Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Interesting Impression on Listening to your Stereo

Kondo Hiroyasu
The late, great Kondo Hiroyasu who started Audio Note Japan and was its inventor had a very interesting take on people's state of mind and how it affected their listening ability.

This short reprint is done with permission of TNT Audio. You can read the full interview here.

There is one other major question in audio reproduction: is it more important to achieve the absolute fidelity to the recorded sound or to obtain the emotional involvement of the listener?

Kondo San:
To me, both are equally important. Sometimes man's hearing senses and sensitivities can grow when properly stimulated. The manufacturers of hi-fi equipment are supposed to offer such stimulation to the customers.

If somebody who's good at electrical engineering and likes the theoretical stuff is going to take a designing job at an audio manufacturer, his choice will be wrong. Music is not just an aggregate of fragmented sound, but has some magical force to move our senses from the bottom of our minds. The same thing applies to sound reproduction.

Recently I had a chance to listen to a live performance of a native American artist. Using only one drum and his voice, the artist realized diverse expression of his emotions and I was fascinated with his performances. If we can build hi-fi equipment that can reproduce artists' performances faithfully, listeners' senses can grow and promote interests to music.

And this from Stereophile 2007 Interview by Jonathan Scull and Kondo Hiroyasu and Masahiro Shibazaki. The full interview can be found here.

Shibazaki: Another difficult question, he says, but very interesting. Here's what he says, word by word: Push-pull technology has its own merits, of course, but only when correctly designed and aligned, as you might have guessed. You know, especially the odd-order harmonics left by push-pull, they are very...[waggles his hand and frowns]

Scull: Not so very easy to listen to?

Shibazaki: Yes, while second-order harmonics are, to human ears, sounding very natural. Push-pull, he says, can sound rather piercing that way. And, he says, in a well-designed single-ended amplifier, the second or the third harmonics are...mildly contained. [laughs] Yes, mildly contained.

Scull: Does single-ended get you closer to the music?

Shibazaki: Yes. For instance, he says he can feel the touch or breath of a performance, or of the players or conductor. He can actually feel the movement of sound, as he did a few days ago. He was playing a piano in a big hall just so he could feel the movement and hear the reverberation. So that's one thing. Then single-ended lets him...[a long translation] feel the musician's state of mind—

Scull: !

Shibazaki: Yes—which is reflected in the performance. So he can guess that a violinist might have had a fight with his wife the night before! [laughs] Or that the trumpeter has something going on. He says he can feel the emotional condition of the artist, or the weather even...[laughter] He believes that he is more sensitive than other people about this because he was involved with the development and engineering of microphone systems.

Scull: Was that while working at CBS/Sony?

Shibazaki: No, before that, while he was in college. He built his own microphones.

Scull: Were they tube types?

Shibazaki: Yes, they were condenser microphones using tubes.

Scull: What has he to say about the debate between solid-state and tubes? Can one achieve beautiful sound with solid-state?

Shibazaki: Ah yes...very recently he had a chance to hear the differences between a solid-state and a tube amplifier, both made by another builder of electronics who is very famous in Japan, a Kaneda-San. It was very interesting for Kondo-San, and what he heard as the difference in sound, as he describes it...well, it's very difficult to translate. It's as if the sound [of the solid-state amplifier] was suffocated, you know...

Scull: Lacking air?

Shibazaki: Yes, but also a clipping sound...

Scull: Hitting the top of its power band?

Shibazaki: Yes, but more a certain type of compression, having no stretch.

Scull: But there are some very powerful solid-state amps that are practically impossible to clip, so that can't be the only answer. Tubes clip, of course, just more gracefully.

Shibazaki: In a valve amplifier, yes, clipping exists, but he doesn't feel...[searches for words]

Scull: Does he mean it doesn't sound as bad?

Shibazaki: Yes, in general, tube amplifiers have a sound that he describes as deep and rich. And stretching. And his criticisms of Mr. Kaneda's amplifiers, especially the tube design, was that the sound was a little out of focus.

Scull: In today's audio systems, imaging is considered very important. That is to say, broadly speaking, the focus. But some—including your own Herb Reichert—feel that you should not be looking at music. Rather, you should hear and feel it more for its harmonics, tonal balance, and frequency response. The imaging doesn't matter. That's quite different from the push-pull crowd, who believe imaging is an important component of high-end audio reproduction. Where along that line is Kondo-San? What is the relative importance to him of imaging and sharp focus?

Shibazaki: It is well said of Japanese manufacturers that they all put great importance on frequency response and tonal balance, neglecting imaging. Kondo-San says they are wrong to do so, because they are thinking like electricians. They design and build based on theories. But he is proud of himself for being an acoustic engineer. That's why he does put importance on imaging or focus.

Scull: Audio Note Japan makes equipment that is very expensive. Please explain why this is so.

Shibazaki: It's very simple: the initial investment was huge. For example, in the case of the silver wires, when he started, nobody else was working with such a concept. So he had to make the dies by himself. He imported silver from Italy because he knew their silver was much used in musical instruments. And he was right, you know. It was very pure.

It's all a bit like the mineral water prevailing nowadays—each water has its own ingredients. So you might say he was attracted to the Italian silver by its ingredients, and technology-wise for its purity.

Scull: Does this mean that the best audio is only available to the very rich?

Shibazaki: [laughs] He reluctantly agrees, although he wishes to make his products less expensive so that they are available to more people. His current production system is with all components built by hand, and each step has its own, you know, particular habit. Audio Note of Japan has only two employees who can build amplifiers, in fact.

Scull: How many people altogether?

Shibazaki: Besides Kondo-San, there are five others.

Scull: What qualities does he look for in his people?

Shibazaki: What is required for a good amplifier builder is his personality, especially obedience! [He laughs, looking at the youthful Masaki Ashizawa, who had been listening and taking snapshots.] In other words, Audio Note Japan's goal is to become a manufacturer like that well-known British company, Morgan. They build cars by hand, so each worker has high pride in building those cars. That's Kondo-San's goal. He says in some ways, it's also like the famous Dusenberg. We sometimes compare what we do to a company like that from the past—an all-out effort where everything is done as well as it can possibly be done.

Scull: I think most Americans imagine Japan to be a country filled with horn speakers and single-ended amps, but clearly this is not so. When Audio Note went to single-ended designs, did he encounter much resistance at home? Or was Japan more open to new ideas?

Shibazaki: Not so open, because the Japanese market was more involved with high-power amplifiers. Some number of Japanese audiophiles rejected his ideas, or rather I should say, they rejected single-ended amplification in general. The total market is still quite small.

Scull: What gave him the strength to follow his convictions?

Shibazaki: Because Audio Note is supported more by audiophiles in other countries than at home. [laughs] We are very foreign!

Scull: Aha! The greatest support coming from where?

Shibazaki: France.

Scull: Of course....Why does he think that single-ended is more slow to be accepted in the United States than elsewhere?

Shibazaki: Actually, he says it's going just as fast as he expected. In fact, it should take time here.

Scull: Why is that? What is there about high-power push-pull that makes it more readily accepted, and what is it about low-power single-ended amplification that requires education, time, and sensitivity?

Shibazaki: Well, Mr. Kondo says it's mostly just the opportunity to experience it. That, and the shrinking stock of tubes in the world.

Scull: Yes, but what specifically is there about Americans that they like a big powerful sound, and what's different about the sensibilities of those who embrace single-ended?

Shibazaki: Yes, he says, it's true—most Americans are very fond of heavy and powerful sound. But Kondo-San also knows that here there are plenty of very sensitive listeners in America, who may have come to single-ended [as they came to] the Volkswagen Beetle. When it was first introduced, America didn't accept it at all!

Scull: No silver wiring...

Shibazaki: Right! [laughs] But Volkswagen targeted up-market—intelligent people like doctors and lawyers, for example, who have their own individual characters. But, he says, the majority of people are very dull in sensitivity, and they like that bam-bam, powerful sound.

Scull: When we play an Audio Note system in the home, are we trying to recreate the master tape or the original acoustic event? What should be, in Kondo's view, the goal of a high-end system?

Shibazaki: [After a longish back'n'forth between the two.] He says that's a hard question, but a good one. He feels the point is recreating the master tape, but also to recreate, as you say, the live event. Especially the sense of movement...

Scull: Mmmm...let me ask the question in another way. If you're walking on the street and pass a window opened on a room in which musicians are playing, what is it that instantly tells you—without seeing anything—that it's live?

Shibazaki: He says...that particular quality cannot even be played back or recreated.

Scull: By any system?

Shibazaki: [laughs] Yes, even with his Audio Note amplifiers. [a long exchange] What designers of audio equipment do is "deform" some part of the playback and exaggerate other parts of it, knowing some important elements may be sacrificed. So in deforming or exaggerating, it's not 100% of the original anymore. But wherein of this he has his own technology for dealing with it. [laughs] Very funny translation, sorry.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mad Cellist and woman sitting on a box

What can a person make of Gaea Soul? Munching down on Indian food from Fuji Island we were treated to Martin Wakinson beating away on the Cello and Cherita Meadows on vocals beating on a box that should not have had the bass rhythm it did.

They travel a lot and once again, its worth your time to hear them. You can find out more about them at their site. There is nothing ordinary about this pair. The passion is there as seen in all the strings Martin broke in every song where you would swear he had backup music. Listen to and buy their music here.

The Ruby Pines

We teased this on our facebook page and here is the promised video and a video link.

Moorea Masa and Michael Backus
The Ruby Pines comprise Moorea Masa and Michael Backus with a choir at times.

So here's the poop. We innocently went to the Clinton Street Block Party on Saturday. Live bands and music as usual. We saw this diminutive figure begin orbiting the microphone, but being very jaded music fans we looked on with more curiosity than admiration. As the powerful notes began coming out of that small body we immediately ran to the mixer to find out who that was as we stood there fixated on the singer Moorea Masa.

Previously mentioned on facebook The Ruby Pines just got back from NYC and the Blue Note. We missed most of their shows here because, well, who knew? While Portland based, we read up on Moorea who was schooled in the UK in the arts and even has her own story of the infamous Simon on American Idol. Moorea is astonishing and if any of you ever see them coming to your town you should go see them.

Here's another clip of The Ruby Pines in Cathedral Park with the famous St. Johns Bridge above. This bridge was designed by the same engineers just prior to doing the Golden Gate Bridge. Sadly the acoustics aren't the finest but if you go to The Ruby Pines site you can and should buy their music.

Friday, July 26, 2013

True Audiophile goes back to the farm

Laura Ivancie

We went back to Sauvie Island and the Kruger Farm for another musical night. Bucolic as always and good live music. But when Laura Ivancie came on we were all stunned. We went over to the mixer and he was shocked. 

Laura has has her own website where you can find out more about her and her music. There are links to buy her music through bandcamp if you like it (this was a request). We need to note that Laura chose to go electronic on her album so you should preview the cuts before downloading. If you love her acoustic sets maybe you can petition her to do a live EP.

Below is a nice piece from her. You can fast forward to 1 minute where Laura Ivancie starts singing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One of the Best Kept Secrets in Audio components - bel canto design

John Stroczer's office with  BCD one-off speaker

We just got back from visiting bel canto design in Minneapolis. These products come across as unassuming due to their diminutive size and simple design. That's where many audiophiles make their mistake. Inside each bel canto component is a huge array of proprietary technology and parts selection usually only reserved for crazed DIY people who want the best parts possible.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture
John Stronczer and Michael McCormick showed us around and inside the products. Its was eye opening to see all that goes into a simple product - that we might add is a USA product. If you have ever really compared bel canto products to other DACs or solid state amplifiers then you've heard the difference. If you haven't you need to. Nothing they do is off the shelf normal. Mr. Stronczer has an audio brain that extends back to his SET days. He know what music should sound like and that's what he works away at with his designs until he tunes them to achieve as little interference between the music and the gear.

Recording his own music and having a piano in his listening room helps. Mr. Stronczer told us sometimes his daughter plays along and they listen to the same piece through the system to make sure of the accuracy and most importantly the natural musicality.

Apple Computers and others have shown simple is actually very complex under the hood. Both bcd gentleman took us to John's house where we met his lovely Parisian wife "Martine" and the next cost-no-object set of components they will unveil at RMAF.

This 3-box system had only three connections. Speaker wires and a special BCD ST cable. That's it! No array of interconnects to stress over or worry about what they are injecting. The level at which this series digs deep into the music was eye opening. The music flowed effortlessly and powerfully or delicately as needed.

Minneapolis is seen as a sister city to Portland as far as its progressiveness with biking and the arts. It was very beautiful. We also got a chance to see the largest Hmong community in the US. The Hmong Village was great and the food was rip your head off spicy if you weren't careful. :-)
Hmong marketplace

Monday, July 15, 2013

Folk on the Mountain

We were at Solera Brewery up from Hood River. Suddenly someone was bringing in amplification and speakers. We were told the singers, who are from NYC on a West Coast Tour were going to sing. Being friends of the owner they actually did a gig in well, the base of Mt. Hood which is in the background.

Their voices were extraordinary. Its a pair to look up. Annie Lynch and Michaela Anne. Check them out. A treat.

Here's a link to Michaela music and Annie's below a proper video of the two.

Wind on the Water

Hood River was having a Kite Surfing "Nascar" as they called. Audio is not great but that wind is what made it possible. Amazing to see over 100 wind surfers out for charity and they would be doing the course for 6 hours. Nice white caps for a river. Shame the size doesn't show the 'air' these surfers were getting and doing aerobatics.

Zydeco on Mississippi

More dancing and music. This was a cool Zydeco Band. Not sure who was from New Orleans but they did a good job and people were continuously dancing. They offer Zydeco dance lessons free every Wednesday.

Magic on Mississippi

Music is everywhere and in this case at the Mississippi Street Fair with 4 stages. Magic Mouth one of Portland's best bands was on site. Video is a little shaky because the videographer was dancing too much.

To make up for it we embedded a video of them playing live at Mississippi Studios.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Blues on the farm in Sauvie Island

Music is big here in Portland. Every Thursday Kruger Farms hosts blues and families on their seriously big farm. Everyone is dancing and having a great time, there's a big tractor that pulls two flat bed wagons full of families and drops them off at the berry fields.

Its like a time capsule. You have to look at the calendar to check the year. :-)

Monday, July 8, 2013

25% Off XLO for One More Day

Since many disappointed customers were away for the holiday we are giving everyone One More Chance. Use coupon code: TAXLO25

Friday, July 5, 2013

Your special coupon code for 25% off XLO on Sunday

Here it is. Don't miss this sale. One day only and you can save enough to end up with some free cables.

Use coupon code: TAXLO25

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

XLO 4th of July Specials

Starting today and running through Sunday July 7th True Audiophile will give your 30% off on an XLO power cord when you order one pair of interconnects or speaker cables. This is for a power cord in the same series as the interconnects or speaker cables.

THEN ONE DAY ONLY 25% OFF every XLO cable - EVERY Series, UltraPlus, Reference3 and Signature3. This will amount to a huge savings especially when you combine with our free shipping week. The special sale is for 24 hours only. Sunday July 7th. You cannot combine with the offer above.

Offers are good for UltraPlus cables which we will be adding to the site. If you don't see it let us know and we will honor it. (just in case the web person starts his 4th celebrating too early :0 )

This sale is for USA customers only.

Monday, July 1, 2013

4TH of July Special!

For this Holiday week we will celebrate by offering all U.S. customers free shipping on every product. Just let us know when you order and we'll remove the shipping charges.