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This review first appeared in the March 2009 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Ayon CD1s/Accuphase E-450 in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
Review system: Go here
Review component retails: 10,900zl for the Ayon, 16,900zl for the Accuphase [1zl is ca. €0.2]

In general, reviewing implies putting the device to be tested -- cables, loudspeakers -- into our reference systems. This is classic science-based protocol which tests by comparison. Assuming that the reference devices are at least one class better than the testers, it allows for precise assessment of the latter's contributions. Some variables like adjusting the various elements to one another play a role there like electrical compatibility and reproduction means which can ruin many systems. On the other hand, such variables won't transform a bad into a good component. That's not how it works.

Some brand lovers point at certain inconsistencies in such reviews. Every company designing audio electronics must create them compatible with the broadest possible range of ancillaries from other manufacturers, including loudspeakers. That's because audiophiles mix and match. On the other hand, manufacturers voice their components in fixed systems usually designed by them. So optimization regardless of plurality happens mostly with a given brand. That's a well-known and oft discussed fact. Still, it's very rare that we, the journalists, review complete systems. To date, I've only managed it once with the Reimyo, Harmonix & Bravo! brands owned by the Combak Corporation. There's a very prosaic explanation. You must test the system as a whole (doable) and all elements by themselves to define their respective influences on the final result. That second half requires a lot of time. Which nobody has.

Even though it seems that sales of complete single-brand systems (mostly electronics) make up a high percentage of audio shop sales, many others can be attributed to systems which the sellers propose and assemble from different makes. This requires knowledge, feel and preparation by the sales staff but happens more often than we imagine. This is why, from time to time as opportunities arise, we would like to evaluate the kind of systems that distributors offer their customers. The first to hit the test bench was proposed by Nautilus Hi-End. It is made up of two newcomers, the Ayon CD-1s replacement for the CD-1; and the Accuphase E-250 integrated amplifier successor to the E-213. In addition, I received a bundle of Japanese Oyaide cables - the Across AR-750/RR interconnect, the OR-800 Advanced speaker cables and the L/i 50 EXs Tsunami GPX-R power cords for CD and amplifier respectively (both plugged into the Oyaide MTB-4 power strip). To make the situation more complex, player and amplifier were tested together with the supplied and my regular reference cabling, then separately in my reference system.
Sound: The CD-1s is a true pearl. Although the earlier version really wasn't inferior -- there's no leapfrogging paradigm shift or other extremism reviewers love to write about -- the replacement still ventures a step in the direction of sonic enrichment. The Ayon plays with incredibly saturated tone (fantastic even on the absolute scale) yet maintains PRaT. That capacity without the slightest hesitation reminds me of Naim. Yes, this is an impressive peer but in my book, Ayon remains unchallenged regardless of which player we take as reference. This comes at a price we'll get to momentarily but it does play everything with proper tension. There's no slowing of phrasing, no trailing the beat, just rhythm and pulse. I remember a comparison between my Ancient Audio Lektor Prime and its big Lektor Grand SE brother where the former slightly accelerated to move upfront. Now roles flipped. The Prime was quieter and more sedated. Michael Jackson's Thriller, particularly "Beat It" and "Billie Jean", sounded great. The bass drum was strong, quick and paced heart and legs. I have not lived through anything like it in years. This was like an element controlled, with many things happening but everything firmly grouped.

Simultaneously, the CD-1s keeps fantastic timbre. Its point of gravity shifts into the lower midrange/upper bass to render all recordings saturated regardless of providence. This of course is one step away from absolute neutrality but one we not only accept but welcome because everything depends on our point of view. If we look at devices costing €4,000 and more like the DP-500 Accuphase, we would mention a change of absolute tonal balance. Below that amount, the only thing I can allow is discussion about character and choices because such voicing is beyond even positive critique. The midrange is incredibly saturated and full. The vocals almost jump out of their hoops and instruments like the trumpets from a Hank Mobley disc simply manifest in front of us. Interestingly, this does not induce fatigue during extended listening sessions. Usually hyper separation and recorded details thrown at us seem attractive at first but exhaust in the long run. The Ayon needs to be listened to by itself not for a moment but longer. Even then its active dynamic sound will remain appealing I believe.

But we must point out differences between upsampling on and off. This function is available by remote so we can compare easily. With upsampling enabled, the whole is creamier, the midrange more saturated and the treble slightly blocked. But the most important lesson is that with upsampling engaged, CD character approaches SACD and vinyl. I do not exaggerate. Less information is less information but the character of the sound is close. This is good as the vocals are extremely palpable, full and beautiful. And, in this mode decays are shortened and room acoustics masked. That's the balance of karma. The whole is slightly lighter mostly due to a minor midrange thinning but resolution is superior. That's why I played all of rock, the earlier Jackson disc, the beautiful 20th Anniversary Edition remaster of Layla Derek And The Dominos (I recommend it as plain brilliant - the pack is available on CD Japan) and others with the upsampling on. Ditto female vocalists like Doris Drew's Delightful Doris Drew and Sara K.'s Don't I Know You From Somewhere?. Alas jazz like Hank Mobley's Lo Voltage sounded better off. The point is, we have choices. That's a good thing. We should also turn our attention to the lower bass. It is very strong and full but not as completely controlled as the Accuphase DP-500.

As it turns out, the amplifier is a completely different beast from the CDP. It's precisely why this set conquered so many hearts of Nautilus clients. It is far more linear than the E-213. The predecessor colored the lower midrange and upper bass, producing a big and warm sound that could be admired but remained colored. The E-250 is different. Its tonal balance based -- slightly and without exaggeration -- on the midrange is nice and even. That's also how it sounds - even, 'reliable', one could say self-assured in what it does. This is interesting because the Ayon's liveliness does not phase the Accu. The amplifier won't betray its dignity nor allows itself to be pushed around. This probably invokes a slight compression of dynamic peaks which the E-250 handles gracefully. The strong bass, nice midrange and thorough treble of the Austrian allow those elements to add to the E-250 without domineering. I think it's the preamplifier section of the Japanese that's mostly responsible for this mesh-up.