While the future of home audio reproduction is almost certainly in computer-based systems, disc players still have a place in many setups and will for years to come. Audiophiles and music lovers have hundreds, if not thousands, of CDs already on their shelves, and they may not wish to go through the time and bother of ripping them. Although downloads make up an ever-increasing portion of the music market, they’re still outpaced in sales volume and catalog selection by CDs. And the numbers are even more striking when you consider downloads at CD resolution. Many audiophiles consider DSD to be the best-sounding digital-recording and playback system, but it isn’t currently supported, nor is it likely to be, by any computer-based DAC for consumer use. Again, the selection of SACDs available is many times that of the number of high-resolution downloads. Last but not least, there are many audiophiles who, for one reason or another, prefer to keep their audio systems and computers separate. For all of these reasons, the Ayre C-5xeMP is a compelling choice.
Ayre first introduced the C-5xe in 2005. Recognizing that their customers were interested in two-channel reproduction rather than the multichannel capabilities of the new formats, Ayre built a universal player that was exclusively stereo. It’s an average-sized component whose rigid aluminum chassis gives it a surprising heft of 26 pounds, though its sculpted lines lend the C-5xe a more elegant appearance than many other audio components. On the technical side, the C-5xe uses Burr-Brown 1792 DAC chips in a fully balanced configuration to process DSD data in its native format and PCM data at sample rates up to 192kHz. On the back you’ll find both balanced and single-ended analog outputs, as well as an AES/EBU digital output. Also on the back panel is a switch for choosing between two different playback filters: one optimized for flat frequency response, and the other for better performance in the time domain. In the latest iteration of the player, now called the C-5xeMP, the flat frequency-response setting uses the Craven apodizing filter and the time-domain-optimized setting uses Ayre’s own Minimum Phase filter. True to Ayre’s philosophy of upgrades rather than obsolescence, earlier versions can be fitted with the new filter hardware and software for a reasonable fee.
In his original review of the C-5xe in March 2006, Marc Mickelson wrote that it was "a reminder of how good digital playback has become." He also commented on its "evenness," its "high level of musical realism," its "solidity and texture," and its "resoluteness," claiming that "notes start and stop decisively, without even the slightest bit of blurring." And in writing about the updated C-5xeMP with the Minimum Phase filter, Tim Shea found that "shifting to the [non MP] filters proves to be a progression toward a more digital sound." The best testament to the C-5xe’s status as a reference-level component is that it can be found in the systems of many reviewers across a number of audio publications.
Lest you think that buying the C-5xeMP won’t equip you for the new wave of high-resolution downloads, it already supports sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, and 192kHz. All you need to do is burn a disc using any one of a number of DVD-Audio authoring packages. S. Andrea Sundaram, who writes reviews of high-resolution downloads for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, uses the C-5xeMP in his reviews, claiming that "it [sounds] better than my computer-based system, which feeds digital data through a coaxial connection to the DAC in the Grace m902 headphone amplifier." While you may be giving up the convenience of a computer-based system, you’ll be sacrificing nothing in quality.
Whether you’re playing back your accumulated library of CDs and SACDs or taking advantage of new high-resolution downloads, the Ayre C-5xeMP offers reference-level sound in a reliable and easy-to-use package. At $5950, the Ayre C-5xeMP isn’t inexpensive, but it still offers a solid value.
Manufacturer contact information:
Ayre Acoustics, Inc.
2300-B Central Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
Phone: (303) 442-7300