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Audio Note UK TT3 turntable system Review

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Turning the TT3 on for the first time I was happy to hear that noise is very low. With three motors spinning, noise is a concern and the old Voyd Reference wasn’t as quiet as compared to other turntables. I detect only slight noise from the motors and the physical operation of the unit.  This is only audible when close to the table. There is no audible noise from the seating position or more than about 2-3 feet from the turntable.

Putting on Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” the idea was just to play some albums to let the system warm up. However, my jaw hit the floor. This is not some Analog Productions high end recording – this is a second hand LP from a second hand bin that I purchased for $2 or so. Wow.  I couldn’t get the grin off my face for the next 5 hours. I had liked the table in auditions at audio shows and at Elephant Holdings (Audio Note’s Hong Kong dealer), but having the ability to audition with my own system and with my music is a different animal.

The words that crossed my mind, after just a few tracks, was “game changer.”  The sound was fast, transparent, and out and out exciting. Surface noise has been dramatically reduced and on many albums to zero. And this is where I have to try and break down the other elements in the turntable chain.  The IQ3 cartridge is a remarkable moving magnet (MM) cartridge that will see off a lot of MC cartridges and will not require its owners the higher longer term costs associated with moving coil cartridges.

As this is a turntable system review let’s start with the IQ3 cartridge

Audio Note UK IQ3 MM Cartridge (Prices: IQ1 $495.00 / IQ2 $705.00 / IQ3 $1030.00)

The IQ3 is regarded in several quarters as being one of the finest moving magnet cartridges on the market. Unlike the less expensive IQ1 and IQ2, the IQ 3 cantilever is made from titanium and uses Audio Note’s Diamond 2 stylus. Having owned the excellent IQ1 – the IQ3 is worth the extra money as it seems to sound more complete and seems to dig into the record better.

One interesting thing with the IQ cartridges is that you can simply replace the stylus assembly so that you can buy an IQ3 stylus and attach it to the lower priced IQ1 or IQ2 if you can’t initially afford the IQ3. That said – if you can afford the IQ3 this is the one to get.

The 9-inch tonearms are all made out of a single billet of high-grade aluminum by Audio Note and you will see a (/II) designation beside the arms. The first Audio Note tone arms were based on a Rega 250. These new (/II) designated tone arms are in house designed and manufactured and like the Rega 250 quite easy to operate. One of the great things about this entire set-up is that if you have never used a turntable in your life this is will be relatively easy to operate. Once set you can pretty much forget.

The three tonearms are differentiated by their cabling – the Arm 3/II uses Audio Note’s AN-Vx, 31-strand 99.99% silver litz cable. The Arm 2/II uses the 19-strand 99.99% AN-V cable and the Arm 1/II uses a high purity AN-A copper cable.

 

The Arm 3/II tonearm (available in black or silver) (Prices: ARM-One/II $1050.00 / ARM-Two/II $1500.00 / ARM-Three/II $2030.00)

Audio Note states that virtually any cartridge can be attached “regardless of weight or compliance” so these arms can be purchased for a variety of turntables and cartridges. Audio Note goes on to say that,

“All of the new arms are manufactured in a state of the art machining facility located in Austria. We don’t use parts manufactured by any other company for our new arms; every single piece is custom designed and manufactured by us and for us …/… Bias adjustment is achieved via the classic ‘falling weight’ method. We found this to be by far the most easy to adjust and reliable method of bias adjustment. The vertical and horizontal bearings are not the usual ‘ball racer’ type. Instead we use a rarely seen ‘captured unipivot’ arrangement, which provides significantly superior performance to any conventional arrangement.” Audio Note

Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus – Roxette

I listen to an array of music across genres and regardless of genre; the table had no problem conveying the dynamics, excitement, romance, gentility, beauty, explosive rock and roll engagement. Vladimir Shafranov’s piano was rich and tuneful on The Way you Look Tonight.

It may sound crazy but I swear the TT3 has made Madonna a better singer.  The Immaculate Collection was noise free and extended at both frequency extremes. This was startlingly good for a pop album or for any album really. I got “Into the Groove” listening to that old LP. I decided to follow that with Lady Gaga’s newest release, Chromatica, and again the bass lines are nimble and quick and most importantly for pop – lively and upbeat.  I can say that pop music popped (without the pops) about as well as could be hoped.

Vocals were all astonishingly real and vivid. Female vocals from Eva Cassidy, Natalie Merchant, Chantal Chamberland, Stevie Nicks, Sarah McLachlan, Loreena McKennitt were tested.  33rpm or 45 rpm were both exceptional. The 45rpm single of Eva Cassidy’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ was in a word, wonderful.

Whether playing Stan Getz, Gene Ammons, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck, I found myself reaching for every piece in my collection. Drums were taught and cymbals had shimmer. Horns were especially enticing on Cannonball Adderly’s Something Else on Bluenote with soaring trumpet extension and a truly vivid experience. The 45rpm LP of Henri Mancini’s The Pink Panther similarly astonishes with horns.  The TT3 has better been able to show me why I purchased the AlNiCo tweeter version of the now classic Audio Note UK AN-E loudspeaker.

What it comes down to here is that I think the TT3 set-up simply has terrific rock steady pace and timing. The sound provides a weighty full sound while miraculously also sounding incredibly open, neutral with superb frequency extension.  I think the term “lifting the veil” is appropriate here. Where a lot of turntables seem constrained or bottlenecked perhaps by inferior cartridges or motors that interfere with the record playback the TT3 seems to have no constraint.   Treble and dynamics easily surpass my digital system by no small margin. More importantly though is that the albums on the turntable engage me far more than the same albums on CD or from my computer.

 

Final thoughts

Audio Note UK TT3 in white

After a month with the Audio Note UK TT3/Arm 3/II and IQ3 I continue to be mesmerized by how truly superb the sound quality is here. It has forced me to re-evaluate what is possible from vinyl and has also made me revisit past reviews which did not have the benefit of this exceptional source.

I have said in the past that Audio Note UK is very good at lying by omission. You are less aware it is erring until you hear the next level up. The TT3 system seems supremely locked in regarding timing. Bass is deep and more importantly, tuneful.  I have worked hard to find fault with the sound here. I am sure it exists – but perhaps the only way I will discover where it errs will be when I hear the PSU 2 or PSU3.

Readers often complain that reviewers don’t make enough negative comments in their reviews. Surely there must be weakness – well yes there must be or there would not be a PSU2 or PSU3 (and a PSU4 is in the works) or higher end Audio Note UK MC cartridges and their new upper level tonearms.

Vinyl is an expensive proposition these days when compared to digital formats that are far more convenient and can advertise technical superiority. There are endless forums for such discussions. The Audio Note UK TT3/Arm3/II and IQ3 has been the biggest upgrade I have made to my stereo. This has been a game changer for my stereo system and has reinvigorated my passion for music listening once again.

Lastly, I’d like to thank TH and Eddy at Elephant Holdings for sending me the first TT3 in Hong Kong and for the set-up and explanation on how the table operates (no manual was available at the time of review – although it is now available on Audio Note UK’s website).

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

 

Review system:

Audio Note M3 Phono Balanced Preamp

Audio Note Empress Silver (2a3) 8 watt per channel Monoblocks

Audio Note AN-E/SPx AlNiCo Hemp speakers

Audio Note ISIS Power cable modified power bar

Audio Note Lexus IC Cables and SPe speaker cables

 

2 Responses to Audio Note UK TT3 turntable system Review


  1. Fred Crowder says:

    What can one say after reading a review like this except that I personally enjoy reviews that tell a story and that convey the enthusiasm of the reviewer for the product reviewed. There are so many choices nowadays, but so few that offer something special. I am a real fan of Audio Note and respect that even their less expensive products are always true to the music, even if they do not give one everything which their Level 5/6 products do.

  2. Dominicus says:

    It is really astonishing.
    Have an audionote level3 system with the tt3,psu2, arm 3, iq3’ an/e,hé/spe,sig speakers with anvx/Isis interlinks/ speaker cables.
    Vera Nice sound

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