D-1x DVD Player
the nine years that Ayre Acoustics has been in business, products such as the K-1 preamp
and V-1 amplifier have developed superb reputations for natural sound. Ayres
original D-1 DVD player was widely praised, not only for being a wonderful DVD player but
also for being a great bargain as a CD player. We thought the release of its new
"x" update was the perfect time to put the Ayre to the test.
Ayre Acoustics D-1x
Price: $11,500 USD (as configured)
Dimensions: 18"W x 5.5"H x 11"D (power supply: 13"W x
3"H x 8"D)
Weight: 25 pounds (power supply: 15 pounds)
Warranty: Five years parts and labor (two
years for transport)
FeaturesFully-discrete analog circuitry (no ICs)
Pure FET circuitry
Completely balanced from input to output
Four 24-bit Burr-Brown PCM1704 DACs (two per channel) for
balanced digital operation
Burr-Brown DF1704 digital filter offers 8x oversampling at
Component video output
Composite video output
VR2 progressive-scan video card as optional upgrade
Two discrete lasers: one infrared for CDs, one visible for
Status indicators for 24-bit, 20-bit, and 16-bit data, and
96kHz, 48kHz, and 44.1kHz sampling rates
Analog outputs for stereo playback
Balanced digital output
This thing is heavy!
When the D-1x arrived at my home, I thought Ayre had made a
mistake and sent me their V-5x power amp instead. This thing is heavy! After years of
dealing with featherweight Asian and European DVD players, I was amazed at the tank-like
construction of this behemoth. It weighs 40 pounds and has two chassis: the 18"W x
5.5"H x 11"D DVD player itself, and its 13"W x 3"H x 8"D power
supply. A hose-thick cable carrying dual power cords links the two.
Despite its weight and size, the D-1x is very attractive.
The thick brushed-aluminum walls give it a sense of dependability, and its exterior design
is just modern enough to be interesting without being overstated.
Although I was given only a "temporary"
owners manual, setup was fairly simple. When I called to request a manual, Ayre
said, "Its a big project, and we just never got to finishing it." It seems
theyve put all their work into the player itself. Luckily, the only complicated part
of installing the D-1x was the hookup, which the temporary manual covers clearly. After
that, its pretty much just "push Play." Still, for $11,500, the dealer
should install the D-1x for you.
The "x" upgrade includes several improvements.
Ayre has taken heroic steps to make sure all parts of the D-1x have the utmost isolation
from any noisy electric-company intrusions. The grounding has been reconfigured
throughout. More RF filtering has been added in the power supplies for both the audio and
logic circuits. Finally, the feet have been changed to keep to a minimum the transference
of vibrations to the internal components.
As soon as I turned on the D-1x, I knew it had been based
on a Pioneer design -- the bland graphic user interface gave it away. But dont think
this is merely a tweaked Pioneer. Pioneer makes only the drive system; everything else is
Responding to everyones concerns about obsolescence,
Ayre has included six printed circuit boards in the D-1x, each of which can be upgraded.
The motherboard distributes signals and provides the digital audio output. The clock card
has an Ayre-designed ultra-low-jitter master clock that uses discrete, zero-feedback
voltage regulators. They use a Burr-Brown DF1704 digital filter (24-bit/96kHz).
Theres also a switch that lets you choose between the best frequency response or the
lowest time distortion. Given the excellence of the D-1xs CD playback, most people
will probably want to use it as their main CD player, and the switch makes a genuine
difference. This is an especially nice feature -- thanks for the choice. (Low time
distortion sounded best to me.)
Ayre uses two multibit Burr-Brown PCM1704Ks DACs per
channel, set up in a differential configuration. These hand-selected DACs --
Burr-Browns highest grade -- are 24-bit devices capable of 8x oversampling at 96kHz
or 4x oversampling at 192kHz. The audio card, getting the benefit of Ayres prior
work in preamps, uses an ultra-simple signal path and offers both balanced and unbalanced
outputs. The digital output card offers 24/96 data from an XLR output (an adapter for XLR
to RCA is available from Ayre). The video output card offers composite, S-video, and
component outputs. Ayre also offers an optional VR2 progressive-scan card that uses a
tweaked Silicon Image chip with 14-bit converters.
The final upgradeable feature is the separately housed
power supply, which actually contains two supplies: one each for the video and
digital circuits. Power goes to the main chassis via two different cables -- again, one
each for video and digital.
The D-1x comes in seven flavors. The basic transport costs
$5250; adding regular video (composite, S-video, component) or SDI adds $750; balanced and
single-ended two-channel audio outputs cost $2750; and Ayres VR2 progressive-scan
card costs $3500. My review sample had the most common configuration: balanced audio
outputs and VR2 card. List price as configured, $11,500.
The D-1x has one irritating drawback: The remote control is
a Pioneer model with typically poor Pioneer ergonomics and an Ayre badge stuck on. Lots of
little buttons dont make for a remote thats easy to use in a dark home
theater. For these prices, Id like to have seen backlighting at the very least.
Is it worth $11,500?
While I was keeping an open mind, I anticipated that my
$250 Panasonic DVD CP-72 would probably put out a picture similar in quality to the Ayre
D-1xs. After all, the important thing is the video processing, and the
Panasonics Faroudja chip had to be as good as the Ayres Silicon Image. Or so I
I first used the D-1x with the PLUS
Avanti DLP projector. Granted, it might be a little diabolical to match an $11,500 DVD
player with a projector that costs 70% less, but I was curious. The first DVD I played was
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. I was looking for any troubles the Ayre
might have coping with the camera panning across the stair rails. No problems at all. Next
I tried a well-recorded black-and-white film, The Philadelphia Story. The
rich fabrics in Katherine Hepburns clothes were reproduced with photographic
texture. Then I noticed an intriguing anomaly: The Ayres picture was softer and
more detailed than the Panasonics. How could that be?
Heres an analogy: People seduced by the pleasures of
LPs will usually tell you that their sound is more continuous and less harsh than CD. It
is almost as if your brain can distinguish the rapid on/off patterns in the CDs
digitization and prefers the analog continuity. An LPs analog signal sounds whole,
and that wholeness pleases the ear, making it easier to listen to. That ease lets you
listen deeper into the soundstage, and so you end up with sound thats softer on the
ears while yielding more detail. If youve never heard good LP playback, CDs or even
MP3s might sound great to you. But once youve heard a great LP, a CD sounds like
I think something similar happened here. Before the Ayre
came to my house, the Panasonics images looked fastidiously accurate. Now I know
that theres something seriously better. After its terrific performance with an
800x600 DLP display, I wanted to see what the Ayre could do with a high-definition set. I
switched the Avanti out and put in the InFocus ScreenPlay 7200. The beautifully
photographed Far From Heaven has a rich, burnished look that was gorgeous through
the D-1x. Edward Lachmans color cinematography emphasizes umbers, ambers, and
russets, and they all looked authentic -- plush and strong, with virtually no grain.
A perfect example of the Ayres holistic reproduction
was in the opening of 2001: A
Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick and his crew created some of the most
beautiful images of sunrise and sunset ever committed to film. Through my Panasonic CP-72,
the pictures were gorgeous. Through the D-1x, they took on a clarity and fidelity
reminiscent of the old Ansel Adams large-format photos of the western US. I could also see
the holistic reproduction in Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away).
Hayao Miyazakis dazzling animation took on new depths -- I could see the various
techniques he used with his palette.
Next, I put the Ayre to an unfair test, comparing it with a
JVC D-VHS high-definition player. I had copies of Galaxy Quest in the D-VHS and DVD
formats, and tried running both simultaneously to the InFocus 7200. I couldnt make
exactly instantaneous comparisons -- the InFocus takes a few seconds to sync to a new
source -- but after spending some hours switching back and forth, I found a few reliable
The JVC was sharper and more detailed. On close-ups of the Galaxy
Quest crew, I could see the threads on the fabric of their uniforms and the individual
hairs on their heads. Tim Allens complexion came through with every ex-zit scar
shown in perfect detail. The colors were more intense, almost as if someone had found a
way to bump up the primary colors at the cost of the pastels. The picture was exciting,
intense, and accurate in the way looking through a window is accurate.
The D-1x looked just slightly de-focused after the D-VHS.
The threads on the fabrics were still there, but the detail level looked more like what
youd see in a movie theater. Tim Allens complexion looked merely lived-in, not
scarred. Most important, the colors seemed more accurate, if slightly more muted. The
picture was exciting, intense, and accurate in the way watching a film from about halfway
back in a movie theater is accurate.
But remember, this was an unfair test: 480p vs. 1080i. The
fact that the D-1x acquitted itself so well is a testament to its excellence.
The sound shared the unusual clarity of the picture. Peter
Gabriels score for the stunning film Rabbit-Proof Fence resulted in some of
the deepest bass Ive ever heard -- well-controlled, with definite pitch. Even better
were the subtle details and sound effects that tinkled in the background.
Given Ayres reputation in the world of high fidelity,
I decided to try running the stereo audio outputs into the pass-through of the Sunfire Theater Grand III processor. What I heard
made me want to get rid of my Lexicon MC-1. While the Lexicon processor has excellent
DACs, it offers no pass-through -- analog signals must be digitized, then reconverted to
The Ayre through the Sunfire produced the best CD sound
Ive ever heard in my system. I started running through all my usual test music, but
before long I was just pulling out favorite CDs for the pure joy of the sound. Given the
astronomical prices of high-end CD players and the superior sound of the Ayre, the D-1x
begins to look as much like a bargain as any $11,500 piece of equipment can.
Back in the late 1970s, Linn boss Ivor Tiefenbrun raised
eyebrows when he recommended that buyers finance their purchases of his expensive Linn
Sondek by cutting back on their speaker and electronics budgets. His contention was that a
Linn with cheap speakers would sound better than a direct-drive turntable with expensive
speakers. People thought he was crazy -- until he began demonstrating his point at the
Consumer Electronics Show.
After my experience with the inexpensive PLUS Avanti driven
by the Ayre D-1x, I began to wonder whether the same might hold true for DVD players. I
have no doubt that the D-1x will show its best with a great projector, and indeed it did
look better with the InFocus ScreenPlay 7200. But I preferred the Ayre-Avanti combo to the
Panasonic-InFocus. This is an important lesson -- your DVD player makes a bigger
difference than you might think. Dont be too ready to throw all your money at the
projector. When out looking for a new system, try a 50/50 budget split between DVD player
and projector. See for yourself whether it results in a better home-theater experience
than a 5/95 split.
The price of the D-1x will take it out of contention for
many. Just like every other high-performance device, whether a car, a watch, or
home-theater equipment, the price-performance curve is exponential. You can get a 90%-good
DVD player, such as the Panasonic DVD CP-72, for $250. A 99%-good player such as the Ayre,
though expensive, offers a different level of enjoyment.
|Speakers - ATC SMC 50A
(mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
- Lexicon MC-1, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
|Amplifier - B&K Video 5
- Pioneer DV-434 DVD player, Panasonic DVD CP-72 DVD player, JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS
recorder, Rega P-25 turntable, Rega Super Elys cartridge, Musical Fidelity XLPS phono
stage, Philips DSR6000 PVR
|Cables - Canare, Straight Wire
- Runco Cinema 750, BoxLight Cinema 20HD, PLUS Avanti, InFocus ScreenPlay 7200