Audio Note UK often takes flack from the peanut gallery on internet forums for their very high priced audio components. Many of us who live on things called budgets view $100,000+ components as crazy toys for the rich. However, over the years I have come to the conclusion that if I came across the bucks to spend such dollars the first company I would look to would be Audio Note UK.
Quite simply, they “get it.” They get what music reproduction should be and how to extract music from various sources and mix the elements of truth and beauty to draw you into wanting to continue listening to music even when you should be off doing something else.
Here I sit with the 8 watt per channel IZero integrated amplifier, which is Audio Note UK’s entry level integrated amplifier. The IZero uses four not often used ECL82 triode/pentode tubes and it operates in class A for the first four Watts then switches to Class AB1. Before all you pure class A single ended triode readers prepare to have your eyes roll in haughty derision, you may wish to hold your sneers back because if there is a class A/B push pull amp that will change your mind, the IZero is very likely to be it.
As many of you know Audio Note UK builds systems in a series of levels. When you see components called “Zero” it doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence. Then calling it IZero I began to wonder if Peter had lost his mind and started making iPod attachments, or maybe he is just a huge fan of movies wherein Will Smith fights robots. After all Peter did name one of his amplifiers “Jinro”, which is also very famous brand of Korean Soju.
Reviewing Audio Note UK’s performance level hierarchy, zero is named for a type of minimum technology that Audio Note feels can properly recreate quality sound. Transistor amplifiers are listed as a “Minus One.” This might be funny if it were not for the fact that the IZero makes a strong case against the majority of transistor amplifiers and the majority of much more costly transistor amplifiers.
So let’s start with the negatives as all audio products have them. First, the amplifier has 4 inputs, none of which includes a phono stage. There is no remote control available and there is no headphone output. Further there is only one set of speaker connectors and according to the manual it appears to be rated for a 6 ohm load, thus no 4 ohm and 8 ohm taps. I’m sure not coincidentally, Audio Note UK speakers are rated at 6 ohms. I’d mention the 8 watts but if you’re reading about Audio Note UK you’ve probably overcome endowment issues affecting many males in the audiophile world. And lastly it takes a while to get going. Turn the amplifier on and it’s about 15 seconds before any sound comes out and about 5 solid minutes before it stops sounding completely sucky. Yes I am trying out the word sucky. I suppose I should do my job and describe sucky. My analogy would be to that of old tube televisions. When they were first turned on and the colours would be dim and filled with purple fringes and nothing was quite right, then after awhile the tube would warm up and the picture began to get very good.
The IZero seems to kick in at about the 20-30 minute mark. So basically the IZero should be used as background music for the first half hour – turn it on, do your dishes, vacuum the carpets, take the dog for a hydrant trip, or crawl into the fetal position holding your knees rocking back and forth until all is right in your listening room, and the IZero is finally ready to deliver the goods.
This is one of the slower amps I’ve encountered to warm up and get going full stride. My Audio Note UK OTO Phono SE is pretty much ready to go in a couple of minutes. Peter Qvortrup does tell you this in the manual and boy he is not kidding.
I said lastly already but I want to add one more lastly, I promise for the last time. There is the whole Audio Note UK “could it possibly look any less exciting?” that they have going on. Oh sure it looks elegant and it’s nicely made and is an aesthetic match for arguably the wonderful DAC 0.1x or CDT Zero, but it hardly looks spectacular compared to a lot of amplifiers for similar or considerably less money.
Some of the amplifiers in this price range, especially from China, make you think George Patton could ride them over the Rockies . The IZero is 7kg and when you look at it next to some of the many boat anchor Chinese amplifiers on the market the IZero just looks so astoundingly unremarkable. It’s very difficult to shake what the eyes see and the ears hear.
As some of you know I recently purchased the Audio Space Mini 2SE EL34 based integrated amplifier operating in Class A/B push pull, and offering 15 to 30 watts of power. The amplifier is bigger, beefier, sexier has more features, offers superb build quality, and has a very good headphone output. Plus, it’s nearly $1,000 cheaper. The Audio Space is one of many superior sounding Push Pull integrated amplifiers along with Antique Sound Labs, Rogue Audio, Grant Fidelity, Line Magnetic, Melody, Triode Co that have push pull amplifiers that fall in the sub $2,000 price range. The Audio Space isn’t necessarily better than those others but wasn’t any worse and offered a more desirable feature set. So looking at the more expensive Audio Note UK and my eyes seeing the rather pedestrian aesthetics and non tank like build quality, I was somewhat skeptical.
Audio Note UK, however, gets it right. And what does that mean? It simply means that the dots are connected – everything that comes out of this amplifier sounds connected and “whole.” Vocals are a prime example. My Audio Space sounds quite nice in a big sound sort of way but doesn’t connect a singer’s vocal range as a complete whole in the same way that the IZero masters. The Mini-2SE sounds considerably more mechanical, disconnected, and ultimately less satisfying. And really it is at this point where the IZero was going to fall into an area of what I think should be viewed as a possible classic in the making if Audio Note UK can keep the price down.
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