28 August, 2009

Buying Guide: Akihabara, Tokyo

Buying Guide: Akihabara, Tokyo

The articles concentrate mostly on SE amps, a Japanese specialty. Read them in sequence:

1. Akihabara and Japanese Amp Kits. Part I.
(Updated and edited from threads originally posted by Hoi here, on 19/09/01)

As some of you might know, I am really into amp kits these days and bought some Japanese Tube Amp Kits last month. I am still waiting for some of them to arrive. But I did bring home myself a couple of them, the Elekit TU-870 (6BM8x2) and TU873 (6SN7x2 and 300Bx2; not in production).

It was the first time I visited Tokyo. Before I went there, I didn't have any idea what to do. Just had a hotel reserved in Ikebukuro (had no idea where it is). However I wanted to go to Sun Audio in Akihabara to audition the VT-25 and 6V6 single-ended amp. Apparently, very few
people in Hong Kong are interested in these amps and both the amps and the kits were not available in Hong Kong at the time before my trip (this was when Reference Audio just took up Sun).

I arrived Tokyo Narita Airport at about 4 pm. Took some time to go through the immigration (need a visa if you stay more than 72 hours) and when I arrived the baggage claim area, I found all my baggage LOST! GOOD!! No need to go to the hotel now. Go straight to Akihabara!

Took the JR (Japan Railway) Narita Express (expensive and there are better choice) to downtown Tokyo and switched to JR Yamanote line to Akihabara. It was already quite late when I arrived. Did spend some time walk around and get myself familiar with the area a bit. Had some cheap Japanese set rice dinner, which was good, and then looked for the hotel. The next morning, had a heavy breakfast. Did some reading about Japan and things that interested me in a bookstore, got myself a map and head for Akihabara.

SUN AUDIO (Click for website) : Went there first. Address is: 2-23-9, Kanda Suda-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0041, Japan. Get out of the railway station at the electronic shopping area exit, walked toward Man-Sei bridge direction, yes there is a river there. Crossed the bridge and made a left. It's on that street. Sun Audio is difficult to find. It's upstairs and there is no sign. But downstairs, there are three Hino Audio stores that sell DIY stuff. Sun is upstairs directly above one of these three stores.

Spent almost two hours there audition different amps. The staff (Mitsuru san the son, and father) spoke English and was very helpful and polite. Spent some money and wase very happy. He even introduced me to the area where I can found some amp kits and gave me a MJ Audio Technology Magazine where there are a lot of advertisements about shops and amp kits.

HINO AUDIO (Click for website): Downstairs in Hino, they have Elekit pre- and power amp kits (website), Acoustic Masterpieces M101 SE KT-88 amp and pre amp kits (may not be manufactured now; AM is Air Tight kit division) and other tube amp products as well. In one of their shops, there are a lot of Speaker kits as well.

AUDIO PROFESSOR INC (Click for website). is another shop that I went. Do not have their English address. They have a lot of amp kits available, like EL 156 PP, 6V6 PP, KT-66 PP, 12E1 PP, 300B SE, 6C33CB SE and SEPP OTL, 2A3 SE…etc. Have not seen these before and they seem to be on the expensive side. The shop also has a lot of DIY tube stuff.

Right outside the electronic shopping area exit, there is a couple of shopping buildings in the front. On the fourth floor of one these building (sorry, can't remember exactly where it is and don't have their address). There are some shops that carried tube amp kits. I saw kits from Advance Audio (click for website), Tonal Control and some other companies that I have no information.

There are actually a lot more DIY stuff, especially tube audio, in Akihabara. Since I only spent one afternoon there and interested only in amp kits at the moment, can't tell you more about it. This is all I have for amp kits.

Japan is a very interesting country. Although there are things that I don't like about Japan, people are in general very friendly and polite. I will visit there again. Next time when you were there, let me know if you have more information about Japanese amp kits and what you got.


2. Akihabara and Japanese Amp Kits. Part II.
(Updated and edited from threads originally posted by me here, on 19/11/02)

Before proceeding a good map is essential. One of the best is here. Sorry this map is Japanese only, but with careful recognition of landmarks, and by printing out and circling wanted destinations I believe even westerners can get to the places we mention. Feedback would be welcome. Please note that although the link still works, I am not at all sure this is the same map as before. I cannot find the numerical figures referred to in this Part. While I search, please disregard the numbers and concentrate on the descriptions. Also, these numerals do NOT refer to the additional map at the end of the Blog. Most important to note on the map are several things:

(1) the NORTH sign in the upper left corner for orientation.

(2) the avenue (called "central avenue") that runs north-south on the map (center axis)

(3) You can click on any of the numerals to get a detailed pic on any area.

(4) Please also note the Kanda river that runs east-west, seen on the map between 2 and 5/7. The Mansei Bridge crosses it.

> better choice) to downtown Tokyo and switched to JR Yamanote line to
> Akihabara.

The JR line is NOT the major metro, but free to Japan Rail pass holders. The station is in the center of things. Find this in the left lower center of map, orange "JR". This is good for accessing the greater Akihabara, but not SUN AUDIO and HINO, as detailed below. Watch that there are many exits. I recommended you use exit SOUTH as reference.

> Went to SUN AUDIO first. Got out of the railway station at the electronic shopping area exit,
> walked toward Man-Sei bridge direction, yes there is a river there.Crossed the bridge and
> made a left. It's on that street. Sun Audio is
> difficult to find. It's upstairs and there is no sign. But
> downstairs, there are three Hino Audio stores that sell DIYstuff.Sun
> is upstairs directly above one of these three stores.

If you want to start with these stores by metro, the alternative and easy way is to take the metro GINZA line, to KANDA station. KANDA station would be JUST outside the southern edge of the map (or click on "1"). When you get out, walk NORTH (use map "1" now) and you will notice the Mansei bridge and the river in front of you. Use map "2" now and the stores would be just before the river, on the DIAGONAL street on the map, close to the jumble of letters.

> Spent almost two hours there audition different amps. The staff
> spoke English and was very helpful and polite.

The father spoke little but was very nice. Son Mitsuru spoke more and I had a good chat over coffee with him. If you go, please tell him that doctorjohn and the professor (Hoi) from Hong Kong say hello.

To me without a question one of the most worthwhile product is the SUN VT-25 amp. You can write them IN ADVANCE requesting a 110 or 220V version to be picked up yourself. AND I was told buy Hoi you can specify a special version that has a 16 ohm tap (the regular version only 8 ohm). Pleaes note that the cheaper 6V6 kit could also be converted to VT-25 although you would have to fit new sockets etc etc. I picked up the VT-25 kit when I was there.Watch out that some other stores and SUN charges a few percent for credit card.

> some amp kits and gave me a MJ Audio Technology Magazine where there
> are a lot of advertisements about shops and amp kits.

This magazine has all the stores and is a must for Chinese who can at least deal with the Japanese idiograms. An old copy will do just as well.

> HINO AUDIO, they have Elekit pre- and power amp kits, Acoustic Masterpieces M101 SE
> KT-88 amp and pre amp,kits and other tube amp products as well. In one of their shop,
> there are a lot of Speaker kits as well.

Yes, worth visiting. Worth purchasing are the ELEIKIT 6BM8 kit and perhaps the matching preamp (it's cheap and even has phono), but sadly the CD kit appears to be out of production and cannot be found in Akihabara. Acoustic Masterpiece is I think kit versions of AIR TIGHT, with nice and upmarket chassis and Tamura trans, but based on the underperforming and expensive KT88 SE amp I heard before these may have beautiful sound but lack life, hence not at all the value SUN offers. You may also consider buying FOSTEX and PIONEER stuff, particularly fullranges and supertweeters. I particularly loved the mini-A5 speaker cabinets.

> Right outside the electronic shopping area exit, there is a couple of shopping buildings in the front. On the fourth floor of one these
> building (sorry, can't remember exactly where it is and don't have
> their address). There are some shops that carried tube amp kits.Isaw
> kits from Advance, Tonal Control and some other companies that I have no information.

This building is a must. I think this is Radio Kaikan building, though I may be mistaken. Please go to map "6". I believe it is the building with the "P". Escalators or lifts take you to the 4th floor. Some shops have good prices (bought my ELEKIT there). You can also get DENON cartridges there. The 103R is a good buy but the regular 103 is more expensive than in Germany. You may also consider the cheap and well made DENON MC-stepup. There is somewhere also 2 ground floor shops.

Diagonally across the street, under the railroad tracks, are buildings on the ground floors of which there was a maze lined by little shops. Very few had audio stuff, but I sighted some, and one of them carried the AUDIO TECHINCA ART2000 cartridge, a good buy, though perhaps not for theose who prefer to indiscriminately drown in saliva of female singers.

Crossing the major central avenue to the other side there are tons more shops, but fewer audio ones. There are 2 of note:

-A TUBE shop. Prices not too bad. This is in the middle of map "12". Shop is tucked way inside a building, but there is a display of tubes at the entrance of the building, which opens onto one of the narrow east-west streets (I believe the one closer to the tracks).

-ISHIGAWA megastore. This is left upper corner of map "12". there are several stores in the area but this one has hifi. Not that much but I bought my one of my ART and 103R cartridges there. This is a DUTY-FREE shop so producing your passport can save you the VAT though you need to fill out forms which have to be handed to IMMIGRATION upon exiting japan. Staff spoke good English. A note here. Some of the smaller stores (probably just as reliable in Japan, an honest place) have lower prices but no tax exempt, so compare savings.

> AUDIO PROFESSOR INC. is another shop that I went. Do not have their
> English address They have a lot of amp kits available
> before and they seem to be on the expensive side.

Expensive. And store is very difficult to get to. Look for sign outside of building. I believe the store is in the upper right block of map "11", close to "NEC" but clsoer to the east-west street
represented by the red line just between maps "11/12" and "15". On this street very close to Audio Professor is a hifi store (small but 3 stories) that sells both new and used hifi. I saw the cheapest price for the DENON MC-stepup (after I bought one) there.

Close to map "21", maybe one grid further north? (can't remmeber) is a HiFiDo (website)shop difficult to find [秋葉原店 〒101-0021 東京都千代田区外神田5-3-12清和ビル1F B1F (03)5818-4751] . Saw some LPs there (bought 2). But for LPs LeeHC's guide is better.

The SINJUKU area also has 2 shops that I visited. One was tucked into a residential complex with a garden. The other had James transformers and a pair of WE 92Amps!!!! They have a
lot of vintage stuff.

Please feel free to correct errors and add info.

3. Good English Akihabara Guide in TNT-Enjoythemusic, written by a Japanese audio person. I think Radio Kaikan is the building I mentioned in my post.

4. Additional Info. Something loaman9 wrote reminded me that I had visited the very large main store of AUDIO UNION before. See map below. Click for website. This shop is as worthwhile as HiFiDo and easier to find. I have not visited the other stores, like the one in Shinjuku.

Additional Maps below



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