by Rafe Arnott
This was my first time wandering the halls of a hi-fi show, and sitting in several rooms listening to a large and varied spate of gear I kept finding myself settling into the sweet spot in the Audio Note UK room as a way to “refresh” my ears to the sound that, for me, was the baseline to measure all other rooms by at this show.
I know there’s been some criticism on online forums about the way Audio Note rooms at these types of shows are usually set up (based on what I’ve read, and from what David Cope shared with me), but to be honest I couldn’t have cared less.
Ikea Lack tables? Towels on the wall? Imperfect speaker positioning?
Anathema to some perhaps, but honestly, it’s a hotel room and I, personally, had no expectations of perfect set-ups. I assumed hotel furniture would be used to put gear on, I didn’t expect the rooms to be perfectly-tuned with acoustic panels or dialed-in with Hallograph Soundfield Optimizers. I expected as good a sound as the gear is capable of producing regardless of how crappy the room is.
If a system floors you in a crap room with no sound treatments and weird dimensions, wall angles or posts, then I’ve always been of a mind that it will kill it back at my place. But hey, that’s just me.
Pretty much every dealer’s sound rooms I’ve demoed gear in, I always thought the room, or amp/gear stands could use some help. Ditto for acoustic treatments, room dimensions, cabling, power filtering, etc.
One of the AN gear’s strengths to me, is the fact that despite the limitations of a room, the sound just moves me. No matter what was playing, the AN gear got to the core of the recording. Its ability as a time machine to transport the listener back to the recording studio is uncanny and can throw some people off at first.
Every time I came back to the Audio Note room, there were people sitting with their eyes closed and turning to David Cope or Don Thorne and gushing in breathy tones about the sound.
“Alive” was a word I heard more than once to describe the AN UK sound from attendees. None of these people appeared to be high on drugs either.
There’s something about ANs ability to just nail tone and timbre that makes it sound like real, live instruments being excited in the room with me. Especially with voices.
David put on the Louis Armstrong Saint James Infirmary LP and everyone in the room stopped what they doing and sat rapt, enthralled as Louis’ voice sprang out of the black void between the speakers well behind and above the 2D-plane of the AN-Es.
I involuntarily mouthed “Holy Sh*t and my eyebrows shot waaay up.
This is the sound that Terry Crabbe, founder of Sound Hounds, calls “way past the goosebumps.”
I know many say and write AN gear doesn’t measure well, but as somebody who never had much use for measurements when it came to high fidelity, I can tell you that hearing something sound right often has little to do with how it measures.
The AN-Es, like my Harbeth M30.1s, are incredibly transparent, and reflect any changes upstream from the source immediately.
One of the most telling things in a great amplifier for me is how different the sound is from track-to-track, regardless of source (in this case CDs and LPs), and the AN UK system consistently served up a sound that was true to every individual recording: no two sounding the same.
Texture in the sound is another big thing for me, and every instrument reproduced had a clear sonic signature: horns give great ‘blaat’ and bite, drums have varying ‘thwacks’ and punch, bite depending on the kit, and no two brushes on skin sounded the same. Cymbals shimmered and had a natural, bloomy decay and voices, like Armstrong’s mentioned earlier, emerged from the AN-Es with every gravelly nuance and breath intact.
Ditto for piano. I’ve had a piano in my home and when your children play it you often get very used to what it’s not supposed to sound like, and when they do nail it after practicing for many hours you notice the harmonic change immediately, so it was with the AN kit.
I noticed the piano not for the usual reason you do in hi-fi (“it doesn’t sound real”) but rather, because it did sound right, and real. It had real body and heft. You could hear the volume of the piano’s cabinet adding timbre to every note as the individual hammers came down on every key’s wire, and the subtle movement of the pedals deep beneath the surface of every note.
The added bonus is that this system also images incredibly well, and has startling in-room bass response that when combined with a beautiful midrange (that is the rival of my Harbeth’s) and a silky smooth top end will leave you clamoring for more.
You just want to keep playing song after song you’re familiar with because you keep hearing something new or that you’ve missed previously in other systems.
This is a system for true music lovers. Period.