Originally Posted by mmiles
I wonder what Ayre does to a $500 unit to make an "Ayre"?
Well, first of all you have to remember that we don't have to pay $500 for the unit. We buy in quantity, so Oppo gives us the spectacular discounted price of (make sure you are sitting down, please!) $400.
Then to make it an Ayre, we dismantle it completely and recycle everything except the main PCB (with the video decoder, ABT scaler chip, and HDMI transmitter), the transport mechanism, the VFD display, and the remote control handset.
Next we re-build the main PCB. The big switching power supply only provides 5 VDC, then there are little mini-switching power supplies (called DC-DC converters) on the main PCB that turn the 5 VDC into 1.0 VDC, 1.1 VDC, 1.8 VDC, and 3.3 VDC. All of those are removed. There are also USB power switches that allow hot-plugging of USB devices. These are removed as they have another kind of DC-DC converter called a "charge pump".
All of the supplies are replaced with pure linear supplies with analog regulators. The USB power switches are replaced with devices without the charge pumps. Now we have gotten rid of seven noise sources that create high-frequency square waves with harmonics well out into the MHz region. Getting rid of all of that noise creates a visibly cleaner picture.
Next, we replace the low-quality master video clock with a VCXO. This becomes more important later on, as you will see.
Now we start adding things back in. First is our AyreLink communication system. It allows AyreLink equipped components to act as one big system. For example, turning on the player will turn on all of the downstream components as well as automatically select the correct input on the preamp. We also make an external RS-232 to AyreLink converter box for system controllers like Crestrons. The AyreLink system has opto-isolators between each component to avoid unwanted ground loops, which is why we don't use RS-232 inputs on any of our equipment.
Then we add a custom programmed FPGA on the front panel PCB to do some housekeeping. It intercepts the appropriate commands and translates them to operate the AyreLink system. It disables the internal volume control (which operates in the digital domain and degrades the sound) and instead routes the volume changes to an AyreLink equipped preamp. It also allows us to send custom messages to the front panel VFD display. So when the USB audio input is activated, it will report that on the front panel along with the sample rate of the received signal.
There are a bunch of boards added on the audio side. I say "side" because we literally split the player into two parts. There is a separate power transformer that runs all of the audio circuitry, which is separated from the video side by a bank of opto-isolators. So the audio and video "sides" have separate grounds that are completely galvanically isolated. This is the only way to get the best performance from either your audio system or your video system.
All video displays have switching power supplies that dump noise into your system in the absence of such isolation. There are also ground loops that are inevitably formed as there is no such thing as a balanced video connection. All of those problems go away with our isolation system.
The ten-channel audio board is replaced by a two-channel audio board. Everything on this board is top-quality, with discrete, fully balanced, zero-feedback audio circuitry and discrete, zero-feedback power supply regulators. There are improvements in both the parts quality and circuit design that give it even higher performance than the QB-9 USB DAC that was recently rated "Class A+" in Stereophile's recommended components issue. For two-channel disc playback (CD, SACD, DVD-Audio), the performance exceeds our $6,000 audio-only disc player.
We also add the USB audio input that allows you to connect your personal computer and turn your system into a music server. Your entire digital library (except SACD's, thank you very much Sony -- not!) can be stored on a hard drive and played back with the click of a mouse. So this one component can be the only source component that you need. This input is also connected via a bank of opto-isolators, so there is actually a *third* "side" to the system -- the video, the audio, and the computer. The noise from your computer and its switching power supply will not be connected to either your video or audio systems.
We also add a second audio-only HDMI connector. This is fed by the isolated signals on the audio "side" so that it won't contaminate your surround-sound system if you choose to connect one. It also supports the new "Audio Rate Control" (ARC) feature that is part of the HDMI 1.3a specifcation. This is a breakthrough for the surround-sound enthusiast, as HDMI is normally the worst way in the world to send audio data -- the jitter is even worse than the lowly S/PDIF connection.
But with ARC, the surround-sound processor uses a local crystal oscillator to provide a low-jitter clock to the DAC chips. Then there is a buffer that stores the incoming audio data. When the buffer is too full it sends a signal back upstream to the Blu-Ray player telling it to slow down the disc slightly. When the buffer is too empty, it asks the disc to speed up slightly. Now the audio clock is in charge, the way that it should be. (When the unit is running in two-channel mode, the local low-jitter, fixed-frequency crystal oscillator provides the master audio clock.)
With a modern digital display (plasma, LCD, LCOS, DLP, et cetera) jitter on the video signal does not matter. Since there is no conversion to analog, the digital signal values are simply stored in a frame buffer until needed.
Then the whole thing is put into a custom chassis made entirely from anodized aluminum and stainless steel. We want our products to look just as good 50 years from now as they do today. There are other people making Oppo "clones". One of them only replaces the chassis. Another replaces the power supply also. Nobody is rebuilding the complete player and adding the extra features and advanced technology that Ayre is.
As far as the value, it is up to you to determine that. I can't tell you how much an improved picture is worth. I can't tell you how much better sound is worth. I can't tell you how much the features we add are worth. You will have to decide that for yourself.
What I can tell you is that, just like all of our other products, they offer engineering and performance beyond what anyone else is offering, at a fair price that reflects our cost of manufacturing, and that we back up our products with both a strong network of the finest dealers on the planet and an incredible service policy.
Unlike other manufacturers that try to sell you a "new and improved" product every year or two, when we figure out a way to genuinely improve the performance of our existing products, we offer upgrades to current owners at very reasonable prices. Go to the Audio Asylum and check out some comments regarding our recent "MP" upgrades to the C-5xe and CX-7e disc players, for example.
If you want a great Blu-Ray player for an incredible price, buy the Oppo. If you want the best picture and sound quality in the world for your home theater and price is not a concern, check out the Ayre. And no, it will not be available in November, sorry. Early next year will be a better guess.