Capital Audiofest 2016: Audio Note UK, Pure Cello with Vincent Bélanger











Sometimes, life gets a little real. When that happens to systems designed for playback, the result is not always a good thing.

You have to hand it to Audio Note UK. They really do try to make their demos interesting. Different, even. And this is a good thing — audio show demos are notorious for being bland, boring, or worse, pedantic. But with the hiring of cellist Vincent Bélanger as their “brand ambassador” recently, and then touring him through the audio show circuit, Audio Note has been routinely putting every other audio show demo on notice. And every other audio show system. Including Audio Note’s.

The system shown here at CAF was intentionally modest. Type J Lx loudspeakers (~$4.5k/pair), a P2SE amplifier (~$4.5k), a DAC2 ($4k), a CDT0 ($2,500) and all Isis copper cabling throughout — this was not even close to the top of the Audio Note shelf. Still — this is a respectable amount of money to shell out for a system, and you’d expect it to sound fantastic. Which, it did. No, really. It did. Tone was very warm and “easy” to listen to (pretty much an Audio Note staple, at least as far as my experience goes). And then Vincent sat down, and began to play.

Vincent has a few projects in the works right now. La is currently available (he had a stack in the room — but check the Comments, below, for the high-res option), but coming up is Conversations, a collaborative effort with jazz singer and pianist Anne Bisson, is available from iTunes now — it’s also apparently available as a high-res download, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. His latest work, Pure Cello, was partially funded by an Indiegogo campaign last year, a project that is still moving forward under the new Audio Note music label. We should be seeing that in vinyl by RMAF this year.

So, if you haven’t caught a demo of Vincent’s playing at a local show, make time. The idea is pretty simple — he records [something] and plays along with it. Usually, that [something] is himself — this time, he recorded two separate tracks, one for left and right, and Himself was the center channel. Playback came directly off a portable digital player, and right into the DAC. What was so cool about this was that this particular demo was the first of the show — this was my very first stop — and it was me, Vincent, and two other dudes in the room. Private concert, with a professional cellist? Oh, yes please. Talk about getting your “references” aligned!

The good: Vincent is an absolutely marvelous musician, and the music he pulls from that instrument is inspiring, disarming, and alarmingly great — I’ll be collecting any music he decides to put on sale, fo’ sho’.

The bad: Vincent Himself that was the best sound at the show.

I almost think this is a cliché, and I cringe even acknowledging this. “Yes, but …” — and I’m almost falling all over myself to make excuses. But this is the risk that anyone takes, bringing actual musicians into any comparison with even the very best facsimile, and absolutely no one should be surprised that the completely expected happened: the real pushed the reproduction into the dirt and left it there.

Music, played live music and into a real space, is just different. And this was so different. The upshot was that, with this demo, I’ve pretty much talked myself into going and hearing more live performances. The sad thing is that this is the exact same thing I thought the last time I heard Vincent play. Sigh.

Anyway, kudos to the Audio Note UK team and general brand. It takes some serious balls to come to an audio show and expect to throw down with systems that cost a couple hundred kilobucks. But to then do it, fall short, and still manage to walk away with the “best audio experience” at the show? That’s nothing short of a marvel.

This is the target, folks. Somewhere, I suspect the late Harry Pearson is harrumphing with wry indignation. And believe me, Audio Note UK is now on my must-visit room list for every show. Viva La.