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CES 2015: Beyond Pono, Ayre still hot

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ces-logoI suppose that some of you, reading this, do in fact live under a rock or are otherwise sheltered from the world, and in so doing, have completely missed the hullabaloo around Neil Young’s high-resolution digital audio marvel, the Pono Player. If so, congrats — you can catch up right quick.

The secret sauce to the Pono’s sonic success may be best attributed to the technical savvy of Ayre, the designer of the player’s internals. As you probably already know, Ayre has been kicking ass in the high-end for years and years, so it’s probably not surprising that the company that designed the very first USB-DAC beloved by Stereophile Magazine was able to translate that into a portable player worth listening to.

So here we are, some 6+ years since the launch of their QB-9 DAC, and Ayre is still expanding their product line.

The Codex is a new headphone amp/DAC combo that should see the light of day later this year, and features very similar circuitry designs that saw light under Pono — with obvious and significant upgrades that are suddenly easy to accomplish when the product no longer has to be able to be carried in jacket pocket. Prices are still TBD, but the sound quality playing through the display pair of Sennheiser headphones was more than enough to get me very curious. That, and that old-school 3-digit LED display. I’m a sucker for retro. Expect an ESS9018 chip (of some variety) in the final product, with support for double-rate DSD and 384kHz PCM.

Other bits of audio goodness were scattered throughout the room, including the new-ish QB9 DAC, now with DSD playback support ($3,250), and the new “Twenty Editions”. Ayre has a long history of inline-revisions to existing products (the outgoing pre is the “KX-5xeMP”, the “xeMP” part of the name being the reference to several significant product iterations past the originally introduced KX-5), and that’s what we’ve got here — a “trickle-down” effect from their top-of-the-line circuitry and designs, now making their way into the mainstream “Five Series” product line. Here we saw the KX-5 Twenty preamplifier ($8,950) lashed to a  VX-5 Twenty stereo amplifier ($8,950) driving a pair of B&W flagship loudspeakers, with Cardas Clear cabling snaking across the floor. A new brass plaque is all that signifies the update externally, but inside, the boxes now sport the new “Diamond” output topology found in their flagship R-Series products.

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About Scot Hull (991 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.