It was only late last year when I remember melting into the recliner with a glass of Irish cream liqueur, a packet of chocolate raisins and an obscenely contented smile on my ugly mush, thinking how great it was to be finally off the upgrade ladder/roundabout and able to simply relax, forget about the equipment and enjoy the music.
The Audio Asylum forums were visited far less frequently, I rarely bought any of the audio rags, and in actual fact was spending considerable time delving through the music review sections of previously read magazines, finding recommended artists/albums to look up on Ebay.
Yes, I was still waiting for a valve output APL Audio modified SACD1000 to be sent my way from across the pond, but this was more the icing on the cake so to speak as I’d even started to ignore and listen through the CD replay inadequacies of the Toshiba SD-900E, which had been promoted to the main source component since reluctantly letting my beloved Wadia/Audio Note DAC4.1x combination go their separate ways.
An accelerated Darwinian process of ‘survival of the fittest’ meant the present system had sonically evolved from the level of a knuckle-scraping Neanderthal to one of Amazonian stature (the system is definitely female – very temperamental), with it’s own dedicated ring main, various mains treatments and Kimber’s finest KS-1030 silver cabling throughout, so despite the DVD player being such an obvious ‘weakest link’ that Ann Robinson would dismiss it without even a cursory ‘Hello’, never mind a hissed ‘Goodbye!”, the performance was nonetheless still capable of keeping me away from the TV (and gym…) for many an hour.
However, it wasn’t long before some increasingly anticipated bad news arrived from Alex Peychev of APL in regard to the SACD1000. For reasons beyond his control – hang your head in shame Philips – Alex had to reluctantly concede that completion of his mods would now be put off indefinitely. Faced with my system’s ‘icing’ being put on ice so to speak, suddenly those bearable Toshiba inadequacies started to cause an uncomfortable shifting in the listening chair, and like the peas in the princess’ bed they became much harder to ignore.
Inevitably, I made the mistake of letting that thin wedge of upgraditis poke itself into my subconscious where it spent the next few days burrowing deeper and deeper until I just HAD to replace the Audio Note M2 preamp with an M3; this was something I could do without altering the system balance, and I could fund the purchase by selling off the rare-as-hen’s-teeth E.A.R 519 monoblocks which made little appreciable difference when used to bi-amp my Revels.
Sounds so simple, but used Audio Note M3s were proving hard to find and somewhere during my search I went off on a tangent and purchased a used LAMM LL2, basically because the price was right and four reviews I read proclaimed it to be the class leader or thereabouts depending on taste.
The M2 was a stellar performer at it’s price and considerably beyond, but the LAMM was a couple of notches above price wise, was itself a valve design and just HAD to be an ‘upgrade’ unless four reviewers were involved in a conspiracy to deprive me of my trusty M2 that is.
Eventually that LAMM took up residence on my equipment rack and did ye old ‘veil-lifting’ trick, with resolution a notch above the M2 as I’d expected given the almost fourfold increase in price.
In fact, I was quite pleased with myself………..until a phone call informing me a used Audio Note M3 was now available – cue sound of forehead striking doorframe repeatedly, cue bank balance going into the red, cue arrival of Audio Note M3 for face off with LAMM LL2, and finally cue the LAMM LL2 being shipped to a happy recipient in Spain after the aforementioned face off.
Now didn’t I do well resisting the temptation to shoehorn the predictable ‘LAMM to the slaughter’ quip into it’s comparison with the M3?
So there you have a fairly lengthy and some may say irrelevant preamble to the Quest Silver review, but I’ve included it because it demonstrates how I slid from being relatively content with one carefully tailored system to now having two; the first being my original system now relegated to HT duties even though it is by all accounts still a very good rig, while a second almost completely Audio Note system has proved to be a total revelation despite already having heard and been impressed by other Audio Note systems around the country.
You see, the ‘old’ hotchpotch living room system is like the long term girlfriend you thought you knew intimately and were ready to settle down with, while the bedroom system is the soul-mate you never knew existed but upon making her acquaintance instantly realised was ‘the one’.
In my earlier review of the AN-E SPe HE, the over-riding impression was, and still is one of a ‘rightness’ of presentation which transcends any simple categorization of warm/neutral/dark or whatever, making any attempt to describe it concisely seem quite clumsy and amateurish.
That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.
I suspect it’s mainly due to the seamless integration of the drivers, although I’m certain virtually every loudspeaker manufacturer on the planet would be able to show graphs proving that their drivers were also perfectly integrated so perhaps it’s the paper bass/mid and silk dome tweeter combination which results in the sonic whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts; for the tweeter lets think Art Garfunkel and the for the midrange think Paul Simon…..
Moving on swiftly, I was actually up a tree lopping branches off when a phone-call from my girlfriend informed me of the arrival of a “bloody massive” parcel which turned out to be an apt description of the Audio Note Quest Silver’s double skinned package.
If she’d tried to move the parcel herself I’m sure she’d have added “bloody heavy” to the message as each amp alone weighs in at 20kg, but as it was, the postman did the unloading himself.
Inside the parcel, carefully separated were both amps along with the separately boxed compliment of six valves, these being two 6SN7WGTA, two 5U4G and of course two of the directly heated triode 300Bs.
All valves had small labels attached which corresponded to labels on their bases which made assembly a doddle even though no instruction manual was included with my samples, but if I’d done a web search earlier I’d have found the downloadable version here. Audio Note states that the valves should last for 6000 hours of operation, so it’ll be some years before the procedure will need repeating under normal use.
Before proceeding with my listening impressions, a brief run through of what makes the Quest Silver amps a Level 3 product to match the AN-E SPe HE’s they’ll be used with for this review:
* Pure Class A operation.
* Zero negative feedback.
* Single ended output stage.
* Valve rectification.
* Directly heated triode.
Level 3 materials and component quality include Hi B output transformer cores, Audio Note copper and silver wiring, 1W Tantalum resistors and Audio Note copper foil capacitors.
The eventual installation of the Audio Note Quest Silver Monoblocks proved to be an almost ‘road to Damascus’ experience, in that no matter how highly I rated the AN-E/Sugden A21SE pairing – peerless at the price in my experience – the extra cost involved for good SET valve amplification was most definitely worth putting that holiday or plasma screen off for another year or two as the M3/Quest Silver combination raised the level of involvement yet another notch to somewhere approaching some kind of ‘Audio Nirvana’, which is the kind of cliché I was previously confident I’d never use in any review of mine, only to find it’s actually one of the better clichés I’ve called upon lately but that’s what Quests have reduced me to…
Coming in the February 2007 Issue…
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