The man who made audio sound better

Published: Oct 23, 2013, 08:34 IST | Hassan M Kamal |

Ken Ishiwata is synonymous with high quality audio equipments just like Michael Schumacher is with Formula One. Hassan M Kamal caught up with the Japanese audio engineer who has been the main person behind the revival of the American brand Marantz, which still remains a frontrunner in audio technology

Dressed in a translucent black tee and black jeans, with a few long strands of hair protruding out of the back of his head and carefully resting on his shoulder, Ken Ishiwata in his stylised glasses, reminds you of the 1970s when music was on the verge of becoming a religion. He wasn’t part of a music band, nor was he at the forefront of writing songs; he was one of the audio engineers at Marantz, an American company, known for producing Hi-Fi audio equipment.

Marantz and audio: The American company founded by Saul Marantz in the 1950s, revolutionised the way people heard music with the Consolette, an LP player that offered clear, clutter-free music. The company celebrated its 60th anniversary, recently with an consolette that could play the best quality sound over air.

Recently, Ishiwata was in Mumbai for the What Hi-Fi Show. He joined Marantz at the fag-end of the ’70s, when audio industry was moving from analogue to digital medium.

The analogue digital divide
“Initially, people didn’t like digital sound; they found it too harsh,” recalls Ishiwata. The problem, he says, was in the method of conversion. “Most of the analogue-to-digital conversions happened in the 1970s, but recording engineers at that time were unable to tap the rounding effect, which made analogue sound soft,” he explains.

It’s the time when people like Ishiwata became important. They toyed with audio equipments to improve the sound. His biggest contribution was in the 1990s, when he created the CD player, CD63mkII KI Signature. It went on to sell nearly 3,00,000 units worldwide.

What is better: analogue or digital
For Ishiwata, the format doesn’t matter, as long as it is good music. But then you can’t listen to digital sound, he jokes, adding, “One way or the other, you have to come to analogue. It is more balanced, but storing audio in analogue, without losing its quality is impossible,” he reasons. However, he says the audio industry is moving towards high-quality digital audio file systems like the Direct Stream Digital files, which are used to create super audio CDs (SACDS). “DSD provides clear, noise free high-resolution music. This is the best quality of music you can get,” he says, adding, “In fact, nowadays you can download DSD files directly for download as well.”

Why the shift to analogue
The analogue medium has been seeing a revival, because they are balanced, whereas sounds in digital format have to constantly balance between the high and low sounds. “It’s why today, sound engineers are so important. In fact, they are making musicians sound good,” he summarises.

What’s DSD?
Direct Stream Digital is an uncompressed audio file system that offers high-quality and clutter-free music. DSD has been gaining popularity among audio-philes across the world. 

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