Even among audiophiles who are generally hardened to such things, Audio Note (or Audionote to some) is a company that is held in inordinately high esteem, to the point of what appears almost reverence. The company's (actually, companies', but we'll come to that) products often achieve legendary status among enthusiasts, a status that appears bizarre to most 'outsiders' not familiar with the hallowed environment of the audio enthusiast.
The status of Audionote stems from one man. The Japanese Hiroyasu Kondo was an electronics engineer with a passion for audio reproduction and music, and a fastidious way of working. One of the first designers ever to use silver wiring in audio circuits, he has often been referred to as 'the audio silversmith'. Kondo San used highly unusual techniques to design and produce what are still considered some of the finest audio amplifiers ever made, and the earlier examples of which fetch dazzling prices today. Simple, but inordinately time consuming, amplifiers were designed and built, then an enormous amount of time was spent changing even the most minor components and listening extensively to discover the combinations that gave the best results.
Kondo, or Audio Note Japan became a serious manufacturer of very low volume, exclusive products. A few distributors were set up around the world and, highly unusually, the English distributor eventually branched out into their own manufacturing under the name Audio Note UK. Today, the two companies produce totally different product lines, though all with the same commitment to providing the ultimate musical experience. There is one exception however, which is the Audio Note Io phono cartridge.
Many years ago, Mr Kondo had decided that existing designs of cartridges were mostly not up to the standards of music reproduction he aspired to and achieved, and accordingly set out to design his own. The engineering skills required to produce a high-end cartridge are not to be taken lightly. The ultra-miniature construction demands exceptional abilities, but this was no problem to the Japanese master. Not only did Audio Note manage to produce a cartridge of exceptionally high standards, they also incorporated man novel design features and the result was widely acclaimed.
Subsequently, the licence to produce the Audionote Io cartridge was given to Audio Note UK, and the models have been in production ever since. Almost uniquely, every cartridge is made entirely by hand, and by the same technician. As a result, production is incredibly low volume and prices are accordingly anything but low! The units themselves are, however, truly outstanding. Construction is based around an extremely powerful magnet, and a moving coil with a comparatively small number of windings. The result is a very low output, which needs special transformers to be usable, but a very fast transient response and an uncanny ability to reproduce music.
The Audio Note UL range also includes one totally unique cartridge, the Io Ltd. In this cartridge, an electro-magnet is used, with its own windings, instead of a fixed magnet. Incredibly complex, the Io Ltd required additional wires in a record deck tone arm, and also needs a sophisticated, extremely accurate and incredibly low-noise external power supply. Needless to say, the cost puts it way beyond the pocket of all but the most dedicated audio enthusiasts, but the results are suitable spectacular.
At the very top end of audio products, Audio Note manufacture for a very small minority of buyers. However, hear one in action with a suitable audio system and it is very easy to see what all the fuss is about.
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