One of our favorite US made audio companies, Ayre Acoustics, has come out with a new product that is just super cool for the money. Its also has some really interesting history behind it.
Every Great Hero Begins with an Origin Story
Neil Young, of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is a real fan of high quality recorded music. You probably have heard about his great sounding portable music player called the Pono. What you may not know is the story behind the tech in the Pono.
Apparently Neil Young is a big fan of Ayre equipment. He approached Ayre when he was designing the Pono and contracted with them to do the audio for the Pono. This gave Ayre the resources to figure out how to design a great sounding, yet very small DAC and headphone amp. After the Pono project was completed, Ayre added a bigger power supply and a few more key components and created one of the best sounding pieces of gear they have ever made! Thus, the Codex was invented.
What is the Ayre Codex?
The Codex is a DAC, a headphone amp, and a preamp all rolled into one, packaged up in a small box that can fit right on your desk! Now if you know me well, you know I try to figure out all the different ways to use audio gear, so the Codex turned out to be a real brain teaser. Let's think about this...
The most obvious use is as an incredible headphone amp in a desktop situation. You simply connect a good USB cable from your computer to the Codex, tell your computer to send the audio to the Codex, plug in your favorite headphones, and you are all set! The front panel has connections to drive a normal or balanced pair of headphones. In this situation, we are using both the DAC and the headphone amp.
To put in perspective just how good this is, I think the Codex is probably equal to if not better than the great sounding Ayre QB-9 DAC and it sports a headphone amp that made Neil Young happy.
If you own a good set of headphones and are playing them plugged into just a headphone jack or inexpensive headphone amp, I can not stress how much improvement you will hear with the Codex. I was frankly shocked. Most headphone jacks on audio gear are an afterthought that cost pennies to make. I did not expect to hear this much difference -- it’s pretty amazing.
Great! What Else Can I Do With It?
If you get creative, you could use it as both a headphone amp and a preamp. The Codex has both RCA as well as balanced audio outs. In this case, you will only have two possible sources -- the USB or digital input. But both will sound spectacular!
Ayre created the Codex while always keeping the best possible audio path in mind. If you decide to use it both as a headphone amp and preamp, you'll need to turn off the power amp when driving your headphones or you may get some unwelcome noises. This also means they left off all the muting circuits you would normally find around headphone jacks. But clean is the word, as a straight-up preamp, the Codex passes on only your music, with nothing in between.
But wait, there is one more possibility. You may have a great system already and need a good DAC. Simply connect it up via USB or digital, connect to your preamp, turn up the gain, and you have the best DAC you can buy at $1,800. Plug in a pair of headphones (use case #4) and you now understand why the Codex is the deal of the century in performance audio.
To top it off the Ayre Acoustics Codex is handcrafted in Boulder Colorado by the great team at Ayre. I'd suggest you pick one up before Ayre figures out that it should cost $4,000 and ups the price!