The Audio Note AN/ED loudspeaker and Lexus Cable may be old fashionably square looking but their sound quality is something else!
Audio Note UK Ltd. has been working in the high-fidelity audio equipment sector since 1976. The company, itself, came out of a split between the original Japanese Audio Note Company in 1999 after 20 years of close collaboration. After the split Audio Note UK retained the name Audio Note and Audio Note Japan became Kondo Labs. Today the companies continue to be completely separate. Audio Note UK, operates out of England and produces one of the widest and deepest product lines in the audio industry.
Audio Note’s involvement in the loudspeaker world dates to the early 1980s when audio maven Peter Qvortrup represented the Snell Acoustics line throughout Europe. My late, best friend and music lover used to own and adore the Snell Type E, Peter Snell‘s biggest selling design.
Some years later as the Audio Note distributor, Peter Qvortrup enjoyed s huge distribution success with the original three, relatively efficient Snell models: the Snell Type J, Type K, and Type E.
As we examine the company today, Audio Note (UK) owner and, CEO Peter Qvortrup is not only an avid vinyl connoisseur, but his collection of historical vinyl recordings and his background as an audiophile is virtually second to none! Peter has one of the most comprehensive collections of these recordings in the world.
Quite unusually, I first heard the Audio Note loudspeakers at the 2019 California Audio Show and a short way down the narrow hall of the hotel, my ears tuned in to some of the finest symphonic, operatic vocal recordings and some Jazz demonstrated at the entire show. My trusty ears told me “You must go into that room!” And so, while entering, I saw a complete Audio Note setup that has since stayed in my mind ever since.
Historically, Audio Note is profoundly noted for its most compelling sounding and designed amplifiers; all tube (valve) by the way, and though some may know, they have been building loudspeakers as well for well over 20 years! The Audio Note slogan can be rightly explained: “Purity is simplicity. Elaboration creates problems, simplicity and purity create perfection”.
As such, Audio Note haas a large range of loudspeakers to suit every setting and budget level. However, the Audio Note loudspeakers are not your average, conventionally designed reproducers, by any means. The design takes a complete left turn as compared to the current run of audiophile speakers presently being offered to the high end enthusiast today. The unremarkable, wider box appearance of the Audio Note loudspeakers is well calculated. The front baffle dimensions and depth of the cabinet are an integral part of the wave launch support and controlled diffraction characteristics based on Leo Beranek’s book Acoustics and pioneered by Peter Snell in the 1970s.
I spoke to Peter about the advantages of a wide baffle loudspeaker. Here is a partial but in-depth explanation of “The benefit of the wide baffle – shallow cabinet design with his following remarks”.
- Very low diffraction
- More even off-axis frequency response
- No internal standing waves masking the bass
1.“If the cabinet is correctly designed and dimensioned, it has very little diffraction, as the drivers can be placed either closer or further away from the cabinet edges…. This will ensure that the lowest frequency reproduced by the tweeter on the edge is further away from the edge of the cabinet and at the highest frequencies reproduced by the woofer, the edge is closer than a quarter wavelength, thus reducing diffraction and frequency cancellation enormously.
The benefit is a much better dispersion “window” with the off-axis response being far more even at over 60 degrees off-axis than what is possible in a narrow and deep cabinet.
2. “Why is this important you may ask? Well, this links into why the corner position works for the AN-E and not for speakers with a narrow baffle.
When the speaker is close to the room boundaries the frequency response of the near-wall reflection needs to be closely similar to the direct sound from the speaker as this makes the reflected sound “invisible” to the ear as long as the time constant is less than 2.4 milliseconds, which is the ear’s threshold. Whereas if the reflected off-axis response of the speaker is very different from the directly radiated sound, the ear picks this up immediately as the human ear is more akin to a dual differential device than a pure linear frequency “device”.
3. Next the shallow cabinet depth, again is related to quarter wavelength cancellation, as the depth of the cabinet is less than a quarter wavelength of any frequency reproduced by the woofer and the port position aids the low-frequency extension.
In a narrow and deep cabinet, where small diameter drivers are used the depth causes considerable issues with cancellation, which is why cabinets like this are normally stuffed full of wadding to remove this interference and the bass performance is lumpy– lacking extension for the same cabinet volume as the AN-E.”
Audio Note believes, (with some contention) that speakers with narrow baffles demonstrate a characteristic nasality and thinness in the critical vocal region with unrealistic/unnatural image placement. But most importantly Audio Note maintains that a wider baffle loudspeaker allows the woofer and tweeter to work together as if they “were one”, so when the signal passes from woofer to tweeter and back the transition is inaudible, and as we all know, this is vitally important to the “illusion” that you are sitting in front of a real event.
In summary, The AN/E’s cabinet is designed in such a way that it augments and supports the drivers in their task, not unlike the box of a guitar.
Consequentially, spatial effects become distinctly less “hi-fi” and exorbitantly more faithful to real musical presentation. Otherwise, every aspect of their drivers, cabinet, and crossover are intensely matched and paired before they are mated to the crossover. This is always within 0.03db (for exceptional imaging) and are all two-way designs.
And so, comes the most controversial part of the Audio Note designs: The ported cabinet has been designed to be placed close to room boundaries, where the bass performance is augmented significantly by the additional reinforcement offered by the nearby walls. In this way, the design allows the drivers the best possible operating conditions, allowing them to perform as if they are mounted on a virtual wall. (Ideal in theory).
Ironically, Peter Snell’s original speakers were not designed for corner or near-wall placement. It is well known that most of the industry finds corner or near wall speaker placement can often create more problems than they solve.
Some may also allege that this difficulty has more to do with fashion and making lifestyle products than with good acoustic practice. If a narrow baffle speaker is easier to sell than abandoning “best acoustic practices” and developing a different technologic narrative as “proof” the design may well be on a more solid technical ground.
Audio Note argues that corner loading will allow the reflected sound wave to follow the direct sound closely enough so as not to be detected by the ear. This will allow more consistency from room to room and avoid many of the room-related problems associated with free-standing designs. As I found out later, this does give the user a substantially natural bass response without creating the boom and room resonance normally encountered with wideband loudspeakers. I must admit though that I was not at all prepared to place no less listen to a pair of loudspeakers that were so close to the back wall and corners.
Otherwise, the AN-E/D has to be the most efficient wideband speaker of moderate size on the market, with an effective bandwidth from 18 Hz to 23 kHz at -6 dB, and dynamic headroom above 108 dB. The extremely high efficiency is retained well over the bandwidth and makes the AN-E very suited to the high-quality, low-power triode amplifiers that may well form the future of music reproduction, once our obsession with power and specifications is generally recognized as folly. But we shall explore that further on in this review.
The AN-E/D crossover is simple, and incorporates air-cored chokes and selected bipolar and polypropylene capacitors (in the more expensive Signature models the crossovers employ either in-house made copper or silver foil capacitors, depending on the model.) The internal cabling consists of either 99.99% pure copper or 99.99% pure silver Audio Note (UK) wire, depending on the exact model.
Speaking of models, our AN/ED evaluated here is the first level of a huge line of loudspeakers that Audio Note produces, which includes a different cone and wiring materials for each of the 6 levels of speaker models.
Our review model centers on the AN-E/D level 1 model, which incorporates a 1” tweeter and 8” standard paper bass driver with copper voice coils, a 94 dB efficiency, AN-D internal copper speaker cables, internal crossover, copper inductors, chipboard / MDF cabinet, and the Black Ash real wood veneer only which was beautifully presented in my sample.
You can spend anywhere from $6000 to over $200,000 on what is the same speaker while adding tweaks as you go up the line, as the top models employ Alnico magnets, hemp cones, silver voice coils, and external crossovers with higher quality components. The Audio Note hi-end show systems I have heard have sounded quite exceptional and overtly neutral, (particularly in light of the often offensive room acoustics the small hotel rooms provide ) in the all-important mid/treble response offering considerable musical satisfaction.
In addition to the above AN-E/D’s, Audio Note provided to me their Lexus line of bi-wirable speaker cables to be used within the full system for auditioning. Later on, I was provided the exceptional I-Zero integrated tube amplifier and R-Zero II phono stage for further exploration into the AN/ED system as a whole.
LISTENING TO THE AN-E/D’S
Indeed, it is with classical, jazz, and acoustic instruments where the AN-E/D truly shines. Adding to this, the AN-ED reproduces the human voice as naturally as almost any loudspeaker I have recently auditioned.
The design allows the naturalness of male speaking and singing voices to be reproduced with such neutrality that you will be quite surprised when you hear and absorb the sound characteristics of various types of acoustical pop and particularly, great operatic recordings. This includes some extraordinary older recordings (cd and vinyl) available to the enthusiast, some of which Peter loaned to me that were recorded with the most fundamental microphone arrays going back to the early days of EMI, Mercury Living Voice, and DECCA engineering.
The piano is possibly the most beautiful yet the hardest instrument for any speaker to reconcile in their listening room and what the AN/E offers is an actual visceral experience that you are as close as possible to listening to a real piano with nearly all of its fundamental energy and the total impact that is possible. A phenomenal example of this is evident in a series of exceptionally recorded piano disks by James Brawn I will be reviewing shortly. (piano enthusiasts: You must try this CD or vinyl recording!)
Listen to this outstanding performance of Peter IIjich Tschaikowsky’s Symphony Nr 4 in f-major conducted by Franz Welser-Most-– which you can rip in your preferred format from the above link. The AN/ED\s will envelop you with some magnificent instrumental tonal timbre, a wide and deep sound stage, and concert hall ambiance in a performance you may not forget quite easily.
As for pop music, folks, get a hold of this recording by The Little River Band (“Reminiscing’) and you will hear a superbly recorded and realistic sound quality on the AN/E’s or any top-notch loudspeaker you may own. The engineering displays smooth…. richly endowed vocals and strings with a first-rate, totally enticing, and realistic bass response. The stereo spread and locational effects were impeccable to boot!
Last, but not least, a superb “live” performance ‘for Ukraine’ this year by Anne Sophie-Mutter in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I ripped this onto CD and the sound with the AN/E’s was spectacular….listen here !
When further exploring the speakers’ corner placement in my rather large room (14 by 26), these locational aspects created an expansive and slightly more distant soundstage presentation than was typical proving the speaker’s ability to exhibit fine depth and locational image precision. It also made the upper bass/midrange sound a touch fuller as well. However, I found that a compromise had to be made and my 2.5-foot pull out from the wall corners became IDEAL in my particular room thereby giving outstanding depth and lateral width while also maintaining that strong center soundstage imaging I admire intensely.
This is a perfect description of the uniform acoustic capacity of the AN-E thereby allowing for a level of room equalization by simply moving the speakers to “lock” into the room characteristics.
I have been using the Audio Note CD3.1x/2 as a reference digital source for a few years and along with the otherwise highly sensitive AN-E/D speakers, I reluctantly unhooked my Pass Labs XA30.8 amp in exchange for the Audio Note I Zero integrated, 8-watt amplifier into the front end for more testing and listening. The I Zero and R Zero II phono preamp (review forthcoming) is Audio Note UK’s entry-level amplifiers. The I Zero uses four ECL82 /6BM8 triode/pentode tubes and it operates in class A for the first four Watts; then switches to Class AB1.
If you happen to classify yourself as a single-ended triode aficionado, you may have to think twice before your mind runs into some skepticism here due to the fact if there is any type ofA/B push-pull amp that will change your mind, the I Zero is quite possibly the best candidate. Though I initially had some doubts about its power output, I can faithfully say that the I Zero propelled the AN/E speakers into a superbly blissful audible presentation!
The midrange was as smooth as possible and the mid to lower bass was nothing to sneeze at; firm and taut where it counted in the music mix. Otherwise, the soundstage opened up quite beautifully and voices and all acoustic instruments took on a beautiful sense of ease while it pushed the soundstage surprisingly, (for me) quite deep behind the loudspeakers and front wall. This startled me immensely as the midrange vocals took on a new sense of realism and naturalness in their corner/wall placement.
Although sometimes, in their close to corner and side positioning, the AN/E’s middle-range resulted in a blurred tonality and a lingering midrange resonance or “honk”, toeing them into about 30 degrees and adjusting my listening position, proved to be necessary, and this gave an even sharper image as well as a more natural midrange response. The speakers’ treble units now crossed just before my ears at the listening seat.
More program material was added to the listening sessions and without doubt, the most finessed recordings brought this loudspeaker to its utmost ascendancy. However, on some recordings, once in a while that tiny touch of midrange, “blare” still showed its face. Later on, with some rearranging of the acoustic materials in my room, and some extremely precise speaker boundary measurements, this variant was now almost totally abolished, leaving the speakers’ midrange to show themselves off in all their glory! Needless to say, after these changes, the bass response was exceptionally full without being overstated in comparison to the rest of the frequency range.
The AN/E’s high frequencies are always effortlessly reproduced and maybe a touch reticent, which to me is more like what is heard in a true ‘concert hall” setting. The mid to upper range will always have some competition here but the Audio Note and its tubed electronics can arguably win the day when properly set up in the system. This is not to say that the audible satisfaction of the AN/Es was any less up to par with my usual solid-state gear. When using the CD3.1×2 hybrid/ tubed CD player or the Border Patrol DAC and Pass labs electronics, the results were always nothing less than superlative.
Generally speaking, The Audio Note speakers ascended in their overall performance when more of the most “accurately” recorded CD and Vinyl sources were used. With most “audiophile” recordings, the tweeter’s treble attenuation was spot-on and flawlessly displayed with a clean and velvet-like high-frequency response whilst drawing no attention to itself.
There is no doubt that other types of loudspeakers, particularly BBC pedigree types, will offer a different type of balance than you may be used to when hearing the AN-Es. What the Audio Note speakers give the listener is a feeling of just listening to the beauty of the music, while not having your analytical cap always on. The speakers simply do their job while engaging and intertwining with the music at hand. You just want to sit back in your listening chair and engulf yourself in a say a “Beethoven symphony” while you know that everything, you’re hearing is faithfully reproduced and satisfyingly musical.
While I cannot truly characterize the AN/Es as having any inordinate trouble spots, once again, if a user is not familiar with listening to a loudspeaker that displays its finest assets from corner placement, this may take a little while to get used to. It took me about 2 weeks to get these loudspeakers into the correct positioning in my room where I could ease into their performance characteristics…and then some time to get accustomed to the way they mesh with my room acoustics and its proper, close-to-room boundary placement. There is at times still a small, honkish tonality to the midrange response which varies from program source to source.
As it finally turned out, it was a journey well worth the effort. Once your ears and mindset get used to The Audio Note AN-E/Ds, you will realize that these loudspeakers can introduce to the listener quite an enviable standard of sound quality.
AUDIO NOTE LEXUS SPEAKER CABLE
My samples of The Lexus LX speaker cable came in bi-wired format with 2 split lines for each channel– bananas at the speaker ends and a spade at the amplifier end. They were specifically designed for the AN/E speakers and the results of the listening tests truly confirm this. On the other hand, they worked quite marvelously with a few other loudspeakers employed, assuming I had an amplifier with 2 sets of speaker outputs for each channel (the PS Audio M1200 monoblocks).
These cables consist of four conductors and although the insulation has equal outer diameters, the quantity of copper used on the interior may vary in the number of copper Litz wires used inside. Of the two red and black pairs, two conductors have roughly half of the quantity of copper of the different two conductors.
The Litz wire is a high-quality strand of overtly pure copper wire insulated with a polyurethane coating, then bundled to shape a large gauge wire.
What this means, essentially, is that with “Litz” in the mix, (good one, huh?) the wires are individually coated, thus preventing the electrons from “jumping” from strand to strand. Now the question is whether that is the reason for the improvement I heard between normal uncoated wires and Litz wire?
However, I think it is reasonable to assume it is the reason Litz wire can, in this case, sound better, because it consistently works in interconnects, speaker cable, and internal wiring in amplifiers.
The many thinner strands of wire give the cable a much larger surface area and it is the combination of the strands and their total overall surface area that is critical to the cable’s signal transfer behavior.
Thus, the sound of the Audio Note’s Lexus line of copper cables is extraordinarily luxuriant and lush sounding as well as having an overtly smooth, detailed and elegant reproduction quality. At their price point or even higher, these excellent sounding cables can work wonders, providing they are well-matched, particularly to your loudspeakers.
They can take, in certain loudspeakers and full systems, the sound quality (e.g. taming my Spendor BC1’s sometimes “etchy” treble response) into a slightly smoother realm than one may not have previously been aware of.
Audio Note has a full range of cables with their silver being their crème’ d le crème in the price line. Not having had much luck personally with “silver” cables overall, I can only say that Peter swears by his brand of silver so it should be interesting sometime soon to try them out on the few pairs of reference loudspeakers I currently use.
In effect, when tested with these loudspeakers other than the AN/E’s, (The Newest updated Living Voice R25A speakers (bi-wired) as well as the Quad 63’s and Spendor BC1’s), the Lexus cables worked very well with all the above models. They daringly introduced a beautiful degree of midrange “comfort” while keeping within its neutral tonal response and is the perfect antidote to many systems with a slightly tilted high-end response. There is not a touch of shrillness within these cables’ souls (as it should be!) and to me, that is a sure sign in itself of the inherent build quality and neutrality the Lexus Cables always display.
While the Lexus’ are not a cheap cable per se, they are not as expensive as many other highly touted high-end audiophile cables currently on the market. Audio Note touts these as the more affordable copper variant of the famous Sogon SILVER, apparently relinquishing a piece of the Sogon quality at a much lower price — thereby offering outstanding value for money. If you have some soldering skills then this off-the-reel cable looks to be a very interesting alternative to pre-fabricated and terminated speaker cables at similar prices.
The entry-level AN/E truly exhibits a sonic experience that while different in a few particular ways from your average, high-definition audiophile speaker, when properly placed in a given listening room in a top-notch system, can be heartily recommended to anyone who cares about the highest quality sound reproduction of music in their home (particularly well-engineered acoustical recordings).
Although the Audio Notes pedigree was based in some ways on a superb early 1980s design, these speakers will reproduce the music of basically all genres, and will also sound particularly great with older recordings of the early acoustical recording systems.
The AN-Es may be considered true mavens in the world of high-definition loudspeaker reproduction and although they have acquired ’glowing’ evaluations over the years, it could be all too easy to take such an older principled design, (though upgraded) at face value. Having said that, The AN/Es is a speaker that may take some time to get used to. All of my current favorite loudspeakers would never be found in the corner of my listening room – and no less than 3-4 feet from the back wall.
Fortunately, Audio Note has taken its design properties to within the highest standards into full consideration. Their motto as being, and quite true, within the historical principle ’if it isn’t broke, don’t change it’, and they have processed their standard of loudspeaker blueprints as an alternative rather than redefining what is believed to be the “proper” way to make a loudspeaker produce the beauty of a great recording.
For the few audiophiles who have not auditioned any of the Audio Note AN/E loudspeakers, please accommodate yourself and give them a listen! If you are not enthralled with the way they reproduce the natural tones and timbres of finely recorded music and voices, then arrange a home listening demonstration from your dealer and play around with their positioning. You will probably look back at how great these loudspeakers’ “intrinsic” sound qualities are when applying most, if not all of the best-recorded music being produced today.
While you are devouring the sound of the AN/E, get hold of a pair of Audio Note’s Lexus loudspeaker cables to audition. They are by no means expensive, comparatively speaking, in today’s audiophile cable world but they are truly a giant in sheep’s clothing. Offering a natural, deeply moving, and superb sound quality, they are a cable that will arguably, sound terrific on almost any loudspeaker or system they are paired with, I do not care what the price point of the speaker or your whole system may be!
The Audio Note AN/ED loudspeakers and Lexus cables have proven to be sure winners that are blessed with much musicality, excellent value and therefore deserve the highest recommendation for the most critical music lover.!
Review system for this product: Loudspeakers: Living Voice R25A loudspeakers, Spendor BC1, Harbeth Compact 7 ESR/XD ~ Digital: Border Patrol DAC SE-I ~ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ~ Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary DAC ~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1x/2 Analog: Audio Technica LP-7/ZYX Bloom 3 Amplification: ~ Pass Lab XP- 12 preamp ~ Pass Labs XA30.8 power amp ~ Cambridge Duo MC/MM ~ Audio Note I-Zero integrated, Audio Note R-Zero preamp / Cables/ Conditioners: Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord ~ Audience Studio 1 interconnects, speaker cables, Wireworld Electra 7 digital SPDIF/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power
Audio Note AN/ED loudspeakers Black Ash:
$ 6,034.18/pair with paper cone
AN-E/D Hemp $ 6,424.00/pair with hemp cone
Lexus speaker cables 2 meter bi-wired $1,818.72 for a set
Audio Note (UK) Ltd, Viscount House,
Units C, D & E, Star Road,
Star Trading Estate, Partridge Green,
West Sussex, RH13 8RA United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1273 830800
WHERE the AUDIOPHILE BEAT MEETS THE MUSICAL ELITE! !
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