Audio Note's CD Stormer

Reprinted from What Hi-Fi?

This is Audio Note’s first CD player. The company isn’t new to digital technology, but so far has only made add-on DACs which often left AN fans not knowing which drive unit to partner them with.

The first of three players replacing the DACs - the others are 600 and 1,700 - the CD2 contains valve technology in the form of a single ECC82 triode in the output stages. The player is designed by the British arm of Audio Note, but made in Korea, which partly explains the "Japanese major" look - you could easily mistake it for a Denon. Closer inspection reveals a superior type of paint job on the metal bonnet while the brushed aluminum facia also sets it apart from the run of the mill.

Of course this isn’t a machine you buy for the looks, but you should seriously consider it for its sound. The CD2 is certainly among the best players for its price and even beyond. Based on a Sony laser mechanism, with circuitry from Ultra Analog Devices in the US, while filtering is all done in the analogue domain. It’s so fast electronically that you can’t upset it even with the most breakneck acid rock, and it strips away layers from your disks to reveal whole new areas of musical information.

Even those au fait with dynamic detail, bandwidth and coherence that you can expect from a well-engineered high-end system will find this player shockingly open. It brings the peacocks and parakeet at the opening of Kula Shaker’s Govinda right into the room, and acoustically you can tell the size of their enclosure.

For a component using valves, we were also surprised by the player’s drive, which suits a big orchestra on the rampage as much as it does a live set like Eric Clapton’s 24 Nights. Indeed, it’s well suited to big musical landscapes, producing bass that can be measured in acreage across the floor, allied to a strong midrange and gorgeously liquid treble that you feel you can reach out and touch. And it can also deliver all the pathos of Andrew Keeping’s guitar playing on his British Guitar disc with superb finesse. While the tremendous clarity here showed up on some of our recordings -- you can hear just how good (or bad) the engineering is - it handles a wide range of music superbly.

The Audio Note sees your music collection in a crystal clear light. In fact, we can’t remember hearing a player on the right side of 1,0000 which sounded this good.


What Hi-Fi? Speaks with Andy Grove:

"Ninety-nine percent of CD players use exactly the same circuitry - they’re clones of each other and you can see that they just copy the same data sheets." So says Andy Grove, one of Audio Note’s design engineers, when asked to explain why the CD2 is different. "Really we take out more than we put in. So we try to keep out filter and output minimal and with passive circuitry to ensure that very little is added to the audio signal. The valve is the only active component in the output stage, and it’s a simple solution to what is otherwise complex circuitry. After conversion the filtering is all passive with inductance coils rather than the active op amps that most CD players use.

"One of the things that is so depressing," he continues, " is that at the university you are told that inductor coils are expensive to make properly so you shouldn’t do it. But you can make a much better circuit if you use them, and you can hear the difference..."

An Excerpt from What Hi-Fi’s "Classy CD":

The Audio Note CD2

Best known for valve amps, Audio Note has been making standalone digital-to-analogue converters for some time. This, its first integrated player, is besigned in Britian and manufactured in Korea.

Inside is a Sony transport and 18-bit conversion sourced from the USA, but beyond that is where Audio Note expertise kicks in. The filtering is passive, and then there’s the output amplification: valve-powered, it’s right ahead of the analogue outputs.

No valves are no guarantee of a particular sound, but the AN CD2 is more than capable of a big, magestic and yet well-detailed sound perfectly in line with its manufacturer’s other equipment. However,the CD2 has an appeal that extends beyond the scope of an all Audio Note system.

Slip a highly atmospheric disc like Celtic choir Anuna’s Omnis into this player, and its ability with vocal in instrumental timbres is beyond doubt. The close knit harmonies are easily analysed, every voice being clear and distinct, while the ambient information delivered enhances the music rather than destracting the listener. It’s just as a competent with orchestral and chanber musinc, again focusing on the character of the instruments involved while still conveying the music as a whole.

It also rocks in surprising fashion: whether with the quirky lounge-pop of Pizzicato Five or the blatant Motown rip-off that is Black-Eyed Boy by Texas, the Audio Note has driving bass and soundstage focus, while with gorgeously recorded stuff like Toni Braxton’s Secrets disc the delivery is lush, soulful and hard to better.

Yes, there is some warmth to the sound some will find a little too rich, prefering the brighter presentation of some other’s [in this round-up], but the Audio Note player is an auspicious debut, and one you ignore at your peril.

Rating: 5 Stars (Highest)

This page was updated on: 06 Aug 1998
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