Review: Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP Loudspeakers, overall, it surprises with an amazingly mature bass performance for its size.
Audio Note is considered a cult manufacturer that likes to go its own way. This also applies to the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP pair (6,740 euros) that the German distributor made available to us, complete with speaker stands. The mid-bass driver of this unusual two-way speaker has hemp as an ingredient and also stands out from the usual frame with its blue color. Not the only surprise that the relatively light boxes made of fine wood have to offer…
The pallet that the shipping company unloads here in my front yard promises heavy luggage. But this impression is deceptive: The Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP turns out to be an amazingly light loudspeaker: the manufacturer from Sussex in southern England states a back-friendly 13 kilograms. Compared to other speakers that tend to weigh a hundredweight or more, the Audio Note almost feels like a feather. Since the JAN-J/LX HEMP is too big for a shelf speaker and too small for a floor-standing speaker, the German distributor has included the matching speaker stands (designation: “Audio Note J Stand” in the color satin black), which cost an extra 890 euros and look very solid, but still elegant. The heaviest thing on the pallet, on the other hand, are thousands of small balls of lead, which the sales department has also supplied to fill and weigh down the stands. Because the speakers only sound perfect with well-filled and therefore extremely heavy stands, so the statement.
This is where the vacuum cleaner and an elementary insight come into play: high-pile carpets and mini balls do not go together. Try prying hundreds of these out of a fluffy rug. I shouldn’t have put my hand in the sack in the living room, but should have used a ladle in the clean room.
Thanks to Dyson, it’s moving on fairly quickly – time to introduce the manufacturer: Audio Note has been a cult brand for three decades, which some hi-fi fans worship with almost religious traits. The British brand manufactures everything your heart desires: turntables, cartridges, CD players, preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers, power amplifiers, cables – and of course speakers. In short: At Audio Note, audiophiles can put together a complete chain – or buy components to build or refine themselves. It is also possible to order components, such as output transformers or tubes. The latter are the focus at Audio Note, the Brits swear by tube technology, sleep on tube pillows and have only a weary smile for transistor amplifiers. The loudspeakers presented here are indirectly related to tubes: Due to their high efficiency of 93 dB/W/m in combination with their flat, uncritical impedance , they also harmonize with tube amplifiers. Audio Note even goes one step further, stating that the AN-J/LX HEMP are designed specifically for triode amps, and are satisfied with as little as seven watts per channel. With me they get a lot more steam, the reinforcement takes over – yuk! – the transistor heavyweight McIntosh MA8900 AC, which should turn out to be a great playing partner, even if Audio Note certainly sees it differently.
When unpacking, several things were noticed in addition to the low weight and the handy dimensions of 58.5 cm (height) x 33 cm (width) x 23.5 cm (depth). Let’s start with the positive: The matt walnut real wood veneer looks flawless and leaves a very noble and excellently processed impression. The basic material is Russian birch multiplex, and when it comes to the surface, those interested are spoiled for choice from around 20 different types of wood such as cherry, wenge, olive or walnut. What’s more, many variants can be ordered either in the standard matte finish or in a lacquered high-gloss finish, with the latter making a bigger dent in the account.
Also the bi-wiring-Connection terminal on the back of the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP looks very high-quality and solid at first glance (it says “Made in Austria” in large letters), but then raises question marks at second glance: Where are they actually? Metal bridges or jumpers in between? None available – until you see a small bag containing strangely thin metal rods, just one millimeter in diameter, reminiscent of sewing needles. They won’t… No kidding, those are the bridges! Considering how small the connector terminal is and also considering that it sits about an inch below the surface, it becomes clear why only needles are included here: You have to bend the parts so that they can somehow be pushed through the holes. British humor? No, the needles are pure silver and are certainly better conductors than the usual tin jumpers that come with most other speakers. I’m a bit speechless and practice fumbling again after the lead pellets.
The next surprise: When I first unpacked it, I thought the blue hemp woofer was covered with white, sometimes quite large, fluff and other dirt. No way: The white particles are incorporated into the membrane. It doesn’t look classy, but the end in terms of sound justifies the means, as is well known. In the beginning, my eyes always fall on the white troublemakers, but I got used to them over the course of the weeks. On the other hand, I am blown away by phrases like this from the owner’s manual: “Like all of our loudspeakers, the AN-J goes through the same meticulous driver selection and matching process that ensures the tightest tolerances within a pair in the entire audio industry.” Specifically it looks like this: “To get the best possible combination of driver and crossover, we have developed a dynamic matching procedure. This ensures that each loudspeaker in a stereo pair corresponds to a master curve and also to its partner with an accuracy of 0.4 dB.” Oh yes: according to German distributors, 90 percent of the hemp variant is ordered, so only one in ten chooses it conventional paper version. Martin Grennall, who works at Audio Note in England, explains the hemp cone as follows: “Technically speaking, it is only slightly heavier than the standard paper cone, but it is also stiffer, especially the latest generation of smooth hemp cones.” And: “It proves itself in the Midrange as much more expressive than the paper cone, less dark and closed, less thick sounding. It brings a more open, expressive presentation,
Technique and classification: Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP
We are dealing with a two-way speaker with a bass reflex tube on the back. The eight-inch hemp bass-midrange drivers have copper voice coils and are wired internally with copper cables called Lexus-LX. The British generally attach great importance to the quality of the internal wiring and assign it a decisive role in the sound. The dome tweeter , on the other hand, is made of silk fabric and is the typical inch in size. The crossover consists of mostly self-manufactured parts, the British emphasize. Unfortunately, the crossover frequency could not be found out. “We don’t offer crossover frequency measurements,” said Martin Grennall of Audio Note England. “That’s one of the typical things that when asked about it, we say, ‘Just listen.'”
In the not always easy to understand world of Audio Note, our AN-J/LX HEMP test pair corresponds to a Level 2 loudspeaker with a nominal impedance of six ohms. As an explanation, without diving deep into the subject: The level classification serves as an orientation in which league a component or a sound transducer plays. It starts at Level 0 for beginners, Level 6 is the pinnacle of what is possible and the high-end value of a condominium in a big city. Level 2 can therefore be found in the lower third and thus something like lower middle class. Audio Note would like 6744.22 euros for the Level 2 pair AN-J/LX HEMP, whereby this unround value comes about by converting US dollars into euros.
It’s not just the level classification that shows that this manufacturer is taking a different path from the competition. According to the enclosed operating instructions, the loudspeaker philosophy is as follows: “The design calls for a housing that complements the selected drivers instead of fighting against them. Rather than trying to kill the resonances, we tailored the cabinet to place them in frequency ranges where they support and enhance the operation of the drivers.” R.) it outperforms any loudspeaker of a similar size, regardless of its origin. This is partly thanks to the flat cabinet shape and the wide baffle, which offer the drivers the best possible operating conditions, so that they appear
Audio Note AN-J/LX Hemp: Sound Test & Comparisons
The recommendation from the sales department and the operating instructions also leave no room for doubt as to where the speakers should be: near the wall, even in the corners of the room. Such a recommendation is rare. It surprises me twice over, since I placed the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP completely freely in the room to play it in – and was immediately massaged by a relatively powerful bass. “Audio Note’s loudspeakers are designed in such a way that they are placed in the corner of the room three dB per side more depth,” explains Stefan Wörmer from German sales. “This construction also gives you the most balanced sound. But you always play with space and don’t try to counteract it. We don’t have the usual set-up problems!” And: “Make sure the stand is straight and wobble-free and put as much weight as possible in the stands – they are an integral part of the loudspeakers.” The two stands that can be ordered separately fit in both appearance and size perfect for our test couple. Audio Note states that the bass ranges from -6 dB up to 25 Hz, while the tweeter stops at 23 kHz according to the factory.
Let’s start the description of the sound with the bass: Standing alone, as I said, it sounds surprisingly powerful – and rich in detail. With this setup, the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP does not reach the lowest frequencies, but it convinces with a wonderfully crisp, dry and agile kick bass, for example with “Faster” from the 2011 album The Unforgiving by Within Temptation. Due to the positioning, the last draft that makes this piece so impressive is missing, but no other speaker of this size would be able to do that freestanding either. But what about placement close to a wall (about 20 centimeters in front of the back wall)? Completely different, I even startle a bit, it hits me so thunderously. Already too voluminous for my taste, softened and with a tendency to drone, so I didn’t even try to set it up in the corners of the room. Powerful and yet pleasantly balanced to my ears, it sounds 50 centimeters away from the rear wall, here in my 27 square meter listening room pressure and detail are balanced. I’m floored: I would never have expected such a grown-up bass from such a comparatively small box! Incidentally, this also applies when the speakers are attached to the brand-new all-in-one device AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 (test report will follow soon) with 2 x 140 watts – it also grooves pretty deep here. Yes, in terms of bass, the Audio Note J-LX-Hemp is a force that will certainly attract one or the other floor-standing speaker fan to its side.
The 13-kilo box also proves to be a high-resolution power pack with high efficiency in the high range. I still have the small but mighty Harbeth P3ESR XD from my last test in the ear, which was rather gentle and slightly withdrawn in the treble. The Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP behaves differently in this area: it has a very high resolution and doesn’t sound a bit withdrawn. The highs are definitely present and fresh, but not too offensive or even sharp – I never felt overwhelmed or annoyed, but rather well informed at the top. I find them largely neutral, they stand out in terms of level and their basic orientation at best very slightly from the sound – the description “elegantly integrated” is the best, also in relation to the price class. Or to put it another way: they provide analysts with a lot of information without scaring off listeners on the other hand.
The Audio Note also differs somewhat from the Harbeth in the mids: While the latter sounded very full-bodied in the mids and focused on the sonority of the voice reproduction, our current Briton seems more objective, transparent and direct here, which is due to the somewhat special tuning which Harbeth is no wonder. Voices are a little less mellow without sounding sober and emotionless. For example, the wonderfully melancholic piano ballad “Light Years” from the current The National album “I Am Easy To Find” (2019) out: While you can see the golden yellow autumn leaves falling in front of your inner eye on the Harbeth, the leaves on the Audio Note are still slightly green – and you can see their delicate structures. You could also say: The Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP behaves in the mids in an exemplary way, neutral and open, adding nothing, but taking nothing away either. She doesn’t paint with the thickest brush, but her fine lines hit all the nuances – especially with voices. Compared to my Martin Logan Impression 11A, which costs about twice as much, it sounds very similar to Matt Berninger’s voice, and neither thickened nor overemphasized nor sterile or emotionless.
From the sound description of the lows, mids and highs it can be read that we are dealing with a loudspeaker that is very playful – both in terms of coarse and fine dynamics. The Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP presents what is happening with its high level of efficiency in a sovereign and powerful manner, large – which is amazing in view of its size – as well as small level jumps, it seamlessly reproduces. Of course, at high levels the limit is reached at some point, where it can no longer keep up with the partially active Martin Logan Impression 11A with active bass module, for example. But this limit is surprisingly high, at room volume and a good bit above, it impresses with attack and playfulness that not even some larger floorstanding speakers in their price range can manage. Impressive.
It works out details brilliantly, I never had the feeling that I was missing anything in any frequency range – not even in comparison with the Martin Logan. This becomes clear, for example, with the new Quicksand album Distant Populations , which was produced beautifully transparent and powerful. The cult-suspicious post-hardcore pioneers from New York City, who shaped the genre like no other band in the 90s, grab the guitar strings again and flood the listening room with information. With the opening number “Inversion” I’m in the middle of the studio – flapping pant legs and open mouth included. The two-way loudspeaker once again proves to be a powerful hum.
Coming to stage width and depth, a great judge is Twin Shadow ‘s Locked & Loaded , available on 2015’s Eclipse album is located. The opulent synth-pop piece impresses with a wide stage that fans out in every direction. Here the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP cannot keep up with the Martin Logan, the stage is less expansive in comparison. Which doesn’t mean that it’s tiny, no: the sound even extends slightly beyond the speakers to the left and right. In my set-up (half a meter from the wall plus powerful transistor amplifier), the reproduction begins at the box level and from there stretches aggressively towards the listener, but I don’t hear a great stage depth to the rear. In return, the individual instruments can be heard precisely from what is happening. They appear beautifully staggered, tangible and three-dimensional in space, always with a certain urge to move forward. The latter makes up the character of this loudspeaker: attack, pressure, fun. A hemp-proof surprise.
Conclusion – Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP Loudspeakers
Honestly, I’m having a hard time pushing this speaker out. My reservation when unpacking has meanwhile turned into enthusiasm. Now I also find the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP visually appealing when they are enthroned on the noble stands. In terms of sound, I am particularly enthusiastic about their bouncing, high-resolution nature. The Audio Note arouse great emotions, even if they don’t appear as overly colorful in the mids as some other British speakers, but act neutrally here.
They do best in listening rooms between 20 and 30 square meters; However, small rooms with little leakage zone could become problematic due to their strong bass when installed close to the wall. If you put them against the wall or even in the corner, they produce a bass that not only scares the neighbors – at least when you pair them with a powerful transistor amplifier. When asked whether the Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP are better suited for analysts or listeners, the answer is: for both equally – high-resolution, but not bean-counting. And if you really want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation: With a tube, the whole thing could sound even sweeter and more colorful.
The Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP…
- In general, it surprises with an amazingly mature bass performance for its size.
- plays in the treble rather refreshingly and precisely than snugly, without becoming extremely analytical and certainly not annoying.
- behaves transparently in the mids and tonally factually balanced, the emphatically lush, warm tones of some other English loudspeakers are not the AN-J/LX HEMP’s thing.
- is a master of dynamics and works really well in terms of fine and coarse dynamics – and well beyond its price range.
- doesn’t need a lot of amp power to get going, but power doesn’t hurt (and yes, even with solid-state amps, the Audio Note sounds good, even if the manufacturer doesn’t see it that way).
- offers a stage width as it should be, but represents the stage depth a little less pronounced.
- presents instruments and voices in a finely outlined, tangible and three-dimensional manner.
- is suitable for rooms that allow a certain distance from the wall when setting up.
- definitely needs speaker stands, as they are too big for a compact speaker and not high enough for a floorstanding speaker.
- plays very appealing – not a trace of British restraint!
- Model: Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP
- Concept: Two-way speaker with bass reflex system
- Price: 6744.22 euros (without stand)
- Dimensions: 58.5cm x 33cm x 23.5cm (H x W x D)
- Weight: 13 kilograms
- Nominal Impedance: 6 ohms
- Efficiency: 93dB/W/m
- Versions: 20 different types of wood such as cherry, wenge or olive
- Guarantee: 5 years