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Audio Note (UK) AX -Two Loudspeaker Review

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So with the preamble out of the way let’s get on with the review.

The AX-Two is a two way ported box using a chipboard cabinet, VIFA paper woofer and silk dome tweeter.  Audio Note (UK)’s website is scant with details and describes the design as a “two-way ported cabinet.”  Audio Note rates the AX-Two as 90db sensitive and their 8 watt amps drive them more than capably so they should not present a difficult load.  Something that was a nice surprise is that the speakers are hand built in Denmark.  I have nothing against Chinese made products but a $1200 loudspeaker using quality drivers, connectors, and being made in Europe, does seem to me to add a bit of prestige to a field of speakers that are typically made “wherever” they can pay people as little as possible.  Theoretically, there should be an advantage to sound quality because products made in China with cheap labor ought to be able to use much better parts quality.

Audio Note (UK) speakers are designed for corners; however, I had been under the impression the AX Two was designed for free standing positioning as that is what is stated on the company’s website.  Martin Grennall of Audio Note (UK) has corrected me on this misinformation and while I had tried them in corners with success in my previous apartment on the short wall I found the speakers boomed significantly on the long wall.  So I pulled them out about 1 foot from the corner where they were happy.  I have a feeling I didn’t place the speakers near enough to the back wall.

In my current apartment I’ve run the speakers 1-2 feet from the walls for well over two years and have been pleased by the results assuming all the while that free standing was their design.  I am extremely pleased to have been corrected on my positioning misconception; I now place the speakers as close to the back wall as they will go without physically touching the wall.  There is no boom and it strangely seems to have improved soundstage depth.  Because I have an LCD television on a stand between the speaker I had to also push the television and stand right back to the wall so that the speaker’s tweeters are out in front of the television, as I was getting a benign but noticeable echo behind the television.  Wall mounting the television is probably advisable and on my to do list.

Great speakers should be chameleon-like in presenting recordings and ancillary equipment differently.  High contrast is a sign of a system’s resolving capabilities and is Audio Note (UK)’s overriding principle in everything they design.  A system must be able to contrast recordings because all recordings sound different.  The AX-Two does this supremely well within the limits of its frequency bandwidth.

Highlighting a few cross sections from various albums:

Artist:  LP - Album -Into the Wild - track "Levitator"

Artist:  LP – Album –Into the Wild – track “Levitator” 

This compressed rather poorly recorded album still escapes largely unharmed letting you know that the recording quality isn’t great but never becoming unlistenable.  There is a rather large amount of background noise that can be heard on some cuts perhaps due to it having being recorded live – whether intentional or not it doesn’t become an issue, though those readers with 100dB sensitive speakers may object.  Strangely part of the appeal of this album for me may in fact be that that the recording is rough around the edges.  The speed remained and LP’s soaring vocals generated high vocal impact and was very enjoyable – a track and artists that you want to turn up loud.  The AX-Two’s levitated me.  So thank you LP.  Her first full length album will be released in June and with luck the recording quality will be improved; either way I will place my order shortly. (Computer Audio 16/44.1)

Artist: Buckethead - Album -Electric Sea  - track "Swomee Swan"

Artist: Buckethead – Album –Electric Sea  – track “Swomee Swan”

One of the great electric guitarists, on an album in which you can’t judge a book by its cover.  One look at a man wearing a KFC bucket on his head and a mask that looks like something from a Halloween film, holding an electric guitar and you would suspect heavy death metal.  And while Buckethead certainly has that in his back pocket he creates some wonderfully moving pieces of music which may make you rethink your view of the electric guitar.  Finding emotion and delivering to the listener is kind of the point of an audio system.  If it can’t do that then you may as well find another hobby.  And while not very technical – the AX-Twos press the right buttons on the slow stuff and still pick up the strumming and the sound of the individual strings.  Compared to the KEF LS-50 I must say I prefer the treble on the AX-Two which seems more at ease although not soft.

Composer: John Williams - Violin: Itzhak Perlman - Album - Schindler's List  (1,000 limited numbered edition)

Composer: John Williams – Violin: Itzhak Perlman – Album – Schindler’s List  (1,000 limited numbered edition)

The Japanese K2 HD recording is a rather stunning improvement over the original MCA album.  The violin is so well rendered on the AX-Two – not in a hyper detailed way that some speakers seem to exaggerate.  Strings are liquid and rich and the uppermost violin string is extended but never becomes screechy or thin.  The foreboding nature of John Williams’ best work is retained extremely well here.  The resolution on this and other K2 HD recordings in my collection would likely aid the playback of any system.  Nevertheless, dynamic vocals mixed with beautiful strings don’t burden the AX-Two which continues to sound far bigger than it has a right to.  The treble never falters or strains to reach the notes nor is there audible break-up.  Natural organic presentation throughout this wonderful re-mastered soundtrack.

Artist: Blue Rodeo - Album Five Days in July - tracks - "5 Days in May" and "What is this Love"

Artist: Blue Rodeo – Album Five Days in July – tracks – “5 Days in May and “What is this Love

One of the greatest bands, 5 Days in May is a relaxed ballad and indeed the entire album could be deemed as such with strong harmonica and melody throughout.  Fans of Sarah McLachlan should note that she does the backing vocals on a number of tracks here and adds her usual dose of melancholy to a somewhat melancholic album.  The AX-Two brings out the melancholy nicely with the rich mid bass keeping the vocals clear but brooding – wonderful.  It’s about emotion and sensing the hidden turmoil in the voice as piano intertwines with voice.  On ‘What is Love’ the weeping instrumental with Sarah’s sensuous voice over top makes me wish to push the repeat button and listen over and over.

Artist: Armin Van Buuren - Album - Intense - track "Sound of the Drums"

Artist: Armin Van Buuren – Album – Intense – track “Sound of the Drums”

Armin Van Buuren is arguably Trance for people who don’t like trance.  Which is to say he takes a pop singer vocal and adds his blend of beats but it is recorded quite well and he manages to put in some ambience.  He uses a number of solid female and male vocalists who are kept clear in the foreground with the focus on the talent.  The synthesizer isn’t overbearing in this album and he doesn’t become as repetitive (read boring) as I find much trance winds up being — as if the album is skipping for 8 minutes.  The speaker is well balanced so it doesn’t throw the bass in your lap.  That said it offers an engaging sound because it can handle the bass depth and drive of this kind of music and once again the treble and vocals are superb.  Sometimes I found myself wondering why one needs more – but of course you do – an added 30hz and more extended treble and bigger dynamics of the AN-J can blow you into next week.  Nevertheless, the AX-Two provides more than a glimpse of this scale.  Let’s face it —  if your primary music choice is trance you’re not buying speakers with 5 inch woofers.   Still, put this disc in and turn the volume up and be mightily impressed by how truly excellent they hang in there.

5 Responses to Audio Note (UK) AX -Two Loudspeaker Review

  1. Jack Roberts says:

    Very nice and entertaining review Richard. While you were at the two Audio Note dealerships did you ever compare them to the AN-Ks. I think the Ks are the forgotten gem in the Audio Note speakers.

  2. Hi

    Yes I actually owned the AN K/Spe for awhile before becoming a reviewer but had an opportunity to get AN J/Spe and elected to trade my K in for them. The K is of course the better speaker over the AX Two. Still the AN K is about three times the price and is in an entirely different category. Although it is commendable that the AX Two is not outclassed in the sense that many others seem to me to be. The AX Two sounds smaller (less bass, less vibrant) but what it isn’t is unrefined gritty or shows obvious weaknesses that need to be “fixed.” You will find in many cases that you have to settle for a tinny metallic sounding tweeter in a company’s entry level speakers and as you move up you get a new better tweeter. Audio Note doesn’t do that and I believe they use the same tweeter in the AN K that they use in the AX Two, just as they use the same Hemp woofer in the AZ floorstanders that they use in their more expensive AN J and AN E models. The K of course uses a bigger 8 inch woofer better cabling, and real Russian Birch cabinetry – it is more refined has deeper bass, is a sealed cabinet.

    You are correct – I have not seen anyone review the Audio Note K. Surprising given how good they are.

    Richard Austen.

  3. Andrew Mackay says:

    This review confirms my own positive impressions of the AX-2s, albeit from a rushed, 15-minute audition, which left me wondering how such small, innocuous stand mount speakers could sound so full and well-balanced. Although these are billed as AN’s entry-level loudspeakers, I am looking forward to trying them on the end of a Conqueror or the OTO SE Signature Phono !

  4. Michael Sternberg says:

    I was helping my stepson look for a “budget” stereo system. As my main speakers are Audio Note E/Spe’s, I was intrigued by an AN speaker at around $1,000/pair. Cue them up, start play, and what I heard was remarkable. They sounded like luscious music. I was floored and felt the urge to reach for my wallet, thinking they would be great for my plans to put a Pro Tools studio in my house. But then I realized I would also need to buy the Synthesis tube integrated amp driving them, and costs started adding up (I paid $1300 for the pair of Eico HF-50’s I use with my AN-E’s, plus $1,000 for a quarted of vintage 6550’s which I wired in triode mode). So suddenly I’m close to $2500 which slowed my reach for my wallet long enough to get out of the store (Deja Vu Audio). Actually I stepped into the next room to listen to Vu’s Western Electric $200,000 mono system. And still the little Audio Notes were on my mind–that’s how good they are. Maybe a pair will come up on ebay….

  5. James loh says:

    Hi Richard, Can you review the AX-One, not much info can be find on internet, hope that u can give some opinion. Thanks.

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