The AX-Two loudspeakers are part of Audio Note (UK)’s entry level “ZERO” series of products. The AX-One and AX-Two are standmount speakers designed to be partnered with the I Zero and CDT Zero CD player as an entry level complete Audio Note system. While there is something to be said for complete Audio Note systems, I feel it is important to note that the components can stand on their own in non pure Audio Note (UK) systems. I reviewed the superb I-Zero integrated amplifier http://dagogo.com/audio-note-uk-izero-integrated-amplifier-tube-amplifier-review and it can certainly stand on its own, and so now here I sit with the AX-Two.
This review is a very long time coming as I have owned these speakers now for two years. I purchased them when I moved to Hong Kong as part of a budget system build. While the review has been on the backburner it has allowed me to make some comparisons with different amplifiers, cables, and sources along the way. With my purchase of the KEF LS-50 I can also share my comparison of the AX-Two with a well known, well reviewed loudspeaker.
Audio Note (UK) is well known to audiophiles for their extremely expensive single ended tube amplifiers and exotic CD Replay, as well as their upper level two way loudspeakers such as the myriad versions of the AN-E. Though Audio Note (UK) makes world class six to seven figure systems, Peter Qvortrup (AN(UK)’s boss and deciding ear) and his design team seem to get a kick out of designing gear for the average audiophile on regular incomes, as opposed to just the top 1% of the top 1%
The I Zero amplifier I recently reviewed is a gorgeous sounding amplifier, and in my view a triumph for push-pull amplifiers in general and for amplifiers under $3000. In terms of speakers, most of the audio press has covered the Audio Note (UK) E series and those particular speakers have found space in a lot of reviewers’ homes over the years, as well as in recording studios. Indeed, the Audio Note E, J, and K standmounts have all been selling in continuous form for over two decades.
Unlike most speaker makers, Audio Note (UK) sticks to what they think sounds right and thus there isn’t the same sort of continual modifications or MKII version of the loudspeakers coming out every four years to meet the current review cycle and marketing push. Build good sound and they will come, and it works.
What about the Audio Note (UK) AX-Two?
The AX-Two has been selling for nearly 15 years and it’s a speaker that flies well under people’s radar. In this reviewer’s view that needs to change because it may very well be one of the best loudspeakers available at the price. The AX-Two like the I Zero is such a terrific music reproducer and so well balanced that it deserves wider attention. The AX-Two was designed by Andy Whittle (of Rogers LS-3/5a and Celestion fame) for Audio Note (UK). So dear LS-3/5a reader that should be enough to pique your interest, especially since it sounds better than all of the LS-3/5a loudspeakers and variations I’ve heard, some of which cost significantly more. This is a serious loudspeaker that is entry level in price only.
I first auditioned the AX-Two and AX-Two Signature speakers about 10 years ago at Soundhounds in Victoria, British Columbia. Terry, the owner, has been running his shop since 1973 and is a serious music lover first and foremost, and is always looking for great sound at affordable prices. Back then I was listening to fairly pricey standmount speakers from companies that were getting five star awards and being raved about in US print magazines as some of the best standmount speakers on the market. Indeed, speakers with $3,000 price tags and brand letters that resemble a German Luxury car maker were on my short list for purchase.
Terry suggested I give the AX-Two a try – a rather dumpy looking black box with foam surrounds (shock/horror). Where is the fancy metallic tweeter and glossy ad copy talking about the technical superiority of said fancy metal? Where are the revolutionary and bulletproof woofers? Plus they were kind of fat and plain.
Then the play button was pressed and the frog turned into a prince. What impressed me about them was their balance – nothing about them bothered me and I could simply listen to music without my ears pushing my brain into analytical mode. The point after all of any system is to get out of the way and let the music simply be. Even high priced big name gear has a difficult time doing this, so it was rather astonishing for a sanely priced standmount to be so convincing.
I liked the fact that piano sounded like a piano. I also liked that they seemed to present better bass depth than most speakers their size as well. Rich, tuneful, dynamic and right sounding, which is probably due to good timing. The years passed but I never forgot about the AX-Two’s impression on me. I said to myself that down the road I would consider them for a home theater system or a bedroom system. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford the Audio Note (UK) AN-J/Spe and in my larger room the AX-Two would not be quite enough speaker.
Fast forward to 2012 and living in Hong Kong in a smaller apartment where living rooms are the size of western bedrooms, small speakers are a necessity. Finding the Audio Note (UK) dealer wasn’t particularly difficult being that they are located in Hong Kong’s red light district: fitting given Audio Note (UK) ‘s highly seductive sound.
Walking along Wanchai road with women tugging your arm trying to pull you into their realm of debauchery, it was somewhat surreal and maybe a tad nerdy, but definitely safer to instead be going into an audio shop.
Hong Kong and particularly Wanchai is an experience as one block over from the Audio Note (UK) dealer (Elephant Holdings) are the Maserati and Lamborghini dealers, high end furniture shops, bars, strip joints, and brothels. Wanchai gives new meaning to fast cars, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. All can be had within a three minute walk.
Heading into the dedicated Audio Note (UK) showroom I asked to hear the AX-Two. The dealer connected them up to one of Audio Note (UK)’s very pricey systems; a system that probably exceeds $300,000US which for Audio Note (UK) is a little above a midrange system. I questioned the dealer on putting a $1200US retail loudspeaker on such a system, but what was reproduced was stunning. Piano was rich full and surprisingly deep. It gave me goose bumps which is rare in audio products, even very expensive ones. Subjective as that may be it is what it is and it spoke to the heart.
This illustrated to me the value of front end equipment. Modestly priced superbly designed loudspeakers can in fact produce terrific sound and Gerard Rejskind of UHF Magazine has trumpeted the source first approach to building a system since the inception of his magazine. And if there is a system out there that solidifies and supports Gerard’s view it was this Audio Note system in which the speakers were the least expensive part of the system, indeed less expensive than the interconnect cables! So much for “spend the most money on speakers.” This system was startling.
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