Hi-fi, High-end and Ultra High-End
"匠". Takumi = exceptional.
When it comes to high-end, actually better to say to ultra high-end audio, we often ask ourselves where the boundary is, limit or logical borderline between hi-fi, high-end and ultra high-end performance. Are we talking subtle things, nuances and hard to embraced anchors of audio reproduction? Is it the last 20 percent or last 3 percent of what we're getting at the upper echelon?
Robert Koch answer to my special K-10 interview question seems like a great start:
Where is the line between high-end and super or ultra high-end audio?
For me its about soul. Much of today's high end is just about high price and a glamorous external finish. Ultra high end is the place where pre-conceptions have no place. It is the cutting edge for those who's interest is one of sound and its road toward rewarding music listening.
You can read my complete exclusive interview abut Takumi K-10 with the designer Robert Koch here.
There is a certain movement of hardcore audiophiles and music lovers at famous Audio Exotics forum. Those persons seems to be one of the most demanding listeners and both audio - music connoisseurs. They're not strictly limited to Hong Kong. Passionate forum members spread around the globe borderless. So what is the connection here? Robert Koda!
Since the founding of Robert Koda, Robert Koch is pushing the limits of ultra high-end audio performance. He started with one of the kind Takumi K-70 three chassis hybrid power amplifier and changed the hearts of many people that were certain how their audio journey ended. Even the audio press was impressed at each review. Martin Colloms of HifiCritc gave the exemplary score for the Robert Koda Takumi K-70 Generation I (not the further improved K-70 Generation II) and few other reviews praised it highest.
Let me broaden my perspective with the words of Miguel Alvarez -Tripoint Audio:
“As a designer and a perfectionist I need tools to help me listen to the true voicing of my products. If you're looking for a transparent window to the music which lets you hear all tonal color shades without false added dynamics or artifacts the Robert Koda Takumi K-10 is for you. Congratulations on this masterpiece.”
Here are the words from one of the most respected AE member:
“Robert's K10 can do everything what the M1000 does. The only difference is much cheaper. It may not be able to satisfy people's consumerism ego. Clarity across the frequency spectrum is much better, but tube fanatics would say it is solid state. But frankly speaking, in a closed blind testing session of 9 people conducted here, many mistaken the K10 is a tube preamplifier because harmonic information is much more than many tube counterparts. Tube people may not like speed. If the speed is fast, some say tonality is not right and the taste is gone. I don't buy that. Robert worked for Kondo san before. I can still find traces of his influence in his works. I am glad that he is able to free himself from the Kondo tonality. Otherwise, he always lives under his shadow. Robert definitely has his views on musicality. The K10 carries his view too. Put it this way, I believe the K10 bridges the gap between "high fidelity" and "musicality" like no other solid state design has done before. Don't trust this old man, maestro. Look at the result how many people are using K10 here with minimal advertisement everywhere else. The AE group has done their homework.”
"The K10 is a unique creation. It engages you in music easily. It is not exactly the Da Vinci type of seducement because K10 has tremendous speed. And harmonic information is even more than tube based preamp. The completeness of harmonic structure probably is the reason why it is so easy to listen to. It takes time to mature, of course. Speaker repositioning needs some work too. But I like it more even than the K70 from the angle of positive contribution to the overall system."
Another AE member first impressions:
“I have been a Shindo advocate for quite some years and I am very used to its distinguished sound. Now, K-10 and K-70 transform the world of my music. Before K-10 was introduced, there was still a strong presence of Shindo character in my system. After K-10 replaces Giscours, the immediate and obvious feeling is that the music become bright and everything is crystal clear with details. I would compare Giscours and K-10 as two lighting sources with the former being a traditional incandescent light bulb and the latter a LED. With the light bulb, I can see things clearly but I don't have the "bright" feeling as every light bulb inevitably contains certain yellowish coloration. On the other hand, K-10 lights up the music like a LED. It allows people to see thing, i.e. enjoy the music, clearly with natural colour. I can easily feel the speed and rhythm of music with K-10. The music is so lively and real. If we consider Shindo as a very good oil painting, K-10/K-70 is a HQ picture for people to explore the details, for people to feel, for people to go into the world of music.”
"I do tremendously agree the K10 is unique. The reproduction of string instrument from violin, viola, Cello and double bass is really engaging. How can a solid state preamp produces more harmonic overtones than a tube counterpart? I have no clues. When Marvel bro mentioned a breeze was somehow there when the pianst swept the keyboard, I thought he was exaggerating. But I did experience the same. That means the speed is tremendous. The control of double bass is good, tight and tuneful."
True audio artisans
So what is it all about? I'll go into details along the review and listening notes, but Robert Koch is one of the true audio artisans. It's the way he approaches designing, listening and reasoning that attracts my inner audio clock at top most. We're in the beat of fast forwarding world where everything is done or has to be done in the fast lane. No space to rest just hectic rush. When things are done in a slower, thoughtful (soulful) way the end results can be of much difference. Like in music where the silence and time stops are needed and constitutional part of a score it seems that similar flux evoke artistry and objects of an audio art. Creating something unique, passionate and different is not just a matter of choice. Especially in ultra high end audio everything needs to be carefully tested, measured and non the least taken under most demanding listening. These takes time, effort and bold determination for pursuing something that redefines the "standard" or "ordinary." The end result is a product that carries artisan DNA and a view to the musical world. I would even say a respect for music.
|Nothing comes cheep with Takumi K-10. WBT-0210 Ag Ms RCA's.|
And while many times the path can be mystified at the end only the wholeness matters. The finished product stands on its own and speaks for itself. Robert Koch elegantly lets his work speak for itself. You can feel from the way that he corresponds that a he's not only an artisan, but a true gentleman.
Competition, now what is that?
Let me quickly lurk into the state of the art preamplifiers. We have the Lamm LL1 Signature, well-regarded Audio Research Ref 5, newly announced Audio Research Reference 10, Gryphon Mirage and Pandora, Limited Audio Research Reference Anniversary,Tidal Presencio, Burmester 808, Jadis etc. We even have new contenders from the lesser but premium priced brands. With the last decade almost insane price rises one becomes heavily suspicious about what it’s actually offered. What makes certain ultra high end product worthy of price? Shouldn’t it be performance? And when presented as hand made, shouldn’t it actually be made in such way?
If I look into the time period of last two years there might be a subtitle response to Robert Koda K-10 with Kondo Audio Note Japan G-70 and nevertheless just announced Zanden solid state. We certainly won’t get an official confirmation about predictions, but somehow Robert Koda K-10 created a movement where most of the world designers and high-end audio manufacturers must have stopped to think for a while. Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier raised the bar of performance so high, that many connoisseurs actually said it’s far too cheap for what it is and represents.
To call the car analogy. Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier could be a true Morgan with contemporary performance and still “down to earth” pricing.
Going into another analogy. Horology. Like with finest mechanical watch everything about Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier feels premium. The turn of the input switch, the military spec’d power button (you’ll have to experience this by yourself), custom made volume attenuator etc. It stands in the space on its own like the object d’art and an excusive feeling and pride of ownership. You simply need to handle it on your own and you’ll understand. It’s the feeling that has invisible red point across car industry, horology, sword making, artisty of musical instrument making, jewelry etc.
They all radiate with the certain aura of timeless objectivity enriched by many with finest performance. For me Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier is the prime example of such object in high-end audio.
Lasting first impression
Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier stayed here for prolonged time so listening notes and finally review came in due time. Result of notes? I don't want to fall into esoteric jargon, yet the musical impact that Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier brought is one of the kind. The effortless lightness of music was beyond words - intoxicating. I was just reaching for the music in perpetum mobile. Night listenings are great, but regretfully too soon the sun is coming to abode.
Synergy is all-important
Funny thing. I always check my placebo effect or over enthused emotions for down to earth facts checked. I replaced YBA Passion 650 AMP from the system with a lower priced amplifier. A sudden change. Dynamics, transparency, sense of space... Instead of music floating, there were just so called contemporary assets of high-end definitions. Soul gone! It seems that Robert Koda Takumi K-10 is a transparent medium that conveys what is there. No second-guesses. I'll go deeper into subject in upcoming weeks, but this proves the theory of perfect system balance. When things are at the right pace music just clicks. If not, then descriptions start coming in. When left-brain hemisphere kicks in a way to grand way my red alert pops up. Something is simply not right. This gets down to the gut feeling. Music is much more then sum of logical rules and parts. Take some time on exploring recent and past studies. We react to music in much more deeper way that we're mostly aware of. What touches me and what matters to me most is the sense of musicality. The motion of sound. The interaction. No borders. No boundaries. Universe of true musical poetry, which interacts with listener on sub and lucid level. Those create our perception and reception of things audio.
As with few components I have had pleasure to spend some quality listening time in past few twenty some years Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier radiates the music with the natural warmness. I'm not talking about instant recognized tube warmness. That feeling can take on a cheap ride. One would bet all his money that Takumi K-10 is of tube origin for the delicate intimacy that only state of the art valve preamplifiers can achieve. Well, you cannot be more wrong. Takumi K-10 is solid state to the bone. Midrange natural timbre and embodied of three-dimensional instruments reproduced by Takumi K-10 will fool you instantly. Even if your audio mileage is vast. It feels like Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier goes beyond tube or solid-state technology. Anyhow. To elaborate shortly. Ask any experienced high-end audio designer about building state of the art tube and solid state preamplifier design. It's "quite" easy to design good or even great tube preamplifier. Going into solid-state world things change drastically and dramatically. There are only few solid state preamplifiers in the world that reach the point of ultra high end performance. And even those have some invisible imprints of technology used. Takumi K-10 is embodiment or Robert Koch determination for perfection. It's easy to get philosophical about transcending technologies, yet when it comes to the real world implementation, measuring and most important listening all the charades and ego trips quickly falls into oblivion. Paper can take us much as needed. Real world reveals everything.
|Artisan inside work|
Among most demanding crowd Robert Koda Takumi K-10 is ranked as one of the five best preamplifiers in the world and more then often among first three. I can understand from my first impact why is it so.
Monet, Lucidity, Kurosawa
How to describe my short peek into the world seen and heard trough the eyes and most importantly ears of Robert Koch. The warm life like emotional impact that reminds me of Akira Kurusawa masterpiece Dreams. A lasted impression that I won’t struggle with even an atom of energy to let go from my system. Think Claude Monet, Pissaro or Renoir picture with the clarity of best resolution possible. With age the view of later two got more intimate. Their later phase got more close to the aura of real people and things connected to the world around us. Such is a feeling of representation from Robert Koch view through the Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier. A mature and passionate. Real world persons with a true natural emotional behavior and surroundings. Lucid, transparent and complete representation of music. Combination that is of most importance. A true look into music universe and interaction with the energy of composer. There is so much more to say, but let it reveal my feelings along the way. It's certain and obvious how this affected my perception of musical reproduction. Interesting how one component can have a potency of such.
In the world where products like Devialet Premier D are setting the trends - directions for many audiophiles and leaving their complex high-end audio systems for one box solution, where Mark Levinson have gone to Class D with their top of the crops monoblocks where does product like Robert Koda K-10 fit in? What happened to high end and ultra high-end audio?
In a way nothing that drastic expect for the crazy pricing scheme of some so-called high-end audio manufacturer. High-end audio we always connected to the high-end audio performance. Sadly in past few year or even called it a decade, we’ve seen the rise of more and more products setting their virtual position “vulgar” pricing for the performance that often hardly justify even the hi-fi term. If the race of “how far can I go” is the ultimate goal of high-end.
Let me elaborate. You don’t have to be technician to value the design approach of certain high-end audio manufacturer when it comes to selection of built materials and electronic parts. I know, before you slash me, that final merit is the sound, but taking a look under the hood of some contemporary high-end or “in price” ultra high-end audio gear makes me sick. Skilled audio designer can produces great sounding topology with non of the shelf electronic parts, but the honest one will also tell you that there are places that you don’t save on materials especially with the upper echelon prices. I’m often bewildered in my rants how small some audiophiles think on the scale of high-end audio design. How come any field of science or industry can benefit with quality design and parts, yet high-end audio is some sort of crazy mystery where God forbid you use something more exotic or custom made.
|Carbon custom made audiophile grade hand trimmed resistors based volume attenuator|
To write about it even further. Let me be a bit provocative and urge you to open some of the highly acclaimed preamplifier in the 20-30.000 $ price range at taker a closer look in the volume potentiometer. Many of those so-called state of the art product use standard cheap ALPS blue potentiometer. We all know how much those cost. You can say, that the end result matter. Yes, right, but how come that for example Kondo Audio Note Japan and few others still goes the long way and use ALPS RK 50. This one alone costs whooping 700 eur.
Now let us come back to Robert Koda K-10 volume attenuator. Custom carbon based resistor made especially for high-end audio. Does this catch your attention? Now only two of those are used at the time of signal passing through and all the resistors are hand trimmed down for the exact tight tolerances. Now imagine how much this single module cost is compared to those ALPS or Bourns used in some of highly claimed and even highly priced state of the art preamplifiers
Price alone of any specific part is of no value if performance is not up to the expectations. With K-10 Robert introduced one of the most transparent preamplifiers and there is no doubt that custom volume attenuator is also an importing building block of this preamp. You’ll not have a false luxury of remote control, but your gain is via a medium and open window into what music should sound when reproduced at the highest demanding level.
What some might not understand is that Robert Koda K-10 is not a quest of technology for the sake of waving with technology knowhow. His vision is vision of the end result that transcends what we use to connect to either solid state or tube preamplifier sound and not the path of sound character. Color less might be the right word.
In the ultimate sense of straight wire gain used in the preamplifier passive preamplifier might still be the ultimate excursion in theory. Yet, in practical use so far I always hankered for more gain impact. Everything else might be there close to the natural sound, but when it comes to the attacks and natural gain structure that defines instruments and nonetheless sense of space passive preamplifiers failed so far.
This is where Robert Koda K-10 comes back again. This is the closest thing of preamplifier perfection in transparency, that I have had pleasure to test and review in my twenty some years in high-end. And I’m talking cost no object. You might get your preferred flavor addressed more with some other product, but when it comes to the purest signal gain structure amplifying I dare to challenge anything else out there to take a race with K-10. Einstein once said, that things supposed to be simple, but not simpler. I couldn’t find a better analogy for Takumi K-10.
Dedication and musical DNA
As written before one thing that instantly captures you is K-10 interaction with music. It’s hard to describe, but during the installation of SoulSonic Impact speakers the designer Miro Krajnc was instantly smitten by the same thing. It’s the transparent warmness of music that simply works on some different plane. No mystic or magical tricks. Just Robert’s life long passion and pain striking perfection to details. This is where artisans excel over the traditional audio designers. In unmatched urge to do things right no matter how much time is spent. This might take years or even a lifetime to perfect, but luckily we still have luxury of few such enthusiasts with their inner clock beating to the sound reproduction in favor of music. I do think that Robert is too modest in presenting his genius in the field of ultra high-end audio, but then again like all humble artisans masterminds he let his work do the talking. Then again I appreciate this highly as is the thing of culture. And in the pace of fast-forward world we tend to forget this too quickly.
Four important integral things about K-10
Now as volume attenuator is just an integral part of the whole K-10 concept there are at least three more sections that I would like to address. The triple cooper screened chassis; DC Reactor power supply and ITC gain module section.
|Tripple screened full copper based chassis|
The power supply of course is internal but being of a choke input type, it generates a bit of a magnetic filed that can disturb the signal to noise ratio of the pre-amp. Therefore the power supply section needs to be well screened by being placed in its own block. Some of the parts in the K-10 are very sensitive to magnetic fields so they are placed in their own sealed mu-metal blocks.
One thing Robert mention they also like to do (but its not really possible for a power-amp) is to have the chokes and power transformers placed so they are not at any point to close to any part of the chassis. The chokes / power transformer are therefore isolated with plastic stand - offs and the power supply compartment is over-sized.
Robert don't like to give the exact ITC circuit details away too much because its unique and crucial structure of K-10.
But to translate it simply it is a non differential arrangement that is able to self cancel both power supply induced noise and some elements of internally generated distortion.
At the same time it self-cancels and fluctuation of current draw thru the power supply at is normally music related. As Robert continue “of course these are only some of the reasons why we like to use our ITC circuit...”
I already wrote the whole dedicated chapter about K-10 volume attenuator and the volume control: This is one of the most expensive single parts within the pre-amp. Robert Koda takes the volume control very seriously since they (and high demanding customers) take sound quality very seriously.
MUSICAL IMPACT (SECTION TWO)
Having for some time one of the kind Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier inserted into my system and going through various systems changes there is no second guessing. This is the preamplifier and a product that works purely within the domains of musical pleasures.
Rarely products like this comes around and hits you both directly and subconsciously. I'm not a person of strict musical genre. Being introduced to various music from my young age I would rather see myself as the lover of music then being strictly pinned down to specific type of music. This often creates elitism and drove people away from high-end. Perhaps a broader look gives me an opportunity for easier insight into the whole broad language of music being used and the way it can impact through my listening to components and systems.
If needed to characterize, then I would go for description of different musical mood swings, that goes along with my reviewing and listening time. With Robert Koda Takumi K-10 work and pure enjoyment blend like no other have so far.
Sonic Youth rawness of correct set of emotions evoking the young unsettled in me, Aphex Twin purity of electronically saturated musical language. They move me. Change! Take both Selected Ambiental Works one or two. They are the milestones for any IDM or general musical fan. While SAW 1 might feel at quick listening as almost naive, it's actually an expert voyage into the strangely, but beautiful world of things analog-808 and beyond. Richard D. James SAW 2 takes things even further. This album might be more hard to "digest", but then again it's be one of the most hypnotic and out-worldy albums of all times. Recorded in two weeks of full absent of sleep, it’s more of a kaleidoscopic aural event. Pure emotional embargo...
Muddy Waters roaring vocal and his life directness is one of a kind. There is no other way to play and sing the blues, then to live it. Audiophile candy or not Folk Singer still holds an amazing aura and insight into the natural ways of Muddy shape of the hearth. If you don't feel blues with Muddy... Look elsewhere or your heart was pacified with strange wrappings :).
Then Toscanini. An ardent and almost dictatorship like in dealings with his orchestra, yet you cannot argue the result. Love is a hard work they say and his love translated through his conducting. The era and nature of recordings might be in some of his best works "reverb-less" but pure energy flow is there. Passing on Toscanini is madness. At least some of his music is a must and remedy itself for any musical lover.
Coltrane? I grew up with his music. Not sure how exactly I found him, but he was and still is my constant life rotation. It's like he knew something above. Before you get me crucified for not mentioning Miles Davis, let me elaborate a bit at least. Yes Miles opened the uncharted territories. Some of his albums are my constant mind traveling paths. He's the master. Now Coltrane for me went somehow even in more esoterically realms. I guess the difference between two is in their life paths and characters. For Coltrane his life sadly ended the spiritual musical journey he took in his later years. On any given day, no matter how chaotic my mindset might be just gimme the dose of Love Supreme at the right volume. All the bits and how crushed the world seems it'll be aligned for me in the matter of minutes.
I can go on and on with my musical choices, but simply wanted to illustrate non closed world of reproduction and share impact of beloved music.
No magic needed
And... How Robert Koda Takumi K-10 relates to all of this? No magic needed. There is a certain right about K-10 that simply works within the musical domain. For me there are two ways or paths to the end critical sum up and results. One is for sure hard core comparing, listening notes etc. The other one is an instant captivating movement. Robert Koda Takumi K-10 posses the ability to evoke and ignite the right things for music to become live and the real thing of interaction.
In reality there are not so many true high-end and ultra high-end audio gear pacing the earth. True high-end musical boxes drive the music to the potency that can embrace and captivate our inner senses in a way that we truly forget about machinery. Those rare objects have a disappearing act. That specific know how is sadly not carried with so many audio designers. Thank God, there are still some artisans’ left that understand both music and electronics in such depth that can relate to us "demanding" ones with their products. Emotional pace.
Diy, My-fi or high-end
I'm not going into pricing here. There are ways to travel the distance... Cheaper? It depends on how much you value your time and money. You got a ways of DIY or my-fi. There the sky, your funds and time are the limit. Unfortunately not many of use have all those in the right mixture and results might vary. With products like Robert Koda Takumi K-10 you're getting into a full breaded product of someone who spends his life pursuing the best in understanding and creating machines that recreate the MUSIC.
ADDITIONAL STAND OUTS
Robert Koda Takumi K-10 is the first high-end component I can declare that is almost immune to the quality of power chord. Even 0.99 $ power cable performed the duties without any serious lacking in the K-10 performance. This must be connected to the way Robert approach to the power supply. It almost felt like it’s off the grid.
Even after prolonged and sometimes tedious critical long hours listening there was not even a hint of listener fatigue. As I already wrote above, music simply passed like the river flow. Effortlessly.
Being a fan of tube-based gear I would swear there are tubes involved somewhere in the path of K-10. Hack no. This is pure solid-state preamp with enough unique twists that will bewilder even most seasoned listeners.
When inserted into the reference system K-10 performance was exceptionally quiet even when ears were closed up to the speakers
I was a bit reserved about Robert Statement on balanced performance of RCA and XLR inputs. This is the only preamplifier where single ended RCA and true balanced XLR performance is on the same level. Marvel!
It funny as some preamplifiers best behavior is reached, at least with most state of the art solid state when left on 24/7. Tube based preamplifiers need at least some 25 minutes to reach the initial optimal performance and as said solid-state mostly require non-stop operating. With Robert Koda Takumi K-10 so called warm up time is brought almost to non-waiting pleasure. In my listening notes I repeatedly noted this and the shift to the more refined playback was perhaps in the realms of 1-3 percent if at all.
Some Japanese and Chinese customers were almost shocked by the K-10 Takumi naming, yet Robert Koch proved that there were no mistake when naming it. He said that Robert Koda Takumi K-10 is perhaps his best achievement so far.
Before ending my review, there is one thing left open that might pop up. System matching. How well Takumi K-10 behaves as integral part of system?
If it wasn't clear so far let me shortly elaborate. Robert Koda Takumi K-10 nature and characterless performance is a great match for both solid state and tube amplifiers. With the entry-level power amplifiers you’ll get unmistakable life like potency of K-10. When paired with the upper echelon of power amplifiers Takumi K-10 disappear within system.
I would only address one more thing that might be understood in wrong way if not used correctly with power amplifiers. It’s the operation of volume control. There might be a difference of how much you’ll have to turn the volume potentiometer clockwise. You might be used with certain preamplifier to never go pass 9 or 12 o’clock, but with Robert Koda Takumi K-10 you might have to turn volume way past 12 o’clock. There is nothing wrong with this operation. It’s just the way that Robert Koch designed above mentioned volume attenuator. Designed as such, it keeps the dynamic transparency and there is no sign of hum even when open fully. So when connected to power amps you might need to adjust the volume in a bit different fashion then used to, but with the uncharted benefits of sonic puritiy.
If at any given moment you doubt my words and take them with the grain of salt, do your homework and ask uncle Google about K-10. You'll quickly find how my passion for this creation is not a sole conundrum.
Thanks to Razwan of Amplitune for providing the review sample. Razwan and Nikki choose Robert Koda brand after careful consideration and their quest for the best in high-end. Their journey to Japan embodied a personal strive for the musical transparent medium. I cannot be happier that Mr. Koch work captured their soul and satisfied their urge for upper echelon based on the music and not labeling of any kind.
Über Amps is a special place for true music and audio connoisseurs like products where only best of the best and beyond the state of the art product belong. No compromises are being made and no constraints in any given way for the sake of pursuing pure musical experience. Robert Koda Takumi K-10 excel on all points and it's the first receiver ever of Mono & Stereo Editors Choice Award.