Reportage HCFR : interview de Ken Ishiwata-san, Marantz Brand Ambassador

Reportage HCFR : interview de Ken Ishiwata-san, Marantz Brand Ambassador

L’interview de Ken Ishiwata en VO (Anglais)

Around the table:
  • Ken Ishiwata, Marantz Brand Ambassador,
  • Oliver Kriete, Product Manager Europe, Sound United,
  • Patrice_laric, Administrateur HCFR,
  • Hugo_Hugo S, Administrateur HCFR, Président du Bureau de l’Association des Membres


HCFR_Hugo: Bonjour Ken Ishiwata-san, Marantz Brand Ambassador. Now and before anything else, could you please tell us what does your title represent?

Ken: I was the first one having such a title. Do you know how it’s gained? I don’t know if you heard about it. I didn’t have any title previously with Marantz. It was during the ’80s and then part of the ’90s. I didn’t have any title, I didn’t need one. Because people knew who I was and what I was doing. Then Marantz became part of Philips and as you know such a big company, they have to have a very organized way, so they sent somebody who visited me and started asking questions.

First question was what is your title? I said, « I don’t have one and I don’t need one”. He was talking in a strange way « Yes, but when we look at your authority, you are in such a high level » he said, « You must have some title » as this was something he was used to. I said, « No, I don’t need one. Everybody knows me and I don’t have to tell”. Then he said, « Uh-uh but because Phillips invested into Marantz, we have to give you a title. So what do you do? » he said. I explained him everything I did. He looked at me and said, « Wow. Indeed, we don’t have such a title. »

« OK, so what are we going to do? » I said. « We will study and we will come back to you, » he said. And I didn’t hear anything for three months. Then all of a sudden, I got a phone call and the guy said « We thought, thought, thought, but no title for you. So we went to an outside agency to come up with a title for you. And they came with an answer, so now you are Brand Ambassador. »

That’s the story, how I came to have this title. Before that I didn’t need one. Marantz was a relatively small company and people outside, they all knew me. But that’s how I got my title.

HCFR_Hugo: Waouw, merci. Now what is your history before joining Marantz?

Ken: In 1968, Pioneer sent me to Europe.

HCFR_Hugo: OK, but how did you join Pioneer?

Ken: OK, at that time, I didn’t already know that Japanese companies were getting very popular, not because of the quality of their products, but because of their price quality, where Japanese were exceptional. Their business was going up. But the problem they had, was that their engineers were not speaking English, something that was very rare to find. Now at the same time, I was a first class international radio equipment Communications Officer, for the commercial ships.

And as this was international shipping, I had to also have English knowledge as that was part of the communications of course. So as I had an engineering background, but at the same time I spoke English and I was also already participating in certain exchanges on the Hi-Fi, in Japan, where I then also made few writings. So when Pioneer contacted me, they knew who I was and I said them, « OK I can come, but under one condition, send me to Europe. »

And I accepted as that wasn’t a problem, as we made an agreement with the founder of Pioneer, Mr. Matsumoto, a very nice person. So I joined Pioneer and they sent me to Europe in ‘68. I was one of the first members who established Pioneer Europe in 1970 in Antwerp, in Belgium, as we had a liaison office before that in Zurich, Switzerland. That’s the way it all started.

So now you know how I came into Europe. And since ‘68 I stayed in Europe and I then joined Marantz in ’78, now exactly 40 years ago.

HCFR_Hugo: What made you switch brands? Was it because Marantz was representing something specific?

Ken: In the ’60s when I was in High School, I encountered Marantz’s product Model 7C. That amazed me because the Model 7C tube preamplifier was such a unique product. By the way, I didn’t know that product at all, but a father of a friend of mine, was a real audiophile in Japan. He got that one and he demonstrated and really showed me how it sounded. An amazing sound produced by the Model 7C that still appeal.

That is the characteristic of the Marantz sound for me. I’m always referring to that sound, even today, an incredibly huge sound stage, with width, depth, and height, a three-dimensional sound stage. But as you must already know, a tube preamp, because of the flicker noise of tubes, give an extra depth which is artificial, but it is a nice feeling when you’re listening to it.

HCFR_Hugo: It is euphonic.

Ken: That, of course, helped Model 7C. That image of the soundstage was so strong, that I could never forget it, and at the same time, mid band, especially for the voices, was really charming, very charming. Yes, I played LPs of Judy London, she sounded so sexy, it was just unbelievable and something unforgettable. So before joining Marantz, I knew what Marantz was.

Of course, in my youth I couldn’t afford that sound because it was too expensive. In that time, Japanese people were poor, it’s like today’s China. So, I made a copy of Model 7C.

HCFR_Hugo: You made a copy?

Ken: Yes, because I wanted that sound.

HCFR_Patrice: Copying was something you could afford?

Ken: Yes, because near Yokohama there was an American military base, a Navy base. I had some friends there and I could get all the parts for my copy. I was so excited, finally I was going to have that sound.

And it was a disaster!

First, when I switched it on, nothing came out because the circuit sold in Marantz was very tricky. It was a three-stages amplification with so crazy rotations. If you didn’t pay attention, it would oscillate. Actually my copy was oscillating, that’s the reason nothing came out. Most probably it was oscillating around 20kHz or something like that. So you couldn’t hear anything, as the amplification wasn’t giving anything.

Of course, I was a high school student and I didn’t know what was going on inside, I had to learn it the hard way. Then anyway, my copy had wiring problems, as the wiring was creating a certain capacity in the circuitry, which also made it oscillate.

Those are the kind of things that I had to learn in the hard way. As after my copy started to work, the sound was completely different between the original Model 7C and my copy. I thought what the Hell, it’s exactly the same wiring.

Then the first thing I did was to replace the tube. It was an ECC83 tube, when the American type number is 12X7. The ECC83 I used was a Toshiba one and the difference between those tubes produced a completely different sounding. It was day and night.

But then even with the same tube as the original, the sound was completely different still. I started to change resistors and I also tried changing capacitors. But every goddamn part I changed, it was changing the sound. That’s why I discovered how important all those components are, and that was during my high school time.

HCFR_Hugo: Meaning though that a product isn’t just the simple sum of it’s parts, but rather is the way that those parts are crafted together.

Ken: I’m always saying that if you try to get all the best components into one thing, it doesn’t guarantee you to win. Right?

[HCFR_Hugo: Yes, it’s true.

Ken: Teamwork is the key thing and you have to make this team work, which is the key success factor also to Hi-Fi. That unfortunately isn’t easy at all because between one product and another, it all differs. That’s why you have to employ different parts for the different products. You have the idea.

HCFR_Hugo: Yes, of course and that brings us to my next question: in your opinion what is the final goal of a tweaking?

Ken: You see, unfortunately, there is no final goal because as you know, and as for everything in our lives, from one person to the other, tastes are different. There is no point telling, this is the best. Because you will always find a person who doesn’t find as that is the best. I never, never say Marantz sound is the best. No, that part always depends on personal tastes.

As for example, you like a certain type of girl and he likes another type of girl. What can you do?

But when we discuss how the tweaks impact the sound stages of a recording, that’s real. So those things have to come out properly.

Now when this comes down to the sound characteristic, one will have a rich sound or a slightly sharp sound, it’s up to one individual’s taste.

But for sound stage, I pay a lot of attention. When we are doing all the tunings here, for all the products, we pay a huge attention to the sound stage. I will demonstrate to you later on today how we do things, so then you’ll have an idea. We have a controlled environment with a controlled room, so that with a pair of speakers, we can generate that sort of result. (see the HCFR video above)

HCFR_Hugo: If it’s not a secret, could you please tell us how do you deal or modify a soundstage? Or how can you make a soundstage?

Ken: I don’t make it. As I said, it’s in the recording. If you have a lousy recording, there is no soundstage.

HCFR_Hugo: OK, I’ll rephrase my question. Let’s say, you have a fantastic soundstage, a fantastic recording with an exceptional soundstage. I understand that a product preamplifier or an amplifier can ruin this soundstage, but how do you enhance it and how do you realize a sort of a transparency?

Ken: That is our Marantz’s specialty!

HCFR_Hugo: OK, I understand. That’s a knowledge gained over many, many years, right Ken?

Ken: Yes. You see when we shifted from LP to the compact disc, we were part of Phillips. And Phillips as you most probably know, had only a 14 bit DA converter, but they were using four times oversampling. It was a four times oversampling that was helping sound stage. I put that together with the Marantz tradition of Model 7C which I was talking about, with its beautiful sound stage, making it also happen with the CD, with the four times over sampling technology. So we could do much better than others, because all other Japanese companies, they were not doing over sampling.

And as you know, with oversampling, we didn’t have to have sharp filters in time domain, you know, it’s always a problem. This is the key, time domain, not the amplitude domain. You have to have correct time domain information, then you get somewhere.

HCFR_Hugo: OK and a slight addition. When we tested the Marantz AV8805 Home Cinema preamp-processor, we found that its characteristic was an audiophile type of transparency in an audio/video product.

Ken: Which is very rare.

HCFR_Hugo: Which is absolutely rare, indeed.

Ken: Actually, because of that very reason.

HCFR_Hugo: Waouw, merci for this transparency, Ken. So let’s go a bit further: have you been involved in the HDAM modules?

Ken: You see, it first started at the time of Philips. We had compact disc, where of course, we used op-amps. The biggest problem of op-amps was speed.

HCFR_Hugo: When you are talking of speed, are you talking of slew rate?

Ken: Slew rate, yes. Slew rate is the thing, yes. In common op-amp, one could have around 15 V/μs. That was not high enough. In another words what we had, was what we call internally slew rate distortion. So we were searching how can we make something like an op-amp, but with a much higher speed. And we designed a few different op-amp with higher speed. That was the start of our experiment intended to be used for CD players. That’s the way we started.

We had few different concepts and as you may already know, even today, we have different kinds of HDAM modules. Their functions are all different, so I discussed with the Japanese engineers how we should do those things, using also the starting information we obtained from Phillips labs, as they had certain studies about this slew rate distortion. We discussed how do we put all this together to come up with a concept of HDAM modules.

HCFR_Hugo: What can be so understood here is that all this translates into something which can be identified as a global approach. At the starting point, the search of the lowest slew rate distortion, through the highest slew rate possible by the system itself, as all this creates a context enabling you to obtain the best possible time domain response in the project_product you are building.

Ken: Yes.

HCFR_Hugo: OK and I wish to thank you very much for these elements. As for our passionate HCFR Forum Members, this represents an extraordinary testimony of what the Marantz sound is all about, how it is crafted and how and why people can hear what they hear, when listening to a Marantz product.

Ken: You see, in the very beginning Marantz was purely an analog company and Saul Marantz, the Founder, was actually a huge specialist. Not in the transistor because the initial transistor amp designed by Marantz was really bad, I have to say. You know the Model 7P, it was sounding awful. But we were on different generations and for England, he created an amazing product but only with tubes.

When we started with Phillips in ’80s, Saul called me saying « Ken, you know what, I have done everything with tubes and LPs. Now, it’s your turn to do something with CDs », as he didn’t want to use this new technology. And I said OK I will try, but it’s not easy, because in that time CD was sounding awful. You know the beginning of CD wasn’t really easy at all.

So I said, « Oh shit, what am I going to do? » Luckily, we really went for it and then started changing many things on the basic rules, but most importantly Marantz became not just a local company, so we were able to come up with a proper CD players.

Actually, even today, many people think that Marantz, of course, is a CD specialist, not an amplifier specialist. We could transform Marantz brand from tube to a completely different technological level, I have to say. We are very lucky.

HCFR_Hugo: You mean the perceived “technological” image?

Ken: Yes, the capability of the company. If we didn’t become part of Phillips, I’m sure we couldn’t get at today’s level of Marantz in this specially. And what I would like to say is, luckily this CD technology brought us so much digital knowledge which we have learnt, giving us a lot of benefits today. Because as you know we are in this music streaming and all our digital processing we do, are ADA conversions. We do it in digital and it’s all based on the start of CD. It was a very important time..

HCFR_Patrice: As the Marantz Brand Ambassador, you’re a kind of a « guardian » of this audio identity and design. So how do you deal with product design nowadays?

Ken: Marantz was a very small company before Phillips. In other words, we didn’t have such money like Sony, Technics, Panasonic, or others. We couldn’t spend on advertising. So I said how I’m I going to get our brand known to the world’s opinion leaders and then also be accepted by those opinion leaders. The only way was going out myself and doing some crazy things, so that they’ll look at me and say who the hell, is this guy?  That’s what I did.

HCFR_Hugo: Is this why Marantz KI limited series of products (KI = Ken Ishiwata initials) identifying directly yourself, have been and are continuing to be made today?

Ken: That was already at the time of CD, because as I was talking about, Marantz had that very specific identity due to its sound stage, so I designed these products specifically for that character, making it the sound characteristic of KI series.

As when you ask a manufacturer, they often answer “our sound is neutral”, that’s what they say. But what is neutral? Because when you listen to them it all sounds different? So what do you define as neutral?

Especially with the digital as you probably know. In the beginning of digital audio, recording engineers made fundamental mistakes. They didn’t change microphone positions from analogue recording. And as you know digital is much faster, more linear. So if you bring your microphone closer to the musician or musical instrument, it’s like you are bringing your ear closer to the musician or musical instrument, and you get a more aggressive impression.

It’s just because of the distance difference, as when they started to do the digital recording, they should have increased the distance of the microphone from the musician or instrument but they didn’t. So many recordings sounded very harsh in the beginning of the compact disk, if you remember.

HCFR_Patrice: Yes, that was the characteristic of compact disk, at the very beginning.

Ken: Making it warm, which we are discussing about, helped a lot. It was much easier for people to listen with a warm CD player, compared to the others, because we are balancing it in such a way so that even with harsh CD disks, the sound was accepted.

I think one important point is to mention here that if we talk about warmth, it doesn’t mean there is no resolution. Because a lot of people think one needs to have a kind of aggressive sound to get resolution, but that’s not the case. If you balance the sound well, you get both.

HCFR_Hugo: This is why, in my opinion, the main characteristic would be a sound perceived as non-aggressive. You see what I mean? As the characterization of hearing something is, as you said before, we’re all different individuals. So particularly with the notion of HRTF, nobody hears the same thing, the same way, you, me, all of us here or every other individual.

Now Marantz has a wide range of products in pure audio or audio/video markets. So could you tell us how your initial and current work on Marantz’s audio signature is managed on each of these products?

Ken: Every time we have a new product, we do the listenings of those products here (in Eindhoven), for every single product, both audio or audio/video devices.

Thing is we put a lot of effort and then we tell Japan this, this, this, and then of course, we go back and forth to get it right in the direction of the sound characteristic, for every single product.

HCFR_Hugo: Every single product?

Ken: Yes, every single product.

Oliver: As you know, the foundation is always very good audio processing or very good audio because that’s who we are, that’s Marantz. That’s where we start, even for the A/V products. We start as two channels and if we get the two channels right, if we’re happy with the level we achieved, then we go to next step and to the multi-channel. Because if we have two channel right, multi-channel is easy.

HCFR_Hugo: Even though stereo is obviously different from multi-channels?

Ken: Basic is always stereo and then we expand it to multi-channel. It’s a quite different approach to many of our competitors because I know how Yamaha do things, how Pioneer do things, they do it completely differently.

HCFR_Hugo: Actually, Patrice here owns a Yamaha pre-amp, the CX-5100.

Ken: Yamaha as you know, they are the ones who came with the DSP things because of their digital instruments. So with their knowledge and the technology they have with DSP processing, it was easy for them to go on a higher level. They could do and that is their specialty. I don’t know if you remember, but many years ago, they released the DSP-1 (1985  😉 ).

HCFR_Hugo: Yes, I sure do indeed. At that time, it was something representing a kind of a revolution, even if it was probably a bit too early. As some years later on, my own very first Home Cinema pre-amp was a Marantz AV600 associated with five Marantz MA500 mono-amps, all bearing early THX certifications.

Ken: Actually, Marantz was the first company who made Dolby Surround available (the initial one, not the today’s one 😉 ). Basically for every single AV product we do, we listen to it here and if it’s necessary, we do some modifications. We then communicate with Japan and if needed, we continue doing our modifications, until we get what we wanted it to sound.

HCFR_Hugo: Without entering secrets, does it happen there are times where it’s good from the first trial?

Ken: Very rare. It’s very, very rare, I have to say.

Oliver: And there are times where it’s very, very complicated or necessitating very long testings.

Ken: Unfortunately it depends on the product as sometimes, some products are difficult. If I remember the 17 series, it was difficult. I had a problem with the sound characteristic over the 17 series on a CD player. I couldn’t find what was the cause, so digging, digging, digging. Then I found out it was the airflow inside, when the CD was turning.

HCFR_Patrice: The air flow from the CD turning?

Ken: Yes, that was influencing the sound. I had to make holes on the back of the product to change this airflow.

HCFR_Hugo: Wow. This is fascinating!

Ken: That’s what I’m trying to explain, in which extent we have to go sometimes. Especially if you think about it, new technologies like networking or a new type of amplification stage like a class D, which we are now getting into our Premium Plus. As when you do start doing something new, it is a hell of a job.

Another one I would like to add is if you think about it, we have a product this year and next year we get a successor, so we could just do a copy and paste. But that’s not the case, as all the time slow changes are happening with some parts that are getting discontinued and manufacturing also of PCB board has changes. All that brings sounds out of balance.

People do not realize but it’s a real nightmare. Even changing only one component can destroy the sound of the entire product!

HCFR_Hugo: This was actually my concern with the differences between the Marantz AV8802A and AV8805 where from memory, there were around 1,700 changes between these two generations of Marantz High End Home Cinema processors, and from what you said, a nightmare for you.

But all those changes that you have made to the 8805, comparatively with the 8802A, produce quite an interesting sound result. As what you can get now with the 8805 with the addition of two channels and the consequential tweakings, is really impressive sound wise, a great tweaking.

So when you say that just drilling some holes can transform, well transform is maybe a bit too strong, but can modify the perceived sound, so yes, I can perfectly understand all your work!

Ken: This is just one small example that I’m giving here. As there are so many things, it’s really, really a crazy Hi-Fi world.

 HCFR_Patrice: Just a thing about this very subject, I used to work on something we designed on HCFR Forums. It was a colorimeter sensor that could to measure the colors and then properly setup the video projectors via the initial version of the ColorHCFR software that we have developed internally. We used a Texas Instruments sensor for four or five years. And then at some stage, they sent a paper saying we have changed the manufacturing of that piece. It’s now better, faster and it’s done elsewhere… and everything, everything in our work was broken.

Also, on the paper, the characteristics were not equal but very similar, but in reality, the end product, was totally different. We had to redo all the work and all the algorithms used initially had to be adapted to comply with the new product, as we had no other choice, as the old products were gone.

Ken: Yes that was really an unbelievable discovery. And as for example, the Telefunken ECC83 tubes are still sounding the best, even the secondhand. So you better use it rather than buying some Chinese or Russian ECC83, I can tell you.

HCFR_Patrice: OK and sorry, but as we have some questions about Sound United, let’s get to that. A year ago, Sound United bought D&M, the company owning Marantz. Now Sound United has a large portfolio of brands, Denon, Marantz, Classé Audio, Polk, Boston Acoustics. So are you going to do some cross work with those different brands?

Ken: No. And you just pointed it out, it’s just one year. Gradually though, the integration is happening, but it needs a certain time.

HCFR_Hugo: But in the previous context of D&M (Denon_Marantz), you did you manage to maintain two separate identities, didn’t you?

Ken: Yes we did, because we were both very stubborn people. Denon people and Marantz people in Japan, they’ve been fighting. This of course, actually kept the two brands that much better, not just the identity, but also on everything representing this identity. And this competition on the Japanese domestic market helped us a lot.

Denon and Marantz are going each in their own directions. Otherwise just look at, I’m sorry to say, look at today’s Onkyo and Pioneer, this is how it is, same projects.

The fact that we didn’t like each other has helped!

HCFR_Patrice: I guess that Sound United wants to keep this strong identity.

Ken: You see now, we are working on different markets. As you already know Denon got much wider portfolio than Marantz. Marantz is a very focused entity, where Denon is for a much wider audience. We all know who our target group is. So for Marantz we have our target group, same is for Denon, but with a different target group. It is very clear. And it’s the same under Sound United, as every brand we have, has a brand management and it’s completely harmonized.

HCFR_Hugo: HCFR had the opportunity to test the new Denon 8500 Home Cinema preamp processor amplifier and as I told you, we have also tested the new Marantz 8805 Home Cinema preamp processor. I personally didn’t have the possibility to listen to the Denon 8500, but from the people who had the privilege of testing both, they were really surprised to find that there were differences.


Ken: It is a very important for us to keep differences between these two brand identities. Of course, you have synergies if you look to HDMI boards, network boards, DSP. It’s not a lot you can do there to differentiate, but when it comes down to power supply, preamplifier stage, output stages, there of course, we can do a lot to express the differences as to keep the full identity of each brand.

HCFR_Patrice: Marantz isn’t present anymore in the speaker market. So what kind of product would you recommend or associate with each family of your products?

Ken: I will say it again, test the sound. Again, it comes here as a very important part. As we cannot really say our amplifier must have a specific association, there is no way of doing that, and I think it isn’t needed either, as speakers are all different. So it all depends on the type of music you listen to and to the size of the room, the acoustic of the room is also very influential.

So there is no such an easy answer to your question. We cannot say this, this or this is our recommendation, no, unfortunately.

The end user must spend the time to listen and then find out, what he likes. Now if I or you, tell this is the best and if a guy listens to it and he does or doesn’t like it, it’s his own taste that is the real judge. I’m always telling when you are going to a show, make sure to take your favorite music with you for your own listening.

If you find something you enjoy, it doesn’t matter if the price is low or high. If one of the products touches your heart because of the characteristic of the sound or of the music it is producing, that product has a real value for you.

That’s what I’m always telling, you have to do it yourself. Don’t ask anybody what to buy, that decision must come from you.

HCFR_Hugo: You said and I will keep it as a motto « touches your heart », the pleasure of listening and enjoying music through the sound reproduction.

Ken: Yes, we all have a specific relationship with music. It usually starts from when you were a very small child, with the music received from your parents. Then you encounter so many different musics in your life and your memories are associated with those musics. It’s all part of you and the relationship you have with music, you’re the only one who got it and nobody gets the same one. That is why Marantz will always say « because music matters. »

HCFR_Hugo: Yes.

Ken: That is the background where I came with this « because music matters » in ’80s. I came with this catch phrase.

HCFR_Hugo: You invented this?

Ken: Yes, this « because music matters ».

HCFR_Hugo: Was it your idea or was-it a marketing idea?

Ken: No, I told the agency in England « because music matters » is the one which we really want, and they said « Yes, that’s a good catchphrase to use so, let’s use it ».

HCFR_Patrice: That very relationship of each one of us with his own music history is something that generate many hot topics on our forums. People talk about their choices, experiences and we all try to influence others or give our own opinion. So since ages as moderators we are saying « It’s not because you enjoy something that the others will like it. You have to admit that someone could prefer something different. It doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, it’s just different”

HCFR_Hugo: Talking about opinions, may I just add a small question here. With the Marantz sound characteristics that you have described to us, in your opinion would you recommend, but maybe “recommend” is a bit too strong with what has been said before, so would you say that medium to low efficiency speakers…

Ken: What do you mean by medium to low?

HCFR_Hugo: Low efficiency is @ 82dB / 1W. Medium would be @ 88dB / 1W.

Ken: Which is the « normal » speakers.

HCFR_Hugo: Absolutely. I would also say that high efficiency starts @ 92dB, with very high efficient above 95dB. So in your opinion, what would be better? I understand the notions of personal choices, but in your opinion, what would the best suited for the Marantz soundstage described earlier? And beyond this question we have the notions of the East and West Coast sound characteristics.

Ken: East Coast is much closer to British. West Coast, JBL, Altec Lansing, they do not care at all about time domain, zero.

HCFR_Hugo: OK and merci, as now I’ve got my answer.

Ken: Just look at those studio monitors of JBL, like 4343, you have a huge 15 or even 16-inch base unit, then you have low-mid, you have four-way, five-way system. There’s no way you are integrating it. On amplitude domain, you are OK, but on time domain you are off.

They are wonderful on high sound pressure you can generate, especially using all those horn drivers, as you know that efficiency of horn drivers is very high. Then, of course, you can get a lot of sound pressure, but if you want our soundstage, you need properly aligned time domain-wise, speakers. For me the amplitude only meets 30% of the real requirement, and that’s 70% that you miss!

HCFR_Hugo: OK let me add something to this time domain context. I told you that in my experience, there’s an increase in the perceived transparency with the Marantz AV8805 comparatively to the Marantz 8802A. So would you say that this time alignment is slightly better done in the 8805? And would you say that the Audyssey Editor applet adds to this as it fulfills a sort of a complementary time domain alignment? Would you say that it is possible?

Ken: Yes, when you listen to them, because I listen to these in two channels, and I was really shocked how good that was. I said, « Wow. » They have improved tremendously and indeed they improved the time domain.

Oliver: And to add to that, if you improve the bass, how you control it, how tight it is, you will also gain resolution. You will not expect that, but the more precise your bass is, the more resolution to you will get in the sound stage.

HCFR_Hugo: You mean below around 100Hz bass?

Oliver: Yes, might as well. Even if you work or play with a subwoofer, you can adjust the distance and if you play with the distance adjustment, you will a find point where the bass is getting really tight, and you will notice that even your image, your transparency will get better. But that’s not very easy to do.

HCFR_Patrice: Especially at home. Particularly, if you have multiple seats because it is absolutely impossible to perfectly align more than, I would say one or possibly two seats. We constantly explain that the room plays a huge role in home audio usage.

The next thing is new formats. And as we know there is a kind of cultural and market difference between Europe, North America, and Asia, especially Japan. So nowadays locally stored files or streamed audio is established and it’s now the new thing, when CD is less and less used.

Ken: Streaming is very popular outside of Japan I would say, but stored music is also gaining popularity in Japan. But still Japanese people love to own a box and buying physical things is still very important for them.

HCFR_Patrice: I think in Europe we are in between the two, as we have the two aspects in Europe.

Ken: A matter of the age group above all. The youngsters, have values of their own.

HCFR_Hugo: Yes, but I would say that particularly for the younger youngsters, the generation which is today 20-25 years old, they are coming back to vinyl. They are coming back to turntables, LPs. Our daughter just bought a turntable and she has LPs! But is this a sort of nostalgia or is it a trend?

Ken: It’s a trend. As can be already seen, the high-end market is not developing at all on LPs. It’s the low-end that is increasing, and that’s what creates large numbers. That is what is happening and you will be amazed by how much business, like Amazon in America, they’re having with LPs. It is crazy. But there’s no guarantee if this is going to continue.

HCFR_Hugo: Who would have forecasted that 10 years ago? Nobody. In my opinion this shows that this isn’t a marketing creation, but rather is a spontaneous creation of today’s connected world.

Ken: As you have already mentioned, today memories are becoming cheap. So we no longer need to compress music. That’s why when MP3 came at its time with the Walkman and after that Sony went to the MiniDisc, they had to compress, because memory capacity was the factor. They could not put the same quality as CD, as that would necessitate a too large memory size. There was no way to do it, so that’s the reason why they had to compress.

MP3 was created because memory was too expensive. But today, we no longer need to worry about the cost of memories. We should promote high resolution. I have trust in the Human nature, which means that we all want something better all the time. So on the long-term, I’m sure people will discover again, the higher quality obtained by higher resolution.

HCFR_Patrice: Yes, it’s an interesting point. Currently Qobuz has a high-quality sound sampling but it’s not that popular, as people are just buying very low quality and low-sampling.

Ken: Because it seems the majority people are very happy with just the simple Spotify. As for them, it’s all in the convenience of the use of all the music they want. That’s their prime focus. Sound quality part doesn’t come to the picture, yet. Question is, will we have a day when people are going to pay attention to quality? That is a big question mark.

Oliver: If we look back, we also had this all the time. There have been people spending €500 for a system with their computer, and some others spending 5000€ for a specific audio system. As some people are just happy with the quality they can get for 500€, and others that demand higher quality.

HCFR_Patrice: True, but on the CD, for example, you are limited by the 16 bits and 44kHz.

Ken: Sure, but that is now gone because we can actually go way further with any format, on the high res. You don’t need another disk. Today, because of streaming or the stored way of keeping your music, you can come up with any format actually and we can have very high-end in quality, assuming it’s recorded properly.

Another thing, you see, something I’ve been always saying from the day one, even during the discussion we had within Philips and then the Japanese, I was always saying PCM is a most stupid for a recording system. Do you know why?

Because on every sample, you have the full resolution. So if you defined a 16 bits base, even on the silences, you end up having 16 bits, so during 90% of the time, that is waste. As music is changing continuously.

So during our talks I suggested why don’t we allocate the number of bits, in accordance with the dynamics of the music, so a variable bit rate. That would have made more sense for recording, than just the stupid PCM I think.

HCFR_Patrice:  It’s perfect we’re back to music because it was the last topic which we wanted to see with you, so what are your current favorite recordings?

Ken: For me, a wonderful recording with boring music is a problem. Both together doesn’t happen that often, unfortunately. So even today I listen to anything I can find, and can you imagine, I’m still buying CDs almost every week, just to discover new music.

I’m really amazed how much progress we have done from the day one of the CD. I have to say many new musicians they’re not making CDs anymore. So their work is very difficult to appreciate as we don’t know the real quality of the original recording. As with like I think in Spotify, you hear nice music, but we don’t know what the actual real original recording quality is, so it’s very difficult to judge. Then you start to look up because you like the music, then you look for the CD, but the CD is unfortunately not available.

But one thing I have to say, on many soundtracks of movies, the recording improved tremendously since the ’80s, ’90s.

Some of the soundtracks are just amazing, as their music especially composed and performed for a soundtrack is unbelievable, and what really amazes me is the sound stage this can create. Real three-dimensional soundstages created in those recordings for soundtracks, are really of a high level, I have to say.

There is so a real evolution particularly in the sound stage, with the width, the depth and the height, everything. So actually, if you have a really good two-channel system… you don’t need surround.


HCFR_Hugo: Let these be the last words of this exchange. And I though wish to particularly thank you Ken and Oliver, for the very appreciated transparency in each of your answers to all of our questions; transforming our conversation here, into a really fascinating interview.


Hugo_Hugo S
HCFR – Septembre 2018


– lien vers le sujet HCFR dédié à Ken Ishiwata-san :



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