Ayre AX-5 Twenty Integrated Amplifier Page 2

Of all its talents, the most noteworthy have to be its power and sheer dynamic headroom. There are few amplifiers at any price that seem completely at ease with themselves, yet this is one of them. Kraftwerk's 'Techno Pop' [Electric Cafe (Deutsche Version); Kling Klang CDP 564-746420 2] is a veritable sonic work-out for any hi-fi system thanks to its enormous tracts of deep bass and fist-clenching dynamics, yet so unflustered was the AX-5 Twenty that it might as well have been handling some easy listening music – Barry White maybe? – at dinner party levels. What's more, while it delivered its power effortlessly, it never sounded either louche or overly laid-back.

Sealing The Deal
I've heard a number of big, barrel-chested amplifiers over the years, and some of them – despite their power – have seemed almost uninterested in the job in hand. Grace Jones' 'Slave To The Rhythm' [Island Life; Island Records 842 453-2] can sound like an over-produced dirge via some amps but here I was treated to a seriously engaging and propulsive sound. There was a lot of physicality to the proceedings, but Ayre's AX-5 Twenty was able to track the song's dynamics very well – resulting in a performance that was not just lively but downright compelling.

1020ayre.remAs the song reached a crescendo, this mighty integrated just kept on pushing, and proved really adept at conveying the emotional side of the music too. Throughout the track, Grace Jones' vocals have a brooding quality that sometimes build up to an almost angry intensity, and this was conveyed perfectly. So the AX-5 Twenty is far from being a big-booted but flat-footed bruiser. Rather, it can really rock out and make music fun.

There are more admirable facets to its character that seal the deal. First is detail retrieval. There's a sense that you can hear into the music in a way that few integrated amps at any price enable you to. Steely Dan's 'Home At Last' [Aja; MCA Records 088 112 056-2] was a real treat, the amp revealing all the grain in singer Donald Fagen's voice, yet ensuring the vocal performance never sounded brittle. The piano work was vibrant and you could hear the slight echo to it better than usual. The percussion seemed more direct and had a more believable, tangible quality, too. All these relatively small details came together to give the song much more of a believable feel, it seeming less processed than when heard through many of the high-end solid-state amplifiers that have passed through my listening room.

True Grip
It's important to point out that the AX-5 Twenty is not especially tonally bright. It certainly casts a clean white light on things, but the luminance – if you can call it that – is just right. There's no sense of wishing you had a smoother DAC or turntable as source, or a pair of warmer-sounding loudspeakers.

Indeed, I found I could play 'well-lit' tracks, such as Annie Lennox's Grammy Award-winning cover of 'No More "I Love You's"' [Medusa; RCA BVCP-796] and not need to take cover behind the sofa with my fingers in my ears. This amplifier's even tone is much appreciated, because some big transistor designs can sound a little harsh with this track, especially at higher volumes.


Only in the bass could the AX-5 Twenty be said to fall a little short. While the low end is big and strong there are times when it's not quite as tight as one might like. I noted this particularly with my hard-to-drive, infinite baffle Yamaha NS-1000M loudspeakers, where it didn't quite have the stop/start speed of some cost-no-object solid-state designs I've tried. But with my Quad ESL-989 electrostatics this proved much less of an issue and by most standards bass performance is very good indeed. It's just that there's nowhere to hide at this price.

The last aspect of the AX-5 Twenty's performance that caught my ear is its soundstaging. This is highly impressive, and goes back to the amplifier's overall sense of grip and effortless power. It drove my big NS-1000Ms like they were tiny little Wharfedale Diamonds, absolutely commanding them. This in turn made for a superb rendition of the recorded acoustic of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 'Country Girl' [Deja Vu; Atlantic 7567-82649-2].

By no means would you call this an audiophile recording, yet the AX-5 Twenty picked through the murky soundscape to give a really clean, architectural sound with everything neatly in its place. There was no sense of instruments being placed in the mix incorrectly, or indeed vaguely. Instead, everything was practically nailed down to the floor. Depth perspective was impressively good too, giving a really immersive feel to this classic track.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Ayre's AX-5 Twenty is nothing if not a special-sounding amp. It may not be the world's most versatile integrated and its ergonomics are quirky to say the least, yet it gets on with the job of serving up serious amounts of power and detail, allied to fine dynamics, in an enjoyable and authoritative way. Factor in its use of innovative tech plus its sturdy build and it's an impressive package – even at this price.

Ayre Acoustics Inc.
Colorado, USA
Supplied by: Decent Audio, Stockton-on-Tees
05602 054669