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nixon_fiend

Audio Note AX-2 Loudspeakers

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I don't often review kit in this section, despite owning large volumes, it passes through my hands rather quickly and most of it is rather generic/well known enough not to warrant a serious review... Moreover, I've found, writing reviews of this nature inevitably take an inordinate amount of time to complete - with the 'end result' after hitting 'send' appearing significantly shorter than expected ! (?)

Ner' the less, I feel impelled to pen a short paeon of praise for this unassuming, under-represented and unattractive(?) little speaker, the audio note ax2 !

spkr_ax-2_01.jpg

Audio note are a funny ol' bunch, Currently a UK brand following the Kondo/KSL spat... they inhabit both the hideous high end arena ... (their top DAC will set you back £39k) but also the kit building valve-head fraternity. You can purchase their AN-E speaker, and numerous dac and amp kits direct - for very reasonable prices.

The speaker under review is one of their more inexpensive products at a 'mere' £350 with a similar .. albeit smaller model at 250. The next speaker up is the AN-K at around £1400 (i think).. so in a different class altogether.

Out of the box, the AX2 is much bigger than the pictures would suggest, similar to the dynaudio 52 but wider! The finish on my pair was rather slap-dash... with some chalky marks needing to be rubbed off, and some light scratching on the small gold AN 'plaques' on the front .. (curiously omitted on the picture)

The finish is a cheap vinyl wrap .. (now only available in black) so visually they won't be ousting those Sonus Fabers straddling the fireplaces in the living rooms of the style bridage. Personally I'm a fan of their 'clean lines and function before form' aesthetics.. but I'll concede that £350ish elsewhere can buy you an exceptionally well finished pair of speakers! (quad 11l, usher s250, etc)

The AX2s make use of a rather standard looking tweeter but most interestingly, a foam surrounded driver - Highly unusally in this day'n'age of carbon fibre weave, high density polymer, and long life rubbers .. these speakers hark back to the glory days of the AR18s (also, let it be said - one of my favourite 'sounding' speakers!)

Compare the visual antiquity of the driver to the pro-looking, highly engineered, mechanical chic of dynaudio's offerings and you'll see what I mean! Yet despite the unimpressive look, these are actually rather well made offerings from driver supremos SEAS. (claimed sensitivity is 90db/1w - so good for 10w)

one may assume then that audio note have put the effort (and money) into the drivers over the aesthetics... which sounds like a noble idea in principle, after all these are musical devices - where better to spend the money? But the proof of the pudding, is as they say, in the eating.

"Elaboration creates problems, simplicity and purity create perfection"

.. is Audio Note's maxim on Loudspeaker design... A lazy excuse for neglecting innovation? Or an inspired revolt against an industry that prizes 'the next big thing' over sound mechanical principles? You decide.

We can certainly see the evidence of this approach in the construction, the driver layout and the aesthetics .. but what of the sound?

Well, I'll admit it .. I was expecting a lot from these speakers, I'd heard reports of 'B&W 705' slaying and 'giant killer' status .. pretty much par-for-course in the audiophool community... And these have been on my list of 'audiophile items to buy' for a long while. Might I add, these are the cheapest speaker's I've yet owned and economics ultimately dictates what can be wrought from £350, of this I'm of no illusions! but as any flat-earthing, kan-owning, source-firster will tell you (and ultimately bore you :P) a great deal can be achieved from the right speaker, paired with quality ancillaries (the opposite is also true but now isn't the time for that debate!)

the AX2s are standing in for my recently departed LOTH-X standmounts .. (financially motivated downgrade while I job-hunt!) and the loths were in many ways - exceptional.. transparent, cross-over-less, perfect timing, lightning dynamics.. yadda yadda

What could another cheap 2-way have over my super-loths?

Short answer: A tweeter

Long answer: I was also babysitting a pair of dynaudio 42s when I recieved the AX2s so I had a brilliant partner for comparison, a similarly priced 2 way with radically differing design aims. These and an aural memory of my Loth's let me come to my conclusions of the AX2s.

Now, the term 'musical' is oft-over used in audiophilia (Silence! groans at the back!) for kit that lacks detail, pace, accuracy "oh it must be musical"

but these AX2s are really something else! I find myself sat listening to music I hate.. all the way through - and er.. enjoying it??!! Jack Johnson is a case in point .. his nursery rhyming, crude strumming and lovey lyrics bore me to death, but "In between dreams" had me blissed out, on a South Pacific beach.. with a joint and a six pack of 'Red Stripe ! gosh!

A word I want to stress is balance the speakers are so well balanced it's unreal, the integration between the drivers is seamless (this coming from an SDL owner)

and there's enough (tight) bass to keep you happy, whilst underpinning the whole frequency spectrum with a slight euphoric warmth. The detail is amazing at the pricepoint, esp. the delicate mid-range and HF .. though some bass details do lack impact and punch (think of some of the more frenetic bass lines in Graceland) that was evident on the dynaudios .... but TBH, i feel that the dynaudios 'over-punch' everything to sound impressive - it has the opposite effect on me.

There's also a lovely openness and effortlessness to the sound (also a trait I so admired of the AR18s and my Loths-when paired correctly!!) which really seems to compensate for the lack of ultra-detail. The dynaudios immediately 'sound' more detailed but only just! and one gets the impression that the dynaudios arent as transparent as they initially sound - rather they PUSH the detail at you, which sounds somewhat caricatured. Also the dyns have a slightly 'closed-in' thickness, a heaviness to the sound - the lightweight driver in the AX2s is far more nimble and draws less attention to itself. Piano and vocals sound sublime, piano especially.. the force of the strokes and decay of notes is gorgeous.

The Ax2s will rock out, and go loud! but perhaps without the viseral (fake?) punch that other kit will give you. Here's a little analogy for you ...

the Ax2s 'sound' like a sugden a21a .. warmth, flow, scale, transparency .. but not slow!

The dynaudio 42s sound like an Exposure AMP , fun, punch, big bass, but slightly fake

In conclusion, the AX2s are a storming little speaker that REALLY deserves to be better known. If you can get around the vinyl wrap and the slightly unwieldy dimensions, this is truly a music lovers loudspeaker .. I've heard nothing with the same 'easy, effortless, but lightning fast' sound near this pricepoint, and I'd urge anyone looking for a speaker under £700 to seek these babies out. (I think their speed and warmth would be ideal for naim kit)

Theyre not widely stocked but I got mine from Noteworthy Audio...

http://www.noteworthyaudio.co.uk/

Who are a fantastic set of chaps to deal with... offering excellent phone service.. detailed emails and sterling advice.. I'm certainly going back to them when I eventually buy my pair of AN-Js :D

(kit used for review .. sugden a21a, exposure super XV, dynaudio 42s, yamaha cdx-496, marantz CD63 KI, kudos stands, chord cabling)

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what a refreshingly honest review without resorting to the flowery bollox and over played differences, normally assocoaited with this type of writeup.

Well done, I enjoyed reading that.

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Enjoyable read, thanks - did you compare the AX one's at Noteworthy, before settling on the Two's.

PS. I've still got a pair of Loth-X Amaze's, which I hope will go well with my SET Kit amps (3w) due in from the US in a few weeks. But these were only ever intended as a stop-gap whilst looking something else.

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Hi Dave

Perhaps you should seek a career as a journo? Then you could pass onto me the freebies that you get to review - eh!

Having disposed of my Antals I am now looking for some speakers (did you actually manage to offload the Loths?) though for the moment I'm back to using my old Keilidhs. I fancy trying some Charios or Ushers though you can't find Ushers around here and those people near Blackburn appear to not have Charios available?

R

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a great read whilst I stuffed my face with sandwich and crisps:D

I heard the AN AX-2 at Noteworthy as well. Was there demoing some Rega kit (Apollo, Mira, Cursa) with my brother-in-law and the guys at Noteworthy suggested the AX-2s to use for the demo. I was also surprised how good they were for the price, and as you say they draw you into the music, not intoanalysingthe hifi. My brother-in-law is now thinking about getting some :). Actually it made meregret walking out of the AN room at the Edinburgh hi-fi show within 2 minutes because they had some brass band music on which I can't stand.

interesting point about how somespeakers push things at you instead of laying it out for your listening pleasure like the AX-2s. this is one of the main differences I am starting to find with speakers the more I listen to different ones. There is no right or wrong though, just personal preferences regarding presentation.

and the few foam surround drivers I've heard all sound very good to my ears (all the non-horn LVs, JPW AP2s), although my experience is somewhat limited. maybe someone can explain the pros and cons of foam surrounds vs. other.

as you say, they are well worth auditioning if you're looking for a decent pair of standmounts and don't want to spend too much.

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I didn't compare the one's and two's I'm afraid! I guess I should have.. but I bought em 'blind' It's more exciting that way :P

the loth's are gone now *sniff*

Anthony, I can see (hear?) why the AX2s would pair well with rega kit .. both have that flowing 'easy' sound. But I wouldn't be surprised if that made 'em too smooth.. the mids were lacking a bit of bite (with a big-softie yam cd) before I put the CD63 in... but that couldve been 'break in' .. I've only had em for a week"

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nixon_fiend wrote:

the loth's are gone now *sniff*

You can have first refusal on mine when I've finished with them :^

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Thank you, enjoyed reading that. Better written, more informed and more informative than much of the drivel in the mags...

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Excellent review, well worth reading!I was thinking about going to listen to these and the AX1 as they are supposed to be very good at beingused close to walls / incorners don't fancy shoving them in a corner and doing a mini review on that do you:D

Seriously though I would be interested to know what they are like in that situation if you happen to use them like that

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richrpd wrote:

they are supposed to be very good at beingused close to walls / incorners don't fancy shoving them in a corner and doing a mini review on that do you:D

Seriously though I would be interested to know what they are like in that situation if you happen to use them like that

I can help you right now! the speakers are very happy up against the wall. I have seen many AN demos where the speakers are shoved in the corners, (granted, the pricier models..) so I thought I'd try it! Despite being rear ported, the port's output isn't very much/high/loud .. so mine are as close to the wall as the speaker cable allows (3-4") .. sonically the sound gains a bit of body and warmth .. but doesn't become muddled or affect the (excellent) imaging. Pulling them out again loses a bit of body.. not in any bad way but compared to 'close-to-wall' siting.

I can't get them right into the corners due to room layout, but I hope that ^ helps

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good review NF ta. Alway fancied a return to J,s with silver innards...where's that damned lottery ticket!

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