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Audio Note M10 Signature Preamplifier Review

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A Final Listen to Digital

We also spent some time listening to a variety of digital recordings, including an early Dinah Washington reissue, which in spite of being very left-right stereo-wise (early stereo), was gorgeous.

On the audiophile favorite Three Blind Mice Midnight Sugar, the piano was very realistic as was image size. Double bass had a nice level of nuance and detail but was also somewhat hard and dry in a way that you might not expect from tubes. It would have benefitted from a bit more midrange bloom; however, bass was huge, cymbals sounded very natural with their character coming through very well. (I think it is possible that some of these effects are more related to the recording, which was designed to be demonstration quality in its day, yet perhaps is not aging as well as it could – in other words, it may be a bit overdone in the context of the resolution that we can get now.) Again, resolution was superb. You could even hear the underside of the ride cymbals, as if they were that close.

We finished the evening with Pepe Romero’s Flamenco (FIM K2HD). The initial hit of the metal tap on the wood floor, immediately followed by the sense of the wood reverberating, is difficult to reproduce accurately. Several years ago at the Rocky Mountain Audio Show, this particular cut was played many, many times and generally with poor results, but not here. Here we got more of the attack than the body, but that is the recording. We could sense the distance between the guitar and the mic as well as the room boundaries. Again, however, the age of the recording and the “demonstration” intent seemingly behind it reveals itself nowadays in the form of what now sounds like excessive reverberation. I can understand why we got such a kick out of listening to it years back, but I must confess that it is seeming increasingly musically vacuous as I age and become more concerned with what one might call straightforward – though sensuously satisfying – sound reproduction, as opposed to something more like sonic gimmickry.

Audio Note M10 Galahad PSU interior closeup 1

Audio Note M10 Galahad PSU interior closeup 2

Audio Note M10 Galahad PSU interior closeup 3

The Journey Finally Comes to an End…and a Beginning

The Audio Note M10 Signature is that strangest of all fantastical beasts, combining the resolution, vanishingly low noise and distortion levels, and subterranean bass of the very best solid state units with the dynamics, palpability, three dimensionality, tonal accuracy and naturalness of the very best tube units.

Depending upon the recording, performers tended to be surrounded by their own space and air, and on well-recorded albums it was possible to hear the acoustical space of the venue. This ability to resolve the soundstage is a real game changer for me and my fellow listeners. With the M10, our ability to “visualize” the position of the musicians on the soundstage as if in three dimensions, and experience the full size, depth, weight, presence and location of each musical instrument or voice on the stage, was taken to a level we did not expect. The presentation was both more holographic and crystalline in its clarity than I have heard from a pre-amp in my system – indeed, I have rarely experienced it in any other system either. Recordings have exceptional energy and life. Dynamics and low frequency information were presented at a new level as a result of the retrieval of extra detail, particularly at very low frequencies, coupled with the M10’s extremely low noise floor.

The real key is resolution of musically relevant information. In the quest for higher resolution, an end result that I have experienced all too frequently is that, yes, there is more detail, but there is also extraneous noise, particularly at higher frequencies, that becomes outsized and fatiguing rather than beguiling. But that is not the case here. The ear senses a remarkably high transparency to the source. Individual images are vivid with palpability, tonal density/saturation, tangibility and weight. Particularly with golden age classical recordings (such as EMI Columbia SAX and Decca SXL2000’s – and, really, this is true for great recordings of all eras, I should say) there is an unexpected energy and life that on occasion causes the listener to suspend disbelief.

How to sum this up? Well, first, the experience with the M10 caused me to conclude that my long-trusted Einstein pre-amp is up for replacement – a position with which my regular listening pals agreed. The downside of that discovery is that it leads me toward a “new pre-amp” journey into a new, more sweat-inducing price class.


Audio Note M10 Signature main chassis*

Audio Note M10 Signature Galahad PSU (separate channels)*

All pictures courtesy of Audio Note except *pictures by Paul Jackson
Copy editor: Dan Rubin

Read the September 6, 2017 Postscript

13 Responses to Audio Note M10 Signature Preamplifier Review

  1. John Chaney says:

    These prices are crazy! When I go to audio shows and hear systems costing from $100,000 to $1,000,000, they rarely match, much less beat my modest system: Fulton J speakers, VPI Classic 11 in rosewood, Lyra Delos, Counterpoint SA-2, RAM phono, Mystere CA 21, Margules amp.

  2. Fred Crowder says:

    I am really not going to make any arguments about the price/value ratio. I view it much the same way as I view purchasing Patek Philippe watches. What I can say is that I have over the years had many preamps in my system for review and since I purchased the Einstein preamp over ten years ago, I have never really heard anything (prior to the M10) which convinced me to change. This is not to say that the Einstein was perfect, only that its particular mix of strengths and weaknesses appealed to me. Fast forward, the Audio Note is in every respect (except ergonomics) superior to the Einstein or for that matter anything else which I have heard with the possible exception of a prototype which has not yet reached final production, but shows much promise. In some areas, I cannot imagine that the M10’s performance can be improved upon at any price in terms of accuracy of tone/timbre, dynamics, coherence and retrieval of detail. The good news is that much of what makes the M10 Signature so special can be found in some degree in the company’s less expensive products with the same attention to detail, simple circuits exceptionally well executed and focus on musicality. This is equipment made by music lovers for people who love music.


  3. Timmo says:

    Whaaatttt ?
    Wow…maybe I will get 2 !!!
    Other world prices…for the king of Jupiter maybe ?
    Whatever….Really getting bored with the SOS absurdly priced stuff…good lord…

  4. John chaney says:

    Unless you do blind listening, your conclusions are suspect IMO. My point is that the 1,000,000 systems I hear at audio shows, like CAS, are much much less accurate than my system. There is a huge bias to favor the more costly, newer, component over older ones. I am talking about long term blind listening, but scans blind listening, “critics” continually favor the newer, more costly components.

    • Timmo, John,

      I want to thank you gents for your readership, your comments and the civility exercised. I support comments for or against the reviewer’s perspective as long as there is no profanity or personal attack.

      Your viewpoints are no less valid than Fred’s but I’ve been to his place and listened to his system and I know what performance level it is capable of. That said, let’s respect each other on how we spend our money and not invalidate the reviewer’s opinion. After all, he did spend time and share his joy with us.

      A hundred thousand dollars may not be as big a deal to Fred and a thousand bucks for a pair of cables may not be as big a deal to you, but you know where I’m going.

      The important thing is, like my late mom used to say, don’t spend all your money on this hobby.


      Constantine Soo

  5. Fred Crowder says:


    I have in the past owned both the SA2 and the RAM phono. Both are fabulous products that deliver performance far in excess of their price. It is possible to get great sound without breaking the bank. No system is perfect and none that I have heard are equal to live performances. About the most which you can hope for is to occasionally that your system will fool you. I try to attend 25-30 live performances a year, not to calibrate my ears but because I love music. Everything in my system was purchased. There are no long term loans. Other than digital gear, most of my system components have been in the system for 8-10 years; consequently, I know their strengths and weaknesses. Reviews typically involve placing new products in my system for a minimum of three months and during that time re-inserting my long term reference. That methodology seems to work for me. High end audio is subject to the law of diminishing returns but occasionally something does come along that represents a step change. I hope that you at some point get to hear an M10 so that you can reach your own conclusions.

    Thanks for your comments,

  6. Kot says:

    “In some areas, I cannot imagine that the M10’s performance can be improved upon at any price in terms of accuracy of tone/timbre, dynamics, coherence and retrieval of detail. ”

    Try these two units first: Music First Audio Baby Reference V2 passive preamp, or the Bespoke passive units… At $6K and $10K you d be surprised if the above areas can be improved at 1/25 & 1/13th the price of the Audio Note…

  7. Rudolf says:

    Thanks for this interesting review. I suppose most (audio) consumers are not happy about the very high prices many audio manufacturers are charging for their top of the line products in recent years but apparently the market in the Far East makes this possible/necessary.

    But these very high prices are not the reason why I am resposding. In light of the price of this m10 unit and the background of Audio Note UK I was wondering: have you ever considered of maybe even compared to the (latest) Audio Note Japan or Kondo products, such as their (former two unit) m1000 or (current two unit) g1000 linestage/preamp? The latter is around usd 110k so more or less in the same pricerange as the m10 you tested.

  8. Fred Crowder says:


    I very much wish that I had access to the Kondo piece which you mentioned. Unfortunately, it takes time to develop the type of relationship with high end manufacturers that makes them feel comfortable in loaning equipment for the extended period needed for a review (months, not days or even weeks). I would add that I have great respect for the Kondo gear and will make an effort to get some for review. Thanks again for your interest.



  9. Mike says:

    The M10 cost the same as an AMG GT R. I appreciate fine kit as much as the next guy but the value is very skewed. I mean really. The technology you get in a 100+K automobile compared to any piece of audio gear? But then if your thinking about value your not the customer for this kind of item.
    My lottery system could go this way. I could be that guy. I enjoy Peter Breuninger’s videos highlighting his ANUK ultimate system. I’m glad he has it and shares it with us in the small way he can.

  10. Paul says:

    I can’t see where the price justifies the end. If you were to dismantle this preamp and put all the parts in a box, I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t even be a fraction of the asking price. Further the chassis definately don’t reflect the asking price for this pre because they are very unassuming, something you might see in a much less priced unit. Maybe you can hire Dartzeel to make a fabulous chassis.

    • Dear Paul,

      Thank you for your readership and email.

      I think the appropriate factor to consider is if there is a superior product for less out there of which Fred is aware. The answer should be obvious.

      Your comment on the parts quality of the M10 is not based on actual observation, so it is baseless. As a reviewer and past owner of several of Peter Qvortrup’s products, I can attest to the quality of parts inside his products, as well as to the extent and intensity of labor required in the assembly of his products.

      If for a fraction of the M10’s price one can have the equivalent of the M10, be it at 50% or even 75% of the M10’s MSRP, people will take note and sales will ensue. I think it is fair for any company that endeavors to build a product as exotic and superb as the M10 to reap the benefits. The question is if there are any other companies out there with the financial, technological and personnel resources to design, build and market the product, and yet be fiscally strong enough to sustain the hit if sales don’t come through.

      On chassis design, each brand has its aesthetic trademark and for many companies the extent to which it allocates its resources in chassis design is an expression of the company’s mission statement in itself. Audio Note UK’s production designs may not be to everyone’s taste in the same way some of us find another company’s extravagant chassis design misplaced. Might we not have to expect to pay even more should Peter spend more resources in making his M10 aesthetically more exotic?


      Constantine Soo

  11. Ben says:

    Paul: “Further the chassis definitely don’t reflect the asking price for this pre because they are very unassuming, something you might see in a much less priced unit.”


    While I can’t say the product justifies its exorbitant price, I don’t mind the unassuming look. I am always dismayed by the look of modern tube gears, especially the kind with ridiculously thick faceplate carved out by hi-tech CNC machines that resembles a toy made for robots! This addiction for amplifiers that look like audio jewelry is vulgar and tasteless, not to mention the wastefulness.

    I much prefer to appreciate a product’s inner beauty that the innards at least displays a sizable number of quality parts and the M10 certainly possesses, particularly the silver input and output transformers. Over the years, I have seen too many expensive gears with jewelry looking enclosures that houses unappetizing cheap parts and shoddy workmanship, e.g., big chassis with a lot of empty real estate inside and a few cheap IC chips!

    Again, I have no way of knowing if this preamp is worth the price but its understated look is the last thing I want to complain about and I applaud Audio Note for sticking with their subtle look and not tempted by the modern trend towards obscene gaudiness.

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