Many years ago I had a discussion with the late Warren Jarrett, a Southern California dealer and distributor who happened to represent Audio Note UK at the time. I mentioned to him that I always loved the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe turntable. For some reason that seemed to stop him in his tracks.
“Why the TT-Two Deluxe?” he asked, and I didn’t take it as a challenge to a debate as much as mere curiosity–probably because the fancier Audio Note TT-Three was getting considerable coverage in the audio press in those days.
“Because it always sounds like a big turntable to me,” I replied.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Warren nodded as if he knew exactly what I meant. I’ve always liked the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aesthetic, which is why I drove that Subaru WRX, the serene and allegedly law-abiding station wagon version, for so many years. I had a Stage 1 exhaust modification installed, bumping the horsepower from 227 to 272, and I did not get one ticket in that car in nearly a decade. I was just some guy heading to Lowe’s for some weekend chores in an innocuous silver Subie wagon.
The Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe is a turntable that is modest in the same ways. Just as the Audio Note UK AN speakers were based on a trio of classic Snell loudspeakers from the ’80s, the Audio Note TT-One and TT-Two and TT-Two Deluxe were developed from the old Systemdek designs. The UK Systemdek was not a swanky turntable, but it was a solid design for the money and well-respected. As with the Snells, Peter Qvortrup adopted a design he admired, and saw the potential in developing it further.
I might have purchased an Audio Note UK turntable at least a couple of times in my audiophile past. The main obstacle was finding a dealer–I had read plenty about Audio Note turntables over the years and it seemed a natural step up from the Regas I usually championed, but it took years for me to get some seat time with this company. That’s why I’m having such fun with reviewing an entire Audio Note UK system right now. I’m happy to be playing with this gear, and I’m happy that I’m really enjoying the sound so far.
While I jumped at the chance to review AN as a system, I did have two requests. First, I wanted to review the AN-Js because of my history with the Snell Js. Second, I wanted that TT-Two Deluxe in my greedy little mitts because I’ve been thinking about this turntable for a long time. So here we are, the final phase of Audio Note UK, the analog phase, coming at you right now.
Inside the Audio Note UK TT-Two
Here’s the complete analog rig from Audio Note UK: Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe turntable ($4,288 USD) with the Arm Three/II tonearm ($2,465 USD) and IQ III MM cartridge ($1,249 USD). The Audio Note UK R Zero/II MM phono stage is $2,036 USD. That works out to roughly $8K for the turntable, arm and cartridge, and $10K if you include the phono stage. That is a pretty nice rig considering you’re not even using a moving-coil cartridge. But for some reason I told myself, “This is Audio Note UK. You just had to rearrange your listening room to bring out the love from the Audio Note UK AN-J/D Hemp loudspeakers. You can listen to MM for a bit. Maybe you’ll be surprised.”
The Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe is not a big, heavy turntable. It’s well-built, but when I lift it up and move it around it reminds me of my old AR ES-1 turntable I had through college. I imagine that’s pretty standard for most suspended designs. Audio Note UK summarizes this durable design thusly:
“A suspended chassis attenuates vibration energy from the speakers and the room to deliver purity of reproduction. A low mass platter absorbs much less energy from the cartridge in the groove of the record without deadening the sound. A vibration free high torque AC drive system delivers constant platter speed even when the grooves contain strong modulations.
“The transmission of vibration in our turntables and arms is managed through the use of materials with different resonances and mass, so that energy is led away from the cartridge, where it does harm to the sound.
“It has a high quality aluminium sub-chassis with optimised three-point suspension geometry. Two opposed AC motors deliver twice the torque to the low-mass acrylic platter and also have the benefit of further stabilising the suspension.”
The Arm Three/II is situated at the top of the Audio Note UK line, and is a very solid and easy-to-set tonearm despite its relatively affordable price. It’s made in Austria, but with parts that were specifically designed by Audio Note UK. The tonearm cable, of course, is made by Audio Note UK–Silver Litz inside the tube and AN-Vx silver from the base to the Audio Note UK AN GP RCA plugs. The arm itself is machined from solid aluminum billet, tapered, and the overall design is described as “captured unipivot” due to its unique vertical and horizontal bearings. This 9″ arm complies with Rega-style armboard configurations, which makes it a compelling choice for turntables from other brands.
The twist in this analog tale is provided by the IQ III cartridge, which is the flagship of Audio Note UK’s moving magnet line. It features a Pocon body with integral mounting threads for easy installation, and these materials bring the IQ III in at a relatively light 6.3 grams. Here’s another benefit of MM cartridges–the IQ series has user replaceable styli, and you can upgrade from the IQ I to the IQ II or IQ III just by swapping needles. The IQ III has pure copper wiring for the coils, and the same diamond and cantilever materials as the IO MC line.
Audio Note UK’s moving coil cartridges are respected the world over, and I know at least a couple of big analog guys who think they might be the best. But an MM cartridge? When I first realized that the R Zero/II phono stage was MM only, I thought maybe Audio Note UK was sneaking in one of their step-up transformers, which also enjoy a glowing reputation. But no, I was going to review this rig with an MM and I was going to see if it could surprise me.
Finally, the R Zero/II was designed as a basic no-frills MM phono pre, albeit one with a pair of 6112WA miniature dual triodes inside. It only weighs three pounds, and it’s one of the most expensive MM-only phono pres I can think of, but as you’ll see it’s all part of a very intriguing and musical whole.
The Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe and I got off on the wrong foot. I knew that the TT-Two was basically a two-motor version of the TT-One, which is a single motor design that more closely resembles the original Systemdek. So when I opened the box and found two belts instead of one, I assumed that this was necessary due to the two motors. In fact, the owner’s manual confirmed this by instructing me to fit both belts on the same notch in the pulley. (Yes, there are two notches for 33 and 45.) According to the manual, the two belts should both fit comfortably in the same notch. I found, however, that this was not the case.
First, it took me several tries to get both belts into the notch on the pulley without one popping off as soon as the platter started spinning. Second, I heard a distinct dragging noise coming from the pulley during play. Third, I experienced speed variations while listening to sustained piano notes. I was quite sad at first, because I’ve been so enamored with Audio Note UK so far and it turns out the turntable, one of the main two reasons I wanted to review an entire AN system, was going to be a major let down. Something had to be wrong. It had to be me, right?
One quick email with Audio Note UK’s Adrian Ford-Crush revealed the issue–the latest version of the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe only uses one belt stretched over the two pulleys on either side of the spindle. The owner’s manual, in fact, was for the older version that did have a more pronounced notch in the pulley so that the two belts would fit comfortably and permanently. Once I subtracted the vestigial and obstinate second belt, the TT-Two Deluxe instantly sat up straight, extended its hand to me, and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m the real Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe!”
Other than this minor glitch, set-up for the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe was very easy–it was sent straight from an audio show and the shippers kept everything mounted so it would be as close to plug ‘n’ play as possible. So when I unpacked the TT-Two, installed the belt (correctly) and set the platter, it was almost ready to go. I checked the cartridge alignment, and it was off by just a hair. Even the stylus force was in the ball park at 1.81g–Audio Note recommends 1.5 to 2.25, with 1.75 being nominal. I left it as is.
The Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe does not come with a turntable mat. The platter is a pretty basic acrylic design, one you’ll feel like you’ve seen many times before. In most cases, I’d stick with placing the LPs right on the acrylic, but I did have both the Les Davis Audio LP Mat and the Funk Firm Acromat on hand to see if I could stretch out the performance. But for the most part I used the TT-Two naked, without any non-AN components, in order to evaluate the Audio Note UK system as a unified whole. But you might be tempted to try out a few aftermarket mats just to see if it pushes the performance a little further.
Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe Sound
Once the belt issue was solved, the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe quickly asserted itself as a turntable with a winning personality. I know that the word personality, in high-end audio, can suggest an undesirable departure from neutrality and that’s not quite what I’m suggesting to you. I am suggesting that the TT-Two, with all of the other associated pieces of gear that made up this vinyl rig, was a true original when it came to vinyl playback. It reminded me of several classic turntable designs such as the Linn Sondek, the Rega Planar 3, the Michell Gyrodec and yes, even the Systemdek, record spinners that were supremely musical and faithful to the recording while still sounding quite unique compared to other turntables.
My first LP turned out to be the one on top of the vinyl pile, Vestbotrio from DALI Music. I was so happy that music poured out so readily, with uncommon ease, on the first try. I anticipated some sort of character from the moving-magnet IQ III cartridge, something to remind me why moving coil cartridges are intrinsically superior, and I didn’t hear it at first. What I did hear, however, was an unexpected meatiness to the music.
I think the last time I evaluated an MM phono cartridge, the Sumiko Amethyst, I noticed the same strong, stocky and athletic sound. It may have been lacking in air and space, but it was a lively and convincing sound. The full Audio Note UK analog team, the TT-Two Deluxe and the Arm Three/II and the IQ III and the R Zero/II, had that same outgoing personality as a whole. Bass was full and natural and layered, with a slightly forward presence. This was an analog rig that, on its first day, filled the room with music in the most literal manner as possible. I’m talking about a huge soundstage mostly, but also plenty of info delivered at the frequency extremes. Lots of inner detail, too.
One more comment specific to the IQ III and its membership in the MM Club: there is slightly more noise than with an exotic low-output MC. I was able to listen to both my reference ZYX Ultimate Airy D cartridge, as well as the Luxman LMC-5 cartridge I have in for review, with the TT-Two Deluxe. Both, naturally, are low output MCs. Both offered big heaping platefuls of dark, velvety blackness between tracks, between notes, between the breaths of each performer. But that just opened a can of A/B comparin’ worms for me–to use the low output MCs, I had to switch the R Zero/II for the Allnic Audio H-6500 two-chassis tube phono stage, which costs five times as much. Then I started listening to the IQ III through the MM input on the H-6500. Then I trotted out another SUT I had on hand, one that’s been sitting around for a couple of years. Each swap yielded obvious shifts in tonality, and before I knew it I started feeling lost.
What do I mean by “lost”? Well, I’ve spent the last few months listening to a mostly Audio Note UK system and I’ve been falling under the spell of its unique skill set. Audio Note UK says it’s about musical instruments sounding more like musical instruments. There’s a liveliness and vigor about the AN sound that is really different than most of the high-end audio gear out there. Most importantly, the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe with Arm Three/II and IQ III is an analog rig that has a lively and vigorous sound that should be preserved within the context of the system. This isn’t the same sound as Rega, where everything can sound slightly caffeinated when compared to more neutral analog playback gear. It’s looser and more playful, as if the coffee has been replaced with one lone stiff cocktail. More importantly, it fits into the distinctive sound profile of Audio Note UK gear.
The minute I started letting other brands in, that swagger and fun and appeal got wiped down, gussied up and put on a pedestal. From that moment on, I kept the Audio Note UK system together and let it educate me about music.
I’ve been on the go most of 2023, and I haven’t been able to relax at home and listen to LPs as much as I’d like. Once the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe & Friends arrived, I walked over to the new LP pile which had grown considerably larger since I last reviewed some analog for PTA.
In other words, I played a lot of catch-up with the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe rig. We’re talking numerous reissues such as Chet Baker’s Blue Room and two separate volumes of Ahmad Jamal’s Emerald City Nights from Jazz Detective Records, all stunning live performances. The Audio Note UK analog rig had an uncanny way of fleshing out the crowd, reinforcing the idea that these performances full of spontaneity that was prompted and nurtured by adoring audiences.
In addition, I reintroduced myself to Hilary Hahn’s latest release, Eclipse, which enjoyed a play or two before the show schedule kicked in. Eclipse features Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, but I also discovered that this brilliant violinist covers Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, which evaded my radar even though I’ve recently discovered that Bizet’s original is something I should have met and loved many years ago. The Audio Note UK system did a fantastic job of capturing those tiny organic movements made by human beings within an orchestra while never drawing attention away from Hahn’s clear, precise readings that soar through the air when the moment is right.
It didn’t take long to spin the usual suspects–the Yulunga test from Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth, on the trusty MoFi reissue, yielded so many textures and layers that stopped wondering what a moving-coil cartridge would bring to the party. The longer I listened to my old favorites, the demo discs and the copious new arrivals, the more I was convinced that the IQ III cartridge was more than happy to play music for me in the manner to which I was accustomed. Why shouldn’t it? I didn’t start futzing around with moving coils until I became a “Koetsu man” close to twenty years ago. I fell in love with the medium through a long romance of several MM cartridges over many, many years, and I once again found myself in the moment, filled with wonder that LPs still manage to sound better than all those crazy new digital technologies.
Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe Conclusions
The Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe turntable raised an important question for me that’s central to the review of the entire AN system. This system, after all, is very close to the entry level for Audio Note UK, mostly Level 0 through 2 out of 6. So let’s say I upgraded the IQ-III to one of the moving-coil IO models. Maybe I’d go up a level or two on the phono pre, which in Audio Note land means you’ll be going with an integrated or preamp with a built-in phono, and then play the IO with one of the SUTs. I’d probably stick with the TT-Two Deluxe and the Arm III.
That’s where it all begins, of course, another rabbit hole with an Audio Note UK placard posted at the entrance. BUT.
The purpose of this review is to test out the Audio Note UK TT-Three turntable with the Arm Three and the IQ III MM cartridge and the R Zero/II phono stage and I have to tell you, I’m not sure how many upgrades I truly require beyond this combo. This analog rig was carefully chosen for me by the folks at Audio Note UK and while some of the products, such as the Cobra, are new and need a little attention from the audio press, I believe someone designed this complete system and felt that this analog rig would be the right one for me.
So I did not find the IQ III MM cartridge was a limiting factor, nor was the R/Zero II. This was a well-oiled analog machine, with pieces designed to fit precisely, and the final result is one of my favorite analog rigs for under $10K. A few years ago I wrote a Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever where I chose my ten dream turntables, and this seemingly modest Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe joined the list along with EMT 927s, Technics SR-1000s, Linn LP-12s, Naim Naiads, Thorens TD-124s and Garrard 301s. Now that I can speak on this with experience, I’ll say it once again–the TT-Two Deluxe sounds like a big turntable. I’m happy we finally met and spent time together. Highly recommended.