The Sound of One Tube Playing: Audio Note P3 Single-Ended Triode Power Amplifier

By Dayna B. Reprinted from The Audio Adventure
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The dudes at Audio Note must be into Zen philosophy, because they build amplifiers that are "one with the music!" The sound the P3 single-ended, 300B directly heated triode tube amp produces is so very natural (even if this sentence isn’t). This amp reproduces the music with tremendous body, seemingly without strain.

Naturally, there is a catch. As with all Audio Note amplifiers, the P3 works best with speakers with a stable impedance curve that remains relatively constant--or at least smooth--across the frequency spectrum. This alone limits your choice of speakers. Most speakers on the market have serious dips in impedance.

The problem is compounded when you consider that this huge 60-something pounder requires a proper pair of speakers that are relatively efficient. However, with a synergistic match, the whopping 8-1/2 watts per channel can sound more like 100! And you’ll get explosive dynamics and lightning quick transient response. The speakers I used for this review were the American Power & Light Alix Annes, which have an efficiency rating of 95db/1w/1m with a resistive impedance of 3.2 ohms.

Well, enough techno talk! Time to see what the P3 can do!

Let’s have some fun--let’s start out running. In order for an amp to really rock, rhythm and pace have to be powerful. And, dude! It was slammin’ & jammin’. The Blake Babies’ Sunburn (Mammoth Records MR0022-1) is a classic alternative music album, with a very young Juliana Hatfield. The bass pounded out the beat, while the rimshots were kickin’. The vocals were smooth and almost unbelievable for an indie record. Timing was consistently stable--yeah, baby! This amp rocks!

Through the P3, all music was harmonically rich, producing full-bodied instruments and vocals. If you listen to Hyperion Knight on Music of Chopin (Wilson Audio W-9129), you will hear what I’m talking about. At first, you’ll wonder, "What’s making the music so different today?" Then you’ll know: it’s the almost overwhelming realism of the sound of the piano! I could feel the resonances of the Steinway wash over me. This effect was not just present in piano recordings, either. On Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat (Cypress 661-111-1), the guitars were textually rich and the bass was so tight and full-bodied it was palpable. Even Warnes’ voice took on a fuller and more emotional sound than before. That’s what this amp had in spades. Body. Feeling. Not by adding an unnatural thickness, but extracting more of what was present in the recordings.

Most single-ended vacuum tube amps area said to have a rolled-off top end and soft, sometimes loose bass. However, many modern designs are not as restricted as the "classics" in this genre, mainly because of the improved output transformers in use today. Whatever the reason, the Audio Note P3 has extended, clear highs and deep, powerful bass. Quickness is also not normally a characteristic of single-ended amplifiers, but I don’t believe this is an average example. On Music of Chopin, the tremendous speed of the leading edges of transient attacks made the Steinway’s initial percussive hammer strikes very convicing. Checking out Jennifer Warnes again proved that the P3 could, indeed, do "quick." Rimshots were sharp and powerful. The initial percussive event of the various drums was incisive, followed by a naturally extended decay. The Canadian Brass’s Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (CBS Masterworks M42095) beautifully displayed even more of the speed this amplifier was capable of. The trumpet ws penetrating, yet smooth when the music demanded it. The trombone had a very natural brassy tone with nice bite. No, the Audio Note isn’t the fastest amp I’ve listened to, but it comes close.

Another characteristic often associated with tube amps is great imaging. And here the P2 runs true to form. On the Vivaldi, I found that the harmonics were very well placed, forming a solid, consistent image, with great air about each instrument. As in a live performance, there was some image blending--not to be confused with image bloat or wander. Often pinpoint or sharply-edged imaging is confused with realistic imaging. Try closing your eyes at the next live (unamplified) performance you got to. The images will be much like what the P3 produces.

Still, imaging is not the most important thing about hi-fi. What about tone? Well, this is a definite strength of the Audio Note! Tonal balance was super, and timbral shading and accuracy were awesome. The Vivaldi had an admirable tonal neutrality. Want an acid test? Let Hyperion take the helm. The piano is a tough instrument to repproduce accurately, and the P3 did this without even breakin’ a sweat. What a joy this experience has been.

Okay, I’ll make it easy for you. The Audio Note P3 is one hell of an amplifier. If you’ve got the right speakers, it can seem almost perfect. And if yours won’t work with this amp--well, isn’t it time you thought about looking for better speakers? This magical instrument recaptured the body of the music hidden away in one recording after another. The music was always unstrained and easy to enjoy. So, close your eyes and relax. With the P3, you can feel the emotion of the music flowing over you. Forget the equipment! Just listen. This is music!

This page was updated on: 06 Aug 1998
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