I recently dropped some serious coin on some new amplifiers. I normally first audition new albums in my mid-fi workhorse system of receiver and 5 cd carousel player, but for serious listening I use a more refined reference system. Music is my life and religion, so this is serious business for me. I replaced a pair of E.A.R. (Esoteric Audio Research) 509 tube monoblocks with a new pair of Air Tight ATM-3’s. The 2 brands have different tubes and sonic signatures, but have several things in common as well.
Both E.A.R. and Air Tight amps were designed by top audio engineers who both worked at Luxman, the Japanese high-end manufacturer of both tube and solid state amps back in the 1970s. These were the Rolls Royces of Japanese consumer electronics. Tim de Paravincini worked there with Atsushi Miura back then, before founding his own company, E.A.R. They manufactured everything from LP cutting lathes to microphones, preamplifiers, CD players, everything in the audio chain from manufacture to consumer products. De Paravincini also build the vinyl cutting lathe used in Virgin Records 1970s mega hit “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, which gained notoriety by being used in the soundtrack of The Exorcist.
Both Atsushi Miura and Tim de Paravincini are innovators and audio geniuses. Miura of Air Tight is widely regarded as “The Godfather” of state of the art Japanese audio. Click here to watch an interview with Miura. Miura brought Luxman up to the top eshelon of both tube and solid state amplifiers in the 1970s and 1980s; de Paravincini worked with Miura at Luxman. It was after Luxman that Miura started his own state-of-the-art Air Tight brand, the top rung of Japanese vacuum tube audio components. He makes tube amps by hand, with no PCB’s (printed circuit boards), and point-to-point wiring. They are truly works of art, and the sound…I can attest…is pure and amazing.
We live in an age of mobile handheld devices (iPhone/iPod), computer audio, compressed digital files along with fast and convenient food. In Japan, 87 year old Jiro Ono is considered to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. After watching the 2012 documentary about his story in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I concluded what Jiro Ono is to sushi, Miura and de Paravincini are to audophilia’s high-end.
Jiro Ono, Tim de Paravincini and Atsushi Miura, though working in totally different arenas, have several things in common:
- All three are about the same age (de Paravincini might be a little younger).
- They make everything by hand.
- They are artisanal craftsmen.
- They pursue perfection in everything they do.
What is it with the Japanese pursuit of perfection, the drive for total excellence? Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus has a slogan, “The Pursuit of Perfection.” I think it actually applies beyond the car brand and to the overall high standards of Japanese design and quality.
I remember taking my silver flute in for an overhaul to a Japanese technician in Gardena a couple of years ago. My Deford silver flute is perfectly adequate for an amateur player. At Ogura Fluteworks, they both work on and sell handmade Muramatsu flutes whose company’s slogan appropriately is, “The flute of a lifetime.” Mr. Ogura looked at my humble instrument and pointed out that it was machine made, mass produced and crudely built, far inferior to the beautiful handmade Muramatsu flutes he serviced and sold. I was a little taken aback.
As Music Director of KCRW, I’d go buy the latest Japanese vinyl at Poobah Records in Pasadena; they were pressed from the quietest vinyl and sounded amazing, plus they were expensive. I also would visit the Bunkado store in Little Tokyo in downtown LA and buy the jazz magazine Swing Journal. It’s a monthly magazine as thick as a phone book with the latest reviews, ads for high-end stereo gear and listings of the best Japanese coffee bars along with the type of components these bars use to play music for patrons. Because ultimately, good food and music pair perfectly together which makes this endless pursuit of perfection a worthwhile quest.