Audio Note UK has always been something of a surprise for me and they keep unravelling all of my expectations.
When I “started” in high-end audio, I was warned about the Cult of Audio Note. That they were crazy. Not sure who started this particular earworm, but it stuck — and it probably didn’t help that the first “helpful” audio forum denizens kept telling me that the solution to my problem (whatever that problem was) was to send Audio Note’s Peter Qvortrup a check of varying size (depending on the issue or concern).
Years later, I will grudgingly admit that they may not have been wrong.
The problem I have is this: I’m cheap. I don’t want to spend money. Any money. On anything. Except … for cool stuff. And audio is stuffed full of cool stuff. So I’ve written a bunch of checks. I’ve been incautious, intemperate, and generally foolish (pretty sure that’s part of the definition of ‘audiophile’), which has led to writing far more checks than I should have had to. I suppose you could argue that this check-writing thing is part of the fun, but I wouldn’t necessarily agree with you.
So, about Audio Note. Yes, you can spend a bazillion dollars on Audio Note gear. You can, in fact, spend exactly as much as you care to — chances are, they have something that will tax your particular budget. Even if you’re a Sultan. They’re very much that kind of brand. But you don’t have to do that. You could. But you don’t have to. In fact, I’d recommend not.
The fact of the matter is, I’ve been quite taken with David Cope’s traveling Audio Note suite of tools. Generally speaking, he tends to shoot a bit lower on the hog than a Sultan probably would. I like that about him. And I have yet to hear him make musical noise that I did not outright and abjectly covet, regardless of the cost of the kit he used. I am a little uncomfortable about that. He’s also an unapologetic music fanatic. I like that about him, so I guess we’re good.
Which brings me to the cello in the room.
The cello in question looks old. Well used. Well loved. And it’s just sitting there. Cope is playing music. I am, like I usually am, impressed and quite content to just sit there, letting the sound wash over me. And then Vincent Bélanger sits down across from me, reaches over, grabs the cello, and begins to play.
Unamplified live music has a character that’s hard to reproduce. Some would say “impossible”, but those folks are also usually annoying, so lets ignore them for now and just say that … accompanying an excellent system with live musicians is highly entertaining.
Bélanger has a CD, Là, that you can get from Amazon or download in 24/96 from HDTracks. I’m going to add it to my catalog, pronto. I seem to recall that he’s also getting ready to release another album this fall (via Indiegogo in order to finance the vinyl and 24/192 mastering), too. Là is an eclectic mix of classical and stuff from other styles (think: tango), and hearing him play cuts from Là while accompanying himself playing on the excellent Audio Note system sitting over his shoulder was a treat that I will chalk up there with my very best and most prized memories in high-end audio. A concert for one! Well, it turns out there were other folks in the room (somewhat disconcertingly), but for that 20 minutes or so, I was completely alone … and it was breathtaking. Among other pieces, Bélanger played “Amazing Grace”, Saint-Saëns, and Bach’s “Cello Concerto No 1.”
Holy sweet Mother.
I have to confess, I almost feel bad for David Cope. After hearing Bélanger play, I was done. Show was over. I went home and cried like a lost little baby (well, no, not quite, but I was teary for an hour, which is almost the same thing).
All in all, however, a truly excellent way to end a truly excellent show.
Here’s David’s write-up of his room:
TT Two Deluxe – $3,650 – An upgraded version of our classic TT Two two motor, three-point suspended turntable, with a wood veneered Russian birch ply plinth, numerous upgraded parts below decks and the ability to accept the TT PS external power supply with the flip of two switches.
Arm Three v2 – $2,000 – Our best 9” tonearm, with a one piece arm tube and one piece bearing block, making it suitable for either moving magnet cartridges or our more massive IOI low output moving coil.
IQ3 – $1,000 – The best of our moving magnet cartridges, the IQ3 shares its square cross-section titanium cantilever and Type 2 stylus tip with the IOI which has an MSRP of $4,650. A true standout in terms of both performance and value.
CDT Three/II – $11,775 – Top-loading Philips CD Pro2 transport, massively upgraded power supply, RCA and XLR outputs with custom Audio Note digital output transformer. Brushed aluminum or black acrylic fascia.
DAC 3.1x/II – $9,900 – 24/96 compatible, (truncated to 18/96), AD1865N chip, non-oversampling, unfiltered, Audio Note digital input transformer, patented Audio Note I/V transformer, HiB transformer-coupled output, 6DJ8 anode follower, zero feedback output stage. Balanced and single-ended input and output are catered for. Brushed aluminum or black acrylic fascia.
M3 Phono Pre-amp – $11,000 – The M3 Phono Pre Amplifier features an ECC82 and 5687WB line stage, and uses a 6X5 valve rectified power supply based on the M10’s Galahad PSU. Audio Note copper wiring, a mix of Beyshlag and Audio Note tantalum resistors, SILMIC filter capacitors and Audio Note copper foil signal capacitors are used throughout the circuit, along with in-house designed and manufactured, custom Audio Note copper wound output transformers. Additionally, it incorporates an exceptionally fine Moving Magnet phonostage which uses three GE 6072a valves, Audio Note copper foil signal capacitors and its own dedicated, valve regulated and rectified power supply. The face plate and knobs are available in your choice of silver/silver or black plexi/gold.
Jinro Shochu – $31,000 – This 20 watt/channel, fully balanced single-ended 211 (VT4C) stereo power amplifier comes from a line of legendary amplifiers. First there was the Ongaku, then the second generation Ongaku, which dropped a gain stage in favor of an inter-stage transformer and revised input/driver tubes. That all-silver legend was accompanied by a half silver/half copper sibling, as well as the Jinro – an all-copper ‘Baby Ongaku.’ The next step was to produce all three of them as fully-balanced power amplifiers, adding a a pair of input transformers and making necessary changes to the driver tube to optimize the new circuit. In the case of the Jinro Shochu, the drivers are 6V6s. A pair of 5R4WGBs handle the rectification duties, as always. The amplifier is available with your choice of either a silver or black top plate.
E/SPe HE – $9,600/pr, (stands $640/pr.) – A two-way, 97 dB/w/m sensitive, 17Hz-20Khz +/-6dB in room response speaker system featuring a 1” silk soft dome tweeter and 8” hemp bass-midrange driver. Both voice coils are silver wired and have unusually large magnet structures to attain efficiency suitable for the smallest SET amp. The cabinet is Russian birch plywood, veneered all around in your choice of two dozen real wood veneer finishes from gloss white and blondest maple through highly unusual, figured woods on out to piano black. Satin finish is standard; high gloss is available at additional cost. Stands are now available in gloss black or white, as well as the standard crinkle black finish.