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Short and sweet, the Premier is tonally more robust, dense and fleshy than its predecessor. You'd never mistake it for a tubed Luxman but if you're familiar with a premium gainclone like AudioSector's Patek SE with its top-quality power supply, the Premier gets you closer to its kind of presentation without approaching the National op amp's ballsiness or resolution. Having lived with the original Aura Note Completer, I'd call the improved version a greater audible advance than the usual swaps between like-priced wires and about on par with what happens when you upgrade your system's preamp by one notch - nothing drastic but clearly audible and valued.

As a type of Swiss army knife component and because such comparators were on hand, I investigated the Premier's headphone and USB functions more than I had in the original review. For the former, Peachtree Audio's Nova stood by, for the latter, High Resolution Technologies' Streamer+. For can jams, I had both my Audio-Technica AHT-W1000s and BeyerDynamic DT880s, for streaming music my MacBook Pro with its ripped 16/44.1 CD files. Since the Nova lacks its own CD spinner, I fell back on April Music's Stello CDT100 | DA100 Signature source whenever I compared anything Nova-ish to the Premier to level the playing field. This also allowed comparisons between the Premier's own spinner and the Stello separates.

As headphone amp vs. the Peachtree Audio Nova: Since the latter can bypass its 6922 by remote (very subtle), I ran it tube-less. Since I much prefer the Japanese to the German headphones, I started out with the former. Here the Nova had the more quicksilvery top end, the more frontal perspective from a slightly elevated vocal band, the airier and more lit up feel. The Premier sounded dimensionally more compacted, energetically more damped. In the bass and lower midrange, the Korean was clearly sturdier however. It produced more impact, growl and drive was noticeably stronger. Vocals were more matter-of-the-fact, less floatily buoyant than over the Nova [Upojenie, Anna Marie Jopek & Friends with Pat Metheny - Warner Music Poland]. In sexist terms, the Nova was more feminine, the Premier masculine. Both flavors were equally valid but on these headphones, my preference was for the - um, opposite sex.

With the Beyers being significantly less efficient, the grippier Premier had a very distinct advantage however. Over the Nova, the DT880s sounded pale and somewhat boring. Over the Premier, they revived, the stage broadened laterally and the element of forward momentum, of purpose and drive inside a long-arc'd tune, was far better. On these headphones, the Aura Note's greater potency was superior. The previously observed differentiators remained intact but prioritizing between them shifted to make the Premier the more suitable choice.

As speaker amp vs. the Peachtree Nova
: In TV terms, this was a rerun of the above paragraph. The Nova's greatest strength is its Sabre D/A converter followed by being used as dedicated preamp. Its built-in amplifier is perfectly credible but clearly not of Nova-as-DAC caliber.

Accordingly, in matters of drive, control, articulation and conviction, the Premier was the superior operator on my Era 5 Sat monitors designed by Michael Kelly of Aerial. This also translated to my wife's Zu Audio Druid Credenzas. Their higher-than-standard voltage sensitivity would have favored them over the Eras with the Nova but the Premier still handed in higher scores on tone color, attack firmness, bass power and overall weight.

To jump ahead, the Aura's particular strengths invert those of the Nova. The Aura is strongest with its amplifier section (including the headphone output) and tracks backwards from there to its digital beginnings. As already stated, the Nova weighs in heaviest at the 1s-n-0s and peters out at the final output stage.

As USB DAC vs. the HDT Streamer+
: The self-powered $299 Kevin Halverson-designed box turned out to be rather more dynamic and hot blooded. Particularly on premium recordings like 21 Strings by the Al-Andalus Ensemble, this created richer tone colors. Grounding was more profound and so was emotive expressiveness. This clearly peeled out the ebb and flow of emphatic shadings to a greater extent.

Albeit to a reduced extent, this distinction remained when I compared the Streamer+ to the same CD played back over the Premier's transport. The MacBook output through the Streamer+ had more color intensity and attack power than RedBook direct. In this way, PC audio was actually better than traditional laser playback. Compared to itself however —USB vs. CD, no Streamer—those differences diluted too far to be relevant.

Aura + Note + Premier: What it comes down to is a winning combination made even better without following up with a big wallet penalty. Particularly the new pre-out for subwoofing with small speakers is a very welcome addition. While April Music's own Stello CDT100 | Stello DA100 Signature is a serious source upgrade, it also costs half as much as the entire Premier but doesn't look half as slick. Killer cosmetics dripping in shiny chrome are a big ingredient of this package. Serious audiophiles meanwhile can use the external inputs as an upgrade path while retaining the real audiophile strengths of this handsome box - its Mosfet output stage and headphone jack.

To learn more about the people behind this product, I conducted a remote interview with April Music president Simon Lee. This is packaged with a pictorial factory tour which itself is followed by an overview of April Music trade show exhibits from 2002 to 2009. It's all in this 7-page SideBar.

Who should buy the Aura Note Premier?
Those who've always wanted a B&O system but couldn't afford their better stuff. The Premier is a wonderful starter system leagues beyond whatever Electric Avenue panders. For relatives of serious 'philes who love music but care nothing about esoteric hardware, tweak voodoo and expensive cables, this shiny box with the big legible display, clock, radio and computer interface is tailor-made. It doesn't cost chicken feed because it is a true quality machine. But neither is it outrageously priced. User friendliness is high, the interface is perfectly intuitive and 90% of all folks listening to music will never need anything more in their entire lives. Headfi-ers with harder-to-drive 'phones looking for a one-box solution also should hone their sights on the Premier. Its 1/4-inch socket isn't an after-thought convenience item but serious performance proposition. To get better, you'd have to spend €2,100 on the Luxman SQ-N100 EL84 integrated but you'd lose a CD player, radio and USB DAC. As packaged, not for nothing was this machine called the Completer the first time around. It's even more true the second time.
Quality of packing: Very good.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Website comments: One of the most complete.
Human interactions: International sales manager very responsive and helpful.
Pricing: On the higher side for CD receivers but as designer ware with real performance, it's actually still on the lower side within the bigger hifi picture.
Final comments & suggestions: This is a mature product that's been refined over many generations. Within its concept, it's truly complete. It's the perfect Sharper Image product that actually performs at the ears. But if you're with the finger print police, whip out the gloves or use the remote exclusively. Deep chrome betrays skin oils as badly as piano gloss lacquer to defy part of the crisp design appeal.

April Music website