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Audio Note Is Killing You Softly: T.H.E. Show 2023

Audio Note UK will kill you softly with its approach. We were more than just a little impressed with this rather expensive system.

Audio Note System at T.H.E. Show 2023

Hi-Fi shows are the worst place to form an opinion about a specific piece of equipment because a hotel room is never going to sound like your listening room at home. There are so many variables that influence the sound aside from the construction of the room in such a setting; noise bleed for adjacent rooms, power and streaming issues, and the specific equipment being used that might not match what you have at home.

It is nothing more than a tease.

Crafty exhibitors go for something lively that is going to impress immediately and hopefully stick with you as you walk around and listen to everything else at the show.

It will not sound that way at home.

Audio Note UK does the exact opposite at shows and whilst some attendees poke their head in the door, listen for a few brief moments and continue walking — the smart money finds the best seat they can and listens.

EIC Ian White spent 45 minutes at the 2022 T.H.E. Show listening to the Audio Note UK system on the final day and felt that it was one of the few rooms that actually sounded like real music and not hi-fi equipment.

Audio Note UK has never really played by the rules; the brand continues to manufacture its own drivers, capacitors, output transformers, and other critical parts. Some bemoan the practice because they could clearly purchase high-quality components from a wide range of vendors and charge less for their products, but the British manufacturer will have none of that.

Audio Note Components at T.H.E. Show 2023

When asked why Audio Note UK goes to that length, the answer is simple “We cannot control the quality of what others make.” To say these folks are serious control freaks is a bit of an understatement.

The result was a room where not only could you order every component directly from Audio Note, you could ostensibly visit their UK operation and watch every piece of your new system being made on-site before your eyes.

Bespoke is a term that goes tossed around a lot by a wide range of high-end luxury brands and that isn’t always the case.

Audio Note TT Three Turntable at T.H.E. Show 2023

The room at T.H.E. Show featured their TT Three turntable w/PSU3 ($16,531), the Meishu Tonmeister Silver phono stage ($19,300), CD4.1x Cd player ($14,331), and AN-E/Spe HE speakers ($10,757).

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The turntable also used the ARM Three/ii tonearm ($2,465), the I01 moving coil cartridge with titanium cantilever ($5,028), and the AN-54L step-up transformer ($7,542).

The total room cost (excluding sound treatments) was a touch less than $100,000 USD; a rather sobering number but not even close to the most expensive system on display.

Audio Note System at T.H.E. Show 2023

ItemMSRP
Meishu Phono Tonmeister Silver Integrated Amplifier 8 Watt, 300B SET with custom transformers$19,300
TT Three Turntable with PSU3 with analogue computer controlled PSU and 3 motor design$16,531
ARM THREE/|I with 99.99% pure silver 31 strand true Litz AN-VX CABLE$2,465
AN-S4L Step Up Transformer with super mumetal 250 and wound with 99.99% pure Silver wire$7,542
I01 Moving Coil Cartridge with Titanium cantilever and Butyl rubber damper$5,028
CD4.1x CD player with 18bit DAC and valve based output stage$14,331
AN-E/SPe HE Speakers with 1″ tweeter, 8″ hemp woofer, silver voice coils, 97.5dB efficiency$10,757
AN-SPe Bi-Wire Stereo Speaker Cable Set 99.99% pure Silver 19 strand true Litz$3,200 p/m
(stereo pair)
AN-ISIS Mains Cables 150 strand copper versions of highest level SOOTTO cables$437
(1m including termination)
AN- Interconnects 99.99% pure silver 19 strand true Litz interconnects$1,171
(1m including ‘P’° type RCA termination)
AN-Vx Interconnects 99.99% pure silver 31 strand true Litz interconnects$2,050
(1m including ‘P’ type RCA termination)
Total$82,812

The AN-E speaker has a long history starting with the original models designed by Peter Snell. When Snell discontinued the products, Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note picked up the line and has since revised the product with the input of Peter and Andy Grove as they gave it the typical Audio Note “improve everything” treatment.  

Audio A-NE SPE Loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show 2023

All versions of the AN-E use a 1-inch tweeter and an 8-inch woofer; other models may have hemp or paper cones, silver or copper voice coils, and custom internal or external crossovers with further customization using copper or silver inductors and capacitors in the crossover.

The show model had a paper cone, silver voice coil, and copper components in an internal crossover. Cabinetry was a light oak but over 20 different options are available.    

As I sat and listened to the Audio Note system, I began to understand why the room wasn’t as packed as some others.  They aren’t flashy and those who stuck their head in for a few notes or only part of a song really missed out.

This system is never going to convince you from the first note; that is even more the case at a show in small hotel room.

But as I listened to their selected Cannonball Adderley Quintet tracks, I kept noting little nuances and things that the AN-E did well.  

Melodies were passed between the saxophone, piano, trumpet, and string bass and the drums kept time throughout it all. Piano tonality was quite good and tones were nuanced well as I could tell when keys were struck instead of gently pushed.

Audio Note demands speaker placement in the corners which makes audiophiles obsessed with imaging and soundstage performance stand up and walk out. It was also impossible to judge either properly considering the room, but I was utterly transfixed by the tonal balance and presence listening to specific tracks.

Some of the more affordable Audio Note components offer a big taste of this $100,000 system and I’ve been told that we need to spend more time with this unique British brand in Q4 2023. We’ll make it happen.

More coverage from T.H.E. Show 2023

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Mike C.

    June 18, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Having heard them twice at the Montreal show Audio Note remain somewhat of an enigma to me.
    Tonally spot on but I’m not sure how I’d get along with their 8w iZero integrated in day to day real world use vs more traditional gear. The rest of the line is mostly waaaay out of my budget range.
    Still no shops carrying the brand in my area and AFAIK I would need to contact classical cellist Vincent Bélanger directly and have him come by my place with whatever he happens to have on hand for a demo.
    Like Van Alstine, Croft, etc I’m not sure if the mystique is based on actual performance or rarity and quirckyness.

    • Ian White

      June 18, 2023 at 2:55 pm

      Mike,

      In the case of Croft, some of the best gear I’ve owned over the past 30 years. Sadly, Glenn passed away last year and I’m not sure if the company will exist anymore. I hope it does because the performance/value was always huge. One of the best phono pre-amplifiers.

      Van Alstine is also a mystery to me. Only read about it. Never heard it.

      Audio Note is a tough one. I owned one of their DAC kits back in 1999 and I never should have sold it. It was really good. I bought it in Canada and it was worth keeping. I’ve heard 3 levels of their products and agree with you that the pricing raises an eyebrow.

      I do think their entry-level and second tier products are really good.

      Best,

      Ian White

  2. tonyE

    June 19, 2023 at 3:19 pm

    I can not believe I missed the show. That hotel is less than four miles from my house. I was planning all along to go there but somehow I forgot.

    Sad I missed that Audio Note set up. At home, I got a pair of AN-K/LX speakers… I got them 2nd hand for a very nice discount and for under $2K they are a steal. At first blush they seem small, but with that 8 inch woofer and close to the back wall they have lots of deep bass.

    Sure, for ZZ Top I fire up the Entec woofers, but for 95% of my music, they play just fine. Remember! Place them close to the back wall. Mine are four feet from the sides, no other place to put them… but even so they sound quite robust and extended with a very realistic soundstage and very good detail.

    Aaagh… I can not believe I missed the show!!!

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