Nestling in with Audio Note

I will state up-front that the Audio Note AN-E Lexus loudspeakers ($19,000/pair) and accompanying Audio Note gear was not my favorite system at the show. I did not have a favorite, as I particularly enjoyed the sound of many systems including the Sony room, the Innovative Audio room, and the High Water Sound room. Yet, I easily spent the most time at Audio Note. Why?

Because this system interested me in what it could do. But let me start from the beginning.

My knowledge of Audio Note begins with Art Dudley, Stereophile columnist and reviewer, Audio Note enthusiast, and new-found friend who I got to spend a welcome amount of time conversing with and discussing systems throughout the weekend. Art uses Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers as his reference.

Also, my work with the Stereophile Buyer’s Guide leads to frequent communication with distributors and manufacturers, and Audio Note had recently transitioned to a direct-to-dealer distribution model in the United States. As a result, most correspondence regarding press to Audio Note would now go through David Cope, an Audio Note photographer and show exhibitor. David had become a recent e-mail acquaintance of mine as we were gathering images for our review of the Audio Note CD4.1x CD player, a review by Art Dudley. I was happy to find David conducting the Audio Note room.

David, as I learned, was not a newbie to the Audio Note scene as his room setup and music selection went on to prove. Solo piano recordings were particularly emotive, as indicated by JA in his post here. Funny how JA forgets to mention how I had bum-rushed their Brahms listening session hoping to catch a fourth listen in this room on the second day of the show.

But back to day one. After David had played some solo piano recordings, which excelled through the Audio Note system in terms of dynamics and conveying the true emotion behind the player’s fingers, a quality that I learned over the weekend would separate the pee-wee players from the big leagues, we listened to the interplay between three guitar masters on Friday Night in San Fransisco by Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al di Meola.

After the piano and acoustic guitar, I wanted to hear a stark contrast, specifically if these speakers could rock. Since I forgot my own recordings on Friday, I chose a couple from David’s selection: “ATWA” by System of a Down, a gorgeous yet terrifying ode to Charlie Manson, and “Take the Time” by Dream Theater, simply one of my favorite songs of all time. I considered myself lucky to have these recordings at my disposal since I knew them so well, and I jumped at the chance to hear them. First was “ATWA”. Its thunderous kick drum pattern and heavily distorted and detuned guitars sent all the listeners running away from the room. Sorry guys. But sonically, something wasn’t quite right. The center image seamed smeared and diffused while left and right soundstaging was placed too far in the back corners. The same occurred on Dream Theater’s “Take the Time”. Other listeners in the room commented: “Something is missing.”

So I bid adieu to David for my first day, hoping I could return tomorrow and sound would be improved.

Day two, David and I greet each other with smiles, and I sit down in his room. Immediately, I notice a difference: a much more coherent center image with depth and accurate soundstaging left to right. “What did you do?” I asked David.

“The speakers were out of phase yesterday.”

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

We put on David Grisman and Andy Statham’s Mandolin Abstractions, which features communicative call and response mandolin work that bounces back and forth with discord and tension. The Audio Note system perfectly described the edgy interplay between Grisman and Statham with overlaying notes on each individual tensile string of the mandolin just as clear as the next and with rising and falling dynamics of quickly strummed patterns mimicking the natural flow of two people talking, or even arguing. This system brought the music to life.

Cope and I then played records back and forth. In response to Abstractions, he played a release from Blue Coast Records, purveyors of fine acoustic recordings. He also showed me his copy of Grisman and Garcia’s The Pizza Tapes. I hit the turntable back with some Egberto Gismonti, to which he responded with a record called Arkeology by Trilok Gurtu and the Arke String Quartet that riveted everyone in the room. These were the best memories of the hi-fi show: when everyone was smiling and enjoying the music being played.

So a bid adieu on day two knowing that I would return for one more session.

Day three came, and I had not quite found the time to stop by Audio Note until the very end of the day, when all the exhibitors were wrapping up. Cope was in good spirits: “Can I tell you a story?”

“Somebody offered to buy these speakers today. He came by himself to the room on Friday and Saturday,” (and I thought I was the only one), “and he came with his wife on Sunday and offered to purchase them. I have to check back with the folks in the UK, but this is very exciting.”

“Doesn’t this normally happen at a hi-fi show?”

“Not for $19,000 speakers.”

Cope had other nice things to say about the New York show including his comfort with playing classical music at this event. “Usually, the easiest way to clear people out of the room is either playing opera or death metal, but this time I had 20 people stay in my room during an opera record. That never happens! Only in New York.”

ishis's picture

The author finds out from the Exhibitor on the second day of the show that the speakers had been hooked-up out-of-phase on the first day. What an Amateur mistake to make! Yes, it can happen to anybody in the hustle and bustle of setting-up a system for a show.

But you're supposed to be a Professional! All you had to do is sit down in front of the system after you got the music going. Out-of-phase is the EASIEST thing to hear in a system set-up, and is EASILY corrected! 

How many hundreds of people walked out with a bad impression of your speakers and system?

So the exhibitor, the author of this report and every visitor to that room on the first day were completely CLUELESS as to what was wrong!?! It just shows how many dummies there are in this hobby of ours...Wow! 

Ariel Bitran's picture

I knew something was wrong. I say so in the piece. My experience with listening to systems was somewhat limited at the time of this show (i've been working at Stereophile close to 3 years now, actively coverage audio for only about 1.5 years of it). These reports are more anecdotal than sonic reports. At the time of writing this, I did not have any authority to offer sonic opinions or technological reports. Rather, I choose to report on my experience, the best I can offer. I heard something wrong, and validated by Mr. Cope the next day, there was something wrong. Clueless? Maybe, but at least I aint wrong, and that's much better than making stuff up.

Now fortunately, I am very familiar to what an out of phase system sounds like, very much thanks to this day.

Looking forward to reporting from this year's NYAS as well. 

TriodeDave's picture

Ishis - You have my deepest condolences. What a terrible burden it must be to be the only perfect one wandering this plane of existence. Thank goodness we have you to mete out the much- needed tongue-lashings.

I suspect there is very little joy to be found in your life. Condolences on that, too.