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.