In 1958, a 16-year old boy in Japan, the second son of a Buddhist priest, received a 45 rpm record and ingeniously adapted an old 33 1/3 rpm record player so he could hear it. He was so overwhelmed by the power of the music - it was Dvorak's New World Symphony, Arturo Toscanini conducting - that he determined to devote his life to audio reproduction. He wanted the joy of the finest music achievable from a sound system.
He reached his goal, and in so doing transformed the art and science of audio.
There is something otherworldly about Hiroyasu Kondo. Quiet, slender, and slightly stooped from a lifetime spent over the workbench, he explains in a modest voice the results of starting from zero - rethinking every part of the audio system. Going back to vacuum tubes, to achieve a full, rich sound that somehow was lost with transistors. And making every possible part himself, by hand, without any of the short cuts that other makers might use to save money or time.
As he talks, it takes a moment before what he has said sinks in. And leaves the listener speechless that such perfectionism still exists in a world full of compromises. Consider transformers. Most audio equipment uses mass-produced transformers made of copper wire machine-wound at high speed. Mr. Kondo discovered by experiment that silver could perform significantly better than copper. He began drawing his own wire from 99.99% pure silver, through diamond dies he designed himself. In 1978 he introduced the first pure silver speaker and interconnect cables.
Mr. Kondo's silver transformers are made by winding this wire by hand, under a microscope, to assure the same tension on every turn. Each output transformer in the Gaku-On amplifier takes 500 hours to make - about three months. Other parts are made with similar obsessiveness.
Inevitably, equipment made by Mr. Kondo is expensive. Some of it is very expensive. Recognizing this, his design principles have been adapted to more affordable equipment produced by Audio Note in Europe.
The result is only music. All of the music. As one reviewer said "Listening to the way [it] turns musical recordings into musical performances is such a transcendentally mesmerizing experience that you can easily start to question your sanity."
Mr. Kondo listens and smiles.