Paul Wilson has been an avid high-performance audio enthusiast since 1972, and has experience in all aspects of the market, from sales to business to journalism. He has been a member of the AudiophileReview.com and HomeTheaterReview.com teams since 2013, contributing regular commentary about the audiophile hobby as well as extensive gear reviews. His passions include sports, sports cars, collecting watches, art, cooking, and listening to finely recorded music.
In April 2019 at the AXPONA audio show, Sam Laufer, President of Laufer Teknik, introduced his company's newest speaker system, called simply "The Note." Designed by the renowned Mark Porzilli, who is also Laufer's business partner, The Note is a line array speaker design comprised of two tall, incredibly thin towers, each with a line of small, one-inch drivers mounted in a vertical column.
The Note is actually Porzilli's third line-array design. The first, called "Pipedreams," was an ultrasonic node line array released in 1998, which won numerous awards and was proclaimed by Harry Pearson, then publisher of the Absolute Sound, as the finest speaker on Earth.
Porzilli's second line array was the now-famous "Scaena" ceramic loudspeaker. Scaena won awards all around the world and received best-of-show honors at six consecutive US audio shows. When I first heard the Scaenas at the Rocky Mount Audio Fest six years ago, I would have almost sworn I was listening to live music. They sounded so natural it was uncanny. (Note: current model Scaenas are a departure from Porzilli's original design.)
The Note, while derived from the same design tenants as the two previous versions, is materially different in one unique way: it is a true one-way design, with no internal crossover, nor any of the associated sonic issues created by such.
The first noticeable feature about The Note is its size and shape. There are two versions: one with 96 one-inch drivers with 48 per tower standing 85 inches tall. A second version utilizes 112 one-inch drivers with 56 per tower standing 93 inches tall. Conveniently, regardless of which version, the retail cost for each is $29,950.00. Each tower is 2 inches wide by 2 inches deep and sits on a granite base. Attaching the base to the tower is simple: four screws through the bottom of two slots in the base and into four threaded holes in the bottom of the tower.
Connecting the speaker cables is also simple. Furutech terminals on the back of the speaker accept bare wire, spade, and banana terminals. One option is the use of a network box that is designed to filter out any frequencies below the rated 85 Hz. When using the network box, as I chose to do, the speaker cables from the amp connect to the network box, and a second cable, included with the box, is connected to the speaker itself. In my case, use of the network box was done to get the towers further out into the room to enhance imaging.
The last connection is an AC/DC converter that plugs into an electrical outlet on the wall and into the back of the tower. This converter is to power a heating element inside the speaker. Porzilli uses this element to heat the air in the tower to 100 degrees, which he says "fools" the cabinet into thinking it is larger than it really is and allowing for a lower bottom-end frequency. This give the towers a barely noticeable warm-to-the-touch feeling.
All of these connections are quite simple and may be quickly accomplished in just a few minutes with a screwdriver being the only tool really required. Something else unique to these speakers is their weight. It is very easy to pick up the tower and base, which weigh about fifty pounds, and carry or position it as needed.
Just as in Porzilli's two previous designs, a subwoofer is needed for frequencies below 85 Hz. Laufer Teknik includes in the price of each version an SVS SB-2000 Pro subwoofer. If the user already has a sub, as did I, a cost adjustment will be applied to your order. Integrating the subs with the towers may take some effort, depending on the room where the system is located. In my case, the stereo pair of REL G1 Mark II subs used in my system were very simple to seamlessly blend with the towers.
It is important to note that these speakers perform at their finest when well out into the room. They have 360-degree dispersion up to 12 kHz and 180-degree dispersion up to 27 kHz. Imaging does not take place at the towers themselves, but rather well behind. In my audio room, the towers are 12 feet from the front wall. The listening chair is about eight feet from each tower. Yet all image development occurs anywhere from 14 feet to 20 feet from the chair – well behind the speakers themselves.
Porzilli spent seven years perfecting the design of The Note. Performance is where the fruits of this labor are manifested. Because, as it relates to dynamics, clarity, accuracy, soundstage, and imaging, The Note encompasses what is best about a variety of speaker designs without the associated drawbacks.
If the perfect speaker system could exist, it would operate as a pulsating sphere. It would emit 100 percent of the signal, from the lowest bass to the highest treble, at the same dynamic output and 360 degrees around the room. This is how live, unamplified music in an enclosed space behaves. The "pulsating sphere," however, does not exist, and designers must accept compromises. Most good speaker designs strive to reach the same goals: wide and smooth dispersion, displacement of large amounts of air, a minimal signal path, and a wide frequency response. Invariably, one or more of these goals are compromised because of another. Designers must therefore find a balance to achieve the best performance they can.
In a typical D'Appolito dynamic speaker, large, heavy woofers are needed for air movement. Large drivers are also slow and tend to exhibit what is known as "overhang," or the inability of that driver to accurately and immediately start and stop. The result is bass that is often compromised and may sound bloated and artificial. Multiple small drivers operating at a fraction of their capabilities do not suffer this condition. As such, The Note moves more air than two 18-inch woofers but does so with almost a complete lack of overhang. The dynamics these speakers produce can oftentimes be shocking. More than once I was startled by a cymbal crash, a guitarist furiously hitting the strings, or a pianist aggressively pounding the keys.
When Porzilli introduced the Pipedreams, Harry Pearson (tas) coined a new term: "dynamic linearity." This condition is equal dynamics from the lowest frequency to the highest. As Pearson noted at the time, it was the first time he had ever heard full orchestration sound as it did in a live setting. Mids and highs are presented with the same dynamic authority as are lower frequencies. It took me a few weeks to actually appreciate this attribute, but having now done so, a lack of dynamic linearity is immediately evident – particularly when multiple large woofers tend to overshadow smaller mids and highs.
In a typical D'Appolito dynamic speaker, it is not uncommon to have one or more woofers, one or two midrange drivers and a one-inch tweeter. There is no tweeter in existence, regardless of the design or quality, that can move as much air as two much larger woofers. It is a physical impossibility. A condition known as dynamic compression therefore occurs first in the tweeters, then the midrange, and finally the bass. Quite often, the bass even becomes overpowering, masking much of the midrange. As the tweeter struggles to keep up and amplitude is increased, distortion is likewise increased. Different designers deal with this in a variety of ways, some better than others, but it is a condition with which all conventional dynamic speakers, and even to a certain degree, planar and electrostatic speakers, must contend with.
Spreading out the air movement over 96 or 112 full-range drivers eliminates this, as each driver operates at a fraction of its capability. Because of this, clarity and accuracy are also enhanced. The Note has clarity equal to, perhaps even greater than, a planar design. However, it does so without the associated other difficulties planar speakers exhibit. I found that transients were enhanced on most all of my test songs. They stood out more and came from their own space, not just somewhere in the room. I do not recall ever hearing a speaker system display such transient accuracy before.
Distortion, a common speaker malady, is negligible in The Notes. Laufer Teknik claims the distortion is 50 to 100 times less than a conventional dynamic speaker. They also sound very clean, clear, and free from the congestion I have heard with previous dynamic speakers. Because of a lack of overhang, the clarity is remarkable.
The drivers are Porzilli's design and there is no crossover at any point across their rated frequency range of 85 Hz to 27,000 Hz. Vocals, particularly female vocals, are stunning, presented with a noticeable purity. There is a contiguity to the musical presentation that is quite nearly impossible to achieve when the bass, midrange, and treble are separated by crossovers. Best of all, there is a complete elimination of phase shift or timing errors almost always present when a crossover is used. Because imaging depends on the accuracy of timing, eliminating phase shift enhances image capabilities. As it applies to The Note, the imaging is simply unbelievable.
Because of the design cues mentioned above, when properly placed in the room, The Note will image as few speakers I have heard before. I can identify the specific placement of instruments to just several inches from up to twenty feet away. More than once I have closed my eyes and actually "seen" the musicians on stage. Because of the tower height, imaging tends to cover almost the entire nine-foot height of my listening room. And surprisingly, it doesn't change whether standing or sitting. Because the Note exhibits a 360-degree radiation pattern up to 12 kHz, the sweet spot is effectively eliminated. If I sit at the far left of the room, the center image still sounds like it is in the center. Same when I sit to the far right.
All imaging is presented well behind the speakers. This was one of Porzilli's goals, to replicate true stereo. This is where a musical group is at the rear of the stage and two mics, placed fairly close together at the front of the stage capture the sound from a much wider source. The Notes replicate this as the soundstage is presented well behind, and well beyond both speakers. When I sit in the listening chair, it feels like I am in the audience watching a group perform on stage. What is really remarkable is, if I get up, walk past the speakers, and stand in front of the equipment rack, it sounds like I am on the stage with the musicians.
In the 1987 DECCA recording of Puccini's La Boheme, staring Pavarotti, the opening of the opera featured Rolando Panerai as baritone. In my audio room, his voice started out on the right side wall, about five feet from the front. His voice moved down the wall, turned and went across the front wall and stopped at about the center image. Pavarotti's voice could be heard in about the same location on the left wall. As he sung, his voice moved towards the front and also stopped at the center. After a brief musical interlude, their positions were reversed. I was hearing the singers moving on the stage. I also noticed that the singer's voices were higher on the wall than the orchestra. As this was a live recording, the orchestra was in the pit, and the singers on the stage above. That was an unbelievable experience.
Listening to Shelby Lynn's "I Cry Every Day" at first caused me to think something was wrong. All the imaging was in the center and to the right. Lynn's voice is dubbed and used as backup and her voice was portrayed well beyond the right side of the speaker boundary.
About halfway through, Lynn's voice suddenly exploded on the left wall – so much so it actually startled me. This is a great example of the dynamics these speakers can produce. All the instruments, Lynn's voice, and the overdubs used as backup singers were placed with such accuracy, I could have walked up and placed my finger on where they were located in the room.
Listening to the Beatles' 2015 compilation, 1, "Elanor Rigby" starts with all fab four singing harmony. This was presented from the far left wall to the right.
When Paul comes in on solo, his voice is wide to the right, and about six feet from the front wall. His voice can be heard to move down the right wall about three feet and the various instruments seem to come in and go away.
The complexity of this recording, the constantly changing placement of the singers and instruments, makes this recording something special. I've never heard this song sound any better.
The Notes excel in making a superior recording sound magnificent. They also will completely eviscerate a poorly recorded song and leave it bleeding on the sidewalk. With neutral electronics and sources, this is a speaker system that will exactly portray the recording as it is on the system. Some songs have so little bass I wonder what's wrong. Other have so much I want to get the remote and turn down the gain on the subs. This is a byproduct of accuracy to the recording. When you have this level of clarity, accuracy, dynamics and imaging, being true to the recording isn't always a blessing.
The Notes are effectively a one-way, omnidirectional line array speaker with dynamic linearity, huge dynamics, amazing clarity and accuracy. This, however, comes at a cost: efficiency. They like power. Porzilli recommends a minimum of 100 WPC. To get the full, oftentimes shocking dynamics, a minimum of 200 WPC is suggested. My Esoteric A02 outputs a continuous 400 WPC into 4 ohms with a ceiling of 500 WPC so I had no issues at all. Because of the load sharing over so many drivers, these speakers are rated at a maximum of 2000 WPC.
It is assumed that most homes have eight-foot ceilings. However, it may be a problem accommodating one speaker just over seven feet tall, or a second version just over eight. For my listening room, with nine-foot ceilings, this was no problem at all.
One other potential downside is that some listeners will not want to use a subwoofer. Since I see so much value in a sub, regardless of the speaker, I will always use a sub in my two-channel system. But with the Note, it's an absolute must.
Comparison and Competition
The Carver Amazing Line Source is perhaps the closest competitor to The Note. Where they differ is Carver is using thirteen ribbon tweeters mounted on the front of the speaker. There are also midrange and bass units positioned on the left and right side of the enclosure. A crossover module is included, as is a subwoofer for the low bass requirements. As such, these are not a one-way design as is The Note. Carvers also have the tendency to dip to very low impedance at times, making them difficult to drive. Their cost is attractive, however, as they retail for $18,495 per pair.
McIntosh has the XRT2.1K and XRT1.1K but here again, there are tweeters, midrange drivers, and woofers all managed by a crossover network. There are two versions, the more expensive of the two retailing for $130,000. I have heard them before as well, and honestly, I would choose The Notes regardless of whatever the sale price might be.
Beyond those two, MBL makes several versions of their Radialstrahler omnidirectional speaker. They start in price at about $20,000, but the 101 series starts at nearly $80,000 and goes up to $265,000. I've heard several of their models as well, but I am not convinced they are a true competitor, as their designs are so radically different.
Laufer Teknik's The Note is a remarkable achievement. I cannot remember hearing a speaker system sound so natural and true-to-life. It has so many sonic attributes that many other speakers fail to achieve it almost stands in a class by itself. While it is really designed for mid-level audio systems and up, those with similar level electronics will be absolutely amazed at what they hear. What Mark Porzilli has created is an absolute masterpiece. I give it my highest recommendation, as it is my new reference speaker system.