Exclusive interview with Mr. Matsumoto of Mactone Audio Japan

Matej Isak interview with legendary Mr. Matsumoto of Mactone

(1) Where and how did  all started for Mactone?
(a) In 1964, the place where current office is situated in Tokyo.

(2) You are among the five most recognised Japanese high-end audio designers. As oldest among them you hold authority. Can you tell us more about  Japanese high-end tube society and your role in it

  1. At the moment, popularity of tube amplifiers in Japan is not so impressive in high end market, far behind solid state ones
  2. Among lower priced tube amplifiers market here, almost all are  imported from developing countries, however some middle and high end Japanese manufactures (Mostly small sized entity) are much seldom to be seen in front of enthusiast, due to low advertisement budget and relatively poor distribution network.
(c)Current economical deflation will not allow us to expect immediate business expansion, although some business improvement might be possible in the long run.  
(d) In order to create educational opportunity and advertisement, we  (Association of Tube Amplifiers Manufacturers)  continue presenting Tube Amplifiers Audio Show (17th time in 2011) in Tokyo, for which I devoted my time in management from the first year, where we still communicate many enthusiastic audiophiles, even though business result does not always be magnificent.

(3) What could you say for the late Mr. Kondo, Mr. Shindo. Do you think you all share some common views about audio reproduction?

  1. I personally respect all of those precious predecessors, at the dawn era of tube amplifier business.   
  2. What they aimed for as target of sound reproduction quality were a bit different from mine but I am impressed to find most of them have attained to some certain practical level as they initially expected.
(4) Would you consider Mactone an audiophile oriented company?

  1. At that time, I tried to reproduce the same atmospheric sound in concert hall, as I did not have enough budget to be there often.
(5) Kindly list all of the present products from Mactone?
  1. http://www.mi.sgn.net/audio/mactone.xls
(6) Why did you choose this specific name for your company?

  1. Combination of “Matsumoto”, my sir name and “Tone”.
(7) Do you still believe in traditional Japanese quality?

  1. Yes, by following 2 reason.
(a-1) Availability of world highest level of components parts.
(a-2) Much vigorous consumers in sound quality lead average level of Japanese manufacturers.
(8) How would you say that western audiophiles differ from the land of rising sun?

  1. People in Western society has specific preference in classical music, backed by their great and long term music tradition, however audiophiles among either in the west and developing countries are basically the same in perception of good sound as music itself.
(9) You being producing the tube amplifiers from 1964. That is a long time. What changed during the years?

  1. Sound quality towards “High Fidelity” has been much improved without any doubt.
(10) You put a lot of time and efforts into transformers. Do you built them in house?

  1. We design by ourselves and ask professional third party to make, as this components are  indispensable parts to make match impedance of tube amplifiers and loud speakers and, in addition the most essential parts to define the sound quality of amplifiers.
  2. We always check the completed transformers whether they are made precisely to each specification.
(11) How important are the output transformers?

  1. Its roll is to transform the maximum power of amplifiers, installed at the final stage circuit.
  2. To regulate complex function in transformer by “ Coil Inductance” and “Magnetic circuit” of metal core, to be lead dramatically to high quality sound
(12) We see many tube companies coming and go, but Mactone seem to have strong presence all over the years. What is the secret?

  1. Nothing special but only moderate business manner without too much challenge.
(13) Can you tell us more about your MH-300 B amplifer. What is so special about it and unique approach did you implement into it?

  1. “Simple is the best” policy  in design, namely simplify the circuitry as even passing only one tube, one capacitor or one register deteriorates the sound.
  2. In order to confine total impedance value low in whole circuit  (To minimize electron flow delay), applying for big capacitors and lower register value in general circuit and higher efficiency type of “Orient Core”( Electro-magnetic steel plate by New Japan Steel) is applied for gigantic Power Transformer in power supply unit.
(14) Mactone XX-3000 is also very interesting preamplifier. Can you elaborate on it?

      (a) XX-3000 is line preamplifier to amplify signals from CD Player and phono- Equalizer,
as they are in its full function, which is not always an easy task.
  1. Making extraordinary level of low impedance in such circuit, namely, as B+ powersupply circuit, heater circuit, bias circuit.
(c) Likewise total 6 tubes in 3 pcs of middle sized twin triode tube through parallel connection in amplifying circuit stage, work as one single tube, resulting in getting much low impedance in open loop without any feedback circuit to get higher electronic current  speed.

      (d) Multi-ladder register type of attenuator is applied for volume control which takes
essential roll for the best sound quality.

      (e) Specific circuit (Patent pending by Mactone) enables to work with this attenuator for
precise volume

(15) What is your way of building phono preamplifier and how do you see a vinyl reproduction?

   (a) Vinyl record contains non-competitive vast information against CD.
     (b) Although MC cartridge picks up better sound from Vinyl record than MM,  it requires higher amplification due to relatively lower output signal.
     (c) For this amplification, amplifiers have to operate under much low signal level, almost sunk in noise flooded atmosphere.
     (d) In general, solid state amplifiers hold better position than tube amplifiers in this low signal level atmosphere, being difficult in getting high S/N ratio, and sometimes step up transformer may be applied but may deteriorate the reproduction sound despite in its simple circuit.
     (e) Under this circumstance, Mactone still produces 2 models of MC input tube phonostage and preamplifier (XP-305 and X-25 ), assuring audiophiles for the best MC sound by tubes.
(f) Tubes applied in these circuit are low noise Russian made ones.

(16) Did you ever consider solid state designs?

     (a) About 30 years ago, there was one time when almost all Japanese tube amplifier manufacturers ceased business due to difficulty in getting high qualified tubes.
     (b) Mactone was not an exception once to try to develop solid state amplifiers which, however  never satisfied me in sound at all.
     (c) Then, I decided my mind to keep production of only tube amplifiers until the time when preferable tube supply would be practically stopped and still today they continue production, not in full scale though.
(17) Why did you stay with tube only products?

      (a) Due to my firm belief the best component for sound reproduction is only from tube.

(18) What is in your opinion so special about 300b tube?
      (a) Direct heat type triode, containing no cathode which may deteriorate the sound quality and product longevity due to its material applied and external shape.
      (b) On the other hand, some drawback being no cathode, is easily affected by ham, lower efficiency, nuisance in wiring within chassis and costly.

(19) How is your 300b amplifiers differ from others?

      (a) We managed to have designed the best appropriate output transformer for 300B.
      (b) We possess tremendous know-how to overcome above mentioned (18) – (b) drawback,  which are all implemented  to Mactone 300B amplifiers.

(20) Is OTL the ultimate stage in high/end or can this be achieved with output transformers

      (a) My belief  is OTL amplifiers are by far superior to OPT tube amplifiers for much better sound, if overcoming following condition.

            (a-1) Speaker impedance require more than 6 ohm for proper matching, otherwise
amplifier output power show dramatic decline and release much higher distortion.
            (a-2) Many quantity of paralleled output tubes are required, resulting in bigger power supply and greater and meticulous labor work for assembly and adjustment

  (b) Again, in terms of sound cleanliness,  OTL provides us with definite sound stage and extended higher frequency sound from string musical instruments, which OPT could never compete against.

(21) What do you think about silver wiring and use of silver generally in tube amplifiers?

       (a) Although I never tried any silver wires, my belief is cupper wires will still do good job,
considering wires are one of many amplifiers components which have to contribute, in parallel with the circuit design direction of making low impedance.
       (b) And once, this low impedance design is attained, even economical cupper wires would work very favorably.
       (c) Naturally, there should be various design policy in each manufacturer which should be esteemed with each other.

(22) Did materials and their quality changed over the years?

       (a) Typical parts, having shown remarkable change and advance in these days, is  rectifier components(Module).

(23) What was the biggest change, that you would comment on?

      (a) Products export ratio has been increased much in these 10 years time, to around  60 %
from almost none, resulting in making change of products  nature towards overseas market. This is general trend of all Japanese tube amplifiers not only to Mactone.

(24) Where is the bridge between overusing old tube concepts and designs and implementing the contemporary solutions?

      (a) To date, tube amplifiers have got stereotype concept of reproducing  soft and Low-High (Rich base) sound but from technical point of view, there are many following superiorities in tube to solid state.
          (a-1) High speed electron movement, thanks to much higher voltage driven circuit.
     (a-2) Enjoying various reproduction timbre, in accordance with various tube selection.
     (a-3) Reduced rate in distortion of component itself.

(25) What is better in present times for high/end tube manufacturer? What are the benefits?
      (What does for example a high-end company like Mactone or tube amp designer
can benefit from current/present offering of materials, resistors,
transformers, advanced CAD technology etc.)

       (a) Now, luckily, it is almost free to get any favorable components parts in Japan.
       (b) As for various transformers, Mactone has original production line in the specialized manufacturer, having almost no complaint.

(26) What is your approach and specific to your topology?

      (a) Although having much attention on DC signal operation line in amplifiers, Mactone pays also tremendous observation that AC signal flow line (which is  the source of music signal) would not be interfered by DC current operation

(27) What does state of the art high/end audio actually means for Mactone?

      (a) For audio enthusiast, the fact that the state of art High/End gears will bring many recorded heritage of world great musical playing, back to live with attractive sound would be one of  “dreams come true” divine issue.   

(28) What do you think about balanced topology?

      (a) Mactone requires no balance transfer due to Mactone’s specific low impedance circuitry
design even under no feedback mechanism.  
      (b) In professional studios, they need long cable line transfer, but as general cable length in amateur audiophile system is around 5 meters, they do not , in general, require any  balance transfer.
      (c)  In addition, necessary modification in tube amplifiers to get balance transfer is much more complicated, costly and even deteriorates the sound, by redundant parts and circuit. due to installing specified transformer and separate amplification circuit
(d) In solid state amplifiers, they  add only one or two transistors to change to balance transfer line.

(29) What set Mactone audio design above other manufacturers?

      (a) I am not so much familiar with other maker’s view but followings are our policy.
          (a-1) Make reproduction sound as close as possible to live music.
          (a-2) No coloration in sound
          (a-3) High versatility with another components from various manufacturers in the market

(30) Where do you use pure class A is your signal chain?

       (a) Except Power Output circuit, Class A  is applied to Phono Equalizer and Preamplifiers in Mactone.

(31) What is unique about your approach to power supply design and how important it is in your opinion?

     (a) Power supply in amplifiers is “Engine” in automobile.
     (b)  AC current component of commercial power supply, might cause (By some inappropriate handling capacity or quality of applied power transformer) much impedance increase in secondary wiring against primary wiring.
     (c) If this would be the case, some such unfavorable issue might happen that getting not enough power as expected, high heat generation and reproduction sound becoming tight

     (c) Being the status, it is vitally essential for power transformer to have ample supply capacity margin and the ones by Mactone have 1.5 times margin against requirement, equipped with Z class core, assuring high magnetic efficiency.

(32) What importance do you give to the built in elements? Are they very important to the way you construct your amplifiers or is it the matter of synergy?

     (a) Component parts are vitally important and Mactone mainly target in each quality issue rather than brand name.

(33) You said that Mactone excell in reproduction of classical music. Why exactly?

       (a) Criteria of Mactone amplifiers is how they do reproduce sounds of 4 winds instrumental type classical music and big choir, in terms of whether it employs fine separation and no muddy sound.
       (b) Not only classical music, Mactone has got also high ability  to reproduce jazz and other music fields.

(34) Where do you draw the line between specification and musicality of the component?

      (a) Difficult to answer but I feel they are completely different between musicality in sound reproduction and products specification

(35) What do you think about digital audio?

       (a) Almost everything about human being is analog and although digital technique has made unprecedented progress these days, still far from perfect status and it is difficult to catch up with human sense (It might be the best and appropriate for mass production and data storage).

(36) It seems analogue refuse to die. Do you still strongly believe in analogue advantages?

      (a) In parallel with improvement of audio gears, system will pick up more information from vinyl record which should be materialized only by relevant superb analog equipments.

(37) Do you think digital reproduction will come close to analog?

      (a) These days, only small number of CD might  have been released which comes close to vinyl quality.

(38) Do you built everything in house or do you have any subcontractors?

      (a) Every product is made by Mactone themselves.

(39) Mactone amplifiers and preamplifiers holds unique aura of classical timeless design. What was and still is your inspiration when drawing a design?

       (a) One thing is every design has been made by only one engineer, resulting in providing with stable and stabilized level of products quality.
       (b) Mactone is sensitive  for demand and trend of products market field , In particular for improvement of current models,

(40) Champagne golden colour gives a unique and distinctive elegance to components. What is so special about synergy of that colour and Japanese gear?

      (a) Yes, Champagne golden color is popular among Japanese audio equipments, partly BCS some unified color coordination is expected when audiophile assemble various components from different manufacturers in their listening room.
     (b) Another thing is manufacturing process for this treatment is relatively favorable for
each manufacturer.

(41) Does form follows function with Mactone?

      (a) Functional circuit design is the first, followed by external appearance.

(42) What is, that you would say that set Mactone audio from competition?

      (a) Mactone is always in pursuit of its reproducing sound first.

(43) What is exact Mactone tunning/sound approach?

       (a) As it is rather difficult to express Mactone sound in writing, the best thing is to have people listen carefully Mactone sound.

(44) Do you ever plan to bring any source to your line?

      (a) No.

(45) Can you elaborate on special and innovative approaches that you use with in your amplifiers and preamplifiers?

      (a) We have innovated way of wiring technique in transformers and behavior of volume control attenuator in DC status.

(46) How many people are in Mactone team?

      (a)  4 people

(47) How do you see current high-end society?

      (a) As the market is rather within some limit, it might be difficult to expect vast expansion in the future.

(48) Would you say that high quality is more affordable today or you have to pay premium price for best components and sound?

      (a) As the best components manufacturers, so to speak around  the world, are in general small sized firm with much limited production capacity, people may have to pay more budget for those high quality products.

(49) Where is the bridge and line between hifi  and high for you?

  1. In a sense, Hifi might mean expensive audio gears, installing much discernible engineering technique and selected parts under small production size which is not favorable matter for general consumers.
  2. If I were common salaried personnel, it might have been impossible to access Hifi sound I am now enjoying.
(50) What would you say is the goal of Mactone audio?

      (a) Rather difficult to say at this moment.

(51) What holds for Mactone?

       (a) In order to have many customers get various occasion to listen to nice music sound, Mactone would like to develop reasonably priced tube amplifiers in the future.

(52) What is your view of vinyl?

      (a) Reflecting much less production of new vinyl record release these days and difficulty in keeping past precious vinyl stock heritage in good condition, vinyl music reproduction issue will become only small world hobby or limited number of enthusiast matter in the future.

(53) Do you think analogue master tape quality can be reproduced with Mactone amplifiers?

      (a) I confirm the best sound comes from music tape with which I have made every effort for Mactone to reproduce its originally recorded sound.
      (b) Tape reproduction system by 15”/sec speed in either 2 trucks or 4 trucks is always ready in Mactone Laboratory for our reference.
      (c) Mactone has about 150 pieces of above graded classical music tapes library.

(54) What is the difference between audiophile and music lover?

  1. Audiophile sticks to sound quality, while music lover does quality of musical play.
(55) What would you say about currently state of the art solid state devices, that use IC’s and transistors in their products?

  1. Solid state amplifiers reproduces fairly good sound quality, however the one reproduced by tube amplifiers supersedes it largely, in terms of genuine musicality.
(b) if some one makes A & B switching comparison test, this would be proved almost immediately, although dependent somehow on each listener’s preference.

(56) What is your reference when designing and testing new products?

  1. I have long term quality reference amplifier in my lab which is checked and modified somehow anytime when I noticed quality difference in the same music score on my way back after attending some live concert.
  2. This reference amplifier takes essential roll when I commence new amplifiers design.
(57) What is high end reproduction for you?

  1. I now feel much happy to have engaged in my business to get surrounded by almost similar musical atmosphere with live music hall, a dream comes true from my young ages.
(58) How would you define typical Mactone customers?

  1. Every customer, even once acquainted with Mactone products, keeps contact with us for more than 20 and 30 years.
  2. These days, we have many request to make overhaul those Mactones when next generation inherited his father’s property left, sounding more than 40 years in their home.
(59) Any last thoughts for our readers?

  1. To all “Mono & Stereo” as well as all audio and music lovers, Mactone is much serious to have you get opportunity to realize there is Mactone sound!

Matej Isak
Mono & Stereo, July 2011
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