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Owner: Charles Stone III (and others where noted)
Digital: Sony Playstation
PreAmp: Shindo Monbrison (mine)
Amplifier: Komuro 212E (Komuros')
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity Silverback Reference
Cables: Shindo ICs (mine) and Siltch speaker cable (John's)
Power Cables: stock
Power: Custom step-up transformers (Komuro's - these amps are for a European client @ 220v)
Listeners: Michael Lavorgna, John DeVore, Nori Komuro and friends

Thunder Clapping
"Would you like to hear my 212E?" asked Komuro.
"Yes," I replied.

I first met Nori Komuro two years ago when I interviewed him as part of a review. I was so intrigued by Komuro, I eventually wrote a brief profile on him for 6moons. We also discussed the possibility of a review and this possibility was as good an excuse as any to stay in touch.

A few months ago Komuro called - would I like to hear his 212E monoblocks? Seeing as I've never had an opportunity to hear any of Komuro's amps and the 212Es are his most rare and in many ways most outrageous amps, I leapt at the chance. I stretched. You see, Komuro explained he'd like us to hear his 212E monoblocks on some full-range speakers in a room larger than his shop. Did I have any ideas?

Time was of the essence; the 212Es' new owner was expecting delivery in Turkey. So it had to be local -- Komuro's shop is in Brooklyn -- and ready to roll. Having just come off a DeVore Fidelity Brooklyn Road Tour, I rang up John DeVore and asked him:

"Would you be interested in hearing Komuro's 212Es?"
"Sure would," John replied.

I explained to him what I just explained to you and John quickly hooked up with Charles Stone III who very graciously offered the use of his loft and Silverbacks - again.

Some brief backpedaling is in order - John and Komuro know each other from the old days of JC Morrison's New York Noise events. They actually paired up in the past with Komuro's 845 monoblocks and John's speakers. There was also another one-day session on the Silverbacks at In Living Stereo years ago with the last pair of Komuro 212E monoblocks to roll through NY on their way to foreign lands. As unluck would have it, John missed that event.

So we had very eager yesses all around. All we needed was a date from Komuro. And that day turned out to be yesterday. "You have never even heard one of my products. How do you know I am not bullshitting?" This became one of Komuro's favorite questions as we got closer and closer to our listening date. "I don't know. But I can't wait to find out," became my favorite answer.

Komuro 212E Monoblocks
The Western Electric 212E and the UK equivalent 4212E is a massive direct-heated transmitting triode. Standing over 13" tall and 3 5/8" in diameter, there's really no way to fully appreciate these stats on paper. You have to smell their power. The small input tube is a 6463 high conductance twin triode. Komuro drives the 4212Es with a pair of triode-wired KT-88s (yes, those are itsy bitsy KT-88s in the pictures) for 55 glorious single-ended triode-tribal watts. This amplifier is direct-coupled as are all of Komuro's designs. And with a plate voltage of 1500 volts, one oops can = ventricular fibrillation (death). The casual DIYer need not apply and the faint of wallet should look elsewhere. A pair of Komuro 212E monoblocks is $45,000.

Looking at the business end of the amp, there are 4, 6 and 8 ohm taps, a mute switch, power switch and a single RCA jack per side. Underneath are openings in the bottom plate for getting at and setting the fixed bias and fuses. Each monoblock weighs about 90 pounds and measures XL - extra large. For reference, Komuro calls that 212e socket a "Panda paw" and that's about the correct size. If that doesn't work for ya, those custom-wound trannies are the size of a panda's head.

The actual 4212Es in use were manufactured by STC in England. STC or Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd began life as Western Electric's

London office in 1883. In 1925 they were bought by ITT and became STC. They produced tubes under various brands; first Standard, then Micromesh (1932-1933) and finally Brimar (1934-1960). The STC 4212E tubes have a thoriated tungsten filament and inverted glass pip (nipple) which is said to improve rigidity. They come one to a very big box labeled - "not to be opened until required for use".

These amplifiers are built by hand by Nori Komuro to order. One at a time. There is no standing stock and like all good things, patience is key to a long and enjoyable life. Instant gratification will have to wait till you plug them in.

The rest of the rig
I brought along my Shindo Monbrison preamp and interconnects and we used Charles' Playstation to spin our disks. For more on the DeVore Silverbacks, I'll refer you to two Silverback reviews; Jules Coleman's and Michael Fremer's on Stereophile. The most relevant factoid here is the Silverbacks are capable of covering 21Hz to 40kHz and we planned to make full use of these full rangers. Since these amps were headed overseas, a pair of step-up transformers were used for our session to accept US wall voltage.

John DeVore on the Komuro 212Es
I asked John DeVore to pen some thoughts on our listening session and I include these in their entirety: "The first time I heard a Komuro amp was at the 1996 Stereophile show in New York. The system was the very best I had heard in my ten years in the industry, and it forced me to reevaluate many facts I thought I understood about reproduced music. I got my first chance to hear a Komuro amp on my speakers at the New York Noise show in 2001. The venue was huge and crowded but the sound had an effortless quality, filling the space with clear, coherent music without a trace of strain. Over the next couple of years I got to hear a few other Komuro designs on my speakers at In Living Stereo where they sold the amps. Always I came away with that same impression of striking lucidity and effortlessness.

"When the chance to hear his monstrous 212E amps on Silverbacks came up, I jumped on it. I love visiting my designs in different customers' systems -- hearing the same speakers with vastly different gear/music/ rooms -- it's one of the best parts of my job. This though was a rare opportunity. One mark of a great designer is identifiability. By this I mean the artist's hand is apparent in the work. I don't mean seeing Chuck Close's fingerprint in one of his portraits, rather it's knowing a Matisse when you see it because it just looks like a Matisse. Or a Kubrick movie or a Beethoven symphony or an Apple anything.

"There are a tiny few audio designers who make this list - whose designs are instantly recognizable regardless of the components or circuit topology used. Komuro is one of them. I've heard his amps with different tubes, single-ended and push-pull, and they all had that same quality. The designer's hand was audible. The 212E amps were no different. The clarity, the sense of quickness and ease and that sheer effortless quality was there, though all in larger measure than I had ever experienced. These are single-ended amps that make all but a handful of other amps sound slow and opaque by comparison, tube, transistor, whatever. In addition, I don't think I've heard another amp sound as powerful on the Silverback References. They were getting tossed around like mini monitors while reproducing delicate, finely-nuanced low 20's musical information. Stunning. Thanks Michael and Komuro for inviting me to hear these amps."

No Bull
"His design goals are always clean, clear, wide-band, low dynamic distortion, direct-coupled, stable, durable, and oh yeah, did I mention clean and clear? Totally unflappable. Not wet, not dry, not warm, not cool, not big or small, not front or back ... like clean, clear, running water!" - Herb Reichert

Since Herb Reichert said it better than I could, I'll quote some more: " a spring-fed stream flowing past your house. You can see the colors of rainbow trout swimming between the rocks, all the way from your picture window."

Listening to the Komuro 212E was one of the most natural musical experiences I've had. I'm talking the full-nature swing, from intimate to vast. From gentle to powerful, from silence to uproar. And like a wave that will toss you around if you happen to be in its wavy way, music played through the Silverbacks driven by the Komuro 212E will knock you on your ass if you're not paying attention. It can startle and it can delight with scale as vast as music and dynamics as dynamic as music. Big, bold and powerful. Delicate, delightful and nuanced. Large and small, quiet and loud. Just like music.

In terms of striking things, once I got over the thunderous dynamic range, immense scale and lightening speed of these amps, I found I was completely immersed in the music. A few hours into the listening experience, Herb's picture window turned to water from where I sat and I dove into the musical experience and could have swam around till audiophile voices wake us and we drown (apologies to Mr. Eliot).

If you start to audiophile -- start to dissect and stick those all-knowing overly used post-its of audiophile wisdom over the experience -- you may just miss the music. You may just miss the music because you've become an expert. An expert hifi listener. Hear that driver? Hear that port? Hear that crossover? That cap? I can't take the surface noise. I can't take the edge and glare. Direct drive is superior. I can hear the rumble. Wow and flutter. Is that driver paper? Metal? Beryllium? Has to be first-order. Third. You need a super tweeter. Dual sub woofers. Has to go to 30Hz at least. 20Hz. Mosfets rule. 45s are best. 845s are best. Has to be class A. Has to be push pull. Parallel single-ended is best. Has to be silver in those trannies. Copper is best. Shielded. Unshielded. Twisted. Solid core. Air core. Upsampling, oversampling, filterless.

I know - let's have a shootout and see what blows what away. When you have a shootout, something has to get blown. Away. Doesn't it? As Eddie Izzard said: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people, and monkeys do too (if they have a gun)."

If you know how to listen to music on a hifi; better yet if you know how to enjoy listening to music on a hifi... then you would have loved listening to the Komuro 212Es. I know I did. They are like water when you're parched. Crystal. Clear. Deep. Better yet they are like an ocean and you are in it. Only the waves are music (you are still you) and it's moving you here and there, tossing you around, splashing in your face, going up your nose. Go ahead swallow a little. Go under. It won't hurt. It's fun. It's exhilarating because you are not in control. Above all else, it makes you feel alive.

I noticed Komuro commented very little throughout the evening. He mainly stood behind the sweet spot with a very tranquil look on his face. Satisfied. The one word I do recall hearing a few times was "beautiful". Beauty in a voice or an instrument and the beauty inherent in the experience of listening to music. On a hifi.

Two days before our 212E listening session, a tornado whipped through Brooklyn and our house got struck by lightning. There weren't any burn marks, no fire, no smoke, just a hole. A void where there used to be shingles and plywood. A loud crack caused a crack that let the rain in. Nature. There's power and then there's power. It can be awe-inspiring.

Harnessing energy in the service of music. A noble cause. For some, for most, having a hand in a circuit that can end it all isn't their idea of a good time. For Komuro, it seems natural. A humble man playing with primary forces. Ripping holes in houses one minute, bringing Mozart into your home the next.

As the night wore on and I realized this would more than likely be the last time I'd see and hear a Komuro 212E, I reached for more music. My only regret was I didn't have more. And just like that lightening bolt that tore a hole through our roof and let the water in, the Komuro 212E tore another hole in my already shoddy audiophile tent to let the music in. Unvarnished, raw and inspiring. Powerful. Delicate. Beautiful. Music.

"So now you know I wasn't bullshitting". Komuro laughed as he said this, packing up.
"Yes," I replied.
And I'm still working on getting that review.

A special thanks to Charles Stone for letting us enjoy his apartment and gear again, another to John DeVore for making this happen and to Komuro for being Komuro.

Komuro Audio Labs can be reached at (718) 389-6389