Haniwa Audio isn’t for everyone. Even Tetsuo Kubo, the man behind Haniwa, remarked to me that many people at FLAX 2020 “don’t like the sound!” One very well-known reviewer, and I mean well-known, complained that the Full Range Clear Focus speakers ($25,000/pair including the Digital Phase Control System Amplifier) were “barely full-range.” That almost sounds okay, as if he was really saying these diminutive speakers don’t quite reach 20 Hz, but I don’t think that’s what he meant.
I first noticed the unorthodox sound as I was walking down the hallway toward the Haniwa Audio room. I heard John Cougar’s American Fool in the corridor, and it didn’t sound quite right. As I passed the open doorway of the Haniwa room, I thought oh, no. It’s Haniwa. I was mightily impressed with the Haniwa Audio system at the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest–sure, those unusual little monitors were a little bass shy, but I was hearing a level of detail and realism from that room that was rare.
This was the exact same Haniwa Audio system, with the HCTR-CO cartridge and HEQA03-CI Current Input Equalizer (sold as a package for $18,000) and The Player turntable (which is sold for $33,000 with the HCTR-CO and the HEQA03-CI for $31,000). Still, I was patient and waited through an entire side of Mellencamp because I knew Kubo-san would soon be delving into the rest of his exquisite LP collection, which was purchased from the estate of Harry Pearson.
The closer I moved toward the front of the room, the more I enjoyed the Haniwa Audio sound. Eventually I wound up sitting in the comfy couch at the front, almost near-field listening, and the sound bloomed and I was enthralled. The system excels at silence–between tracks, there was pure quiet aside from surface noise. There’s also an astonishing lack of distortion in this system. I asked to hear Casino Royale, the exact HP copy that launched the legend. (I’m lucky enough to own a near-mint copy.) That’s when everything came alive.
I felt a little sad for Tetsuo Kubo and North American distributor Robert Bean because I knew people weren’t taking the time to truly explore the Haniwa Audio mystique. But if you visit this room in the future, sit up close and be patient. Haniwa Sound is different, but it is a musically compelling experience.