Ayre AX-7 integrated amplifier Manufacturer's Comment
Editor: Our heartfelt thanks from all of us at Ayre go to Art Dudley for his willingness to persist in exploring the capabilities of the Ayre AX-7 integrated amplifier. As he found, the AX-7 can require extra care to achieve its full measure of performance, but in the end, that care is amply rewarded. In Art's case, the prize was "...brilliant. Amazing. Stirring, even. It was some of the best-sounding, most compelling music-making I've heard at home." Certainly a prize worth seeking!
One may rightfully wonder why the AX-7 requires that special degree of care to achieve its full potential. The answer is twofold: an exceptional degree of freedom from colorations combined with outstanding transparency. Clearly, these are goals for which most designers strive. And yet, as Art found out, when achieved they can create something of a double-edged sword.
Simply put, a transparent component that is free from colorations will allow one to hear (ever so clearly!) the context of the system into which it is placed. (By "system" we mean to include not only the other components and accessories, but also secondary items such as the quality of the AC mains supply.) Now, if one creates a source component that is transparent and free from colorations, that is almost guaranteed to be a good thing. But the further we progress down the signal chain with this approach, the more likely we are to run into problems.
Consider the transparent loudspeaker that is free from colorations. You will more clearly hear the music, but if there are aberrations and colorations in your other components upstream, they will also be heard more clearly. (Please note that we are making an important distinction here between components that are truly transparent and those that are "ruthlessly revealing." That latter characterization should properly be considered another form of coloration, and not true transparency.)
Many audio components have colorations that impose a strong sonic signature on all music that passes through them. With experience (and possibly a bit of luck), systems with carefully chosen complementary colorations may be assembled that will give a musically pleasing experience. However, this approach is ultimately limiting, both in terms of what other (potentially superior) components may be successfully used and, more important, what types of music may be successfully enjoyed. In contrast, a system assembled with transparent components that are free from colorations will provide a vehicle for the ultimate enjoyment of all types of music.
One point brought up in Art's review is the difference in performance between balanced and unbalanced connections. Through carefully controlled listening tests with the AX-7 here at the Ayre factory, we have found that balanced connections do indeed provide a higher level of performance than unbalanced connections. (This was not an altogether unexpected result; otherwise, we wouldn't bother to build balanced circuits!) However, when all other variables are held constant, the degree of difference between balanced and unbalanced connections must be regarded as audible but not significantly so. Nor did we find the differences fundamental to the degree of musical involvement. Perhaps Art's findings of greater differences in his system were due to some other variable, such as a lack of otherwise identical interconnect cables.
Ultimately, concerning music-reproduction equipment, the two goals of sonic accuracy and musical enjoyment must converge and be considered two sides of the same coin. After all, the original performance provides the full measure of both criteria. At Ayre, we have combined innovative circuit topologies and a complete absence of negative feedback with carefully chosen passive and active circuit components to achieve an unprecedented degree of transparency and freedom from coloration. Only in this way can the holy grail of total musical accuracy be achieved. Not only the "tremendous clarity" and "stunning realism" of the sounds, but also "the rhythm, the momentum, the out-and-out excitement of the music."
Thanks again, Art, for confirming that we at Ayre are achieving our goals.—Charles Hansen, Ayre Acoustics
P.S. John, please don't lose any sleep over the first sample, which died on your test bench when the negative speaker terminals were shorted together. As you correctly surmised, it was the incorrect value of replacement AC line fuse that prevented its resurrection. Installing the correct fuse brought it back to life.