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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WJAAS - Stairway to heaven

... sometimes a "stairway" can be an elevator!

I returned in Akihabara quite deluged and scared, BUT at a corner saw some triodes looking at me from the shop window... oh, oh, I told to myself... entered the shop and asked to the staff about the tubes...

They chatted each other for a couple minutes and then... a guy with a pink shirt asked to me to follow him...

OH, OH!?!?!

Maybe 15 meters from the shop on the main street, in a small unassuming building, the shop employee addressed me to the 5th floor...

I was amused, BUT very intrigued... felt for some moments like a Russian spy looking for spares for nuclear secret weapons...

Not an english or Romanji word everywhere, on door-bell or... thanked the so kind chap and took my way to 5th floor...

... and...

... when elevator door opened: Holy Triode!!!

Imagine a 300+ square meters apartment FULL, FUUUULLLL of tubes, audio tubes!

I was sweating a lot...

The communication was in japlish and using several paper sheets, I wrote, feverish, for obscure tubes models... which were PROMPTLY taken from the shelves by Asano-san.

Where am I? I asked myself... WE 300B engraved base (at Y 600.000 the pair...), RCA 845, STC 4274 rectifiers (at Y 300.000 the pair...), Westinghouse 211... the VERY best of the crop!

Returned to this place two times in two weeks and the owner was very friendly and generous, with the WE 416-B and 416-C, the Western Electric VT-25A matched pair and 5R4-GY Mullard's I bought... which sounded SOOOO good in my amps, as I discovered when back home.

Sure I'm not their BEST customer (compared to the average japanese buyer, I'm a penny pincher, remember?!?!;-)) - but, nonetheless, I found extremely kind and friendly people who greatly supported me.

Must be said that will keep this tube-warehouse address strictly for friends and myself; being a (little) secret, like for a treasure, will hint the following: there is a nice soba/noodle tiny restaurant, established in 1965, just few meters from this place;-)))

Just kidding, folks: I took a picture of the "shop" sign... hey, it's in Kanji, but it's Tokyo;-) - Good luck!

P.S. - I'm still asking myself... maybe in the above mentioned shop they briefly chatted if I was deign or not to know about this CRAZY place! Who knows?

WJAAS - An afternoon in Akihabara

After a walk in Akihabara's main street you understand where you are: if you're not a fan of manga, "anime" (short for animation = cartoon) and cheap, chinese-made accessories for yr. i-Pod, you, audio-freak, tube-lover or, plainly said, music-lover would be better quit this District in a hurry!

The cosy-players, gals in funny Minnie-like clothes or the discount shops are, literally, everywhere for kilometers... BUT, at the outskirts of this huge area, some exceptions still exists for us, die-hard searchers for beautiful stuffs.

I had an address, taken from MJ - Musen to Jikken magazine, of Eltus Audio, one of the older audio shops in whole Tokyo (and Japan, as well).

Thanking hotel staff precious advice, I took the Chiyoda Green Metro Line, stopped at Yushima station and after some hundreds meters walk I found it... closed, of course!

In the meantime, why not going to the nearby Tokyo's branch of the always great HiFiDo?

Among a mighty pair of Vitavox CN-191 speakers, a Tannoy GRF, an (Hiraga) Legend with WE 300B amps pair and hundreds of MJ and Stereo Sound second-hand magazines, I shopped for the MOST beautiful (and cheap) classical music japanese pressings of the whole trip!!!

Superb way of waiting for Eltus' opening, indeed...

Jokes apart, the HiFiDo stop was a great stop in itself... the friendly and helpful staff, despite the usual communication troubles, made my day.

After they recognize me as an overseas customer, they called for Mrs. Munetika - Export Manager, only to say hello and, to my surprise, without asking for, they heavily discounted discs I bought and promptly issued a Customer's Card, good for more discounts also when shopping from home... something ALWAYS possible;-)

When after one hour I returned on my steps to Eltus'... Holy Shit!!!

I never, ever saw something like this!!!

Western Electric and Zeiss Ikon's BIG movie amps, Western Electric replicas of WE 594,WE 597 and WE 555 and horns, BIG horns and tubes and dust, awfully kept floor with garbage and not room enough for my long feet... BUT when Honda-san showed to me 80 years old Western Electric literature, I was in tears!

Only cheap chinese disk-players and a sound not truly of the highest fidelity, BUT this old man in his 75+ was among the very first to import from Hollywood ol' cinema gears, more than 50 years ago, period!

I met in the shop a couple of guys who showed from their i-Phones screens the pixes of their GREAT systems: big horns, triodes, etc. - they were coming from Saitama-ken to meet the old master, looking for new stuffs or, maybe and most likely, oldies;-)

Ali Baba and his cave were beginners vs. Honda-san's shop... not hi-end, not hi-fi, BUT like a living museum, an amusement park where see and touch those treasures from the past!

Saw about half-a-million yen spent of that old needle-speaker (the one with the ship on "grille").

The old Honda-san smiled at the "youngers" in his shop... I saw him!

... for an instant it looked like an audio Delai Lama... quiet, peaceful, friendly.

Long may you live, Honda-san.

WJAAS - A busy day...

A busy day, it was... I planned to leave Tokyo, after some classic sightseeing, and wished to spend my third day in Japan fully devoting it to audio, before going southbound.

I used an old address I read on a turntable mat carton-box, a Shindo-made item, to pay a visit to the great manufacturer.

... as a first time of several to come, the always extremely kind hotel(s) personnell was of great support, to trace Tokyo's area to reach and easiest Metro station and... I finally was on my way to find Shindo Lab's den.

I had no idea of "how" the japanese "chome" system worked, so, just arrived in Hongo-Sanchome stop, as per instructions and I studied the area map, just outside the station.

After some hundreds meters, lots of looking for numbers on blocks corners and a couple of info asking, I found... a closed, abandoned house and a paper warehouse nearby.

Oh, oh... found some people involved in the paper wholesale and, to my surprise, at my request for "Shindo", an extremely kind gentleman accompanied me for some metres, a corner, another corner... and saw a Shindo's Green faceplate with a triode behind a glass...

Thanked and rang the doorbell... a young person, who hinted for some slippers after my shoes, not allowed to enter the workshop.

After some stairs, I met Ken Shindo's wife, the young man was his son, but Shindo-san himself wasn't in the shop.

More stairs and I was in the famous, already seen Shindo's listening "room", a tiny space with an Altec 604-based speakers pair and a Shindo 301, the one-of-a-kind version with super wide platter and "Shindo-ed" Ortofon arm and cartridge.

The "workshop" soldering area was VERY small, in a corner... like some friends use in their basement... BUT, hey, it was Shindo's place!

No sound from amps and speakers and absolutely no chance to buy nothing, nonetheless I enjoyed the half-an-hour I spent there taking some shy pix... I left the grey, small-sized slippers for my shoes and was well ready to head myself to Tateyama-shi, at the very end of Chiba peninsula, to meet Susumu Sakuma-san!

The trip was quite long, with a local train stopping at every small and smaller station along the way... reached Tateyama after a couple hours of relaxing rail noise with hills and seaside views... at the station, the kind young woman at Information Desk, who gave to me a Tateyama's map, kept my luggage while I reached - lighter than before - Concorde Restaurant, a few hundred meters walk from the station itself...

Was impressed by how small it appeared, behind a corner: wooden outside, I entered and the first man I saw was... Sakuma-san, in white shirt and white beard and hairs.

A strong dust and wood smell and... the amps and weird tubes and turntables and records I saw so many times on the web and MJ and Stereo Sound magazines were ALL here...

Sakuma-san was hosting some friends from Kyoto, some ladies who, by chance, spoke some english... pfeew... the communication was quite difficult, BUT an icy beer was served and the surprise to meet someone coming from Italy was solved with some Maria Callas' celestial voice coming from a Garrard 401 with Gray arm and Dl-102 cartridge.

I greeted the Master builder and his wife, behind the counter, with a little (musical) present I brought with me from Italy and some Kyoto nice cookies appeared and were enjoyed by the small cohort.

Audio-wise: the several mostly Tamura equipped amps were dozens and the tubes, 211, 845 and 300B, were spreading a nice, romantic, pleasant mono glorious sound from some Voice of the Theater speakers.

I'll fondly remember this very sound during next days listening experiences, when I'll be exposed to Akihabara's macho sound... two very different worlds - i.e. the difference between sound and music.

Sakuma's was my choice, of course (the music)... well happy and content I had the chance and honour to meet him in person.

A very tasty and humble "sensei", a meeting sure worth the train and time, etc.

... after something less than two hours, I was again at Tokyo station, ready - at last - for my VERY first Shinkansen "Hikari" train to Kyoto, where I arrived in 2 hours and a half, late in the evening... but this is another, different story.

Monday, September 28, 2009

WJAAS - Trip to Japan... from the beginning or...

... why not beginning from the bottom?
Afterall, what's about audio? Music, don't you?!?! ... and after visiting among the most famous workshops and audio wizards, also experiencing a shrines/gardens/pagodas/castles and audio hardware overdose... I re-found myself and my temper browsing for GREAT vinyl (and some disks) in Tokyo, on my very last full day in Japan.
... someone said that if you don't find something in Tokyo, it is not available elsewhere!
True or false, tale or... try to think at the last time you kept in yr. hands a mint copy of 10 inches Miles Davis' mono disc "Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud" on Fontana label, original French pressing!!! It happened twice in two second-hand shops, must say among the very best of all Japan, some hundreds meters from each other.
It happened also with, maybe, a most sough-after disc where Bill Evans, the late, great piano player and musician, gave his "Waltz for Debbie" great song and title to Monica Zetterblund, a nice, handsome female singer whose nice persona smiles from the Philips disc cover.
I saw jazz records which I only read about... a reissue would have been rare, BUT an original from, say, early '50s of Lou Donaldson's sax or Oscar Pettiford's double-bass... well, I wasn't prepared!
When I stepped the stairway to second and third floor of Disk Union, when I entered in second-hand vinyl room, I felt a breeze and shivers: a STRONG smell of vinyl, carton sleeves and dust... a mix I almost loose my legs!
I took some pixes before launching myself in the most in-deep records browsing in years... imagine other customers looking at a gaijin who, to be able to look in all bins, took some 15 cm discs bulk and, with clever, quick fingers arriving to the very end of the record bins in few minutes...
The japanese style is... would you imagine?!?!... very different: in a pachinko-like, gun-machine extremely noisy fashion, they, with some dexterity, quickly extracts ALL records for half their size from the bunch and look at half a cover;-)))
The disc is then suddenly pushed back in place and so on and on... a noise which must be heard to be believed... this pachinko syndrome impressed me a lot, at least to the same extent I impressed my browsing neighbourhoods with my fingerstyle;-)))
What I saw in my browsing, folks... my poor bank account would have been sipped in few seconds!
I saw a gentleman blissfully handling YEN 420.000 bills for - say - a dozen records... Miles' Six Eyes, Verve, orange Impulse, etc. sold at sums fetching the cost of a second-hand motorbike;-))) - I felt a penny-pincher... better, I'M a penny-pincher!
For that reason, on my next trip to Japan, I'll bring with me some cheapos Deutsche Gramophone's for records swapping... you find them at 1 EUR price-tag in Germany and... voilà... well worth YEN 4000 to 15.000 in Tokyo... and, no: I'm not talking about DG's 136XXX "tulip labels"...
After an indeterminate, extremely busy and pleasant amount of time, and some credit card handlings, I transferred myself to a tiny shop which I already saw hours before, but whose opening time was quite.. elastic...
Finding it "open", at last, a Coltrane B&W poster and a Miles' greeted and welcomed yours truly in this... 50 square meters heaven!
A bit on the expensive side of shop, BUT the owner was using a Garrard 301 with an Ortofon 212 arm and a SPU cartridge, Quad II amp and preamp and Lowther's PM-6 in a gravel... yes, gravel... tamed enclosures.
As I experienced several times, he proudly showed a photo-album of his home stereo system... as my wife said, after my return: "Stereo is REALLY japanese national sport!", and, pals, with Sumo and baseball, it is, indeed! Not sons or nephews pixes, but horns and tubes pictures, handy for proud chatting.
Had a nice listening to a Bill Evans' old Verve and to a mono copy of the Miles' masterpiece I quoted above.
Once again, the miracle of music esperanto worked where my japanese and their english didn't worked.
... and all this (and more...) only three metro stops from my place in Ikebukuro... simply take "Marunouchi Red Line" and, after Hongo-Sanchome, stop in Ochanomizu... out of Tokyo Metro station, take the bridge leaving hospitals (sic!) behind you and you'll be in Heaven.
A Vinyl Heaven...