It’s easy to find far larger, far more powerful solid-state stereo amplifiers than Ayre Acoustics’ VX-R. Measuring just 17.75"W x 3.75"H x 18.75"D and claimed to deliver 200Wpc into 8 ohms or 400Wpc into 4 ohms, its modest dimensions and power output give little hint that it’s actually a reference-level power amplifier. But the VX-R’s significant weight (about 78 pounds), exceptional appearance and build quality (see below), and Ayre’s reputation for sound quality (so far, four other Ayre products have received Recommended Reference Component nods) point to a product far more special than these figures indicate. SoundStage! Network publisher Doug Schneider reviews the VX-R this month.
The VX-R is basically a scaled-down, two-channel version of Ayre’s class-leading MX-R mono amplifier design. What’s been scaled down are the power output and the overall size and weight -- the MX-R is claimed to deliver 300W into 8 ohms or 600W into 4 ohms, and while a single MX-R is somewhat smaller and lighter than a single VX-R, you need two MX-Rs to listen in stereo. The VX-R’s price, too, is scaled down -- it's $14,950, vs. $19,500 for two MX-Rs. What hasn’t been scaled down are the build quality, appearance, and, most important, the sound.
Like every Ayre amp, the VX-R is a no-feedback design, something Ayre’s founder, president, and chief designer, Charles Hansen, feels is imperative for topflight sound. The VX-R is the second Ayre amplifier to use ON Semiconductors’ ThermalTrak output transistors (the MX-R was the first), chosen for their superior biasing and thermal-regulation characteristics.
Like that of the MX-R monoblock and the KX-R preamplifier (which, with the VX-R, comprise Ayre’s R series), the VX-R’s chassis is carved from a single block of aluminum -- case, compartments, even heatsinks -- that’s then anodized to a black or silver finish. This is a very expensive way to build a case for any amplifier, but the results are definitely worth the time and expense. But it’s not just the casework that stands out -- Doug found the VX-R’s size, shape, and proportions ideal, and a far cry from the "clunky, chunky look" (to quote his review) exhibited by so many amps, which makes them look not only unappealing in most living and listening rooms, but outdated as well. Doug declares the VX-R to be the best-looking amplifier he’s ever seen -- he even goes so far as to call it "sexy."
But the VX-R is more than just a pretty case; its performance is as notable as its appearance. Doug found its 200Wpc power output to be more than enough to drive even the largest speakers in his room -- Revel’s Ultima Salon2 and Vivid Audio’s Giya G2 -- with a sound that was extraordinarily refined, even unique. From his review: "What first struck me about its sound was an uncanny smoothness and purity, with a hint of richness and vibrancy -- just a bit, not overblown -- that typical class-AB solid-state amps often lack. It was akin to the sound I hear from a topflight solid-state amp working in pure class-A, or a great tube amp, but without all the problems that accompany such designs. (Pure class-A amps are tremendously inefficient and generate lots of heat, while tube amps, even the very best, aren’t as reliable as their solid-state counterparts.) Instead, the VX-R retained the sonic qualities that class-AB solid-state is known for -- high power, wide bandwidth, extreme neutrality, ample headroom -- along with a cleanness and purity that made it enthralling to listen to."
Those sonic characteristics would seem to describe an amplifier that’s essentially without fault. However, Doug did single out the VX-R’s bass performance as something some might take issue with: "the VX-R presented its bass deeply, with as much richness and bloom as it had force." In other words, the VX-R had as much fullness as it had weight. Some solid-state amps sacrifice some fullness, richness, and bloom for sheer solidity and heart-stopping impact, even if that means a sound that’s a bit thin or analytical. But the bass wasn’t an issue for Doug, who said that the VX-R’s "sound was as close to perfect as that of any power amp I’ve heard." Fellow SoundStage! Network writer Pete Roth agrees -- he’s used MX-Rs as his reference for a couple of years.
While some amplifiers sacrifice appearance for sound, or vice versa, Ayre’s VX-R makes no concession in either category. Its combination of great looks, superb sound, and exceptional build quality make it a stereo amplifier that’s beyond reproach. And it’s powerful enough to be used with the vast majority of speakers available today. Taking into account all that it offers, the VX-R is a very good value, even at $14,950. Consider the VX-R to be a reference-caliber stereo amplifier in every way -- and the fifth Ayre Acoustics product to receive a Recommended Reference Component endorsement.
Manufacturer contact information:
2300-B Central Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
Phone: (303) 442-7300
Fax: (303) 442-7301