Audio Note Io IIv
This review by Malcolm Steward first appeared in Audiophile magazine (UK) in June 1993.
The fabled Audio Note cartridges were talked about more often than they were seen or heard. Each cartridge was hand-built in Japan by its designer, Mr Kondo, who produced no more than about fifty pieces each year. This troubled Peter Qvortrup, the vinyl zealot who imports Audio Note products into the UK. He felt that these designs, which he thought offered unparalleled dynamic range, tonal balance, stereo separation, timbral reproduction and lack of coloration and surface noise, ought to be more readily available. He sought to rectify the shortage and, in 1990, obtained a licence to produce the cartridges in Britain. The first Audio Note cartridge was officially Made In Britain in April 1991.
The Io IIv, reviewed here, is engineered to have considerable structural integrity, both in terms of mechanical rigidity and lack of resonances. Its top plate will accept no fewer than six bolts to couple it tightly to the tone-arm. The same number of bolts clamps the generator assembly to the L-shaped plates that form the top and side skins of the cartridge’s slim body. The generator uses an Alnico magnet claimed to exert a field strength exceeding that of any other cartridge. This allows a very low number of turns to be used in winding the coils – to improve high frequency performance – which explains the Io IIv’s low output.
I listened to the cartridge in a Naim ARO tone-arm (with heavy counterweight) on my Pink Triangle-modified Linn LP12, through my regular system of Naim amplified active SBLs. Audio Note discourages feeding this cartridge through an active moving coil stage and recommends instead using a step-up transformer to keep noise down. I suspect that many Audio Note fans will own valve pre-amplifiers and can understand why the company makes this suggestion. I ignored the advice and hooked the Io IIv straight into my Naim NAC52′s mc input and encountered no problems whatsoever with noise or insufficient gain.
I liked the sound of this cartridge from the off. The first disc I played was Dizrhythmia’s eponymous LP, a synthesis of Western and Indian music that features the remarkable percussionist Pandit Dinesh. The Io IIv revelled in the diversity of instrumentation on this recording, which ranges from didgeridoo to flugel horn via Prophet synth and Danny Thompson’s double bass. It portrayed each instrument with scrupulous attention to detail, paying particular note to its harmonic and timbral personality. Its handling of upper register instrumentation exuded finesse, being positive but appropriately fastidious and graceful. The weight and presence of Thompson’s bass showed that this airiness wasn’t artificial, more a case of virtually zero noise allowing the finest nuances to emerge with complete integrity.
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop album indicated that the Io IIv had the capacity to serve rather wilder music. However, while it caught the weight of Tony Hymas’ subterranean keyboard bass on Behind The Veil effectively, I have to say that in some respects cartridges such as the decidedly animated but now departed Linn Troika and the Lyra Clavis cater better for music of this nature. When the temperature soars the Io IIv can sound a tad restrained and polite while the others mentioned let rip with greater abandon. The Audio Note’s poise doesn’t, however, prevent it from latching onto rhythms and partying on down. It even put an admirable spring into the step of dynamically-challenged selections from The Grateful Dead’s In The Dark album. Phil Lesh’s easy-going bass line on cool-man tracks such as West L.A. Fadeaway verged on sprightliness!
Naturally recorded jazz – Art Pepper’s …Meets The Rhythm Section, being a good example – was where the Io IIv revealed its trump card. Given its natural acoustic, live, unamplified instruments, and a broad palette of instrumental colour and dynamics the Io IIv launched into a spellbinding display. I’ve met other vdH tipped cartridges that have sounded equally “impressive” but none have sounded as natural as this. The profusion of detail that the Io IIv brought from this recording wasn’t clinically detached from the music but was woven cogently into the performance. It gave a meticulous insight into the components that made up the event without losing sight of the music’s flow or missing its emotional essence.
So, if your tastes don’t centre on grunge and seriously long-haired music, and you have a suitable sophisticated system, I’d advise you to put the Io IIv close to the top of your short-list of cartridges to audition. For those with a classical bent, this home-cooked coil has killer cartridge potential.
|TYPE||low o/p mc|
|RECOMMENDED VTF||1.5 – 3.5 grammes|
- Use of a step-up transformer is recommended – though not mandatory – because of the Io IIv’s 0.05mV output.
- van den Hul type 1, solid diamond stylus fitted to Titanium cantilever
- All wiring is 99.99% pure Silver
- Even tonal balance that’s particularly rewarding with acoustic recordings
- Extraordinarily fine scaling of dynamic contrast, enhanced by lack of residual noise
- Natural perspective integrates detail into the fabric of music