Audiophile insights from The Land of the Rising Sun

Award-winning Japanese high-end audio craftsman and manufacturer, Shinobu Karaki, and his insights into Amphion, Aurorasound, and the Japanese audiophile market.

Yokohama, a major shipping hub and the second-largest city in Japan, and located just south of Tokyo, is the operations base of audio-manufacturing company Aurorasound, driven by Founder and President – Shinobu Karaki. Established in 2010, Aurorasound has gained international respect and multiple awards for its amplifiers and audio products. Some years ago, as Amphion sought the “right” local distributor for Japan, Shinobu offered his insights and guidance to help us break into this extremely competitive and brand-saturated marketplace – home to an estimated eight-million audiophiles, from entry-level to music connoisseur to hard-core audio gear consumer. We spoke with him on his audio-technologies background; his approach to the market; integration of Amphion in audio tradeshows; and his own product attributes.

After graduating from an Osaka university and a Yokohama polytechnic with qualifications in both electronic engineering and business, Shinobu spent the next 25 years of his life working for Texas Instruments (Japan) mainly in the development and marketing segments of Consumer LSI Digital A/V. Following his dream, he then opened his own business in 2010 where it has seen exponential growth and successes. Though his formal education is in electronics and commerce, his own audiophile roots stem from his teen years when he formally studied classical guitar, and his own love of Blues, R&B, Jazz, and US Rock genres. Even today, he will regularly gig at a local live bar with gifted jazz musicians. “We at Aurorasound are now focused on vinyl disk analog audio. We have three types of unique phono-stage amplifiers and tube power-amplifiers in our product line, selling throughout Japan as well as to 12 overseas countries”, says Shinobu.

The Japanese audiophile market is very large, and the customers are very demanding of product quality, performance, and service – an amplified level of expectation as compared to many other countries. Aurorasound connects this market through the standard models of tradeshows, magazine reviews, and word-of-mouth, and Amphion has partnered with them on so many occasions. “We participate at the seasonal Analog Audio Fairs and Tube Amplifier Shows in Tokyo, and also at private events at local audio stores throughout Japan. In addition, I attend and display at the Munich HiFi Shows, Hong Kong HiFi Show, and various USA shows such as the Las Vegas and Rocky Mountain HiFi shows. But these events are closed unfortunately during pandemic times, so I am releasing short videos on YouTube”, Shinobu explains. “And at these shows, people notice that Amphion speaker’s sound is so natural. And they are also beautiful looking, which is quite an important factor at a demo. For me, I have no ear-stress after long-time listening” he adds.

The Japanese marketplace has 8 regional trading HUBS | Key Cities – KANTO | Tokyo/Yokohama; KANSAI | Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto; CHUBU | Nagoya; KYUSHU | Fukuoka; CHUGOKU | Hiroshima; HOKKAIDO | Sapporo; SHIKOKU | Matsuyama; TOHOKU | Sendai – at which Shinobu will aim to travel to and demo at throughout a normal year. The Japanese audiophile is a voracious reader, and with c.40 Music/Audio magazines publishing monthly or quarterly with circulations between 50,000 ~ 150,000 – a third of those being consumer/audiophile publications – you will find Aurorasound reviews and awards appearing regularly in many of them.

Amphion asked Shinobu for his preferred demo-recordings ie. what best shows the merits of Amphion as well as his own product line at audiophile shows and his choice of playing formats – vinyl recordings or streaming or other sound sources (CD, SACD etc). “All of my demo tracks are vinyl disks, as is the core nature of my business and my personal listening preference. Here are some of my demo-choices”:

Blow Up (1973) Isao Suzuki Trio | TBM-2515 | Three Blind Mice | Engineer: Yoshihiko Kannari.
Amazingly vivid vinyl jazz sound, no limiter in recording, super-real and large dynamics. I played this disk at the Las Vegas HiFi Show some years back which drew in and surprised many people

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (1959) Harry Belafonte | LOC 6006 | RCA | Engineer: Bob Simpson.
This is a very-high fidelity live recording and an analogue vinyl disk. The complete live concert is a double-vinyl collection in a Pop/Calypso genre and style.

Wood (2001) Brian Bromberg | KICJ 414 | Seven Seas/King Records | Engineer: Tom McCauley.
Love Scenes (1997) Diana Krall | IMP-235 | Verve | Engineers: Koji Egawa & Lawrence Manchester.
These two contemporary jazz disks demonstrate why I feel a vinyl disk is superior to CD playback.

Asked for Aurorasound’s points-of-difference, target market, and which of Amphion products he sees great synergy, Shinobu replied accordingly. “I am always thinking about producing ‘product uniqueness’ – a true one-of-a-kind. Audio engineering has a long history and still innovations continue. We try to combine old-style classic engineering and blend it with up-to-date high technologies to capture this uniqueness. Our VIDA, phono-stage amplifier is one of example. This is an LCR type using a very old approach for RIAA equalizing by using modern technologies. Our tube power-amplifier PADA-300B is also old | new combination, incorporating semiconductor technologies, an interstage transformer and tubes for capturing both sets of advantages. The PADA-300B can easily drive both the Krypton3 and Argon7LS well.” Aurorasound’s reputation for acute attention to detail, traditional Japanese engineering excellence, and meticulous testing and quality-control are attributes that Amphion is very impressed with, and another set of reasons why we are pleased with our close association with this company.

For more information about Aurorasound
For more information about PADA-300B
For more information about Japan’s HiFi Distributor Wefield
For information about Amphion Krypton3
For information about Amphion Argon7LS