Review: Audio Note UK P-2 SE Tube amp

Category: Amplifiers

Well, I have never given this whole "Review" thing a try, but I am so moved by the impact this amp has had on what was here-to-fore just an office rig, that I used primarily to provide background music, that I figured now was the time to chime in with my observations. So here it goes. To begin with, let me say, WOW!! I have been floored by this Amp. When I purchased it I was actually in the market for an ARC tube amp to go with my humble, but rather musical, ARC LS1 pre. I had my eye on a few different ones which were on sale on Ebay and this site when I stumbled across this Audio Note amp for sale. I have always heard good things about these amps. In fact, I have a very good friend who ran a rather successful and well known Hi End audio shop in Palm Springs, California, and he was the first to tell me about the virtues of Audio Note gear. I found his enthusiasm for this brand particularly interesting since he made a living selling other brands. Never the less, he had an Audio Note amp in his shop which was a second hand unit, I do not recall the model, but it got us talking about the brand and he impressed me with his opinion of it. Being that items from this maker seem to be scarce I had never had the opportunity to actually hear any of them for myself, but whenever I heard them mentioned it was usually with great admiration. So when I stumbled across the listing for this amp I figured I would find out for myself. I figured I didn't have much to lose since it was going in my office system anyway. If it failed to impress me I could live with that, as long as it made sound come out of my speakers while I was working. So I put out a call to the guy selling it. I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning his name, but I need to tell you that R. Browne was extremely informative and patient. If you ever come across gear he has for sale and it interest you, do not hesitate. This guy is a credit to sites such as this where us Audiophiles rely and depend on each other for honesty and integrity. Anyway, back to the amp, after speaking with the seller a couple of times, I purchased it and plugged it into my system. I was intrigued, but not really expecting much. This system has always sounded nice but my real love resides in a different room and is comprised of Audible illusions, Cary, Esoteric and McCormack. What I heard initially wasn't really much to sing about to be honest. The sound stage seemed to collapse entirely and everything sounded rather shrill and thin. The amp this Audio Note replaced was a McCormack DNA .5, which always sounded very smooth, but a touch smeared. When I say smeared I mean there wasn't a lot of space between the various musicians on the tracks. (I listen exclusively to CD's with this system.) I walked away from that initial listening session not too terribly impressed, but not offended either. I had another tube amp that I keep in my bedroom, a Nobis Cantabile, and I figured I would just swap the two out so I could try to get to know the Audio Note a little better. However, as luck would have it, and it was incredible luck, my Nobis developed an audible hum, which required a trip to the repair shop. While it was out I left the Audio Note in my office and allowed it to provide me with background music. Over time, while I was working in my office, some really interesting things began to happen. Bit by bit, more and more details began to trickle out of my speakers. A remarkable synergy was beginning to develop. After a few days I decided to sit down and do another critical listening session with this system. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This amp had taken a system that was comprised of many of the pieces that had been replaced over the years with more expensive and arguably better gear, and turned it into a piece of art! I began throwing some challenges at it to see if it really had that magic or if it had just gotten lucky on a few notes. First, I tossed one of my favorit CD's at it, Aretha Franklin's "More Gospel Greats". This is an amazing CD and is crammed with musical instruments and choirs and background singers that have a tendency to bury each other if not served just right. Well, they were served JUST RIGHT! The separation of all these elements was incredible. Not only were the background singers effectively separated from Aretha, they were actually separated from each other! You could actually hear the different female voices accompanying her. OK, well this is actually a rather well recorded and impressive CD, so delivering it well isn't all that difficult. So I decided to toss a real challenge at it. I chose one of, if not my all time, favorite CD's. It is Kenny Loggins' "Outside By The Redwoods" CD. This is an amazing CD, but the acuostic nature of some of the instruments, along with the tone of Kenny's voice and the splattering of applause by the live audience seated so close to the stage during this rather intimate concert, can make this recording sound shrill at times and certainly pose a challenge for any rig to effectively space and image properly. No problem for my "new" system. Mr Loggins voice came across as perfectly pitched and natural as imaginable. Now this was a good point of reference for me because I listen to this CD at least twice a week, in it's entirety. But even with this leve of familiarity, this amp managed to make it even more enjoyable and brought the performance of the various artists on it into my office in such clarity I felt like I had purchased a new recording. I was so impressed I had to take that same CD into my living room and listen to it with my "Reference" rig again. It seemed like the performance of my "new" office rig was about to shame my ol' faithful. It didn't, but it sure competed nicely. So much so that I believe the two are now 1 and 1a. The Audio Note is only 18watts or so. And while these are single ended triode watts, which tend to be rather robust, it does have its limitations. In order to take some strain off of it I chose to bi-amp my speakers with a Carver TFM6 amp I had in my closet. I had hoped to allow the amp to breath a little more by relieving it of any need to produce bass frequencies, instead, I allowed it to blossom!! What was already an open and detailed soundstage now stretched well beyong the walls of my office. It was like it had no walls. I have continued to challenge it now for more than two weeks and it has yet to stumble. I even tossed the rather difficult recording of The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra's version of "Peter and the Wolf", featuring narration by Sean Connery, at it and, though it didn't shake the walls like my Cary V12, it certainly did a very effective job of conveying all the emotion and suspense of this recording. Suffice it to say, I have found a keeper. It is a fantastic amp. It is rather subtle in its presentation of imformation, especially at first. But given enough time to "gel", it is capable of goosebumps. I haven't found a musical limitation for it yet, but it is naturally limited in the amount of space it can fill. Avoid exceeding that limitation and you are bound to be impressed by this little gem. It does voices and midrange info almost as good as any EL34 based amp, only it avoids the tube tendency to over expose this part of the recording. Instead, what you get is a rather analytical, but natural sounding presentation that is startling in its clarity. In my short experience, I have come to the personal conclusion that it is best when it is provided a good SS amp to handle the really low stuff. Given this assistance, it will give you a rendention of all the other information on your recordings that will knock your socks off. It isn't overly warm, but never grating or shrill. In that regard, it is voiced much like my V12, only with a much more delicate control of the soundstage. I have on occasion pushed it to its limits and heard it slip into distortion, primarily on classical recordings, which is something I have never experienced with my Cary V12 or my Nobis Cantanbile, but we are talking apples and oranges. The simple fact of the matter is, this little amp has nothing to appoligize for and will give you all the musical enjoyment you could ever hope for from 18watts. I hope this review helps some one considering this amp. My listening taste consist mostly of late eighties and early nineties pop, all eras of jazz, and good classical recordings. I love Coltrain, and most good female vocalist, and it does all of these extremely well. This is a very fine piece that just might need a little time to find its comfort zone in your system. Give it a chance, it will likely not dissappoint you.

Associated gear
Audio Research LS1 Preamp
PS Audio Superlink DAC
Carver TFM6 amp
Acoustic Research 308HO speakers
Glad you are enjoying the P2 SE amp. I think the improvements you noted over the time you have been using the amp are probably due to the fact that the amp you purchased had not been used for a very long time and a burn-in was necessary to bring it up to its optimal sonic qualities. I know that there are dis-believers in the concept of burn-in of equipment, but I think your listening experience shows otherwise. It's not all in the mind. At least not in this case.

The P2 SE was a faithful companion for the 16 years I owned it. I'm glad it has found an appreciative home. I wish you many happy hours of music listening.

Thanks for the personal compliments. I appreciate them.