We enjoyed a lunch of soba at a restaurant up the block before alighting to Kiyohara-san’s sonic sanctuary about a 45-minute drive from Moriyama’s neighbourhood. We arrived once again to a Buddhist temple. Upon entering we passed a handful of gentlemen suitably suited up, making an offering at an altar. Shuffling past, a quick right turn through a doorway, a small portico, through another door and we were walking through the kitchen of Kiyohara-san’s private home. Up a set of stairs and into the sanctum sanctorum, a very large room even by non-Japanese standards, warm and inviting and filled with a collection of hifi that was the stuff of dreams.

As we entered, there they were: a glorious truly gobsmacking installation of two 16As hanging from the ceiling just in front of the front wall. The 16A themselves were augmented by a Western Electric 597A tweeter sitting just inside the horn’s mouth, modified into a wooden chassis built by local legend Mr. Machida. A Western Electric 12025 4-cell midhorn (WE555 driver) attached just below the lower lip of each horn. The woofer system sitting just behind these hanging beauties was based on 2 x WE 4191 woofers plus 2 x Eltus reproductions of the 4181. If you’re at all familiar with this stuff, you realize that the math here has them electrifying six field coil drivers per channel, and Mr. Kiyohara has 12 discreet tubed power supplies designed and built by Mr. Machida lending them current for flux density. This is some very deep dedication to the outcome of a labor of Western-Electric love not just in terms of expense but also in terms of time spent fine-tuning the system. Take, for instance, the crossover, a carefully crafted transformer-based 4-way resonance circuit - not the typical RLC network at all.

The system was driven by a pair of amplifiers based on the output of some peculiar triodes: the 3A110B, RE604, and DA30. Mr. Kiyohara told me that they were in parallel and so it would seem (at least to this layman) that their outputs were mixed. These were Machida’s originals and all of the transformers his handiwork, too. The extensive use of wood throughout his stunning creations is to combat the magnetic currents that might otherwise be induced in metal chassis; as well as to control mechanical resonances that might otherwise erupt in the chassis when exposed to the sound pressure of music being played through the system. Caps were paper-in-oil types. In front of and to the right of this glorious exposition of pure W.E. love was the vinyl station, with turntables Garrard 301 or 401, their wooden plinths and platters by Mr. Machida. The mono phono preamplifier was a design by Mr. Tadaatsu Atarashi, the Akteq-2 mono, which offers eleven EQ presets including one for RIAA LP. There were a number of different arm types being employed on the various tables but it seemed that original SPU-type carts were in evidence on nearly all of them. Tim, Mr. Moriyama and I were escorted to the preferred seats at the rear of the room and the moment we anticipated - when the stylus would hit the groove - was not far off. Much of what was played were 78 from both the acoustic and electric era as well as some LP from the Jazz era.

Experiencing music through this system is a bit difficult to describe. As a hifi enthusiast who came up through the conventional streams, I imagine that this would cause the denizens of those hallways to reel in horror. This was not “high fidelity” in the modern Hirsch-Houckian sense, where performance strives toward meeting a narrow set of mechanistic specifications for the emotionally distant enjoyment of spectrum analyzers, oscilloscopes and MLSSA rigs. Nevertheless, the sound was vital and that vitality is something not only dearly treasured by those who pursue this end of the discipline but carefully cultivated and crafted to ensure that it is not lost to minuscule missteps in execution. This was the same sense of vitality I was originally electrified by when experiencing the Oswald’s Mill Audio 'Imperia' system at Jonathan Weiss’ Brooklyn atelier; and which I wrote about for The High Fidelity Report in my Down The Rabbit Hole series. Indeed, this went even further down the rabbit hole. Once you’ve locked on to that vitality, it becomes a natural priority. And therein lies the magic of a system such as the one that Mr. Kiyohara has lovingly built along with the help of Mr. Machida.

This is not a sound system, not a 'stereo' as it were. It is not a functioning museum of electric and electro-acoustic curiosities despite the intellect’s insistence that it is all of those things. It is no less than a gateway into the past, a means of experiencing the immediacy of beauty in music as if one were reliving a beautiful memory. To speak of highs, mids, lows, PRaT, soundstage, imaging, bass impact et al is to waste the experience on frivolous distractions. Such an experience can be deeply evocative, drawing out authentic and sincere emotion from the attuned listener. Recall the feeling of missing someone close and dear, of some love lost to the ravages of time, that feeling of bittersweet sentimentality. There’s a pang of hunger in your heart, a twist of mild pain in your stomach, an effervescence of tingle in your spine as you sense that the threshold of tears is perhaps dangerously close. The kind of beauty that evokes such swells of emotion cannot be measured by any machine, modeled by any computer or understood by that brand of secular mechanismatics driving so much modern soullessness.

There exists here a deeply-felt encounter with nostalgia. Here lies an important notion in my opinion because the word itself - nostalgia - is sadly used dismissively, diminishing by category, as if something nostalgic is somehow not respectable. But the authentic experience of nostalgia is every bit as visceral as the experience of any other emotion. Nostalgia invites you into a quiet room where you can explore the delicate chambers of your heart’s longing. Music is often used medicinally to bring us face to face with this oft-neglected and carelessly dismissed emotion.

This is the best way I can think of to describe the experience of music through Kiyohara-san’s lovingly cultivated and carefully crafted music system. I cannot point to this record or that, this cut or that, to satisfy the intellect’s curiosity for the kind of performance details that habitually appear in the pages of the various magazines - print and online - which we all read. I can only say that the experience was very much internal and that because of it I found myself further down the rabbit hole than I ever thought I’d be, or could be.

Once one hears past the mechanisms, the sound effects, the laundry list of check’em-offs that so many have been trained by the audio press to value and seek, there exists an entire universe of musical experience that is of the deep experiential sort. When you hear it and experience it for yourself, a bell will have been rung and it cannot be un-rung afterwards. My intention to find a 16A for myself and to begin my own journey in my own space, is now more focused than ever before. Kiyohara’s gracious invitation and generous hosting of our visit was an experience I treasure; and I hope to make the pilgrimage to his musical shrine again in the near future.

I would like to end this article with deep thanks to my good friends Tim and Oliva De Paravicini, for making this adventure possible; to the friendship of Moriyama-san for his indulgence and superb companionship; and to Mr. Kiyohara for inviting us into his musical sanctum sanctorum.