Audio Note Quest Monoblock
When one thinks of a list of exotic "dream" amplifier brands, Audio Note easily comes to mind. A specialist manufacturer of hand-built triode tube amplifiers, they are credited for bringing prices of audio equipment to new heights of giddiness with the introduction of the Ongaku in 1988. An integrated tube amplifier using Single-Ended circuitry and boasting a humongous 27 watts of pure Class A power and retailing at over S$100,000!
So much attention was focused on this exotic range of models that people forgot that Audio Note also makes a range of excellent sounding amplifiers at much more down-to-earth prices. The Quest monoblock is such an example.
A Pure Class A Single-Ended design making use of one 300B output tube per channel, the Quest is conservatively rated at 9 watts per channel, about standard fare for this genre of amplifier. What is not so ordinary is how powerful and controlled it sound, even when driving medium sensitivity speakers. But then, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
Circuitry-wise, it uses tube rectification and a choke regulated power supply to supply the DC to the main board, where a 6SN7 dual triode serves as an input/driver tube that acts as the first gain-stage. The second gain-stage is the output using a 300B direct-heated triode before being connected to the hand-wound output transformers with separate tapping for 4 or 8 Ohms. An extremely simple and direct signal path that I think, plays an important role in defining the transparent nature of this amplifier. All components in the signal path are direct-wired, signal capacitors are Audio Note's Copper-Foil paper-in-oil caps, critical wiring consists of their own pure silver interconnects and all output transformers are hand-wound in-house.
Review equipment included Audio Note's new 1x oversampling DAC 1x (review upcoming), the M-2 tube preamp, AVVT 32B-SL output tubes, Totem Acoustic Sttaf (88dB/8 Ohms) and Arro (87 dB/4 Ohms) loudspeakers and of course, Audio Note interconnect and speaker cables.
First impressions were very positive, especially the sense of ease and control of the bass when driving the Totems. This was quite an achievement once you take in consideration the fact that Totems do not come with a reputation as being easy to drive speakers. Percussion tracks were rendered with sufficient speed and definition to enable you to follow easily each beat in the music. Nowhere was there any sign of the notorious 'tube slowness' that I so often hear about. All this was coupled with an amazingly wide sense of dynamics that things like Kodo drums seemed to literally come alive right in front of me! I was able to drive the speakers to very neighbor-unfriendly levels before any signs of dynamic compression set in.
I approached the review of the Quest 300B monoblocks with pretty strong ideas of what a Single-Ended amplifier should sound like - namely having a warm, smooth and sweet midrange, 3D soundstaging and airy highs. It didn't disappoint on any of those points, but added to the musical palette other not-so-expected qualities like excellent transient response (speed), huge dynamics, almost see-through transparency and a bass response with control that belied its low power.
Simply put, this amplifier really kicks ass! I went out of my way to test the Quest to its limits by playing full orchestral pieces, complex percussion tracks, busy fusion jazz and even some techno with heavy, synthesized bass.... they always remained composed and never lost grip of the music. I tell you, these babies can really make music and always in a way that was emotional and involving.
I have heard many good sounding tube amps - and that includes not a few of the Single-Ended variety. But the Audio Note Quest set new standards. It has a balanced set of strengths in all sonic areas. Musical, seductive, and totally captivating in its portrayal of the essence of the music, it has become a new reference for me and I encourage everyone to audition the Quests before buying anything else - cos' you really haven't lived until you hear these little wonders in action.
All material copyright Audio Note (UK) Ltd., unless otherwise stated