Ayre Audio Codex DAC / Headamp / Preamp

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Scubadude, Apr 14, 2016.

  1. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    I was going to do a full review but ran out of time. So some short observations instead.

    Right off the bat, let me say as a one-box headphone / desktop solution I think it misses the mark. Something like a Violectric HPA V100 or Audeze Deckard will give much better results for much less money. On the other hand, as a standalone DAC and / or direct digital preamp the Codex is brilliant! I haven't heard all the competition in the $1550-2000 range but this must be a serious contender. With SPL Phonitor and Anax-lite Sennheiser HD800's these are my impressions:

    - Tonally nicely linear with a touch of mid warmth
    - Midrange performance can make or break digital playback - full marks here. Great midrange texture, and almost neutral but warmish tone
    - Treble extension seems limitless, wow!
    - Superbly extended and structured bass. Detailed even. Yes detailed. And even [​IMG]
    - Excellent focus and space around instruments and artists. Sound staging is great with nice extension in all directions. Depth is a strong suit.
    - Satisfying transient attack, unforced dynamics

    I must say, the Codex had me worried. My usual DAC, the Wadia 121, occupied a similar position in the market as the Codex when it was launched a couple of years ago. But time has moved on. Not having AB'd against the Wadia I started scheming how I would rationalize yet another gear purchase. Choosing the David Elias track Morning Light / Western Town I sat down to some comparative listening. A lovely JJ Cale-esque / Dire Straits-ish track with and incredible bassline, rolling rhythm, smooth vocals and great acoustic and electric guitar picking, riffs and licks produced in 358.2/64 DSF. This track proved an excellent choice and allowed me to evaluate several aspects of performance without having to hop around between tracks. Of course the 121 doesnt do DSD so I relied on Jriver to downsample to 176.4kHz, and it did so admirably.

    So is the Ayre Codex better than the Wadia 121? In a word ... No. (Thankfully!)

    Different presentations for sure, but ultimately it would be extremely difficult to pick a winner. Which sort of underscores my perception that digital audio has matured extremely well and great performance can be had for very reasonable tom. A good implementation and a well designed analogue section should give an enjoyable performance with essentially very small, even miniscule variations between different sources. Ultimately it comes down to personal taste, much like great wines are free from faults or major aberrations, but still some people might enjoy one more than another.

    Wolvebain, sir, thank you very much for the opportunity to sample this great DAC!
     
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  2. joeexp

    joeexp Don't ship this man FD-X1 ever

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    Did you have the chance to compare the Ayre with something that other people might know, other then the Wadia?
     
  3. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    Kind of interested to hear if you heard it through balanced mode or just single ended. I was actually quite taken with the HD800S and Ayre Codex combo even off digital music it sounded really good.
     
  4. TomNC

    TomNC Friend

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    Based on some limited listening experience at a meet, I agree with most of your impressions. But I think the Codex lacks power as it only pushed HD800 to moderate loudness at max volume SE. I did not have a balanced cable to test how much better the balanced vs SE is. And the balanced out connectors are unusual; an 4-pin XLR would be nice.

    I had the Chord Mojo for a week as part of the loaner program sponsored by Todd at TTVJ. The Mojo has a good DAC too but can push the HD800/650 to more than enough loudness without distortion. At $599, Mojo is a better value IMHO.

    If one prefer a sweeter sound than that of the Mojo, then the Codex wins at a much higher price. Hope Ayre gets it right with the 2nd generation of the Codex.
     
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  5. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    If the Codex is anything like the Pono (also designed by Ayre), then balanced playback is going to bring the amp section alive.

    FWIW I heard the Codex at Canjam in balanced mode with an unmodded HD650 and I thought it sounded just like the Pono player's big brother.
     
  6. eastboundofnowhere

    eastboundofnowhere Facebook Friend

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    After using the Pono with Shure SRH1540s, both balanced and unbalanced, I'm fairly certain the single ended functionality is an afterthought.
     
  7. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I refuse to use the Pono single ended anymore. I have balanced cables for my headphones and a balanced portable amp. No need for SE with that particular piece of gear again.
     
  8. bobmysterious

    bobmysterious Facebook Friend

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    I was looking into getting a Codex recently (went with an Aqua), but from all the comments I've read on a number of forums from people who've heard it, the SE was really underwhelming but the balanced was outstanding. I've seen a number of people say that it's a better DAC than DAC combo unit as well. I'd still love to hear it though, FWIW.
     
  9. eastboundofnowhere

    eastboundofnowhere Facebook Friend

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    Me too, but I think that if I do I will end up building a short adapter to convert their balanced design to a more conventional one. I'm mostly into tubes and vinyl, but I was really impressed with the pono in balanced mode. That way I can still listen to music when the room gets too hot or I drink too much and don't feel like scratching the crap out of my records.
     
  10. 2000impreza

    2000impreza Rando

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    I got the opportunity to listen to the Ayre codex awhile back. Headphones used were HE-X and HE-560 with a balanced cable directly to the codex. It was a short audition and nothing stood out as bad. On some songs the treble sounded slightly bright, not quite harsh but almost borderline. This was paired with the 560 which can be bright so it could have been the reason. I did notice headphone amp lacked power especially with the 560. Overall I thought it was a decent dac/amp. Unfortunately the price was a bit of a turn off. While the dac is decent, you can probably find better for the same amount of money. The headphone amp is under powered so you will likely end up with a separate amp anyways.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2016
  11. bobmysterious

    bobmysterious Facebook Friend

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    Apparently it needs a 500-600 hour break in before the sound settles too.
     
  12. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    The unit is question was a post burn-in loaner from a local distributor. Not sure if they kept am hour log but I'm sure they would supply a unit in the best possible condition for evaluation. I also heard / read about the 500-600 hour burn-in requirement ... I'm not convinced that a component that runs as hot as the Codex (and hot it certainly does run) will take that long to burn in.

    In fairness I did not try the balanced headphone out. Wolvebain provided a stock HD650 cable converted to balanced operation balanced, but from initial observations I pigeon-holed the Codex as a DAC with an incidental headamp, rather than a head-amp with and on-board DAC. Loudness on the HD800 and LCD-2 was restricted and I felt it a little slow, compressed dynamics, low on resolving power, and poor focus on complex pieces. As such I was more interested to do comparative DAC listening. Maybe I missed a major play not trying the balanced output, maybe that is where the magic lies. But for me simplicity is highly underrated and the fact that the industry cannot agree a standard balanced connector is a major turn-off for me.

    Another missed opportunity was a comparison the NuPrime uDSD which I keep for travel and power failure use. Mine has the data and power lines split, with power coming from a 8000 mAh battery pack. Unfair as such a comparison might be to the $150 uDSD, I reckon there wouldn't be a lot in it. So in short, no I did not compare to other more frequently encountered DACs.
     
  13. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    Interesting, looking back at my listening notes, and with referent to SE amp performance I wrote "kinda warm, definitely not harsh or bright". So your perception may be a burn-in / lack thereof issue ...
     
  14. SingSing

    SingSing Acquaintance

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    So is this basically a desktop pono in terms of sound signature?
     
  15. 2000impreza

    2000impreza Rando

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    Keep in mind this is my subjective opinion based on a brief audition. So take it with a grain of salt. The codex I listened to definitely was not burned in. The local shop I was at had no more than a few hours on the unit. I have read about the several hundred hour burn in requirement. But honestly, I don't expect anything more than a subtle difference.

    Ideally I would have preferred to use my own HD800 and BHA-1 amp to test the codex. I didn't have anything with me so I used the HE-X and HE-560 at the shop which is what they had.
     
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  16. pavement714

    pavement714 Rando

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    I was curious about this product, I do like the guys at Ayre based on videos I've seen. But this thread just confirms that the Deckard is definitely underrated. Tried a lot of TOTL cans on it at a meet up recently and it definitely had more power vs the Liquid Carbon and other comparable price point amps.
     
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  17. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    Deckard is most definitely underrated. Still dont get why they did not make the DAC optional though ... tying an amp to digital is engineered obsolesence.

    Also dont get why Audeze isn't punting the Deckard harder. Recently got those pre Fazor LCD2.2's and the Deckard pairs extremely well with that and the HD800.
     
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  18. austinpop

    austinpop Rando

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    I've had a Codex for several weeks, and I think it is truly special.

    I've written about it in a Codex review, as well as a Moon 230HAD review over in the "other forum." Im not sure if I'm allowed to post links here, so just go "over there" and look for my reviews - same handle name.

    In essence, I have not found a DAC/amp combo that betters the Codex for my HD800. The only knock, that others have mentioned, is that power is limited. I would also agree that the Codex DAC is the true standout, but the amp is no slouch at all.

    In my case, I've decided to enjoy the Codex as my DAC/amp, but I've (after a few deep breaths) ordered a Cavalli Liquid Gold, after which I plan to use the Codex as a balanced DAC.

    In terms of comparisons, the reviews referenced above make the following comparisons:
    • DAC Comparisons: Aries Mini DAC (w/LPS), Simaudio Moon Neo 230HAD, Benchmark DAC1 HDR, Marantz SA-8004
    • Amp Comparisons: Sennheiser HDVA 600, Simaudio Moon Neo 230HAD, Benchmark DAC1 HDR
    The two comparisons I'd love to make, if I could get my hands on them, would be the Codex compared to the NuPrime DAC-10H and the Mytek Brooklyn.
     
  19. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

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    So this singing person lasted less than a week? Wtf? Where do these people come from?
     
  20. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    I own the Ayre Codex. I owned the Deckard, and do not think it is comparable to the Codex. In fact, I asked a local member to confirm or deny (meet conditions) what I heard in listening to the Deckard at home. There is a slight extra something through the Deckard. It made my Audeze EL-8C sound more detailed than normal. Read, it gave the impression of details, which in my opinion, listening to other equipment and other DACs, was not information in the original recording. Think along the lines of turning up the sharpness on a TV. You are adding an additional edge to images, making them appear sharper, when in truth the original video signal carried no such information. It also made all but the best recorded songs intolerable. Think the stuff that HD Tracks puts on their free sampler, without too much bite or substance. I want to hear the wailing vocals of Stevie Nicks without killing my eardrums, please.

    The amplifier in the Codex, similar to the Pono (I owned for about a year), is best run balanced. There's no issue running out the 1/4" phono, where I have experienced USB DAC/AMP that produce a glare via their single-ended output and sound okay via the balanced. This is not the case. The sound via the single-ended is simply not as good. I've run the balanced output into HD800S and found it fantastic. I would still not trade in one of my dedicated amplifiers for this, and can compare - provide some more points of A-B comparison, if there's interest. I have not listened critically, only stating that I found the sound quite resolving and fun from the balanced Codex.

    I am keeping the Ayre Codex, not because of its headphone capabilities, but because it reminds me that a well-implemented Sabre implementation can sound reasonable. I bought my Codex used, but personally added 300 hours of burn-in. In my listening, balanced, through a Ragnarok, into B&W 805 Nautilus speakers, the burn-in did make a difference. It still did not bring the Codex up the to same level of fidelity as my Yggdrasil, which is my standard DAC for use in this speaker system. However it did make an A-B comparison considerably more difficult to do at the end of the 300 hours than was at the beginning.
     
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