My allegations were really based on the inception of the kit company, where the parts were all over the place ranging in quality and specs. They had a very tough few years out of the gate with a good bit of criticism, as it seemed like they were selling Audio Note rejects instead of passable quality parts. But it seems now that it has developed enough of a following and customer base that their level of quality and service has greatly outpaced what it once was. It was until I had given them a call and gone back to listen to a few pieces of gear that I'd realized this, my opinions were obviously a tab predated and for that I apologize.
They do sound very nice but within the context of the "real deal" I believe that their price difference really starts to show its head. For example, I built myself the DAC 4 kit a while back with top of the line audio note parts. It sounded absolutely wonderful, until I heard the actual DAC 4, and it didn't come so close. So, in and of themselves (and most everything else), they are giant killers. Great equipment, great prices, with finely crafted components. As you said Frank, they will trash more expensive DACs as they (Audio Note at large, kit or prebuilt) represents such a baseline of quality and craftsmanship that it is extremely hard to beat them. That being said, the components that aren't used in their prebuilt units are sent to the kits. They may be a gnat's hair out of spec, but are still very good parts. I had talked to Peter about this HE-6 headphone amp recently and Andy Grove himself developed those output transformers for the HP amp. That's quite a great start. But hey, if you can afford it, go for the real deal