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Anyone on the reviewing beat eventually hits her groove. You know what you like and what works in your room. You also have a list of manufacturers who consistently release products you're smitten with. It's human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. As such, sticking with a proven formula that generates the pleasure of writing with honest enthusiasm about great finds becomes the groove. Naturally, not much separates groove from rut if one doesn't occasionally jump the groove. This needn't be screechy as with a vinyl record.

One manufacturer on my beat who definitely seems to have found his groove and mine is Shigeki Yamamoto of the eponymous Yamamoto SoundCraft in Japan. Bespoke parts designed and manufactured in-house -- this goes beyond just transformers and includes tube sockets, bias meters, connectors, capacitors, footers, composite wood panels -- combine with very high build quality and exceptionally fair pricing for items that are handcrafted in Japan. Yamamoto marketing at least outside Japan is practically non-existent. Dedicated importers working on unusually slim margins keep the faith and cater to the informed cognoscenti. Otherwise, Yamamoto kit is well off the beaten path and a very quiet brand only few people know about.

Since I reviewed and then acquired Yamamoto's A-08S amplifier, it has performed flawlessly and taken on all comers to remain my favorite valve amplifier, period. At around $3,000, that's remarkable. Needless to say, 2 watts are limited and a savvy audiophile will not merely mate efficient speakers to this 45 SET but pick speakers with active bass systems. Enter my Zu Definition Pros and Rethm Saadhanas. City of joy!

Though many will tell you with plenty of authority that shy of string quartet adagios and wispy lounge singers, this type of amplifier and output power couldn't possibly be sufficient to do justice to anything large-scale and dynamic, they're talking out of their rear port. In an 18' x 24' room, with a high-quality preamp doing justice to the Yamamoto amp's caliber, with transistors handling the lowest bass and 98dB+ speakers singing on little, anything is a go.

Another find in this groove is Yamamoto's HA-02 headphone amplifier. As I learned, Yamamoto fabricates the wooden cups that house my audio-technica W-1000's headphone drivers. Not only are these components visually matched, they make for sonic excellence together. Having worked my way through Grados and Sennheisers and a full hard-wired replacement harness and plenty of amps for my AKG K-1000s, the headfi combo I return to for long-term pleasure is the Yamamoto HA-02 feeding the ATH-W1000s. As the A-08S remains my favorite tube amplifier, the HA-02 remains my favorite headphone amp. Two wonderful products, two Yamamotos: no pain, all pleasure - and plenty of pride of ownership.

I feel far from in a rut on this subject. Based on Shigeki-San's mention of this year's pending launch of his statement amplifier -- I'm not certain yet whether it'll be a heavily tweaked version of the existing A-09 or an altogether different model -- I'm instead committed to mining this particular groove with ongoing vigor.

No matter what, I keep coming back to the Emission Labs solid-plate 45s as the valves that simply do it for me more than any other. The JJ 2A3-40s are very good and the Western Electric 300Bs are by many considered to be the ne plus ultra but until I hear a Yamamoto amp that uses them, I'm not convinced that my secret allegiance to the 45 is over. Mind you, having 8 watts instead of 2 -- or 15 in a paralleled circuit -- would be grand. I'd take them watts in a heartbeat if the particular finesse of the 45s translated intact.

Seeing that the A-08S is Yamamoto's most famous amplifier to date and arguably the one that "established" the brand in the West, Shigeki-San's choice of the 300B bottle for his forthcoming statement amplifier is tantalizing. I doubt very much that it's a fashion statement. While the 300B is revered as the Queen of tubes in Asia -- the King is the 845 -- Yamamoto's tube choices in the past have never curried to fashion. What would this Japanese amplifier designer wring from the venerable 300B which he hasn't from the 205D or 45? Color me curious and primed to investigate.

Until then, I feel compelled to give major props and plugs to the Yamamoto/audio-technica combo. At 88,000 yen and $429 respectively, you get true ultra-fi performance and sterling construction. That's possible because it takes the room out of the equation and with it not just the usual problems but also the need for high SPLs to have sound travel through air. At an inch removed from your ear, milliwatts are what you'll be listening to. This renders gargantuan power supplies, dangerous rail voltages and all manner of circuit complexities redundant. Likewise, a single "tweeter" will give full-range performance at such distance to eliminate a crossover and multi-driver artifacts.

It's far from novel to say so but it remains true nonetheless: If yer budget be small but yer ambitions grand, there's no way to achieve the fidelity, resolution and uncompromised performance from a speaker system as you will -- not can but will -- from a premium headfi rig like this one. Been there, done that, still use the T-shirt to polish my shoes. Headphone listening gets far too little luv from reviewers and this one ran out of things to say ever since he started hitting that Yamamoto groove. Hence today's miniature rehash of past and present glories. But lest you fear me in a rut headfi-wise, I've got a review in the works that'll pair WE 300Bs with a monster outboard dual-mono valve rectified power supply and designer parts like VCaps, Jensen and BlackGate capacitors and Mills and AudioNote capacitors, all hardwired straight to the cochlea. Whether I'll jump my HA-02 groove remains to be seen but jumping out of a rut is definitely on the menu...

Yamamoto website