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Speaker Asylum: REVIEW: Audio Note E/L Speakers by DRCope

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REVIEW: Audio Note E/L Speakers

68.14.81.138


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Model: E/L
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $2,950/pr
Description: 2 way rear ported enclosure with 1
Manufacturer URL: Audio Note
Manufacturer URL: Audio Note

Review by DRCope ( A ) on February 05, 2002 at 10:52:07
IP Address: 68.14.81.138
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for the E/L


The E's are the largest and most efficient of Audio Note's speakers. The "L" level is the second from the bottom in a continuum of cabinet, driver, crossover component and internal wiring choices. For further info, visit audionote.co.uk.

I've tried to avoid performing an audiophile dissection of the sound, preferring to stick to how successfully these speakers communicate musically. (If this works for you, and you haven’t tried “Listener” yet, please do so.) If you are frustrated by the lack of specific measurements and tissue samples taken in the following, it’s probably my fault, although you may want to renew your “Stereophile” sub.

If someone were to put forth the hypothesis that the Audio Note approach to hi-fi began with designer’s frustrated attempts at apprehending/comprehending/ appreciating “less-than-easily-accessible” music on “normal” hi-fi, I wouldn’t be surprised. I, for one, have always found Bartok intriguing, but difficult to get into. The other morning I played Classic Records’ re-release of RCA’s Reiener/Chicago "Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta". Every section in the orchestra leaps into the fray in the 3rd and 4th movements, playing rhythms that don’t quite line up, and a variety of musical phrases that don’t seem to have been properly introduced to one another.

At least that’s how it used to sound. This time, the barriers just fell away and the music came together. The E’s, properly fed, have an uncanny ability to maintain numerous disparate musical threads’ individual identities, while simultaneously making their relationships crystal clear.

Through the E/L’s, well-played piano music is a revelation. The subtle (and not so subtle) reverberations up and down the instrument’s body and soundboard round out a picture that I never knew was partly missing. Vladimir Horowitz's "The Last Recording" left me gasping at the passion and emotional conviction - power and touch - in his playing, even at his (by then) advanced age. The same is true of Evegeny Kissin’s RCA Red Seal recording of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Sonata #2 and Polonaise Opus 53.

Both of these are CD’s, by the way, which still take a back seat to vinyl in my system, but by a narrower margin with the DAC 1.1x in place. Yesterday I replaced the Jensen coupling caps in my DAC with Audio Note’s new copper-encased copper foil PIO caps. Even less grain & strain than before, which was precious little. Still more music survives running the gear gauntlet, and the E’s deliver the improvement undiluted.

I find I'm now returning to larger scale works which have left me unsatisfied for the last few years: Beethoven's 9th, Pictures at an Exhibition and the like, as well as choral works. The scale, grandeur and sense of wonder are back. And there’s far more subtlety in these big old war horses than I had heard before.

I listened to Reference Recordings' “Star of Wonder” (LP & CD). The organ and voices were fantastic. I could hear the interplay in the vocal harmonies much better, and the sense of space in the church - depth and height - came across very naturally. There were several bits with hand bells and organ, (I never knew the organ was playing in these pieces until the E’s arrived!), which I had never really enjoyed before due to a few dissonant notes. Now I realize that it's a result of the organ and a few bells not being exactly matched in pitch, creating a very odd resonance. I think this has historically driven both my electronics and speakers a bit mad, and even with the current electronics, other speakers couldn't sort it out - creating a small harmonic sandstorm. Now all is clear, and the music is fully available to me.

On all of these recordings and countless others, the way instruments and voices energize the room, even at domestically acceptable volumes, is truly startling. It even frightens my cats, which had grown blasé about audio. To feel a sound wave against your chest from a double bass playing at an 80-something db level is wonderful - and perplexing.

I've never gotten this sensation with any other system without resorting to sound levels somewhere between unpleasant and eviction inducing. I have a feeling this is the result of efficient drivers in a broad-faced, shallow-chested enclosure whose resonances are molded to a purpose, not strangled to death. Don’t let the audio fashion police put the cuffs on your musical enjoyment!

At least one AA inmate has characterized the E’s as a bridge between cones-‘n-domes in-a-box and horn speakers. Having heard my Paramour amps with a 26-based, scratch-built pre-amp and Altec A7 VOT's last fall, and now having an Electro-Voice Senior Centurion IV in my dining room, I think I know what he means. The E’s and both horn speakers reproduce dynamics with a sense of effortless speed and power not experienced through speakers that are less efficient, over-damped, and/or have been strangled to death with complex crossovers. The Altecs do walk away with the “Big Sound” honors, but the AN speakers reproduce vocal and instrumental timbres more faithfully, with far more extended and articulate bass and a better sense of space - not pinpoint imaging, (who cares!), but a feeling of "you are there", or, “they are here”. (IMHO, with plenty of room for varying mileage!)

Even if you’re not in the market for new speakers, seek out the E’s wherever you may find them. They will challenge your assumptions about what domestically acceptable speakers are capable of, and for that matter, what they should look like. They really are astonishing reproducers of music, and have been, sadly, hidden under a bushel basket for far too long.

Post-review philosophical ramble

I always find that I get the most out of reviews when I know something about the reviewer’s experience, taste and philosophy. If you agree, read on. If you disagree, I guess you’re done!

My main reasons for listening to music and diddling about in audio are: (1) having fun, (2) offsetting the stress and machine-like nature of everyday modern life and (3) trying to satisfy an insatiable desire for peak, or at least very high quality experiences. If having fun requires explanation, please turn off your PC, go kiss your better half, or go ride your bike or something. Come back later when the mystery is all cleared up. Ah – you’re back! Or maybe you never left. In any case,

Listening to music is a BIG deal in seeking relaxation after work, and even in managing stress AT work. A couple of years ago I managed a department in a company where stress was as common as breathing. I bought a Panasonic portable CDP, a Jolida integrated amp and a pair of Mirage bookshelf speakers and installed them in my office. I played requests, and moved it out into the departmental cube forest between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Morale rose; personality clashes and general snippiness decreased dramatically.

In terms of quality experiences, I approach audio the same way I approach coffee and food. (No, not with lawyerly/motherly admonishments that hot coffee is HOT, and hot things can burn you!) I have one cup of coffee per day, and it had better have amazing flavor and aroma. I grind the beans daily and use a french press. Drinking six cups of near-dishwater per day, as is much more common, makes absolutely no sense to me.

At a restaurant, if the appetizers look more interesting, I’ll order one (or two) rather than an entree or several courses. If the portion turns out to be too small, I can always fill up on oatmeal when I get home. The aesthetic need is filled. Refueling wasn’t really the point to begin with.

Music, for most of us, can only be enjoyed in short bursts. An hour a day - two maybe, if the spouse and kids are out of town or have mysteriously lost track of us. So the listening experience had better be pretty damn tasty while it lasts.

The System
Where it’s been:
My system had been morphing continuously during the last year. A CJ PV-1/AES SE-1 Sig had been replaced by a Cary 300sei, which was replaced by an Audio Note M-1 and Cary SE 2A3 mono-blocks, which were then replaced by Bottlehead Paramours. A Cary CD-303 replaced an AH! Njoe Tjoeb 4000, which had replaced a CAL Delta/Alpha combo. It was subsequently replaced by a Pioneer PD-65 as transport, and an Audio Note DAC Kit 1.1x. The M-1 yielded to an M-2, which I have commented briefly on in the SET forum, and the DAC Kit was replaced by a DAC 1.1x. Speakers have gone from Meadowlark Kestrel to Soliloquy SM-2A3 to Audio Note E/L.

Where it’s at now: See system notes.

Yes, it's heavily Audio Note. That composition was arrived at piecemeal, gathering musical focus, intensity and emotional connection to the music/performers with the acquisition/upgrading/tweaking of the Paramours and the piece-by-piece-shifting toward AN, then upward within the line, over the last year. This was not done under some guru-dealer’s Svengali-like influence. (I haven't been in an “Audio Shoppe” since I left the New York metropolitan area 5 years ago, and I'm feeling much better now!) It just happens that each time I added or upgraded ONE AN component, I enjoyed a 3x return on my musical pleasure. Why ask why? Listen, compare, figure out which delivers the complete musical picture better, and move on.


Product Weakness: Doesn't conform to current speaker fashion, which causes it to be passsed over before it's heard. Can be hard to find a place to audition them.
Product Strengths: Dynamic, tuneful - makes the most of SET amps. Resolves complex passages and solo details equally well. Blends tonal purity with solid pace, rhythm and timing.


Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Bottlehead Paramours w/Paraglow iron, TJ 2.5v 300B's, PIO caps. 3.? w/ch
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Audio Note M-2
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Pioneer PD-65 trans/Audio Note DAC 1.1x; LP-12/Rega 300/Denon 103D
Speakers: Audio Note E/L's
Cables/Interconnects: Homegrown Audio, Mapleshade
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Classical, jazz, blues, rock
Room Size (LxWxH): 20 x 12 x 8-12
Room Comments/Treatments: Plays the short way, ceiling rises right to left
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Richard Gray's Power Co. (2)
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner




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Topic - REVIEW: Audio Note E/L Speakers - DRCope 10:52:07 02/5/02 ( 11)