While my impressions of Sakura Plus are wobbly and immature, my knowledge of Mr. Yamagishi’s office is explicitly adult. Ocharaku occupies a narrow bit of space in Kyodo, a famously old and comfortable part of Tokyo. And, as ‘cha’ means tea and ‘raku’ means ease, there’s one thing you can’t miss when meeting Mr. Yamagishi. Tea. Good tea.
Every time I visit, I leave with the following: 1. a distended bladder; 2. a new-found adoration for highland teas; 3. an absolute respect for Mr. Yamagishi’s adroit blending of two seemingly incompatible worlds.
I am as much a sucker for long-term branding as I am for impeccable craftsmanship. Mr. Yamagishi knows this. Which is why, before allowing me to disturb my tea, he leans full tilt into the particulars of Aka/Sakura Plus’s manufacture: the many-months's selection process, the long curing process, the intense treating process, drying, the skill it takes to carve such a tiny barrel, and finally, final assembly procedures. The time he has invested in selecting the wood, tweaking the drivers and acoustic design of each of his earphones, is more than a full-time job.
Both Sakura Plus and Akazakura Plus cary four-conductor wires rather than the three of earlier Flat4 models. The grain and colour of their cabinets shine through clear urushi lacquer. Oh, and finally, there is a neck cinch. These are works of art- but they are only minutely changed where necessary. Oak Village’s craftsmen have tackled the wood part since Kaede. Oak Village do everything from houses to small instruments - and of course, earphones. Metal and plastic parts are sourced from all over Japan and made to Mr. Yamagishi’s spec. Beside wood selection, all audio tuning and design is Mr. Yamagishi's domain.
But back to tea.
Ocharaku now sell Spin Fit-branded tea. I walked home with a package, a sample of which goes for 1.000¥. My wife and I sipped slowly. I don’t know tea, so when I say that it hits the nose first and keeps going to the throat until hot liquid with a sweet hint of … tea, joins it in the throat, I hope not to have ruined anyone’s appetite. All I can say is that it was the best tea I had had in several months.
Sound, being subjective, is kind of a bugger. Mr. Yamagishi knows this. When he sat me down behind Spin Fit branded tea and both Sakura models, he asked nothing about my musical preferences. He didn’t explain which should mate best with what music. He didn’t talk about his preferences. He simply asked which model I’d like to try first. Red I said. He nodded, filled my cup, and returned to tapping keys on a massive laptop, looking up only when I began nodding or snapping to my favourite tunes. Sakura Plus is warm, heavy-toned, and, for trance, a bit wild, viz., tending toward upper bass bloom and soft highs. Moving to folk, to wood-heavy music, and John Denver, it is right at home. Acoustic timbre is dryish, and fibrous; it is full, 3D, and vocals are skewed slightly warm.
Brighter than Sakura Plus is Akazakura Plus, erring cooler, and bristling with upper midrange energy. There is loads of space along both its X and Y axes. Its bass stereo image is a bit compressed- at least compared to Sakura Plus, but it hits fast, and about as hard as an Ultrasone IQ with low-density foams. Transition to highs is smoother than both Kaede and either Kuro I or II. Neither earphone hisses much, which made me think better of the Sony PCM-D1000 DSD recorder than I ought to have.
In the end, Mr. Yamagishi didn’t have a red Akazakura Plus to loan. So, two hours after first interrupting his day, I ducked out, thanks in my hands and nods, Sakura Plus on loan and in tow.
In all, I downed seven cups of tea. I touched each of Ocharaku’s blown-up earphone cutouts. I listened to Mr. Yamagishi’s collection of esoteric binaural and classic recordings. I heard immediate differences between two earphones delineated by the length of their phase correction tubes. In the coming weeks, I will publish a review of Sakura Plus (the black-tubed one), which, to be very honest, was my least favourite of the two. Please stay tuned to my Headfonia author’s page for more.
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