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I upgraded to AN J's and other speaker musings. LONG :-)

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I will wait a while to write a reivew in my own personal set-up but so far I'm quite pleased. Highly engaging sound and one of the most musically satisfying speakers I've ever heard - well so is the K and E - the latter is out of my price league and the J was kind of a deal not to be missed(last years model for nearly half off the regular retail price) so better get it while the iron was hot kinda deal - which is mostly why I bought them. Thanks to 92135011 for letting me know that Soundhounds had a few of these last year models left and to Soundhounds for allowing me a 100% trade-up on my K even after I had them for more than 6 months.

Peter Qvortrup - you were right - matching a sub may add more bass but there's more to the J than just bass and it took all of about 2 minutes to hear it.

It takes me over an hour to drive to Soundhounds so I wanted to make the day count so I listened to Magnepan, B&W, Audio Note as that was all that I could get time for. 7 hours of listening - minus a short lunch and a few Excellent cappuchino's they make in house(I mean they put Starbucks to shame) and cookies provided by the great group at Soundhounds.

The store was much leaner and less stuffed with gear this time around. They now have a dedicated home theater room with a giant front projection system and all B&W all around in one room. I didn't spend time in there but the picture of the movie ICE AGE was impressive to say the least. Those screens have come a long way since the mid 90s.

I was extremely excited getting in the store and seeing a set of Magneplanars in used because I have no problem buying used and people rave so much about them that it would have been nice to hear them before upgrading to the J - if nothing else to save myself future second guessing.

The Maggies are not carried by my dealer though they were years ago and he even owned one of or their top of the line for a short while. These were in on trade - looked like big White scratching posts with beach wood trim. The model he told me but I forget - something with a 2 in it. Maybe a MG12 by the pictures though I thought they were a bit bigger. Quite large actually - wider than me and maybe ~5.5 feet high.

They hooked it up to the top of the line MF integrated and a very nice and rugged looking Rotel CD player - have not been paying too much attention to Rotel - but they're at least "looking" better these days.

I have to say it was a wildly different sound than the B&W and Audio Note speakers. If I stood up and walked toward them the sound became completely muddy like a towel had been put over the singer's mouth - so it is certainly very important to set them up correctly and and be seated at a reasonable height and distance. I was a good ten feet back and the speakers were a good 4-5 feet from rear walls.

I tried a few discs from Dianna Krall, Tina Turner and Jesse Cook. What was good was an incredibly clear vocal band and a ton of air - I mean a ton of air - plenty of wetness to vocals. The top and bottom end presented some problems - I was not convinced by the location of instruments as if they were on the panel rather than on a stage(and bit bright sounding overall). The bass while seemingly deep simply had no impact whatsoever - I mean almost zero - it just seemed that on the drum kicks it was just lifeless. The music was clear but lacked the full body - it was more evidently lacking with amplified music and it did far better on lighter guitar of Jesse Cook than either the Krall or Turner discs.

I do think I understand the appeal of em and why people like them and certainly I understand why some would gravitate to them - certainly against a lot of the boxed competition which are resonance inducers that tend to have a "thumpy" quality. Thus I can certainly understand why one would choose no bass impact over lousy bass impact - the latter is abnoxious - the former isn't missed if you don't know it's supposed to be there. There were qualities that reminded me of Electrostats and it did a lot of terrific things - in the end they're not for me. Not enough meat on the bones was a good analogy IMO. Even the sound aspects aside I simply would have no space for such a speaker - it's kind of like hearing nice sounding headphones but having them be very uncomfortable - no matter the sonics you can't listen.

The rest of the auditions were done in the same room, same stands, same electronics - with slight adjustment where needed to satisfy a better position for the speakers - namely the N805 which were a bit farteher away from the wall. Those electronics were as follows:

Audio Note Meishu 8 watt SET amp - a lower end Audio Note integrated running at ~$10,000Cdn (well lower end is relative I guess :-) almost twice as high as my 300 disc cd player and deeper by the looks of it.

Audio Note level 3 cd player(I'm not totally sure on this as it was a one box player and the delaer said something with a 3) - not sure of price - all cabling was Audio Note - with very heavy duty looking power chords going directly into high grade dedicated wall sockets - One power chord to a totally separate socket. Skylan stands used for all speakers. Apparently they're waiting for the J stands to come in so my assessments are with 20 inch skylans and not the recommended 15 inches recommended by Peter Qvortrup - so my impressions are based off of less than ideal conditions.

Audio Note AN K/Spe was first up in line - this was to let me get accustomed to my speakers in a different room and with much superior gear. I listened for a good hour running through some selections from the discs I brought with me

Yo-Yo Ma "Classic Yo-Yo"
Dianna Krall "Girl in the Other Room"(Until now I have not liked Dianna Krall - but I live on Departure Bay so this song and album I can relate to - she's hooked me now)
Tina Turner "Simply the Best"
Santana "Shaman" and "Abraxas"
Leahy "Lakefield" (Get this Canadian Folk Fiddle work album they're 9 brothers and Sisters from Eastern Canada - They also use highland dancing as a musical instrument)
Acoustic Alchemy "Back on the Case"
Sarah McLachlan "Mirrorball"(Live album) and "Afterglow"
CBC's After Hours Jazz Collection
Albinoni "Adagio Albinoni" Naxos 8.552244
Jesse Cook "Tempest"
Madonna "The Immaculate Collection"
Dido "No Angel"
Natalie Cole "Unforgettable"

I tried to use discs I don't normally listen to and new ones I just bought and don't know all that well as per the comparison by contrast idea. Still it's too tempting to listen to what I know well. Besides I had an idea as to the sound going in as I owned the K's.

The sound of course was very good with the K's to the point where I began thinking "you know a nice B&W or Paradigm sub might work just fine." I came out of the room and the Paul (my dealer) just smiled at my thought and said yes you can add bass but it's not just about bass. Removing the K's he put up the --

Audio Note J/Spe's and within 2 minutes it was game over to thoughts about adding subwoofer(s). The AN K was a standmount that bettered every other standmount around it's size I had ever heard. However the J/Spe I'm not sure can really be called a standmount speaker in this day and age to be totally fair. It is roughly 3 times the volume size of the K and simply sounded much bigger and with far more sense of depth front to back than the K's could muster. It's a greater sense of space in the treble and upper midband that was more noticeable than just bass.

The dealer said that Audio Note is trying to prove the "diminishing returns theory" wrong by having you go in and listen to a product at one level and then saying "WOW" when you go to the next level - not "oh I hear a bit of added bass for my extra 1k". I mean most of us have probably heard many speaker lines where they pretty much sound the same but the floorstander adds more bass - or worse the floorstander adds more bass but also clutters up the midrange. I can think of the B&W 600 series in tat to me the 602S3 is the best sounding speaker in the line.

Audio Note wants you to get the sense that when you pay for another leve you actually get results of being at a whole other level like going from AAA to the Majors and then to the all-stars and presumably the all legend team or something.

The sound was far more open with J's and vocals were simply outstanding with the wetness and sense of air that I have only heard from the best speakers - usually a LOT LOT bigger speakers for a lot lot more money Like the Utopias or the Model Nautilus'. The drivers are different in the J to the K as is the crossover and overall design of course - but it's to such a degree that you almost can't go back - as good as the K's are already the J takes it all up a league in every regard - and they still manage to remain postion friendly despite rear porting. And this is not a knock on the K as I said because the J is considerably more money and frankly SHOULD be a lot better for the money you pay- as should the E/Spe. But you have to find a budget somewhere.

The Albinoni and Yo-Yo Ma discs were the deciding factor to buy the K and now the J- classical music is so tough to do well because hardness and brightness can completely distract me from the music and I almost always hear it with most speakers. Lack of cohesion of drivers is usually the culprit - Not so here - the Albinoni disc was the first time I was moved to tears from a session at a store.

There was no hint of grain anywhere at anytime and that is a tribute to well designed gear. Closing my eyes the stereo "system" was gone - the listening "for" sonic attributes dissapeared - leaving musicality at the top of the list. We can talk of dips and spikes in frequency graphs, box versus no box, SET versus SS, Audio Note arrogance that some have argued, multi-way versus 2 way versus 1 way, Metal versus planar versus stat etc etc etc. Whatever your preconceptions of SET amplification and their style of digital playback should after listening be blown completely out of the water. Deep bass prestine treble and no supposed high noise or hums people always tell me SETs exhibit - maybe they need to hear SET designed by a compeant company I don't know.

Finding a system with the emotion and the enveloping nature of music is the only goal I care about - the great systems have it ---- find yours - whether it's Audio Note or not is not important - LISTEN and wait for something to provide you some sort of cathartic listening experience. Advertising and reviews might make you "feel" better intellectually that you dun good with your purchase - but if you don't feel it to me it makes no difference - you'll probably be selling it and those precious reviews will only serve to help sucker the next owner into thinking it's good.

Frankly everything gets a good review - and I gotta say that doesn't mean that everything is good - or at least good for you.

Rather than blathering on more I say go listen to some of this gear someplace - and do try and listen to Audio Note in an all Audio Note system. I have finally heard a system that frankly utterly embarrasses my Sugden integrated/CD player(though as a transport is probably good enough) - and even listening to the likes of MF, Bryston and Classe and YBA agaisnt the Sugden it always managed to be in the ball-park - and in many cases more listenable. The Sugden doesn't present the grain of many solid state amps but it also doesn't have the resolution or "magic" that the Meishu/CD player was generating.

Next up was the heavy weight standmount the B&W N805 - I was going to go with the 705 - but really you'll see a billion of those reviews in the next months - So a look see at my once 2nd favorite N805 again can't hurt and I thought was warranted considering it runs $3000.00Cdn - and more "In competition" with the K and J. The Reference 3a MM De Capowas no longer there as that would have been my first choice over the N805. The K/Spe I bought over both.

The presentation was good old B&W but better than I have heard in the past expecially at the frequency extremes. The Meishu at a mere 8 watts had no trouble with the B&W playing at high levels while maintaining deep bass(well as deep as the 805 musters) and a smooth effortless top end with only a touch of hardness for the style of tweeter,crossover, woofer choices they have made.

The N805 would be a pleasure to own and it's still a great speaker - but this amp/cd player combo would be my choice if i had the N805. The SET Meishu exhibited absolutely no noise whether loud or not nor at any time did I need to move the knob past 11-12 O'clock to get very good levels - and there was plenty on tap for more. I would still take the presentation of the K over the N805 simply due to the more cohesive sound from top to bottom (still seem to get a slight dip in the upper mid lower treble which draws my ear to the drivers).

Incidentally this is the second time a LOW powered Tube amplifier had by far the ebst results I have ever heard from B&W. The other was an 11 watt NuVista integrated running the N801s. You would need more to play at louder levels but IMO it's BS that 300 watts is what you need to get the only acceptable results. You need quality gear because I will take that Meishu 8 watter with the B&W over the big watt Classes/YBAs/McIntoshes I always hear them connected to.

Now, no offense to the N805 but the J/Spe and the J/L simply embarrased the N805 IMO - and they should given the cost. The J is simply giving you way more of what's on the disc with much much deeper and tuneful bass response and a top end that that was reminiscent of the openness and air of the Magnepans. That same effortless presentation and wetness and space. Of course AN is supposed to be in a corner so soundstage isn't going to get any bigger since it's basically the size of the wall. The N805 is very good but basically sounds like a clock radio in the areas of size and scale in comparison - a smaller polite sound.

Interesting thing I noted about the J's was that you almost NEVER see the woofer actually move - even on demanding bass material. The E is like this as well - though the woofer on the K would visibly move much more. From Madonna's Vogue to Classical pieces at pretty high levels the woofer seems not to budge - at least not to the naked eye. Presumably they will at very very high levels with very high bass content but I didn't see it.

The dealer said that this is because the cabinet is not created to work AGAINST the driver like virtually all other box designs. It is indeed designed like a violin or guitar box were the entire cabinet is involved in creating the sound - the driver doesn't need to move very far to get the cabinet going and let it handle the rest.

From that I was attempting to hear a box colouration because that "should" happen - but nary did I find it. I was on the hunt because some of the hi-fi choice panelists said they heard colourations. Interesting. While I can certainly say that the J and E do sound different from other boxed speakers - perhaps the difference was viewed as a colouration when in reality the others in the session simply miss what should be there. View that as you will but the J is never thumpy like a brick wall cut-off of bass lines. If that's colour then thank-you I'll take musical colour over hacked off sound any day.

I also thought it was interesting to meet a customer who re-wired his B&W speakers with Audio Note Silver wiring and was astounded by the improved results. He lives near the store and has been an audio shopper there for 28 years apparently - never was impressed with cables making a difference as I recall - a skeptic - brought them home never a change - until Audio Note. I'm personally very skeptical of cables but hey they will mail em to me to try and if I don't like em I can mail em back - or go and pick them up to try at home and bring em back etc - no cost - and the cables are not as obscene as I thought. Though $7.00Cdn a foot is still a lot more than $1.50 a foot - but not egregious. Of course you can spend a ton on their cables but at least they are Silver - so you could melt them down and still not lose out too much in a worst case scenario :-)

The level system AN uses I finally had a chance to put to the test - and yes the differences are gigantic.

The basic J/L is chipboard front and back - high grade copper wiring.
The J/Spe is Russian Birch ply front and back - 99.99% silver wiring and an upgraded crossover.

The difference was startling actually because I was extremely skeptical of their level approach. It is noticeable throughout the the range from treble to bass but it was most noticable in the upper midband where a singer would come form blackness creating more of a 3D effect. The tone in the treble was smoother - and the whole thing sounded less strident. It is hard to describe really but everything sounded more at ease with the Spe.

Now this is only noticed in a side by side comparison because I would take the cheaper J/L over anything I've heard from the competion in that range(though by no means have I heard every speaker - just what I have heard). So The basic J/L is no slouch(but the J/L is no longer made - as now I think they start with J/XL which uses the ply).

Unfortunately it's addicting because when you hear J/Spe you can't go back to the J/L. So I didn't want to listen to the higher level and know what I would be missing. Who'd a thunk a bit of better wood some silver wires would make that big of a difference. So the few who are perspective buyers try if you can to buy the version with the best actual box - you can do the other upgrades later like Black gate caps and Silver wiring but you can't upgrade the box itself later(or I bet it would be costly). I believe the issue is moot because I don't think they sell any chipboard boxes anymore.

Incidentally, they said listening to the AN E/Spe for any period would likely have me wanting something I couldn't afford and steered me away from listening to one (I ran out of time anyway). I should think the J and E are a bit closer based of the review by enjoythemusic's Steven Rochlin.

Peter they also said you did an LP experiment or something at CES to demonstrate to the Soundhounds sales staff how deep your E's went to the amazement of listeners. Was it your re-worked Voyd Reference wich got results of 16hz and even 12hz(but the soundhounds guy had a term for this of which I forgot) - People who went into that room didn't believe there was no subwoofer running. How did the story go?

Paul was my sales guy and he, like me, are still in awe that you get this kind of bass from one little 8 inch woofer. It is a bit dangerous in fact because I find I can play your speakers very loud while on my computer and don't really notice how loud or how deep they're going - I left my room for ten minutes and when I came back I was thinking wow that's bleeding loud - They just never seem to get abnoxious. Even the treble which goes as high as anything I've heard just doesn't have the nasty ringing of most I've heard.

__________________
"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats." -- Albert Schweitzer

Audio Note AN J/Spe Speakers with Skylan 20inch stands / Sugden A48B integrated amp / Cambridge Audio CD 6 & Sony CDP 355 cd players/ Sennheiser HD 600 & Sony MDR 750 Headphones / Antique Sound Labs MG Head DT Tube Headphone Amp / NAD 533 Turntable(A Rega 2) with Shure M97Xe Cart


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Topic - I upgraded to AN J's and other speaker musings. LONG :-) - RGA 22:20:17 06/7/04 ( 30)