Audio Note is best known for its extensive range of valve amplifiers and digital products, but it has been producing turntables and vinyl accessories for many years. The current range consists of three turntables, three new tonearms and a range of moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. Tested here is the middle of the range TT-2 (numerically at least, the TT-3 is an altogether different beast), with a brand new Arm One and IQII moving-magnet cartridge.
The TT-2 itself has been in production for some time in basic black for £1,290, but is now available in a £2,200 Deluxe version tested here with real-wood veneers. The unit is a full plinth-type design with a three point suspended chassis placed within it. Parts of this basic design date back a very long way and the TT-2 could be regarded as a heavily evolved Dunlop Systemdek in some regards.
Where the TT-2 Deluxe differs from virtually every other deck on sale is in the use of a pair of AC motors to spin the acrylic platter instead of one. The motors are mounted on opposite sides of the spindle and the theory goes that the two motors act in balance to completely reduce oscillation at the spindle, which is passed on to the platter. This is a difficult engineering process because if there is any variation in the motors, instead of improving playback they will exaggerate the oscillation further. Audio Note pair-matches every set of motors to ensure they behave the same and pays close attention to the chassis design to ensure that the two motors work in harmony.
The £655 Arm One is all new and a welcome addition to the ranks of sensibly priced tonearms. It is part of a three-strong range and uses a single machined piece of aluminium for the arm wand and a second machined section to house the ‘captured unipivot’ bearings. The combination of ‘Rega-mount’ fi tting (still referred to as such, despite Rega not using it anymore) and an easily adjustable VTA means it should work well on a variety of decks. In this instance, our sample arrived mounted on the Deluxe with IQII cartridge in place and required no adjustments.
The £420 IQII is part of Audio Note’s moving-magnet cartridge range and is an uprated Goldring design that uses higher-quality copper coils and a diamond stylus to obtain a much improved performance over the stock model. Audio Note phono stages are generally moving-magnet designs and the IQ series precludes the need for an external step-up transformer to obtain the required levels of gain.
After extracting the TT-2 Deluxe from its packaging, first impressions are good. At a price point where some very large and very shiny designs are available, the Audio Note can look a little sober by comparison, but the TT-2 has much to commend it. The fi t and finish is excellent and the veneering, in particular, is of a very high standard. The TT-2 is not an especially heavy design, but still feels solid and well constructed. The unit is also supplied with a Perspex cover which is always a welcome addition.
The suspension is locked into place with a transit screw and removing it will allow you to level up the suspension via the three bolts at the suspension mounts. String the belt across the two pulleys and set the platter and the deck is ready to go. With the recommended tracking weight on the cartridge, we found the deck was a little sensitive to footfall when placed on a rack, but switching to a wall shelf eliminated this, so would be the better option if available. With the noise of twice as many motors as usual to suppress, the TT-2 is also impressively quiet.
If the TT-2 is a pleasant surprise, the Arm One is something of a revelation. This is an immaculately finished and well thought out unit that is as good as anything we have seen under £1,000. Changing cartridges is extremely simple and it seems able to cope with any cartridge it is likely to be partnered with. The cueing action and the general arm movement suggest the bearings are excellent as well.
With the suspension level and the output connected to the internal phono stage of an Audio Analogue Verdi Cento, the TT-2 makes a very persuasive case for itself. The first impression is of an extremely low-noise floor. With the deckearthed correctly, there is almost no background noise at any volume level and no hum whatsoever. The two motors allow the platter to spin up to speed almost instantly and the perceived pitch stability is excellent.
Sonically, the TT-2 is a muscular and powerful performer. It manages to sound effortless across a wide variety of music and is possessed of excellent pace and timing. Up tempo recordings are delivered with real urgency and this is underpinned with a tight and potent bass that starts and stops with aplomb and underpins the performance. Slower and calmer recordings still benefit from this innate timing without sounding forced or hurried.
While the twin motor design is specifically intended to combat oscillation, like the multiple motor Voyd designs from the 80s and 90s (which Audio Note went on to build themselves), there is a sense that the twin motors also bring something to the sound as well. There is a pace and energy that the Audio Note has that adds considerably to the performance as a whole. There is also a technical argument that multiple pulleys would combat oscillation as effectively as multiple motors, but whether the deck would still possess this beguiling energy is unclear.
Further up the frequency range,the combination of deck, arm and cartridge combine to give an open and airy sound with strong tonality and good detail retrieval. The soundstage is not as wide as a Michell Gyrodec and even after extended running in, we found the IQII to be slightly bright, but not unworkably so and nothing that thoughtful phono stage matching wouldn’t accommodate.
Musicality is a difficult concept to pin down exactly, but the Audio Note has it in spades. It generally manages to get toes tapping and heads nodding and leave you enjoying the music rather than analysing it. This is not to say that there is any lack of detail or focus, but the presentation as a whole is more important than the constituent parts.
Vocals are generally excellent and there is a real sense of the space a recording was made in. Towards the end of our listening session, we substituted another moving-magnet cartridge in the form of a Clearaudio Virtuoso and not only was this simple to do (thanks to the Arm One), we found that the slight brightness was tamed without affecting the substantial low end and rhythmic ability, which are clearly innate to the deck and arm.
The TT-2 Deluxe is a very fine turntable and one that impressed us considerably. Due to its very distinctive design, Audio Note equipment can often work best in the context of an all-Audio Note system. While we don’t doubt that this turntable would sound excellent in this context, it works equally well outside of this as well. You could be one of the most passionate advocates of solid-state imaginable and still find the superb timing and wonderfully open presentation to your liking.
Separate to the entire package, the Arm One is a very welcome addition to the ranks of sub-£1,000 tonearms. This is a beautifully built and very well thought out design that should work well with a variety of cartridges and turntables.
There are many turntables at this price point that offer much more visual drama than the TT-2, but few of them can match it for sheer musical enjoyment. The Audio Note, therefore, is a winner.
LIKES: Powerful and engaging sound
DISLIKES: Sensitive to footfall; manual speed change only
WE SAY: A wonderful turntable with great sound and considerable flexibility, thanks to an excellent tonearm
Audio Note TT-2
(£2,200); Arm One
IQII- phono cartridge
Belt drive turntable
• Twin motor belt
• Three point
• Captured unipivot
• Choice of real wood
• Moving magnet
cartridge with high
quality copper coils,
and diamond stylus
Audio Note UK
01273 220 511