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Audio Note Quest Silver monoblock amplifiers Review, Part 2

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This Review was published in February, 2007 originally.

Also see Audio Note Quest Silver monoblock amplifiers Review, Part 1

 

A few years ago while using a pair of ‘valve like’ solid state Mitchell Engineering Alecto monoblocks, I was keen to try out the real thing, and so made numerous requests for information and recommendations of valve amplification at online forums in order to make a shortlist.

Of relevance to my current review in particular is the following snippet of information which I’ve cut ‘n’ pasted here for your perusal.  It’s from a very amiable guy who offered his first hand experience of the Audio Note Quests compared to the EAR 509s I was enquiring about at the time.

It’ll give you all a brief respite from my own ramblings, but acknowledgements to ‘Lobo’ and the Audio Asylum are in order before reading on, and I quote;

“If you listen to solo female voice with guitar, the Audio Note would give you an exceptional seduce and pure voice like your beloved one whispering closely to your ears and draw you more into music. The 509 on the other hand, would give you a more live feel, with the explosive pace, dynamic and better rhythm of the guitar and you know you are in the good show. As I said before, a combination of both would be perfect from my view……the Audio Note Quests are very good 300B but I always dream of owning the Ongaku one day because I heard it. The Ongaku is the BEST SET which you will forget bass slam or other hifi parameters when you listen to it . Therefore I doubt I will put extra money on any modification like Border Patrol to my Quests. Alternatively I am thinking to buy a pair of those SILVER output from Audio note UK to replace the stock pairs in Quests and may give me a small slice of Ongaku sound.”

Five years have passed since that text was written, and what I would humbly suggest to Lobo after gaining first hand experience of the Quests is that when the speakers are Audio Note’s own 98dB sensitive AN-Es, the bass produced is sufficient to not leave me hankering after the E.A.R 509s which would, in fact, be a definite overkill.

This was highlighted when I was loaned a compilation 2CD set of classic rock tracks titled DAD Rocks! to download onto my personal MP3 player, and inevitably it found its way onto the Audio Note system.

In line with Audio Note’s philosophy of “comparison by contrast”, the differing qualities of bass reproduction between tracks was effortlessly highlighted and I’ll confess to quickly skipping through the individual track intro’s of whole album before settling down to serious evaluation, just marveling at how palpably real these oft heard classics now were.

The comforting hiss of analogue recorded masters preceded some of the most recognisable bass lines known to man from the likes of  Deep Purple to Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Thin Lizzie and Billy Idol among others, and make no mistake that my ears were left ringing with the volume of the M3 set just a tad past 12.00. Coincidentally, it was 12:00 midnight when the slightly miffed face of my girlfriend appeared around the side of the door to ask if I wanted a cup of tea before bed, but in consideration of the neighbours I hastened to mention that I had moved on to some more sedate jazz an hour earlier, followed by Eva Cassidy who was born and raised to be heard on an AN SET audio system.

Indeed, it was Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley that was the deciding factor in me first turning to an Audio Note DAC, rather than Sony’s finest SACD for my musical pleasure player all those years ago, and it shouldn’t be too long now before I am sampling (not over/upsampling!!) the delights of an AN transport and DAC which will finally complete a full Audio Note system review.

For now, my source is a quite engaging Myryad MXC6000 CD player, possessing a highly detailed, refined presentation which seems to compliment the AN system quite nicely. With fourteen individually designed power supplies, 24-bit/192kHz Delta-Sigma DACs, and DC-coupled, individually trimmed audio outputs, it is most definitely a league or two above the Toshiba SD-900E which, at the end of the day, is a DVD player with aspirations of superior audio performance.

Before carrying on, it may be of some interest to point out that because the review system is upstairs in the bedroom, away from the TV and home cinema, there was no dedicated equipment rack available to use.

Therefore, in the time-honoured tradition of Audio Note never seeming to use anything other than a foldaway decorator’s table to exhibit and demonstrate their wares at various shows around the UK, I had placed the amps on either side of the CD player on a wooden coffee table (see pics) with the M3 preamp sitting underneath on a piece of MDF, which itself rested on the carpeted wooden floor.

I mention this because I did initially have very obvious and distracting problems with microphonic ‘ringing’, the source of which was quickly identified to be the M3.

Placing three of Russ Andrews’ isolation oak cones under the M3 eliminated the ringing totally which, to be honest, was a pleasant surprise as I’d inserted them purely because they just happened to be within easy reach while I was wondering if I would have to buy another rack.

Of course, sitting the M3 more or less directly onto a wooden floor between speakers was asking for trouble, but through exaggeration, it did at least clearly demonstrate the effects of microphonics to me, and also how effective very simple devices were at dealing with those effects – or at least those which were clearly audible.

No doubt even better isolation would be more beneficial, although this wouldn’t necessarily require a megabucks equipment rack, and of course you could always opt for the aforementioned decorator’s table which has the benefit of being useful for when the wife decides you’ve spent enough time sitting on your backside listening to music – it’s time for you to paper the lounge!

Microphonics a thing of the paste then – I mean past, I was now experiencing a connection to musicians and their performances which sometimes really was like being transported back to another era, and despite the ‘limitations’ on paper of the Quest Silvers in terms of ultimate power, the music nonetheless continued to flow in such an effortless, unstrained manner that I again found myself regretting not having made the leap of faith to SETs much earlier in me and my system’s development.

Without having heard SETs from another manufacturer in my home environment, it is of course impossible to say whether the quality I’m enjoying now is attributable to Audio Note or to SETs in general, but when things are this good, I’ve no motivation or need to experiment although, of course, I have my suspisions (which is why I haven’t as yet tried to procure SET amplification from any other manufacturer for review….)

Similarly, for years now I’ve always used Kimber interconnects and speaker cables because I’ve never detected any shortcomings in what they do, and every upgrade I’ve made from one Kimber cable to another has yielded a clear increase in performance over it’s predecessor.

For the purpose of this review however, Audio Note supplied me with a full compliment of their Lexus LX interconnect and speaker cable which demonstrated that Audio Note’s total system synergy isn’t just confined to their components.

Despite being restricted to high purity copper construction when Audio Note’s preference is almost always to use silver as a conductor whenever possible, the Lexus possessed such a beautifully balanced character, that it was a few hours before it dawned on me to install my own reference Kimber KS-3035 speaker cables and KS-1030 interconnects at many times the price of the Lexus.

Already being in possession of the high purity silver Kimber Select cabling, I was duty bound to utilize them in the AN system and immediately there were gains in the low level detail and ambience which was similar to the kind of improvement I’d experienced when moving up from an Audio Note DAC3.1x to a DAC4.1x, which used more silver internally.

With the DACs, there’s also an increase in weight, separation and presence that comes from additional upgrades to the power supplies, but I used the comparison in preference to saying another veil had been lifted. You see what I mean now about the ‘Audio Nirvana’ inclusion?

So while the AN Lexus seem to be about as good as copper gets in my experience in terms of musicality and balance, the Quests, M3 and AN-E SPE HEs nonetheless love the finest silver conductors, which is hardly surprising considering their pedigree, which also has me wondering what AN’s own silver wires would be capable of, especially in an AN system?

Then again, why should I waste time wondering about such scenarios when the present reality is so good? As they say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – even though it might poop on your wrist.

This Quest review can hopefully be considered something of a precursor to a review of the almost mythical all-Audio Note system, providing I can persuade an extremely busy Mr. Qvortrup to send an AN CDT transport/AN DAC combination my way, but I believe the Myryad CD player used for the bulk of this review has at least demonstrated that it isn’t absolutely necessary to have an AN source to enjoy the delights of an AN system; although after owning two AN DACs previously, I’d say it would definitely help…..

I could write another two thousand words before nightfall; but none would really add any more insight into what I’ve been experiencing this past few weeks, and let’s be honest, you really do have to audition for yourself to appreciate exactly what your own experiences would be in your own listening environment. I would however suggest that any system utilizing the AN-E’s in particular would not suffer from the usual room related excuses – I mean problems – as other designs so often used to explain poor sound.

Reviews are useful for whetting the appetite, piquing an interest and drawing up shortlists, but if, as a result of reading a review, you are tempted to listen to a component/system you wouldn’t normally have given the time of day, reviews can be invaluable.

Life is short, system building can be frustrating, costly and ultimately unrewarding, yet get it right and your life is enhanced by music from across the ages, whenever you have the time and inclination to pry open a CD case or coax a vinyl disc from it’s cover.

The system approach is one which I believe has the most direct path to where we all want to be; but reviews by necessity are component-based, which invariably means many of us tend to wander off on a tangent at some point, and in addition to straying from the right path, it’s even possible to lose sight of where we wanted to get to in the first place as our point of reference alters.

Stay tuned then and perhaps one day the final piece of the jigsaw will be delivered to my front door in the shape of an AN DAC, by a red-faced postman who by now must dread the AN logo embossed on the side of any parcel sitting in the back of his van.

Maybe I should invite him in one day for a listen, whereupon he might just forget about his slipped disc for a few hours?

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