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Audio Note (UK) AX -Two Loudspeaker Review

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Comparisons to Known Loudspeakers

Before I make comparisons I would like to note that I have used a number of different amplifiers with the AX-Two loudspeakers from Class T (Tripath) amplifiers from Trends Audio and King Rex, to Push Pull class A/B amplifiers in the Audio Space Mini 2SE and Audio Note I-Zero, to Solid State in the Roksan Kandy K2 integrated amplifier to my beastly Line Magnetic 219IA Single Ended Triode amplifier.

Audio Note AX-Two VS Audio Space LS-3/5a

Having recently reviewed one of the best LS-3/5a remakes in the Audio Space LS-3/5a with their AS Subwoofer I had a the opportunity to compare it directly against the Audio Note (UK) AX-Two.   Since The AX-Two is designed by Andy Whittle I am taking the leap here that he was brought in to make an affordable LS-3/5a like loudspeaker for Audio Note (UK)’s Zero system.  (Not true! Peter has replied that the concept was for a small, affordable and great sounding speaker, but the LS-3/5a is a design Peter hates! MG) LS-3/5a speakers typically lack bass dynamics and bass depth in general.  The AX-Two will seem nearly full range in direct comparison.  It has deeper bass and can play louder with real authority and drive compared to the LS-3/5a.  The AX-Two remains nimble and possesses a more balanced presentation across the frequency spectrum.  The LS-3/5a is one of the most popular small speakers ever made and is hugely popular in Asia.  I find the AX-Two to be significantly better than all the versions of the LS-3/5a.  Although the AX-Two is quite a bit bigger it can go up against the wall and they are much less expensive than many of the LS-3/5a variants.  The AX-Two is in my view easily the better buy.

The tweeter/woofer combination is very close to single driver sound.  Cohesiveness of drivers is one of the things Audio Note (UK) does so well and it is not lost on the entry priced AX-Two.  You can have the greatest tweeter with the greatest measurements and the greatest woofer with technical lingo to impress NASA engineers, but if the tweeter and woofer don’t sound as one then you have nothing but a speaker that will annoy you over the long run.  The AX-Two gets this as right as it gets.

Indeed, even with the Audio Space LS-3/5a’s dedicated subwoofers they couldn’t really trump the AX-Two which seemed just as capable in the bass unless levels got louder than I would care to listen.  It’s still a 6 inch driver so there is a limit but the limit is higher than you would expect.

Audio Note AX-Two VS KEF LS-50

My KEF LS-50 review is in the works and along with the AX-Two will be my reference loudspeakers in the affordable monitor speaker range.  This is a much more interesting battle.  The KEF LS-50 has superior bass depth, slam, and superior fit and finish and is fast being viewed on audio forums and the press as a modern day classic.  Still, the AX Two has a few things up its sleeve.  First it is just as cohesive sounding from top to bottom.

While multi-driver loudspeakers don’t equal the best single driver loudspeakers in cohesiveness the trade-off is generally far greater bass and treble extension with more dynamic range.  Many speakers simply do a lesser job of this melding of drivers and over time the ear can become bothered by hearing a compartmentalized sound where you are constantly reminded that you are hearing a tweeter and woofer operating independently of each other.  And this weakness can be heard in a great number of very expensive speakers.

Speakers that use very different sounding drivers can sparkle on the show room floor but a few months later you find yourself asking your dealer for cables or a new CD player to fix something, like the treble.  In reality it may be a driver mismatch, rather than a tweeter issue.

The KEF LS-50 with a coaxial tweeter essentially has a tweeter in the center of the woofer.  The LS-50 is a remarkably well balanced loudspeaker and I suspect the reason it is getting the raves is largely on that basis.

After a few minutes of settling in with the AX-Two after three solid months with the KEF LS50, and getting used to the AX-Two’s lighter weight bass response, the Audio Note (UK) AX-Two exhibits a bigger scale presentation top to bottom than do the KEFs.  The KEF’s have a smaller overall presentation and the bass is more suitable to modern pop/trance than the eloquence of the kind of bass from cello or piano.

While the Audio Note (UK) AX-Two doesn’t possess the slam or the bass weight of the LS-50, it possesses a more natural top end (treble).  On the Sony K2 re-master of Schindler’s List, violin is presented with more presence and more nuance.  The KEF’s metal tweeter isn’t bright but I concur with those who feel that it has slight metallic aftertaste (a slight hash) which is more noticeable on strings.  To be fair to the KEF LS-50 most review publications are not comparing the KEF LS-50 to speakers as refined, or as eloquent (as reviewer Bob Neil would say), as the AX-Two.

On the above Armin Van Buuren album the KEF has deeper and more impact midbass.  The AX-Two is no slouch here though and without the direct comparison the AX-Two would likely not be found the least bit wanting.  Indeed, positioned against the wall it is close.  The AX-Two uses an older school woofer not cut from the current popular high excursion cloth.  The AX-Two plays quite loud and very clean and clear.  Vocals, as noted earlier, remained crystal clear through copious bass lines and treble never becomes strained or thin or shouty.   The presentation is simply different, but the KEF does seem to go lower and hit a bit harder.  On acoustic instruments the AX-Two’s bass seems more tuneful and this fact may sway you over to the AX-Two even if it gives up some bass depth.

The AX-Two is 90dB sensitive and 6 ohms.  It’s an easier speaker to drive then the KEF and thus with 10 watts is going to play quite loud.  The KEF will need substantial power supplies to play to its best given a low 84dB sensitivity and 3.2 minimum impedance.  Further, the AX-Two performs better at lower volume levels.  The KEF needs more level to really come alive although the KEF is better than many other speakers I’ve tried.  It may come down to the kind of amplifier you intend to use now and down the line.  I prefer SET amplifiers on both speakers.

The Audio Note (UK) AX-Two is a highly musically rewarding loudspeaker that sounds convincing because it is so well balanced top to bottom in presentation.  I have owned the Audio Note J/Spe speakers for a decade and never really felt the desire to replace them.  They get on with the business of letting you enjoy the music.  That feeling remains even with the budget AX-Two.  With obvious deep bass limitations the speaker presents more bass than you would expect for the size and the bass is tuneful, offering more nuance where most speakers seem to present a one note dead box (over-damped) presentation.  It’s beautiful on vocals and acoustic instruments and you can still play harder hitting music.

Quibbles aside, these speakers are about as good as it gets at communicating emotion to the listener as I have heard for the money.  I loved them ten years ago.  I have owned them for close to three years now and if you’re looking for speakers under $2,000 and you’ve auditioned the usual mainstream suspects, the AX-Two will be worth your time going down the road less traveled.  No flash, no techno-babble.  Just a good design, good drivers made by people who care about quality music reproduction.

They’re such an easy speaker to recommend, because they are hard not to like and they can be driven with most any amplifier although the Audio Note (UK) I-Zero makes so much sense as a natural partner.

Moreover, the key word to describe that AX-Two is “balanced.”  Never boring or polite like many speakers out of Europe that are often called “balanced.”  In my view the AX-Two is the  Cinderella of standmount speakers.  It may be being passed over by many uglier sounding stepsisters (ahem standmounts) on the market.  It’s time for the AX-Two to have its day at the ball.  The shoe fits and the magic doesn’t wear off at twelve.

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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