Ayre V-6 multichannel power amplifier

At first sight, the corporate-designed, picture-perfect streets of Boulder, Colorado, silhouetted against the breathtakingly beautiful but dry purple-brown Rockies, reminded me of a mall with its lid ripped off. Then again, maybe it was the lack of oxygen. Ski? Me and my politically incorrect, gas-guzzling Lincoln Town Car rental (unlike the perfectly acceptable gas-guzzling SUVs everyone in Boulder drives) were in town for only a short visit, mainly on business unrelated to SGHT. But I had a day free for a little sightseeing and an interesting visit with Charlie Hansen, president and owner of Ayre Acoustics. I was scheduled to review Ayre's newest multichannel amplifier, and this gave me the chance to learn more about the product and the company.

A Different Kind of Ayre-Conditioning
The fully balanced Ayre V-6 is the latest in a growing line of well-respected designs from Hansen's mind. Sixteen output transistors populate each channel's circuit board. Although the model name and my test sample imply that the V-6 is a 6-channel amplifier, its modular design means that it can be configured with fewer channels—you pay for only what you need.

The power supply uses Hansen's Ayre Conditioner RFI line-filtering circuit (patent pending), a plus if you live in an electrically noisy urban jungle. Ayre's zero-feedback circuit topology means higher measurable distortion, all else being equal, than in amplifiers that use some form of distortion-canceling feedback. The payback, in theory, lies in a purer, more straightforward signal path. While Ayre's owner's manual and website fail to list any distortion specs for the V-6, suffice it to say that the audible distortion is not the subject of this review at any conscious level.

The V-6's speaker-cable connections are so devilishly clever that every amplifier and receiver manufacturer in the world should immediately pay Ayre whatever it costs to use them. Forget bare wire (save those for your RadioShack speakers in the garage) or banana plugs. The Ayre is designed for spades and spades alone. Wrap the tines around the provided posts, slip the double-wide guided collar over them, hand-tighten the knurled wheel behind it, and you're done. Fastest connections in the West!

Ayre-ing It Out
Good thing I didn't realize the amplifier weighed 120 lbs before I lifted it or I would certainly have suffered a debilitating episode of ampliphobia. (Note to self: Submit annual weight-room membership bill to TJN as business-related expense.)

Five of the Ayre's six channels were fed from my Krell Home Theater Standard preamp-processor's balanced outputs. A small switch for each channel allows you to select between the Ayre's balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) inputs. The Ayre's rated output of 300Wpc into 4ohms (150Wpc into 8ohms) was more than adequate for the nominal 4ohms impedance of my reference MartinLogan speaker system. Nevertheless, arriving shortly after visits from the BAT VK-6200 and the Krell Theater Amplifier Standard, the V-6 had its work cut out for it.

Charlie Hansen had warned me that the amp needed significant break-in before it would sound its best. Sure enough, compared to the limitless BAT, which sounded great straight out of the box, the Ayre initially sounded closed-in and faintly harsh. Even the Krell's slightly more granular sound was smoother than the Ayre's, which flirted with the fatiguing at anything exceeding background levels. On its own, the Ayre V-6 seemed to suffer from a lower-midrange scoop. Dark-chocolate voices, like Marc Cohn's on Marc Cohn (German Atlantic LP, 7567-82178-1), were missing a bit of their foundation. I didn't like the wispiness of the harmonics I heard, and these qualities affected both Cohn's voice and the instruments that accompanied him. On the LP's "Ghost Train," the Dobro guitar was thinner and more metallic than usual, especially with my warm Grado Sonata Reference cartridge.

Breaths of Fresh Ayre
I ran the V-6 for a few days while I was at work, and even very quietly a few nights while we slept, but I still wasn't warming up to it. It had serviceable, yeomanlike, competent sound—words any manufacturer dreads reading in a review, and for good reason. It's like saying, "She has a good personality." Ah-yup! But I persevered with a nightly ritual of movies, music, and the occasional HDTV broadcast, heeding Hansen's and the manual's warnings about giving the V-6 100-500 hours of break-in (ugh!).

The next few weeks brought incremental improvements in the Ayre's sound. I remember just when it finally happened, or at least when I judged the break-in process was finally and positively complete. It was while watching Donnie Darko (DVD, Fox 2004057)—a weird and complex movie that had me mulling over its story for weeks—that I finally glimpsed the Ayre's potential. Donnie is not a movie the critics respected, but its soundtrack goes far beyond simply underscoring the plot. A startling dynamic range supports the mix of 1980s songs, ambient music, and, most of all, the sound effects, from the earthquake-like thunder of a jet engine crashing into a house to the deeply phased voice of the "rabbit." The V-6 saturated the room with the movie's energetic surround, making me hop to more than a few times.