Looking through solid Ayre: QX-5 Twenty internals & factory tour

  • In converting even a small portion of the mass market over to hi-res audio, Neil Young’s Pono Player was a failure. Perhaps Young’s sales pitch would have been more effective had it focused on how the Toblerone-shaped device could improve the sound quality of Redbook FLAC and even MP3 – music we own already and don’t have to buy anew.

    No matter how good it sounded, hawking a hardware device predicated on downloads (and CD rips) just as the mass market shifted to streaming was always going to be a tough sell.

    Behind the Pono player’s seriously impressive sonic prowess were Colorado’s Ayre Acoustics. The Boulder-based company designed the circuit. And like all Ayre products, a balanced topology with all discrete components and zero feedback were applied without negotiation. The subsequent Codex DAC/headphone amplifier, an extension and refinement of Pono’s circuit, showed off just how Ayre’s adherence to certain design principles can make mains-powered headphone listening really sing.

    Ayre Acoustics’ audio engineering muscle: Charley Hansen (left) and Ariel Brown (right).

    Like many companies featured within these pages, Ayre Acoustics are different with a Capital D. Marketing manager Alex Brinkmann describes Ayre as a twenty-three year old startup. It’s certainly true that they have held a robust reputation as purveyors of fine sound in the high-end audio niche for many years.

    Those sniffing out Ayre on the back of Pono involvement might not be aware that their product range extends to some seriously high-performing power amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, a D/A converter, an A/D converter and a phono stage.

    Earlier this year at the High-End Show in Munich, Ayre unveiled their latest product: the QX-5 Twenty is a Roon Ready digital pre-amplifier. A total of ten digital inputs and Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength™ code working the USB are tough to ignore. So too is the asking price: US$8995. According to Michael Lavorgna at AudioStream, you very much get what you pay for.

    The first order of business upon landing in Colorado for RMAF 2016 in October was a tour of Ayre Acoustics’ Boulder facility.

    I arrive at 11am to the sound of not very much at all. The atmosphere is busy but paradoxically quietly studious. Picture a university library just prior to finals season. A soldering iron buzzes here, a keyboard clatters there. Brinkmann walks us around and about:

    This year, DAR went long on video coverage. The site’s Vimeo channel now carries over 200 (!) videos. The motivation behind such coverage is to better communicate a sense of “being there” to readers (turned viewers). Videos become particularly potent when featured as part of audio show coverage or when conducting factory tours. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth at least a million.

    However, the over eager videographer can easily overdo it. Forever on my mind when filming and editing is the germ of truth at the heart of this Onion article: “Friend Who Sent Link To 8-Minute YouTube Video Must Be Fucking Delusional”. Quite.

    But sometimes, more than a minute or two is absolutely necessary. For Ayre Acoustics’ lead engineer Charley Hansen to talk us through the guts of the QX-5 Twenty, a full five minutes are required because a) it contains so very much and b) Hansen’s attention to detail is unsurpassed in the high-end audio industry:

    The beer at the nearby UpSlope brewpub wasn’t half bad either. How very Boulder.

    Further information: Ayre Acoustics


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


        • Charles Hansen’s creativity and tenacity amidst adversity is very inspiring. God bless that man… I could empathize a bit, I miss riding my road bike, but health reasons prevent me now. If I was living in Colorado I’d get a custom Yamaguchi steel frame.

          Anyway, thanks for the vid of Hansen’s tour of the internals.. It’s cool to see his design choices/philosophy within an actual product.. Custom air core chokes in lieu of ferrite chokes for AC RFI. Custom EI core power transformer (most likely with electrostatic screens between windings) in lieu of a toriodal to further limit HF nasties. Fully balanced discrete zero fb circuits from input to output for the analog stages. No non-sense engineering IMO, even if I can’t really afford most of what Ayre offers.. With all this attention to detail, I kinda wish Ayre would make a pure Multibit product, maybe as limited edition items.

        • Thanks, a far too common occurrence on the front range. Left Hand Canyon is a great ride, but the carelessness and/or hostility of ‘some’ never gets any less disturbing.

    1. Stop going ummmm, ummmmm, ummmm, if you can’t think past what you are going to say, ummmm, isn’t the solution! Disturbing and annoying ummmm, ummmmm, ummmmmm

    2. “Special” ckt breaker, I seriously doubt it! Come on, this is another audio amplifier, not anything new…oy vey.

    3. The speed with which new kit is arriving these days is somewhat head spinning. I would really love to have one of these but at $9K US it’s really hard to justify. I already have an Ayre AX7e integrated amp and a QB9DSD DAC, both excellent pieces of equipment, which I use with a microRendu. Personally, I love this setup. It’s the best and most cost-effective end-to-end digital solution I’ve ever had. So let’s say for the sake of argument that I could sell the DAC and the mR for $3K or so, and replace it with the QX-5. Is the QX-5 a better solution? Undoubtedly. More current technology, lots more inputs and outputs, a single box solution, and Ayre’s rock solid engineering and quality control. But is it an upgrade that’s worth an additional $5K or $6K US. If I had unlimited funds, sure but living in the real world, very hard for me to justify that.

    4. Thank you very much for the tour. Ayre is my destination audio gear. I can not thank Charley Hansen enough for such a superb product, in my opinion. A lot of gear has come and gone, but Ayre will never leave my system.

    5. I am the fortunate owner of an almost complete Ayre system – only lacking CD player: K-5xeMP, VX-5 Twenty, P-5xe, QB-9 DSD and L-5xe. Just great! As Joe says, this gear is not leaving my house, unless to be upgraded. Thanks for the great work and all your effort, Charles (and the rest of the staff at Ayre)! Best regards from Egil in Oslo, Norway.

    More than just a disc spinner: OPPO Digital’s UDP-203

    Global feedback: Pioneer PLX-500 infected w/ Ortofon Nightclub MKII