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But first more from Stig Bjorge, co-owner in charge of international distribution at Kiso Acoustic loudspeakers and sole owner of Lyra. "Toru Hara's main business is as owner of a local public-works construction company. One of the top audiophiles in Japan, he owns very large loudspeakers like a 7-way system based on a JBL Olympos unit with separate power amps and electronic crossovers. He also uses a whole battery of preamps and 'electric brakes' on those. It's really one huge system. His second system is built around Wilson Audio X-1 Grand Slams with FM Acoustics' top-line monoblocks.

"He also has a 3rd and 4th system including Western Electric kit from the '30s and '40s. He has multiple analog playback systems including a huge Technics studio turntable never put in production; an Audiocraft player modified by Matsudaira, designer of Audiocraft and My Sonic Labs, Eminent etc. Hara-san also is knowledgeable about the recording arts. He owns professional Nagra, Studer, B&K equipment and knows how to use it well. The HB-1 of course traces back to Onkyo's Takamine collaboration with their D-TK10 monitor. Hara-san lives not far from the Takamine factory and is friendly with Onkyo. We ended up forming a legal agreement with Takamine and Onkyo that allows us to use certain of their patents and create the HB-1.

"Without this preexisting Takamine/Onkyo collaboration, the Kiso would not exist. The D-TK10 is great for its price and a breakthrough product. An instrument maker like Takamine of course makes everything from the cheapest guitars for children or beginners up to concert-level customized complex instruments for stage artists. The Onkyo speaker is made to an affordable price and produced on a regular assembly line. The construction is a wrap-around with no separate front baffle and the low-cost crossover sits in the main cavity. They also use laminated tone wood and particle board/MDF for aspects of the construction.

Testing €14.000 monitors on the desktop with Emillé Audio's 22wpc Ara valve integrated - neither the recommended
far-field setup nor the proper height but it's not every day one gets to experiment with an über mini in the work zone...

"Hara-san found the D-TK10 promising nonetheless and suggested to Onkyo that they make an all-out effort to maximize this particular concept and technology. Onkyo declined however. They are a larger corporation. An overly expensive product like this does not fit their image, marketing and sales concept. Hara-san then discussed a three-way agreement between himself (Kiso Acoustic), Onkyo and Takamine. He wanted to make an ultimate speaker based on a similar concept. The express understanding was that the final price ratio could end up at 1:10. The HB-1 may look similar but is constructed very differently. The main enclosure runs only solid steam-bent tone wood and no laminates. In the Mahogany version you have for review the main cabinet top, rear and sides are solid Mahogany. The front is Rosewood. Only the black-painted pedestal housing the crossover and flared constant cross-section bass reflex port funneled into an internal chimney is made from laminated Maple. So our design employs three different principal woods.

"The crossover is completely separate from the main cabinet. Other versions of the speaker are made from solid Figured Maple or highest-grade Hawaiian Koa. Just as with guitars, the difficulty of crafting rises with the use of exotic materials while raw material cost increase steeply. Thus Figured Maple costs 25% more, Hawaiian Koa 50% more than the Mahogany version. I know that Thomas supplied you with the Acoustic Revive stand. Although used during development, we have now developed a superior stand called the Podium which serves as a better foundation for the speaker [left and right].

"Later our Spanish distributor Cliff Orman of Cosmos HiFi developed a stand that in many ways sounds even better. It's all a function of a purposefully vibrating speaker cabinet very much interacting with the stand it sits on. I thus think you ought to audition the speaker with the various support options. The most important thing is that the HB-1 must be used with the 4 pieces of included gel pads, one at each corner between speaker and stand (or whatever surface you put it on). This is absolutely essential for the performance.
April Music's 50wpc Aura Premier for transistor drive before the Kiso ended up in the upstairs TV system
for break-in on Burson Audio's 160 Series class A/B transistor amp.

"Next use a very powerful amplifier. You can actually play the HB-1 with a wide variety of amps but the point will be to find one that can really get a grip on that woofer cone. Feel free to play upright bass and even organ music. You will be surprised how well it can work. Obviously it is not about bass quantity. In terms of quality however we don't think it loses to anyone. Recently I played it in front of my large JBL 4333A studio monitors. An experienced listener who came to visit listened for a long time and then asked how I got my JBL speakers to sound so fantastic. When told that it were the little guys sitting in front his jaw dropped. Hara-san does the same with the HB-1 positioned in front and slightly to the side of his Wilson Audio X-1 Grand Slam. Most people believe they are hearing the large speakers.

"An obviously sensitive issue is pricing as each distributor controls their own local markets. In Japan the sell price without stands is typically ¥1.365.000/pr while foreign markets tend to be ca. 20%-30% higher. Much depends on the exchange rates and how fast fluctuations are compensated for.

"Now to the drivers and filter network. The tweeter is based on a 16mm Fostex horn unit where we discard all plastic bits including the plastic horn itself. There is a lot of measuring, hearing, selecting and discarding involved. We can actually use only about 40%-45% of all tweeters we purchase. The rest gets rejected.

"Takamine machines the new Ebony horn which gets integrated into the front baffle. We further polish and refinish the Fostex phase plug to achieve a far smoother response in combination with our Ebony horn and their driver. The woofer is an unmodified 4-inch/10cm Peerless unit again with a fair amount of discarded drive units involved. The crossover frequency sits at 5kHz with a 12dB/octave filter. There is a parallel correction network on the tweeter leg. All crossover components are sourced from Mundorf of Germany. Even within the Mundorf range certain parts were selected especially for obtaining the particular sound characteristics we were after. The internal wiring is sourced from another German company. It is a 7-strand Litz wire, a pain to work with as it's very stiff and hard to remove the enamel but again we preferred the sound it provides. The speaker terminals are custom made for the HB-1 and Rhodium plated. Protective/decorative wood covers are available as an option. Aside from the extremely many steps in the selection and matching process, each set of speakers gets a full week of break-in before it has to pass another round of listening tests with Toru Hara and Takahiro Doi, the latter from the Takamine staff in charge of assembling the speakers. Speakers that fail the final listening tests are disassembled and equipped with another matched pair of tweeters and the circle of assembly, break-in and listening is repeated until all paired speakers pass."