RMAF 2015: The sound and smell of “Real Sound” from SPEC Corp. Japan

The quiet Japanese man’s name was Shuzou Ishimi.

We had been drinking Brooklyn Gin Saturday night at RMAF that John DeVore had been generously pouring for myself, Ishimi-san and several other invitees including John Darko, Michael Lavorgna and David and Carol Clark as we chilled in Jonathan Halpern’s Tone Imports room before dinner.

Ishimi-san turned to me very seriously and locked his eyes on mine as he peeled back the plastic seal on the LP outer sleeve that contained the SPEC Analog Disc Sheet.

I've got this for review, look for my thoughts on it in the coming weeks.
The AP-UD1 turntable mat ($350 USD). I’ve got this for review, look for my thoughts on it in the coming weeks.

He withdrew the lacquer-encased aluminum turntable mat from within and I got a strong, very pleasant whiff of it as he held the greyish-black LP-sized disc up to his nose, breathing deeply, his eyes never leaving mine; “That’s the smell of Real Sound” he said and tossed his head back, belting out a huge, raucous laugh.

I laughed too, but got introspective for a second in my head. For not only was Ishimi-san being funny, but in a very real way he had touched on what happened to me with SPEC gear… I had gotten a sonic whiff of what their integrated amp, phono stage and turntable were capable of delivering – especially when paired with speakers like DeVore’s production Gibbon X, (which both DeVore and friend Mike Smith said were roughly 80% different than Gibbon Xs shown at any previous hi-fi show, and which I interview John DeVore about HERE) and I wanted more of it.

SPEC GMP-8000EX turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and TSD-15 MC Stereo cartridge
SPEC GMP-8000EX turntable with EMT 997 tonearm and TSD-15 MC Stereo cartridge and massive 14 KG (31 lbs) gunmetal platter

Ishimi-san is part of SPEC Corp. out of Tokyo, Japan and along with Mr. Shirokazu Yazaki, who is the chief designer/engineer, and several others, was in Denver to debut several SPEC products. The GMP-8000EX turntable ($25,000 USD paired with an EMT 997 tonearm) and the SPEC REQ-1EX MM/MC phono pre-amp with separate power supply ($11,500 USD).

SPEC Phono stage
SPEC REQ-1EX MM/MC phono pre-amp (left) with separate power supply

The go-juice was being supplied by the 60-watt SPEC RSA-M3EX integrated amplifier ($9,500) and a pair of SPEC RPA-W7EX power amplifiers ($5,995 USD each) which is 50 watts in stereo, or a 100-watt monoblock pair was on display, but not in the mix. Everything was riding on a gorgeous Box Furniture Co. stand.

SPEC- 60-watt RSA-M3EX integrated amplifier
60-watt RSA-M3EX integrated amplifier
RPA-W7EX power amplifiers
RPA-W7EX power amplifiers

I first heard of SPEC through Jeff Day’s wonderful blog, the aptly titled Jeff’s Place. There, Day has gone into immense detail about SPEC’s pursuit of what they term “Real Sound” (he’s had the SPEC amps, and other components in his system) and has had many “Capacitor and Cable Adventures” with the wonderful, charming and immensely talented Yazaki-san over the last several months, please check out his coverage!

SPEC's Yazaki-san and Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports.
SPEC’s Yazaki-san (left) and Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, who distributes SPEC in North America.

Those who have read some of my previous reviews may remember that I don’t have a lot of love in my heart for the sound of anything to do with Class-D amplification – there have been been very few exceptions (Devialet is one example – Class-D slaved to Class-A) – I’m a pure Class-A, SET or push-pull tube-lover to my core, and in my experience, and to my ears, there is very little that ever threatens to wrest hot EL34s or 300Bs from my bosom. Over the years a few solid state amps have wriggled into my pocket to stay warm (the amps of Nelson Pass, Dan D’Agostino, and Boulder are a few who jump to front of mind) But the RSA-M3EX integrated is going to be another Class-D exception, because the sound this hand-built amp pumps out is something special indeed.


The room’s set-up consisted of an EMT TSD-15 conical-stylus MC cart and EMT 997 tonearm anchored to the massive, gunmetal plattered, wood-plinthed SPEC 8000EX turntable feeding into an Auditorium 23 Hommage step-up transformer routed through the SPEC phono pre-amp and integrated with A23 wiring out to the DeVore Gibbon Xs.

The Auditorium 23 Hommage SUT is the stuff of legend
The Auditorium 23 Hommage SUT is the stuff of legend

The sound this system put out was organic, natural and inviting. It impressed not only with it’s visceral, muscular approach to placing instruments firmly on the sound stage, but also with its subtle interplay and handling of acoustic instruments’ timbre, tone and microdynamics. Bass was expansive, and plumbed the depths without ever giving up tautness or shape, and the 60-watt RSA-M3EX integrated had the Gibbon Xs pressurizing the room with ease. The sound stage was incredibly deep and holographic with dense musical passages from a variety of avant-garde pressings that DeVore was spinning handled nimbly. There was never any congestion that I could sense, and the key for me was how bloody musical everything sounded. No matter if it was jazz or electronica, the system communicated the emotional thread sewn through every song played.

Swiss motor and thread drive 8000EX turntable
Swiss motor and thread drive 8000EX turntable

In talking with both Ishimi-san and Yazaki-san, it was apparent that a love for music was what drove these men, and the other people involved with SPEC to build the gear they do. These are people on a mission to bring “Real Sound” to anyone who isn’t afraid to take that deep breath in and smell the sonic lacquer.

I strongly suggest you do.

SPEC is represented in North America by Jonathan Halpern at Tone Imports. For more information contact Jonathan at 646-425-7800 or jhalpern@mac.com.

– Rafe Arnott

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream


  1. Hi Rafe,

    I’d like a taste of “Real Sound” and thought I might try their turntable mat. It would be placed on a PTP Solid9 table (modernized Lenco) and I’m currently using a thick-ish graphite mat. Do you have any early results to report from your listening sessions/review? Do you think it will be a good fit on my table? Thanks for any insight you can share!


    • Hi Greg,
      Sorry for the late reply.
      I’ve only been able to test the Spec mat on one table so far, but the results were very impressive indeed. It definitely bested my A23 Standard Mat, and I’ll be trying it against the A23 Hommage Mat as well.
      Without getting into too many details, I can’t see how anyone would be disappointed with the Spec Mat. It’s really that good.

  2. “Over the years a few solid state amps have wriggled into my pocket to stay warm (the amps of Nelson Pass, Dan D’Agostino, and Boulder are a few who jump to front of mind).” Really? What about the Rega Brio that you used to own and rave about?

    • The Rega Brio-R is a fantastic entry-level amplifier. It’s still the No. 1 budget integrated I’d recommend for someone just getting into hi-fi who doesn’t have a lot of scratch (for those on a super tight budget, the NAD 3020 is a joy). The SPEC, Boulder, Nelson Pass etc. is in a completely different league though. I also love integrated amps from Sugden and Sonneteer, but listing them in context to the SPEC gear doesn’t work.

    • Indeed. The fit and finish of all the SPEC gear is top-notch, and you really have to see the turntable in person to appreciate its size and beauty. It’s a work of art.

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