T.H.E. Show 2019: Ayon Audio, Lumenwhite and the (valve) Glass Menagerie

“Strange things are afoot at the Cirlce-K.” – Ted, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

A relatable quote if you’ve ever been to a hi-fi trade show and tried to make sense of hundreds of rooms full of stereo equipment.

You go, you sit, you listen and you try to decipher what it is you’re hearing (or what the distributor or manufacturer is trying to tell you).

This can be tricky in ideal conditions, but sussing it out over the din of air-conditioning units, phones ringing, people conversing, slamming doors and the constant cacophonic bleedthrough of white noise from a dozen other rooms cranking tunes all around you and the metaphors come out.

In my experience, it’s impossible to accurately report on what you encounter with a system set up in hotel room or ballroom – the amount of variables is laughable – especially if you’ve not heard anything in the circuit path before – you have a limited scope of firsthand data with which to make an informed opinion.

Which is why I try to concentrate on holistic sonic attributes. I wouldn’t usually write that a DAC sounded this way or that, or a preamp, amp – cables, room treatment, etc., because unless I’m specifically familiar with what a piece of kit is bringing to the party then I can only comment on what the overall system is passing along – speakers are different, I can tell you if there’s fast tight bass, screeching treble, etc., but whether it would all sound the same in your listening room or mine is anybody’s guess.

And in a room at T.H.E. Show like the one curated by Ayon Audio, and Lumenwhite, with a long component list, the futility of attempting to ascribe specific sonic attributes to individual components becomes perfectly clear.

So, with my how-I-review-rooms preamble past, I’m going to give you the gear and prices from the good people out of Austria and the UK.

Let’s start with source and go to transducer: Ayon CD-35 SACD, Preamp, DAC, Streamer/DSD ($10,500 USD, SET, zero-feedback valve circuit and valve-rectified power supply, fully-balanced PCM/DSD DAC), S-10 Network Streamer/Vacuum Tube Preamp ($8,800 USD, dual-mono DAC circuit design, with PCM-DSD conversion), Auris Preamp ($10,500 USD, zero negative feedback with single-ended 6H30 valve-based circuit), Epsilon Gen4 Monoblocs ($18,000 USD/pair, six KT-150 output tubes with 180/wpc into eight Ohms, 250/wpc into four Ohms via Pentode mode or 100/wpc into eight Ohms and 150/wpc into four Ohms via Triode mode), Lumenwhite Kyara loudspeakers in French Nut ($49,900 USD/pair, three-way, 26Hz~30kHz, 90.5dB) with rack by BBS ($6,995 USD).

This was an enjoyable listening session about bass speed, dynamic swing control, wideband-frequency coherence, sonic texture, tonal/timbral saturation and transparency without sacrificing musicality for ultimate resolution. All things that in my books add up to a recorded-playback experience that invigorates rather than drains you.

I listened to a number of disparate cuts through this setup and whether it was folk or electronic, the system gave the impression of having a lot of headroom, a firm grasp on the drivers and a natural sense of air and timing which allowed me to focus on the performances of the artists rather than the minutiae of whether the high hat, cymbals or piano were just so.

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