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This review first appeared in the May 2009 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Ayon Polaris II in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
Review system: Go here
Review component retail: 42.000zł

Sometimes I'm sorry that I no longer give each review a line header as I did some time ago. I felt forced to eliminate them because while titles made the reading more pleasing, they were not always necessary. For some reviews titles came natural and suggested themselves, for others they were unnecessary. Since I wanted to avoid print magazine situations that often skirt the borders of good taste (Hi-Fi Choice and Hi-Fi News are masters at it but Stereophile and Hi-Fi+ aren't far behind), I resigned from using any titles at all. When something is missing however to show at a glance what we are dealing with, I sometimes regret it. But continuity is most important so for the sake of consistency, there no longer are or will be any titles. If I did change this rule however, this Ayon Polaris II review would bear the title: Dream of flying fulfilled.

A selection of discs used for this review: Bill Evans, You Must Believe In Spring, Warner Music Japan, WPCR-13176, CD | Christian Willisohn, Hold On, Stockfisch 357.4038.2, SACD/CD | Danielsson/Dell/Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water, ACT 9445-2, CD | Depeche Mode, Only When I Lose Myself, Mute, CD BONG 29X, SP CD | Derek And The Dominos, The Layla Sessions. 20
th Anniversary Edition, Polydor/Universal Music Japan, UICY-93958/60, 3 x SHM-CD | G. F. Händel, Acis & Galatea, Dunedin Consort & Players, Linn Records, CKD 319, 2 x SACD/CD | G.F. Händel Oratorios. Saul & Messiah, Harmonia Mundi 2908280.83, 4 x CD | Kenny Burrell, Soul Call, JVCXR-0210-2, XRCD2 | Lars Danielsson, Mélange Bleu, ACT 9604-2, CD | Martin L. Gore, Counterfeit2, Mute, 582477, CCD | Patricia Barber, Companion, Premonition/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2023, SACD/CD | Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD | Włodek Pawlik, Grand Piano, Arms Records, ZP 140770 06-07, 2 x gold-CD | Wynton Kelly, Kelly Blue, JVCXR-0050-2, XRCD | Depeche Mode, Violator, Mute, STUMM64, Limited Edition, 180g LP | Frank Sinatra, My Cole Porter, Capitol. Pickwick Series, SPC-3463, LP | Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love, Rounder/Mobile Fidelity, MSFL 1-284, 180g LP | Mel Tormé, Oh, You Beautiful Doll, Past Perfect/The Trumpets of Jericho, 904333-980, 180g LP | Paul Desmond, Summertime, CTI/A&M Records//Speakers Corner, A&M SP 3015, 180g LP.

I spent over two months listening to the Ayon machine, first to understand the phenomenon of its sound, later for pure pleasure to postpone its return date as long as I could. I have used the phenomenal Leben RS-28CX preamplifier for quite some time now. Unless far more money is at hand, it is really hard to beat. Except for a few rather disputable than inferior details however, the Polaris II now proposed a sound superior by a few classes, leaving behind hi-end and entering a domain that is better compared to live performances than reproduced sound. I exaggerate a bit of course but not for hollow effect. Audio discussions are crippled in some sense by having only a copy in our hands, a reflection which we try to play and compare to reality. Then there is the whole recording process and the carrier's physical limitations that stand in the way. This is why talking about any kind of reality is overused. On the other hand, it is difficult to judge what comes from speakers or headphones without any point of reference even if it is ultimately elusive. In the case of today's component, it is better to reference the sound of live instruments rather than other preamplifiers.

However, plugging the Ayon into our system does not plug it into a vacuum but in lieu of another preamplifier. So we must describe what differentiates the Polaris II from what we know. Switching from my Leben was a shock in terms of what opened up between the speakers but also culturally. It was a completely different version of reality. The first impression was of the Austrian preamplifier sounding significantly softer. For some time I thought it somehow wrong that the Leben with its sharper attack and a more distinctly 'ascendant' sound should be closer to reality. After a few concerts and -- this was perhaps more important -- the return to my preamplifier, it turned out I was wrong. Our experience of reality has nothing to do with any strong, visible, distinctive or other ingredients of the audio experience. Everything live is more natural and closer to the way the Ayon presents it so incredibly balanced. This is why it can occasionally seem soft. As you listen longer, it turns out that there aren't many elements in common with a softening or restraint but how it is all about the intrinsic richness of the transmission, its maturity and incredible resolution. This last characteristic hit me very clear and painfully when I returned to the Leben. While it is a very detailed and resolving device, it costs only what it does. I knew that better was possible in the abstract. The Polaris II showed that it can be done much better.

All vocals regardless of timbre or recording quality were incredibly energetic and just plain clear. I believed that the Leben showed them clear and it does at least when compared to components between 20000-30000zl. The Austrian preamplifier showed them not clearer per se but deeper and fuller, with much better microdynamics and a better defined personal expression of each performer. I remember very well the first listening session with the new edition of the classic Derek And The Dominos Layla from Universal Music Japan. This was recorded on a multi-track recorder and not completely as it should have been, with flattened compressed dynamics and Clapton vocals deep in the mix. With the Ayon everything was clear, the choices were audible, the decisions made that together formed the final effect. And despite everything, this was to my liking but without pushing the vocals forward or warming them up. The Ayon does not do that. Its warmth derives from this incredible clarity and lack of distortion. This can be heard over very good systems. Instantly many discs once considered hard to listen to due to low recording quality become very listenable. We know what's wrong but we just don't give a damn as we receive a package that is completely satisfying. We hear the music and the recording is behind it.

That was the case with Layla but also with Martin L. Gore's solo disc Counterfeit2 recorded with copy protection so it was ruined before it ever sold. I don't listen to it often because its copy protection is heard as an incredibly sandy treble and the presence of something (a kind of sub harmonic perhaps) that leads to a headache in minutes. With the Ayon there were no fireworks either but the sound was not as annoying as usual. It did not prevent me from listening. Plus, the vocals were incredibly good for the recording and repeated on Patricia Barber's Companion whose cuts displayed passion and rare mastery. This is a live recording and the club seemed within reach of my hands. I am talking about the energy and dynamics although as I wrote, the Leben seems the livelier device - or others like BAT's VK-3iX preamplifier or the Belles IA-01 integrated. But all was not fully as it seemed. Those only pretended and suggested at superior micro and macrodynamics by being more penetrating. I don't mean brightening but penetration. The Ayon seems far more contained because it never allows for such playing. Ever. When we turn up the volume on the Leben, BAT or other preamplifiers, we get a stronger louder sound. Good. But the Polaris II does not increase the level selectively, it enlarges the sound. It increases the size of the virtual sources, their volume and not the general sound level. I hope you understand the difference. Playing louder does not irritate but rather fills the room with sound by enlarging the bubble between the loudspeakers.