Accuphase Factory Visit
Last month I had the pleasure of visiting the factory of our newest partner -- Accuphase.
Accuphase is one of Japan's most revered and successful audio brands. Accuphase was started in 1972 by the two founders of Kenwood alongside a key group of employees who wanted to establish a premium audio brand where ultimate performance was the goal. The first three Accuphase products were the C-200 preamp, P-300 power amp and T-100 stereo tuner. At the time, these were extremely well received and Accuphase was instantly propelled into the same echelon as the world's top brands. It was a strong start that would only continue to grow! 40 years later, what's most remarkable is that the spirit of those first products is still immediately evident in the current Accuphase lineup. Current chairman Shigemasa Saito (who is also one of the original co-founders) proudly continues the Accuphase tradition with the same unwavering passion and integrity, constantly striving to refine their products and to push the state of the art.
You'll notice that even the original model numbering system is still in place today. The T-100 has been refined over successive generations to become the T-1100 forexample. Like other luxury brands such as Porsche, Rolex, or Leica, Accuphase understands that you're buying much more than a product. You're buying a lineage. Consistency, reliability of focus, and development evolution pays off in big ways in everything from performance to reliability and of course user satisfaction.
The Japanese may go even further than other cultures with this kind of craftsman ethos. For example, my Accuphase contact picked me up at the train station and he was wearing what you would call a workman's jumpsuit. I almost didn't recognize him at first! Then when we arrived at the factory, even Saito san was wearing the same outfit. To me this showed two things. The first is that there is no pretension in what they're doing. This is serious work, it's a team effort and everyone is expected to row in the same direction-- from the guy who sweeps the floor to the President. No fake show or gussying up for the cameras. Very impressive.
After some nice tea and conversation we toured the floors of the factory, each dedicated to a specific part of production: Design, Assembly, Testing, and Legacy Repairs.
The Design floor was large and I was surprised to learn that approximately 1/4 of the entire company staff are designers. Few other companies of even much larger size employ such a strong team of designers. Each designer was working on a new part or model and I was privy to see everything from circuit board path mapping to complex faceplate contouring. The open plan office was organically laid out and you could feel a great sense of spirit and creativity.
In Assembly, the most striking thing was how perfectly organized everything was. Every nut, bolt, washer, and even manuals seemed to have a barcode! At a moment's notice I'm sure that they could summon a comprehensive report on their inventory and production capability. For those of us who run even a small business you know how hard it is to create accuracy down to these granular levels. I was extremely impressed. This degree of fanaticism showed me that the larger operation was built upon the theory of "clockwork" and as I progressed through the assembly process this became abundantly clear.
About 20 units are hand built each day. Each one has a unique report which lives with it from initial chassis to final testing. There are actually 2 product ID numbers, one for the internal chassis code and one for the external serial number. They track everything so they can look back 20 years later to see who built every stage and continuously improve parts and process.
Each station of the assembly line is manned by a specialist, in some cases doing only the most selective task. One of the standout examples was a woman who's sole job seemed to be to polish the red glass used in front of the VU meters. She laboriously polished, then mini-squeegeed the glass, finally holding it to a fine light looking for even a single speck of dust. Another gentleman inside a clean room was hand assembling the transport mechanisms used in their CD players.
The entire atmosphere was purposeful, quiet and fluid. Much nicer than other factories I've seen.
Onwards to testing, I was in for the biggest surprise yet. I should have known after seeing the woman polishing glass what testing would be like. Every unit is put through an unbelievable battery of tests. There is of course the full suite of performance tests, but how many companies test every unit on a high speed vibration table? This table vibrates in the X-Y horizontal plane with an intensity similar to an orbital sander and is designed to put stress on the solder joints and mechanical components. After a short vibration, a "premium" company might return the unit to the test bench and redo the tests there. Accuphase goes a step further. They test the performance AS the unit is vibrating on the table! This way they can see any fluctuation of performance under extreme conditions. You can bet if any deficiency is found, the unit goes back on the line for diagnosis and will be brought up to A++ standards. I was flabbergasted at this level of perfection. It certainly gives you confidence in the long term reliability of the product.
Another small room is home to a man who sits in the dark looking for pin-pricks of light escaping from seams in the chassis or front panel. All day in the dark looking for even the slightest imperfection really shows dedication!
The perfectly piled boxes at the end of the line is a beautiful sight. When I asked them if they ever wished to expand their production volume and move to a larger facility, they replied that they were content staying at manageable size as it allowed them to maintain such control and perfection over the entire production process.
If any visitor fails to be convinced about the quality of the Accuphase brand by this point, it only takes a final visit to the Legacy Repairs floor. Here, 6 people work at fixing and refurbishing customer units which are up to 40 years old! One CD player was on the bench. I asked when it was originally manufactured and they replied about 1990. They still had parts for the slide mechanism for the loading tray! For those who know anything about CD player reliability, or the availability of parts, this is absolutely incredible. Apart from the makers of the drives themselves, I don't think there are any other companies in the world who can claim such long product support.
We ended the tour with an extensive listening session of current products: DP-550, DP-720, E-600, A-70 etc. It is always a treat to hear such a range of products in quick succession to clearly hear what you're getting from moving up the line. The DP-720 and A-70 in particular were spectacular.
I felt absolutely privileged to have been shown such intricate details of the Accuphase operation. My hosts were extremely gracious and forthcoming. My lasting impression was simply the sense of complete professionalism and confidence the company has in their products.
When someone is considering an audio product at this price level and pedigree, this kind of behind the scenes support gives ultimate confidence in the value. Compared to the general attitude of mass-market audio producers, seeing an organisation operating as Accuphase does is an epiphany. It makes you appreciate everything that goes into the cost and most of all gives the assurance that every single detail of a product's design and end use has been anticipated. From the soft-damped feature doors on their amplifiers to the silent operation of their SACD transports, these are people who've cared to make things as good as they can be made.
In an age where everything is disposable and nobody stands for anything, it's good to know there is a company like Accuphase which you can feel proud to support. For a true lifetime purchase it's really worth it. I hope we can share the Accuphase philosophy with as many of you as possible.