The Ayre VX-5 Twenty stereo power amplifier has been in production for about 5 years and followed the well-received V-5xe amplifier. The “Twenty” designation celebrates the Boulder, Colorado company’s 20 years in business. The excellent build quality and beautiful casework belies the amplifier’s recommended list price of $8950. The amplifier is fully-discrete, fully-balanced, and features a zero-feedback design.
Other components on hand during the audition include a VPI Aries 3 turntable with a Kuzma 4-Point tonearm, ZYX UNIverse Premium and Miyajima Madake moving coil cartridges; B.M.C. MCCI and Pass Labs XP-25 phono preamplifiers; custom Windows 10 music computer running JRiver Media Center; Bryston BDA-3 DA converter; RME ADI-2 Pro AD/DA converter with external power supply; Pass Labs XP-22, Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE v2 Stage 2, Balanced Audio Technology VK-43SE, and Acoustic Imagery Jay-Sho preamplifiers; Cary CAD-805AE, First Watt J2, PS Audio Stellar S300, Valvet E2, and Pass Labs XA30.8 power amplifiers; Focal Sopra 1 and Fritzspeakers Carrera BE loudspeakers with the lowest few Hertz supplied by a pair of JL Audio e110 subwoofers, and Focal Chorus 714 loudspeakers borrowed from the HT system. The audio cabling is Audioquest WEL Signature and Mogami interconnects and speaker cables. USB cables are Straight Wire USB-F. Power cords include my DIY power cord and Straight Wire Pro Thunder. Power protection and purification are provided by a PS Audio Dectet for the preamplifiers and source components, and a PS Audio Quintet for the power amplifiers. The Quintet provides remote turn-on and -off of power amplifiers that lack a 12V remote trigger, such as the Ayre amp.
Ayre recommends 100 to 500 hours of break in. The wide range of this interval recognizes that break in can be accelerated if the component is played at higher volume settings which let the amplifier’s input and output stages work harder. (This is especially true of loudspeakers: louder reduces break in time.) The VX-5 Twenty is rated at 175 Watts per channel into an 8 Ohm speaker load and 350 WPC into 4 Ohms, and weighs a manageable 52 pounds. The front power switch is a momentary push-on, push-off which means the power cannot be controlled from an external “power strip”, but must be turned on and off manually. No compatible components were on hand to take advantage of the proprietary Ayre Link connection.
Immediately apparent is the excellent bass range that this amplifier delivers, easily the most potent, powerful and resolved of any amplifier that has visited my listening room in many years. The control and resolution, resulting in the ability to hear bass strings and drum heads vibrating, facilitates outstanding insight into all lower frequency sounds.
This high resolution continues into the lower midrange. Bass notes and their harmonics in the midrange are perfectly reproduced and in the correct relationships. This sense of flowing continuity from one frequency range to the next is required for any sound to be perceived as true to life, and the Ayre amplifier is superb from the lowest bass well into the midrange. The VX-5 Twenty really blows away any other amplifier in memory below Middle C at 262 Hz.
Moving up in frequency, the solid-state Ayre rarely approaches the treble purity and ease of the single-ended tube or solid-state amps on hand. These amps are sublime in their treble presentation with a characteristic freedom from sounding electronic and processed. While the treble range is not grainy or forward, there is an apparent small degree of amusical content, what is becoming apparent as “The Push-Pull Problem” – where “push” does not equal “pull”, that impinges on long term listening pleasure and satisfaction. The perfectly linear Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE v2 Stage 2 preamplifier exacerbates this problem, while the softer, more recessed treble of the BAT VK-43SE proved to be a better partner. The BAT preamp’s warmth and more forgiving nature brings out a more pleasing character in the Ayre amp’s upper frequencies.
A notable strength of many Class D amplifiers is their ability to keep complex music organized and distinct as separate musical lines, especially at higher power levels. The Ayre VX-5 Twenty amplifier is a rare solid-state Class A/AB component that shares this ability, one that we don’t usually see in amplifiers in this price class. The Ayre amplifier sounds as good at very loud power settings as it does playing at more modest volume levels.
The VX-5 Twenty delivers a very good sense of space. The sound stage is large – wide, tall and deep. The single-ended triode tube Cary CAD-805AE and push-pull solid-state Pass XA30.8 amps present a better sense of ambiance and the natural reverberation of a concert hall in a more believable and present manner. With the Ayre amplifier, the listener get a very good feeling of the performance space with a clearly identifiable location as the source of a particular sound.
Paul Simon’s “Homeless”, from the Graceland LP, offers very good separation of the individual voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo with nice depth and excellent lateral positions of the singers. Simon is front and center with the accompanying singers in a line behind him. The Cary and Valvet amplifiers present the backing vocalists in more of an arc behind Simon.
The Ayre VX-5 Twenty amplifier has some desirable characteristics including beautiful construction and an outstanding bass range. The treble character might need attention to system matching with associated components. Therefore, the amplifier cannot be considered a universal recommendation, and your impressions could be different than the ones presented here.
Overall Rating: 8 LPs
Link to manufacturer: Ayre Acoustics