded Journey, Mighty Sam McClain’s voice has that last bit of depth. The ivories are being tickled in such a way that I was giggling. The highs are very extended, without the slightest hint of digital sizzle. The bottom end is adequate in depth, and very tight. Moving on to Van Morrison's The Philosophers Stone, described as "The Unreleased Tapes," is a bit spotty in recording quality. That being said, it is still a delight for a fan. "I Have Come to Realize" is a soft, subtle tune, full of emotion. Van’s voice is accompanied by a soulful sax and intermittent piano off in the distance, all beautifully conveyed. Even though the recording leaves something to be desired, the truth in the music and in Van Morrison’s passion comes through. My front end never fared so well.

I did not hear any disc that I felt exceeded the capabilities of this CD player. From not so good, to good, to excellent, the player does all recordings justice. Where the player falls slightly short is in dynamics. Great sonics are…well, great, but what makes a disc rock are the dynamics—the ability to get your toes tapping and head bobbing. To evaluate dynamics, I usually select one of Ani Defranco’s numerous releases. Her aggressive, sometimes violent guitar playing, coupled with her powerful voice and searing lyrics, contain more dynamic swings then I can cognitively realize. Although the Ayre does capture this element, it doesn’t really drive it home. The slam on a drum is not packed with as much of a wallop as I have heard in the past. My front end is very dynamic, so to say that the Ayre is only dynamic is not a bad thing. It is just that the dynamics of the Ayre are not commensurate with the performance that the player attains in other areas. The Ayre in an excellent player, one that I have enjoyed hearing. I recommend giving it serious consideration. John Brazier

Coming up in Issue 5, read the reviews of the CX-7 by Danny Kaey, Ed Morawski and Larry Cox. More to follow!




CX-7 CD player
Retail: $2950

Ayre Acoustics
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