In the fall of 1999, three mostly positive critiques of the Ayre Acoustics V-1 amplifier were published, including a highly descriptive account right here at SoundStage!. The consensus promised a powerful fully balanced zero-feedback solid-state stereo amplifier with a musical personality. Some desirable characteristics supposedly resembled those customarily reproduced by a good tube amplifier.
But, as always, the proof is in the listening. Before a handful of discs stopped spinning, I was completely seduced by the stunning midrange of the V-1. Pure sounds bloomed from an appropriately sized, transparent soundfield. Tones were detailed, but richer and more harmonically complete than normally heard via solid state. And I discovered that Ayre was a fitting name for this amplifier because it accurately re-created the space between instruments, the subtle interactions of players and their environment. At times, individual transients came across as a bit subdued and diffuse, but I could live with this. They say true love is a willingness to live with your partners deficiencies, after all.
Fickle me. This brief encounter almost dissolved into merely a fleeting affair once the V-1 tried to control the lower octaves through my B&W Nautilus 801 loudspeakers. The Ayre was let out of the balloon, so to speak. Some bass notes were flabby and extra resonant, while others lacked impact. Less demanding loads would likely yield a different outcome, but in my system, the Ayre V-1 paired with the Nautilus 801 produced unacceptable bass response.
If only the bottom end approached the command of my well-used Krell KSA-150, this could be a match made in heaven. As it was, a guy could only take so much -- I was ready to end the relationship. Before packing the V-1 for its return voyage, a wild thought germinated. The voltage gain of both amplifiers is very close. Why not passively biamp the speakers, the Ayre on top and the Krell down below? The results proved impressive, with only a slight leanness and minimal discontinuities in the crucial lower crossover region. Ive lived with and enjoyed the amazing threesome ever since.
Charles Hansen, Ayres research director, and his design team have twice upgraded the V-1 amplifier since its unveiling in January 1998. The V-1x amplifier available in March of 2000 consisted of mainly power-supply changes within the established chassis. Total power-supply capacitance nearly doubled, from 160k to 280k uF. The special high-speed circuit-board material always used in the audio and output circuitry extended to the power supply as well. Additional capacitance was also installed between the voltage regulators for each input stage.
Heres where things get a little confusing. After August 2001, further modifications were made to the V-1x amplifier, but its name did not change. This "new" V-1x got a revised ground-partitioning scheme and additional RFI filtering; the input impedance was also upped from 10k ohms to 100k ohms per phase. The only noticeable external change throughout the whole process were new high-density polymer feet to replace the four softer footers. Power output remained at 200Wpc into 8 ohms, 400Wpc into 4 ohms.
I cant comment on the relative contributions of each version, having never heard the original V-1x at length, only the "new" V-1x. Hansen says the sonic enhancements were split about 50/50, but more expensive components were added during the first phase. Ayre will upgrade a V-1 amplifier to current production for $1850 USD. Owners of a V-1x can have it elevated to "new" V-1x status for $450. The price of the amplifier has risen from $7500 to $9000.
As I was eager to assess the bass performance of the Ayre V-1x, a couple of low-frequency references and all-around fine CDs saw the laser. First up was Marian McPartlands Hickory House Trio - Reprise [Concord Jazz CCD-4853-2]. On "I Thought About You," Bill Crows hearty bass fills the middle third of the soundstage with rounded, deep form. Robust individual notes blossomed with a woody, resonant feel and blended into a realistic, reverberant glow, while at the same time containing no bloat or superfluous material. Whoa! Now this was excellent acoustic bass -- and a big advancement over that of the V-1.
From Janet Jacksons All For You [Virgin 7243 8 10144 2 4], the particularly strong bass lines sounded authoritative, full, and extended through the V-1x. No, the V-1x does not boast Krell-like bass, which is leaner and tighter with more snap. My old Krell KSA-150 adds a measure of impact and control the Ayre cant quite match, physically jabbing me in the chest during some outbursts. Somewhere between these two amps falls the Marsh MSD-A450m monoblocks, reviewed a few months ago but not on hand for this comparo, which possess possibly the best balance of low-frequency skills Ive heard. Congratulations, Ayre, for bulking up your amplifier to compete within this level of subterranean stardom.
On to the mids, where I just hoped and prayed Ayre didnt change a good thing. Worry not. Norah Jones luscious vocals from Come Away With Me [Blue Note 7243 5 32088 2 0] floated in mid-air between the speakers. Each heartfelt inflection cleanly projected outward and spawned a natural, rich aura around the focused image. Midway through "Painter Song," a smooth, warbling accordion appeared inside the left channel and expanded toward center-stage, acting as an effective tranquilizer. There was absolutely no harshness here, only beautiful music.
All those power-supply modifications did alter the dynamic delivery of the Ayre V-1x. Like loading a larger powder charge in a cannons breech or burning higher-octane fuel in a car, the overall character of the amplifier is unaffected, but its dynamic potential has increased. Guitar strums pack more zip, drum skins snap with immediacy, and even soothing vocals exhibit slightly tighter focus and prominence on the leading edges. Despite the improved dynamic contrast, all of the harmonic and spatial magic of the original V-1 amplifier gets passed along to the V-1x.
The highs are basically unchanged -- extended, expansive, sweet and delicate -- but audibly just a hair crisper. You still wont get an ear-bleed from the Ayre. Ive found it to be a particularly synergistic match with the honest, unfiltered tweeter on my B&W Nautilus 801s.
Long-term relationships are rare in high-end audio -- a young, hot temptress lurks around every corner. With no apologies, the powerful Ayre V-1x re-creates sound both true to the recording and consistent with the original performance. Its the most musical solid-state amplifier Ive heard and a significant improvement over the V-1.
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