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January 2008
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
CES/THE Show And In Remembrance Of A Legend...
Article By Steven R. Rochlin

 

  Obviously January brings many within the Enjoy the Music.com staff, including myself, to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic Show and THE Show. Usually i spill quite a bit of cyber-ink about this, yet loyal readers know the drill. i post a pre-show report followed by daily updates each day during the events. Have already posted quite a bit within the pre-show report, so get a head start in hearing about the many new products when you have a chance! What i'd really like to talk about is something that happened at last year's THE Show. Specifically, the passing of chief designer and owner of Audio Note Japan, Hiroyasu Kondo-san.

 

The Declining Dollar
Before i get to that, i want to cover the fact of the ever-declining value of the United States dollar. For years i have been touting the advantages of manufacturers showing their products at Munich's High End Society show. My message grew stronger within the past two years, yet some high-end audio manufacturers are not 'professional' businessmen so were perhaps blind to the reality of worldwide events and monetary (currency) concerns. As the undisputed largest and most beneficial to manufacturers show in Europe, if a manufacturer wanted to acquire many quality distributors throughout Europe and Asia then the Munich show is perhaps the best place to achieve your goals. Add to that, the continuous loss of value to the United States dollar means that, as of today, the British are enjoying double the value (2 to 1) as compared to today's American currency. The European Union's Euro, which only a handful of years ago was at $0.78, is now at approximately $1.50 as of this writing. So imagine 1/2 and 1/3 off sales, per se, those on the other side of the pond enjoy. In fact the Canadians have been busy trying to figure out the price of their goods as the once-strong United States dollar, which was at $1 US to $1.14 Cdn is now just about 1:1. Bottom line, American goods could be considered much more desirable as countries all around the world are finding American made goods cheaper with each passing day. Many companies are seeing spikes in their overseas sales and benefiting from newly-formed agreements with distributors and dealers in Europe and Asia. Just to give you an idea, please read the article in this edition titled Holy inflation, Batman! by John Evanthes. It is a must-read for both manufacturers and consumers alike.

 

In Remembrance
It saddens me to be one of the very few American's to not only have heard, but to have owned and enjoyed the magic brought about via Hiroyasu Kondo-san's legendary Ongaku single-ended tube amplifier. Very few people understood this design well over 10 years ago. Back then, the major 'phile magazines were spouting watts per dollar while heralding the next mega-watt amplifier by Krell and brand named Mark Levinson electronics (not to be mistaken for the man by the same name, as he has absolutely nothing to this brand in well over a decade). Like many true visionaries, Kondo-san was a man who chose the path less traveled.

Hiroyasu Kondo-san (on the right, don't ask who that is on the left) founded Audio Note back in 1976 and employed the very best materials and construction techniques. This included precisely-wound through a microscope silver wired output transformers and handmade silver foil caps. Upon first receiving this rarified object of audio exotic, which by the way went for $70,000, there were very few parts inside. One of my audio technician friends could not believe that not only were there very few parts, but that these few parts could somehow garnish such a high price! Of course all those who came to my home and heard it came away dumbfounded that a mere 27 watts could not only produce realistic volume levels, it was in the way the music gorgeously was brought forth unlike anything the Goldmund/Wilson crowd could comprehend.

The first time i was honored to meet Kondo was during the Winter CES in 1997. Back then one could sense he was indeed on a different path than mainstream audio manufacturers. In typical and elegant Japanese fashion he was humble, reserved, and above all took great care in ensuring his products were among the very best the world. Over the years we would meet in Las Vegas and each time was refreshing, as his love for music and in finding ways to reproduce it was communicated in a way unlike that found elsewhere.

It deeply saddened many within the audiophile community to hear that during the 2007 CES, on January 8th to be exact, Kondo-san passed away. It was as though one of the truly great men within this industry, a bright light among the masses, had been taken from us. While his presence is deeply missed by many, his vision continues as his spirit lives on through the many products still available within both the new and used marketplace.

And so it brings me joy to publish an article written by Hiroyasu Kondo-san for Sound Practices magazine in 1992 titled "In this way, I made up the 211S amplifier and named this amplifier "Ongaku"." After a mere four years within the marketplace, the Ongaku took the audio world by storm. Kondo freely helped others and proof is within his freely giving out the schematics and writing about this magic 211 output tube stereo integrated amplifier. Like anything audio, the sum is great than each individual part, and so while one could build an Ongaku for far less than $70,000, this lower price would not include the truly exotic parts that were handmade with love and care. And Kondo-san himself writes:

I reemphasize that it is necessary to simplify the fabrication of an amplifier and to carefully select highest quality parts in order to reproduce a "quality of live sound" free from mechanical sound. These are the most important considerations in producing an ideal amplifier.

Over the years many amplifiers have come very close for much lower costs, such as the Consonance Cyber 211 monoblocks i reviewed in January 2006, yet there is indeed that extra something that is truly the spirit of the Ongaku. From time to time i find myself truly missing this magical mystical audio component, as she was sold due to the costs of operating this website years ago. On this one year remembrance of the passing of Kondo-san, may we all remember that in many ways the spirit of this great man still thrives within each unit he so lovingly assembled for the world to enjoy. His love of music and pioneering efforts have helped to bring forth the joys of single-ended tube audio back to the forefront. Of course in the end what really matters is that we all....

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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