Ayre CX-7 CD player Robert Deutsch, January 2008
For the past six years, my digital source has comprised a PS Audio Lambda II CD transport, Perpetual Technologies P-1A and ModWright P-3A digital processors, and a Monolithic Sound P3 power supply. I've been pleased with the performance of this setup, but the four boxes and their attendant power-supply and signal cables made for a lot of clutter, and the P-1A upsampler-interpolator had the annoying quirk of reverting to Bypass mode whenever the power was interrupted. Having the Onkyo DX-7555 for review reminded me of how convenient a one-box CD player can be.
As it turned out, I'd had the DX-7555 for only about a week when my own digital front-end stopped working. Playing a CD produced no sound, and all the P-1A's LEDs lit up, indicating a malfunction. Unplugging and plugging it back in didn't help. Feeding the output of the PSA Lambda II transport directly into the P-3A DAC provided a temporary solution, but in very short order the Lambda II refused to load. The writing was on the wall: I needed to upgrade my digital source.
I considered various alternatives, but the one that kept coming to mind was the Ayre CX-7e. I'd had one of these on loan for a couple of weeks the previous summer, and it had impressed me enough that I seriously considered buying it. In the end, I decided that I couldn't justify the purchase, given that my digital source was really pretty good (even if not quite as good as the Ayre). Now the situation was different: I needed a new CD player, and my own experience, and the experience of my Stereophile colleagues—at least two of whom said that, for CD playback, they preferred the CX-7e to Ayre's twice-as-expensive universal player, the C5xe—pointed to the CX-7e as the best choice. I got in touch with Steve Silberman, Ayre's sales manager, and a CX-7e was on its way to me in short order, along with a check in the opposite direction.
Silberman warned me that a CX-7e won't reach its optimum level of performance until it's been played for about 500 hours, but even listening to the player straight out of the box, I knew I'd made the right decision, and later experience merely confirmed it. This is a great player that fully deserves the praise that has been heaped on it. There's not much I can say about its sound that I haven't already said in my comparison of it with the Onkyo DX-7555, or that wasn't said by Art Dudley in his review in February 2006 (Vol.29 No.2), but perhaps I can add a photographic analogy.
Canon offers two lines of lenses for their DSLR and SLR cameras: a relatively affordable consumer line, and the more professional-oriented, higher-performing L series. Photographers argue about whether the superior image quality obtainable with L-series lenses is worth the difference in cost, but few would question that that quality actually is superior. The Onkyo DX-7555 ($599) can be thought of as a good consumer-level lens, the Ayre CX-7e ($2950) as an L-series lens: built to a higher standard and thus capable of higher resolution. Is the fivefold difference in price worth it? Only you can answer that question. And please don't ask me if the CX-7e is more like a zoom or a prime lens.—Robert Deutsch