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This review first appeared in the March 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Ayre separates in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. 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 fairaudio or Ayre - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: VPI Scout II, SME MS  12-inch, VPI JMW 9T, Denon DL-103, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce, Zu Audio DL-103, SAC Gamma Sym, Luxman D-05, Logitech Squeezebox 3, Readynas Duo, HP Notebook, Benchmark DAC1 USB, NorthStar USBdac32
Amplification: Octave HP300 with phono, Electrocompaniet AW 180,  Denon PMA 2010AE
Loudspeakers: Ascendo System F, Blumenhofer Fun 13, Thiel SCS4
Sundry accessories, cables and racks
Review component retail: €3.800 preamp, €5.800 stereo amp

Mister Hansen—not Ingo from Hamburg but Charles from Boulder/Colorado—has been in the hifi biz for a bit. Founding Ayre Acoustics in 1993 means a 20-year anniversary is coming up. But his hifi career dates back even further when he started a small firm named Avalon Acoustics whose speakers today are neither the least known nor the cheapest available. But that’s not today’s focus. I’m instead looking at a classic in Ayre’s catalogue, their second-from-the-top pre/power combo which goes by the attractive name K-5xeMP/V-5xe. Hansen clearly studied Physics, not creative writing. Whilst the upshifted ‘MP’ suffix meant ‘minimum phase’ for the CD player we recently reviewed to hint at its apodizing filter, with the preamp it becomes ‘maximum performance’. Cool, huh?

Ditto for the preamp’s cosmetics. Those struck me as endowed with some type of charming laboratory cool. Which is fundamentally silly as lab equipment rarely ever shows up with such massive metal enclosures. But aesthetics here are more techno sober than max glamour. Which I like. Yet I couldn’t fail to notice that the V-5xe’s face plate doesn’t match. My suspicion? Market research determined that a power amplifier had to look more macho than a small preamp to require the add-on of 1.5-fingerwide cheeks. As with the K-5xeMP, fit’n’finish are very good. Checking out assets one spots perfectly mirror-imaged top-notch socketry to suggest double-mono circuitry. Correctly as it turns out if one subtracts the power supplies. The K-5xeMP preamp offers four inputs (2 x RCA, 2 x XLR ) and three outputs (fixed RCA, variable RCA/XLR). Each input may be configured as processor pass-thru to bypass the volume control. LP fiends will need an external solution but in this price range they tend to anyway.

The V-5xe can be tapped single-ended or symmetrical and adds an XLR link socket to connect to a second amp for bi-amping. And there are Cardas speaker terminals. I personally fancy those a lot for their simple handling, high but even pressure and my preference for spades. Prospective Ayre customers should simply know about the latter since bananas are out. These are terrifically designed but also particular terminals.

Ayre’s design philosophy revolves around specific notions which are implemented across their entire product range including today’s subjects. This includes a strong preference for discrete rather than integrated circuits. Charles Hansen once compared ICs to a bake mix which saves times, is cheap and tastes quite good. But with proper recipe and individual ingredients at hand, the cake will taste better even though you will spend more time in the kitchen. And individual ingredients give more freedom to season to taste. Sounds quite plausible. Hansen is particularly against the operational amplifier bake mix because such parts don’t make sense in a zero-feedback circuit. No NFB and balanced circuitry are two other corner stones for Ayre amplifiers. On the why, what and how, our prior review of Ayre’s AX-7e integrated went into detail already. Ditto for the tranny question “why no toroid”. Philipp Krauspenhaar of German import house Sun Audio explained it there.