State of the systems at Audio Federation

A little update on the state of things here…

The Audio Note Ongaku integrated is on the Coltrane Supreme speakers. Those are the Lamm ML2.1 waiting in the wings. They were used as part of a recent out-of-towner audition. [Yes, the speaker cables are taking a shortcut over the Marten crossover – a little cable dressing no-no but, well, it ain’t going to reach otherwise].

The deathstar [mixing movie metaphors here, I know] Audio Note digital is on the left: The CDT-5 transport, the Fifth Element DAC and Fifth Force power supply. On the right is the Brinkmann turntable, the Audio Note S9 step up transformer and the Audio M9 Phono preamplifier. On the bottom there is the Emm Labs XDS1 CD/SACD player.

Downstairs we have the Audio Note Kegon amps driving the Audio Note AN/E SE Signature speakers.

On the side we have a lot of stuff. We have the Audio Note CDT-3 transport and DAC 4 Balanced into the Emm Labs PRE2 linestage. We also have the Walker turntable into the Lamm LP2 phono preamplifier. Other components – not hooked up – and the Audio Note Kegon Balanced amps and M3 RIAA phono preamplifier.

In the small room we have the Audio Aero Capitole CD player and the, I think Neli has the P1 hooked up, driving the AN/E SPe HE speakers.

State of the systems here…

I took these photos yesterday – and already things have changed quite a bit, with a few pieces going out on audition and Thursday another shootout will mix things up some more 🙂

We have had the Audio Note Kegon Balanced amps on the Marten Coltrane Supremes for a few months now. It is very nice and for some reason produces more bass than any amp we have had on these speakers [so we just turn down the bass on the crossover. We also can move the speakers out from the wall a wee bit more if we decide we are missing something. Haven’t felt that way so far though…]

We are running the Brinkmann Balance turntable and EMM Labs CDSD and DCC2 digital through the Audio Note M9 Phono preamplifier.

We are using the little S4 step-up for the Titan cartridge on the M9. Works pretty dang good, considering it wasn’t really made for this kind of thing. Heck, running the Titan direct sounded pretty dang good, although very quiet. The point being that the Phono in this preamp has a qualitative depth that is really fun to explore – it is very open, very harmonically complex, with very good dynamic resolution.


This is the exact same system that we took to CES: Audio Note everything: Ongaku integrated, SEC Signature speakers, SOOTTO interconnects and SOGON speaker cables, with Nordost ODIN and AcroLink power cords.

Except the placement is kind of … different. A future post will talk about this weird placement that really works very very well … for octagonal rooms anyway.

A couple of turntables share the Lamm LP2 phono.

The Kharma Mini Exquisite speakers are being driven by the big EDGE reference amps. We swap between these and the Lamm ML2.1 amps, which A. underdrives the speakers something awful, but B. sounds very very wonderful in the midrange. About half the people only care about A and half only care about B. I think Neli and I are both B – because B is so gooood – but we understand the A point of view too 🙂

The EDGE from above. ODIN speaker cables and interconnects.

The 3rd room. We take new visitors to our store/home/showroom here first. I’d say about 60% convince us it is the best sound they ever heard.

Then we take them to hear the other systems.

This system is good enough that we tend to spend way longer here than we probably should – given that there are 3 systems to go we often spend 30 – 40% of our visitor’s time here.

Quick Tour

The inside of one of the Audio Note Kegon Balance 300B amplifiers. The Kegon Balance is essentially a 300B Gaku-on. The Gaku-on is Audio Note’s best amplifier which is based on the 211 tube.

The sound?

Very dynamic and controlled. The signature reticence of the speaker’s ceramic drivers is no longer audible. It is hard to over-state this aspect of these amps. A lot of the time is just spent thinking ‘I didn’t know amps could DO that’.

In comparison, solid-state amps just smack the notes out with a sledge-hammer – they [currently seem to] have no ability to control the shape of the notes as it they are supposed to be – if they are to sound like music [or even just musical] that is.

And in comparison, most tube amps just sound anemic, where they, overall, can generated notes shaped more naturally, more real, than solid-state, but lack that SMACK that most musicians often apply to their piano or guitar or drum.

Just the right amount of harmonics. Which is to say more than the Lamm ML2.1 6C33C tube-based amplifier, and less than your other 300B-based amplifiers [that we have heard]. Presumably all of our readers know how bad too little harmonics affects the enjoyability of music. And for too much harmonics, too much harmonics and the primary tone washes out the lesser tones – and it is the lessor tones that make a person hear deep into the richness and playfulness and… I don’t know – that thing that happens when you go into a toy store and bang on some chimes – or into a Tibetan store [we have a dozen here in Boulder] and bang on the gongs or use the Bhuddist bowls – or to a piano store and bang on the keys of their best piano — JUST to listen to the sound and the undertones [and the lovely decades-long decay].

Anyway – more on this system after RMAF.