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The S-5 has a small 3.5" TFT display user interface that shows the most salient playback information and cover art. Most iPad users will consider it a a non feature but it nevertheless gives a a view of current operations and facilitates setup. The S-5 includes a native Internet radio function not always the case for the most expensive examples in this segment. It operates as a UPnP streamer from PC or NAS via 100MB base-T Ethernet but also allows streaming from USB HS mass storage devices and wireless. In terms of sample-rate resolution it's not the most advanced but focuses on what represents 99% of current file types and reads WAV, FLAC, AIFF, LPCM up to 24/192 but is limited to 24/96 when used in wireless LAN configuration. The S-5 uses four Burr Brown DACs per channel and separate analog output stages for the left and right channels.

Remote access is via Ayon's remote, Net API and Ayon’s proprietary app for iPad, iPhone/iPod and Android. The current iPad app is a clearly perfectible feature which derives from their partnership with Stream Unlimited but a completely new version with advanced features should be released soon and was previewed at the recent Munich High End show. I met some difficulties with third-party apps but a friend who owns an S-5 has no difficulties with other iPad apps like Kinsky or Song Book Lite. I was unable to identify what kind of technical limitation prevented me from using them but the main issue was being incapable of forwarding new tracks to the S-5's playlist with a different control point. A few investigations showed no difference in NAS configuration or S-5 firmware between my loaner and my friend's setup. It remains a mystery but what I briefly saw in Munich should definitely close the argument in favor of a far more sophisticated app.

Technically the S-5 appears to be close to state-of-the-art with zero NFB, ultra-short signal paths, low output impedance for driving long interconnects, full tube discrete output stages for each channels, no DC servo, no buffers, four Burr Brown converters per channel and a stereo analog volume control. The power supply has been refined with new parts and enhanced AC line filtration. Separate R-Core low-noise insulated transformer windings and filters provide total isolation between input and output stage which make this a pure power source (said to be a critical attribute of this 6H30 output stage which shares similar accuracy with my Rogue preamp using 4 x 6H30 versus the 8 in the Hera II). Ayon exploits an army of electrolytic capacitors with larger storage capacity to make up for the loss in filtering when using resistors in lieu of inductors. There are ten voltage regulators inside the S-5. The high-grade aluminum chassis is said to impart a richer more lustrous tonality with a cleaner background and less hash and grain. The brushed and anodized anti-resonant non-magnetic chassis are fully hand assembled and the feet impart further damping.

Versatility seems to be the S-5's middle name. I couldn't envision a more complete machine and since Gerhard Hirt did not scrimp on quality, it really justifies the price. The Ayon S-5 is like a fully optioned-out BMW which exceeds the base sticker by a factor of three. In matters of sophistication we're on Linn Klimax turf. In terms of digital inputs the favorite of course is the RJ45 Ethernet for connection to a NAS but memory stick and USB drive may be used as well. Then there are the classic S/PDIF coax, AES/EBU, BNC, Toslink and two type 'A' USB slots, one front, one rear to complete connectivity for any imaginable digital source. There's even an I²S input on RJ45 for max compatibility with the most sophisticated transports. Wifi makes for complete flexibility but does limit the transmission protocol to 24/96.

The analogue preamp inputs are 2 x RCA, 1 x XLR. There's even a single-ended tape out. The S-5 auto-samples to 24/192 but is switchable to native resolution. As do many other models from this Austrian company, the S-5 includes an AC-polarity indicator, aluminum damping feet, a beautiful metal remote and black & chrome livery. It specs a dynamic range >118dB and channel separation >105dB from 20Hz to 20kHz. S/N ratio is >110dB and total harmonic distortion at 1kHz is said to be <0.002%. The dimensions are identical for the main and PSU units and 48x39x12cm WxDxH including feet and terminals. The main units weighs 12kg, the power supply 15kg.

Sound. Considering PCM files, the Ayon was the best source I ever tried at home, even better than the Lumin despite a few firmware updates to the latter since its review. After listened to the S-5 for a few months and exploring all configurations possible within my system, I think this stunning performance was due to its very efficient integration of the digital and analogue stages. In fact I could distinguish very little differences between the Ayon in standalone mode and when the Lumin was used as digital transport. There were some small differences but those were quite subtle. The very short signal path and energy generated by its 6H30P triodes really made for an outstanding level of transparency.