Country of Origin
This review first appeared in July 2023 on fairaudio.de. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated from the German original to reach a broader English audience. Ed.
Writer: Elmar Salmutter
Digital sources: McIntosh MCD301 AC, NAD M50.2, Macbook Air w. Audirvana
Integrated amplifier: McIntosh MA8900 AC
Loudspeakers: Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3
Cables: Inakustik Referenz 2404 MK2, Wireworld Eclipse 7, Goldkabel Executiv, Audioquest Coffee USB, Shunyata power cords
Rack: Solid Tech
Listening room: 26m², 2.6m ceiling
Review component retail price: €2'500/pr
Small; naturally. After getting quickly acquainted, I was thrilled when I met my first Audio Note speaker two years ago. We even awarded that compact AN-J/LX HEMP for 2021. Logically I said yes when asked whether I'd like to test something else from them. Voilà: the AX One already in its second incarnation and the smallest compact from this British cult brand. Weighing just five kilograms, it passes for a true flyweight. Let's see how it performs in the ring. "Delightful" Inspector Kojak would enthuse whilst laying on his eyes and pleasurably sucking a lollipop. The 70's crime series set in Manhattan also visually fits the One/II. After all, they had similar-looking compact speakers already back then. My wife too found the Audio Note delightful when I unpacked it. Then any baby scheme of round and cuddly collapsed. After all, this compact box is angular and rigid as behooves it for not being a battery-power Bluetooth noise generator for the kids. But it is small and cute, all 30 x 19.6 x 19cm HxWxD of it.
The Audio Note AX One/II is manufactured in Austria as now are all speakers from this catalogue. "After the Danish factory which previously built our older AX models shut down, we started to look for a new cabinet supplier," Audio Note's Martin Grennall explained. "Moving production to Austria was costly but the quality improvement was enormous. The finished speakers are significantly better in every regard." I claim consensus. This new build quality is best described as being flawless. "The crossovers and drive units are delivered to the Austrian factory where all necessary assembly takes place." Owner/founder Peter Qvortrup added, "since the cabinets are made in Austria close to that factory, transporting raw enclosures involves only a short distance to reduce damage and ship costs."
Except for basic shape and concept, pretty much all else changed over the original AX One. The drivers are now Scan-Speak and according to Martin Grennall custom-made for them, featuring 5" paper cones with foam surrounds for the mid/woofers. The ¾" tweeters with silk/polyamide domes now manage without ferrofluid, a good move not least for more stable performance across many years. Obviously the crossover too revised. Currently available finishes are walnut and black ash. My walnut pair looked most distinguished. Such meticulous individual fine-tuning of finished speaker pairs has its price: €2'500/pr without stands but with 18mm HDF cabinet veneered inside and out to increase rigidity and long-term stability even in higher humidity. "This sounds much better than standard MDF," gushed Grennall. "The chipboard has a high Q factor so stores less energy so the cabinet bleeds less coloration into the sound and conveys far more natural bass."
By the way, there is a slightly larger model, the AX Two/II. It goes for €3'750/pr and weighs seven kilograms each. A third even bigger AX Three/II is supposed to follow but there's hardly any info on it yet. It's supposed to close the gap between the AX Two/II and next-up range. The Two uses the same tweeter as the One but a larger 6" mid/woofer. Another difference is the bass reflex vent. The One puts in on the front, the Two in the back. According to Audio Note, this isn't due to different sonic philosophies but the combination of cabinet, driver size and necessary crossover placement. "When the speaker positions correctly close to a wall, the woofer's output, port and wall all work together. This produces surprisingly rich bass considering the box's small size." We'll verify this later. On paper, the Audio Note AX One/II is a 6Ω load carefully tuned by ear like all Audio Note speakers. It needs decent amplifier power to get up to speed. I had to turn up my very powerful McIntosh MA 8900 AC integrated quite a bit to exceed room volume. Audio Note recommend from 700 to 1'000 watts. In my opinion, interested parties should look at the upper specification and beyond. This delightful cutie needs the whip, not a wet hug. It can even accommodate bi-wiring. "That prevents the electromotive force of the woofer from affecting the tweeter signal."