Ongaku Means Ecstasy
JA caught up with me at the Blue Light Audio room and suggested we saunter down to hear the 25Wpc Audio Note Ongaku integrated amplifier ($95,000) featured in his photograph above. Yes that's a jaw-dropping price, even after four days of CES. The Ongaku has five line level inputs. It employs two NOS VT4-C (211) tubes, an original NOS Telefunken 6463, and two NOS 5R4WGB rectifiers. Audio Note builds it own silver-wired driver transformer on a double AN-Perma nickel C-core. AN tantalum resistors, Black Gate electrolytics, and another silver wired transformer (output this time) complete the innards.
The system's source was the Audio Note CDT-Three transport ($9550) and DAC 4.1x Balanced DAC ($15,500). The speakers were Audio Note's AN-E SEC loudspeakers ($51,000/pair), which have a claimed sensitivity of 95dB. Cables were Audio Note Pallas digital cable ($4275), Sooto interconnect ($7050/m), and SogoN96 speaker cables ($9635). The power cable was the only non-Audio Note product: a Nordost Odin power cable.
I have to confess the system's price tag worried methose are numbers that make even a high-end reviewer's head spin. And no, I didn't automatically assume I would like it because it was expensive. Those prices are scary. Here's the thnig, though: They system didn't sound expensive, it sounded right. No single element predominated, unless you count the complete sense of ease and the fabulous dynamic range.
I listened to one of Todd Garfinkle's MA recordings, Sheila Jordon and Harve Swartz's "You Don't Know What Love Is." Wow. It was just an exceptional singer and an acoustic bassist in a reverberant hall, but the AN system gave me all of thatthe room, the bass, and the woman, most of all the woman. Even at her current age, Jordan is a powerful singer and she almost pegged Todd's mikes on this one. My intellect tells me that there's no way a 25Wpc amplifier can control that, even on 95dB speakers, but the Audio Notes handled those passages better than any other system I'd heard at CES.
Next came Nina Simone's "Little Girl Blue" and I was practically in tears. Everything just sounded so right. I had goosebumpsand despite all evidence to the contrary, I'd have sworn my hair was standing on end,
Forget best sound of show, for sheer emotional delivery, timbral clarity, dynamic agility, and, yes, the highest fidelity, the Audio Note system may have been the best hi-fi I have ever heard. It was one of those magical moments that we audiophiles put up with all of the hassles for.
After the Audio Note demo. the rest was noise, so I quit on a winner. Not many people who come to Vegas can say that.