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CES

2008 CES & T.H.E. Show Coverage 2

Featuring Audio Note UK, Meridian, Pass Labs

By: |

by: Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK

Audio Note UK (Manufacturer)
Main Room
UPDATE January 25, 2008:
1. Details on AN-E SEC Signature internal cabling;
2. Details on Kegon Balanced in Peter Qvortrup’s own words;
3. Comment on DAC’s used;
4. PQ’s response to my final question.

Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK and the husband-wife team of U.S. Distributor, Michael and Nellie of Audio Federation, exhibited two rooms at Alexis Park this year: One was of the ultimate high-end, and the other of more affordable high-end. The first room showcased the company’s latest, $51,000 AN-E SEC Signature, an upper model of the $39,775 version that I reviewed in January 2006. Now with ALNICO tweeter and woofer, the model featured the latest 96-strand, Audio Note™ SOGON™ LX96 99.99% pure silver litz cable, AN silver wired voice coils and AN 99.99% pure silver crossover inductors. The copper foil signal capacitors were housed in a chassis that also functioned as the stand beneath the speakers. Needless to say, the finish on this pair is the astounding Madrone veneer on Russian birch plywood with “clear 8-layer hand polished piano lacquer finish.”

Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature with
stand integrating the external crossover

Amplification was via a pair of the latest edition of the 22Wpc Kegon Balanced monoblocks in M10 chassis, fully equipped with silver wired circuits, power supply, silver foil signal capacitors and tantalum resistors, Black Gate caps and silver wired output transformer. Retail price to be determined.

According to Peter Qvortrup:

“The KEGON Balanced circuit is entirely novel and based on the ultra simple topology first developed in the GAKU-ON parallel 211 amplifiers; fully transformer coupled input with a 1:3 input transformer, a directly heated triode driver stage using a VT25/10Y, coupled to output stage with a 1:1 driver transformer and a parallel pair of 300B’s directly heated output triodes, which is in turn coupled to a large double C-core output transformer with a single secondary.

This circuit cannot be simplified further and is therefore the most “ultra simple” possible. It does require a degree of transformer quality never seen before anywhere in audio whether professional or domestic (which clearly also explains why it has not been done before now), as each transformer has to be complimentary in every aspect of behaviour to the one next in line and not impose any bandwidth, phase, linearity or low level abnormalities which can be amplified by the following stage or stages, this was not small task getting to a point where each transformer was as invisible as the next despite differences in core size, design and passing signal level.”

Then, there was the M9 Phono, an $82,000 full function preamplifier with all the silver amenities commensurate of its cost, with a separate power supply and hand-assembled proprietary attenuator.

Although a $9,550 CDT-Three and a $15,500 DAC 4.1x Balanced were available on hand for demonstration purpose, PQ only reluctantly played a few of my bloody CD’s, and relegated back to his $47,000 TT3 Reference Turntable system, complete with the $9,600 AN-1s SOGON Tonearm, the $17,500 AN-S9 MC Step-up Transformer and the $7,000 IO Gold MC cartridge.

“We were actually playing the DAC5 Signature most of the show, just so you know.” -Peter.

Total cost of the vinyl front-end = $81,100.

But with my CD’s, I experienced the easiest-sounding music I’ve heard in Las Vegas, one permeated with the most refined and well-formed layers of the frequency spectrum, amidst a most liberating dynamics profile. The unusual level of textural and tonal sophistication of this system made music listening utterly effortless in an almost incomprehensible way,

PQ’s insistence on playing his regular LP’s notwithstanding, during my stop at his Exhibit, foreign nationals in suits frequented his room frequently, listening to him blasting away in non-English. In hindsight, I do wish that Peter had excused himself from the bloody room so I could play all ten of my CD’s for the evening. Just an innocent wish, ok?

Cabling was via the Audio Note SOOTO and SOGON 50 pure silver litz symmetrical interconnect, with the Acrolink Mexcel 7N-7100, Nordost Valhalla and Elrod Power Systems Statement III and Signature III power cables. Total system cost excluding the cabling = $239,150.

Commentary:

CS: Peter, you play your own vinyl most of the time, and they are not of particular audiophile concern. For the interest of our readers, what is your opinion of listening to personal vinyl collection via the mega-buck Audio Note turntable system?

PQ: I mostly play source material of non audiophile concern, you should know how much I despise the average audiophile recording, my equipment does not need music that flatters it, our equipment is more than capable of getting music from any recording, good or bad!

At the end of the day, very few recordings are so good that you sit with your mouth open in awe of the quality of the performance and the recording at the same time, and I have yet to hear one that is that good in both respects which was recorded after 1980, so I see no reason to support the notion that audiophile recordings qualify as real music!

What the system in suite 2205 does allow you to do is to get the closest possible to the sound of each recording, regardless of whether it is a 1907 acoustic 78 or the latest over produced and mixed rock record, so you can hear what is there, which should give you maximum enjoyment, as being closer to the original event so to speak, such as it is, should bring you closest to the intention of the musicians and their art.

What more can I say?

What PQ could have said is, “Constantine and all my visitors, you have all taken the trouble of visiting the Audio Note UK Exhibit so I shall let you play any music you want in whatever format, for as long as you want.”

My dear readers, do you think there is a chance of this happening next show?

PQ’s response: “Of course I will play anything anyone brings in that they want to listen to, so I am not undemocratic!” Readers be my witness should Peter kick me out of his next Exhibit…

Audio Note TT3 Reference Turntable

Description: Three large flywheel motors powered by three monster power supplies provide a rotational mass equivalent of 470kg (1,036lb) despite the light 1kg (2.2lb) Lexan platter. 10″ medium mass arm for cartridges with low to medium compliance weighing up to 25 grams. Internally wired with Audio Note AN-AI 99.99% pure silver wire. SOGON external cable.

Audio Note AN-1s SOGON Tonearm

Control system and motors for TT3 Reference

Audio Note Kegon monoblock

Kegon interior

Audio Note UK (Manufacturer)
Second Room

David Cope, along with Mario and Tom of the UK crew, manned the other Alexis Park Exhibit several rooms down from where Peter was, and traffic was relatively slower here without the focus of the audiophile public himself. But most importantly, the two of them were perfectly democratic. I played quite a few of my CD’s there in the comparatively affordable system, which was consisted of a $3,850 CD 2.1X/II CD player, a $1,650 USB DAC 0.1x, a $3,850, 10Wpc OTO Phono SE integrated amplifier and a pair of the latest, $7,600, 98dB hemp cone AN-E Spe HE loudspeaker.

AN-E Spe HE

Costing a mere $15,300 for the CD-based system, the harmonic richness of this modest Audio Note system remained easy to the ear and instantly hypnotic. I felt that short of an elimination contest, this AN system was every bit as enjoyable as the $200k+ one, and it even withstood several aspects of my critiquing, including that of timbre separation, dynamic competency, volume capability, drivers coherency, harmonic complexity, microdynamics, etc.

It would seem that despite the rather lowly company of the CD 2.1X/II CD player and the OTO Phono SE integrated amplifier, the bulk of the system’s finesse was purveyed by the AN-E Spe HE. Peter would disagree with me probably, because I know from our past conversations that he always put considerable amount of resources into developing even the most affordable category of his products.

Take the CD player, for example. The niceties embedded into this unassuming player included no less than “high grade Audio Note tantalum resistors, a few scattered Black Gate capacitors…..Philips L1210 mechanism and a simple yet revealing DAC made with the 1543 16 bit multi-bit digital to analogue converter chip….single 6111WA miniature double triode…. Beyschlag resistors, standard electrolytic capacitors, tin foil output capacitors.” Undoubtedly trying to impress even with the affordable CD 2.1X/II.

The turntable setup was via a $1,925 TT2, equipped with an equally-priced, $1,925 Arm Three tonearm. The MC step-up transformer was the $5,200 AN-S4, supporting a $3,575 IO1 MC cartridge. The LP’s that David and Mario played were of more contemporary in recording, and aside from the ticks and pops so uniquely intrinsic to vinyl playback, the level of performance was very impressive.

CD 2.1X/II

TT2 with Arm Three, IO1 MC cartridge

OTO Phono SE, DAC 0.1x USB converter

Peter was in another room, and Mario and Tom seemed almost too quiet while flipping endlessly with their new LP’s that they bought. I had to do something.

“Was Peter ever mean at work? Were you guys ever abused verbally?”

Mario: “No, not really. Nothing serious besides an exchange of a word or two occasionally.”

I was all ears. “Give me an example of Peter being abusive verbally in the office.”

Tom started to walk across the room. Mario: “Tom, you are an idiot.”

A startled Tom: “I didn’t even criticize him of the way he drives.”

Mission accomplished.

Pass Laboratories (Manufacturer)

With one of the most admired track record and longevity in the industry, Pass Labs continued to push the envelope in performance and affordability. Despite enjoying overwhelming international sales with the reputation of its peerless monoblocks, such as the $31,000/pair high-bias class-A XA200.5, the high-bias class-AB $31,000/pair X1000.5 and the smaller, $20,000/pair X600.5 (see Dagogo review), the company introduced two new, lower-priced products at this CES: the $5,000 XP-10 preamplifier and the $25,000/pair SR-1 loudspeaker system.

The SR-1 was Pass Labs’ latest effort in offering its $45,000/pair, four-driver Rushmore in a smaller and lower-priced package. Whereas the Rushmore was a purely active loudspeaker system, the SR-1 would be a passive one. It sported 92dB/4~6Ω in efficiency with a detachable, 35lb top module and a 100lb bottom module, and bi-amping setup of the $5,000 XA30.5 stereo class-A amp for the tweeter/midrange and a $7,500 X250.5 stereo class-A/B amp for the woofers was showcased.

At the head of the system was a Maranrz SA7 SACD player and a Basis Signature turntable system.

The sound was serene and un-solid-state-like. The extend of harmonic richness was among the most abundant and layered I’ve heard at the show, so as to be entirely devoid of any hint of artificiality. In real terms, the SR-1 may not be that much cheaper than the Rushmore if one were to acquire the same amplifications; although the SR-1 would appeal to a larger audience in terms of sheer mass and dimensions. On the other hand, while the SR-1 is far more flexible for the sake of the reviewer, for the audiophile who wants an integrated system package, the Rushmore is a natural choice. I guess it is now obvious I dig both the Rushmore and SR-1 big time.

Meridian (Manufacturer)

Meridian showcased an in-wall loudspeaker placed on acrylic stands that played like a high-end loudspeaker. It was the $10,995/pair A350, as driven by the company’s latest $8,495 G95 DVD-Audio/Video Surround Receiver.

Meridian touts the G95 as a “complete surround system in a box — just add speakers.” It delivers 100 watts into five channels and plays the DVD-A audiophile format and CD. In addition to a tuner that employs a 24/96A/D converter, the G95 outputs HDMI video signals up to 1080p.

The A350 in-wall loudspeaker, on the other hand, features Van den Hul internal wiring, two 6.5-inch metal-cone drivers, a wide-dispersion ribbon tweeter, two 8-inch Auxiliary Bass Radiators, and a 4Ω impedance.

The sound was pleasant and the room was clean. Judging from the first-class timbre separation, driver coherency, respectable bottom-end extension and a sound that fills the room, these speakers can easily be the choice of many audiophiles. The Meridian staff concurred that many visitors voiced the same sentiment.

What magnificent way to show the wife a minimalist, two-piece system that sounds perfect. I told them the acrylic stand should be included. They smiled. We’ll see.

►Meridian G95 Surround Receiver pdf brochure

Bob Stuart of Meridian and CS

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