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Audio Note M9 RIAA Signature phono stage Review, Part 1

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Audio Note M9 RIAA main chassis, Internal 1

Audio Note M9 RIAA main chassis, Internal 2

Audio Note M9 RIAA main chassis, Internal 3

Talking Heads, Songs about Buildings and Food ­– Similarly, with this early Eno/Talking Heads collaboration, which came about the time that David Byrne was discovering who he really was musically, there are moments of, well there is no other way of saying it, rather static boredom. However, Eno was a genius at making static sound really cool.  So it is with the first couple of songs on side 1 and the AN brings its own musicality to the party.  I seem to keep stumbling on the word “sensual,” but that is for a good reason. For example, take all the scratchy guitars at the end of the third track. Or “Warning Track” – the multiple reverb effects on David Byrne’s voice, the warmth of Tina Weymouth’s voice, and fret buzz at the attack, and the aerial phasing of the guitar in the chorus, which appears fabulously in “Found a Job” like an approaching tank corps– are all good examples.

Debussy, Iberia; Rosenthal conducting a Westminster recording –I was somewhat nervous about auditioning Manuel Rosenthal’s semi- legendary Debussy recording released in the states on the typically noisy Westminster label. I had heard it on a lesser system and was surprised, so decided to give it a try on my system. Yes, there was some light crackle and swish often typical of budget label 1960’s vinyl and a couple of scratches, but, my heavens, what a terrific illusion of hearing an arguably second tier French orchestra in a real hall – a somewhat dry hall, as you could clearly hear, but also with an air to the recording and a widely spread soundstage.  Rosenthal had a gift. He was able to get his orchestra to recreate the atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula and to play with great zeal and commitment. The perspective was front row allowing the listener to hear the close nasal tone of the enthusiastically rendered solo violin, the spread of the unison pizzicatos, and the dry twang of the harp.

Vaughn Williams, London Symphony, conducted by Hickox – Chandos released Hickox’s acclaimed Vaughn Williams London Symphony on vinyl. It is a good, perhaps even great, performance that nevertheless suffers just a bit from that glassy, reverberant Chandos sound, which may or may not be accompanied by a slight case of digititis. If I sound a bit vague here, it is because I am not quite sure what the problem is, except that the sound, whatever the cause, can fatigue my ears.  Having now heard this recording on two distinctly different systems, I would urge anyone who may be interested to locate a copy before they disappear. And, if you can, try to hear it on a system that contains some AN gear somewhere in the mix. On the M9 RIAA played through the M10 linestage the strings are sweet, even lush at times, with no excessive edge or glare. They breathe. The whole orchestra breathes.

The listener’s perspective is akin to sitting way back in the hall. The brass are clearly behind the strings and have some of the sheen that Chandos (at least in my view) can overdo, but it is not that way here. Dynamics are realistic, but there is nothing overdone about them. The music largely gets to speak for itself, through the late Richard Hickox’s point of view. As is so often the case with the AN, I gave up making any effort to take notes or listen critically, set down my pen and just listened, and was rewarded for doing so. What in my mind is so special about the Audio Note gear, here the M9 RIAA Signature taken in conjunction with the M10 Signature Line stage, is their ability to transform even average recordings, making them musically compelling. This is not to say that the best recordings are not superior but that recordings, which in the past you might have ignored, become worth playing.

2 Responses to Audio Note M9 RIAA Signature phono stage Review, Part 1

  1. Howard says:

    I have their Io gold cartridge and can imagine how the phono stage must sound. But $150,000? Please.

    • I have enough experience of Audio Note UK’s products, so I can say that they certainly have an incredibly expensive product; but they also have much less expensive ones and customers can upgrade gradually from the entry level to the flagship and be able to hear the differences and improvements, which is a testament to their engineering abilities.

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