April Music Aura Note V2
I’ve been living with April Music’s Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center for a good while. Truth be told, the Aura arrived around the same time we found out our Lucky dog was very sick… the last thing I’ve wanted to do over the past couple of months is treat myself to an audio adventure, preferring to put all energy into our best friends well-being. Thankfully, Lucky’s doing better after receiving radiation therapy and I’m finally ready for some me time. Let the celebration begin!
The Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center is a thoughtfully designed, well-made and aesthetically pleasing unit, with features fit for today’s digital lifestyle. Sporting a top-loading CD player, chrome finish, 125 watts per side (at 8 ohms) and a myriad of inputs, this all-in-one unit promises to handle nearly anything you can connect to it. This review sample represents the latest Mk II version of the original Aura Note All-In-One from some 8 years ago, with more than double the wattage of the original, the addition of Bluetooth connectivity, a second pair of auxiliary inputs, pre-out functionality, a back panel power switch and a new, smaller remote among it’s obvious additions and improvements.
During this review in our good-sized loft, the Aura Note V2 handled my Eminent Technology LFT-8b hybrid loudspeakers with no sign of stress or strain. Impressive, given that the LFT-8b’s are 83db sensitive and a power hungry challenge for anything its strapped to. Thankfully, the specs show that the V2 is equipped with specially designed ICEpower 250ASX power amplifier module (a division of B&O), capable of driving almost any loudspeaker made for home entertainment. To play it safe, I contacted the distributor, Sukwoo Lee (Sam) and asked how many steps the remote has, not wanting to go too high should the ET LFT-8b’s require more than what the Aura delivered. Lee responded that the ‘Aura note V2 has 100 steps of numeric volume and you may increase volume around 60~80 for your speaker’ adding, and I quote, ‘I drive Magnepan 1.7 with Aura note V2 without problem. We suggest to increase the volume below 90th step.’ Curiosity satiated, I’ve found the ideal volume for the ET’s in our space to be between steps 52-68 steps, with a mind on not testing neighbor patience. Adequate power, to be sure.
The Aura Note’s highly reflective chrome finish, large red LED input display and matte black surfaces command attention. The V2’s stand out feature is it’s built-in, top-loading CD player, with it’s sexy sliding tempered glass access cover and chrome magnetized CD weight. Such ease of use got me thinking of getting my own top-loading transport. The thin black lettering on the V2’s chromed front was hard to read but the V2’s minimal buttons are grouped thoughtfully and easy to learn. You can select Standby, Volume Up/Down, Play, Pause, Stop, Skip, Search and Mode select buttons right on the front of the Aura Note’s remote. The included remote provided the majority of input and was itself easy to understand, though it’s symmetry made it hard to distinguish proper orientation when picked up in low light. I particularly enjoyed the V2’s standby feature, as my systems require additional effort to power on and off. I rarely powered the Aura Note V2 down completely – the standby button made impromptu listening sessions very easy.
I risked early listening while the Aura Note was breaking in and, initially, preferred my Marantz CD63 player to the V2’s CD player. That was, until the Aura broke in a bit and started opening up with the air and transparency the Marantz lacks. While the Marantz did have a bolder bottom end, the Aura Note V2 bested it’s overall presentation, providing better focused instrumentation, a deeper more enjoyable soundstage and superior pacing and musicality that belies it’s size. Two Aux inputs, a stereo pre out (for power amp or sub), FM radio antenna connection, optical inputs, speaker jacks, IEC power connector, and power switch dress the back panel. The right side has a 1/4” headphone jack, a iPod/USB memory input tops out at 24bit/96kHz (MP3, WMA/FLAC, and 44.1kHz 16 bit for WAV) but both the Toslink and the USB A PC inputs allow 24it/192kHz higher resolution play. The unit also features s Bluetooth receiver for wireless playback.
The iPod USB input allows the connection of MP3 players or USB memory devices up to 24/96kHz while PC connection (and Toslink) supports up to 24 bit/192kHz digital content. Included accessories are the remote, a USB 2.0 cable, FM antenna and a power cable. The only thing you need to supply is the speaker cables – you’ll be listening to music in minutes.
The FM tuner has 20 presets and did a good job delivering local radio stations to this sporadic radio listener. The remote features a stereo/mono selector for use with the tuner section, not pressed into service with my favorite jazz stations – WBGO, which came in crisp and clear and NPR played thru with no issues.
The full function remote houses a lot of functions for it’s small size – thankfully, the button layout is well-organized and provides easy access to the myriad of this all-in-one’s functions. Input choices now include a Bluetooth Receiver, Power On/Off, CD navigation, FM radio (with stereo/mono selector), Sleep, Time and Timer functions, this remote responds well. It’s a bit light for my taste – I like a remote with a little heft – small and thin aren’t always friendly to my large hands. I wish it was less symmetrical so the orientation could be more easily identified in low light situations, but it works well.
I’m not often a Bluetooth user, preferring a hardwired audio connection over such convenience, but the Bluetooth connectivity with the Aura Note V2 was fast, easy and, for it’s convenience, quite pleasurable to use. Though Bluetooth does not equal CD quality, having such ease of use now built in to the Aura Note V2 all-in-one allows the user(s) easy access to an enjoyable audio experience. While I played via Bluetooth, drop outs started at a 12-14 feet distance from the unit – a common occurrence in our loft space – so I consider the addition of Bluetooth a useful feature to the Aura Note V2’s feature set. I’ve never seen a Bluetooth receiver achieve the theoretically possible 30’ receiving range.
I dug out dozens of CD’s to throw at the Aura Note V2, eventually added my iPhone, iPad Air and my MacBook Pro, with it’s fair number of higher resolution files, played using Amarra HiFi software, to the mix of input devices. I listened to a lot of different music while living with the Aura Note and see no reason to list it all here. The following is a handful of highlights:
Marc Johnson’s “Shades of Jade” (2005 ECM Records) CD produced nice timbers, with a kick to the bass drum and slam. Relaxing. Dynamics are very good and piano image is very stable. I noted that there’s a nice sense of swing to this music and that the Aura’s built-in CD player has really opened up, it’s bass response is quick, fluid and relaxed. I love the drums on this disc. There’s a nice raspiness to the sax tone – it all sounded very musical.
Mack Wilberg’s “Requiem” (2008 Mormon Tabernacle Choir) with Craig D. Jessop conducting the Orchestra at Temple Square with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Bryn Terfel (tenor) and Frederica Von Stade (soprano), has long been a favorite after seeing a performance of this work in Manhattan a handful of years ago. As the choir walked to the front of the performance space, it felt like the entire room had emptied onto the stage, the mass of the choir was that evident. It was a grand performance. That experience and this recorded effort, both exhilarating performances, are both memorable efforts.
For this release, the orchestra and choir are wonderfully mic’d, providing nice atmosphere and body while informing the listener with nice recording venue depth prior to the tenor’s first solo. The Aura Note V2 did a great job of presenting the lushness and richness of this recording. There’s no noticeable congestion when the orchestra and massive choir ramp things up. The choir seems better mic’d than the two soloists, who both feel a bit dry and flat. Perhaps placing the two soloists a bit farther back in the mix would have added a more ethereal quality to the soloist’s deliveries, but I digress. There’s a nice depth to the woodwinds and a lushness to the strings, all with decent separation, conveyed well by the Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center. All in all, a beautiful work that reminds me fondly, in both tone and execution, of the Alan Hovhaness RCA classic Mysterious Mountain, with Reiner conducting the CSO.
Sting’s “Brand New Day” (1999 A&M Records, Inc.) was next up. I heard a minute or so of the music before I was interrupted by a phone call. I turned up the volume, tossed the remote to my wife, knowing she loves the disc and this music loud and left for the duration of the disc. When I returned Robin remarked that she felt the Aura lacked a bit of low end impact at lower volume. Playing the disc myself another day, I turned the music up a bit, recalling my wife’s comment – my LFT-8b’s did a nice job delivering ample bass and snappy transients at a less than loud level. Percussive impact was quite lifelike and the bass response provided a great foundation for the stark and varied instrumentation on this release. Perhaps the 12” sub in Robin’s surround system accounts for her comment regarding lack of bass at lower level bias… when my wife listens to music, she likes to feel the funk in the music! Regardless, the Aura/ET LFT-8b combo did a very nice job with this disc at volumes low and high.
One track “Tomorrow We’ll See,” proved of particular interest to my ear. Sting’s singing in first-person as a female prostitute (or transvestite) painted quite a picture. With it’s supple strings, deep soundstage and with both excellent imaging and imagery, this tune noir really delivered. It’s scarce instrumentation, woody clarinet and atmospheric surf guitar illuminated an involving picture of a perilous night’s work.
Terje Rypdal’s “Vossabrygg” ECM 2006, commissioned work by Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival ()recorded live in 2003) pays tribute to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. The thunderous bass is presented full force with ambient beeps and blips remaining light, airy and elusive. The bass is woody and dimensional and the trumpet oh so appropriately Miles-like. This is, after all, a tribute piece. There is drive here that Davis’s would have loved and Rypdal, whose work I’ve followed since 1974, held his playing back so as not to dominate. One of my favorite CD’s.
The Egberto Gismonti Trio’s “ZigZag,” an ECM CD that I overlooked when it was first released in 1996, was the disk most often in playing position on the Aura Note’s top loading CD player. Artistically, I’ve always admired Gismonti, whose guitar playing is as equally compelling as his work on piano (or is that vice versa?). I first discovered EG on the Paul Horn album Altura Do Sol back in 1976. Gismonti, a link in the chain that includes Hermeto Pascal, has remained a personal favorite in my collection of vinyl – I possess a great many of his works on ECM and elsewhere. As a guitar lover myself, Gismonti’s ability to emote on both guitar and piano has mystified me for decades. The timber, texture and dissonance he builds into many of his works provides the perfect balance to the often simple and beautiful melodies employed.
On “Zig Zag” we find Gismonti playing with his trio with all instrument and percussive textures rendered very nicely through the Aura Note V2. This intimate recording is one sweet ride that almost seems like a travelogue with it’s variety of textures. On Orixás the bass line pleasingly brought to my mind the work of bassist Charlie Haden, who recorded from time to time with Gismonti. That alone brought a smile to my face. The track “Um Anjo” is a restrained piano outing with bass and atmospheric synthesizer. So simple, so beautiful and so powerful. The final track “Forrobodó” gives us expressive melodic forays punctuated with lilting accents and playful piano and string responses. Fun, expressive and gorgeously brought to the ear by the Aura Note V2.
For a while now, I’ve wanted my wife to hear Nana Simone’s “Wild Is The Wind,” from Nina Simone’s Finest Hour (Verve 2000). I first heard this incredible piece at Clement Perry’s home and promptly searched it out on Spotify once home. Sadly, the power and drive of the original played through the miraculous Memory Player into CP’s remarkable sounding rig fell absolutely flat in streaming quality, so I waited until I had the CD in hand to play it for Robin. It was worth the wait. As soon as the track began to play, Robin appeared and we danced the duration of this wonderful song, sharing tears between us at it’s end. A beautiful and memorable moment between us – and a testament to the power of music and musicality presented by the Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center. Very well done.
My time with the Aura Note V2’s headphone section was surprisingly enjoyable, given that I normally do such listening through an EarMax tube headphone amp. It’s useful to note that inserting a headphone jack mutes the audio signal to your speakers, making impromptu headphone listening even easier, you just need to select the input and start your engines. The all-in-one easily handled my Sennheiser HD 650’s with Cardas cables, providing solid bass and a sound quality that was listenable to for extended periods of time.
Listening level swung widely, from 26 – 46 numerically for a variety of music. Chesky Records “Powerhouse – In An Ambient Way” (binaural CD 2015) offered a pleasing escape into the Aura Note V2’s take on the binaural listening experience. The remote volume was high, compared to other sources. The Aura presented the music with good imagery and the instrumentation was rendered well, with nice depth and timber richness. Percussion was and snappy, with both musicality and rhythmic drive. The Aura presented good bass, involving instrumentation and crisp percussion, though trumpet lines from time to time were slightly edgy, which led me to listen to resolutions higher than Redbook quality. Switching program material to 24 bit/96kHz, the edginess abated, with higher resolution material mitigating any harshness compared to CD quality input. A run through some home-brew, digital 24/96 files ripped using my PhonoMax tube phono stage, proved a worthwhile exercise, with those files more laid back and easier to listen to for long periods.
While the Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center might not be classified as “audiophile grade,” it fills the gap between convenience audio and high end products with aplomb. It became my go to music player for months – the only time I switched on my main rig was to play vinyl. The Aura Note V2’s 125 wpc provided enough power to easily feed my power hungry ET LFT-8b’s… geez, what’s not to love? I’ve said more than once that this new V2 version of the Aura Note All-In-One would be something I’d consider if, God forbid, I lost my systems or felt the motivation to scale way back.
The Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center can be confidently recommended to a wide range of users, both audiophile and non-audiophile alike. With it’s myriad of quality features, 125 wpc power and 2 year warranty (parts and labor), this all-in-one should be on every music lovers list of brands to consider. If you lean toward digital music as your source (the V2 also has two sets of aux inputs for adding other sources), the Aura Note V2 provides a lot of heft at it’s price point, with intriguing sound quality and musicality found in larger systems of separates. It’s features, convenient, smaller form factor and now the inclusion of a Bluetooth receiver all add up to a compelling cost effective all-in-one product that anyone who favors musicality over low cost should audition.
Aura Note V2 Music Center
Price: $2,500.00 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Contact: April Music, Inc.
3F, Bangbae Hill Bldg.
Seocho-Gu, Seoul 137-064
Phone: (82) 2-3446-5561
Fax: (82) 2-3446-5564
Contact: Mr. Sam Lee
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