There are a few rooms at these shows I can nearly always count on to bring it in terms of a comfortable, pleasant listening experience: not gosh-wow fireworks or the kind of thing that sounds exciting at first but leaves you pawing at your ears, but genuine good, realistic, “I could sit here all day” musical sound. Audio Note UK tops this list. I’ve joked in the past about David Cope’s shipping mishaps being the ultimate in “show conditions,” but honestly, the simplicity of the Audio Note systems and Mr. Cope’s expertise in set-up mean that his rooms almost always offer a blessed absence of the usual hotel room sound signatures.
This held true when I stopped in on Friday shortly after the show opened. While other exhibitors were still struggling with fine-tuning their set up, the Audio Note room was fully dialed in and sounding great. The system on hand was the same as Scot experienced at the New York Audio Show just a couple weeks prior. The speakers were the AN-JDs ($4,000 as shown with a hemp woofer). Analog was provided by the TT Two Deluxe turntable ($3,525), with a Three V2 9″ arm ($2,000) and IQ3 moving magnet cartridge ($980), while the DAC2.1x Signature ($5,500) with analog output handled the digital to analog duties, and the CDT One/II cd player ($4,100) played the shiny discs. The OTO SE Phono Signature ($6,325) took care of the amplification.
During my first visit of the weekend, at my behest, we listened to “Emmylou” off of First Aid Kit’s 2012 album, The Lion’s Roar. This is a favorite track of mine: pure Americana from a couple of Swedish girls singing in close harmony. Guaranteed Kirsten Bait. The results were predictably sweet, with the system showing off the sisters’ harmonies to great effect. The system also revealed some of the weaknesses of the familiar recording, particularly its lack of bass — an issue that is endemic to the LP, as I know from my own listening at home.
Late on Friday, I returned to the room for a real (to reel, ha!) treat. Charles King of reeltapes.net had brought his portable, modified Stellavox reel-to-reel deck and a selection of tapes for a little show and tell. We started with some Leonard Cohen, and I have to tell you… I have friends who think Leonard Cohen is sexy. I have never quite understood it. I find his music perfect for a certain kind of mopey fall day, but listening to “Leaving Green Sleeves” on tape with that system was the first time I really got the sex appeal. I swear he sounded almost like Mick Jagger; the song was so immediate and raw, almost disconcertingly so.
Leonard Cohen was followed by a little bit of Dire Straits. I was impressed by the impact and the rich bass on “Why Worry,” but what really got me was “Love Over Gold.” There was this enormous sense of three-dimensionality, and the individual instruments — particularly the vibraphone — seemed to hang in the air and shimmer sweetly. I have difficulty in recalling the last time the Dire Straits captivated me so thoroughly. It may have actually been a first. At the risk of sounding like I’ve found Jesus, there was a kind of inner light to these recordings (which weren’t master tapes by any stretch, mind) that made me more than a little eager to get back to restoring the garage sale Otari gathering dust in our spare room. The combination of the Audio Note UK system and Mr. King’s player and tapes was truly stunning.