Music Off, the authoritative Italian musical web platform interviewed Gaetano Conti, Solidsteel CEO, and Mutsue Sekihara, Technics Product Manager, in a double interview featuring to the consolidated partnership between the two Companies. Here is the English translation of the original article appeared on Music Off.
What is “good sound” related to music reproduction? What actually make us hear those nuances – from streamed songs or from high-definition files – that delight our ears, allowing us to go three-dimensional into the musical performance and make us fully enjoying the recordings of our favorite artists?
Certainly, such is not a trivial question, since it depends on infinite myriad of factors. We can simplify the question though by isolating some fundamental components: the goodness of the musical recording itself and of the real or virtual support that contains it, the quality of our system, our listening environment and finally ourselves and our emotional state, including psychoacoustic factors.
If the pleasure of listening to music can be clearly drawn from a myriad of situations at different levels, from singing in the shower to the multimillion-dollar Hi-Fi system, it is undeniable that taking care of the choice and assembly of the various components of our system translates into in a better and more satisfying fruition of the musical message.
It is not a question of chasing extreme audiophile chimeras but simply of making sure our ears experience that feeling of being face to face with the musicians, with their live performance or with their artificially constructed ideas in the recording studio.
In this boundless and sometimes “dangerous” world of high fidelity, there are names that for decades have earned fame and esteem all over the world.
Technics certainly needs no introduction. Long-owned by Panasonic, this brand has literally made Hi-Fi history, establishing itself for a long time as the main choice in some areas such as DJing on vinyl records, but also as an absolute high-level producer on all other Hi-Fi branches, at every level and use.
On the other hand, Solidsteel is an Italian company on the rise worldwide which supplies some of the best racks, stands and other accessories available on the market and has now confirmed its value several times both as a production – 100% made in Italy – and as assistance to the customer.
Since we have known Solidsteel well here on Musicoff and that the Italian brand has been chosen several times by Technics to support its Hi Fi wonders during fairs, showrooms, demos and other industry events, we did not miss the opportunity to organize a double interview with Mutsue Sekihara, Technics Product Manager at Panasonic Italy and Gaetano Conti, CEO of Solidsteel.
First of all, thank you Mrs. Sekihara for being here with us. It is a real pleasure to have your experience in the Hi Fi sector available to our readers. Panasonic is a real giant in the audio / video world and Technics is a brand that in the high fidelity and DJing sector has written numerous pages of history, first of all with its famous turntables but also with all the rest of its production.
In recent years, the world of vinyl records has made a strong comeback and a brand like Technics certainly could not fail to appeal.
From your producers’ point of view, what is the relationship that the new generations are establishing with a world that seemed to be gone, and in general with the entire Hi Fi supply chain, which somehow seemed to have been supplanted by more “hit and run” means of musical reproduction, so to speak?
Sekihara: Thanks to you for the invitation, it’s always a pleasure to chat about the Hi-Fi sector. I can say that the change in the way people listen to music was the main reason that led the Technics brand to temporarily leave the market, only to return in 2014.
As you know, the brand had announced the closure of the last production line of the SL1200 turntable in 2010, but after 4 years, it was reborn with the claim “Rediscovery Music”.
The company saw an increase in the desire of end-users to listen to music in a higher quality, after many years of focusing only on quantity, with the diffusion of compressed digital formats, such as MP3.
Fortunately, technology had begun to make it possible to listen to high-quality songs in streaming and in a practical way. Yes, I’m talking about Hi-Res Audio. In the past it was more difficult to transfer, store and play large music files, but now we can do it without problems, comfortably even without wires.
(Mutsue Sekihara – Panasonic/Technics Product Manager)
Over the last few years, we have seen the Technics catalog reclaim its own playing field in an “aggressive” and effective way. We have admired turntables, such asthe SL-1200 GAE models, which have transmitted a new technological peak to the various GR, G, MK7 models, up to the specimen dedicated to those who want a home-listening system at more affordable figures and with a less “Dj-looking”, such as the SL-1500C or SL-100C.
Likewise, the amplifier sector, for example, has set its sights ahead with digital architectures, new processors (JENO), new adaptive optimization algorithms for impedance and much more.
All this leads us to the fundamental question: with an audience of enthusiasts who never seem to be able to decide clearly between the recovery of tradition and new technological paths, which paths has the research and development decided to follow today and in the foreseeable future?
Sekihara: Actually, we have introduced a lot of turntables since we returned to the market. Earlier I told you about Hi-Res Audio (fluid music) and instead we brought new turntable models…you might ask yourselves: why?
When the Technics brand was reborn there was no turntable in the range, but in 2015 the Japanese management received 25,000 signatures from around the world to bring this product back to the market. At that time, it was decided to revive the SL-1200.
The Japanese engineers, led by CTO Tetsuya Itani, thought of doing it with a real technological innovation, such as the SP10, and the result did not disappoint. The new motor without an iron core has managed to eliminate cogging, the only flaw of the direct drive turntable, which is a slight vibration created by the contact of the magnets and the iron.
This innovation has erased the prejudice that considered the SL1200 not suitable for Hi-End but only for DJing.
As you have stated, Technics has been expanding the turntable range more and more but we have not focused only on that. We have introduced an SACD and network player, the Octave All-in-One Series, True Wireless Headphones to cover different needs and different ways of listening to music.
We are here today not only to be talking about Technics, but also about a joint-venture with an Italian company here in Music Off we have had the pleasure of collaborating with last year and in which we strongly believe, namely Solidsteel.
We even saw this collaboration at the recent Milan Hi-Fidelity Fair so how did the contact between your two brands come about? And why do you think the Italian brand is suitable for your products?
Sekihara: It was 2017 when we participated for the first time at the Rome Hi-Fidelity event. On that occasion I met Gaetano as he had his products on display. Unfortunately, not having suitable furniture for all Technics products, I asked him for support and he showed his furniture to me and to the Japanese engineers present at the show.
We liked them and from that moment on a partnership was born for all Hi-End events.
Since we have mentioned Milan and Rome fairs, what was the impression you had of this post-lockdown fair restart and what will your approach to these events be in the future given that the pandemic seems to have accustomed us too much to the exclusively online use of content.
Sekihara: Look, we were really surprised at Milano Hi-Fidelity, because the number of visitors was the same as 2 years ago, pre-Covid. Organizer The Sound of the Valve said 4000 people attended. We saw a long queue to enter the Hotel Melià.
In addition, the attention of users seemed greater to me as they seemed more attentive to me during demonstrations and presentations.
Let’s say that we already expected this and therefore we have adopted a booking system for each listening session. The sessions lasted 40 minutes and some visitors were initially perplexed because they thought they were too long, yet almost everyone who booked showed up and remained attentive until the end.
We talked about Solidsteel and therefore we will not miss the opportunity to ask Gaetano Conti, the young CEO of the Company, some questions.
Thank you for being here Gaetano, we also ask you about the basis on which the collaboration relationship with Technics, which has been going on for some time now, rests and of course we also want to know from you the impressions on the trade fairs you attended recently.
Conti: It is a real pleasure for me to be involved in this interview. As already expressed by Mrs. Sekihara the technical partnership between Solidsteel and Technics / Panasonic was born in 2017, I remember that occasion as if it were yesterday.
I think you can well imagine how important and memorable it is for a company to receive attention and appreciation from engineers and collaborators belonging to such a prestigious brand. Undoubtedly their sharing of our technical projects is a badge of honor for our company project.
Technics / Panasonic are two of the most important brands in the audio video industry, with know-how, history and glorious tradition.
With regard to recent trade fairs, in addition to a renewed interest in the sector, we also perceived a significant and at times almost unexpected turnout if we consider the historical period.
The presence of passionate and curious young people is certainly an important stimulus to create new opportunities, as well as a responsibility to keep the interest of customers always high.
Personally, I believe that today there is much more availability of technical information than a few years ago. Especially on the web, much more is shared. And I’m not just talking about musical content but above all technical content. Audio enthusiasts are no longer just audiophiles but also “music lovers”, researchers of quality both in objects and in their listening environments.
(Gaetano Conti, Solidsteel CEO)
A question for both Mrs. Sekihara and Mr. Conti: if you had to choose 3 different configurations for users with different spending options available, from entry level to medium-high level, what direction could you give to each one by looking at your respective catalogs and matching your products?
Sekihara: I’d start with the SL-1500C and SC-C70MK2 combination. This is ideal for those who want to listen to all musical sources, both modern and less, with a not excessive cost and in a small space.
The 1500C is a direct drive turntable, it has the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge supplied and the integrated Phono preamp. It can therefore connect to any amplifier that has an AUX-IN terminal. Of course, our all-in-one SC-C70MK2 system that I mentioned earlier has this too.
The C70MK2 reads CDs and various Hi-Res sources. Audio via USB, Bluetooth, AirPlay2 and Chromecast. It has both analog and digital tuner and incorporates 5 speakers. So just connect these two devices with a cable and that’s it. You can hear almost any music source in very high quality!
Conti: The S3 Series is perfect for this integrated system. These racks are among the “best-selling” of our entire catalog. It is a line of products of excellent manufacturing quality, endowed with important technical properties for the damping of vibrations. A reference solution for anyone who intends to devote time and resources to the audio passion.
Solidsteel S3-3 Hi-Fi Rack
Sekihara: For those who want to buy single components instead, I suggest the Grand Class combination: SL-1200GR, SU-G700M2 and SB-G90M2. Compared to the Entry level, the turntable is more robust in construction and the materials used are more valuable. Of course, this also affects the sound quality.
The SU-G700M2 integrated amplifier and SB-G90M2 speakers are the 2 novelties of autumn 2021 The first has adopted the latest AS²PS (Advanced Speed Silent Power Supply) technology to optimize the power supply, as well as JENO (Jitter Elimination and Noise -shaping Optimization) and LAPC (Load Adaptive Phase Calibration).
The performance of the G90 speakers has significantly improved thanks to the redesign of the coaxial driver unit and the improvement of the speaker architecture. The amplifier is also compatible with the MC cartridge and therefore with this combination it is possible to listen to quality music.
Conti: For this combination I would propose our S5 Series, (perhaps the celebrative line for our thirtieth anniversary, in silver / black color). The peculiarity are the double adjustable shelves that guarantee a further degree of vibration damping to have an absolutely first-rate level of sound cleanliness.
Salvatore, I think you know this piece of furniture very well! (Yes, I talked about it, Ed.)
Solidsteel S5-4 Hi-Fi Rack 30th Anniversary Edition
Sekihara: Finally, the top of the range Technics Reference Class: SL-1000R / SP-10 and SU-R1000. The Reference class has recently been renewed for those who want to rediscover the beauty of vinyl music.
The SL-1000R is Technics’ top turntable that has been reviewed and appreciated around the world. Its strong point is stability: Wow and Flutter (oscillations and vibrations) 0.015% W.R.M.S.: it means that the vibration is practically zero. While the 1000R has an integrated base and arm, SP10 has only the platter and power supply and is backwards compatible with the base of the old and legendary SP10.
The SU-R1000 integrated amplifier was designed specifically to meet the new need arisen among music lovers, following the birth of the SL-1000R / SP10. Thanks to the new technologies ADCT (Active Distortion Canceling Technology), AS²PS and Cancellation of crosstalk, it perfectly amplifies the sound, making it crystalline and at the same time energetic. Welcome to the journey of rediscovery of music!
Technics SL-1000R / SP-10
Conti: These top-notch components I would definitely combine with our top-of-the-range solution: the Hyperspike HF Series. This series is made by combining some of the best materials on the market: solid-turned stainless steel frames support shelves in melamine-faced MDF available in multiple finishes (lacquered and veneered) with a system of edges (Hyperspike precisely) able to efficiently dampen vibrations, potentially generating resonant frequencies in the environments. An uncompromising guarantee of quality to house the best high-end audio components on the market.
Solidsteel HF-3 High End Audio Rack
So far, we have focused only on the purely musical aspect, but the parent company Panasonic has a very large catalog that encompasses both the audio and video world, which therefore includes TV, Home Theater and much more.
This sector is also evolving a lot, just think to the progress made by high definition or, for example, OLED technology.
Also in this context, a support cabinet / rack can cover an important element not only as a piece of furniture, but functional too. Have specific solutions been sought together with Solidsteel in this case as well?
Sekihara: I would say that this is an interesting starting point and we will certainly evaluate it, obviously together with Gaetano!
One more question for both: whether it’s DJing or listening to music, what do you think is the message that the importance of the culture of “good listening” can be conveyed today to young people as an integral part of the artistic, rather than technological, experience of the latter?
Sekihara: I remember the words of the beloved DJ Claudio Coccoluto in the Live Streaming Technics 2020 and I believe that this message is complete: “I recommend to kids born with digital technology to take a ride with the turntables in order to understand certain passages otherwise impossible to assimilate via the digital format.”
Conti: I would like to say to young people: rediscover the pleasure of good listening in solitude. In today’s daily frenzy it is difficult to sit down, put down your smartphone and relax while listening to a record from start to finish.
Don’t “skip” the songs, immerse yourself in the musical journey that the artist wanted to express, read the lyrics … a new world will open up to you.
As a last question to both of us, being a community first of all of musicians and music lovers, we allow ourselves a much lighter and more personal one: what do you prefer as sources of music reproduction (vinyl, cd, streaming / liquid) and what are the music genres that you most love to play on your home systems?
Sekihara: I personally listen to both CDs and liquid music. I love listening to both formats, I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of my CD collection! At the same time, I like to comfortably listen to the same artists in fluid format.
Conti: I am a lover of music reproduced with quality, in all its forms. I tend to listen both digitally and analogically. I can honestly say that with the vinyl backing, the sense and experience offered by placing the record on the platter, hearing the sound that is reproduced after contact with the cartridge and give all of yourself to the music is pure emotion, unique and inimitable, unmatched in audio terms. Especially when combined with a good after-dinner drink or a good cigar. But basically, that’s the beauty of it: the personalization of the moment.
Find the original article on Music Off here. (in Italian)