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Reviewer: Edward Barker
Financial Interests: click here
Turntables: Kuzma Stabi with separate power supply and Kondo Mains lead, 2 x Garrard 301, 2 x Garrard 401, Systemdek Transcription, Thorens TD320, Thorens TD160
Arms: Kondo-wired SME V, Cartridge Man Conductor, Hadcock 242 SE, Ortofon 212, Mission 774, ET2, Rega 300, Scheu 12-inch.
Cartridges: Kondo Io-M, Cartridge Man Music Maker 2 & 3, Koetsu Urushi, Madrigal MC1, Empire MC1000, Shure V15
Phono amplification: Kondo M7, Garrard Missing Link II, Gram Era Gold V
Digital: Sony DVD
Tuner: Rotel
Preamp: Kondo M77 with phono
Power amps: Kondo Gakuoh PP
Speakers: Living Voice OBX-RW
Ancillaries: Kondo KSL LP and Kondo KSL VZ interconnects; Kondo SPC speaker cable and Kondo KSL ACz power cords; Clearlight Audio NFT cabling; Silver Arrow cabling and mains leads; Audiomagic Mini Stealth conditioner, Incognito wiring on Conductor and Hadcock 242, Living Voice Mystic Matt, Boston Audio Graphite Mat, Kyrna isolators, Cartridge Man Isolators and setup tools, Dr. Feickert protractor. 2 x separate 30 amp mains wiring spurs.
Room: 16.40' x 14.75' x 11.12'
Review component retail: £48.000/pr

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The anthropologist Wade Davis tells a remarkable story over on He describes a South American tribe called the Kofan whose shamans prepare a very powerful spiritual trance drug known as Ayowaska. Personally, I pass on Happy Trippy experiences but the point is elsewhere and involves getting one's head around a touch of floral chemistry.

Ayowaska is produced by combining the fibers of a Woody Liana with another plant called Psychotria Virdes. The Woody Lianas are by themselves only mildly hallucogenic but they contain Beta-carbolines. On the other hand, Psychotria Virdes is an extremely powerful hallucogen due to a class of chemicals called Triptamenes. The downside (if you happen to be into shaman-induced hallucinations) is that Psychotria Virdes can't be taken orally because the Triptamenes become denatured in the human gut by an enzyme called (rather indigestibly) Monoaminoxidase (MAO). It can only be ingested if taken together with another chemical that denatures the MAO in the stomach. When Davis took the plants back for analysis, it turned out that the Woody Liana contained precisely the right type of Beta-carbolines which will denature the MAO and activate the triptamenes in Psychotria Virdes.

So how, Davis asked, could the Kofan have found this precise combination among the 80,000 morphologically distinct flora in their jungle? The Kofan in fact know of 17 types of Ayowaska, which they distinguish at great distance in the forest. How on earth did they establish the taxonomy of these plants, he asked them. The Kofan answered. "Don't you know anything about plants? We talk to each of them on a night with a full moon, and each plant will sing back in a different key."

The audio journey is an odd one, with a lot of hard slogging about and a few hard won 'Eureka' moments that make the struggle worthwhile. For me, the discovery of Kondo was absolutely seminal and opened a door to a new understanding and appreciation of music as a complete experience. The thing is, while I don't do drugs, I've often had the sensation of being intoxicated on music. There is also an equivalent addiction where one craves the next evening of total, full body and spirit immersion in the experience. I've often wondered why this is. At first I thought it was just me getting overly excited and impressed by living with audio kit that is normally reserved only for the gods. In other words, some kind of contact high. So I waited for the effect to wear off. But oddly, it hasn't. Then when I use other amplifiers -- and in particular solid state amplifiers -- puff, the effect disappeared. Note that the quality of sound was still good; crisp, clear, powerful. But the emotive experience was impoverished, like going from full color to black and white, from deep involvement and passion to indifference. Scientists are only beginning to study the relationship between music and human emotions. Why some audio equipment is better at expressing the emotions contained within the music itself is an even greater mystery but one that goes to the heart of what Kondo has to offer.

For most of us, the standard audiophile crave list contains qualities like big stable sound-staging, lots of depth of field, a sense of space and stereophonic imaging, height and width and depth, clarity, transparency and so forth. It's that fairly well-worn path of desirables that are discussed and read about in hifi magazines every month. These qualities are things we just have to have and spend years of research and comparison trying to achieve.

I was attracted to Kondo equipment because it was easy to hear that it did all these things very well indeed (and so it should at the price). In fact, I hadn't ever come across anything like it. But it turns out that after living with a Kondo system for coming up on two years, they have some other qualities which become far more important. It's more and more apparent that the checklist I cared about doesn't seem to matter so much anymore. Unwittingly, I've have stumbled across something far more important: Music. This may sound obvious and trite but it's worth underscoring because it is exactly what my Gakuoh journey has been about. Rather than focussing on the truly magnificent aspects of the sound per se, the Kondo amplifiers manage to take you effortlessly through the experience of listening to the deepest aspects of what the music is trying to communicate; the core thread and essence of the music - in short its expressive and human qualities. Whatever the wonder in the music is, that is where your concentration is drawn to.