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Audio Note UK Empress Silver parallel single-ended triode monoblock amplifiers Review

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Also read Audio Note UK M1 Phono preamp & Empress Silver parallel single-ended triode monoblocks Review


The Audio Note Empress Silver Monoblock amplifiers are parallel single-ended amplifiers using two 2a3 power tubes per channel and generating 7-8 watts per channel. Audio Note describes the Empress as follows:

  • Pure Class A operation
  • Zero Negative Feedback
  • Single Ended Output Stage
  • Valve Rectification
  • Directly Heated Triode operation

Audio Note sells three versions of the Empress monoblocks. The Empress Silver version under review here takes the entry version and adds Audio Note 1-watt Tantalum film resistors as well as IHiB C-Core transformers. The Silver Signature version adds 2-watt Tantalum film resistors and SHiB C-Core Transformers. For more information on these transformers, see the link provided: Audio Note UK transformers.

Single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers are largely the black sheep of the audiophile world. They have very little power, high Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), and do not measure particularly well against other tube amplifiers and certainly not against solid state amplifiers, including those selling for a fraction of the cost. What sort of nut would buy such things?

SET amplifiers have a kind of magic to them. They can sound clear, fast and engaging while delivering more ambiance, richness, and texture to vocals and instruments. The limitation is power. One must use speakers that are easy to drive in terms of a relatively flat impedance load and high sensitivity in order to play louder with fewer watts. If you are reading this review, you are probably well aware of these considerations in choosing your SET-amp friendly loudspeaker.

The well-made Empress Silver monoblocks weigh in at 20kg (44 lbs) each. They use two 2a3 power tubes per channel as well as one 6SN7 and one 5R4GY rectifier tube. I initially had an issue with mismatched gain with my Audio Note M3 preamplifier, but a quick fix at the dealer resolved both noise and high gain issues. The amplifiers since then have been astonishingly noise free during my two years of ownership. Audio Note does make a Low Gain version for very high sensitivity loudspeakers. I would advise auditioning the amplifiers with your particular preamp and speakers first to ensure that you will not have an issue.

The Empress Silvers are flat-out fantastic sounding amplification. They are clean, clear, fast, and, unlike many SET amplifiers, sound far bigger than their specifications suggest. And they can rock. My complaint with some ofthe more famous 300B tube amplifiers is that they tend to sound a little slow, perhaps trading verve for a more laid back “pretty” presentation. The Empress Silvers trade some of that pretty sound for a more raw and exciting upfront presentation. Note, however, you are making a trade-off here.

I have fielded a number of questions over the years as to which SET amplifier to buy. Audio Note offers several different SET amplifiers that I have auditioned over the years, including the Quest Silver, which uses 300B tubes offering the same 7-8 watts of power; the Paladin Stereo amplifier, which generates just 2 watts per channel from two 45 tubes; and the Vindicator 2a3 DHT, which is a 3.5-watt stereo power amplifier. I have also auditioned several of Audio Note’s larger and far more expensive amplifiers.

What I have found is each offers a different presentation and brings its own set of strengths. The Empress is a more powerful version of the Vindicator, which also uses 2a3 tubes. To me, the Vindicator, Paladin and Quest are less capable for rock and harder hitting music, but they have more of a valve sound in terms of ambiance.

The Paladin has a sort of beguiling presentation that is perhaps my favourite out of Audio Note’s lower power tube amps, but at 2 watts per channel, you are far more limited in speaker choice, room size, and music selection. Nevertheless, it has a gorgeous enveloping presentation and if your music collection is largely focused on Eva Cassidy and other smaller-scale music, this is a special amplifier, even with Audio Note’s own modestly sensitive speakers. You seem to hear more of the recording’s room, more decay, and a sense of space not captured to the same degree in the Empress or Quest amplifiers. The Empress sounds a bit leaner in these areas, going more for the big and grand sound.

My impression is that the Empress is the best all-round amplifier, giving you much of what is desirable about the Paladin, Vindicator and Quest while also bringing the verve and drive of more powerful solid state amplifiers. When I was auditioning the amplifiers, the note I made to myself was that if I could only have one, based on the music I listen to — which does include rock and pop —then the Empress Silver made the most sense to me. It sounds more neutral and offers the tight, fast bass response for modern electronic music that I enjoy. But as I noted, you do give up some of the beauty and richness of some of the other AN amplifiers; you may feel that the whole point of buying an SET amplifier is to get as much of that beauty and richness as humanly possible. Indeed, you might consider a Vindicator at about half the price of the Empress if cost is an issue.

The Empress Silver is easy to recommend as I bought a pair myself. However, I want to note that as good as they are, you really owe it to yourself to try and audition them against Audio Note’s other SET amplifiers, including those mentioned above as well as the new P3 Tonmeister. Audio Note offers several different amplifiers in the same general price range for a reason. You have to decide where you want your amp on the truth vs. beauty spectrum.

Note: I reviewed the Empress Silver monoblocks strictly with their stock tubes. Like most tube amplifiers, it may be possible to add more truth or more beauty with different tubes.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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One Response to Audio Note UK Empress Silver parallel single-ended triode monoblock amplifiers Review

  1. Florian says:

    Great to read this review, albeit a short one at that. I have never heard the Empress, but I do own a Paladin. The former is well regarded by many close to AN who share your enthusiasm. One thing that I have learned is that how a power amp ultimately sounds is in large part dependent on the pre amp that drives it. I use an AN M8 preamp with the Paladin, which – at ten times the price – admittedly is a unorthodox combination on paper. However, the sheer scale, dynamics (including heavy hitting bass lines) this combination yields very much contradict your statements about the Paladin being „reserved“. I do however use the amp in in small room (16 square meters). Hence, your mileage may vary…. For larger rooms, the Empress are indeed likely to be the more appropriate choice. My main point is: 2 watts done right (given the right preamp, speakers and room ) sound WAY more powerful than most people think. There is nothing timid about the sound I am getting.
    Thanks for the review 🙂

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