Timeline - Item 1: Thursday September the 23rd,
For me this was it. The most important happening of the London HiFi Show. Okay, there was plenty of stuff going on. New products abounded. Yet here I was. Walking into a small room, drawn by the music and by a small sign that read "Kondo Amplification". Inside some almost familiar looking silver boxes where tethered to a pair of B&W Nautilus 802 Speakers and a Garrard 501 Turntable. They also made easily the best Music at the Show so far (rest assured, it remained best sound on the following days). A slightly stooped, very serious looking Japanese Gentleman handed out Literature.
Hold it. I know this Gentleman! Not personally of course. Yes! No! It cannot be! Yes, it is....
Holy Gurufication Batman. Hiroyasu Kondo himself.... I think I’m gonna faint....
Hiroyasu Kondo indeed had come to London in person to promote his latest venture.
In the Circles of People who listen to music via Single-Ended Triodes Kondo San (as he is affectionately called) and his Ongaku (Japanese for "Spirit of Music") Amplifer are the stuff of Legends. He founded Audio Note Japan in 1977. In later years Audio Note became a Legend, with Products whose prices where very high, yet which where unique in their ability to communicate music to the listener. I myself must confess having been "launched" into High End and real HiFi due to having listened to an Ongaku.
So to me this was it. Any excuse was good enough for me to hang around, listen to Music and even have a brief Interview with Kondo San. The Product Kondo San’s new Venture offers continue beyond anything ever done by Audio Note Japan. On display (and making the most amazing music) I found a new Preamplifier, a DAC and a 2A3 Push Pull Amplifier. While details are still a bit sketchy, it appears that the performance and quality of these Amplifiers increased over what was available from Audio Note Japan. Initially Kondo Amplification Products will be imported into the UK by PM Components.
Yet this alone would be enough to warrant a long entry in a HiFi Show report, not for whole editorial Article. Having just about caught myself after the Shock of having meet someone who is to me almost a living Icon; Kondo San dropped the other Shoe. Being press and all I was invited for Tuesday to Milton Keynes to witness the official launch of a Joint Venture between Kondo Amplification and the WORLDS largest manufacturer of Valve Amplifiers.
Timeline - Item 2: Monday September the 27th, North
An interlude -- Boss I’m taking tomorrow off -- no you don’t -- yes I do....
Okay. I just had to be there. This I had to see. Coming through the Door at work on Monday morning I made a straight (300) B - Line for the boss's office. "I’m taking tomorrow off" I announced. Boy, I had problems already to take Thursday and Friday off to cover the show, too much work, too few people... So the answer was initially a resounding NO. Well, after a lot of sweet-talking, threats to resign and other pleasantries I had my okay. I was gonna make it to the big Day.
Timeline - Item 3: Tuesday September the 28th, Milton
Where Jim Marshall and Hiroyasu Kondo and London Transport make my Day....
My first impression of Tuesday Morning was a rabbit holding up a big Watch and chanting "Your late! Your late! Your late! Your late! Your late!". Tarnation and Blimey, here I had almost managed to oversleep. Jump into some comfortable cloth and down to the Bus-Station. Of course, London Transport was in high form. As usual, no Bus for half an hour and then six come along all together at the same time, presumably to ward off all these evil fare paying passengers. Still, I almost caught the train and made it to Milton Keynes almost in Time.
Okay, I have already hinted at where we where going. The Marshall Factory!
Home to all these yummy, neato and legendary valved guitar amplifiers. These Days not only Marshall brand amplifiers are made here but also the revived and even more legendary VOX brand. Marshall is not only a Legend among Musicians but also Nightmare to any Live Sound Engineer. Have you ever tried to get a PA System loud enough to compete with the four massive Marshall Amplifier and Loudspeaker Stacks the Guitarist insists on having on stage? I had to, more than once. I would guess anyone you would ask on the street to name a Guitar amplifier would either look blankly at you (or equally likely) say Marshall.
However, what is Kondo San doing in a Factory making Guitar Amplifiers? Has he taken up making Guitar Amp’s? During the Intro. (which I missed courtesy to London Transport) all was revealed. Jim Marshall had long wanted to also make music replay equipment. Yet it had to be with valve’s. Somehow there never was time or opportunity. At the same time Kondo Amplification was looking for ways to make high quality Valve Amplification more accessible. Earlier ventures with Audio Note UK had eventually proven frustrating. PM Components (the Company behind the “Golden Dragon” Brand Valves) brought together Hiroyasu Kondo and Jim Marshall, each a Legend in their own sector and the rest, as they say is history.
I was just in time to join everyone else for a tour of the rather impressive Marshall Factory. I had never realized just HOW BIG Marshall has become. The Factory complex is Huge. Everything from making the Chassis over the making and stuffing of Circuit Boards to the carpentry for the speaker cabinets is done in house. The Factory is a modern, airy building filled with Music. Hey, I would not mind working here. Quality controls are stringent but so are the achievement level of the staff. Considering the still massive amount of hand work on the Amplifiers more than 90 per cent of everything leaving the Lines is perfect. And the person to test each of the Amplifiers before they leave the Factory is a rather nice young Lady who plays some mean metal riff’s.
Generally Marshall is a very professional and major league operation. Indeed, Marshall has recently even invested into their EMI Testing Facilities. The R&D Team has three Design Engineers on Staff and the projected turnover for this year is “around” 24 Million Pound (over 38 Million US Dollar). So if anyone has the ability to manufacture high value valve based Hi-Fi, Marshall looks to be a damn good Candidate. At the final leg of the Tour we got to see Marshall’s “Museum” where from the first ever Marshall Amplifier to Iron Maiden Nico’s Drumkit all sorts of Rock memorabilia and of course Amplifiers are found here.
In the following Question and Answer Session I made a fool out of myself in front of the whole assembled UK Hi-Fi Press. I managed to ask: "All good nice, but how much will one of these new Kondo/Marshall Hi-Fi Amplifiers cost?". Sudden Silence. Then an answer one did not necessarily expect. Marshall would be trying to produce Amplifiers that should fit into the £1,000 price bracket (that’s $1,600). Yet they would at the same time be trying to preserve as much as possible of Kondo San’s Designs musicality and exceptional performance. With both the financial might and manufacturing capacity Marshall has I can just see them succeed. Marshall sees their Amplifier in all major specialist Hi-Fi Shops in the UK and around the world in the near Future. You know, they just might pull it off!
The downturn to me was that no concrete Product Ideas exist (at least nothing they wanted to share yet). Marshall’s Design Team will shortly be departing towards the land of the rising sun, where they will learn the techniques and secrets behind Kondo San’s exceptional Amplifiers. Boy, what would I not give to be along for that Trip.
Well, I will probably have to stay behind in foggy London, will have to listen to Billy Holiday’s "A Foggy Day in London" and wait for Marshall to deliver. I would guess you can expect the first brace of products around for the next Hi-Fi Show in September 2000. Until then we will just have to wait. And save our pennies. Because if the People at Marshall with Kondo San’s help pull off at least half of what they have promised, I will be in line for one of whatever comes...
Time for a goodbye from me, I think. It just remains to thank Marshall, PM Components and Kondo Amplification for an exciting time, the opportunity to meet in person two major legends and a very enjoyable Day in Milton Keynes.