I wasn’t sure where to start with Axpona 2016 coverage. I had sailed around the vast hallways, staircases, and elevators of the Westin O’Hare like some mad 18th-century ship’s captain with a dodgy compass. I found safe harbor, and was able to stay in port briefly in some rooms, but in others I encountered hostile sonic conditions that I quickly had to veer away from. It went on like this for what seemed like days, and I had started to lose hope that I would find an island of true sonic bliss to drop anchor at. But, like those lines of old (that untalented writers such as I lean on), “it’s always darkest before the dawn…” and a siren’s song suddenly drifted to my fatigued ears over the churning sonic seas of the third floor just as I was about to unfurl the mainsail, and make for the hotel bar.
It was the sweet sounds of a cello that had hearkened to me, casting a spell which obviated all other sound, sending me drifting into unconsciousness. I awoke, as if from a dream, and found myself washed ashore in strange light with other squelch-weary audio travelers grouped around me being serenaded by none other than Vincent Bélanger. He was playing while accompanied by recordings of himself being pumped through Audio Note UK‘s new 25 w/ch EL34-tubed Cobra push-pull integrated amplifier with built-in DAC and wireless volume control ($3,500 USD approx. price). I had heard tell of this new amp several months ago when I interviewed Audio Note head honcho Peter Qvortrup.
The sound of a Macbook being played through the Cobra (this was a prototype which was shoehorned into a standard Audio Note amplifier chassis, a new, valve-exposed chassis is forthcoming for production units) into Audio Note’s new 91 dB sensitive AZ Two D floor standing speakers ($3,500 USD approx. price, which feature a rear-loading, quasi-parabolic horn design with a rear-facing port) was as organic, punchy, and startlingly-real sounding as I’ve come to expect from this British manufacturing icon. You just have to hear an Audio Note system in person to really be able to grasp the level of emotional entanglement it causes while listening.
Bélanger’s performance was exceptional – and emotional for me – because a cello being played a few feet in front of you by a person with passion, talent, and soul can’t help but untie knots you didn’t know you had in your chest. I find outstanding live performances have an ability to trigger a release of tension in listeners that many previously didn’t know was even locked-up in there, and all this pent-up feeling just gets cut loose, and floods your brain, and then you remember why you started pursuing this hobby to begin with: to recreate that sound, that live performance. Scot Hull does a bang-up job HERE of describing Bélanger’s playing from the Capital Audio Festival last fall.
Let’s discuss the new, and much-anticipated TT-3 ($8,000 USD approx. price, without tonearm or cartridge). This prototype unit was fitted with the Arm Three – $2,000 USD – and IQ3 MM cartridge – $975 USD). It is a three-motor, three-point suspended turntable utilizing Papst synchronous AC motors with outboard power supply, and speed switching control. This ‘table first came to light last year, and hosts many of the features of AN UK’s flagship reference turntables that retail for roughly 10-times the price of this new model.
One of the most instantly recognizable attributes of this new turntable was, in my opinion, it’s ability to produce perfect, and rock-solid pitch regardless of what was being played on it. Audio Note’s David Cope, who was running the room as usual, kept chuckling to himself increasingly more as I commented on how well the ‘table performed. When I asked what was so funny he replied that he was putting his order in on the TT-3 immediately so if the price went up before delivery (which can often happen in hi-fi as production ramps-up, and final costs are calculated) he’d be able to point to his order receipt and say “unh-uh… $8,000!”
Likening the three giant Papst motors mounted on the TT-3 to “lawnmower engines,” as Cope did during our discussion probably wasn’t too far off. The design is dominated by their placement just like the TT-3 Half-Reference below, or for the true analogoholic, the behemoth TT-3 Reference has three motors rated at two horsepower each.
But it’s those dominating motors, and their single-minded purpose of speed accuracy through torque that makes the ‘table so muscular, and aggressive looking. A look that perhaps not all will find appealing, but a look which I think is very eye-catching. If my initial listening impressions to this new turntable are anything to go by, especially considering this price point, Audio Note has a real opportunity to bloody the waters, and force a number of ‘table manufacturers to reassess their products performance valuations in the $7,500~$10,000 USD segment of the market. A segment quite heavily populated IMO. I’m glad I washed ashore in this room, and I’m not still in the water, because the new TT-3 is a shark.