● Input impedance: 100KOhms line input and
47KOhms phono input
● Gain: 8.2 Line in (18dB) and 1900, Phono
in (65dB), both at 1KHz
● Output noise: Less than 0.08mV RMS,
unweighted line input. Typically 12mV RMS, unweighted, phono
● Maximum output: 4.4 volt RMS
● Output impedance: Less than 10 Ohms
● Power Consumption: 81W with 1A anti-surge
● Dimensions: 141(H) � 445(W) x 410(D)(mm)
● Weight: 16kg
● MSRP: $7,500 with Phono preamp, $6,000
Line Stage only
When I attended HE 2003 in San Francisco, Audio Note's U.S. distributor
Ray Lombardi asked me if I wished to review the $6000 line stage version
of Audio Note UK's M3 preamplifier. This is Audio Note's Level 3 preamp,
the most costly preamp listed on their website.
Given that I had never before heard such a costly, premium preamp in my
system, I leaped at the offer. My sincere thanks to reviewer Constantine
Soo for bringing the M3 over from his home and recently retrieving it on
short notice when Ray needed to get it to the opening of a new Audio Note
dealership in Sacramento, California.
Since the preamp arrived chez Serinus devoid of packaging and manual, I
have relied on technical descriptions I have been able to piece together
from the Audio Note website and other reviews. Though I regret being
reduced to the status of a parrot, I note that it is a most beautiful
Audio Note states that the M3 preamp uses a complementary dual mono power
supply incorporating valve rectification and double choke smoothing. The
unit is completely hand-wired throughout. Its audio circuit, hand made and
hand wired, uses the company's own Tantalum film resistors, high quality
Cerafine capacitors, pure copper foil signal capacitors and Black Gate
de-coupling capacitors. Output transformers are copper wired IE-core with
M4 laminations. The dual mono power supplies use independent 6X5WGT double
choke rectifiers for each channel.
The M3's line stage output is configured as a small "power amplifier" with
one 5687WB double triode per channel. An output transformer couples the
output of the vacuum tube to the input of the power amp. This allows the
M3 to utilize not only two sets of single ended RCA outputs but also a 600
Ohm fully balanced output with a Lemo type connector.
The M3 linestage offers six inputs. Each uses a 5687WB series
zero-feedback plate follower driving an output transformer. Eight
transformers are employed in the M3. The faceplate's four Noble pots
control Inputs, Tape Monitor, Balance and Volume. All jacks are thickly
silver-plated over solid copper.
When I first received this quite weighty, solid feeling, large-sized
preamp, I could not resist giving it a listen. At the risk of sounding
like an easily excitable adolescent, my initial reaction was �Wow!�
Compared to my much lighter and slimmer reference Bruce Moore Companion
III linestage preamp, whose fully upgraded version costs $2000 less than
the $6000 Audio Note linestage M3, the Audio Note produced a far larger,
more dynamic soundstage. Everything seemed big, fatter, rounder � more
saliva inducing. The M3's far more impactful bass also suggested that it
had a larger power supply than the Companion III.
Starry-eyed lovers, however, do not necessarily write reliable reviews. It
was therefore necessary for me to remove myself a bit from my initial
state of infatuation and ground my statements in objective comparison. To
accomplish this, I spent some months listening to and reviewing other
components and auditioning a variety of other preamps. Only then did I
return to the Audio Note.
As my listening proceeded, I began to notice several things. One was that
the tone of the preamp seemed rather sweet. It was a delicious sweetness,
one more likely to please than to induce hypoglycemia, but it was a
sweetness nonetheless. I also sensed that while the M3's sound was
unquestionably liquid and musical, it produced somewhat round edges,
softening the image. Even though the Bruce Moore could in no way produce
the size, weight, and seductiveness of the Audio Note's image, it did seem
to provide more inner detail.
Before I had any technical information on the preamp, I brought it over to
technical whiz David Tonelli. David taught at the College of Recording
Arts for 19 years, has built radio stations from scratch, and regularly
repairs vacuum tube and studio equipment. He's known by audio engineers
throughout the Bay Area.
When I began to describe what I heard from the Audio Note, David opened it
up and took a look. �Sure enough,� he said. �Just what I suspected. It's a
tube-based linestage that uses output transformers.�
�How do output transformers affect a preamp's sound,� I asked?
David explained that output transformers can be used for a number of
reasons. They provide a very low impedance output, enabling a preamp to
easily drive a larger number of different components. They can also drive
a very long line without losses, and provide a balanced output. By
creating isolation between components, output transformers can break up
ground loops and minimize the effects of cables.
David also noted some potential disadvantages of output transformers.
Output transformers can very slightly color the sound of signals passing
through them. The better the transformer, the less the coloration, and the
greater likelihood that the coloration is primarily of a euphonic quality.
To quote David, �The coloration can make everything sound warm and fuzzy,
but you can lose some transient detail.�
David suggested that euphonic qualities can makes sonic images seem
bigger. Because output transformers can deliver current like a small power
amplifier, they can drive an amplifier harder, especially at low
frequencies. This can result in fatter bass response. While fatter is not
necessarily tighter, fatness does not decrease tightness. Tightness
relates to speed of the bass transients, while fatness refers to sustain
in the bass.
Finally he observed that the M3's power supply is unusually large for a
preamp. This results in more current being available for the current
hungry 5687 tube and its associated output transformer. The power supply
is very well filtered by using two filter chokes and a large amount of
capacitor reservoir, which translates into more current.
David considers the M3's build quality unusually high. �It's like a piece
of pro (broadcast) gear,� he proclaimed. �It's built like a tank.�
I'll second that one.
Of the four preamps here for review, the Revelation Audio OM-1 Quantum
solid state linestage, when played without its optional battery pack power
supply, lists for almost the same price as the Audio Note M3. I therefore
conducted a series of detailed comparisons between the units, focusing on
six recordings. My selections and experiences are detailed below:
1. Arleen Auger: Love Songs (Delos). This exceptional recital features the
exquisite soprano Arleen Auger at the height of her maturity. The M3
definitely produced a bigger and more liquid image than the OM-1 Quantum.
With the attack of the piano, however, the experience of hammers hitting
strings to produce a series of tones and overtones, was clearer with the
OM-1. Its sound seemed more neutral and relaxed, while the Audio Note
seemed warmer, more delicious, but a bit hyped up.
2. Hilary Hahn: Brahms Violin Concerto (Sony). I seemed to hear more glint
from Hilary's violin with the OM-1 Quantum, and more detail in the string
section. Hahn's violin also seemed to emerge more from a quieter
background, with more lower midrange and bass from the orchestra. On the
other hand, the M3 seemed more liquid, its highs soaring like water
shooting from a fountain. This made for a delicious violin listening
3. Karina Gauvin: Songs of the Auvergne (CBC Records). Another
exquisite performance, this time from a soprano most associated with early
music, accompanied by a masterful chamber orchestra playing a chamber
reduction of Canteloube's colorful score. I enjoyed the music through both
preamps. The quality that
stood out most about the OM-1 Quantum was that its reproduction of the
orchestra's bass seemed tighter, with pitches more clearly defined. Images
were also a bit easier to pinpoint in space.
4. George Faber: Blues (BAT Records). At HE 2003, I asked several
reviewers about new non-classical releases suitable for reviewing
components. Without hesitation, Wayne Garcia recommended this initial
release from BAT Records. Thanks to Geoff Poor of Balanced Audio
Technology for giving me an autographed copy.
Again, I would have wished more tightness from the M3's bass. I also
missed a very clear edge around the voice, and the manner in which the
OM-1 Quantum caused the voice to stand out from a silent background during
moments when instrumental accompaniment briefly ceased.
5. Terry Evans: Puttin it Down (JVC-XRCD). Listening to my favorite �Blues
No More� track, a track I turn to over and over again, Ry Cooder's guitar
seemed a little rounder and fatter on the Audio Note. Bass notes, however,
were not as tight. There was a beautiful transparency, but the M3's
cymbals did not achieve ultimate delicacy � they seemed more like splashes
of sound than the product of sharp attacks. I also felt that the quieter
background of the OM-1 Quantum produced a greater sense of air around the
6. Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances (Reference Recordings). Early in this
recording, within the first two minutes, there is an audible cough that
can be heard from an orchestra member situated on stage left (audience
right). I certainly heard the cough with both preamplifiers, but it was
clearer and fuller on the OM-1 Quantum. Some listeners of course may
question both the desirability of hearing such a level of detail, let
alone the possibility of ever hearing it in a live situation. I will
therefore never claim that greater detail = greater truth or musicality.
The choice, ultimately, is one of aesthetics.
The Audio Note M3 preamp certainly deserves its top-of-the-line status. It
is a solidly built unit capable of producing a most seductive, liquid, and
eminently musical sound. Other preamps in this price range may more offer
more detail, tighter bass, less coloration, or a blacker black, but these
are not necessarily the qualities that many listeners value most highly.
The Audio Note M3, for example, would prove an excellent complement for a
CD source or amp - especially a solid state amp - that tended to
produce bright, edgy, or overly etched sound.
When all is said and
done, the Audio Note UK M3's large, mouth watering presentation and
non-fatiguing reproduction of digital sources will prove the perfect cup
of tea for many audiophiles.
- Jason Victor Serinus -
Digital Front End:
Alex Peychev heavily modified Sony 707ES transport
Theta Gen. 5A single-ended DAC (to be replaced with the Gen.VIII);
Perpetual Technologies P-1A with Modwright modified Monolithic Power
Supply and Revelation Audio umbilical power cable
Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro transport
Bruce Moore 100W dual mono tube power amp with Electro-Harmonix KT-88s and
Siemens Cca tubes
Bruce Moore Companion III tube preamp with Electro-Harmonix gold pin 6922s
and Jan Philips 12AU7 equivalents; Reflection Audio Om-1 Quantum
battery-powered preamp in non-battery mode
Talon Khorus X speakers (with final modifications)
Digital: Nordost Valhalla interconnects and digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Powercables: Elrod EPS-1, 2, and 3 and EPS Signature-2.
Nordost, AudioPrism Super Natural S2 (on the cheap DVD player).
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks, room treatment, and
Black Diamond Racing Cones
Inner tube, maple cutting boards, bags of sand
Shakti stones on Amp and Monolithic/P-1a
Bedini Quadra Beam Ultraclarifier
Audioprism Stoplight and Blacklight, Marigo Disc
Sheffield/XLO degmagnetiser and break-in disc and Ayre demagnetizing disc
� Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity