The JAS Audio Orsa Loudspeaker and April Music Aura Note CD/Amp Completer
Small system, whole lot of music
I have commented over the years about some of the stunning products coming out of Asia which offer great sound, wonderful aesthetics, and thoughtful design. Companies such as Xindak, Vincent (Shengya), and the Opera Consonance line of products are just to name a few. Now comes a couple more companies from this rapidly growing high-end giant, JAS Audio out of Hong Kong and April Music out of Korea.
Both JAS Audio, manufacturers a full line of high-end quality amps, preamps, loudspeakers and more, and April Music, who have also developed the Stello and Eximus brands, are being made available in the U.S. by one of the true nice guys in audio, Stephen Monte of NAT Distribution.
Over the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a couple of products from these two companies: the JAS Audio Orsa loudspeaker and April Music Aura Note CD/Completer. Originally, I listened to each these pieces by themselves as part of my reference system in my main listening room, but while they both did fairly well on their own, I soon found out that they are absolutely brilliant when coupled together.
In fact, let me get straight to the point. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile who is always at a loss for a down-to-earth system that you could heartily recommend to non-audiophile friends, or are about to send one of your kids off to college and want them to have a high-quality, wonderful sounding music system that won’t need to be setup on crates or take up much dorm room space, or even if you just wanted to have a great looking (extremely high Wife Acceptance Factor) and sounding music system for a formal living room or family room, you need look no further. The Orsa/Aura Note system delivers drop-dead gorgeous looks, wonderful sound, and a boat load of features in a package that is affordable (just under $5k) and takes up about as much room as a laptop computer.
The Orsa I’ve seen the Orsa referred to as JAS Audio’s “entry level?loudspeaker. If you’ve read my previous review of the Argento Audio Serenity cables, then you already know that I have a big problem with the phrase “entry level.?Believe me, at a price of $2,495/pr, and with the level of craftsmanship and parts used in the Orsa, there is nothing entry level about it.
The Orsa is a two-way design that uses a pure aluminum 4 ? twin ribbon tweeter made by LCY of Hong Kong and a 6?paper cone midrange/woofer made by Morel. It also uses an adjustable crossover and all internal wiring is silver. The cabinets use real wood veneers with multiple layers of piano-grade lacquer for an outrageously gorgeous finish. The tweeter and midrange/bass components are housed in separate enclosures and internal bracing is extremely solid. The overall size of the Orsa is 16 ? x 9?x 13 3/8?(HWD) and each weighs in at 24 lbs. The frequency response is a deceptive 45 Hz ?60 kHz (they sound bigger). Their sensitivity is rated at 88 dB and their nominal impedance is 8 Ohms. The front baffle of the woofer enclosure is sloped to improve phase/time coherency. The tweeter adjustment helps make in-room placement of the Orsas “idiot-proof.?lt;/P>
Before coupling the Orsas to the Aura Note, I installed the Orsas in into a system consisting of the BAT VK31SE preamp and VK1000 mono amps, and Classe CDP502 CD player. I began by listening to a disc that I fall in love with at the start of each Christmas holiday season (basically, the day after Labor Day), Vince Guiraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas [Fantasy]. Track 2, “What Child Is This,?is jazz piano at its finest. I had never been able to appreciate it more than when hearing it on a tweeter such as the ribbon design used in the Orsa. The intricate sound of soft piano hammers hitting the strings of Guaraldi’s piano seem to dance from the Orsas and replicate an extremely lifelike and immensely enjoyable sound. I enjoyed this tune so much that I must have repeated it over and over for nearly an hour. The same can be said of the ultimate Peanuts track, “Linus and Lucy.?I must have heard that tune a million times during my life (what boomer hasn’t?) and never realized just how wonderful a piece of music it is. This is the beauty of rediscovering old favorite discs via a pair of highly revealing loudspeakers.
The Aura Note
The Aura Note, though called a “CD/Amp Completer,?is easier to think of as an integrated, top-loading CD player and 50 WPC stereo receiver.
Of course that would be short changing it as well because it also has USB inputs for MP3 player and PC connection, an AUX input for TV or DVD connection, and a headphone jack. The Aura Note was designed for April Music by British industrial engineer Kenneth Grange. Grange is discussed on April Music’s website as being ? co-founder and partner of Pentagram from 1972 to 1999. Grange specializes in product design and corporate identity. Among his projects are for example the National High Speed Train, the Kodak Instamatic Camera, Wilkinson shavers and Parker fountain pens. On top of that, there have been many jobs for Japanese customers, more than 100 products for Kenwood and the design of the last London taxi.
Kenneth Grange has received a number of important awards, among which are the Duke of Edinburgh's Prize for Elegant Design, the Design Council Award and the Master of Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.
Among others, he obtained honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art (1985), DeMontfort University (1998) and through the Prince Philip Designers' Prize (2001). In 1984, Kenneth Grange was appointed Commander of the British Empire.?lt;/P>
Grange’s knack for aesthetically pleasing and functional design is evident here as well. The Aura Note oozes elegance with its chrome chassis accents, simple sliding tempered glass CD player top, unobtrusive footprint and credit card thin, 24-button, 27-function remote control.
Physically, the Aura Note measures just 11?x 3?x 11?(WHD) and weighs a respectable 15 lbs. The top two-thirds of the chrome faceplate hold a row of eight function buttons for standby (power), volume (up and down), play/pause, skip/stop and mode. It also holds the infra-red sensor and an easy to read LED display window that shows the selected input, CD track number, track time and even acts as a clock when in standby mode. The bottom third looks like a black anodized heat sink. All in all, the Aura Note has a very stylish look that should compliment any décor. The rear of the units holds the gold-plated speaker posts and single-ended AUX input, a Type B USB input for connecting a PC, AM/FM antenna connections, and an IEC power cord receptacle which allows you to use after market power cords. The right side of the Aura Note includes a ? headphone jack and a Type A USB input for connecting MP3 players and even an iPod. On second thought, let’s just stick with calling it a CD/Amp Completer. I can see one of the lovelies popping up on university campuses across the country. Of course at $2.5k a pop, I can also see them walking away from a lot of universities as well. Maybe the folks at April Music can find a way to install a “LoJack?on these things to make them easily recoverable.
Internally, the CD section features Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC and top-loading disc drive system. The amplifier section employs a 50wpc Mosfet single-ended push/pull amp with a Hitachi J162/K1058 transistor per phase. All circuitry is neatly laid out on an “L?shaped circuit board that is isolated from the chassis. Power comes from a fairly massive toroidal transformer. The AM/FM tuner section features presets for 20 stations though I had some difficulty getting more than a handful of stations locked in to any satisfactory degree. Fortunately, one of those stations was the local National Public Radio affiliate (WBEZ 91.5 FM). Readers of some of my previous reviews will know my affection for a good live FM broadcast and few stations deliver better than NPR, particularly its Saturday night offerings, A Prairie Home Companion and Michael Feldman’s Wha’d Ya Know? Each week Wha’d Ya Know features a great jazz interlude by the Wha’d Ya Know Band featuring John Thulin on piano, Jeffry Eckels on bass, and Clyde Stubblefield on drums. Thankfully the Aura Note does a great job of locking this station in.
System Setup I have a second listening room in my home specifically for evaluating modestly sized systems. It measures about 12?wide x 10?long with 8?high ceilings and is open to my recreation room on the left side. It has a carpeted floor and the walls are painted with a flat finish to minimize sound reflection. The Orsas sat atop 24?high, sand-filled stands built by Tyler Acoustics. The stands were coupled to the floor beneath the carpet via spikes. The Orsas were connected to the Aura Note via Stealth Audio Petite Dream speaker cables. The Aura Note sat on a sand-filled Premier equipment rack that was also coupled to the floor via spikes. The Orsas were not difficult to position in this room. I got the best results with the speakers about 30?from the rear wall, with my seated position about six feet back from there and with my ears about level with the tweeters. Lately, Max, my two-year-old Boston terrier has supplanted my girlfriend as my listening session partner. Aside from an occasional tendency towards flatulence, he makes for a very pleasant companion.
Listening After making sure that the Orsas and Aura Note were fully settled in I began to evaluate them as a system. The synergy between the two was instant. “Musicality, musicality, musicality,?was the first thing that came to mind after listening to the soundtrack from the Herbie Hancock documentary, Possibilities [Warner Brothers]. Many jazz “purists?have panned this disc as nothing more than mass market junk because of its connection to Starbucks and pop idol guest performer list which includes John Mayer, Sting, Carlos Santana, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Lang, and Annie Lennox. The opening track, a duet with Mayer called “Stitched Up,?is a ballsy, and flat-out charming tune that has been constantly at play both in my car and home. In fact, every track is great fun to listen to including the somber “Hush, Hush, Hush? with Annie Lennox. I must also admit though that the best parts of each song are the Hancock solos, which through the Orsa/Aura Note system are eloquent, wonderfully rendered and penetrating. This is a fine recording.
Sade’s Lovers Rock [Epic] was another recording that benefited greatly from the cozier confines of my smaller listening room and the prime attributes of the Orsa/Aura Note system, that being its ability to portray fine details in realistic space and dimension. Particularly the acoustic guitar playing of Stuart Matthewman on track eight, “Every Word?and Sade’s sultry vocals on the title track. The Orsa/Aura Note system, when not tasked with trying to fill a large room, work together to get the most out of your recordings and reward you with sound that is textured, palpable and very musical.
Ah, but let’s face it, this system, particularly the Aura Note, was designed with MP3/iPod crowd in mind as well and they don’t always listen to Herbie Hancock and Sade. Fact is, they never listen to Herbie Hancock and Sade but they do often listen Wyclef Jean. One of his best recordings from the past few years was Masquerade [Columbia], particularly track 13 “Two Wrongs.?This song balances out Wyclef’s distinctive voice and Reggae/HipHop beats with the sexy voice of Claudette Ortiz and some nice guitar work by Wyclef. Of course there’s also a tank load of bass too and the Orsas handle it well. As I mentioned earlier, the Orsas sound bigger than their size and specs would suggest. This entire CD is full of bass heavy beats that never lost their musicality through the Orsa/Aura Note system.
Conclusion Though I felt these two pieces were better discussed as a combo, make no mistake that each is an excellent performer in its own right. The JAS Audio Orsas were very effective when paired with the far more powerful BAT amps though the ribbon tweeter got to be a bit edgy on more dynamic recordings. Likewise, the Aura Note did well driving my Escalante Design Freemonts though their dual 12?bass drivers proved to be a bit too much for the Aura Note’s 50 watts, especially on some of my R&B recordings.
But paired together, and in a room with moderate dimensions, they are capable of reproducing music that is far more lifelike and enjoyable than you’d think possible for a sub $5k system. For those of you who place a high importance on integrating music into your lifestyle without giving up all your living space, this is the system for you. Whether you listen to your iPod, CDs, or MP3s and whether you listen with headphones or from your laptop PC, these products offer enough features, functions, great looks and sound quality to turn any non-audiophile into a music lover. I would heartily recommend the JAS Audio Orsa loudspeakers and April Music Aura Note CD/Completer as individual components but together, they were a revelation.
Technical Specifications: JAS Orsa FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 45Hz - 60kHz SENSITIVITY: 88 dB/W/M CROSSOVER FREQUENCY: 2.4kHz IMPEDENCE: 8 Ohm POWER REQUIREMENT: 10 - 200 W TWEETER: pure aluminum twin-ribbon MID/WOOFER: 6" Morel DPC driver DIMENSIONS (W x H x D): 23 x 42 x 34 cm NET WEIGHT: 11kg per speaker
Aura Note ● PREAMP & POWER AMP SECTION - INPUT : AUX(RCA) x 1, USB x 1(for MP3, WMA, OGG file), USB mini x 1(for PC) - OUTPUT : 1 PAIR OF SPEAKER, HEADPHONE x 1 - VOLUME : CIRRUS LOGIC CS3310(0.001%THD, 116dB Dynamic range) - FREQUENCY RESPONSE : 20Hz - 25kHz(-0.5dB) - OUTPUT : 50W + 50W(8 Ohms) - POWER AMP : MOS-FET SINGLE-ENDED PUSH-PULL ●CD / DAC - TOP-LOADING CD MECHANISM - MEDIA : CD / MP3 CD / USB Memory - D/A CONVERSION : CIRRUS LOGIC CS4398, 120dB, 192kHz - DIGITAL FILTER : PROPRIETARY 3rd ORDER FILTER - MEMORY BUFFER : RAM BUFFER PLAYBACK 16MB SRAM 10sec ESP ●TUNER - BAND : FM / AM - PRESET: 20 STATIONS ●USB - DECODER : Micronas USB CODEC - PLAYBACK FORMAT : MP3 / WMA / OGG(UPTO 192K BPS) - RECORDING FORMAT : MP3 128K BPS (FIXED) - PLAYBACK FILE : 44.1kHz / 16bit - 96kHz/24bit ●DIMENSIONS - SIZE : W278 x H84 x D278mm (W10.94 x H3.3 x D10.94 inch) - WEIGHT : 7kg (15.4lb. Net) - POWER CONSUMPTION : 11W (STANDBY), 30W (NOMINAL), 200W(MAX)
Price: $2,495 USD
JAS Audio Profit Industrial Bldg Room 1526 1-15 Kwai Fung Crescent Kwai Fong Hong Kong Tel: 852-27804321 Website: http://www.jas-audio.com
NAT Distribution (North American Distributor) 2307-R Bristol Pike Bensalem Pa 19020 Tel: 215-953-9099 Website: http://www.natdistribution.com