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Audio Note (UK) E/LX Hemp Loudspeaker Review

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So with the speakers adorning the corners and after giving them nearly two years worth of playing time I am finally sitting down to review them. They are rather similar to my AN J/Spe speakers but with a deeper bass and better dynamics. Listening to female vocals such as Sade, Sophie Milman, Eva Cassidy and the like, the Audio Note E/Lx speakers continue to be one of the most entrancing speakers I’ve ever heard. The overriding factor is that I can just relax and enjoy without continuously being drawn to listening to a hi-fi system taking mental notes that I need more treble or a bigger soundstage.

I have to say that in most cases with most stereo equipment I am continuously reminded of various faults that I will have to fix later at greater and greater expense. Not so here. There is more wetness on vocals in AN’s silver wired models. Having heard the Audio Note E/Spx Alnico Hemp model in Hong Kong, where the speaker won speaker of the year (at several multiples of the price of the E/Lx), the gains in resolution across the board are astonishing considering that sound comes from the same cabinets.

Take, for example, Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo.” The AN E/Lexus presents quick captivating midbass like all AN speakers and retains the sultry vocals and is always involving. Moving up to the AN E/Spx Alnico Hemp the sound is more open throughout the midbass with more range on top, otherworldly treble response and incredible stop-start action in the bass. Of course, you are paying significant multiples of the price of the AN E/Lexus to attain those gains.

When you first look at the AN E/Lexus Hemp speakers and see a two-way speaker in an old school rectangular cabinet you are not expecting a speaker that can rock. Generally speaking, two-way speakers lack bass, dynamics, and impact volume. I’m not much of a fan of stand-mount speakers in general and I’m especially not a fan of most of what passes as high end stand-mounts because they tend to cost an awful lot and provide very little in the way of being complete -sounding speakers. Indeed, in most cases a small two-way begs for a subwoofer. So, generally speaking I have much preferred larger stand-mount speakers such as the AN J and AN E, the DeVore Orangutans, larger ATC, Harbeth, and Trenner and Freidl speakers.

In a small listening room like mine in Hong Kong, the AN E/Lexus Hemp fills the room with full range sound down in the sub 30Hz range and do not for a second beg for a subwoofer. There are plenty of stand-mounts at significantly more money that really don’t get anywhere near the range or sophistication, especially tonality, that is on offer here. Even with less than pristine recordings you get a sense of richness on instruments. Far too many speakers in this price range and well above that are called Hi-Fi come across as presenting a mere X-Ray of the music in that it is all transient with little body or depth. With average recordings Like LP’s Forever and For Now I can listen to the entire album without being put off by the pop compression that you can tell exists but never becomes so distracting that you want to turn it off.  By comparison, when  this sort of music is played on my KEF LS-50, there is a lack of tonal differentiation so the album sounds flat and because the speaker lacks genuine bass depth and dynamics – more of my focus is placed on the treble.

Ultimately, the sound is thinner on the KEF LS-50 and the compression of the speakers coupled with the compression of the recording becomes fatiguing to the point where I just want to only put on the “good” recordings. And that is when music listening becomes an “audiophile hobby” rather than something that lets you enjoy music. Don’t get me wrong, I still like my KEF but, subjectively, they like all small stand-mounts don’t generate the rich and full body sound of speakers like my AN J or the AN E and ultimately never rise to this level of involvement.

The superior midbass and tonality on offer from the AN E/Lexus Hemp serves any music of any genre which is why I bought them and why they should be on anyone’s list of speaker finalists. I listen to a very wide music spectrum, and whether we like it or not an awful lot of loudspeakers seem to do only certain things well. I am often mystified and even dismayed when I read lists of “classic” speakers that are hailed by industry reviewers as being top speakers but often sound rather dreadful on any number of music genres.

There are single drivers or small stand-mounts and panel/planar speakers that are resoundingly poor with rock/pop/trance/hip-hop and excuses are always made for them by trying to say that what bass there is, is quality bass. Or that another strength such as seamless midrange acuity makes up for the total lack of dynamics or tonality. Of course, I understand these arguments as it is deeply dependant on the music you listen to but it is important for you the reader to know what the speaker or component or system is capable of providing especially with so many brick and mortar dealers leaving and more reliance is given to the printed word – whether it be reviewers or forum advice. If you listen to Guns and Roses it is important to read reviews from people who love Guns and Roses as much as if not more than you. And yet I have often seen recommendations of small, rather gutless panels and 4-inch woofers being recommended for hard rock.

And this is where any speaker or audio product review must be as honest as possible. What can you expect the speaker to do? What can you readily expect from the AN-E/Lx? First, the AN-E/Lexus Hemp is not going to give you State of the Art sound reproduction in terms of ultimate scale or slam, nor will it have the awe inspiring treble reproduction like the plasma tweeters in an Acapella or some of the outrageous horn designs that can astonish you with their percussion reproduction. Then again, those kinds of speakers cost ten times the money. To me, what the AN-E brings is a rightness of reproduction and real strengths in instrument texture, tone and overtone, superb cohesiveness from drive to driver, excellent midbass reproduction and when set-up well with excellent equipment, the ability to present instruments in room such that you feel any artificiality is stripped away in favor of the suspension of disbelief. Indeed, as an all-rounder there is very little else that sounds as good as the AN-E/Lexus in my experience.

I am going to say here that I have not heard better speakers for the money. And I have not come across speakers that offer more value in terms of sound and ease of drive. Very few speakers in this price range offer the ease of drive and the sound quality and the frequency range coverage of the AN-E/Lexus. Competing speakers that I have heard and have been well reviewed by other Dagogo reviewers are the DeVore Orangutan and the Teresonic Ingenium and perhaps the Harbeth M40.1. However, all of these are considerably more expensive loudspeakers (more than double the price). Having heard all three of those speakers I would not be convinced to spend the rather significant dollars required. The Teresonic Ingenium has far more sensitivity and is seamless being a single driver but it doesn’t have the bass of the AN-E (again for people who listen to rock or various other amplified music this is going to matter). The Devore must be placed away from all room boundaries and I am less convinced by its seamlessness going from tweeter to woofer. And the M40.1 is ten times less sensitive ruling out amplifiers that many people consider to sound the best – single ended triodes. While all of these are very fine speakers with high counts for music satisfaction, I’d sooner pick up the AN-E/Lexus and pocket the $7,000-$15,000 to be used for my music collection or other audio equipment upgrades.

I often advise people to listen to a variety of speaker design types. For example, listen to the best panels, the best horns, the best single drivers, the best omni-directional speakers etc so that you can find your general preference. Pay attention not to just the gee-whiz strengths of the particular design type but also for the weakness inherent in those design choices. In this reviewer’s view, the Audio Note E/Lexus and other AN-E speakers are the ultimate in the balanced speaker arena. It won’t beat the sheer bass slam of a massive Magico speaker, it won’t beat the holographic effect of a great electrostatic panel, nor will it sound as seamless in the midrange as a superb single-driver, or have the sheer dynamic ease of a massive quality horn loudspeaker. That said, the AN-E gets darn close to those speakers’ strengths without the notable drawbacks. They don’t, for example, have the horn shout or lack of integration of large multi way speakers or horns, they have more dynamics, bass and treble than single-driver speakers. This is what I mean by the AN-E being such a superbly balanced speaker. The AN-J and -E were my favorite affordable loudspeakers back in 2003. In 2016, after hearing so many excellent speakers my view still has not changed. I am not surprised in the least that the speakers continually win accolades from around the world. While all good speakers possess strengths and weaknesses – the AN-E/Lexus’ strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. For me, they are rather easily the best under $10,000US speaker that I have heard. Which is why I bought them!


Copy Editor: Laurence A. Borden

3 Responses to Audio Note (UK) E/LX Hemp Loudspeaker Review

  1. John Chaney says:

    I heard the Triangle Art, Music First, and Audio Note setup at a recent CAS, and the vast improvement of the Audio Note speakers was stunning, compared to all the other setups I have heard. Whereas previous Audio Note systems failed when they were playing my reference vinyl records, the Music First combination was as good as anything I have ever heard at a dealer or a show. Correction: it was far, far better than anything I have heard, aside from my own system. The sound was liquid, fast, coherent, rich and HUGE. Plus, no annoying “sweet spot” that most speakers have. Here the system loaded the whole room, and the sound was fabulous anywhere in the room. On my fantastic Chet Baker vinyl, the trumpet and Pepper Adams’s sax were in the room! No compression whatsoever. 40 db plus dynamics (from 65 to over 105) . This was using the Audio Note 2a3 amp. Male and female voices were tonally correct with the unlimited dynamics. If you are using an Audio Note system, be sure to get the backing they were using here. I am sure Music First can provide them. This was the E version that cost about $15,000. Be sure to use analogue for this quality of sound.

  2. Robert Jermantowicz says:

    I own both the original Snell E’s and J’s made by Peter Snell in Newbury Port, Mass. These are the forbearers of the current Audio Note speakers. They do indeed sound quite wonderful! As I expect the UK versions by AN do, albeit at rather higher cost! But mine were made 25+ years ago when costs and prices were considerably lower! The E’s and J’s show that older classic designs can still be competitive with today’s speakers (with some upgrading of crossover parts)! AN UK licensed the design from Peter Snell before his untimely death at a relatively young age (on his factory floor!). Very sad for the audio world to lose such a talent! His original Type A’s, C’s, E’s, J’s and K’s are very desirable and collectible!

  3. Woodstock says:

    Why dope the speakers when you can dope the listener.

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