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Returning to The Beatles, the sound was very real, almost perfectly real! I listened to a similarly rich sound at this price before over the McIntosh MCD501 but the Skylla better presented the treble and differentiated instruments far more. To verify the sound of somewhat heavier fare, I listened to Porcupine Tree’s recently released The Incident with its leaps of dynamics between pianissimo and forte, strong electric and acoustic guitars and a great voice. Overall it is hard to call this a masterpiece of sound engineering especially when compared to good jazz recordings. But versus other rock recordings, it is actually very good. The Skylla did soften the dynamics a bit. I didn’t determine this earlier but obviously this DAC does underplay very powerful dynamic transitions. The effect is pleasing as everything remains under control but I have to  mention this action. I really loved the sound of the voice which was rich, pleasant and wonderfully proportionate with the instruments. The scale of it was well rendered not as a small pin between the guitars but a full sonic presence. For electronica, I reached for Reloaded by Camouflage. The same impressions continued of a rich, warm sound with slight dynamic softening and a somewhat emphasized lower midrange for an extremely pleasant effect.

I should benchmark the Skylla (and the very similar CD-5) versus other good digital sources. I believe that the sonic depth, its scale, timbre and differentiation put this DAC slightly above the present version of my Lektor Prime. And in the high-end world, ‘slightly’ might have great meaning My player shows more of what’s going on between the notes where the Ayon homogenizes a bit to increase instrumental sizes. The Prime is thus somewhat more precise in showing their contours. But interestingly, this does not make the sound more realistic or plausible. It’s just another way of presenting it. The Accuphase DP-700 perhaps is a bit more sophisticated mostly with its smoother attacks at higher resolution. It is slightly warm but surely less so than the Skylla. The Accuphase better controls the bass and extends lower. On the other hand Ancient  Audio’s top Lektor Grand SE has superior resolution and on better recordings differentiates more between instruments, voices and so on. It’s not much of a difference but still shows the Ayon some room for improvement. As far as tonal balance is concerned, you can find a similar sound in the Reimyo CDT-777+DAP-999EX and Jadis JD1 MkII+JS1 MkIII both of which I reviewed some time ago. This is a good direction. Those two plus the Grand SE are in my opinion the best digital players (CD, SACD and DVD-A) I have ever heard. The Ayon lacked a bit of their depth, resolution and softness but costs five or six times less.

As preamplifier: Because I simultaneously reviewed the CD-5 for Audio, I was able to explore all the Skylla’s features which are pretty impressive. Both decks are quite similar so I can repeat what I wrote for Audio. Ayon's converter can be used as an analog preamplifier or D/A converter slash preamp. After connecting to the Skylla some analog source like a turntable, you will find that proper A/D conversion, volume reduction and then D/A conversion can give quite pleasing effects. Surely the resolution of the recording is degraded and the sound looses its colors. But if you want to connect an auxiliary source like a tuner, this shouldn't present a problem. The sound quality should be good enough to allow for pleasant listening.

Once you want to plug in a mid-class turntable however, I suggest an external phonostage. The Skylla's S/PDIF input proved that the Ayon is a great D/A converter as long as we don't use its volume control. Admittedly that is quite decent like the one in the Accuphase players but it stands no chance compared to Wadia’s digital volume control, not to mention those in analog preamplifiers. A feed from Blacknote’s DSS 30 Digital Static Streamer with 24/96 material sounded fantastic, in fact significantly better than through the Italian's own converter (which is also based on tube technology). I enjoyed all the advantages of CD sound plus much better resolution and lower bass. Outstanding!

On the other hand, the USB input turned out to be only partially successful. Specialized USB converters by Wavelength (who licensed their technology to Ayre) with particular software controllers work in asynchronous mode. Their sound can be simply described  as high-end and superior to any optical medium. But Ayon used the quite old Burr-Brown PCM2704 chip. That is not the best option. In fact, it's the worst. It slaves the circuit to the computer clock which constantly changes depending on what the computer is up to at the moment. Changes in sampling rate occur every millisecond and are adapted to an average clock value. Hence this scheme is called adaptive mode. It results in huge jitter. And you can't use hi-res files as it only supports up to 16 bits at 48kHz.

Newer chips like the TI TAS1020B go much farther, accept up to 24/96 data and can be reprogrammed to work in asynchronous mode. There is an on-chip memory buffer which the signal enters to be reclocked independently from the computer clock. That’s probably why hi-res files from my HP Pavilion Entertainment PC with Vista didn't sound as good through the Ayon as the same music from CD. The difference wasn't huge but perspective and dynamics were flattened. Timbre was very nice though. In USB mode, I could not tell the difference between 24/96, 24/192 material and Redbook.

About upsampling, it produces better timbre, adds mass to the lower midrange and the overall sound becomes smoother. Those are clear advantages for most recordings since you get something quite similar to vinyl sound. Yet a few recordings will sound better without upsampling – rawer, not as rich but more precise. If you listen to certain Naim recordings or 50's albums, it is worth trying since with those, upsampling is not necessary. I had similar experiences with the Jadis system but there upsampling was required almost all of the time. Here it was just one of the possibilities, a digital filter which one might use to trim the sound of select recordings.