Since its founding in 1993, Colorado-based Ayre Acoustics has made its name with amplifiers and preamplifiers based on truly balanced, solid-state circuitry that didn't use the ubiquitous panacea of loop negative feedback to produce linear behavior. Their first digital product was the D-1x DVD player, reviewed for Stereophile by Paul Bolin in February 2003, which offered unusually good video performance. The D-1x was followed by the C-5xe and DX-5 universal players, respectively reviewed by Wes Phillips (July 2005) and Michael Fremer (December 2010). But the most intriguing digital product to come from Ayre was the QB-9 digital processor. Reviewed by WP in October 2009, the QB-9 has just one input, USB, and uses Gordon Rankin's proprietary Streamlength code to give asynchronous operation, which in theory offers the best jitter suppression. "The QB-9 isn't a computer peripheral," said Ayre's marketing manager at that time, Steve Silberman. "It makes computers real high-end music sources"a statement with which WP agreed.
With hindsight, one of the sideways steps taken by the High End in the early 1990s was the splitting of CD players into separate transports and processors. There were good reasons for this development, not the least of which was the flowering of creativity it engendered in high-end audio engineers. Having open access to the digital audio data also made possible effective digital equalizers and room-correction processors, but in the rush to increase a system's component count, it was overlooked for too long that keeping everything in one box offered certain advantages.
I asked for a sample of the K-5xe so I could do a Follow-Up to Sam's review, but other review commitments kept getting in the way. When I finally spent some time with it (S/N 10J002), I found the sound a little on the robust, forward side, which made system matching problematic. Then, as I was about to spill some ink on the K-5xe, I got an e-mail from Charlie Hansen letting me know that the development of the QB-9 USB DAC had led them to rethink the K-5xe's design, and that Ayre would be sending a sample of what would be called the K-5xeMP. After a longer delay than I had anticipated, the K-5xeMP, priced at $3500, arrived for review.
It looks like the best-selling QB-9 USB DAC until you notice the level meters and the level control next to the display. This is Ayre's new QA-9 A/D converter, aimed at audiophiles who want to rip their LPs with the highest possible quality. The analog input is balanced and there are both USB and AES/EBU digital outputs. The ADC chip is fed by an input stage featuring Ayre's zero-feedback, discrete circuitry and it will output 24-bit LPCM at up to a 192kHz sample rate. However, there's no reason why it couldn't also output DSD data. The QA-9 will be in production in the first quarter of 2012 and while price is not yet decided, it will be somewhere between the QB-9's price and $5000, I was told.
When I was first getting interested in "high fidelity," as we called it back in the 1960s, there was an audio dealer in Worthing, England called Bowers & Wilkins. Their advertisement in the February 1966 issue of Hi-Fi News features their annual sale, with a Quad Electrostatic Speaker priced at $l30 instead of the manufacturer's recommended $l37 (footnote 1), and offering other bargains, from ReVox, Quad, Rogers, Leak, and Armstrong. Conspicuous by their absence from the ad are Bowers & Wilkins speakers. The first reference to those I could find was in the August 1968 issue of what was then called The Gramophone, when race-car driver turned audio critic John Gilbert raved about the P2 Monitor. Designed by avid concertgoer John Bowers with Peter Hayward and featuring an EMI bass unit and a Celestion tweeter, the two-way P2 was priced at more than twice the Quad speaker, at $l159/pair.
While large, floorstanding speakers appear to offer the most material for the buck, I feel that small stand-mounted speakers both offer the best value in sound quality, as well as standing the best chance of sounding good in moderate-sized listening rooms. In recent months Stereophile has reviewed a varied group of such speakers. In order of descending price, these include the Acoustic Energy AE2 Signature ($5495/pair, November '95); Dzurko Acoustics Jaguar ($4500/pair, reviewed elsewhere in this issue); Totem Mani-2 ($3995/pair, February '96); Platinum Audio Solo ($2498/pair, November '95); Coincident Speaker Technology Troubador ($1495/pair, January and February '96); Joseph Audio RM7si ($1299-$1499/pair, February '96); Acarian Alón Petite ($995-$1195/pair, January '96); Phase Technology PC80 II ($699/pair, December '95); and Spectrum 108cd ($399/pair, December '95).
In recent years, computer modeling, finite-element analysis, and laser interferometry have brought about a huge increase in our knowledge about what makes the moving-coil loudspeaker drive-unit work. Nevertheless, it has remained fundamentally unchanged since it was invented by Rice and Kellogg more than 60 years ago. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been refined considerably; in this review I examine the performance of a design whose drive-unit technology has been taken to the limit of what is currently possible, the B&W Silver Signature.
The Rockport Alya's 1.25"-thick front baffle is cast from aluminum, then machined to accommodate the drive-units. The tweeter's usual front-plate is discarded and replaced by the baffle, which has the necessary opening and locating pins. This gives a very clean acoustic environment for the dome. Andy Payor's hand is shown here locking the tweeter into place with a ring that screws into a thread tapped into the rear of the baffle.