'Basically, the Audio Note Conquest Compact Amplifier is a straight-forward, almost directly-coupled single-ended triode amplifier. No mysteries, no bullshit. Half of the 6SN7 double triode serves as the input tube, while the other is the driver. The two 300Bs in true singled-ended configuration, in parallel, rectified by the 5U4G. Er, that's it.'
Each chassis measures 180x200x500mm (HWD), in what seems to be the now-standard format for single-ended triode monoblocks: long and narrow and just right for placing alongside a big horn system or a pseudo-Snell. Me? I drove vintage Quad ESLs, LS3/5As, Wilson WATT/Puppy System V and any other speakers I could muster which anger the worshippers of SET. And that's where the Conquests present the most wonderful of contradictions: they don't absurdly sensitive speakers to work. It's almost as if Audio Note set out to disprove the years of self-destructive, self-defeating codswallop about the superiority of high-sensitivity speakers, when we knew all along that that was merely an excuse for low power output. It's just like a clever psychopath who leaves a deliberate clue because, deep down inside, he wants to get caught...
True, they're rated at only 18W each, but they act like 50 watters. I was absolutely astonished by the levels they allowed the WATT/Puppies to deliver, with no sign of clipping, no trace of susceptibility to the System V's weird impedance characteristics. And with the old ESLs, whew - it was a match made in, well, Canterbury. I was stunned, and that's putting it mildly.
Audio Note supplied an M2 line-level pre-amp, but stopped short of insisting on Audio Note wires, DAC, speakers, . So I drove the aforementioned speakers and used the Meracus Imago and Marantz CD-12 transports, the Marantz turbo DA-12 converter, Marantz CD-63SE and K.I. 63SE, a couple of Audio Alchemy converters and a Sony Walkman Pro. Wires included Harmonix speaker cables, and Nirvana and XLO interconnects, and I eschewed any crazy tweaks, though these amps responsive to the Shakti bricks...
As middle age makes me less and less tolerant, I find myself swearing by a regimen of music, most which bears the alarming common trait of having been recorded in the valve era. And it's this material, mono chart hits from the Fifties, which favours the single-ended triode. Is it less demanding? Frequency limited, Softer and less aggressive than digital recordings? I haven't a clue. But There was no mistaking the utter synergy created by feeding Tennessee Ernie Ford's 'Sixteen Tons' or the Chordettes' 'Mr Sandman' into the Audio Notes. These amplifiers caress vocals, they convey all of the warmth and, well, that vocal recordings possess. Even when the vocalist is barely human himself, like an Iggy or an Ozzy.
It's like this: the Conquests are classic s.e.t.s if by that description you mean or simply expect a lush, sweet midband like no other, compromised by deep but wildly uncontrollable bass and a top-end that veers from the dull to the bright depending on the ambient temperature in the room, how you cast your rune stones and whether or not there's an 'R' in the day of the week. It's this unpredictability which plays no small part in making s.e.t.s so exciting, so much of a godsend for the no-lifers who embrace the technology. And I have to admit that the mid-band is something truly special, particularly when it's used to complement mid-band champions like Quad ESLs and LS3/5As.
An inescapable reason why those two classic transducers are actually better to use with s.e.t.s than the prescribed horns or pseudo-Snells is their behaviour at the frequency extremes. As neither speaker is endowed with much capability down into double-figure Hertzes, and as their upper frequencies are far from what you'd deem compression-driver-like, they act almost as complementary filters to the Conquests. It's only when I turned to the WATT/Puppies that I was faced yet again with that waffly 300B bass. Which kinda makes me wonder if '300B' is the preferred bra size of s.e.t. users.
None of which stopped me loving the Conquests, in the way that Todd Browning loved his freaks. Accompanying the peerless midband is rock-solid image placement, transparency of an uncommonly high order (but confined to the midband), and far greater speed that you'd ever credit a farty old tube like the 300B. And while the Conquests will not impress even slightly the Onga-Ku or Gaku-On veteran, they will steal sales from lesser s.e.t.s costing up to eight grand a pair. Why? Because, politicking aside, they make . If not over-driven, they'll behave as politely as an integrated transistor amp of the mass-market persuasion. And even the looks will grow on you. Like a fungus, perhaps, but they will grow on you.
Yes, I really am sorry to see them go. But just don't tell Peter Qvortrop...
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