Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeaker
So it goes with Audio Note's latest, the AN-E Lexus Signature, which takes the company's basic E-size loudspeaker—at just under 70 liters, the largest of Audio Note's cabinet sizes—and refines it in a number of subtle and mostly invisible ways.
Before tackling the specifics, some history is in order. 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. Qvortrup admired Peter Snell's design innovations—not only were their cabinets precisely sized and shaped to support a particular range of frequencies, but Snell Acoustics was among the first companies to hand-match every crossover component to its own unique set of drivers. As Snell's distributor, Qvortrup enjoyed particular success with three relatively efficient models: the Snell Type J, Type K, and Type E.
Everything went swimmingly until fall 1984, when Peter Snell dropped dead on the factory floor—and his surviving business partners hired Canadian designer Kevin Voecks, late of Mirage, to take his place. Almost immediately, Voecks began to take Snell's product line in a direction that had nothing whatsoever to do with Peter Snell's original work, as far as Peter Qvortrup was concerned. I agree.
That left Qvortrup—who would soon team up with Hiroyasu Kondo to sell products under the Audio Note name—in a bit of a jam. He bought up all the remaining stock of Snell Js, Ks, and Es, and when they were gone, he bought the remaining unfilled cabinets, too. After that, Qvortrup took the only route left: He sought and obtained permission to continue building Js, Ks, and Es on his own, crediting the original designs to Snell and selling the finished products under his own label.
Thus, more than two decades after his death, you can still acquire Peter Snell's finest "bookshelf" loudspeakers, the ensuing evolution of which may be in keeping with their designer's intentions.
The original Snell Type E was a bass-reflex design with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and an 8" paper woofer. According to a spec sheet from 1984, it had an electrical sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. I suppose the Type E would have been a pretty decent mate for some of those low-power tube amps that didn't yet exist (footnote 1).
But over the years, Peter Qvortrup worked to refine the E formula, in an effort to wring even greater efficiency—among other things—from the very same box. That brings us to the AN-E Lexus Signature, whose cabinet is made entirely from Russian birch plywood (as opposed to the particleboard of its antecedents). Its rear-firing port is 5" long and 2.5" in diameter, and although I wasn't able to pry apart the review samples and see for myself, a photo supplied by Audio Note's US distributor, Triode & Co., shows the use of some strategically placed hardwood braces.
The AN-E Lexus Signature's 1" tweeter is a special high-efficiency type, with an impregnated-fabric dome and a voice-coil wound from silver wire that Audio Note supplies to the tweeter's manufacturer, Tonegen/Foster of Japan. Audio Note's silver wire is also used for the voice coil of the 8" paper woofer, manufactured in Norway by SEAS and also appearing here in a high-efficiency configuration. Some electrical padding is used in the crossover for level matching—Qvortrup suggests that the woofer's theoretical maximum sensitivity is in the neighborhood of 100dB—and the overall system sensitivity is stated as a very high 98dB.
A lot of what makes the Lexus Signature special lies outside of the box—literally. Peter Qvortrup builds this model's crossovers into individual outboard enclosures (alloy chassis and cover, acrylic front panel), not only to protect them from the microphonic effects of speaker vibrations but to accommodate the sheer physical size of Audio Note's upmarket paper-in-oil capacitors. The speakers themselves are hardwired, with separate meter-long cable pairs for the woofer and tweeter, terminated with Audio Note silver banana plugs (footnote 2). The cable itself, inside and out, is Audio Note's best copper Litz, sold separately under the model name Lexus XL ($226/meter pair, less termination). The crossover frequency is an unusual choice, not only because it's close to the tweeter's resonant frequency ("You're not supposed to do that," Qvortrup says, "but then there's a lot of things you're not supposed to do"), but also because it differs slightly from one finished loudspeaker to the next, given Audio Note's efforts to match individual drivers to individual capacitors. Thus the stated crossover range of 2.1–2.3kHz.
My review pair of AN-E Lexus Signatures was supplied with the recommended metal stands, which are 10.5" tall and exceptionally massive—they're filled with a mixture of sand and lead shot. Audio Note recommends coupling the speaker cabinets to the stands with pea-size balls of Blu-Tack plasticine (available in the US as Elmer's Poster Tack), which I duly did. I actually tried it both ways, but without the putty, the Audio Notes somewhat exaggerated the room and hall sound of certain recordings—such as the Midori-McDonald recording of Elgar's Violin Sonata (CD, Sony SK 63331), where the natural acoustic of the Snape Maltings threatened to swamp the subtleties of Midori's charming but less than passionate fiddling.
Footnote 1: I used to own a pair of Snell Type Js, which I bought brand-new from Sound by Singer in 1984. I've wished more than once that I'd been smart enough to keep them.—Art Dudley
Footnote 2: Both these banana plugs and the matching sockets on the external crossover are among the best-made I have encountered. A delight to use.—John Atkinson