Ayre Acoustics DX-5 universal disc player
Consider this: While Ayre calls its new DX-5 ($10,000) a "universal A/V engine," the disc player doesn't have a coaxial or a TosLink S/PDIF input. That appears crazy to me, but to Ayre, no. They've found their own road.
Ayre's Steve Silberman explained to me that Ayre wasn't interested in servicing a "niche" product like Meridian's Sooloos music serveror, apparently, any other products that require an outboard S/PDIF-equipped D/A converter. "Steve," I said, "everything Ayre makes is a niche productas is everything reviewed or advertised in Stereophile."
Ayre contends that anyone needing an S/PDIF input should find their own road. Why? If you're into silver discs, the DX-5 plays them all. If you're setting up a server-based system, you'll most likely use a computer and the DX-5's USB port. Who then would need S/PDIF?
The multichannel-capable DX-5 will play CDs, SACDs, high-resolution DVD-Audio discs, DVD-Video and Blu-ray discs, and, via its USB port, music files stored on a personal computer using iTunes or other organizational software. For now, the DX-5's USB port can reliably handle files of 24-bit/96kHz resolution from any computer and 24/192 from "some" with USB2.0, though an in-the-field firmware upgrade will allow the USB port to reliably handle 24/192 files from all computers (footnote 1).
The DX-5 is based on an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, but uses only the Oppo player's disc drive and controller. Everything elseI mean, everything elseis built by Ayre, including, and especially, the USB port functionality. (Ayre says this is even better than the one they engineered into their well-regarded QB-9 USB DAC.) The DX-5 in no way resembles the recent embarrassment from Lexicon, where their expensive BD-30 player turned out to be the Oppo BDP-83 in a substantial Lexicon case, the only other changes being in the player's firmware. The DX-5 makes use of a completely new power supply, Ayre's zero-feedback, fully balanced audio circuitry, opto-isolators to prevent clock and other forms of noise pollution from entering the audio signal, and Ayre's latest iteration of its minimum-phase digital reconstruction filter, in the design of which both measuring and listening played important parts.
While the DX-5 is intended mainly for use in a multichannel audio and/or video surround-sound systemKal Rubinson will be writing about the DX-5 in this context in his next "Music in the Round" columnJohn Atkinson figured it would be worth reviewing in a two-channel system as well. So while I can't use the DX-5 with my Sooloos, which I found frustrating, I suspect the lack of an S/PDIF input won't be a problem for most audiophiles heading into the 21st century's second decade. That's Ayre's bet, anyway.
Steve Silberman brought along and set up a Mac mini computer, complete with Bluetooth keyboard, a 7" Pyle PLMN7SD LCD monitor, and mouse. I already had a few discs loaded into iTunes, and I added some more. But I also had many discs, plus some hi-rez files, loaded on my own laptop's iTunes; with the Mac's network iTunes sharing, I could access the thousands of tunes already loaded on my desktop computer. The 2000 CDs and hi-rez files I'd downloaded from HDtracks and uploaded to the Sooloos? Not so much.
I also have a lot of SACDs and CDs and, in the garage, a big box containing more than 100 DVD-A discs with no way to play themuntil the DX-5 arrived. I could strip the data from them using software, then store the files on my laptop or on the Sooloos, but I don't have the time. As for Blu-rays, I have a live Tom Petty album, Neil Young's Archives box, and some from 2L and other futurist vendors.
Setting it all up
My review sample of the DX-5 came configured for two-channel use, but I believe the factory default is multichannel; if you're considering using a DX-5 for stereo playback, it's best to connect it to a video monitor to access the onscreen setup menu and make sure it's properly configured.
Footnote 1: For the lowdown on Ayre's use of Gordon Rankin's "Streamlength" asynchronous USB technology, read Wes Phillips' description in his review of the QB-9 in the October 2009 issue.