Aura Note Premier £1,495

With computer audio via USB, plus recording radio to MP3, this is a beautiful yet flexible package

This group includes a number of units that steer clear of the stereotypical black or silver box, but we found the Aura Note Premier the most smart and upmarket-looking. The one drawback of all that chrome is that the black labelling for the buttons can be hard to read, and you’ll be more than usually glad of the remote control.

By far, the nicest operational feature here is the top-loading CD transport. You slide the glass cover across, remove the puck, pop a CD on the spindle, replace the puck and slide the cover back. The whole process takes no longer than a typical drawer transport and frankly feels so much nicer.

As well as the CD spinner, it also sports FM and AM radio (no DAB, but do we care?), digital inputs (optical and USB from a computer), two line-level analogue inputs, and an A-type USB socket for memory sticks and personal music players. You can connect an iPod here too, but you don’t get digits off it. Instead, a stereo mini-jack next to the USB sockets connects to the iPod’s analogue output.

Those last connectors are mounted on the right-hand side of the Note, next to the (6.3mm) headphone socket, which means that the narrow case is compromised by the need to leave a good few centimetres to attach any accessories. One feature is unique: the ability to record radio broadcasts to a USB stick – only in MP3 quality, but still very useful.

Build internally is good; purists will be impressed to find a linear power supply (regular mains transformer) and a linear power output stage, so no switching electronics here!

Sound quality

While the general presentation of this unit is very likeable, with good integration between the various registers and plenty of rhythmic drive, it didn’t quite have the sense of scale necessary to make the most of the larger recordings, especially those for full classical orchestra.

It also divided opinion somewhat over the question of harshness in its sound. That may seem highly perverse, but reading between the lines of our listeners’ notes, we can see a pattern.

In fact, bass and midrange are indeed smooth in a good way, but the higher treble regions do, at times, become a little coarse and, yes, even occasionally harsh.

The coarseness in the treble isn’t enormously serious, of course, and taken in isolation this unit could well pass muster with the great majority of listeners, but in quick- fire comparisons all of our listeners spotted that aspect of its character. Still, for those who react more to the lower two-thirds of the audible spectrum, it could be quite a winner. It has good bass extension which is never unduly prominent, but provides a solid underpinning for all kinds of music, and its midrange is unfussily clear and detailed. This sort of sound tends to be quite forgiving of lossy digital coding artefacts, so MP3 is well served – the radio tuner isn’t bad either. With that proviso about treble noted, this is a very likeable unit.

LIKE: Good bass; midrange smooth and beguiling, but always detailed
DISLIKE: Coarseness in the treble is more audible to some listeners
WE SAY: Stunning style, great build and strong sound makes this a joy

ORIGIN: Japan/Korea
Type: One-box system
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 278x84x278mm
• Rated output 50w
• 2 line inputs
• FM and AM antenna inputs
• Optical digital input
• USB-B input
• USB-A input
• MP3 input
• Speaker output
• Preamp output
• Headphone output
TELEPHONE: 01403 282221