Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeaker John Atkinson, November 2008
Art wrote about the Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeaker ($6900/pair) in August 2008 (p.104). "Good dramatic impact, a believably human sense of touch, and altogether superior note-to-note flow," he wrote. "If those things top your list of musical qualities that a high-fidelity system should honor above all others, then the Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE should top your list of loudspeakers to covet and consider."
As I had traveled to Art's in August to measure the Harbeth M40.1s in-room, it was a no-brainer to ask him to set up the Audio Notes for measurement. Whereas the M40.1s had been set up several feet from the wall behind them, the Audio Notes were close to the corners. Art explained why in his review: "the AN-E/SPe HEs performed best when they were a little more than 15" from the wall behind them, almost touching the sidewalls, and angled so that their tweeter axes crossed in front of the listening seat. Although I could hear a very entertaining boost at 31.5Hz from a seat near the wall across from the AN-Es, I heard the smoothest response when sitting far from any and all room boundaries: The best-case listening-seat position was about 9' away from the speakers (ie, three-fifths of the way down the length of my room) and slightly to the right of center."
Fig.1 Harbeth M40.1, spatially averaged in-room response in AD's room (red trace); Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE, spatially averaged in-room response in AD's room (blue).
Fig.1 compares the spatially averaged in-room response of the Harbeth M40.1s in Art's room (red trace) with the in-room response of the Audio Note An-Es (blue). The Audio Notes' corner placements give a smoother curve in the midrange and treble, though they also result in a more extreme series of peaks and dips in the mid- and upper bass. You can see the boost in the 31.5Hz region mentioned by Art, though there is a greater peak an octave higher. Both peaks are lower in level with the Audio Notes than they are with the Harbeths. I felt the Audio Notes sounded cleaner and better defined in the bass than the Harbeths; the double bass in Gene Clark's "Polly Come Home," from Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's Raising Sand on LP, sounded believable rather than uneven and exaggerated, as it had through the Harbeths.
Art mentioned in his review that, higher in frequency, "the challenge of crossing over an 8" driver to a very small tweeter while maintaining flat lower-treble response throughout the entire listening area made itself known as a persistent response dip centered at 2kHz. Every Audio Note AN-E speaker I've tried has made voices and some instruments sound a little dark and thick through a portion of their range." You can see this dip in fig.2, but also a lack of energy between 100 and 300Hz compared with the Harbeth. An aspect of the Audio Note's presentation that did bother me listening to music was a slight cupped-hands coloration, coupled with a rather lean lower midrange. This made Joanna Newsom's voice on Ys (LP, Drag City DC303) sound a little small (ie, more throat tone than chest tone).
This was a consistent factor with the evening's music listening, so I suspect that it is related to the smooth rise in the Audio Note's in-room response between 150 and 900Hz. A listener's reaction to this kind of response depends on whether the ear/brain takes the higher level at 900Hz as its reference and thus perceives the lack of energy in the lower midrange, or latches on to the level in the midrange and thus hears the peak in the upper midrange as added detail or excessive forwardness. I suspect that the boosting of the midbass by room modes balances the level at 900Hz, which is why I latched on to the latter as my reference for tonal balance.
The Audio Notes roll off in the extreme highs a little earlier than the Harbeths. However, looking at the individual responses that were averaged in fig.2, the Audio Notes had a much tighter grouping in the treble compared with Harbeth. I don't think this is because the AN-E/SPe HE has wide dispersion per se, but when the speakers are used with extreme toe-in, the change in response for each microphone position is not great compared with what it would have been had the speakers been aimed at the listening position.
Overall, the Harbeths did some things very well in Art's roommy new choral recording of Cantus sounded beautifully unforced, for example, with a very natural midrange quality. But on balance, I would rather live with the Audio Notes in Art's room, if not in mine.John Atkinson