EXCLUSIVE: MARANTZ’S KEN ISHIWATA AND HIS FORESIGHT
You've likely heard of Ken Ishiwata. One of the most famous and respected names within our audio-video industry, Ken has been a key component to the success of Marantz as the brand ambassador for over four decades.
There’s a misconception suggesting wrongly, that Ken Ishiwata simply fine-tunes selected new models after they’ve been developed.
A conception to be so far off the mark that it usually wouldn’t rate a mention in any serious audiophile publication. But for the record, we can share the fact that Ken is heavily involved in the development of many new Marantz components.
He works with a design team from the moment a new component deemed worthy of the Ishiwata imprimatur is merely a sketch on paper. He stays involved through the entire development phase and on to testing the prototypes.
Ken also has a major input on the direction Marantz takes with any new genre of audio gear well before anyone else has thought about it. An input that relies on decades upon decades of studying and being personally immersed in the global audio industry.
Ken knows his audio. He doesn’t have to second-guess trends and can spot new ones well before they arrive. A fact I had the personal pleasure of witnessing one evening during one of Ken’s trips to Australia.
In casual conversation, I asked Ken where he thought Hi-Fi and the audio-video industry was heading. The question was loaded.
I had a vested interest in the answer because of my role at the time as a technology journalist with the Herald Sun, Australia’s largest selling newspaper.
Ken is no media mug. He knew instinctively what I was after was a sound bite. He gave me much more when he said:
Audio is going through a transition phase. There’s little doubt its horizon has to be wireless streaming, downloaded music hopefully high-resolution and plenty of music service providers with affordable subscription fees.
I had no clue as to the importance or meaning of what I had just heard.
How could I, considering this conversation took place 18 years ago, well before the onset of brands such as Sonos, HEOS or Bluesound?
If someone had mentioned the words “streamer” or “media server” back then, I would have thought the former was something you waved at a parade or the footy and the latter? I hanker it would have connected a waiter at our newspaper’s annual soiree.
The point is, Ken knew what lay ahead for music and hi-fi a decade or maybe longer than most people on the periphery of the industry.
Ken’s prognosis arrived with a vengeance. Streaming and servers have now entered the lexicon of everyday language. So have words such as Bluetooth and music downloads.
During our all too brief conversation, Ken laid out a future where discs would be in retreat and downloaded music would be in the ascendency.
With this kind of experience, there’s little doubt that the Marantz range of components continues to hit its target market.
As for Ken’s design input, we can describe it as being everywhere at Marantz.
Ken’s official title of Marantz Brand Ambassador is a misnomer. To be sure Ken has flown millions of miles extolling Marantz to anyone that cares to listen and in all parts of the globe.
When he isn’t travelling Ken Ishiwata is beavering away with a new circuit here and another over there.
An attentive and avid audio news reader, Ken picked up on our recent Marantz SA-14S1 SE SACD player we reviewed so favourably recently.
The conversation that followed shows two things: Ken reads all the Hi-Fi press, and secondly, he does more, much more than fine-tune selected models.
I’ve read your review on the SA14. Thank you very much! But I wonder if you’ve had the opportunity to test the 10 series components? If you have an opportunity, please try them out. They are our new reference products.
As you know, we had the SA-7, SC-7 and MA-9 as our reference for so many years but finally we’ve managed to get new reference components.
An understatement as our unfolding conversation amply shows.
Ken explained how challenge after challenge cropped up when planning the new 10 series. He continued:
We realised early on that the amplifier had to be an integrated instead of separates such as the SC and MA models. It also had to be fully balanced from input to output.
This called for four power amplifiers much like the MAs. The MA was a mono amplifier but to drive speakers properly we had two amplifiers in BTL connected mode.
We also desired the potential new model had to have more power than the MA-9. And without question pour new baby had to carry Moving Coil and Moving magnet phono stages.
That was the amplifier. When it came to what is now the SA10 SACD player we had to bite the bullet and build our very own high-end laser mechanism because we couldn’t source one that had the quality the SA10 required.
Turning to new media compatibility it was clear the player had to have the New Generation Marantz Musical Mastering concept and that the digital filter so admired by buyers in the previous model had to be renewed and bettered.
When we looked at the new player’s compatibility with PCM, the team decided the music it converted had to be to the DSD256 standard. So we chose to go with two independent clocks for both 44.1KHz and 48KHz based PCM recordings to ensure they’d be properly converted to DSD256.
Ken emphasises these were some of the design requirements he and the design team had to straddle before the SA10 SACD player became a reality.
This conversation shows Ken Ishiwata’s mastery of all parameters of design and his foreknowledge of future audio trends and consumer preferences.
But to view Ken Ishiwata simply as a pointy-head electronics guru would be a disservice to the man.
Ken is a music lover before he’s an audiophile as this vignette gleaned from a Hi-Fi show several years ago, amply illustrates.
Ken was deep in conversation with an audiophile who was enthusiastically throwing complex technical questions his way.
I watched in awe as Ken gently steered the conversation away from abstract electronic paradigms when he asked the question:
By the way what type of music do you like to listen to?
A question that elicited a broad smile on the audiophile fan’s face as Ken continued to engage him for over half an hour, about the things that really matter when it comes to hi-fi.
This is just a small insight into the great man that has served as a pioneer in our industry for more than forty years and the genius behind the Marantz brand.
We’ve requested a review sample of the SA10 SACD player and Qualifi, Marantz’s respected Australian distributor said it would oblige in a couple of weeks.
For more information visit Marantz.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.