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The opening of this review came from the owner’s manual. It is one of the better manuals I've read – well written with plenty of information and tips. You won’t be buried beneath slogans of "best sound in the world". That ' why these opening words are worth to be taken seriously. Note the phrases "the warmth and immediacy of a live performance" and "the combination of superb resolution and a natural relaxed quality". Those are true. I would write them myself had I not read them already. They should be explained though or they'll be misinterpreted.

How do I know this? I never owned an Ayre. My observations are based solely on my auditions at audio shows and on reading various reviews. Terms like "warm" and "relaxed" run through it all. This could lead us to think that we deal with a type of sound that's warm, peaceful and unobtrusive - perhaps a little boring but not challenging. That would be a mistake. The Ayre amplifier actually does not sound warm in any sense of coloration. Coloration is the last thing I heard. The sound of the AX-5 is exceptionally pure. You won’t find in it any particular color filter. It isn't foggy or grainy either. The sound is open but has a tendency to remove all overly irritating elements from the presentation. It's just a tendency since this machine has very good resolution to unmask small details. What I am getting at is a bit elusive - a presentation that draws our attention first to the music and only then (and only if we are interested) to its reproduction as though the latter's mechanics lagged half a step behind the art of the performance.

Even though the above reads like a description of a sound which beautifies reality, that would be a wrong conclusion. The biggest fundamental asset here is a truly outstanding ability to differentiate between various recordings. How to reconcile that with what I called a withdrawal of the technical side of the presentation behind the music? Is that not how we create our own unobtrusive nice sound? That's indeed one possible solution to good sound but only with relatively inexpensive products. High End is about accessing the full information.

The AX-5 does it with exceptional resolution. This is not evident at first glance. I already mentioned my pleasure from unpacking CDs and the anticipation accompanying their first playback. Almost at the same time as the amplifier, several CDs had arrived primarily from Japan: Eno/Moebius/Roedelius After The Heat, Pat Metheny Group Offramp as an SHM-CD version ("Jazz The Best", No. 17), Mel Tormé on mono material recorded in 1963 for radio stations entitled Hello Young Lovers (Sinatra Society of Japan) and Peggy Lee with Black Coffee as a gold CD version ("Jazz The Best", No. 17). I am giving you these details because I listened to fragments of them straight away driven by curiosity about both the quality of these recordings and how the AX-5 might present them [having neither heard these recordings nor the amp before, one wonders what kind of meaningful conclusions this allowed for - Ed].

Warm devices favor the midrange. They push the vocals in front of other performers which may sound great. Here neither the vocals on "The Belldog" from the Eno/Moebius/Roedelius trio (you'll realize where Depeche Mode found their vocal harmony for their first two records) nor the voice of Mel Tormé were warm or enlarged. Peggy Lee did sound very organic, intimate and tangible but that’s exactly how that record was produced which in turn was helped by the CD's gold layer. And yet it's so easy to present vocals in the foreground by simply withdrawing both outer edges of the audible range. Here I had something else – involvement in the music. All CDs had their own particular sound. They were different yet none failed to involve.

The ability to present many things at once by sorting them such that we receive something complete was particularly evident on Metheny’s album. This is my favorite record by him, hence I own several versions. Hearing the latest SHM-CD remaster and then immediately the older 2004 gold version was very instructive to compare both technologies. The gold version was warmer, deeper, its foreground closer to the listener. Both ends of the frequency range were not entirely fully developed, i.e. the cymbals were not as open as I hear them live and the bass did not have the openness I hear from its bass amp either. The SHM-CD at first sounded dark which completely surprised me. Only after a while did it turn out to be a far higher resolution sound without the gold's warmth. Even though the difference lies only in the CD manufacturing technology, these sonic differences were vast and more evident than between different remasters (remastering is carried out on source material whilst the SHM-CD and similar processes involve the physical disc as two different things altogether).

It seems that the warmth mentioned in the owner's manual derives from very low distortion. There is no other way I could explain such exceptional resolution and organic presentation devoid of any irritants. I hear the same with the Soulution 710 despite it using a very different topology. The Ayre uses zero negative feedback, the Soulution relies on massive amounts. The way the Ayre communicates the differences in recordings is very subtle and charming. We hear what’s going on without irritation. This speaks to our curiosity as if someone showed us a painting in a different light. We are aware of the difference but can’t put a finger on why. It simply is.