You are invited to delve deeper in to the mind of Robert Koch, owner of Robert Koda, a Japanese high-end boutique audio manufacturer.
It’s been quite a while since our last interview. A lot has happened in the meantime.
Hello Matej, Indeed it has been a while. Thank you for this interview opportunity.
Can you list Robert Koda’s current product portfolio?
We have two line stage pre-amps. A MC only phono stage and the K-160 mono power amplifiers.
The Takumi K-160 replaces the original Takumi K-70. What is the difference?
K-160 retains much of K-70 fundamental DNA – Double single ended class A operation and reactor power supply. But we have learned much since K-70s introduction in 2008. The new amplifier is all together a far more developed machine that achieves by order of magnitude better specification and most importantly sound quality.
Why a solid-state approach compared to the K-70 hybrid design?
As beautiful as the tube stage was, along with it came some unavoidable colorations and ultimate limitations. This become apparent when we built the K-160s superior output stage. Since the initial design process of K-70 we have learned how best to harness transistors for gain circuitry and by implementing those ideas we were able to (finally) produce a significantly improved result. So tubes were no longer required.
The Takumi MC-ONE is your take on the ultimate vinyl reproduction. Please tell us more about the flagship Takumi MC-ONE phono equalizer preamplifier. Tell us more about your unique equalization circuit?
MC One is conceived from the initial design process to be a moving coil only pre-amplifier.
This allowed us to optimise the architecture in a way that would not otherwise typically be possible.
Then we created a brand new idea for producing the required RIAA equalisation.
The novel RIAA eq approach yields tremendous benefit, lower distortion and dramatically enhanced overload margins. This (RIAA) element of the pre-amplifier is very difficult to build because it requires a considerable set of parts to be firstly carefully matched and then further tuned in circuit, under continuous measurement. This is not the way one would normally want to build from a commercial perspective.
But we feel if one seeks state of the art, it must be done this way.
I am delighted with MC-One both from a technical standpoint and a listening perspective.
How important is it to achieve the correct RIAA value and how much this benefits the final sonic output?
Large broad band errors would have tonal consequences and any channel mismatch in curve shape will almost certainly disrupt stable imaging. But there is a point where further precision in the RIAA accuracy will not deliver added improvement.
The Takumi K-15- EX continues the success story of the original K-15. What is different about the K-15- EX?
Circuit and parts refinements – We refine along the way. This results in a finer sonic and visual composition. We also added additional elements in order to prevent the ingress of mains AC related noise. This helps to keep the ground “clean” and benefits the system as a whole.
How is it possible for you to achieve the same performance via balanced or unbalanced output?
With most equipment there are processing differences between the balanced and unbalanced outputs. There are however techniques possible that do not require process differences. Those are what we adopt.
Why the laminating copper housing?
I have always liked copper as a material. From a radio frequency and thermal point of view it is said to be second only to silver. Also when pairing copper with a thicker aluminium, extra damping is achieved. Also, I suppose its a little nostalgic, going back to Kondo days…
You still have your purely mechanical selector switch and volume control. No remote control insight?
When a system is truly well sorted the need for continual volume adjustment seems to disappear. Even when changing from one album to another on properly engineered material. Adding remote to mechanically control the input selector, and especially the massive volume switch would require significant extra space, complexity and of course digital control. In view of these consequences that would ultimately hinder potential sound quality, including RC options is not our way.
What about the Takumi K-10 preamp. Has it also been upgraded to the current circuit topology and where does it stand compared to the K-15- EX?
K-10 is now Mark II. Very similar to the original just with extra balanced inputs and outputs. Better RCA sockets, better switches in certain locations and a few other small tweaks. Sonically K-10 and Mk II are “little darlings”. Seductive, delicate and deeply engaging.
How important is it to choose the right components?
Its really important to find a pair of speakers that works for you and the room. Once you find a pair of speakers that you love and works with the environment, the rest becomes much easier – Find an amplifier that works with the speaker and with time, the rest will fall into place. Find a dealer with a solid product spread who can offer home demo time. Buy from that dealer and build a relationship so that upgrades can be arranged by a person who understands your system and needs. A good company will assist in offering good trade ins on upgrades as your system matures.
What criteria do you use to choose which parts go into your product?
Suitability, reliability and obtain-ability.
You now fully embrace the boutique artisan approach of taking things slowly. Your product reassembles the assembly and design of highly complex mechanical watches. Do you see any relation?
Well, fortunately I have never assembled a watch! But yes, I think there are definitely similarities. They both require precision and patience.
Would you say that in the current era, the luxurious appearance of upscale high-end audio products is a must?
Personally I would be very happy with something clean, utilitarian and of sufficiently durable construction. But when you look at the appointment of some of the incredible rooms these up scale products find themselves, I can fully appreciate why a luxurious appearance is desired.
What is in your view the difference between luxurious products and state-of-the-art performing high-end audio?
Well, they need not be mutually exclusive but if added luxury interferes with performance, I would view it as a sell out on true state of the art.
We see a constant drifting away from the essence of the music with many of the high-end audio gear. How is Robert Koda keeping its compass in this regard?
I am continuously on a musical diet. And the better the system is performing the more appetizing a broader range of music becomes. You could say that is our “true north”. I am always motivated to find the next level of sound quality and improving system performance.
How do you view the current uncertain times in the high-end audio industry and does this impact your business?
Most industries in the past few years have been affected by supply chain issues. Procuring the right parts for low volume, high quality products is become more of a challenge and unfortunately reduces efficiency, resulting in lost time. Prices too have risen sharply. Combine this with a strong demand and it all becomes much tougher.
What can we expect from Robert Koda in the future?
I have a wide filed of interests but it really depends on what I can excel at doing. There are plenty of excellent products and anything I might present must give significant added value in performance terms.
Any final words for our readers?
There are many paths available to putting together to a great sounding system. But they all require effort. I hope good audio systems will bring people together on a musical and emotional level, promoting health and happiness. •