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Audio Note UK K/SPe speaker Review

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The AN-K/SPe presented treble extension the equal of the B&W N805 but without the added splash of the N805. The N805, which had been a favorite speaker of mine for several years, now seemed grainy and artificial in comparison. Indeed, it sounded washed out in comparison and the AN-K had significantly fuller bass response, which takes the ear’s focus off the rather dynamically limited B&Ws.

Still, it was hard to get past the appearance. Sure, today Audio Note UK offers their speakers in beautifully finished Russian Birch cabinets with a choice of some 20 finishes, but back then they looked pretty cheap. I asked the store owner, Terry Crabbe, why this ugly looking speaker could so soundly best the more expensive and world-renowned B&W 805? His reply, “good sound looks like Audio Note speakers.”

I bought the AN-K/SPe. However, a few months later the dealer had a set of Audio Note’s next-level up AN-J/SPe speakers and offered to take the AN-K back at full price for the AN-J. I could not pass it up. My room was fairly large and the J/SPe was more capable in the larger space. I wound up living with and loving the AN-J/SPe speakers for 13 years before moving to the Audio Note E/Lx HEMP and now the Audio Note E/SPx AlNiCo HEMP.

Tweeter

It is here where I will explain the speaker name designations. The scrabble numbers after the slash ‘/ ’ merely indicate the internal cabling used in the speaker and whether the speaker uses a paper or hemp-based woofer, or uses a special high-efficiency (HE) version of the woofer.

Thus, the AN-K/SPe utilizes Audio Note’s SPe 19-strand pure mono 99.99% silver Litz speaker cable. All current AN-K models use foam woofer surrounds while older versions, and the version I owned in 2003, used rubber surrounds. Audio Note’s boss, Peter Qvortrup, notes that foam surrounds are superior to rubber surrounds sonically, which is why the company made the switch.

At the time of this review there are four versions of the Audio Note AN-K starting with the very basic AN-K/D, which uses Audio Note’s entry level 42-strand AN-D copper wiring. The cabinet for the K/D is made from a mixture of plywood and MDF and is only available in Black Ash. It is nice that a manufacturer makes the effort to offer more affordable options. The other three versions of the AN-K speaker employ full, seamless 15-ply no void Russian Birch cabinets in a choice of over 20 finishes plus High Gloss at additional cost. The fit and finish is simply superb. One downside for some users will be that the speakers do not have a grill cloth. They are meant to be used with no grill cloth.

Sitting between the K/D and the K/SPe is the K/Lx, and it is superb. I feel the current K/Lx with Russian Birch cabinetry and foam surround is considerably better than my circa 2003 rubber surrounds and mixed materials cabinetry of the old AN K/SPe. Lastly, the top of the AN-K range is the AN-K/SPx SE, which features even better internal wiring, silver inductors, and a high gloss finish as standard.

Woofer

The Audio Note AN-K, unlike the larger, ported AN-J and AN-E models, offer more position flexibility because of the sealed box design. Audio Note recommends positioning their speakers in corners, ideally, or near the back wall. However, the AN-K can also be wall mounted or placed on shelves or even on their sides.

The first thing you will probably notice about the AN-K/SPe is the level of bass response offered from such a relatively small cabinet. Now there are other speakers that offer big bass for their size, such as the old Totem Mani-2. The difference is that big bass from small cabinets usually winds up sounding one note and rather dead. The AN-Ks separate themselves from the pack as their bass is tuneful and more vibrant.

Now, before I allow hyperbole to take over, there is a reason Audio Note makes the two larger and more full range speakers, both offering significantly deeper bass response. The AN-K is rated to 50 Hz, but as I often note, there is 50 Hz on paper and then there is what happens in the listening room. Correctly placed near the rear wall or in corners, the bass feels more solid and full than the number would suggest. If you are used to speakers like the B&W N805, Harbeth 30.2, or Rogers LS 5/9, then you will find that the AN-K has considerably deeper bass response and a more full-bodied sound envelope. And with their lightly braced cabinets and relative high efficiency, the AN-K sounds more open, vibrant, and alive than most if not all speakers in this class. The Rogers LS5/9 is one exception and I will be covering that speaker in the near future.

Along with bass response, the AN-K/SPe is one of the most coherent speakers available from a non-single driver design. Tonal quality is another strength that creates an exciting listening experience. Listening to Pink Martini’s “Splendor in the Grass,” the instruments are well placed and vocals are free and separated nicely. The presentation is very well balanced and coherent.

The AN-K/SPe has no trouble with current mainstream pop or rock music, offering satisfying midbass and electronic ambiance to fill the room. Halsey’s Manic album is an example where vocals remain clean, open and clear even with electronic bass.

Switching to The Foo Fighters “Everlong” and Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” and turning up the volume you get the same larger than-you-would-expect sound field with feel-it-in-your-chest kick. Satisfying bass lines and dynamic drive and once again the vocal band is clear throughout; almost too clear as I am not sure you’re supposed to make out all the lyrics with such music. I attended Motley Crue’s Dr. Feel Good Tour back in the day and it sure didn’t sound this clear. I don’t blame the sound engineer; it may have been all the pot smoke wafting through the stadium blocking the sound.

The AN-K/SPe does an admirable job at playing rock loud and clear with solid bass.  The raspy raw vocals of Marianne Faithful are presented with appropriate pain. The AN-K/SPe can rock and pop but it is classical and jazz and vocals where the speakers seem to go into overdrive —the nimble paper woofers easily negotiate Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne (LSC-1817 Limited Edition Analog Productions LP) with wonderful treble clarity and recreate the big dynamic swings with aplomb.

After six straight months using the AN-K/SPe as my main speakers, I am continually impressed with their reproduction regardless of the type of music. Smaller speakers tend to suffer too many problems with regards to scale and dynamics where I am left wanting or needing more. The K/SPe sounds more full range than other stand mount speakers while retaining the cohesion and nimble traits afforded to the best 2-way stand mount speakers. The Audio Note E series of speakers get most of the audio press, and rightfully so, but the Audio Note K series deserves your attention. Indeed, due to the sealed cabinet design, you may be able to get them to work better in your room than the bigger models.

The AN-K/SPe speakers proved to be irreplaceable. As such, I decided to replace my KEF LS-50 speakers, which were serving as my second system reference speakers. The AN-K speakers flat out bring the music with the emotion and they continually bring a smile to my face.

Review system:

Analog Source:

  • Audio Note TT3/PSU1 Turntable
  • Audio Note IQ3 Moving Magnet Cartridge
  • Audio Note Arm3(v.2) Tone arm

Digital Source:

  • Cambridge Audio CXC Transport
  • Audio Note 0.1x DAC
  • Line Magnetic 502CA DAC

Amplification:

  • Audio Note M1 PhonoPreamp
  • Audio Note M3 Phono Preamp
  • Audio Note M6 Phono Preamp
  • Audio Note Empress Silver Monoblock amplifiers
  • Wyred4Sound mAmp Monoblock amplifiers
  • KingKo KA 101 integrated amplifier

Cables:

  • Audio Note SPe and AN D speaker cables
  • Audio Note V and Lx Interconnects
  • Audio Note ISIS modified power bar

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

 

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