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A Hymn to Music – Audio Note (UK) Cobra

When I challenged João Pina to provide equipment to inaugurate Exaudio’s reviews at MoustachesToys, he suggested the Cobra integrated amplifier from Audio Note. I admit I had mixed feelings: disappointment because it’s an entry-level model, but also excitement because I’ve always been curious to hear products from the british brand.

The explanation for his suggestion helped me decide to accept this challenge. This is a Class A integrated amplifier, with EL34 output valves, delivering 28W per channel at 8 Ohms. Despite being an Audio Note, a brand renowned for its purist approach to audio, this is an integrated unit equipped with three digital inputs—USB-B, coaxial, and optical (it has a built-in DAC)—and three pairs of RCA inputs for analog sources. It represents Audio Note’s commitment to the trend of flexible valve amplifiers. Just connect your sources, whether digital or analog, and a pair of speakers, and you’re good to go!

Audio Note Cobra integrated amplifier
Audio Note Cobra

What is this Cobra?

The valves include four amplification EL34s, plus a pair of 6AU6s and a pair of 5670. The bias is automatic, simplifying things for beginners, and everyone else. The beveled front makes it easy to operate the two buttons, one for source selection on the left and the other for volume on the right. Apologies to the left-handed, but as it always should be. The red LED indicates the chosen source. For those with small children or pets, be careful! The Cobra has no protective grille over the valves. Curious little ones will learn the hard way not to put their fingers where they don’t belong.

Equipments in this review

When the Cobra arrived, the Forté 1 from Axxess, a smart Class D integrated amplifier (review here), was still at MoustachesTower, as was the then resident amplifier, the Frankie EX, designed and built by Franco Serblin’s former collaborator, his nephew Fabio. Yes, that Franco Serblin. (review here)

Due to the similar price with the Danish integrated, a head-to-head comparison was mandatory. Days before returning to Exaudio, the Cobra was also accompanied by the Marantz Stereo 70s (review at MoustachesToys in a few days).

Cobra, Frankie EX, A-6 Master Edition and MHA200
Audio Note Cobra and Frankie EX


We had the MoFi StudioDeck turntable with MM StudioTracker cartridge (review here) and the Rothwell Simplex phono stage on the analog side, and the Eversolo A-6 Master Edition and Denon DNP-2000NE streamers defending the digital honors. (face-off between these two network players, with the Cobra in the background here) I also spent a few hours listening to music with the internal DAC, with record covers and lyrics displayed on my 58-inch Hisense TV, using Apple TV. My almost fifty-year-old eyes exclaimed – Vinyl, top that!

I connected the Audio Note Cobra to the PMC Prodigy 5 speakers (review here), Triangle Borea 03, and Bowers & Wilkins 607 S3 (review at MoustachesToys soon). Thus, there was no shortage of recipes or ways to “serve” this Audio Note.

How Did the Cobra Perform?

This amplifier was a surprise. Logic suggested pairing the Borea 03s, as they are easy-to-drive speakers. The Fezz Audio Silver Luna Prestige Evo (review here), also with two pairs of EL34 valves, paired beautifully with their 90dB sensitivity and 8 Ohm impedance. Believing that in audio there are more exceptions than rules, I decided to take a chance and connect it to the PMC Prodigy 5 (review here), despite their lower sensitivity and impedance, even though they are transmission line speakers, supposedly making them even more challenging. But they are more capable than the French speakers. Perfect match. The logic of pairing opposite qualities didn’t work. Both the Triangle and B&W 607 S3 have tweeters that can be tricky in my room (the B&W case is different. The review will be on this website in the next few days), and the rounder and meatier character of the Audio Note could create a good synergy with these monitors. It was with the PMCs that the match was by far the most prolific. Details, nuance, scale, soundstage, and, I can’t repeat it enough, emotion. Emotion. Emotion. These were the offspring from this marriage.

Comparing it to the Forté 1 (solid state and Class D), the Danish amplifier left a very good impression. A very organic and “meaty” interpretation (for a Class D. This parenthesis only emerged after the arrival of the Cobra, through direct comparison), excellent soundstage and timbre, with speed, muscle, and scale. The Cobra made me reconsider what I previously thought was meaty and organic. Yes, the Axxess undoubtedly has everything I noted, but the Audio Note demonstrated itself to be on a comparatively higher level.

Dead Can Dance, Dulce Pontes, Amália, Carminho, Camané, Carlos do Carmo, Tom Waits, Tim and Jeff Buckley —whatever I threw at it, the Audio Note returned with dense emotional impact. The sounds, the notes. The music, essentially!, took on a palpable character I don’t recall hearing in-house with any other equipment. I know it’s a cliché I hate to read or hear others use, but Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, Dulce Pontes, Amália Rodrigues, Carminho, Camané, Carlos do Carmo, Tom Waits, and both father and son Buckley, though both already gone, were literally and materially present in my room, such was the tangible mass of sound that this Cobra directs through our ears straight to our guts. In this case, it was the snake that charmed, not the other way around.

“A pele que há em Mim (Quando o dia entardeceu)” by Márcia and JP Simões became an overwhelming experience, giving me goosebumps on hairs I have and those I no longer have, such was the way the two performers and the guitar gained tangibility in my room. The poem “Com que Voz” by Camões, the greatest portuguese poet from the 16th century, sung by Amália Rodrigues, gained an organic sense, with a resulting emotion that made me twist inside out.

“Exit Music (For a Film)” by Radiohead, for those who might think I only liked the Cobra with simplistic vocal pieces, had the instruments perfectly intelligible and separated with precision even in the most complex passage. Yes, this amplifier isn’t just for the celebration of music; it’s also for inviting friends over and boasting about our latest purchase, using the audiophile jargon we read on audiophile reviews!

Final Thoughts

Flaws? Stretching the rope as much as I can just to find something. I dare say that Audio Note might risk losing possible Cobra customers due to its exterior design, after comfortably winning them in sonic capabilities.

On the other hand, the consistency with which it performed regardless of what I put in front or behind it. Or what musical style I threw at it. Fado, rock, classical, or anything else, this integrated was always the best compromise. In fact, compromise isn’t the ideal word, as it’s something we usually apply to something that doesn’t often win gold medals in battles but ends up ahead in the overall points tally at the end of the championship. No! The Cobra won in consistency and in the knockouts.

The Cobra is like that richly marbled, succulent meat that didn’t need any seasoning besides a pinch of salt but was still flavored by the chef with a cube of Roquefort on top.

My adventures in high-end audio have allowed me to encounter a few pieces of equipment that have become ingrained in my memory. For how they elevated my musical consumption to levels unknown until then. This Cobra is one of them; this Cobra is a hymn to music.

Product Page


MAXIMUM OUTPUT: 28 Watts per channel

VALVE COMPLEMENT: 4 x EL34; 2 x 6AU6; 2 x 5670

​DIMENSIONS: 340(w) x 199(h) x 451(d) mm incl. valves, knobs and connectors

Equipment in this review

  • Audio Note (UK) Cobra: integrated amplifier
  • Axxess Forté 1: integrated amplifier
  • Serblin & Son Frankie EX: integrated amplifier
  • Marantz Stereo 70s: stereo receiver
  • MoFi StudioDeck: Turntable
  • Denon DNP-2000NE: streamer
  • Eversolo DMP A-6 Master Edition: streamer
  • PMC Prodigy 5: Floorstanders
  • Triangle Borea 03: Monitor speakers
  • B&W 607 S3: Monitor speakers
  • Audio Note cabling