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Audio Note UK AN-E/SPx AlNiCo Loudspeakers Review

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Enter the AN-E/SPx AlNiCo

While I thoroughly enjoyed my years with the AN-J/SPe and AN-E/Lx, the AN-E/SPx AlNiCo makes some formidable improvements. The E/SPx AlNiCo, as the name would imply, upgrades the tweeter and woofer to AlNiCo drivers. Further, the speaker is internally wired with Audio Note SPx silver wiring as opposed to their Lx copper wiring. The crossovers have also been changed to accommodate these changes in the drivers and wiring.

What does all of this do for the resulting sound quality?

The biggest improvement is in the overall speed and articulation the speaker is capable of reproducing.  What immediately comes through is a staggering level of resolution and sheer start-and-stop action from the drivers. In busier, complex passages there is a level of openness and insight that lesser models in the Audio Note range simply can’t match. The AlNiCo tweeters are an out and out revelation. Audio Note E speakers have always had spot-on driver to driver integration that betters what I hear from other two-way speaker designs. The E/SPx AlNiCo simply raises that level of cohesion and removes some veiling — veiling you really don’t much hear until you notice its absence in a better speaker.

One of the things I have always admired about Audio Note is that their entry level products always sound engaging. There is no harshness, brashness, or other sonic traits that hinder the experience of listening to music. The lies they commit are lies of omission. As one moves up Audio Note’s levels (which range from 1 to 5), Audio Note UK makes changes to some aspect of the product and for the better. Indeed, changing woofers and tweeters, even better woofers and tweeters, can mess with the sound negatively. But here the speakers do not take a step back in any area and improve in every facet. Consider most other speaker makers. They will offer you several series or families of speakers, where the top model in one series is a floorstander with several woofers and a price of $2,000. In the next more expensive series, they offer a standmount with a better tweeter for $2,500. However, the consumer has to make a choice between that better tweeter and treble response and having to give up significant bass and dynamics. Audio Note UK speakers offer better resolution as you move up the line, but the sonic structure, or platform, is there from the beginning. You do not have to choose between bass and treble, for example, but instead you choose more refinement and increased resolution.

All AN-E speakers are capable of providing rich, warm, sultry, and lush sound, such as with a singer like Chantal Chamberland. My prior AN-E/Lx speakers and what I have heard from the AN-E/SPe HE models are wonderful, but the AN-E/SPx AlNiCo offers seemingly more ambiance and layering. The sweetness of violins in the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 are wholly endearing while dynamics are impeccably light and nimble. The guitar picks of Buckethead’s electric guitar on “Sketches of Spain (for Miles)” are haunting and wholly absorbing.

Shifting to AC/DC’s “Shook Me all Night Long,” the speaker once again breezes through harder rock with exceptional ease and exceeds sane volume levels with fast, tight mid-bass and plenty of dynamic drive.  These speakers can play quite loud with very little cone excursion and, thus, exhibit very low distortion.

Ultimately, my expectations are higher in these sorts of price ranges. I grow weary of discussing bass, midrange, treble, and other hi-fi capabilities of such speakers or systems. How big is the soundstage? How deep does the bass go?  Big enough and low enough, is my reply. The more important questions are how much are you moved by what you are hearing and are you fully engaged?

As I often note with Audio Note UK speakers, they are designed to be exceedingly good all-rounder designs. They will play all kinds of music and they will play all kinds of music exceedingly well. Most speakers have strengths in certain areas but fail in others. Single driver speakers typically have superb cohesion as there is no crossover that has to hand off from mid-woofer to tweeter — the one driver covers the entire music signal. The sound is clean and clear and there is no hand off where two drivers are covering the same notes. But single driver speakers tend to fall down in providing top of the line treble or bass response or dynamic drive. So while they will do violin strings beautifully, they will struggle with rock and roll. Large horn speakers or large multi-driver, multi-way speakers often struggle in the opposite manner – they will do large scale dynamics, bass, and treble very well but can often suffer on simpler music in terms of nuance and single instrument reproduction.

I say this because the question I can see coming from my readership is that this is a lot of money for a speaker that probably won’t be viewed as a ‘State of the Art’ performer in any particular area. To that I say, ‘that’s the point.’ The AN-E/SPx AlNiCo is state of the art at being an ‘all-rounder.’ The problem with speakers that jump out at you with their impressive strengths is that over time their weaknesses become more apparent and one tends to grow weary of playing certain types of music. This is fine if you are the sort that plays a certain kind of music that a given speaker is geared to playback exceedingly well. If you mostly listen to violin concertos the famed Quad ESL may be perfectly adequate. However, if you play a wide variety of genres, you will quickly discover the weaknesses of those speakers in terms of early dynamic compression and their frequency response limitations.

The AN-E/SPx AlNiCo isn’t without serious competition in this price range. I have genuinely liked a number of other contenders for similar dollars, but there are a few reasons the AN-E should be on your list of serious auditions. Firstly, the speakers are easy to drive, requiring as little as 3-7 watts depending on which version of the AN-E you use.This opens up a lot of choices for amplifier purchases, so that rather than buying by quantity of watts per channel, you can select amplifiers based on sound quality.  In my experience, the best-sounding amplifiers tend to be lower in power.

Secondly, the AN-E is generally an easy speaker to position. They are designed to work in the corners of your room as the speaker by design enjoys significant bass and sensitivity gains from room boundary reinforcement. That said, many owners have found them to sound excellent away from room boundaries. Ultimately, you have options depending on your room.

Lastly, the speaker invites one to listen to music over listening to sound. There are some superb Hi-Fi speakers out there that cost significantly more dollars that always have you focused on audiophile sonic traits. A fellow audiophile and dealer once noted that some gear is designed to have you sit up at the front of your chair listening to the soundstage or imaging cues and taking notes on the bass depth or other technical aspects of the sound reproduction as if you are a part of the speaker design team. Other kinds of gear are about having you take the analytical hat off and simply play and engage with your music. Audio Note falls into the latter group. It is about sitting back in your chair and listening to the band play.

The Audio Note E/SPx AlNiCo is one of the most musically satisfying speakers I have yet auditioned. I remember that at the California Audio Show 2019 a fellow noted that with the Audio Note speakers he had found Damascus. I won’t be arguing with him.

Note: I will follow up with this review at a later date as part of a full and more comprehensive Audio Note system review. Because Audio Note makes full systems, there is the promise of heightened synergy for even further gains to be attained.

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

 

5 Responses to Audio Note UK AN-E/SPx AlNiCo Loudspeakers Review


  1. Timmo says:

    Cha..Ching : )
    The ever ascending…stratospheric pricing of this loopy hobby…
    JMHO…but ain’t it the truth…

    • mcnubbins says:

      If you want AlNiCo magnets and hemp cones at a tenth the price, check out Omega… another not-made-in-China speaker company.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks…I have heard about Omega…will look into that…
    I just like to support US companies even though some are at lofty prices…
    Regards, Tim

  3. DD says:

    Hi:

    Is the OTO good for the Alnico unit?

    Thanks
    DD

    • Richard Austen says:

      DD

      The OTO is a good amplifier. I’ve had mine for 14 years. However, to get the most out of the speakers I would be looking at their level 3 or higher amplifiers such as the Meishu Tonmeister. If that is too expensive – what you could do is buy the OTO SE as “separates.” Audio Note integrated amps are two separates – an M1 Preamp combined with a P1SE power amp. It’s exactly the same thing as the OTO but sounds better because you are getting two separate power supplies. Then later you can upgrade more easily.

      The M1 preamp is also the preamp in the SORO – but the SORO uses the P2SE power amp. The best thing about the M1 Preamp is that you can choose different power amps for different occasions. Want a big rocking party at loud levels? Then buy a good SS power amplifier. You can pick up second hand ones for cheap. And because power amps have no moving parts they last decades. So for less money than an OTO you could buy a brand new M1 preamp or M1Phono Preamp and get yourself an older much less expensive P1SE.

      Cheers,
      Richard

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