Following the Unison Research and Opera Loudspeaker factory tour, the Fidelity Imports caravan pulled into the Santa Maria Novella train station in downtown Florence on late Tuesday afternoon of the week after the High End Show in Munich. After a short tram ride, we were met by Ottavio Marino Cerrato, Tom Dolfi, and Alice Zoppi, Gold Note’s graceful, stylish, and friendly representatives. We traveled along some of the twistiest one-lane mountain roads I’ve ever experienced, up an ear-popping circuitous route that devolved into a rough dirt track. The end game was the classically marvelous Le Fonti a San Giorgio “farmstay” villa. I melted into a puddle as I soaked up the twilight views of hillsides layered with vineyards, cypress trees, and flowering honeysuckle.
It was a surreal evening. I floated away a hot, long day in a swimming pool overlooking a landscape right out of a Turner painting, surrounded by lush, blooming flowers. It felt like I was sucking the milk right out of the tit of life. Later, I joined the others for dinner. Once again, I made the tactical error of assuming that the first two courses were the end of it. Seriously, those first two courses, a charcuterie platter and a board of insanely good bruschetta, would really have done it for me.
But more came. Pasta, meat, potatoes. And everything was so insanely good I had to at least try it all. I went to bed with a food baby pushing against my liver.
The next morning on the drive over to Gold Note’s headquarters, we received some background from Tom Dolfi, Gold Note’s product manager, who is the most beautiful human being I’ve ever met. It was like receiving a factory tour from a Renaissance Jesus.
Dolfi has the Gold Note thing totally down. He did a superb job of explaining the slick efficiencies the company has implemented and the philosophies that are moving it forward. It turns out that 2023 is the 10th anniversary of Gold Note as it exists today. That said, the company has been in business for over 25 years, but under different names. It has always been based in Tuscany, and it moved to its current location in 2019.
The Gold Note headquarters building is stunning. It’s right across the street from a vineyard, and the lobby has its own indoor swimming pool—I kid you not.
There’s original art everywhere. Natural light flows through every room, and the production facility has open ceilings and numerous skylights. The volatile Tuscany weather sent a heavy thunderstorm toward us, and I watched from a window as it moved in like walking artillery. The sound of the rain on the skylights was dramatic and delightful.
Speaking to Boris Thurnher, Gold Note’s director of operations, I discovered that the company has implemented Lean Six Sigma processes, streamlining pretty much every facet of design and production, from the layout of the building to the workflow of products, right through to the individual workstations.
Gold Note’s streamlined processes start with the receipt of raw components, each of which is tested as it arrives, right through to every single resistor. Gold Note designed its own rolling racks specifically to assist with the efficient and comfortable final assembly of its products.
Gold Note manufactures a wide, ambitious product line that encompasses DACs, turntables, amplifiers, and loudspeakers. They even make a tasty-looking equipment rack upon which you can place your all-Gold Note system.
But Gold Note’s origins are in analog playback—its first product was a tonearm. I found myself homing in on the company’s new deck, the top-of-the-line Mediterraneo X.
I took the opportunity to check out the underside of the Mediterraneo X’s sculpted walnut base. I may have lost myself in the experience, looking a little too long and maybe rubbing the walnut a bit too enthusiastically, because I noticed that I was getting strange looks from others in our group. One thing’s for sure: this turntable exudes Italian grace.
Gold Note takes full advantage of the latest technology. The company uses 3-D printing to create spacers of its own design and prototypes of all kinds. In Gold Note’s production facility, we had a chance to watch its computer-guided laser-engraving process, which was quite fascinating, as I’ve never seen a real laser do anything more than tease a cat.
Maurizio Aterini, Gold Note’s founder and CEO, is an engineer by trade, and he has an engineer’s no-nonsense demeanor. He gives the impression that he knows exactly what’s going on in his factory. In the R&D section, I noticed a whiteboard with what was immediately recognizable as an Agile workflow diagram, complete with extremely precise handwriting and the ubiquitous yellow stickies.
Dolfi gave us the lowdown on Gold Note’s new streamer, the DS-1000 EVO, which is still under development. What’s notable about the DS-1000 EVO is the lack of an actual computer. Gold Note codes its own user interface and stores the executable on a microprocessor. Compared to a Linux-based single-board computer, the dedicated processor generates much less noise, which is a paramount consideration for Gold Note. Tightly written in C++, the software is updatable via Wi-Fi. I noticed Stefan, a programmer, sitting quietly in the corner. It’s an exacting process designing nested menus that are navigated with a single button and dial, and the Agile whiteboard undoubtedly left nowhere for Stefan to hide.
Gold Note has expended considerable resources on this streamer, with much focus on controlling resonances. The DS-1000 EVO will be Roon Ready and will support UPnP/DLNA and Tidal Connect. It will also work with Gold Note’s GN Control app, which has integrated support for TuneIn internet radio and several streaming services, including Qobuz and Deezer.
The cabinets for Gold Note’s speakers are built by an external vendor located nearby. The drivers are from Sica, an Italian company. The focus on local suppliers seems to be a consistent theme in Italy. We had a chance to watch the final assembly of a pair of A3 EVO II minimonitors where the focus was on workflow, with all the components placed on comfort-height workbenches. The technician’s pace was deliberate, with no wasted motions and every component ready at hand, likely a result of Thurnher’s focus on process improvements.
All Gold Note electronics are designed to accept one of the company’s external power supplies. The built-in power supplies tend toward switch-mode, whereas the optional external supplies are linear.
We had a chance to listen to an all–Gold Note system in the company’s small test-bed room. This room wasn’t designed specifically for sound quality, but rather as a space to test user interfaces and communication between components. We were sitting with our backs against a wall and fairly close to the speakers. It wasn’t an ideal setup, but it was still an entertaining session.
Here we got to compare three different phono stages, starting with the PH-5, moving up to the PH-10, and then finally to the top-of-the-line PH-1000. I mentioned earlier that Gold Note is a full-line supplier, and yes, it also makes cartridges. We were listening to the Machiavelli MkII, which outputs a lowish 0.4mV. We were swapping between the A6 EVO II and A3 EVO II speakers. The improvements as we moved up the chain were subtle but clear. What stood out was the insane level of flexibility afforded by the PH-1000. Besides the usual gain and loading options, the PH-1000 offers multiple inputs and the ability to apply equalization in the analog domain.
I ended up feeling somewhat disappointed that we had only two days in Tuscany, as Gold Note’s extensive operations and wide product line invite more investigation.
And that farmstay villa was pretty damn sweet. I’m leaving with two takeaways. First off, I’ve requested a Mediterraneo X turntable for review. Second, I’m gonna book a room at Le Fonti a San Giorgio for next year.
Senior Editor, SoundStage!