• Boenicke Speakers
  • Kiso Acoustic
  • New  Studio
  • Vox Olympian is now in Hong Kong
  • CAD Review
  • Boenicke Audio
  • Hong Kong 2016 High End Audio Show
  • CAD Ground Control Review
  • Living Voice - Lifetime Achievement Award
  • The Listening Experience
  • CAD Ground Control - HiFi+Review
  • Audio Technique features Living Voice and CAD
  • Audio Technique Article Sept 2016
  • Hong Kong Show 2013
  • Easter 2015, Audio Evidence meets Audio Note Japan!
  • Kondo Factory Visit
  • IMPORTANT NOTICE - THE WORLD'S BEST SPEAKERS
  • The Digital Domain
  • Garrard
  • Red Wine Audio

A KID IN A CANDY STORE (OR THE AUDIO EQUIVALENT!)

 

I have recently had the opportunity to visit 4 audio manufacturers "factories". I put the word factories in quotations because to call these premises factories is probably a little misleading. It was amazing to me to discover that such lovely equipment, produced in such an artisan and individual way, is actually produced in a space much much smaller than you would imagine, they hardly qualify as a factory at all. My first visit was to Living Voice, the well-known speaker manufacturer.

This turned out, by the way, to be the largest "factory" of the tour. I arrived at Living Voice fresh off of a flight from HK, but still happy to be there despite the jet lag. The proprietor is Kevin Scott and he has adapted a wool factory from the last century into his headquarters. Located just 5 miles off of the M1 motorway, in a town called Long Eaton, the building itself lends a wonderful atmosphere with its high ceilings and homey furniture scattered around the listening room. I was soon hooked on Kevin's enthusiasm and the lovely sound that enveloped the room. Kondo's "deliciously scrumptious" (Kevin's words) amplifiers powered the top of the range Living Voice OBX speakers. OBX stands for outboard crossover, and these speakers have acquired something of a cult following in England. A Kozmu turntable spun record after record of foot tapping jazz, which really "swung" and had the musicians alive and kicking in the room while Lynn, Kevin's wife, kindly served bacon and sausage sandwiches for brunch, and that helped too, of course!

I have known Kevin for many years and he is as passionate as any one I know about producing music in the home. He has designed and made both horn and cone speakers, and both work well and are made with commitment and enthusiasm. His musical aims happen to coincide with mine, which is to say that he is much more interested in the tone, the timbre, the vitality, and the life in the music rather than "sound staging" and all those other things Kevin and I believe are so relatively unimportant. Kevin will wax on enthusiastically about "the burnished sound of a trombone" or the "delicious tone" of Miles Davis' trumpet ... for him, it is ALL about the joy of the music.

My visit to Beauhorn a little later was unfortunately much shorter, and moreover did not entail any bacon and sausage sandwiches! Nevertheless, after a long drive through the soft Southern England countryside, I found, not for the first time, the beautiful country home of Eric Thomas, appropriately called "Songlines" and was treated to Eric's LP collections. This very relax atmosphere, created within his gentile country home is ideal for listening to his collections of mostly classical music. I very much appreciated the care and attention that is put into the Beauhorn speakers and the obvious high quality sound that is the result. I am not sure that there are many Beauhorn speakers in Hong Kong, and mores the pity, the Hong Kong music listening public is missing out.

Soon after returning to Hong Kong, I flew to Tokyo (it is a hard life!) and this trip was no exception to others in that I made straight for the Audio Note Japan factory to meet Kondo and Masaki San. On arrival, I felt like a kid in a candy store; the factory is so full of Kondo's latest inventions, along with his old models along with horn speakers, cone speakers, step-ups, pre-amps and cables. There is even an original ONGAKU standing proudly on display, looking like something from another world. On this visit, I had as much fun as ever going through Kondo's old records, and I heard some of the music on equipment that is still in the development stage. It is such a privilege to have a glimpse of where this great man germinates his ideas for new models to be enjoyed in the future by those lucky enough to own them. I am not allowed to tell you what new models are currently being "cooked up" in Tokyo, save and except that I can say that an interesting speaker for the future is being discussed ...

While I was in Tokyo, I decided to brave the Tokyo equivalent of the "MTR" and find my way round the expensive suburbs to visit Mr. Kimura of 47Lab. This was an adventurous undertaking as most of the signs are in Japanese, and so it was with some intrepidation that I set out. What I expected to find at the other end was a rather "Zen" like listening room which would match the "sheek" company image with its sophisticated advertising. What I found (as I hope the photographs will show) was the reverse! To my surprise, I found Mr. Kimura in the tinniest of offices, and dare I say it perhaps not the most tidy! Nevertheless, in these small and somewhat untidy surroundings Mr. Kimura was quietly making some of the best transistor amplifiers on earth. It is interesting to note that both Mr. Kondo and Mr. Kimura have worked previously for big Japanese electronic corporations, and both were driven into their own creative worlds to make better, much much better sounding equipment than the "big boys" have ever achieved. Mr. Kimura treated me to some Louis Armstrong (always a favourite of mine) which belted out on some diminutive speakers, which filled the small room with wonderful sound.

I am full of admiration for the people who I visited on this trip, who design and make equipment largely by hand, and create the parts from scratch rather than relying upon other manufacturers' work.
The dedication and single mindedness of each manufacturer to make the very best equipment available impressed me greatly. I really like the fact that they want to listen to the music, and the equipment is only a means to that end. Not for them the audiophile obsession for showing off their systems by playing "drums" at a very loud volume. Not for them the obsession for "pin point" "staging", they instead each want to create real music, and they want us to enjoy it with them.

These four factory visits left me with a great sense of satisfaction, and privilege at being able to enter their world of creativity; and to be able to witness the way in which each tackles the job of manufacturing their products. It is a privilege to be able to hear from them their ideas on how music should be produced in the home and to find out what is important to them, and ultimately to hear how they envisage the future of audio. To my mind, with designers and manufacturers like these, the future of two channel audio in the home is assured ... and we can look forward to good sounding music for years to come.

Factory of Living Voice

 




I had great fun visiting the factory of Living Voice in August during a trip to England. Living Voice is the winner of many awards for their loudspeakers, and it was good to hear them coupled with the best amplification in the world, namely Kondo!

IT'S SHOW TIME (AND IT CAN SOUND GOOD)!

 
July was a rather good monJuly was a rather good month for me, with a good deal of satisfying listening. The highlight was undoubtedly the show hosted by Audio Land, on Saturday 24 July. Achieving a good sound at a show can be extremely difficult because of the speed with which the set up has to be achieved and very often the room may not be suitable for music. However, on this occasion, Jimmy hosted a memorable Saturday afternoon where the consensus was that the music sounded splendid.

For me, apart from anything else, it was great to meet some sixty or so enthusiasts and enjoy the musical experience collectively.

In this edition, I am going to make an exception, because usually I try not to mention manufacturers, because I do not want to be accused of "plugging" brand names. However, because the sound at the show was, I believe exceptional, I think it is worth mentioning the equipment that produced it.

Firstly, I have an admission to make, having gone on about how good horn speakers sound (relative to other types of speakers), I have to concede that on this occasion the "star" of the show was a box reflex speaker, namely the ART IMPRESSION. That is not to say that horns were not successfully employed, because the first three pieces of music were played through the Loth-X horn loudspeaker and the Loth-X horns sounded delightful, and in particular Judy Collins singing "Amazing Grace" (WFCD001) was a highlight, sounding ethereal and engaging.

The amplifier used with the Loth-X Troubadour speakers was the Loth-X JI-300 employing 300B tubes, on this occasion the TJ300 Meshplate, rather than a Western Electric. The TJ300 Meshplate enjoy a good reputation, rightly so particularly because of the wonderful high note reproduction they achieve.
However, for the majority of the show, the amplification used was, arguably, the most famous in the world, namely the ONGAKU made by Hiroyasu Kondo San. It is always a blast playing music with this amplifier, and most people that hear it come away understanding its heritage and reputation. This was no exception. Also, it was nice to run the ART IMPRESSION and the KONDO ONGAKU using only vinyl. The DPS record player and IKEDA tonearm (with Kondo's IO-j cartridge) played the records with a great assurity and musicality.

And so it was by the end of the show that I was happy to concede that the right reflex box speaker, with the correct sensitivity and with correct tone and timbre, can produce a wonderfully satisfying musical experience. I firmly believe the most important issue, from a technical point of view, is the use of single-ended triodes to drive whatever speakers may be employed. I say this particularly as later in the month, I did hear the ART IMPRESSION using a transistor amplifier (and a good one at that) and the difference between the transistor and the single-ended triode was frightening! The single-ended triode sounded organic and delicate and real while the transistor amp sounded like well transistors ...!

Anyhow, a big thank you to Jimmy and Audio Land for hosting the show, and heres to the next one!

I am going to be visiting some "audio friends" in England and I will be looking out for any new ideas and products that I may come across along the way. One of the friends that I am going to meet is Kevin Scott who manufactures the LIVING VOICE range of speakers. Some of you will be familiar with the LIVING VOICE AVATAR and OBX and indeed Kevin's big horn called the AIRSCOUT. Yes, Kevin is a brave man and manufactures both box reflex and horn speakers to the best of his ability! Kevin is also the recently appointed KONDO distributor for the United Kingdom and I look forward to the pleasure of hearing his speakers driven by the best KONDO amplifiers. I will take some photographs and share my visit with you in a future edition.

In the meantime, the summer is nearly over, and the best listening months are just around the corner; when the humidity drops, and the air thins, the music plays a little more easily. In the meantime, stay well, enjoy the music, and do your best to keep Hi Fi neurosis at bay!

KONDO - A TRIBUTE

My musical listening experience in July left me a little confused! Before I explain, I should say that July was actually a rather good month, with a good deal of satisfying listening. The highlight for me was Audio Land's show on Saturday, 24 July 2004. Achieving good sound at a show is extremely difficult, because of the speed with which the set up has to be achieved and very often rooms really are not suitable for music anyway. However, on this occasion Jimmy hosted a memorable Saturday afternoon where the consensus was that the music sounded splendid.

I enjoyed the occasion immensely apart from anything else it was great to meet some sixty or so enthusiasts and enjoy the musical experience collectively. However, as I have said, the show left me confused. The reason was that for most of the time the music was played using box reflex speakers. [I try not to unnecessarily mention manufacturers because I do not want to "plug" brand names but on this occasion I will reveal they were ART IMPRESSIONS]. Having gone on about horns for two months how could these speakers produce such a fabulous result?! The answer is of course that a really well made box reflex speaker with correct sensitivity and tonal balance and integration, can work, and work well. Actually, part of the concert had the advantage of music played through horn speakers, and I thought the horn speakers sounded delightful as well. In particular, Judy Collins singing "Amazing Grace" (WFCD001) was a highlight. It sounded ethereal and engaging. Anyhow, after about a week of pondering after the show, I concluded that the answer is, as always, if the music is good and the equipment is fundamentally right, there are different roads to achieve a good result and good horns or box reflex (or electrostatics for that matter) can do the trick.

Both the horns and the box reflex speakers were driven by single-ended amplification and this to my mind, as I have mentioned before, is the key.
The ART speakers were driven by arguably the most famous amplifier in the world, the Audio Note Japan KONDO ONGAKU. It is always a blast playing music using this amplifier, and most people that hear music using the ONGAKU come a way understanding its heritage and reputation. This was no exception. Now I mention the ONGAKU, really to bring me onto the theme of this month's article and that is, to honour one man, and that man is Hiroyasu Kondo.
I feel justified in speaking of Kondo San ("San" meaning "Mr" in Japanese by the way) because it was Kondo San that brought me to finally enjoy music in the home, rather than "yearning for better", and to become more personally involved with home audio generally.

It came about this way; about 8 or 9 years ago now, I owned a big expensive American Hi Fi system. I bought it because the manufacturer, who was in Hong Kong at the time, is a charming man, extremely enthusiastic and of course, therefore, a tremendous salesman!
I was wined and dinned at the Mandarin Grill, and at the end of the evening I had committed myself to around HK$800,000 worth of "Hi Fi"! I will not mention the brand as I would not wish to denigrate any manufacturer (being much happier just to praise the good rather than damn the bad) but this stuff was, if not bad, certainly not good, despite its reputation to the contrary.
Anyhow, I installed the system and immediately felt "cheated". While it sounded O.K. in the showroom, with all that sound proofing etc. etc., in the real world (namely my home), it sounded distinctly "off". I suffered this for about 8 months, often complained to the manufacturer, who blamed the problem on the Hong Kong agent, room acoustics and so on.

At about this time whilst on a business trip to Australia I stumbled across Audio Note Japan. I had heard of Kondo, but never heard his equipment, but the minute I did I knew my musical listening future was about to change forever.

Having just spent HK$800,000 on the "American Hi Fi", it was a bit disconcerting to realise that I was going to have to start all over again �� but I did! I ordered an entire Kondo system; and music cascaded through my home!
It seems to me that in each walk of life from time to time someone "arrives" who deserves the epithet "genius" in front of their name, I believe Kondo is that man in the audio industry.

It is just incredible how one man designs and builds, by hand, (with really only help from two other people), everything from amplifiers to cables, cartridges, drive units for speakers and so on. The only thing that he does not make is a turntable, tonearm, or CD transport. Everything else he makes and when I say "he makes", I mean it, there is no "off the shelf" for him, each item is designed and built from scratch. It is a truly artisan business.

I find this remarkable, particularly in this day and age, where so much is reduced to mediocrity, and even the "best" seems so often severely compromised.
Kondo's "motivation" was the inspiration he fond in great European symphonies, and also (talk about incongruity!) Johnny Mathis! Apparently, Johnny Mathis once shook Kondo's hand and Kondo's admiration for him meant no hand washing for days thereafter. I heard this from Kondo San himself!
Like all genius, Kondo San is a somewhat eccentric, charming, but sometimes difficult man. Having come to know him well over the years, I forgive him his stubbornness because it leads him to striving to create the very best audio equipment achievable and that, it seems to me, is a noble goal.
In my first article, I invited you to write in and give me your thoughts. I would be interested to hear if any of you think you know of any other audio industry genius, particularly if he is currently little known, as yet undiscovered.

In the meantime, we are nearly through the summer, the best listening time is coming up, October, November and December, where the humidity drops, the air is thinner and the music flows a little more easily.

Stay well, enjoy the music and do your best to keep Hi Fi neurosis at bay!

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