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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.94g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.5.10 in direct/integer mode 1, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, AURALiC Vega, Apple iPod Classic 160 AIFF-loaded, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pure i20, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, RWA-modifed Astell&Kern AK100
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Bent, Audio Tap-X, Esoteric C-03
Power & integrated amplifiers: FirstWatt S1 monos, SIT2; Crayon Audio CFA-02, Bakoon AMP-12R, Goldmund/Job 225, Gato DIA-250, Clones 25i [on loan], Aura Note Premier
Loudspeakers: soundkaos Wave 40, Boenicke Audio W5, German Physiks HRS-120, AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, Zu Audio Submission
Cables: Complete Zu Event loom; KingRex uArt, Zu Event and Light Harmonic LightSpeed split USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; Van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fiber Toslink
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF-2 + Vibex Two 1R on amps, Vibex Three 11R on front-end components
Equipment rack:
Artesania Exoteryc double-wide three tier with optional glass shelf, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Desktop system: iPod/AK100 digital transports, Wyred4Sound minT, Gato Audio DIA-250, Gallo Strada II + TR-3D
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review component retail: $2'995

Any writer with sufficient reviews on the clock has 'em. As the years pass by, we're drawn to certain makers who keep hitting it hard and true. Some of my heros are Nelson Pass, Anthony Gallo, Akira Nagai. And Simon Lee of Korea's April Music. Be it for his Aura, Stello or Eximus lines, he's into solid engineering, attractive looks and fair pricing as another consistent heavy hitter. Sonically too our priorities overlap. Even though it wasn't yet April, I was thus happy to accept another review request from faraway Seoul. When Simon sez, I listen.

Not that there would be any mystery this time. Reviewed four year ago, my wife still enjoys her original $2'595 Aura Note Premier. Her speakers have simply changed from Zu Druid Credenza to Sven Boenicke solid-wood W5 monitors. 'twas a perfect ear'n'gear op to suss out the new v2 version. On industrial design it gamely sticks to Kenneth Grange's proven Brit chic recipe. As a do-it-all CD receiver with digital iDevice, 24/192 USB/Toslink and headfi facilities, the design by now approaches the iconic. Unless proper beatification requires that multiple millions rather than tens of thousands of units were sold. Introduced in 2005, Aura Note's very modern talents for multi-tasking made it so popular that 2014 sees a comprehensive overhaul under the 'renovation + innovation' header. Tops on the improvement charts is B&O's ASX250 class D module. With it the prior class A/B quad Hitachi Mosfet power stage has been scaled up from 50 watts to a solid 125 per side. More serious oomph now bench-presses small but tough Dynaudio boxes and similar 85dB critters not just on the desktop or in the den but also for the living room. The more speakers shrink in size without giving up too much bass, the more power they consume. Here the V2's 250w/4Ω rating is a very loud wakeup call.

With experience gained from his ICEpower Stello Ai700 and Eximus S1 models, the Danish switching output stage is preceded by Simon's proprietary input/driver circuit. It's a tuning recipe which has also served Wyred4Sound very well. The FM tuner here still has 20 presets. There are still two analog line-level inputs and a pre-out for a subwoofer. The signature top-loading CD transport beneath its sliding tempered glass door stayed put too. But there are now two USB ports, one a proper 24/192 job for personal computers, another for iDevices or USB sticks (for now limited to 24/96 FLAC, 16/44.1 WAV, MP3 and WMA but future firmware update will enable this port for higher resolution). The Toslink input adds more stationary or portable digital devices like my Astell&Kern AK100. Under the hood an MSC Logic MLC3700 has become the 32-bit RISC processor for complete system/decoder control. Analog volume is still via Simon's favored Cirrus Logic CS3310 resistor-ladder IC to maintain 116dB of dynamic range at 0.001% THD. D/A conversion is again by Cirrus Logic's CS4398. Dimensions too remain as they've been for nine long years - a 278mm square foot print with 100mm height. Net weight is 7.5kg.

Audiophiles train themselves diligently in the fine art of mistrusting integration. Their road to separation is paved with posh digital transports, dual-mono DACs with external PSU, three-box preamps, quad mono amps for full-on biamping, battery-powered double-header USB cables, adjustable outboard crossovers, actively biased cables and more. When they finally grow weary of box and cable clutter, herculean tower speakers and unbecoming complexity, they begin to dream of more youthful days when they'd found greater satisfaction from smaller speakers coming off a simple integrated amp. The Aura Note v2 is for folks at the end of that road (and those few wise enough to never tread it in the first place). You want proof? It's there in the elegantly oversized display.

That's so not the eagle-eyed young spunkster. It's those who are exhausted, tired, done and ready to call it quits. The April Music Aura Note v2 is Simon Lee's very best effort to combat audiophilia's excess, return us to simple-is-best sensibility yet include everything a year 2014 user could reasonably need. It's why SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider singled it out as one of his best products of the Tokyo International Audio Show last year.