Skip to main content

DIY Audio and Music in Tokyo

My fascination with Japanese culture was sparked by my passion for DIY Audio. As my hobbies expanded to photography and restoring an Austin Mini, I realized that my pursuits run parallel with many Japanese aficionados. As soon as we landed in Tokyo, I searched for bookstores to browse the latest magazine issues related to these interests.

I've written about my collection of Japanese audio magazines and books which I used to order from Kinokuniya Books in NYC. 


I found the Kinokuniya main store in Shinjuku. But my enthusiasm was dampened when I found the selection of vintage and tube related audio magazines was rather sparse. However, I soon discovered that the audio department of... 

...BIC Camera
and...

...Yodobashi Camera stock the latest, as well as more recent issues, of Stereo Sound Tube Kingdom, MJ and other Tube DIY-related publications.


Magazines and books are not light, so I had to choose carefully to comply with baggage allowance limits ;)


Akihabara

A trip to Tokyo for an audio DIY enthusiast is not complete without an Akihabara pilgrimage ;)


Furnished with valuable tips from audio buddies familiar with the area, first stop was Tokyo Radio Department Store.


I headed down to the basement and was greeted by this sight.


But I quickly turned left when I noticed this sign in real life. After more than twenty years of trying to decipher Noguchi Transformer Ads in MJ, I found myself at their store.


It was sad not to see traces of Tango/ISO which ceased operations in mid-2013. There were some Hashimoto and Tamura transformers but not the complete line. 


 I came here mainly for their house brand Noguchi Power Max iron, of which they had plenty in stock. The owner seems to comprehend but didn't speak much English. I knew what SE OPTs I was looking for and that kinda broke the ice. Still, I couldn't engage him in a conversation to get an idea on the local state of DIY/Tube audio.


SE 10 amp with Noguchi Power Max iron + more amps


Diatone PM610 reissue, Fostex, JBL, etc.


SE friendly Lowther +...


...Altec 604-8G(?) in an Onken box

I forgot to take a picture, but at the opposite end of the basement is a chassis store that can CNC project cases and enclosures to customer requirements.

Let's go up two and three flights...

TIP: prices are a bit cheaper as you go higher in the building, cheaper rent perhaps? ;)

Parts galore


The custom here is, get yourself a tray and pick all the parts you need.


Then the shopkeeper will tally up your purchase. Neat!

Vacuum Tubes


To someone used to tube pricing from 10 years ago at US Hamfests and Radio Shows, prices here were a bit steep ;)


One Stop Shop
Just about anything one needs to build a tube preamp or amplifier can be acquired at Tokyo Radio Department Store.

Japanese culture is very reserved. They are a very quiet people who minimize talking and maximize working - an ethic I truly admire. As long as you know what you need you'll enjoy shopping in spite of the language barrier.

The Shopping Bag


All within baggage allowance limit - just about ;0

Here's a pair of Noguchi PMF10WS and PMF15WS - roughly the equivalent of the entry-level Tango U808 and Hashimoto HC-203U + a pocket Sanwa DVM. I also got some Alps Blue Velvet 250K and other carbon track pots of different values + miscellaneous parts hard to source in Manila.



Across the street and right under the tracks of the Chuo-dori line is Akihabara Radio Center.

This place is even closer to the JR train station in Akihabara. It has lots of test equipment, electronic parts, tubes, etc. Pricing is similar to Tokyo Radio Department Store but more old school in atmosphere. I saw a stall that had transformers marked Toei which I've seen in vintage Japanese OEM tube equipment sold in the USA in the 50s and 60s. The second floor is a flea market of sorts where items are stored inside glass display cases, each leased by a different vendor. Buyers call on shopkeepers to look at items. I saw vintage speakers, audio equipment, well-made DIY amp projects and even vintage timepieces and cameras. Unfortunately, taking pictures in this building was not encouraged :(

A couple of blocks down and around the corner from Akihabara Radio Center is Kouizumi-Musen or Kouizumi Radio.

Kouizumi-Musen


This store is well stocked with brand new raw drivers, horn and compression drivers, tweeters, crossover components from Fostex and other Japanese makers. They also carry Jensen reissues and Altec drivers, replacement cones and diaphragms from Great Plains Audio.

Speaker kits and cabinets

Tube amp kits and newly manufactured tubes, presumably from China

I was hoping to find a bonsai Altec Voice of the Theater kit which I used to see in MJ and Stereo Sound Ads ;(


LPs in Ochanomizu


Disk Union is a large chain store selling new and used LPs, CDs and other audio software.


They even had a shelf filled with old issues of Japanese audio and jazz magazines.





I picked up a few mono Jazz LPs, mostly Japanese pressings for $2-$4/each.



Due to time constraints, I didn't get a chance to see shops filled with Western Electric, Altec, JBL gear. But while strolling the mid century modern furniture shops in Meguro-dori, I saw this Garrard 401 with an SME 3009 + an interesting tonearm I've never encountered before. I also missed the experience of a Live Jazz bar or a Jazz Kissaten. Definitely next time!


Concerts

The main highlight of our visit to Tokyo were two concerts.


An evening of chamber music at the National Arts Center Tokyo.



Four very fine young and accomplished Japanese musicians along with Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, violist and music director/conductor of Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, treated the audience to an exquisite performance of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op.18 and String Quintet in C major, Op. 29.


Suntory Hall

Itzhak Perlman and Rohan de Silva gave a remarkable recital at Suntory Hall which was the conclusion of their Asian Tour to celebrate Perlman's 70th year.


At the Suntory Hall lobby with friends after Perlman's concert


The day after, I had a great time catching up and reminiscing about our student days at Juilliard with Rohan over dinner ;) 


Finally, this trip would not have been as memorable if my ever supportive muse wasn't by my side ;)

!!!Happy Holidays!!! 


Comments

  1. Cool pics, Joe, reminds me of all the time I spent in Akihabara in the 1970s. Despite all the years, that's some of the same kind of stuff in the same places. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks John! I just speculate that in the near future these surplus caps, resistors and other nice bits for DIY will dry up too ;(

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Altec 2-way horn system redux

Truth be told, I was never fully satisfied with the performance of the Altec 2-way which is why I never uploaded the old article in the Arkiv.
Let's recap how the 2-way horn system evolved...


The project was conceived in mid 1998 because I needed a monitor system that was more efficient than the OB/755 so I could listen to SE amps with 2 watts output and below.
I commissioned my cabinet maker neighbor to build 614 bass reflex cabinets and loaded them with Altec 419A 12" drivers + 811 horns (early version/heavy sand cast) and 804A compression drivers gathered from hamfests and radio shows. Crossover was a textbook 1st order/6dB/octave hinged at 900 hz and the horn padded down to match the sensitivity of the low frequency driver.

Eventually I acquired proper 12" woofers - Altec 414As, which lack the upper midrange nasties of the 419As. The 414As have great midrange quality even if they lack the bass end of their larger 416/515 brethren.

802D compression drivers replaced t…

2017 Update: Hi-Fi Room

One year progress report

Stereo
Garrard 301 + Ortofon RMG 309/SPU GME or SME 3012 + Denon DL103 Altec 4722 MC step-up
Digital line level sources processed  through UTC A20 transformers

JEL Stereo Preamp DX
JEL Stereo SE2A3 DX amp with Tango NY15S OPTs
Altec 2-way Altec 414As in 3.5 cf bass reflex enclosures + Altec 32A horns with 802D compression drivers
or
Mono Neat P58H 4 speed idler turntable + Velvet Touch viscous damped tonearm with Denon DL102 or GE RPX cartridges

je2a3 mono integrated amp

Stereo > Mono Line Level Mixer

Mixing line level stereophonic signals into full dimensional monophonic ;)
Here's a DIY project for mono aficionados that's so basic, I should have uploaded it many years ago. But other things got in the way.

Just like an MC step-up, these are entirely passive devices. 

The simplest way to convert stereo to mono is to connect left and right channels via a Y connector. But there's a more elegant way than just shorting two channels.

Resistors can blend two signals into one better by...

...using Allen-Bradley carbon composition for warmer sound ;)
We can end the mixing quest here but...

...the most elegant way of mixing two channels as was done in the studios by audio pros of yesteryears was through transformers.


This single UTC A-20 transformer was in a box lot of tubes and parts I picked up at a radio show. It's a high quality transformer designed for mic, mixer or line matching applications. Instead of trying to find a mate for MC step-up duty, I repurposed it for a g…