Heart and Mind Ratings of Common High-end Audio Gear

In order to help describe what we think are the key differences between the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On and Lamm ML3 amplifiers we came up with semi-subjective rating that has to do with how much the characteristic sound of the amp appeals to one’s mind versus how much it appeals to one’s heart.

We will now try our hardest to apply this same approach to all sorts of other gear. However, it seems like perhaps a change might be useful here. Instead of just rating things based on a simple HEART < ----- > MIND scale we will instead try and rate Heart and Mind separately, on a scale from 0 to 10.

One reason why these kind of ratings may be really useful is that people who like the quality of the sound to affect their Heart really hate sound directed at their mind. And visa-versa. Really hate. Spending lots of time to let everyone know how much they hate a particular component or system when what they are really saying is that they do not like the fact it is Mind-centric (or visa-versa).

Mind-centric sound is often called ‘sophisticated’, or ‘high resolution’ or having ‘lots of inner detail’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘cold’.

Heart-centric sound is often called ’emotional’ or ‘involving’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘warm’.

[NOTE: real world values are very fuzzy and depend heavily upon the music played and system the component / cable is in, and, for Audio Note components, the tubes used]

Name Heart Mind
———– amps ———–
Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On amp 10.0 7
Lamm ML3 amp 8 10.0
Audio Note U.K. Kageki 2A3 amp 9 4
Audio Note U.K. Kegon Balanced amp 8 7
Audio Note U.K. Kegon amp 9 6
Lamm ML2.2 amp 7 7
Edge NL10 amp 5 8
———– speakers ———–
Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers 4 10.0
Kharma Mini Exquisite speaker 9 8
Marten Coltrane 1 speaker 4 8
Marten Coltrane 2 speaker 6 10.0
Acapella Triolon Excalibur speaker 8.5 7
Wilson Alexandria II, XLF speakers 6 8
Wilson MAXX III speakers 5 7
Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers 5 4
Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers 5 5
Audio Note AN/E SEC Signature speakers 7 7
Sonus Faber Stradivarius speakers 7 4
Sonus Faber Extrema speakers 8.5 3
———– cd players ———–
Audio Aero Capitole Mk. II CD player 8 4
Audio Aero Capitole Reference CD player 8 6
Audio Aero Capitole LaSource CD player 9 7
Emm Labs CDSA CD player 6 7
Emm Labs XDS1 CD player 7 8
Esoteric K-01 CD player 4 8
Audio Note Level 5 digital 11 7
Audio Note Level 4 digital separates 8 7
———– cables ———–
Nordost ODIN interconnects 7 9
Nordost ODIN speaker cables 7 8
Tara Labs the Zero GOLD 7 7
Nordost ODIN power cords 9 8
Nordost Valhalla interconnects 6 6
Audio Note Sogon cables 8 4
Audio Note brown PALLAS interconnect 7 9
Audio Note black PALLAS interconnect 7.5 4
Stealth INDRA 4 7.5
ELROD classic (average) 6.5 4
ELROD new (average) 7.5 6
Pranawire (average) 9 4
———– preamps ———–
EMMLabs PRE2 preamp 4 6.5
LAMM L2 preamp 6 6
Audio Note M9 preamp 8 5
Audio Note M10 preamp 9 7
———– phono preamps ———–
Audio Note M9 phonostage with S9 step-up transformer 10 7
Lamm LP2 phono preamp 6 5

Rated 0 to 10 and we are assuming they are in a system that really shows off their capability. There are a lot more components and things we can rate, but this is hopefully a decent start.

OK. You all know this is just my Wild Eyed Opinion. But I think most people would agree that the relative values here are close and in proportion to what we experience when we listen to these things.

There are, you know, components with a value of 0,0 and we won’t point fingers but it is an interesting state of affairs for those that own them. The more educated we are about the REAL comparative performance of our gear the less chance end up with stuff that is not what we are looking for.

From this table, one can see why the Gaku-On amps on the Coltrane Supreme speakers was such a significant system. Even though the ML3 on the Supremes was awesomely intense and deeply subtle, the Gaku-On on the Supremes whacks ya, you poor defenseless listener you, over BOTH sides of the head. A roller-coaster ride to wheresoever the music takes you.

This kind of pairing of opposites works well for the most listeners, I think. Like the Edge NL10 amps driven by the Audio Aero Capitole player – it entertains both sides of the brain. On the other hand, there is something kind of special about well-balanced components, components who heart-centric rating is close to the mind-centric rating.

It seems, looking at things here, that some gear uses either some warmth and/or dynamics and/or well-integrated micro-dynamics to appeal to the Heart.

System Two now has two racks

… and system Three has none.

Both RixRax equipment racks are now over on the second system. We wanted the added capability to compare two turntables, two phono stages, and the Audio Note Ongaku to the Kegon Balanced to the Kegon.


We put the Kehon Balanced amps on the Kharma Mini Exquisites.


The tops have been off so we can stare at the internal electronics for awhile :-) But the tops will be back on soon enough… 1) they take up a lot of room just laying around, 2) the safest place for the tops of the chassis is on the chassis, and 3) just to get the aesthetic effect of a system that does not have exposed tubes.


Since our Audio Note M9 Phono preamp is still to arrive, we are using the Audio Note M1 phono preamplifier to drive the Kegon Balanced. We also had the M1 on the Ongaku integrated for awhile, to get a feel for the sound of the M1 in the system that we are so very familiar with.

The M1 is a very nice pre and I, personally, want to keep it here forever. At the price it sells for on Audiogon sometimes, $700, it sounds more like a $5K to 10K pre – and it always surprises me.

All the low-end AN gear surprises me – I keep expecting a more discordant and harsh sound – like the low end of every other line of equipment. But nooooo, this has more harmonics and warmth than the top-of-the-line, which is more neutral and detailed and transparent and realistic.


The end of the rack is now ALFULLY close to the speaker. But we figure the trade-off is worth it – that we can configure some great sounding systems that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to hear.


The Audio Note Kegon Balanced on the Kharma loudspeakers.


The Audio Note Kegon Balanced. On first blush, the M1 pre + Kegon Balanced amps is very, very competitive with the Ongaku integrated amp.

I would say more neutral [OK, nothing has that 211 sound except 211-based tube amps and the Kegons are 300B-based amps] and more transparent – more separation …and solidity?

We’re still listening…


The Soundlab system without a rack looks pretty darn cool itself. The Audio Aero Prestige is sitting on a Rix Rax amp stand.


Yes, that is a Nordost ODIN between the Prestige and Edge Signature One amps.


The Ongaku is now in System Four in Listening Room Three (L3). We haven’t hooked it up yet – this is still a AN Oto integrated-driven system.

Make room, Make room!

We need to make room and are selling some gear that is just the kind of stuff that some of you may be interested in:

Edge NL Reference 800 watt pyramid amps (demo)
Soundlab Ultimate 1 electrostatic loudspeakers (demo)
Walker Proscenium Gold Signature turntable (demo)
Marten Coltrane loudspeakers (used)

These are all the top performers in their particular category – more or less just like everything else we carry. There just aren’t that many of these that come on the market at demo/used prices. If you want one of these, now is the time.


The Edge NL Reference amps are sitting waiting for a new owner. We need to make room people, the Kegons, both pairs, the Ongaku, the Lamms, … We got amps coming out of our ears….

They are up on Audiogon if you are interested.


The Soundlab Ultimate 1 loudspeakers are playing music while waiting for a new owner. We got amps coming out our ears and speakers coming out our…. ears too. We got four systems and still we always have at least a couple of great speakers just sitting around for months on end.

The Soundlab U1 are still the best electrostatic speakers and are up on Audiogon.


The Walker Proscenium Gold Signature turntable is ready for a new owner. Also on the infamous Audiogon.

Here are some photos of the pieces that come with…


We have the compressor and large damping chambers up on a bookcase in the room next to listening room #2


The compressor.


The large damping chambers


The Walker motor controller.


Another view of the motor controller.


The small damping chambers sit nicely next to the rack.


A closeup of the small damping chambers


A pair of Marten Coltrane loudspeakers that we had here a long time are available – the owner is moving and is selling their entire system. It is not on Audiogon but please, if you are interested, contact us immediately.

OK, back to our normally scheduled programming. :-)