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A propos power supply dimensions, the K-5xeMP lives as large as that integrated – on a 400VA EI transformer from Mercury Magnetics who also develop iron for Fender and Marshall guitar amps. Each channel then gets 36.000uF of capacitive filtering. To eliminate ultrasonic powerline noise the built-in ‘Ayre Conditioner’ is a coil without ferrite core since over time the latter tends to get magnetized which Hansen claims compromises the sound with a glassy/hard feel and some dynamic compression. Current owners of the K-5xe precursor can take up Sun Audio's MP upgrade offer: "Aside from a straight dozen metalized resistors, the output stage replaces its bipolar transistors with eight specially selected complementary JFETs. This is a trickle-down solution from Ayre’s €19.800 KX-R reference preamp. This 3-hour labor update goes for €380." That itemization explains how the maximal performance of Ayre’s modified preamp was achieved.

Field-effect transistors also appear in the V-5xe’s input stage. Here one highlight is the ultra-high input impedance of 100kΩ which effectively unloads the preamp. The output stage gets 16 bipolar transistors per channel to deliver up to 200 watts. The rationale for this minor opulence (the nominal power rating is really 150wpc into 8Ω) is headroom for difficult loads and/or output conditions to mostly coast. In the same context the German importer points proudly at the 1.200VA 12kg power transformer. As with the preamp, the bake recipe includes the ‘Ayre Conditioning’ for noise suppression, double mono layout past the tranny, fully dual-differential circuitry, no global feedback and high-quality discrete components. The ingredients sure sound good. Let’s hope the cake taste follows suit.

If you forced me down to a single word to describe Ayre’s combo, I’d probably pick ‘stimmig’ [which only roughly translates as fitting or suitable - Ed)]. But since nobody forces me, I have two issues with it. One, I don’t want to keep using a single word. Repetition soon wears down. Two and more decisively, I’d fear that ‘stimmig’ against a backdrop of the usual superlative terms will appear less than attractive. A glance at my dictionary thus caused double joy: "balanced, a well-formed whole, fortuitous, successful, round, even, well matched, harmonious, in the right balance, in proper relations, fitting". Was the dictionary’s publisher an Ayre client by any chance? Not only did this make for a lovely reservoir of synonyms, it reads a lot more complimentary – exactly how I meant it!

But let’s get serious. Suitable how? In a few ways. Going into this assignment my idea was simplicity itself – test the preamp, then the amp, then the combination. A few days and what seemed like hundreds of A/Bs between individual components later, I had to admit that my process didn’t suit. What was true for one machine held true for the other to a large degree. It thus also was true for both together. Repetition anyone? Ayre’s separates speak with a very similar voice. It’s clearly not a case where disparate tendencies sum into a balanced whole as is somewhat true for my reference of Octave HP300 preamp and Electrocompaniet AW180 amps. The Norse monos are a bit emphasized in the bass/lower-mid region where the Octave counters with leaner. This adds up to an extra finger width at the hips but decidedly nothing more. You know what I mean.

While on bass and the notion of ‘more fleet-footed than fulsome’, this suits the Ayre combo quite well. More fleet-footed than my twosome for sure. Particularly the range between upper bass and lower mids the Yanks handle exceptionally buoyant for a brilliant foundation from which to reveal the proper timing of rhythmic Pop and grooving Soul. Boy’s "Waitress" danced like a butterfly around my table, its e-bass runs veritably jumped between my speakers and whilst my usual system leans in with a bit more juice, I wasn’t familiar with this level of immediacy and energy. Over the Ayres this cut really did feel a bit faster. Attractive. And though Erykah Badu’s "A.D. 2000" isn’t an uptempo number—its bass runs are of the more relaxed sexy type—the Ayres rendered it all a bit drier and more defined than I’m used to. Pleasant, that.