In 1988 Audio Note introduced the single-ended, no-feedback, directly heated triode amplifier to the world audio marketplace. Since then, Audio Note has justly become the largest manufacturer and most famous purveyor of this type of amplification in the world.
Audio Note was founded in 1975 by Hiroyasu Kondo. Mr. Kondo is the second son of a Buddhist priest. He is an artist, a father, a professor of electronic engineering and molecular metallurgy and, most importantly, he is the Picasso of contemporary audio design.
Mr. Kondo founded Audio Note to share his discoveries with the larger audio community. Prior to founding AN, Mr. Kondo worked for TEAC on the development of digital recording technology during the 60's and for SONY CORP. as a recording engineer. His own research grew out of a deep dissatisfaction with the recording equipment he was using in the studio at SONY/CBS.
His first product was a microphone preamp; the research involved therein led him to the basic design principles that infuse all Audio Note components. For this project, he wound his own input transformer. Mr. Kondo believes that the audio signal is strikingly delicate, containing micro-components of voltage and current that are rarely preserved beyond the microphone. In order to lift audio playback from mediocrity to a level where music's most basic elements are reproduced with a fundamental rightness, Mr. Kondo postulated that the very smallest scale information and the basic overall proportions of the music signal must somehow be preserved. Color, texture and proportion become the central elements of the search for a higher level of audio fidelity.
Small scale information is the fabric or molecular structure of which the musical whole is made. Without the small scale textural, dynamic plasticity and tempo information, there cannot be any musical continuity. Musical continuity and body depends on signal continuity. If the energy transfer is fragmented or interrupted, it is not complete and whole at each stage of the amplification chain. If the DNA-like structure of the musical signal is deformed and its basic continuity is lost. The relationships between big and small, hard and soft, warm and cool, rough and smooth, etc. are changed. The fabric that holds the music together is torn. Thus, high quality music reproduction depends wholly on the preservation of these relationships! Contemporary audio reviewers or manufacturers are largely unaware of these issues of scale or contrast and, more obviously, are not plugged into the continuity and gestalt of the music. These relationships are critical in the preservation of the architecture of musical composition. It is this musical architecture that draws us in, that engages us and aids in our understanding and response to the musical content. When we lose this information we lose the "Rock" and the "Roll", the soul, the boogie-woggie and the sublime classicism. We believe no other audio company has EVER looked at these issues of scale, proportion and continuity. No other company consciously designs products to preserve the musical architecture. If they did, all amplification would be single-ended directly heated triode with no-feedback or re-generation.
Kondo was happy and excited with the quality of his new mic preamp and began to wonder, "What would make it even better?" He thought,"Hmmm, silver conducts 7% better than copper - maybe a 7% improvement would be really worth the effort". When he first drew the silver wire for the transformer he looked at it under the microscope and noticed it was rough and torn looking - "like a cat scratched it!" He was drawing the silver at low temperatures to preserve the best boundary chemistry and crystal structure. He realized that at low temperatures the stainless steel dies were too crude and dull to draw the wire smoothly so he designed a set of diamond-edge dies that allowed him to draw wire with a smooth surface at low temperatures.
At Audio Note we understand that the music signal is a continuous dynamic shock wave that has electro-mechanical, electro-chemical, electro-static and electro-magnetic effects as it impressed on the amplification chain. Minimizing the disturbances in each of these areas will allow more of the delicate aspects of the signal to pass unaltered. In other words, what is often forgotten is that music starts from silence and the music signal is therefore MUCH MORE than just voltage and current. It is energy expanding from a void. It is a complex, pulsating, expanding wave of energy that affects everything it comes in contact with. At every juncture in the audio chain, some of this energy is stored and later released. Coincidentally, at every frequency and level, the stored energy is later released OUT OF TIME with the original signal and impressed on the new, virgin signal. Remember, every action has an equal and opposite reaction! Imagine the music signal as a continuously flowing electro-magnetic slipstream.
Mr. Kondo and Audio Note together are seeking to minimize the signal corruption by minimizing the reactive nature of amplification. We don't want to break down and degrade the signal and then try to reconstruct and error correct it. Energy cannot change form without significant losses. Instead we engineer toward a natural, genteel form of amplification where, at each juncture, we preserve the signal to the greatest possible extent. We try not to damage the signal so we treat it carefully. At each stage of amplification, we demand as little of the signal as possible, we don't force it to do more than become modestly larger. We work very hard to keep our electronics simple. We do this by using durable, super-linear amplifying devices in amplifiers using the least possible circuitry. Our foremost objective is to retain the complete natural proportions of the recorded music!
Typically, audio designers use two to three times as many stages of amplification as we do. They over-amplify the signal by a factor of several thousand and then chop it and divide it and error-correct it. Only 1% or less is left of the original signal! Audio Note finds less barbaric, more civilized ways to amplify the musical life form.
To do this, we have had to design our own capacitors, resistors, wire, transformers and even our own acid free solder - every Audio Note product is assembled with solder of our own design. Has there ever been a manufacturer that has gone to ANY of these lengths to elucidate their aesthetic? Has there ever been a manufacturer with a distribution network of creative writers, artists, music historians and audio engineers? Audio Note seeks out and employs creative minds across the globe. Audio Note distributors are typically inventors and artists that are comfortable studying and writing about serious audio design issues - deeply committed to explaining their aesthetic. Audio Note seeks cultural change and has worked twenty years to be at the leading edge of world audio. Audio Note wants the consumer to know what we believe in and to what lengths we are willing to go to create a range of truly exceptional products.
Audio Note makes design decisions based solely on what we believe gives the consumer the greatest long-term listening pleasure. Never do we choose a component or a connector or a circuit topology because it is fashionable or will increase the "perceived value" of the product. The musical aesthetic we believe in is always the final arbiter.
Mr. Kondo still hasn't completely figured out why the switch to silver in the mic preamp did not have only a 7% improvement. He asked me, "Why did silver improve the preamp 200%?" As he continued his research, he found that purity and quality of the silver has a dramatic effect on audio quality. So much so that he began to refine his own silver from Italian ingots. Silver is only 7% more conductive than copper, but it is very different in the electro-mechanical, electro-magnetic, electro-static and electro-chemical realms. It is a completely different element! Silver wire offers improved damping, resonance, magnetic coherence, boundary chemistry and crystal structure characteristics. Additionally, the relationships between A/C current and A/C voltage at widely different signal levels are maintained much better with silver. Mr. Kondo also found that the very small gauges preserve the texture, color and small-signal information far better than larger gauges. Smaller gauges are simply lower loss when the whole energy spectrum is considered.
This page was updated on: 06 Aug 1998
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