January 9, 2004, Las Vegas, Nevada
47 Laboratory’s proprietor and his U.S. distributor, namely Junji Kimura and Yoshi Segoshi, took my wife and I out to dinner at the end of a day of their CES exhibit at St. Tropez Resort. All large restaurants were full so we doubled back and dined at a small Japanese restaurant next to St. Tropez. The interview took place that fateful evening in that little restaurant.
In response to my questions, Junji would converse with Yoshi in Japanese throughout the interview, who then relayed the designer’s words in English.
Constantine Soo: Kimura-san, how many products do you plan to create in the next two years?
Junji Kimura (Designer): Three or Four.
CS: Any specific products in mind?
JK: Transport, preamplifier and monoblock amplifier.
CS: Is there a chance I can get the first review sample on the monoblocks?
Yoshi Segoshi (Distributor): If it comes out, when it comes out.
CS: In two years’ time, perhaps? (YS translated to JK, who laughed.)
CS: So how far are you into designing the monoblocks?
JK: In my head. (Laughter)
CS: I remember that for the PiTracer, 80% was intuition…(Laughter… I was referring to the article Designing the PiTracer on the Sakura Systems website.)
JK started in Japanese, then YS translated at the same time while conversing with him:
YS: In the old days, when there was a preamplifier and a power amplifier, the main function of a preamplifier was to equalize the different voltages of sources coming in, and to send them to the power amplifier. The power amplifier was to take that signal and amplify it. This is the design goal. But in the real world, things are very different.
No two preamplifiers manufacturers make their machines with the same output, with some outputting as much as 8 volts, like the Wadia DAC/preamp. Because of the lack of standard, switching pre-power amplifier combination among different brands for an optical performance is very difficult. The amplifier could easily distort with too much input voltage.
CS: How does your Gaincard address this lack of standard?
YS: In the Gaincard, we have a 12-step attenuator, because we thought in most situations that is the most viable arrangement. But if necessary, we can take off the larger half of the volume to accommodate very efficient speakers. With 6 o’clock as the minimum output, we can make the Gaincard to work only between outputs as represented by 6 and 12 o’clock and insert extra steps in between. The reason for doing this is that we don’t know what kind of upstream equipment and speakers the Gaincard will be mated with.
CS: Like the DACT24 modification you did on the Gaincard you sent me for review?
CS: The Gaincard already is an extremely simplified design. Does Junji have any plans to create a higher-end one?
YS: Junji has been telling me what he has in mind; but I can’t tell you. EVEN IF I COULD, it would be very technical.
But I can tell you that Junji is concerned with the best situation for the amplifier/speaker interface. Suppose we can determine that the best arrangement for an amplifier and speaker is to shorten the speaker cable as much as possible, and use longer interconnects instead; then the monoblocks can have the advantage of being placed next to the speakers to shorten the speaker cables. Integrated’s can’t do that.
The problem is that Junji is not sure if that’s true. For example, usually in a conventional setup, a preamplifier is in the middle of the rack, and the power amplifier at the bottom, running long cables to the speakers. He can’t think of another arrangement that he is sure to be better.
The Gaincard is not a preamplifier, not a power amplifier, not an integrated; but a power amplifier with volume control. It is kind of a new concept. He doesn’t want to create just another preamp or power amp. He wants to rethink the entire process.
CS: He wants invention; he doesn’t want to follow the trend.
YS: No, no, it’s not that. He just can’t think of an advantage of following that conventional method.
CS: About his numbering of products, we, audiophiles, naturally assumes that a designer creates the products in sequence, and the model with the earlier number precedes products after it in the creation process. So why is the PiTracer numbered the 4704, not the 4701?
YS: You’re right, it does look like this, I haven’t even noticed. 01 to 03 are PiTracer prototypes. (AHHH!) He saved 04 for the official model, and he had that idea before Gaincard. Although the Gaincard came out first as a product, in his mind, the PiTracer was the first.
CS: Then, why is the Power Humpty 4700 and the Power Dumpty 4799?
Junji and Yoshi smiled.
Junji: Ahhh, hai, hai, hai. (“Right, right, right.” Then, conversed in Japanese with Yoshi.)
YS: When the Gaincard came out, it was 4706 Gaincard, and there’s no model number for the power supply. That combination was 4706. But, when Progression came out, it required a different power supply and we had to put a model number on the power supplies. Dumpty power supply was numbered as 4799 because he thought that he wouldn’t be able to make that many products before he dies. So, 99 was enough. And he named the other power supply 00, just to give a beginning to an end.
CS: Could you tell me a little bit on the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Gaincard?
YS: While designing the PiTracer, he needed an amplifier to use as a reference. He didn’t want to design an amplifier as he wanted to concentrate on the PiTracer. So, one day he picked up an op-amp, and made a frame around and started using it. Teramura (47 Lab Marketing Director) came in and, “oh my god! It sounds good.” (Laughter)
Since it took such a long time to create PiTracer, he suggested Kimura to produce the amplifier first.
CS: What is the one major design differences between the PiTracer and the Flatfish?
YS: The head mechanism. In the PiTracer, the whole head mechanism moves with the laser pickup, and it is a heavily modified custom design. Whereas in the Flatfish, the laser and the mechanism works in a conventional way.
On measurement, the Flatfish and the PiTracer shouldn’t be all that different. But listening shows major differences. There are many things that we still don’t know, about what to measure and what the measurements mean.
CS: Coming from Kimura-san, that’s a powerful statement. So, Kimura-san, now that you’ve designed the 4700 and the 4799, thinking you would long be dead before making that many products (laughter), you’ve designed an entire system of products short of a loudspeaker. Why don’t you design one?
Junji: I CAN NOT.
CS: You CAN NOT? You don’t WANT to try?
YS: If he is going to, he wants to start from designing the driver itself. Taking somebody’s driver and put it in a cabinet is not really designing a speaker for him. He wants to start from scratch.
CS: What is stopping him?
YS: He doesn’t have the time and energy.
CS: He doesn’t have the motivation, OK? (Laughter)
YS: To him, it is a huge task to design a speaker that can accurately reproduces my voice, your voice and other information at the same time. The driver itself is a very sophisticated thing. There are issues to be addressed in terms of electrical, mechanical, material science, etc. So many elements are involved in designing a loudspeaker.
CS: So he is happy with the Essence?
YS: He doesn’t think it’s perfect, but it’s pretty good, and if he can’t design it himself ….
CS: I think Kimura-san is a very modest man. So, now you have a second person designing a second pair of new speakers? Is it a replacement for Essence?
YS: No, it is not. It’s a different speaker with different priorities in different price point. Even if it is, whether one product replaces the other is for the market to decide. He has no intention of replacing one of his products with other things. 47 does not replace products just for the sake of it.
He also says he wants his own products to compete against others of his own creation, not against other companies’.
CS: So, he wants other companies to make product to compete against his? He wants other companies to use his products as benchmark?
YS: No, no. What he means is that he doesn’t design a product to competeagainst any other companies’. He wants to challenge himself rather than challenging others’.
CS: Do you think you have reached the limit of your power in designing the ultimate transport?
YS: Where he feels limitation is that he can’t design a new chip, a new clock, (Junji interjected)…and a new laser head.
CS: My next question is, in the major scheme of all things audio, what do you think that people are not doing right?
(As Junji began to talk, I interjected)
This is a chance for you to make a very big statement, something that people will remember you by! (Laughter) Even more impressive than your PiTracer.
YS: Back in 1964, at that time there was open reel, and he could go to electronic stores and buy parts and he could make his own tape recorder. (Whoa!)
But not anymore. Today, part constructions become smaller and more complicated. In the past, tube amplifiers were the main thing and you could go out and buy parts and make one yourself. It is much harder to do that with solid-state design. Then, CD came. More miniaturization and compartmentalization.
According to him, it is a process of measurement specialists taking the fun of audio off from our hobby.
CS: Commercialization. You think that’s the one thing that is going wrong?
YS: Not necessarily right or wrong; but that’s what happened.
CS: I guess to people like us, it’s a blessing. We don’t know much about electronic design.
YS: I guess that’s true, in that regard.
CS: I was afraid that Kimura-san would say that if you want to enjoy audio, you will have to take some courses in electrical engineering. (Laughter)
Junji made a long statement.
YS: Actually, we can have a wide variety of fun in audio. We can enjoy the DIY process, or we can just enjoy the difference in sound by changing equipments. That’s part of the fun of audio, too. Many new equipments are beautifully made and involve the top science of today. But while some elements became harder and harder for an amateur to touch, other elements became obsessively maniacal, cables, shelves, component feet, etc. And for non-audiophile people, it became harder to understand.
Audiophiles go crazy about the difference those accessories make. I have a fun experimenting with them too. But seeing me doing the CD cutter thing, my daughter said, “you look like a dirty old man peeking porno!!” (Laughter).
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