AUDIO NOTE: Replacement speakers for Audio Note amplification

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At the recent Hi-Fi News Windsor show I spent most of my time in the Audio Note room. The sound was very organic and musical. I wonder what you think of AN products as there are few reviews and little or no comment in the magazines. In particular, I am interested in your views on AN phono stages because the weak link in my current system is my phono stage, a Musical Fidelity X-LP. I think the stage is the weak link because my wife – who is only marginally interested in hi-fi – thinks our CD player is on a par with our turntable.

My current system is as follows: (Avid Diva II + SME M2-9 + Ortofon 2M Black. Yamaha CD-S2000. PrimaLuna ProLogue 2. Spendor S8e. interconnects are Chord Chameleon Silver Plus.

I have been in contact with Audio Note who have recommended a change of speakers to AN/Js and their phono stage M1 RIAA. How does this phono stage stack up against favourites such as the Icon Audio PS3 Eastern Electric Minimax, LFD Audio Zero LE and so on? Do you agree that the phono stage is the weak link in my system?,

Audio Note produce very specialised valve amplifiers and characterful loudspeakers and CD players. I think I am not misrepresenting them by saying they don’t consider themselves to be mainstream, so much as high-end and don’t seek reviews.

We’ve not heard their phono stage so can’t comment on how it stacks up against others. Re reviews, apparently they have a full order book and don’t want to divert product out for review. They sell mainly by demonstration, feeling their products are best represented this way.

Their view of high-end is much like ours, based on a philosophy of ‘less is more’, a scenario in which super high quality transformers play a key role – effective if you know how to make them (most don’t). I know from experience that Audio Note and similarly with LFD Audio’s Dr. Bews design transformers most manufacturers cannot build, and that’s just the layered and segmented winding structure! Audio Note additionally use special wire, including silver and litz arrangement wire, within complex designs, and special core materials including special silicon steels and, for their top models, nickel irons. Their product range is huge and, if you want, they have a phono stage costing £180,000 – and yes, they do sell them!

All their phono stages are MM, I was told, and you have a wide range of transformers, inevitably, to match in a Moving Coil cartridge, the most expensive AN9 costing so much you must phone them for a quote. Last time I looked, their least expensive phono stage is the R-Zero and it uses wire ended Raytheon missile ‘tubes’ that have a very long life.

I have heard Audio Note Kegons driving Tannoy Westminster Royal loudspeakers and it’s an amazing experience, if also an expensive one!

We are probably more sympathetic to the Audio Note view of how to achieve good sound quality than anyone else’s other than the UK’s Dr. Bews and from the States, Jeff Rowland. Audio Note do now attend many UK hi-fi shows and you can see their products there or get a home demonstration. Similarly with Rowland. LFD Audio rarely appear at shows and then only if a retailer or maker wants to borrow some kit.

You will certainly hear the change from a solid-state stage like your Musical Fidelity X-LP to an Icon Audio and both nicely complement the Ortofon, which is a tad clinical and could be accused of being CD like. Much beyond that and you will need to consider getting a moving coil cartridge, ideally in a better arm. The SME 2-9 has lovely bearings and head shell, which together provide a smooth midband, but its bottom end could be usefully better defined and an SME V is an obvious next step.

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