Charles Hanson of Ayre has never offered an external DAC in his company's sixteen-year history. Now, however, he decides to unveil a USB-only DAC for PC audio systems. What gives? Well, if you are so inclined, you can spend some time at the Ayre website and read the white paper that defends his position, which is that external DACs are inherently flawed and, until now, a single-box player was superior. As an electrical engineer, I must say that his argument makes a lot of sense from a technical perspective. Rather than bore you with those details, let's get down to what you really want to know: how does it sound?
• Want a better sounding player than the Ayre? Check out Lexicon's BD-30. Its based around the Oppo Digital but who cares? Its the best sounding player on the market today.
• Read a Benchmark Media USB DAC review - many think they are better than Ayre.
• Read a review of the WADIA PowerDAC 151.
I just got a chance to hear the $2,500 QB-9 DAC in a system that I am very familiar with, which includes the Ayre KX-R preamplifier and MX-R mono amps driving Rockport loudspeakers through Ayre signature cabling and various high-end power conditioners. Now that you know there can't possibly be a more synergistic environment for the DAC, I can tell you without hesitation that it was staggeringly good.
I sampled a large variety of music and never heard anything that seemed to challenge the QB-9. Regardless of what it was playing, it was utterly natural and recreated timbre especially beautifully. I listened to a saxophone solo, which was just jaw-dropping. It was absolutely filled with texture and nuance. Vocals were equally impressive and it was easy to forget that I was in a living room and not at a live performance. Bass performance was rock-solid, yet again very well-articulated and detailed. Some credit for this must be given to the MX-Rs, however. Treble was airy and sparkled, but never aggressive.
The soundstage was wider and deeper than I had ever heard this system. It was so wide, in fact, that I felt immersed in the performance rather than as though I was simply hearing it. Instruments and performers were placed with absolute precision in all three dimensions, even at the extremes of the stage. The QB-9 was able to retrieve enormous amounts of detail from the data stream, but they were presented in a manner that was completely natural, unlike some hyper-detailed sources I've heard. The system's performance, from the deepest bass to the most shimmering cymbal, was very consistent and very difficult to fault.
Competition and Comparison
To compare the Ayre QB-9 against the competition read our reviews of the Cary Audio Xciter DAC and the Benchmark DAC1 HDR. You can find more information by visiting our Source Component section.
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