This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric K-03, Esoteric G-02 (on loan), Lumin, Apple Imac Lion OSX /Audirvana, Squeezebox Touch + Welborne Labs PSU, Audio GD Ref 5, Trends UD-10.1, MacBook Lion OSX with HiFace USB to S/PDIF interface
Amp/Preamp: Rogue Audio Hera II, SPL Volume2, Orpheus Lab Three M, Trends TA-10.2
Speakers: Vivid Audio K1, Lawrence Audio Violin [on review]
Cables: Skywire Audio 2020 digital cable, Naturelle Audio interconnects Live 8 MK2, Grimm Audio TPM interconnects, JPS Labs Superconductor 3 interconnects & speaker cables, Audioquest K2 speaker cables
Power Cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE, Furutech
Stands & room: DIY stuff, Vicoustic panels, PTY panels [on loan]

Review component retail in Europe: €14.990

Context. Following the stunning Lumin DSD streamer, the latest newcomer in this category for casa Chevassus was Ayon's S-5. Their flagship digital source can't yet stream DSD but includes a sophisticated single-ended tube preamp that can host other analogue sources. The sticker of this DAC/preamp/UPnP network player is in a different class from the Lumin as is the weight and size of its two-box chassis. Ayon’s strategy for network players seem to focus on full-featured integration for their S-3 and S-5 models. Ayon recently released also a pure streamer with the latest NWT network player. The Austrian company will also add an entry model with the forthcoming S1. Ayon tends to release a large number of products and their still recent development in the field of network players is another example. The concept of the music center itself is progresses. A €15K sticker represents a serious investment but if you consider how it might replace three machines costing €5.000/each, it seems a bit less daunting. Versus something like Audioaéro's La Source or La Fontaine it even seems competitive in the cost-no-object sector.

Of course the DAC market itself is still expanding but a growing number of manufacturers now focus on streaming devices. Where Linn for many years was a forerunner in the field, the list of streamers has grown since to be quite impressive. In some ways network players are about pragmatism and simplicity. They avoid the noisy power supplies and fans of conventional computers, have more efficient jitter suppression as no audio enters the streaming/decoding device, produce no noise as hard drives are external, suffer no inherent storage limitations and present a stable platform which is protected from rapid app progress by dedicated chips not asked to perform various background tasks.

Compared to high-end audio servers, streaming devices have perhaps a longer useful life as they are less dependent on changes in operating systems and software drivers. The dedicated streamer is a no-brainer alternative to the PC/Mac strategy. As a Squeezebox and Lumin user, I am personally convinced of the inherent value of streamers. Whilst current SSD storage has become affordable, to me the network streamer is more convenient on connectivity and evolutionary progress.

Ayon’s flagship still lacks DSD support and beckons instead with highly accurate signal treatment through a special tube output stage and massive tube-rectified power supply to combine vintage with hi-tech relevance. Let's take a closer look at this expensive but sophisticated machine.

. The S-5 network player is a full-featured streamer, DAC and preamp. As a specialist of class A single-ended circuitry, Ayon has designed a sophisticated device focused on the shortest signal path. Particular attention was given to signal integrity with short wire lengths and short PCB copper traces. The same signal path purity excludes any solid-state device in the tube output stage and says no to any follower, buffer or DC servo. The overall idea is to generate the highest current and energy over the shortest signal path.

At the same time the S-5 is stunningly versatile with a very complete set of functions. Build quality is first rate as is generally the case for Ayon's entire catalogue. In consideration of its high sticker, it's important to highlight the various functions of this flagship network player. It was undoubtedly the most complete device I ever reviewed in this segment and also the most expensive. Data available from the front panel display are outstanding and there's confirmation of current status provided for each operation.