September 2, 2011

10 Qs For Mario Binner Of Audio Note UK Ltd.

Wng Tatt Yew of Audio Note Malaysia told me that I should meet up with "Super Mario" because he's a very experience industry veteran, who has lots of interesting stories to tell. And then we went "away" from the KLIAV show, for just a few hours!

We spoke about so many things, related to Audio Note, tubes, music, DIY, and hifi in general. Here are 10 of the more interesting topics.
The Audio Note boys, "Super Mario" and Wong Tatt yew.

Big E: Mario, it's nice to met you. Now, where did the "Super" bit came from?

MB: You know the game called Super Mario Bros? Ha! Ha! At this point Tatt Yew chips in, "you know, all the systems he set up sounds "Super". Hence the name!"

Big E: Tell us a little bit more about your role in Audio Note?

MB: At the moment, I am mainly the AV show demonstrator and system set up guy. The last few years, I've been really busy, which includes about 10-12 scheduled AV shows world wide every year, with system set up in between those shows.

Big E: Does that mean Audio Note clearly believes in the effectiveness of AV Shows over advertisements then? Because I never see printed adverts of Audio Note in the major hifi rags.

MB: That's correct. Advertisements are very costly and you can never be sure about their effectiveness. I think that advertisements are great exposure for a new brand just starting up, however Audio Note is at different level of business development stage. We are an established brand, with a loyal customer base. We find that by doing AV Shows, we can physically touch base with our existing customers and interact with new ones. I mean in the hifi business, what better way to sale your product other than thru a successful demo? For us at Audio Note, doing AV Shows seems more logical and offers us a more effective way to communicate with our customers, both existing and potential.

Big E: You mentioned about doing system set ups, does that mean at the customers home, when they make a purchase?

MB: Yes, when a customer purchase a full line of level 5 Audio Note components or higher, I'll be made available to set up the system, at cost(meaning travel, meals and accommodation cost will be bourned by the customer).

Big E: How many levels of product does Audio Note have and at what price in RM$ would a level 5 full Audio Note system cost?

MB: We have from level 0-6 currently, but a level 7 system will be available soon. 0 being entry level and the higher the level, the more expensive the component that form a system. A Level 5 Audio Note system would probably cost from RM$800 thousand up wards!

Big E: The excellent system on demo at KLIAV 2011, which level would that be?

MB: The KLIAV 2011 demo system is between level 3 and 4. The CD transport and DAC are level 4 components, while the amps and speaker are level 3.

Mario at ease with a cup of coffee.

Big E: Now, we move to Audio Note DIY products, I've heard many DIY-ers complained that the kits do not sound exactly the same as the original Audio Note equivalent product, especially the Ongaku kit, when it was available. Any reason why the kits do not sound the same as the original?

MB: There are a few reasons why the kits sound different from our original Audio Note factory built products. First, it's a well known fact that if you give the same kit to 10 DIY-ers, all the 10 kits would end up sounding different upon completion. That's very much due to the fact that all of us uses different soldering iron and each person's soldering technique is just a little different. Next is the fact that most DIY-ers will never truly follow the assembly instruction strictly, as they'll make changes along the way when building a kit, these changes, no matter how small they may seem does have an effect on the final sound. Lastly, this is probably the biggest contributing factor to the kit's sound. The parts. Most parts we throw in to the kits are the ones that didn't make the final pair matching specs when we build our original Audio Note products. Not that the parts are defective or anything like that, they're just probably slightly off the tolerance spec during the stringent pair matching process. Having said that, I still feel that our amplifier kits does offer great value for money, sound quality wise, for those who enjoy a bit of tinkering them selves. However, I do caution about buying our speaker kit though, well if you really want to, then at least do buy the built up cabinet too. That's because the carpentry skill required to build a speaker box is just something that most people do not possess. Lastly, I'll also like to say that to these ears(as he points to his pair) the speaker kit does somehow sound inferior to the original Audio Note speakers.

Big E: Since you mentioned speakers, I noticed that Audio Note speakers share more than just a passing resemblance to those old Snell designs. I know as I used to own a pair of Snell Type J speakers. What's Audio Note's relationship with Snell, if any?

MB: You're right about our speakers looking much like the older Snell designs. It's a long story, but I think it's as good a time now to tell than any other. We started of as Snell's UK importer. Peter Qvortrup loved the sound of Snell speakers when partnered to our tube amps. For years, it was the way we sold our systems. However, tragedy struck with the passing of Peter Snell(the original owner and designer of Snell speakers). He used to scribble his designs of scraps of paper that was conveniently found, it could be on an old envelope or a piece of napkin, if he was having a cup of coffee and cakes! You get the idea. With his untimely passing, no one knew where he kept his designs, not even his family members who eventually took over the business. They employed a new designer to fill in for Peter Snell, and the rest is history! The Snell speakers from that point onwards bear no resemblance what so ever, to the past designs, and worst of all, to Peter Qvortrup's ears, they just don't sound as good. It was also from that point on where Audio Note would reverse engineer Peter Snell's speaker designs, and in doing so over the years, improve upon them too. The speakers at the KLIAV show are Audio Note Type J, the same as the Snell Type J as you used to owned, but better sounding, due to some of the improvements we've made.

Big E: The 300B based mono block amplifier on demo at KLIAV 2011, I've never heard a 300B tube amplifier design sounding so dynamic, tell us a little more about it?

MB: At Audio Note, we believe that small watts does not mean small sound. The Quest Silver, is a 300B based mono block amplifier which out puts 9W. All our amplifiers will preserve the music's dynamics and transient reproduction no matter how small the out put may seem. The magic is in the way we actually match the output transformers(which are made in house) impedance to the tube's circuit design. My own personal favorite tube amplifier is 2A3 based which outputs only 8W, it's the most linear power tube I've come across.

Big E: What about CAS(Computer Audio System) source, what's Audio Note's opinion?

MB: For us at Audio Note, when it comes to digital, CD is just about acceptable as far as sound is concern. We're still pretty much dugged in to analog as source, either vinyl or master tapes. Which is why Peter Qvortrup has just bought an old LP cutting lathe, waiting to be restored and given the full Audio Note treatment when time permits. The intention is to produce or re-issue some of the music dear to our hearts on vinyl. However, don't hold yor breath for them just yet. It's likely to take a long time to restore the cutting lathe, and add that to the music which we will choose to produce or re-issue, and by the time the copy right lawyers sorts out the legalities, and you'll get the idea how long it's gonna take! It's really any one's guess at the moment.

After that chat session, "Super Mario" proceeded to demo to me some his personal music collection, which are superb, by the way. Now, if only Audio Note re-issues some of those music played that day, I am all ears for those Audio Note LPs! Mario is the last person I spoke to at KLIAV 2011.

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