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** ROTM March 2018 AWARD: Audio Note System Review

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audiopro

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I had posted this earlier under my audio setup but felt it belonged under reviews so here we are!

I haven't really posted much on this forum but based on my current setup I thought that it would be nice to share.

This is going to be a long post but I want to share my experiences. I have been in this hobby for > 20 years beginning with a humble Marantz 6010OSE amplifier.
I have had various setups in the past 20 years mainly solid state (very good integrateds or prepowers and inefficient speakers or difficult speakers. My collection is 100% CD's, though I did dable with vinyl a bit.

So after spending a lot, upgrading stuff, trying different cables, power filters etc. I finally concluded that solid state wasn't cutting it for me. I was getting everything technically. Extended highs, lot of resolution, controlled bass, huge soundstages, but I just wasn't enjoying the music. Something seemed off. It just wouldn't engage me. So finally I sold off the entire setup (which was a very good one technically) and bought an all Audio Note setup. So now I had a high efficiency speaker, a low powered single ended valve amp and a tube based CD source. And now the story begins!

My setup is a humble level 2 Audio Note setup. It consists of the OTO SE integrated amp (10W), the AN-J speaker, and a level 2 DAC. Audio Note requires that you corner load the speakers. Initially this may sound sacrilegious but once you do the bass couples with the room like a well positioned sub. It just blends in with the rest of the frequency spectrum and works with the room instead of against it.

I have changed the tubes to a telefunken smooth plate/ JJ in the OTO where as the DAC is using the stock tubes. Please note that the best tubes cost less
than a medium grade cable! The stock AN tubes are also very musical, times superbly with a nice mid band but they are not as open as the Telefunken.

So did the heavens open up and the angels sing? Well, no that's not going to happen with any setup but with the AN I have been going through my entire CD collection and falling in love with it again. Technically this sound may not be correct. Technically Audio Note may not be correct. But what the system gives you is extremely entertaining. PRAT, harmonics, vocals that are extremely articulate without being artificially etched, detail that isn't thrust in your face or artificially boosted (You will hear everything on this setup!) a sound that doesn't favour any one particular frequency or flavour, a lot of boogie factor. These are things that cannot be quantified but that is exactly my point. Other setups that I owned were technically superior, but none of them made me want to tap my foot or to get up and dance. The Audio Note does that. It is like looking at a perfect photograph taken using the best lens and camera in the world (older setups) and then comparing it to a beautiful painting which moves you with its beautiful strokes and colours used (AN). Usually one writes a review by breaking up the experience into components like bass, mids, highs, soundstage, etc. With the Audio Note this isn't really possible. The sound is sent to you as a whole, extremely well integrated.

Very often we end up chasing the perfect sound and get caught up with complex setups and the upgrades never stop. After 20 years I have found a setup that is truly entertaining and has delivered music to my ears. Please try a low powered valve, high efficient speaker setup and it may finally stop the upgrade cycle that we get stuck in.

cdc688ad-9f24-4567-960e-0c2a978bc281-jpeg.26411
 

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heliumflight

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I had posted this earlier under my audio setup but felt it belonged under reviews so here we are!

I haven't really posted much on this forum but based on my current setup I thought that it would be nice to share.

This is going to be a long post but I want to share my experiences. I have been in this hobby for > 20 years beginning with a humble Marantz 6010OSE amplifier.
I have had various setups in the past 20 years mainly solid state (very good integrateds or prepowers and inefficient speakers or difficult speakers. My collection is 100% CD's, though I did dable with vinyl a bit.

So after spending a lot, upgrading stuff, trying different cables, power filters etc. I finally concluded that solid state wasn't cutting it for me. I was getting everything technically. Extended highs, lot of resolution, controlled bass, huge soundstages, but I just wasn't enjoying the music. Something seemed off. It just wouldn't engage me. So finally I sold off the entire setup (which was a very good one technically) and bought an all Audio Note setup. So now I had a high efficiency speaker, a low powered single ended valve amp and a tube based CD source. And now the story begins!

My setup is a humble level 2 Audio Note setup. It consists of the OTO SE integrated amp (10W), the AN-J speaker, and a level 2 DAC. Audio Note requires that you corner load the speakers. Initially this may sound sacrilegious but once you do the bass couples with the room like a well positioned sub. It just blends in with the rest of the frequency spectrum and works with the room instead of against it.

I have changed the tubes to a telefunken smooth plate/ JJ in the OTO where as the DAC is using the stock tubes. Please note that the best tubes cost less
than a medium grade cable! The stock AN tubes are also very musical, times superbly with a nice mid band but they are not as open as the Telefunken.

So did the heavens open up and the angels sing? Well, no that's not going to happen with any setup but with the AN I have been going through my entire CD collection and falling in love with it again. Technically this sound may not be correct. Technically Audio Note may not be correct. But what the system gives you is extremely entertaining. PRAT, harmonics, vocals that are extremely articulate without being artificially etched, detail that isn't thrust in your face or artificially boosted (You will hear everything on this setup!) a sound that doesn't favour any one particular frequency or flavour, a lot of boogie factor. These are things that cannot be quantified but that is exactly my point. Other setups that I owned were technically superior, but none of them made me want to tap my foot or to get up and dance. The Audio Note does that. It is like looking at a perfect photograph taken using the best lens and camera in the world (older setups) and then comparing it to a beautiful painting which moves you with its beautiful strokes and colours used (AN). Usually one writes a review by breaking up the experience into components like bass, mids, highs, soundstage, etc. With the Audio Note this isn't really possible. The sound is sent to you as a whole, extremely well integrated.

Very often we end up chasing the perfect sound and get caught up with complex setups and the upgrades never stop. After 20 years I have found a setup that is truly entertaining and has delivered music to my ears. Please try a low powered valve, high efficient speaker setup and it may finally stop the upgrade cycle that we get stuck in.

Spread the goodness!
 

audiopro

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The audio note speaker I'm using is rated at 93db but I have a smaller room. I don't know anything about the pioneer, especially what impedance it will present to the Amp. Why not contact audionote India and see what the guy has to say? He's pretty knowledgeable. Give him a call.
 

audiopro

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Will the 10 watt amp drive Pioneer Cs 905 (99db) in a room of 200sqft?

I thought a bit about it and here is what I feel. Ideally I would consider the OTO PP instead of the OTO SE for this speaker as the PP can handle varying impedence loads better than the SE. It will probably be cheaper too. The AN guy was offering an entire setup for Rs. 4L which consisted of an OTO amp, ANJ speakers and the Audio Note CD player with associated cables. In my mind that's a steal if someone is looking at getting an entire setup and getting it pretty right without getting stuck in an upgrade loop.
 
M

mpw

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This is indeed a wonderful system and well matched to the room.

Room treatment plays a positive part in the overall experience.

A treat for the ears.

njoi !
 

arj

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could you give some info on your power distributor ? its a very Aesthetically setup system.
 

prem

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Spent the afternoon yesterday at Audiopro’s place along with Maruthi who had flown in all the way from Hyderabad to listen to the AN 2.1 SE dac.

Maruthi also owns AN speakers and the Meishu silver 300 SET amp. Maruthi had bought along his Chord 2 Qute which he uses, for comparison.

First of all a huge congrats to Audiopro for putting together a very musical system. The system was fairly transparent too as it very easily showed changes when any cable or tube was replaced. As expected each of us had our own personal preferences when it came to tubes :) Maruthi liked the Russian tubes that came along with the AN as it had a more upfront, punchier sound. Audiopro, I think prefers the Amperex. I liked Telefunken best

Coming to the comparison of the two DACs, there were differences in presentations. In the AN dac, the start stop of the instruments in the music was spot on. Overall centre of gravity of the sound was a bit higher as a result of which the upper mids and lower treble was clear. The 2Qute had more grunt but was a wee bit less musical. The centre of gravity was lower and as a result there was a bit of mixing of the mids with the bass resulting in mids not being as pure and transparent as the AN dac. Both had their pluses and minus. So it would all come down to what kind of a presentation does a person like.

We also heard the AN TT 1. To my ears it clearly outclassed both the DACs.

Thanks Audiopro for hosting us
 

kvm

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Thanks much Prem and audiopro for the very educational and fun musical experience, I would say.

Kudos to audiopro for the meticulous planning and setup, listening to which was extremely enjoyable. Even in the small room we didn’t find it harsh even at quite loud volumes! I sincerely appreciate him for pulling out time and hosting us, despite his personal commitments.

Prem articulated the session extremely well.
To add, I felt, the dynamics and detail were quite good with 2qute but the AN DAC 2.1sig wins hands down on tonality and naturalness- I would say key strengths of the AN and it’s NOS implementation - which should be expected given the AN DAC is 4x more expensive than 2qute! In that perspective, 2qute is not ‘bad’ after all (solace)

Prem also did some ‘magic’ with his ‘spruce’ - we could so easily find the presentation very relaxed once the DACs were placed on it - definitely another ‘inexpensive trick’ to even better what is already bettered! (Not sure if the expression is correct, but nevertheless!) I request Prem to organise a ‘group buy’ as am sure many of us would benefit.

The AN TT1 definitely is a strong contender and if one is really serious about analog there are various options/ levels from AN stable depending on the budget.

Overall a great session and an afternoon well spent!
 

audiopro

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Just to add to the above two messages. While it is easy to find a DAC that adds a lot of extension with a lot of zing and bite it is very difficult to find a free flowing dac that has weight, times well and delivers the vocals in a natural flesh and blood manner. Most oversampling DACs have a lot of detail and sound terrific on strumming, etc but deliver flat vocals with a bit of sugar thrown in here and there. I always felt that the vocals didn't breathe on these DAC's and hence over a long listening session it gets tiresome. While NOS DAC's sound as if they are lacking in detail in reality all the detail is there. It just isn't thrust in your face and is usually surrounding a lovely flesh and blood vocal. I heard the same thing with Metrum's Pavane DAC as well in a fellow members home. The only few exceptions to Oversampling DAC's were the Simaudio Equinox and Accuphase sources with the Simaudio easily besting the Accuphase in terms of balance and timing.

Like Prem summarised very well, we all listen to music differently and value different aspects of the presentation. To me timing, a listenable breathable vocal, how well the instruments or singers bounce of or compliment each other and flow are very important. I remember years ago I had borrowed a Kondo copper speaker cable and compared it to my alloy based VDH speaker cable. While the VDH did everything better I kept going back to the Kondo. The Kondo was like the NOS DAC while the VDH was like the oversampling one. It gave all the detail, extended better but it wasn't as easy flowing as the Kondo.
 

Kannan

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Are these Audio Note gears the original Japanese versions or the British ones?
 

audiopro

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Are these Audio Note gears the original Japanese versions or the British ones?

Audio Note Japan is now called Kondo. These are Audio Note UK. The day I buy a bungalow on a hill overlooking the sea I'll start buying Kondo:)

Kondo - Push Pull amplifiers, Makes a dac every now and then, superb TT but very expensive, no speakers yet. Completely hand made including the capacitors.

Audio Note UK - Single ended typically except for some entry level stuff
Have the entire lineup. Easier to build synergy as once you get the speakers and amp setup you are almost half way there.
 

square_wave

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I have heard audionote only once in my life. This was in Singapore. At a dealers place and he had some 4 pairs of speakers in the room so my experience was a mixed one. Only 1 pair was setup corner loaded. The positives were the brilliant tonal quality and the intimacy of the sound.

However, there were 2 things that had bothered me. I am sure these things are very setup related so I am hoping the 2 gents on this thread who have lot of experience with AN will be able to provide some insights.

  1. The bass! Upper mid bass and higher was fantastic. But the lower the bass goes, it started to bother me. It could be that I am a little sensitive to this area of music. I am a big fan of bass that comes from open baffle speakers. This means that bass has to be open. As you go lower down the octaves ( especially on the standing bass or even the drum), the bass has to sound open, extended, textured and detached from the speakers. Just like how you hear at an unamplified concert. The audionotes I heard sounded a little closed in and a wee bit boomy as you down the octaves. This is just an observation of mine after hearing a few of those speakers in that room. I am sure this is a setup thing!
  2. The soundstage behind the speakers. This bothered me as well. The sound was upfront like you are sitting in the front row. I like sound that extends a wee bit in front of the speakers but extends well behind the speakers. I know that you need to give that much space behind the speakers for this to happen. With corner loading, I am not sure how to make this happen. What is the dope about this area and audionote ?
 

audiopro

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It all depends on the system you were listening too. I presume the speakers were ANE speakers. Now it depends on the amplifier being used, the tubes in the Amp and cable used.

For example if you are using sovteks you'll get a heavy bass but change them to telefunken and it cleans up. The single biggest factor when demoing tubes is whether they are run in or not. Minimum 100 hours before they start settling in and 200 to have them fully stabilize the character. Same for the speakers.

If you use their Lexus cables it is a bit bloomy but romantic but switch to the silver and you get superb bass control but can sound little bright. So it all depends on how you set it up to get synergy.

Finally no idea regarding the room. Every room has some nodes and maybe that's what you were picking up.

Regarding the soundstage.

With digital, atleast upto lev 3 the AN doesn't have depth. I don't know why. But switch to LP and you will be stunned by the size, power, dynamics and depth of the soundstage. It's like the entire orchestra just moved into your room. It's edge of the seat excitement. It will never be as deep as speakers placed away from the front wall but what you loose in ultimate soundstage depth you make up with corner loading. Our Indian rooms are small and corner loading increases distance to the speaker which allows better integration and better bass coupling to the room. If you move the speakers out you sometimes have to move them almost 2-3 feet from the front/ side wall to get proper bass coupling which may not be practical in a small space. Without proper bass coupling I do not think it is possible to place a speaker ideally in a room. It will always sound imbalanced.

Soundstage is a very difficult character to judge. It depends on the room, recording, spesker setup etc. Also depends on the equipment used.

For example esoteric cd players have a huge stage but lack the tonal density of the smaller staged accuphase players. I no longer care about the soundstage. What I feel is more important is image size. Some systems throw a huge image which sounds impressive but doesn't let you hear the band as a whole. It just pushes whatever is playing out at you. While the audionote may not have the largest soundstage with digital, it's image size is handled well and you can hear the band play as one. You can hear the singers compete with each other. It starts and stops superbly so the timing is spot on.

You spoke about open baffle speakers. Every design has some advantage and disadvantage. It depends on your music preference.

Hope this helps. It's all about synergy. I feel our conscious brain wants characters like soundstage, frequency extremes, etc based on what we read but the subconscious focuses on timing, image size, etc. More real information that we receive from being alive. Hence sometimes people will say I don't know why but I'm enjoying this setup and I can assure you the system will have timings, proper image size, free flowing and bass that starts and stops accurately which is also linked to timing.
 
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