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  1. #1
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    Complete Audio Note System

    Folks -

    Am finding the 'wam interesting and amusing. Much thoughtful and informed comment and only a little of the bullying and silliness that seems to infect pretty much all forums of all types these days.

    We are all - at least most of us - are on what is popularly called these days 'a journey'. In the case of 'wam members it's the search for a system that suits our own individual budget and our own ears. At the age of 56 I am perhaps a little further on that most here - and in my case the budget has shrunk dramatically and my ears are way less sensitive than they once were.

    My own route through the hifi labyrinth began with a Cambridge AR integrated, a Philips CD player and Cerwin Vega speakers. An entirely Meridian 500 series system with Mission speaks followed and then it all got rather daft - chopping and changing amps, cables, transports, and in particular speakers. I tried various large ProAcs, Vandersteens and two different PMCs. In 2004, at the point at which I had the epiphany described in the review below, my system was an Audio Note transport and DAC, Bryston BP25 pre-amp and a pair of 700B power amps, PMC IB 1 speakers with Kimber monocle speaker cable and various Kimber interconnects. It shook the hamlet we live in and sounded hugely 'impressive' to the casual and easily impressed visitor. But, actually, it sounded like shit. And deep down I knew it.

    And so to my 2004 review below. I posted it then on Audio Asylum. Yes, it's old, but I thought that some here might find it interesting since it describes my 'journey', at least as far as 2004. In fact, my system has changed relatively little since. Naturally, I have spent more on it over time, but the changes have been upgrades within the AN product line. I have found the used market to be my friend. Patience is more often than not eventually rewarded and I've been able to make substantial upgrades without laying out anything like RRP. My latest change is to sell the Voyd TT and Helius Omega arm that I'd used for some years and replace it with an Origin Live Resolution II TT and Illustrious 3c arm, these, uncharacteristically, bought new. The arm tracks my faithful and much loved AN IO II cart.

    If you are sitting comfortably, and before I begin, allow me to state that I have no commercial affiliation with Audio Note (or any other audio company, come to that). Views expressed are my own.

    KevinF.

    Turn on and drop out – how I escaped from The Land of Geek

    How much did your audio system cost? No. Not how much did the components currently sitting in your living room cost. How much has it cost you to get to the system you have today?

    And just look at those shelves there. Not those. Those. The ones with the records and CDs on. How much did that software collection cost? Did it cost as much as the system you play it on? Or could you buy it all for a fraction of what those speakers, amplifiers, cables, and smoke and mirrors tweakery cost?

    And what does that tell you about yourself? Does it make you a music fan or an audio geek? Are you comfortable with the answer?

    About six months ago I did a quick mental calculation on the cost of my own system and I didn't like the answer. The bottom line was that after messing around with audio for some 20 years, I've blown enough to buy a small house. And my software?

    I was a geek.

    How had it come to this? I love music. I am an avid listener to quality radio. I go to as many live music events as time and budget permit. I even sing to myself in the car. And yet, the conclusion was inescapable: I was officially a gold-plated audio geek.

    My mother must take the credit for sparking my interest in music. In the early 60s she took my brother and me to the Saturday morning childrens' concerts at Fairfield Halls in south London where Sir Colin Davis (then plain Mr Davis) talked us through and then conducted for us a broad range of easily digested classical sweetmeats.

    These live events left me wanting to listen to music in the home, but I gained little satisfaction from the second-hand audiogram that my schoolboy paper-round funded. It simply did not re-create the excitement and joy if felt listening to the orchestras at Fairfield Halls. In a way, not that much changed over time. I ditched the paper-round, went to work for real, and in good times enjoyed a somewhat larger disposable income that enabled me to spend considerable sums of money on audio gear.

    I know I am not alone in audio geekdom. The problem for us all is that there are very few good audio systems. We buy. We listen. We perform mental somersaults to justify the expense. And still we know, deep inside, that it doesn't really sound right. And so we part-exchange. We upgrade. The children go to school in bare feet. And STILL it doesn't sound right. Audio equipment manufacturers and magazines understand this and exploit it. Their manipulation is one of the reasons that there are so many of us in the Land of Geek.

    I am pretty slow on the uptake so it wasn't until about four years ago that I began to get flashes of insight into the way this commercial game works. What triggered a process that eventually became a visionary landslide was my dissatisfaction with CD sound. I then owned a mostly Meridian system and wanted to hear for myself the effect of upsampling. An audio magazine raved. Upsampling was the 'magic bullet'. And so I borrowed a Musical Fidelity (Yup. That magazine) A3CD player.

    The reviewer heard more air and spatial information. More musicality. It was the 'magic bullet' for CD.

    What I heard was contrived and mechanical and I declined, for the first time in a long while, to buy. It set me thinking back to all the other upgrades I'd made on the back of audio magazine reviews and to what I'd heard once the new components had been installed in my home. If I was being honest with myself (and for the first time I was being honest), the Musical Fidelity experience was not unique.

    And so here's my take on the Audio Game.

    The majority of audio equipment manufacturers have a business model that relies on fuelling consumer discontent by creating built-in obsolescence. One year's new model is replaced by another featuring more bells and whistles or 'improved sound'. It is possible that somewhere out there beyond The Land of Geek there are magazine publishers and audio equipment manufacturers not locked in a back-scratching alliance that perpetuates this cycle. It's also possible that out there too are audio retailers who absolutely refuse to let their customers needlessly spin the upgrade treadmill. But if there are, I don't know of them.

    Actually, that's not entirely true. There is one manufacturer that I do now trust to do the honourable, musically right thing, and it's Audio Note.

    That's going to come as a shock to some who may regard Audio Note as a left of field maverick in the audio industry, so allow me to explain why Audio Note gets my vote.

    Search on this site and you'll find reviews by me of the company's digital front-end technology. I was moved to post them – a first for me – after being stunned by a different commercial approach, a different technological philosophy, and a different sound. I started by trying and buying a DAC 3.1 Signature, then added a CDT II transport. Their introduction into my system marked the first time in many years that I felt I'd genuinely taken a giant stride towards achieving a more musical system.

    I used the Audio Note front end with an otherwise entirely fairly conventional system of Bryston pre- and power amplifiers, PMC speakers and Kimber mains cables, interconnects and speaker wires. From time to time I'd hear siren sounds urging me to try an entire Audio Note System, but always rejected the call on the grounds that Audio Note makes low-power single-ended triode amplification, unfashionable speakers and plain-Jane looking cables. I was utterly suckered by the audio industry mantra that I needed solid state horsepower and lots of it, speakers like the monolith in Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey, and interconnects that could tow a ship. The two ideologies were worlds apart.

    But I woke up one day and thought: "Ah, what the heck. It'll be fun. I'll have a go. Find it doesn't satisfy. Send it back. That'll be the end."

    What turned up was a pair of AN-E/LX loudspeakers, some low-end silver interconnect and speaker cable, an M3 pre-amplifier and a pair of P4 PSE monoblocks. All were well used and in various states of cosmetic dishevelment, taken out of the boot of a car and dumped in my living room with the injunction: 'Just play with it. See what you think'.

    Here's a thing: doesn't the language of audio reviews, to use the vernacular, suck?

    If the writer is a well-meaning amateur, they'll use the same language that professional reviewers and audio manufacturers themselves use to describe reproduced sound. I've done it myself. Words like synergy (sorry about that. I'll go and wash my mouth out right now), slam, room-lock, pace…you get the idea. These words and others are the currency of our mutual audio interest and yet they are now utterly valueless because they have been prostituted for commercial gain. They are the bait with which we are lured into spinning the upgrade treadmill. It's ironic and, I think, very telling, that the word euphony is used pejoratively by audio reviewers (mainly by Americans, but often by people who really should know better). They use it to sneeringly imply colouration, but what the word actually means is pleasantness of sound. And we certainly can't have any of that, can we?

    'Does it sound musical?

    'No, but it delivers holographic imaging, ruler flat measurements and real bottom-end grip'.

    "Hell yeah. Where do I sign."

    Which brings me back to my living room and my first exposure to a complete AN system. I listened for the evening and then went to find my wife. This was going to be one of those rather difficult conversations of the sort that only the married reader will understand.

    How do you say, in a way that doesn't result in immediate hysterics, that three rather battered boxes with valves in, some shoe-lace interconnects and an unfashionable pair of speakers has completely, soundly and totally bested the £20K high-tech audio system you've lovingly built up over decades?

    It was tough.

    Audio Note will give you chapter and verse on why a complete AN system behaves the way it does, but the plain fact was that the loan set up made music. All the hoary myths about SET amplification (mid-range to die for, no bass, coloured) proved untrue. The system easily generated realistic pressure levels in our 21X12 ft. room. It gave an insight into the richness of timing, rate of dynamic ebb and flow, volume, and the harmonic information on every recording that was startling. Not startling in a granular, detailed, etched way, but in a wholesome and organic way – I'll use the word holistic, if I may.

    I realised then what it is about solid state audio that makes me uneasy and dissatisfied. It's analogous to the feeling I get working under fluorescent strip lights with their 50Hz switching cycle. It's light right enough, but it makes me feel uneasy and eventually fatigued.

    I think that in a similar way, probably the majority of mainstream audio gear fails more or less to transfer to the listener the essential subtle information that makes the artifice of reproduced music acceptable to the brain. Perhaps because of the non-linearity of solid-state amplification, the liberal use of negative feedback, and the non-time and phase coherent nature of most speakers, the information is lost or scrambled. Without it, performances may well have those attributes so beloved of audio reviewers and salesmen like slam and transparency, but as musical events they are reduced to the value of background tunes in lifts or supermarket music. It's rather like comparing the richness of a Rembrandt to a join-the-dots picture in a puzzle magazine. They're both pictures. But that's where the similarity ends.

    All the demo equipment except the P4 monoblocks eventually went back, and I have subsequently bought and traded to way to an entirely Audio Note system of my own. It doesn't matter to me what the components and wires are and I shan't tell you. The ensemble just plays music in a way that I find uniquely emotionally satisfying.

    There was, of course, significant pain involved in selling off my solid-state gear. Not because in doing so I was admitting that I had been so wrong for so many years, but because in general, used values are so very poor. But that, as they say, is what happens when you opt to pay the stupid tax. In a strange way, 'though, I regard it as money in the bank. You see I am now free of the upgrade treadmill. Free of The Land of Geek. Bye-bye audio dealers. Bye-bye magazine subscriptions. From now on my money is buying music.

    -ends-

  2. #2
    Wammer
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    Kevin. Your review sucks. Your opinions are valueless. You are a misguided, ill-informed fool. You know nothing.

    There. I've said it before anyone else does.

    And for the first time in my life I may well be right about something.

    KevinF.

  3. #3
    Super Wammer SteveS1's Avatar
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    Lots of words.....no pictures!

  4. #4
    Super Wammer robin's Avatar
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    django pre leak st 20 snell c

  5. #5
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    Kevin,

    Good review.

    All I can say is that whenever I go to hifi shows with friends we always leave the Audio Note room till last and when we sit in there we all look to one another and smile-we find it the most musical demonstration time and time again....I have been considering exactly your path for quite some time.

    Very pleased you have ,probably, finished your hif fi journey to total satisfaction.


    regards Meek.

  6. #6
    Super Dooper Wammer rockmeister's Avatar
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    You won't get MUCH dissension on the Wam for a view which suggests that Audionote make kit that is both musical and coherent. They do. They are far from the only company doing this, but one of the few that produces all the elements (even if their designs do lean very heavily on other manufacturers from the past) and so of course they have been able to refine and tune the various parts. The result in my opinion is one of the best compromises around for a fit and forget music system. I don't agree about the value for money. There are both amps and speakers as good or better with a similar tonality for less money, but you avoided that cost by buying used, which makes you canny, but doesn't make AN cheap. Further, they are some of the ugliest boxes on the planet IMO, and that matters to me. Just an opinion ofc.
    All that said, I do know exactly how you system sounds, having encountered these set up many times, damned near bought the same mysely, HAVE owned many AN bits and pieces over the years and agree with one overiding point, which is, you can keep that system the rest of your life, love what you hear on it, and should never need to uprade ever again.
    NOW
    Post in 2016 and tell us what actually happens!
    still just watching clouds

  7. #7
    Leper Wammer AmDismal's Avatar
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    Great review, have some rep. Welcome to the dark side
    Compression drivers twerk my eardrums

  8. #8
    Deaf Wammer Tel's Avatar
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    Good write up.
    So when did the turntable come along and what SUT do you use with the Io?
    "We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap" Kurt Vonnegut

  9. #9
    Wammer
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tel View Post
    Good write up.
    So when did the turntable come along and what SUT do you use with the Io?
    Sold the Voyd and Helius Omega to Setting Son a month or so back and bought the OL combination the week after...on approval.

    It is truly very, very good so has stayed here. My SUT is an AN S3, fed from the arm via OL Linear Flow 2 cable, and feeding the pre-amp via AN-Vx. Am always hoping to fall over a used higher level AN SUT...but then I guess there are quite a few of us in the queue!

    As an addendum to the review, my first AN speakers were E SEC Silvers, bought used, direct from AN. They remain in my system. Although the later, higher efficiency Es sound very good, finding some at SEC Silver level or its equivalent has proved impossible. I stuck with an M3 phono for a number of years, bought used in 2004. I had it upgraded to the Galahad power supply and then p/exed with AN for an M5. I still have the P4s that were loaned for the whole system demo, but they now have much larger HIB core output transformers and rather posh NoS valves throughout. The DAC is a 4.1, but with upgraded output transformers and Nos tubes. The transport is a CDT Three.

    I agree that AN gear is expensive, but used it can be pretty reasonable. I have also found AN itself to be pretty fair price-wise when it comes to upgrades. Peter Q has never tried to sell me an upgrade unless he believes it to be good bang for the buck, so to speak. For example, going from the 'standard' M3 to the upgraded power supply was a sonic bargain, in my view. After spending, actually quite a bit, on factory upgrades over time, I have to say that I have never felt short-changed, and bear in mind that my 'journey' has made me as hyper-sensitive to fakery as I am now to auto-suggestion and the post-purchase justification one can sometimes go through on buying a pup.
    Last edited by KevinF; 05-05-2012 at 10:46 AM. Reason: further thoughts

  10. #10
    Wammer falcoron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by meekandmild View Post
    Kevin,

    Good review.

    All I can say is that whenever I go to hifi shows with friends we always leave the Audio Note room till last and when we sit in there we all look to one another and smile-we find it the most musical demonstration time and time again....I have been considering exactly your path for quite some time.

    Very pleased you have ,probably, finished your hif fi journey to total satisfaction.


    regards Meek.
    totally agree every and i do mean every show i have been to the AN room blows everything else into the weeds and not only the very hi end stuff i have heard a system using the lower end stuff and still the sound was magical, One journey i will eventually make. The AN e speakers at the last Belfast show costing £3500 were just fecking superb and left me wanting them so bad it hurts. Someday oh yessiree

  11. #11
    Deaf Wammer Tel's Avatar
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    I had a similar system come pay me a visit a few moths ago.

    http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread...-Wammers-visit

    Enjoyed it a lot
    "We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap" Kurt Vonnegut

  12. #12
    Super Wammer mmar's Avatar
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    nice passionate review :-)
    its all about the music but box swapping is so much fun

  13. #13
    Wammer flyfisher's Avatar
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    I have an all Audio Note system with the exception of my SP10 turnatble, and I agree their systems just play great music, what more can you want?
    Flyfisher
    Trying to catch that elusive sound quality, once heard never forgotten.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by flyfisher View Post
    I have an all Audio Note system with the exception of my SP10 turnatble, and I agree their systems just play great music, what more can you want?
    Uh. Quite a bit really. We heard Alina Ibragimova playing SS 3rd violin concerto on Thursday at The Anvil backed by BSO and Tortelier who also did an utterly awesome Berlioz Fantastique to follow. Makes one very dissatisfied with one's household audio system.... It took me two days before I could fire it up again. There is nothing that I've heard - even Peter Q's own system - that touches a symphony orchestra on full chat.

  15. #15
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    I love audionote UK stuffs, emotion draining experienced
    Authorized retailer for TAD Labs, Vertex AQ, Soulution Audio, Brodmann, Clones Audio, Benz micro, AMG Turntable, Ziro Audio cables, , Airtight, M2Tech, Shelter

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  16. #16
    Addict CarlBkk's Avatar
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    For me it's a wonder of the world how Audio Note speakers can look so bad and cheap but sound so damn good.
    I've got the hifi. Now I just need the room.

  17. #17
    Cock with Aspergers ncdrawl's Avatar
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    I think I am one of the only two people on the internet that hate audio note gear. but don't worry, I have a new job and don't have time to point out the flaws these days.




    nice review, subject matter not withstanding. welcome to the wigwam
    Be just and if you can't be just, be arbitrary- William S. Burroughs

  18. #18
    In the trade Wammer Purite Audio's Avatar
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    There was an Audio Note room at the spin off 'DeLuxe' show at Munich,
    Keith.

    I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.

  19. #19
    Wammer flyfisher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KevinF View Post
    Uh. Quite a bit really. We heard Alina Ibragimova playing SS 3rd violin concerto on Thursday at The Anvil backed by BSO and Tortelier who also did an utterly awesome Berlioz Fantastique to follow. Makes one very dissatisfied with one's household audio system.... It took me two days before I could fire it up again. There is nothing that I've heard - even Peter Q's own system - that touches a symphony orchestra on full chat.
    If you want to hear a great Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique try Chicago SO conducted by Sir Georg Solti on Decca (CD) 417 705-2
    Flyfisher
    Trying to catch that elusive sound quality, once heard never forgotten.

  20. #20
    Wammer
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    Quote Originally Posted by flyfisher View Post
    If you want to hear a great Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique try Chicago SO conducted by Sir Georg Solti on Decca (CD) 417 705-2
    I agree. It is very good. One of five different readings that I own.... Not that I am fixated or anything....

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