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Ayre QB-9 Review


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Anybody out there know why Chris is holding this review back? I saw him say it was done, but being held back. Is Ayre upgrading? Was there a problem? He's had the thing for a long time. Just wondering.

 

Thanks.

 

2.26 GHz Mac Mini (Late 2009), 8 GB RAM, 2 External Seagate 7200 RPM 1TB / Firewire 800/ Wavelength Wavelink/ Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC / Nordost Blue Heaven IC / Musical Fidelity KW 750 / Nordost Blue Heaven Speaker cable/ Magnepan MG 3.6r with MYE stands / Custom purpose built listening room

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Hi Guys - I'm at the airport about to board a flight home, so I'll keep it short. Don't make too much of the on hold situation. I just want to make sure I can compare the QB-9 to products in it's class and that requires a little holding pattern while I get other components in and out of here. The review is technically done but I want to augment it and integrate some additional comments instead of post a follow-up later on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Hint ... CASH List ... shhhh)

 

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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It would be great if the Wavelength Brick [V3?] could be compared. Given that these are the same asynch USB systems and relatively similar pricepoints (compared to going to the $5-6K range for Minerva or BAD) with no interface card required, such a comparison would be super. Or maybe the Weiss DAC2?

 

MBP13-128gb ssd using VoiceOver to hear the screen, iTunes, Ayre QB-9, McIntosh mx119 & mc207, Thiel CS2.4

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Thanks Chris.

 

I have compared it to many DACs, in my system and others, but always want to hear what reviewers think IN THEIR SYSTEM. i.e. does whatever piece I am considering sound better in people's minds with their kind of components, or mine? I would have put it on my CASH list (If I had one), but I run Maggies with MF KW SS Amplification, and the dealer I heard the QB-9 at has Maggies with Pass Labs amplification which sounds similar to my system. (My room is better, : ) . The wave link isn't going to be out to us for a while per Gordon, though Chris (lucky stiff) may get it sooner.

 

Thanks all.

 

Brad

 

2.26 GHz Mac Mini (Late 2009), 8 GB RAM, 2 External Seagate 7200 RPM 1TB / Firewire 800/ Wavelength Wavelink/ Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC / Nordost Blue Heaven IC / Musical Fidelity KW 750 / Nordost Blue Heaven Speaker cable/ Magnepan MG 3.6r with MYE stands / Custom purpose built listening room

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Guest Claude

Why don't you add something like a "Reviews to come" list? Would help all these people like me who are eagerly waiting for your next review.

 

Just listening to a minerva and wandering how this dac compares to the qb9? What do you think?

Claudius

 

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Chris ... is it detailed anywhere what your reference system you use when reviewing equipment is?

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Although I still haven't had a chance to hear the QB-9 DAC, I did recently borrow for 2 days a friend's Ayre K-5 preamp with the latest MP upgrade, which means it has the same output stage as the QB-9. (It had been broken in a few weeks since the upgrade.)

 

Compared to my Placette passive "preamp", the Ayre preamp has a super-smooth character that I find undesirable. The Ayre is less "open", it softens transients so as to reduce "aliveness", and it makes subtleties of instrumental expression less apparent.

 

(As a sanity check, I played a soft passage with the DAC connected directly to the power amp with no intervening preamp or passive attenuator, and the Placette was much closer than the Ayre to the proverbial straight wire.)

 

It's not as if the rest of my system is overly mellow and needs exaggerated zing: Thiel 3.7 loudspeakers (may Jim RIP), Parasound JC-1 power amp, Bryston DAC.

 

In the thread http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/ChrisBerkeley-Audio-Design-Alpha-DAC-Review, Jon Marsh also said the Ayre K-5 preamp "softened and clouded" the sound to some extent, although his overall opinion of the preamp was positive.

 

I mention this hoping to encourage Chris (and others) to be forthright about whether the QB-9 exhibits a similar characteristic. I am grateful for Charles Hansen's immense contributions to our hobby, and I admire his personal integrity, but I hope our respect for Charles will not deter us from candidly expressing impressions.

 

Mac Mini (2012 i7) > HQPlayer > RME ADI-2 v2 > Benchmark AHB-2 > Thiel 3.7

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Hi Chris,

 

I am looking forward to the review too.

 

I bought the QB-9 because of its ease of use. CAS is still far from plug and play (like a CD player). The QB-9 definitely makes it much easier for those who are new to CAS (like me).

 

I have been breaking it in for almost 3 weeks now (very extensive in the 1st week, almost 24X7). It sounds much better than it was 3 weeks ago but I still prefer the sound quality of my CD player ( I find it less digital ) by a good extend.

 

I have read the good words on the unit from Stereophile. I have also read another not so good one from a HK HiFi magazine which kind of matches my listening experience. I am at the cross road of should I continue to work on it to improve the sound quality or do something else with it..........

 

I look forward to your review and see if it will help me to decide what to do next.

 

Lee

 

 

 

 

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Guest Claude

Hi Lee

i have a weiss minerva at Home right now and will compare it to a qb9 this weekend. The weiss definitly sounds very analog to me. I didnt buy a cd player because i havnt heard anything digital that could compare to a good analog rig. I will post my impressions here.

How did you set the qb9 up? Do you have amarra, à decent USB cable?Without amarra the Sound of minerva was good. With amarra its excellent. The difference is best described as no Magic vs Magic. Its the first Digital gear thats given me goosebumps!

Claudius

 

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Yes..... actually.. I start to think that maybe the reason too. Maybe the Ayre house sound is not my cup of tea. This is my 1st Ayre gear.

 

I am using window vista and Jriver now. I tried foobar with ASIO. Foobar gives me slightly better sound ( very slightly) to my ears. But, I have heard that it has problems with some hi-rez file. That's while I stick with Jriver.

 

I have bought a good USB cable already. I am waiting for the package to arrive. Before I spend more $ on the gear, I would like to see what the pro says.

 

Lee

 

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Lee,

 

Are you running the QB-9 from its balanced outputs? It has been widely reported that Ayre gear performs best when run balanced. I only run my components balanced, so I have no experience with what my K5xe-MP sounds like single ended. I do often wonder about those who do not like the sound of the Ayre stuff and whether they are listening within the context of a balanced system or not. I would also recommend working some tweaks to get the best out of the QB-9; have you tried any aftermarket power cables for instance, these can have a definite influence on the SQ of any product (digital products seem especially sensitive to power cable changes).

RE: reviews, I would take any review with a grain of salt, but I would also recommend that anyone reading should be very suspicious of any reviews coming out of Hong Kong. I do trust Kent Poon's observations, but I suspect that the official reviewers in HK are substantially more influenced by market forces than their counterparts in the US.

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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@barrows - i heard the universal c5x and the c7 running balanced into ARC Ref amps - it just didn't get my blood going. I loved the Pathos Endorphin by reference into the same amps. But those are my ears. Yours will be different.

Why do you harbor suspicions about HK reviews? I would have thought the reverse would be true.

I agree any reviews paid for by advertising revenue may be more prone to corruption.

I am confident Chris can be trusted to be honest in his opinion. Whether you agree with him in your system is another matter.

@Lee - if it isn't floating your boat now I doubt it will after cable change etc...It may well be you just like a different sound. No harm in that and it certainly doesn't mean there is any problem with the Ayre. Just that it doesn't belong in your home.

 

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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Out of curiosity, I spent some time a while back trying to see if my QB-9 sounded better to me balanced versus single-ended. I ran (identical) RCA and XLR cables to an EAR HP4 amp, carefully volume matched with test tones and a multimeter and listened through Senn HD800 headphones to take the room out of the equation. I couldn't hear any difference.

 

My own opinion is that the QB-9 is an excellent source. It is fast and detailed and accurate. It does not cover up much for poor recording quality, though, which can be problematic if you listen to genres that are commonly poorly recorded. It also has a slight high-frequency "sheen" -- for lack of a better term -- that may not appeal to all tastes.

 

Fortunately, we are in a time where options abound in this area and, really, the only way to find out what suits you is to try a few. One of my friends -- a longtime vinyl snob -- recently got into computer audio with a DAC2 and was happy as a clam until the curiosity bug bit and he tried a PerfectWave DAC, which he said stomped the Weiss flat. He thought it was more "analog", which I guess is his particular benchmark.

 

You pays your money, and you takes your choice! :)

 

 

 

 

 

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Is that EAR amp actually balanced? Or does it just have a faux balanced input? Unfortunately many companies put balanced inputs on their products, which do not have balanced circuitry. The other thing is that I think everyone should mention is which filter setting they are using with the QB-9, "listen" or "measure", and it would also be nice to know what differences folks hear with the two settings.

Agreed that different people will like different types of sound, listening enjoyment is subjective, and different systems will respond differently to a given DAC.

RE reviews: in my experience the US reviewers, notwithstanding their inherent biases and personal tastes, are some of the least influenced by market factors. Hong Kong reviewers are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Contrary to popular belief, buying ad space in a US print magazine does not result in a positive review. The best reviewers abstain from hyperbole, except in the rare case of an outstanding component that breaks some barriers. The good ones are also completely forthcoming with the system context of the review, and if you read their work over a reasonable time period, one can become accustomed to their biases, and learn to interpret them.

A really bad review does no one any good; unless the reviewer has listened to the product in every possible system context, the poor performance they hear could well be just the result of a poor match with their system. If you read reviews from folks such as Stereophile's Wes Phillips, Michael Fremer, and John Atkinson for awhile, one can determine their individual tastes and system contexts, and then gain a pretty good understanding of whether a product they review might be worth a home audition. Ultimately how the product sounds to you in your system is all that matters, but it is nice to be able to narrow the field a little before bringing stuff home.

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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The silence on the QB9 has been deafening.

 

@Lee - it may just be you don't like the Ayre house sound. I find it clinical and without emotion. Others love it.

Having said that I have not heard the QB9 as it is not available in Australia.....(yet?).

 

But then I own Quad 57's...so I'm stuck in the 60's...and can't hear anything above 13 or so k anyway (I'm 45 and abused my ears when I was younger in lots of dark and dingy venues playing the big beats....ahhh sweet memories).

 

 

 

 

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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I think the EAR range is all truly balanced but I may be wrong.

Thanks barrows...good information.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to demo the lot in your home b4 parting with the gelt?

FWIW the last dac I heard that I really liked (next to a full dCS stack) was a modded AN Dac 2.1 Signature. It was really melodious and beautiful. I bet I would love a tubed Wavelength Crimson or some such.

It is also great to have a positive experience of the QB9 posted as well.

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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Lee, have you checked phase on your power cord or is this not possible with US plugs? It made a huge difference in sound. I am still wondering about your statement, that it sounds digital. My first impressions after breaking the unit in for 72 hours are that it sounds not digital at all (of course in my system). Whats your associated equipment?

 

The QB9 actually sounds so good that i just placed an order. After comparing it for less than one hour to the weiss. And I really like the minerva and suppose, that the qb9 hasnt even fully broken in. I will further impressions.

 

And Lee, yes trust a pro, but most of all trust your ears!

 

Claudius

 

 

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Initially, I think it sounded pretty shitty. Highs where hard. and things were a mess.

 

After about 50 hours, the highs where great and clear, things where very spacious. A lot more than any hifi experience I've ever had. That doesnt mean much though :)

 

But while the bottom and the mid sounded "ok", it didnt really come together into a coherent sound picture.

 

But, as the days went by, there seemed to be several "layers" of the music that matured each in their own time and speed towards their final destination. It was like chess pieces moving into position.

 

Finallly, and that was at least 300 hours in, they seemed to arrive into the coherent final expression that no longer seem to change much. Or at least I cannot hear any changes.

 

I suppose the unit simply matures in different tempi from the top to the bottom and you simply gotta wait for all of it to get there.

 

The end result was worth it for me, and like the good reviews out there, I must admit to having spend many hours at night listening to different tracks just enjoying the music. The good recordings that is. The bad fades in comparison.

 

Associated eq: Vista x64, Q9500, foobar w. aiso4all, heed canamp v3, Denon AH D5000 headphones.

 

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Hi Claudius,

 

I am in HK so I am using UK plug. Could u help to explain what is “checked” phase ?

 

My set up is very simple and basic ( I am new to computer audio :)) - I have window vista/J River -> QB-9 -> MF KW550 --> B&W 804.

 

On cabling, I use Nordost Brahma PC & Thor, Heimdall RCA for interconnect. I am still using the Ayre USB cable as the one I purchased has not arrived yet.

 

Over the weekend, I have been reading various posts and I have also read this morning Chris's review. I guess the key difference, to my ears, between the QB-9 and the CD player (also a MF - KW DM25) is that one is solid state and one has a bit of tube in it ( I use my tube out from the DM25).

 

Yes…….for sure, my ears will have to make the call, not the review.

 

QB-9 has successfully achieved its goal – make the computer audio as plug and play and producing relatively good sounds. I only wish it could be a better all-out- assault dac, even it means a higher price tag. Obviously, I can’t afford a dCS but I can afford a Weiss or an alpha. The only thing stops me from getting one of these two is the connection from my PC to the DAC. For us who are not DIY type of person, getting the sound card installed could be a major challenge.

 

For now, I will wait for my USB cable and keep burning it in and see if I will start to fall in love with the Ayre house sound. I want to try Amarra too……..My JRiver starts to hang quite often now……:(

 

Lee

 

 

 

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Hi Lee,

After writing about this I found out that the correct term ist AC Polarity. Phase is the German word for it. I bought the Ayre after listening to it for one weekend. I know, its not settled in yet. But it is so good to my ears I couldnt wait.

In Germany we can reverse the power plug when plugging it in (We have so called Schuko plugs). So you either reverse and try to listen which way is the correct polarity or you measure it with a voltmeter. I have no voltmeter, so I listened. In one position the sound was digital and in the other position (I assume with the correct polarity) the sound was rather analogue and much better.

Given that the Rest of your gear is rather not clinical sounding (I ve heard some MF Stuff and allways found it involving and I know the 804) it is either as already pointed out, you dont like the ayre house sound or something is wrong with your setup. Starting off with correct polarity on all components is a great way to optimize ones system (given that is possible in HK (what does HK stand for?)).

If JRiver hangs quite often, it just might be that something is not installed right (e.g. you have too much background tasks). Did you set up your QB9 as described on the ayre site? Do you have a dedicated computer for music? I hope you do not use the digital Volume Control. ;-)

Maybe there is someone here on the forum who can give you some detailed information on getting the most out of jriver (I use a macbook pro, itunes and amarra).?

If you have a Mac then you can download AMARRA for free and test it (with intermitted silence during playback).

Hope this helps

Claudius

 

 

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