A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION TO THE PRODUCTS OF AUDIO NOTE AND HOW IT ALL CONNECTS.
By Aernoud Dekker, Founder and CEO Audio Note India.
What music lovers love about Audio Note equipment is the elegant coating of light amber first run maple syrup applied to all of it. Not at all medium or dark amber, which give away their presence at the sound of the first note. Rather a subtle refinement applied with consummate tact that only becomes evident in contrast with other gear.
Audio Note speakers are more transparent and less overtly charming than Classic Spendors, more present and less restrained than Harbeths, to cite their principal British brethren. There is also a pleasurable leanness (when have you ever heard leanness called pleasurable?) to most of their gear, a tautness that penetrates to the sonic core of recordings, especially with their “Signature” electronics. Note: live music does not sound loose or fat. Edges through Audio Note speakers are clear but tastefully attenuated, less so the more silver used in their wiring. Audio Note clarity has a humane glow to it. It is the only audio line I have ever heard referred to as beautiful.
Like the crisp clarity and immediacy of Crimson/Tocaro systems and the body and natural warmth of Blue Circle/JMR systems, Audio Note’s beauty (there really is no better name for it) can be deeply and permanently addictive, irresistible. No one has ever called any other British speaker irresistible. The Audio Note sound is not dependent on triode tubes, single-endedness, or silver cabling; but it draws on all of them. And there is no single Audio Note sound. The 300B, EL 84, and 2A3 amps sound distinctly different from one another, though you would never mistake any of them for anyone else’s product.
Founder and CEO of Audio Note UK, Peter Qvortrup believes that most technological ‘advances’ in audio for the past couple of decades have served to put more between us and the essence of music. By working with established designs significantly predating current high end equipment, his company has designed single-ended tube electronics; filterless and non-oversampling DAC's; turntables with several motors and lightweight platters; and broad-fronted, two-way speakers designed to sit in corners, all of which together can seem to take us closer to the essence of music. Qvortrup’s eloquent and complete line of audio equipment makes his fans feel that the competition is missing the real beauty of music.
Though they tend to sound best in all-Audio Note systems, some AN equipment travels very well. The CD players, digital transports, and DAC's match up extremely well with all other lines of equipment. AN cable is also very versatile, providing an engaging roundness and refined beauty. AN electronics and speakers have all of the eloquence of their tubed DAC's but generally prefer to work with each other, or at least with other tubed gear. Audio Note single-ended triode amplifiers are especially remarkable for the wholeness of their presentation. Most of them are, predictably, low powered and are usually paired with efficient speakers like Audio Note’s own.
Together they can do extremely musical things.
Audio Note electronics may be the key to the Audio Note sound. With an SET based, no feedback system, we hear the slightest flutter of low level sound, especially on Audio Note’s new HE speakers with hemp woofers. Audio Note, Blue Circle, and Crimson approaches are all extremely effective, and with most listeners the choice comes down to differences in priorities and taste. Audio Note fans find Blue Circle electronics insufficiently subtle or refined and Crimson too bold.
Audio Note speakers provide an interesting alternative. AN speakers make friends easily and tend to keep them. With Audio Note speakers we hear everything but are often aware of how clear and beautiful the music sounds.
My journey to Audio Note’s digital products, which is how I met the company, began when my system included a Sugden A21 amplifier, Thiel CS 1.2 loudspeakers, a Naim tuner and a Denon CD player.
The arrival of a Audio Note DAC 3.1x was a delightful surprise that dramatically altered my expectations and increased my happiness. It is one of the very few digital front ends I have heard that does full justice to both new state of the art recordings and early 60’s jazz. And perhaps more important, every AN digital front end I’ve heard so far outperforms comparable SACD players, comparing separate CD and SACD recordings. Yes, CD’s on the AN rigs beat SACD’s on the SACD players.
In 1998 I sold my Internet company, which gave me the funds to go all in. I ordered a complete level 5 system, including the Audio Note Kegon, a TT-Three reference AN-E SPX speakers and a DAC 5.1. All equipment was delivered personally by Peter Qvortrup having driven all the stuff from the UK to The Hague (Holland) in his record break-in Mercedes (it has over 1 million miles on the odometer, and still going fast).
Needless to say I was hooked to Audio Note ever since an PQ and me became friends.
Later in life I became a distributor for Audio Note in the Netherlands, and now I’m proud to introduce the Audio Note products, to the Indian market (how that came along is another story, but involves an Indian Parsi lady who is now my wife).
As a result of this I heard a wide range of Audio Note equipment either at home or in my demo rooms. A TT-Three (Voyd) Reference, AN-1S SOGON and IO-Gold SOGON and Spx cabling and AN_E LX signature speakers always where part of my analogue reference system, while I never encountered anything that could touch the performance of the DAC 5 (until Audio Note came up with something better).
AUDIO NOTE COMPONENTS
What follows is a survey of selected Audio Note products I have heard and come to admire. This will list will doubtless grow as my experience of the line increases. The complete line of Audio Note products is available through Audio Note India. Check tour website (www.audionote.in) for more details.
Audio Note analogue is the owner’s pride and joy and he is in the process of upgrading his entire turntable line. At the moment there is a TT1 and a TT2 which has an optional external power supplies available; the TT3 Reference; the Half Reference; and due in late fall of 2018, a new TT3.
TT2, with Arm 3/AN-Vx and IQ3 moving magnet cartridge. This became my first AN analogue rig when I returned to analogue in late 2016. It dramatically outperforms classics like a Linn LP12/Itok/Kharma outfit, mainly by being airier and more transparent, with no sacrifice in bass authority. It makes an LP12 sound plumy in contrast. This is presumably because of its light-weight platter and dual motors, but I can’t do the audio-physics on this, so I’ll leave it to others. This combination will take you back to analogue in a hurry if you let it.
TT2, with Arm 3/AN-Vx, IO1 moving coil cartridge, AN-SL4 step-up transformer. If you’re feeling both flush and ambitious, put an I0l moving coil cartridge into the Arm 3, add an Audio Note step-up transformer if your phono preamps needs one, and listen to the whole experience go up at least a level – two levels if you go with the SL4. Among the step-ups, theAN-SL3 is excellent, the AN-SL4 a knockout. As always with Audio Note, you don’t notice anything missing until you move up and it arrives!
TT2 Deluxe. Same as TT2 but in high gloss black or European birch plinth and with external power supply available.
TT Three Half Reference. Three large 2.0 PHP Papst external flywheel motors but running at lower power with a basic high voltage power supply adding extra torque to increase rotational mass equivalent to 120 kilos, despite the lightweight Lexan platter. One external power supply with integrated controls. For those of you who know the Voyd line, the AN Half Ref is notably better than the Voyd Reference.
One Box CD Players
CD Zero. Entry level integrated single chassis front loading CD player in new small Zero chassis. Unmistakable Audio Note, with surprising musicality, clarity, fluidity and ‘analogue feel’ that only Audio Note digital can provide.
CD 1.1x. A one-box player, using a Philips front-loading transport mechanism and DAC with a 6111WA tube and tin foil output capacitors. Non-oversampling and filter-free, of course. Both front controls and remote. Housed in a new full-width chassis, which is not as high or deep as the standard DAC chassis.
CD2.1x. Like the CD1.1x but with Audio Note tantalum resistors, some Black Gates, and copper foil output capacitors. On permanent demo in our demo room as this gives a glimpse of what is possible ‘higher-up’.
CD4.1x. Audio Note’s best one-box player, using the Philips CD Pro top-loading transport mechanism of the CDT 2 II and an improved version of the DAC 2.1.
CDT Zero. New entry level CD transport with front loading Philips mechanism. New small chassis to match Zero level DAC's. This bargain priced transport sounds truly good.
CDT 1. Front loading CD transport, Philips mechanism heavily Black Gated power supply, RCA and XLR outputs with custom Audio Note digital transformers.
CDT 2. The current version of the highly regarded CDT 2 is so good I urge you to consider the seemingly radical idea of putting it at the head of even fairly modest systems, from which its price would seem to exclude it. For example, pairing it with the DAC 1: you won’t know how good the new DAC 1 truly is until you hear it with a CDT 2. The current CDT 2 is significantly more dynamic and open sounding than its predecessor. It unleashes remarkable quantities of clean, authoritative bass, and its treble region has less grain. Like all of the best Audio Note products, this new transport solves audio problems we were not aware we had. A breakthrough product that challenges the notion that the DAC is more important than the transport.
CDT 3. I Expected the 3 to be a bit better than the 2, but frankly I was knocked out. I would say the biggest difference is verisimilitude: everything sounds more real and more present. The whole presentation has more dynamic authority. All of my CD’s sound appreciably better, which I have to take into account now when I do CD reviews! The CDT3 demonstrates as well as anything in the Audio Note line what upgrading in a predictable way – better parts mainly but also intelligent implementation – really means. The basic products are so thoughtfully designed that upgrading parts dramatically upgrades performance. The CDT 3 is better at everything the excellent CDT 2 is good at. The improvements at this level are not at all subtle. If you can only afford a CDT 2, relax, you are in good hands. But if you can stretch to the 3, you will hear its benefits throughout your system. I would even consider putting it on an AN DAC below its presumed level of performance, just to see if the old saw about source is still true.
CDT 4. Larger (M3) chassis, high level Black Gate caps, M10 style transistorised power supplies for each section, silver wired digital transformers. Moving from the CDT 2 to the CDT 3, we get more dynamics, a bigger and more authoritative sound. Taking the next step, from the 3 to the 4, we get dramatically more refinement and both ambient and timbrel information — it feels to me somewhat like moving from the DAC 4.1 Balanced to the 4.1 Signature: everything that matters jumps ahead, giving us a taste of analogue’s principal virtues. For some, money aside — which of course it seldom is — it may be the perfect balance of digital’s and analogue’s virtues. We have the penetrating clarity of digital along with some of the ‘tangibility’ and airiness of analogue.
CDT 5. Same larger chassis, tube output buffer. Special heavy aluminum chassis with internal sprung suspension derived from the TT Three Reference.
But for those who find analogue The Truth, which is after all the philosophy of Audio Note and what brings many to the whole line, the CDT 5 takes us several giant steps farther toward the ideal. The advance is so considerable it can be exhilarating. For some, it will feel like Arrival. The 5 is by far the smoothest, fullest, most easeful, and airiest — in sum, the most beautiful sounding transport I’ve ever heard. The sound stage is also expansive, such that these virtues all seem to blend together into a musical world from which, it often seems, all flaws and hints of distortion have been banned. And I’m told, not having it heard with its intended partner, the DAC 5 Fifth Element/Fifth Force, that I’ve yet to hear all it can do!
I listened to the 4 and 5 transports together, back and forth, for a week, pretending I could afford both in an attempt to achieve maximum objectivity. When all is said and done, I lectured myself, every component, ‘better’ or not, has its own sound and that is what the critical listener must attempt to hear and describe. For example, what does the period instrument ensemble, the Festetics Quartet ‘really’ sound like? On the 5, their characteristic edge is softened, their bitter-sweet sound sweetened, their leanness filled out. On the 4, with its smaller image and leaner, firmer sound, they have a little more savor, less fullness, and are more bitter-sweet. Their sound is more penetrating, less fulsome, which is how I know them. But I have never heard them ‘live,’ so I don’t know what they ‘really’ sound like. Is the 5 truer to life or truer to analogue? Is analogue truer to life than the best digital? Or is the best digital more objective? And that is where the comparison of the CDT 4 and CDT 5 will invariably take you. And it is the 5 that forces the issue: it is so wonderfully analogue in its presentation that it forces the listener, yet again, to face the perennial question.
So wherever you are on this question and whatever your resources, I urge you to hear both of these marvellous transports and make the comparison I’ve had the luxury of making. It will be an education no matter where you come out.
Digital Analogue Converters
The Audio Note DAC's are the key to the natural magic of Audio Note digital. I have yet to hear them all but as soon as I have I will augment the notes below.
DAC 1.1x Signature. The Signature II’s predecessor, the DAC One.1x Signature, was a fine sounding DAC, especially given its extremely reasonable price. It captured the middle of notes better than the competition. Paired with a CDT TWO it could sing, boogie, and roar – easily outperforming two $5000 CD/SACD players, making the whole “hi-res” phenomenon a non-issue. The new Signature II is astoundingly better in audible ways. I have used it in my reference system without fear that anything essential would be lost and have not been disappointed. Moving up the Audio Note DAC line always brings revelations that justify the added investment. But I expect more and more audiophiles to find the new DAC 1 Sig II good enough.
DAC 2.1X Signature, and DAC 2.1 Balanced. The 2.1 Signature, with its tube rectifier, is a nice step up in refinement over the 1.1x Signature II. In its new Mk II configuration I’m told the DAC 2.1 Balanced II is mightily improved, forcing an upgrade to the 3.1!
DAC 3.1 Balanced. Coming to the 3.1x from anything other than a more expensive Audio Note DAC would put an enormous smile on your face. Up until several years or so ago, it was a very decent sounding DAC but not significantly better than the 2.1 balanced. When Audio Note added output transformers, it pulled well ahead of the 2.1 balanced in all respects. Naturally rich, smooth, refined, and clear. This is where a goodly number of ambitious audiophiles will be happy to settle.
DAC 4.1 Balance and Signature, The DAC 4.1 Balanced Signature is in another game. To be honest, as much as I love the 4.1 Balanced and could be happy with it forever, the 4.1 Sig is the first DAC I’ve heard that truly does enable digital to compete on an even playing field with very good if not state of the art analogue.
While the 4.1 Balanced is great digital and an appropriate goal for all but the most self-indulgent audiophile, the Signature version does seem to cross some sort of invisible (and expensive) threshold and take us to a place where the choice of what to play, CD or LP, can be based, as we once hoped it would be, on the music rather than the medium. It does not emulate analogue’s beguiling softness but offers comparable smoothness in the treble and stunning overall clarity and transparency.
It can turn a good system into an extraordinary one all by itself. That it takes this level of investment to get to this point with digital tells us all we need to know about the medium’s difficulties in musical communication relative to analogue, doesn’t it. The 4.1 Balanced Signature is considered by many to be the (not so) poor man’s DAC 5.
DAC 5 Special and Signature. The DAC 5 special was the second Audio Note DAC I owned, and the first that actually could draw me away from my TT-Three reference turntable. Compared with the 4.1, it is more open through the middle and on top, firmer and clearer on the bottom, and more refined overall. Where funds allow, it should sit at the head of any ambitious music system.
OTO SE. Single-ended, EL 84 based, 10 watt integrated amp. Available with or without phono stage. The best amplifier value in the Audio Note line. Likely designed with the Audio Note K’s in mind, it makes a wonderful match with the 93dB J’s. The OTO is satisfyingly full, dynamic, and clear, sounding and wonderfully informative through the midrange. An excellent choice for a Rs 10L - 15L system with efficient speakers, a knock out competitor for the Manley Stingray and the Audiomat Arpege, among others. I am sure I have yet to hear all that it can do.
OTO SE Signature. The revered Signature version of the classic OTO SE was recently delivered to a discerning customer from Mumbai. “Ribbon internal connecting cable has been replaced with silver; Tantalum resistors and foil capacitors have been added in critical locations. Psvane tubes have been added. Most important, the M4 IE output transformers have been replaced with IHiB double c-core numbers, providing superior magnetic core material in a superior transformer topology for superior results.”
The OTO SE Sig is both more robust and smoother sounding than the standard OTO SE and to my ears obsoletes it. It is the more versatile and all purpose EL 84 integrated amp that owners of E speakers in particular have asked for. E’s and J’s are the OTO’s natural mates. We now have a fully worthy alternative to a Meishu for those who want the more direct, less atmospheric sound of EL84 tubes.
SORO SE. 18 watt, 6L6G tube based single-ended integrated amplifer with a more robust and fuller presentation than the OTO. Available with or without a phono stage. An ideal mate for less sensitive speakers.
Meishu, Meishu Silver, Meishu Silver Signature. 9 watt SET, 300B based integrated amplifier. Available with or without phono stage. This is the best way to bring 300B tubes into your system if you’re a prudent rather than self-indulgent audiophile. Naturally, warm, and full sounding, it can be upgraded with NOS tubes to take it pretty much any direction you like. Its natural mates are Audio Note AN-J’s or AN-E’s. Its three different models parallel the Quest monoblocks amplifiers below in its internal components. The Meishu Silver is a great upgrade.
M3 single-ended, tubed preamplifier. Available with or without phono stage. With its improved power supplies, whose technology has trickled down from the M10, the current iteration of the M3 has made it the great preamplifier value in the line. Dave Cope and I agree it sounds miles ahead of its predecessor. A natural match with a P3, P4, Quests, or Conquests.
M6 single-ended, tubed preamplifier. Available with or without phono stage. The M6, which has also acquired new power supplies derived from those in the M10, is the finest preamplifier I have heard at what it does. I consider it a reference component. It is the perfection of the M3 school of preamps.
Quest. The Quest amplifier is a 9 watt SET monoblock amplifier, which gives us the rich glory of the 300B tube. It comes in standard, Silver, and Silver Signature models. As the Conquest, it offers us 18 watts with paralleled 300B’s.
P3 and P4 stereo amps. 9 watts, 22 watts. The Quest and Conquest monoblock amplifiers are also available (for less money) in single chassis as the P series. The principal Audio Note India demo amp is a P3 Silver, and, coupled with my the M3 Balanced Phono preamp, it’s superb.
My aural memory of Quest Silver Signatures, which I had in my Dutch demo room some 10 years ago, albeit with less ambitious cabling that I have here now, is that this P3 version is at least as good, conceivably better. There may be technical advantages to a single chassis amp. I have not heard the P4 amps.
Empress. 8 watt 2A3 monoblock amplifier available in standard, Silver, and Silver Signature editions. For those who prefer the 2A3 tube to the 300B — and we are not a majority — these ‘2A3 Quests’ are a godsend. They offer elegance with backbone in place of the 300B’s traditional fullness and bloom. I owned the Silver Signature versions, offers more than I could have dreamed of in terms of naturalness and timbre. Their natural mate is probably an M3 Balanced.
Audio Note’s Andy Grove, in response to my queries about the differences among standard, silver, and silver signature versions of the amps he designs, has always said that the significant jump is to the silver signature versions where he has financial room to put in “all of the fancy bits.” No wonder the price jumps so much; but in my experience the silver sig models are always the best value if you’re talking sound vs. dollars, unless your budget forbids it. That is where Audio Note fans know the essence of Audio Note truly exists.
Empresses are the perfect upgrade from an OTO Signature. For the K/SPx SE’s in a small room, but they are driving E/SPe HE’s wonderfully well in a bigger room. A 2A3’s man’s Quest? A poor man’s Neiro?
Neiro. 8 watt SET monoblock amplifier. A pair of Neiros offers the passion, penetration, and deeply saturated colors of parallel 2A3’s coupled with a C-core transformer with copper primary and silver secondary windings. More elegant, informative, and possessed of firmer and clearer bass than the 300B based Quests and Meishus in the line, the 2A3 Neiros are also a bit less meaty and sensuous.
They sound startlingly more powerful than their meager eight watt rating suggests. In conjunction with the M6 preamplifier and a DAC 4.1 Balanced, they soundstage wonderfully with depth and air, putting a natural finish on notes that is strikingly real.
Shinri. 10 watt monoblock amplifier, identical to the Neiros, but with a single 300B output tube in place of parallel 2A3’s to provide a more nuanced, disciplined, and refined perspective than their 2A3 brothers. They are Mozart to the Neiro’s Beethoven. Great sense of control on harpsichords and pianos. Remarkable delicacy and suavity overall. Where the Neiros are notable for drama and contrast, the Shinris lead with poise and control.
P4 Balanced. While clearly related to the Quest/Conquest line of 300B amps, the P4B’s with their interstage transformers take us into another sound and musical world. Far better bass, a huge soundscape, increased spatial presence, with a degree of clarity that leaves its less ambitious siblings in the dust. I feared their copper wound transformers might mean too much warmth but after just one day of play, that demon retreated. Warmer than Neiros but far more transparent than the Quests and Conquests. If the price tag is beyond your means, try to hear its integrated cousin, the Jinro.
Jinro. 20 watt SET integrated amplifier with Chinese 211 tubes. Debuted at CES in 2010. More information and commentary coming.
Tomei. 25 watt SET integrated amplifier with 211 tubes. More information and commentary coming.
Ongaku. 25 watt single-ended integrated amplier with VT4-C tubes. Information and commentary forthcoming.
Audio Note speakers are neither light nor lean, they are as clear as a New England fall day, exhilaratingly open and gloriously transparent. Violins in particular are transcendent. Human voices are strikingly clear, instrumental voices remarkably lifelike. They are not especially indulgent of bad digital transfers. I have never much enjoyed the sound of Chandos CD’s for example, and they sound very good on AN speakers. They seem to give all decent recordings more than a fair chance to show what they’ve got. The best recordings sound extraordinary. Every recording sounds distinct from every other recording, which is their designer’s criterion for excellence and has become mine.
Like Audio Note electronics, they are eloquent rather than ingratiating. This seems to have a great deal to do with their speed, their responsiveness to an audio signal.
I have never quite understood the importance of this attribute until now, and I expect it has a great deal to do with the simplicity of the signal path. It seems to be what gives AN speakers their extraordinary verisimilitude. Notes break the air with great speed and little effort.
All Audio Note speakers are designed to occupy the corners of the room, toed in such that their ‘lines’ cross about a meter in front of the listening position. This said, I have found that most AN speakers work fine out in the room, especially the K’s; so the fact that your room has no useable corners does not rule them out. My main listening room’s corners are eighteen feet (!) apart, so the toe-in here is absolutely essential. Set up properly, Audio Note speakers create a very broad sweet spot.
Peter Qvortrup likes to demonstrate this attribute of his speakers by pointing out to visitors that his accustomed listening position is to the far right! They love low-powered SET’s. Once I got my demo E’s (and J’s) snugged back into the corners, the full length drapes (behind them and in front of my floor to ceiling glass wall) drawn a couple of feet past them (to take the glass out of the equation) and pulled away from their rear-firing ports, they began to have their way with me. I drive mine with 300B based amps, of which Audio Note makes a great many.
The sonic universe that Audio Note speakers propose can take me over. Their openness and clarity throughout their surprising range can be magic, and you don’t need to go ‘up range’ in the product line to hear it. As with the OTO integrated amplifier and DAC 1.1x Signature II, the magic is there from the beginning. One of my favourites is the modest K/SPe, though I’ll confess when I finally realised my day dream of indulging in the legendary K/SPx SE’s,the modest little K/SPe’s for all of their virtues had to take a giant step back.
The K/J and E series Audio Note speakers are based on classic Snell designs, improved upon by Audio Note designers. They are available in an extraordinary variety of finishes and degrees of technical refinement.
AX-TWO. These speakers surprise without exception. Designed by Andy Whittle (of Rogers LS-3/5a and Celestion fame), which should be enough to pique your interest, especially since it sounds better than all of the LS-3/5a loudspeakers and variations I’ve heard, some of which cost significantly more. This is a serious loudspeaker that is entry level in price only.
AZ-THREE / HEMP. In their quest to deliver a compact high sensitivity speaker with good room interface Audio Note has reinvestigated and re-evaluated all the main principles of horn loaded cabinet designs, and this knowledge coupled with their expertise in system dispersion and associated crossover design, has resulted in a speaker system that redefines not only the quality-price relationship at any level. For many the AZ THREE represents ‘first contact’ as they are very affordable ‘giant killers’.
AN-K/D. While there are speakers, (notably Audio Note J’s and E’s) that go lower and higher with more ease, and make a bigger and arguably more accurate impression, the 90 dB, 8 ohm K’s have a special quality that larger, more effortlessly full-range speakers generally lack. Those who remember with fondness the KLH Six (compared with the Five and Twelve), the larger Advent, and the Celestion SL6 will know what I’m talking about. The modestly priced K/D’s are better speakers than any of those classics; but they share their appeal, their ability to speak incisively and almost personally through the essential midrange, which, because of the K’s lighter low end, is where their balance is centred. They have an immediacy, a presence, exciting leading edge behaviour, and tactile musical excitement, along with a beguiling hint of opacity (!), just as their predecessors had.
The K’s have sealed cabinets, which clearly account for some of their sonic quality. The KLH, Advent, and Celestion were all sealed; the Audio Note J’s and E’s are ported. A substantial benefit of the K’s is that they perform superbly on the modest OTO integrated amp. Designed with smaller rooms in mind, they also sound excellent in my 18’ and 28’ living room.
AN-K/SPx SE. The super K. SPx silver cable, crossover with solid Audio Note silver inductors and silver inductors, silvered polyester caps. Yes, they are expensive but they really do dramatically expand the performance of the K speaker, upgrading its familiar personality with enhanced transparency and directness. For some reason I expected more beauty, and while I got that I also got more truth, which has the effect of making the SPe’s seem more tame and less forthcoming. I am reminded of the differences between the Celestion SL6 and the SL6S…and SL600. Bass is significantly deeper and authoritative for some reason; and the overall presentation is both smoother (when the music is smooth) and clearer. The midrange is stunningly real, with a smooth incisiveness. These are truly remarkable speakers which for some ears will challenge their larger brothers — and they’re quite happy in large rooms, where their SPe brothers sometimes sound a little lost.
For established Audio Note fans, these will be THE SPEAKER for moderate sized (not too small) rooms where cost is barely a consideration. That said, you can assemble a wonderful system for around Rs 25L with K/SPx SE’s at the heart of it.
There are probably some who may still prefer (especially in small rooms) the unique, slightly more opaque sound of the K/SPe’s. But not me. I’m fond of the K/SPe’s but the SPxs are in a whole other league.
AN-J/SPe The considerably larger, ported J’s are unquestionably “better” speakers than their little brothers, at least the SPe version, in the sense that they go lower with more authority, go higher with more ease – they are smoother and more open sounding; and they create a larger image. They have less ‘personality’ than the K’s because they make fewer compromises (cabinet size mainly, which means the smaller speakers have to work harder to cover the spectrum) – and it is compromises that bring personality to a speaker, for better and for worse. The J’s bass comes remarkably close to that of their big brother E’s. In small and large rooms alike, with their 93 dB sensitivity, they are quite happy on the OTO. Actually, the OTO Sig./J-SPe combination is one of my most popular.
AN-E/SPe HE. The E was the first Audio Note speaker I heard and as much as I like the J and K, if you have the room for it, the E is the speaker most of you will want to have. Its additional half-octave on the low end clarifies the low bass fairly dramatically. It also gives the impression of being more open and easeful from top to bottom, likely the result also of the clearer low end. The E’s like a bit of space, but seemed just fine in Peter Qvortrup’s approximately 12’ x 16’ study.
An AN-E/SPe with hemp High Efficiency woofers taking them to 98 dB! The sweet spot in the line, as in most musical bang for the buck. Not as absolutely resolving and refined as the more than two and three times as expensive E/SPe SE’s and E/SPx SE’s, but a bit sweeter and absolutely endearing. A great upgrade from the standard E/SPe which makes possible use of ultra low powered 45 or 2A3 based amps. That said, the speed of the hemp woofers seems to make these E’s demonstrably more exciting on the same amps you’d use with the standard E/SPe’s. No wonder Art Dudley fell for them.
AN-E/LX Signature. A copper wired AN-E with the High Efficiency woofers and external, separately boxed crossovers using solid copper wired inductors with Audio Note copper foil capacitors. Wired with Lexus cable. Excellent review of the E/LX Signatures by Art Dudley in Stereophile…written before he heard the E/Spe HE’s…http://www.stereophile.com/standloudspeakers/506an/index1.html For those who love copper wired speakers or whose overly bright listening rooms require them, these are jewels.
AN-E/SPe Signature. With silver wired inductors in the external crossovers, this beauty is the first of the upscale silver wired E models. More resolving and thus more articulate across its entire range, it can be stunning with the Level 4 electronics it invites. Audio Note afficionados will insist on this level of refinement.
The rest of us will find great satisfaction with E/SPe HE’s.
Audio Note interconnect and speaker cables – and power cables as well – can compound the virtues of AN systems. Interconnect and speaker cables should be regarded as as septette 'component'. Don't make the error of giving a good cable system a marginally place in your budget. A good cable system can transform the experience such that everything falls into place.
Modestly priced copper Lexus is excellent in a modest system, offering a naturally warm, detailed, and full presentation. As an interconnect, I prefer it to the less weighty sounding, silver-based AN-v. And it is cheaper than both. When you get to AN-Vx, the interconnect game begins to change: everything begins to open up without any loss of the Lexus solidity or smoothness. With speaker cable, in most cases you have to get all the way to SPx before things get noticeably better than Lexus. Sogon interconnects, with twice as many strands of silver as Vx, is simply astonishing in its clarity and sweetness. And the Sootto, with twice as many strands as Sogon (!) can take your breath away. Big, hugely present, and still beautiful. It clearly crosses a line into territory where adjectives flail. Sogon speaker cable, prohibitively expensive for most unless you bi-wire by splitting the 96 strands cables to 48, is the finest speaker cable in the line, by far.
The strategy, unless you’re rich, is to put the best cable you can afford at the head of the system chain, say between a digital transport and DAC or between a CDP and amp: that way its advantages get passed along. Even putting a single run of Sogon, or better yet, the new Pallas, between the transport and DAC in a system with all Lexus delivers a dramatic improvement.
Upgrading from Vx to Sogon to Sootto interconnects is like opening sonic doors. At each step we feel we are hearing it all and then suddenly, in each case, there is more. More instrumental and spatial detail, more pure physicality and presence, more beauty, and more shear excitement. This is directly attributable to the near doubling of strands of silver, the doubling of channels through which musical information can travel: it is as if twice as much on a recording is being unleashed. I can’t tell you now exhilarating it is to hear more of a cello than you’ve been accustomed to thinking there is: the prodigious sound of its physicality accompanied by the stunning beauty of true timbre. This is what this whole enterprise we are involved in truly is.
With Audio Note cable, every step of the progression is a revelation, so there is no need to complete the journey through the last door. But I promise you there is no other way to get all that Audio Note can offer.. If all of the musical information can’t get into your system, it ain’t going to come out!
LEXUS interconnects. All-copper 50 strand interconnect with the same architecture as Sogon. One of the best buys in IC’s around. Full and smooth sounding, it has more clarity than we usually find in copper cable.
AN-V interconnects. 99.99% pure silver, 15 strand litz wire symmetrical, copper screen. A respectable interconnect for modest high end systems for those who have to have silver but can’t afford AN-Vx. I heard it between a CDT 2 transport and DAC 1.1x Signature II DAC and between the DAC and an OTO integrated. Less full sounding than copper Lexus but just enough silver to throw a bit of natural light over everything.
AN-Vx interconnects. 99.99% pure silver, 27 strand litz wire symmetrical, copper screen. A significant jump in openness and refinement from AN-V, this is the interconnect of choice in most reasonably priced systems. No need to go beyond
AN-Vx unless you’re truly ambitious but definitely worth stretching to from AN-v and from Lexus if you can. A good choice in even a perfectionist’s system that requires a long run, say to mono-blocks.
SOGON interconnects. 99.99% pure silver, 50 strand litz wire symmetrical, copper screen. Wide open and noticeably refined. A great cable to run from a transport to a DAC to give a Vx based system a great start. More and more listeners are considering this option even in modest systems because of the startling degree of improvement it provides.
PALLAS interconnect. An even more dramatic improvement in the run from the digital transport to the DAC. Better than Sogon in this role, if those of you who have heard Sogon can believe it.
SOOTTO interconnects. 99.99% pure silver in 110 strands. Big, bold, clear, and still beautiful. Arguably the most ‘real’ sounding AN cable. Head to head with Sogon, it sounds less refined and less sweet because it is holding absolutely nothing back. Not at all clinical, just stunningly present. Scary good stuff. Even just one pair near the head end of a system can be an existential joy.
Lexus XL speaker cable. Pure copper 50 strand Lexus is all a modest system will ever need and also my first choice for Reynaud Blisses, Cantabiles, Emeraudes, and even Offrandes. Way better sounding than it has any right to be. A great cable value. An all-copper wire but built with the same architecture as Sogon, so it offers the classic warmth with detail.
AN-SPe speaker cable. 99.99% pure silver litz conductor, 17 strands. SPe is comparable to an interconnect halfway between AN-V and AN-Vx: a great sounding cable that will satisfy most audiophiles. Ideal for K/SPe’s, J/SPe’s, and E/SPe’s.
AN-SPx speaker cable. 99.99% pure silver litz conductor, 27 strands. Weightier sounding overall and more brilliant in the upper midrange. Good match for JMR Orfeos and Concordes.
SOGON LX 96 speaker cable. 99.99 pure silver conductor, now 96 strands. Probably the best there is and single cables can be split rather than doubled for biwiring, resulting in 48 strands, close to what Sogon was for years. Even in that configuration, it is gorgeous.
ISIS AC CABLE. A relatively new product offering a chance to run with a full AN cabled system. ISIS AC cables used judiciously (you don’t need them on all components) complete the chain and unleash a system’s full potential. We have the sense that sound is extended farther up and down the audio spectrum; through to the world where tiny details live; and out into the physical space where the music was recorded. Everything feels more ‘live’ and present. Instruments sounds like better versions of themselves, human voices are more emotionally affecting. Both inflections and innuendos are more noticeable. Even if you’re used to extremely high end power cables, these new ISIS cords need to be heard.