The flurry of European hi-fi shows in the latter part of 2022 meant that I had to miss the milestone anniversary party staged by high-end Italian company Gold Note. Enjoying their sound at the hectic Warsaw show I arranged to visit the company’s headquarters early in 2023.
So it was that I boarded a flight to Florence where I was met and driven the 20km to Gold Note’s home in Montespertoli. It is here that designs are not only created but also brought to life since founder and CEO Maurizio Aterini shares my dislike of sending production to China to save a few pennies. For him, as for me, price is far from everything. It was on this basis that he moved his company away from OEM production for some of the world’s top audio brands to start Gold Note a decade ago.
Gold Note Product Manager Tom Dolfi
Maurizio is an audiophile at heart and began his vinyl collection as twelve-year-old, amassing thousands of albums, before long his passion for music became something of an obsession for the art of audio production. Largely analogue but also some leading-edge digital technology which stems from the previous OEM work to produce what he terms “the Italian Sound (il Suono Italiano)” with a signature of “addictive musical enjoyment” full of “vivid realism, precise imaging, accurate separation of instruments, speed, clarity of detail – these are the qualities we focus on.”
He says that the Gold Note ideology has been greatly influenced by the Florentine Renaissance “a time of great technological innovation and ideas, revolutionary but tied to traditions. Our mission is to renew that innovative spirit of six centuries ago, to find our way into the future.” Because the company is privately owned, designers can concentrate on elements of passion and quality rather than having to please any investors.
Inheriting an onsite swimming pool from the building’s former owner, the Gold Note facility allows the 35 employees to work in a family atmosphere with great camaraderie and a real desire to work towards one common aim, the creation of superb high-end audio equipment to be enjoyed around the world. Gold Note make everything from cartridges and turntables, to DACs, amp and loudspeakers.
Gold Note research and development
One of the key areas is research and development where half-a-dozen engineers work on upcoming designs and refinements to existing products. I was shown some of the ongoing projects by Product Manager Tom Dolfi who was part of Gold Note’s start-up team before he went to work in London and later returning ‘home’. The department is orderly and the lab remarkably tidy with separate areas for each specialism of mechanical engineering, software development, PCB design, acoustics and electronics.
There is great pride in all that is achieved here, not least in the development of a new entry-level turntable, the team has clearly put a lot of effort into honing each element of the design. Platter design for the Valore Lite II was almost an entire project, with samples from a range of materials from glass to acrylic tested and measured, as well as composites such as vinyl-coated MDF. Then there was work to evaluate bearing and motor effects where the onsite 3D printing comes into its own by allowing one-off engineering samples to be produced quickly and easily for prototyping. A slight change to the polymer composition can have dramatic effects further down the design chain, for example.
Tom explains that there is often challenging R&D work on entry-level products as the legacy technology is employed in a more cost-conscious product. “We start with the flagship and innovate as we scale-down”, he explains. “There must be some degree of compromise, but it’s making sure that it’s an acceptable level. That’s the key issue.”
This was the case with refining the 2017 PH-10 phono stage (above left) to the newly released PH-5 (above right) at around half the price. The number of circuit boards was reduced but the analogue and digital circuits remain separated, while the new design is knob-less, relying instead on touchscreen control. Another saving was made by switching from a linear power supply to a switch-mode design with a regulator circuit , naturally the changes went through many iterations along the way with intensive measurement and evaluation.
Gold Note streamer
At another bench, electronics wizard David Scandagli is developing a new digital streamer which will be launched in two versions: with and without a preamp stage. He points out the inclusion of a quarter inch headphone socket and the use of dual DAC chips in a dual-mono design (one per channel) to lower the crosstalk to virtually zero. It also has a Class A power supply and output stage. I note the AES/EBU digital input alongside coax and optical, as well as analogue outputs on both XLR and phonos. Then there’s the use of a Speakon connector labelled PSU for the addition of an external power supply by way of a user upgrade. The design offers with Tidal, Qobuz, AirPlay etc and is also Roon ready. All-in-all a comprehensive package which I can’t wait to hear. A Roon Core has been deliberately omitted because the processing is all low-level, but such things are rarely found on streamers.
While much is commercially confidential, I discover that Gold Note’s loudspeaker work involves many of the suppliers and partners behind the Sonus faber designs. And it’s little wonder that the electronics seem so advanced when I learn that, under the OEM contracts, the team used to produce for the likes of Bryston and Oracle.
Gold Note process flow
Gold Note is only too well aware that the world is changing quickly and it, like other manufacturers, faces challenges in sourcing materials to ensure continuous productiond. It has a philosophy of merging innovation and tradition to overcome these challenges, never afraid to push the boundaries. I discover that, despite the trend for globalization, suppliers are carefully chosen for their extraordinary quality and are often located in Tuscany just a stone’s throw away from the brand’s headquarters so that they can retain a distinctive Italian tradition.
A key facet to the operation is quality control, and I see how all components are carefully checked on arrival from suppliers and every finished product is tested, not in batches or just random samples. Another key part of the process is that each product is entirely assembled from start to finish by one technician in order to ensure the highest level of quality following the mantra of single-piece flow with a lean production system.
Lean manufacturing is behind a reorganisation of the entire Gold Note production line, thanks to the arrival of Boris Thurnher as Production Manager. Born in Barcelona, he worked for a decade in north America before coming to Italy. The entire process has been streamlined for both efficiency and quality, it’s an is innovative and impressive process flow.
Workstations have been created to reduce operator movement to a minimum, since this is the biggest waste. Everything is now to hand during the construction process thanks to refined bills of materials and kitting carts which arrive from the stores downstairs, ready for each batch. Alongside each bench is the relevant testing station, again everything is to hand. After measurement and soak-testing, the finished products go down to dispatch who handle packaging and shipment logistics to the 40 countries worldwide.
Entry level Gold Note turntable
A sneak preview from marketing manager Alice Zoppi allowed me to listen to some upcoming designs and truly blew me away with their sonic capabilities, and I don’t think it was down to the Chianti Classico at lunch either.
Alice Zoppi with the new Gold Note Mediterraneo X turntable
We can expect a host of new designs during 2023, starting with that Mediterraneo X turntable (circa €12,000), a sub-€1,000 turntable, and the PH1000 Lite phono stage, the DS-1000 EVO streamer (in two versions), an All-in-One integrated amp and, towards the year-end, a compact disc player around €2,000. It’s going to be a very exciting time for Gold Note and I have no doubt that the marque is going to go from strength-to-strength.