Ayre D-1x DVD-Video/CD player Page 3
The D-1x's strongest tonal suit was its exceptionally detailed and transparent midrange. Sinfonia Antartica features a multitude of woodwinds in the "Penguin" section of the second movement. The D-1x cleanly differentiated all of the instrumental colors, free of smearing or the sort of timbral indecision that some CD players exhibit with woodwinds. Voices had a free and easy sound with a natural and expressive character. On her Live at Blues Alley (Blix Street 10046), Eva Cassidy's voice was full and luscious, beautifully focused and floated. Ol' Blue Eyes sounded wonderful on "The Shadow of Your Smile," from Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise 46947-2).
The acoustic guitars on Tiny Island's "Vaquero" and "Black Sand" (Tiny Island, Opus3 CD 19804) had a naturally resonant warmth, if perhaps just a bit of extra energy present in the pluck of the strings. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how special Charles Lloyd's The Water is Wide (ECM 1734) sounded via the D-1x. Lloyd's incredibly pure sound—so graceful that his alto sax often sounds like a soprano—was bewitching, and Brad Mehldau's incredible palette of piano sounds had as seductive and whole a sound as I have heard.
Up on top, the D-1x was very extended and, apart from that small low-treble "glamour bump," open and nearly grainless. On some recordings there was a faint hint of fine, silvery, powdered-sugar grain in the top octave. Don't interpret this as coded language for the Ayre being "bright" or "aggressive." It was no such thing. The Minnesota Orchestra's string sections on Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (Reference RR96-CD) and on Appalachian Spring had the special sheen I've heard in live performance. The D-1x's treble balance leaned to the lighter side of perfect neutrality, a presentation that will particularly complement tube electronics, but it sounded anything but thin or bleached.
The Ayre's dynamics were excellent. The Chicago Orchestra's seamless rushes up and down the dynamic scale on Rapsodie espagnol were effortlessly handled. There was no "ratcheting," where dynamics seem coarsely quantized, only a coherent and unforced soaring through Ravel's high-contrast score. The suddenness of the closely recorded brass and woodwind crescendos on Miles Davis and Gil Evans' "Concierto de Aranjuez," from Sketches of Spain (Columbia/Legacy CK 65142), had a particularly accurate scale and forcefulness. Well-recorded percussion, like that on Tiny Island, had just the right speedy initial attack and immediacy. The words for the Ayre's handling of dynamics are "deft" and "agile."
Soundstaging was consistently very good. Particularly when used in its upsampling mode, the $12,000 Classé Omega squeezed even more depth from the best recordings, such as the Minnesota Orchestra CDs, but the Ayre spun a lovely tapestry of Orchestra Hall's deep stage and lively acoustic. When I listened to small groups, such as Eva Cassidy's band, each musician was cleanly and clearly located in a natural-sounding space, with elbow room for all. Nor did big-scaled rock fluster the Ayre—Roger Waters' In the Flesh (Columbia C2K 85235) remained cohesive and focused while providing an impressive sense of scale; and Porcupine Tree's live Coma Divine threw a spacious and expansive stage, with Richard Barbieri's deep-space synthesizer backdrops deep and wide around the bass, guitar, and drums.
I had few 24-bit/96kHz DAD discs on hand, but the results with those I did have was impressive. The high-resolution format brought out the best in the Ayre's sound. The lower-treble elevation vanished, and bass dug in with a rich solidity. Muddy Waters' Folk Singer (Classic Records DAD 1020) had true reference-quality sound. Acoustic guitars had a shivery, lifelike sparkle and resonance, and commanding immediacy. Willie Dixon's booming, ominous bass and Muddy's witchy-sounding slide guitar on "The Same Thing" were nothing short of fantastic. The loooong reverb trails echoed slowly away into the background, and Muddy's voice was uncannily present and palpable.
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (Classic DAD 1031) is such a musical delight that sound per se takes a back seat...unless it's as captivating as it was through the D-1x. The Duke's piano was fine and mellow, Buddy Bayard's clarinet on "Mood Indigo" as buttery-smooth as could be. Armstrong's papa-bear growl had a delectable intimacy, and his singular, bright-as-a-new-penny trumpet tone popped authoritatively into the room. It has become apparent that 24/96 and SACD are both capable of delivering performance well beyond the "Red Book" norm. The D-1x made a very impressive case for the former.
The Ayre D-1x was a bit more temperamental about placement and cables than most other CD players I've used, and would not be my first choice for a forward or lightly balanced system. Those minor caveats aside, the Ayre's performance was consistently musical and satisfying; it offers excellent overall performance in an elegant and thoughtfully designed package. And the fact that the buyer can configure a D-1x in so many different ways, before or after purchase, and that it can serve as the primary source for a superb audio-video system, make it a uniquely flexible and attractive component.
Whether DVD-Audio or SACD proves the winner in the current format war remains to be seen, but until the dust settles, there's no question that the Ayre D-1x will provide first-rate CD performance.