- Aug 15, 2011
A Saturday Afternoon with Brise Audio Japan
Weekend of 25th March, I was fortunate enough to visit the men behind Brise Audio in their home town in Gunma Prefecture, Japan. As such I’d like to thank Brise Audio for making the time over their weekend to welcome me to their hometown.
The travel is a good 2 hr local train ride away from Tokyo (or a 1 hr shinkansen/bullet train ride). Fortunately the day was beautiful making the journey there pleasant, and how else could one kill the time but to pop in their earphones, and enjoy the scenery of the countryside? I arrived in the city of Takasaki which is surrounded by beautiful Japan alps in the distance.
Who are Brise Audio?
Brise Audio is a relatively new business formed by two friends, Keiichi Watanabe who is the President and CEO, and Naoki Okada who is the Director. It’s a small business where Watanabe-san makes the cables by hand, and Okada-san manages the sales, marketing and distribution who are further assisted by 3 employees of which 2 are part timers.
Despite being a business of only 2 years old, Watanabe-san who hand makes the cables himself has had about 20 years experience in cables for PC and audio. He started off with cabling and wiring for internal PC components and moved to cable internal wiring for speakers and eventually to speaker cables and interconnects.
Watanabe-san has been making custom cables for customers for a good many years before forming Brise Audio with Okada-san - both of them being locals in Gunma.
Brise Audio’s mainstream business is home audio. In Japan user specified custom sales are direct via their website whilst more off-the-shelf are sold on e-earphone and Fujiya Avic, and they are looking at expanding their distribution channels to other electronic stores in the future. Internationally, Brise Audio has distributors in Hong Kong and China however for the rest of the world, it’s direct online sales through their websites for now. They are seeking for distributors in the SE Asia, Americas, and European regions.
Back to the story line...Watanabe-san and Okada-san were near the train station where I got off, welcoming me into their car and quickly whisking me away for a lovely soba lunch in a quaint cafe surrounded by farming fields in the middle of nowhere. What a welcoming change for the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life! Besides how else to start an afternoon listening session but with a full stomach?
Naturally during lunch, I took the opportunity to interrogate Watanabe-san and Okada-san about the history of their business, what their concept is, and their plans for the business for the future.
Concept of Brise AudioBrise Audio’s philosophy has strong foundations in shielding from external electromagnetic interferences. As such their range of products focuses primarily on the levels and layers of shielding either at certain portions of the cable or the whole cable itself. Listening to Brise Audio’s story I believe this foundation stems strongly from Watanabe-san’s history in internal cabling for PCs and speakers where proximity of components and other cables the demand for shielding is at its greatest.
Brise Audio also focuses on simplicity with the core wiring itself by using high quality copper (of unspecified rating, which they’ve politely declined to disclose as I believe it is a company secret) for audio signals such has cables for headphones, speakers, and interconnects. However Brise Audio does use high quality silver wiring digital AES, BNC, coax, etc cabling for minimising noise floor.
All cables made by Brise Audio are handmade in Japan. Even the shielding are proprietary to Brise Audio only. As the cables are handmade, Brise Audio produces approximately only 10 UPG001Ref cables or 20 UPG001Std cables per day.
After Lunch...Watanabe-san and Okada-san drove me to their office. Along the way, I asked about how busy they were as I was aware there were multiple audio events and shows happening almost every month throughout Japan and they’re there to exhibit their products. They responded with their work days increasing from the usual 5 day working week to the full 7 days and made every effort to attend all the shows throughout the country. As one can deduce, their business are doing well with increased demand for their products.
So what does Brise Audio offer?As mentioned, Brise Audio focuses primarily on Home Audio which covers digital interconnects such as OTG USB, AES, BNC, coax, and LAN cables, but also covers analogue interconnects in forms of balanced XLR, RCA, portable mini-mini 3.5nm, speaker cables, and of course headphone and earphone cables. Brise Audio also covers AC and DC power cables, and even internal PC cables such as SATA and internal DC cables.
If one were to peruse through the Brise Audio website, one can’t help but to notice that the two main categories of home system and portable cable offerings have the different levels of shielding options - the top of the line Murakumo, Masamune, Shinkai, and Osafune.
The construction of each shielding option varies depending on product - e.g. the Murakumo for a speaker and headphone cables for example has 13 layers of different shielding materials whilst the Murakumo technology used in earphone cables have 11 layers of different shielding materials. Likewise the core wire configuration also varies depending on the purpose of the cable.
For the purpose of this report however, the focus is on the earphone and headphone cables.
The newest TotL earphone cable released on 14th March ’17 is the UPG001 Ref which is made up of a 4 copper core with 11 layer Murakumo shielding around the termination points and the Y-branch to the left and right channels. The 2-pin, MMCX, FitEar gold plated brass encased connectors are made specifically for Brise Audio. They also use titanium memory wire hooks and are electromagnetically shielded by single sheet with a 7 layer structure (as an example Murakumo would use 3 of these sheets). The UPG001 Ref can be terminated with the Pentagon OFC 4.4mm 5-pole plug and the sliding cable cinch is made of rosewood.
Released slightly earlier than the UPG001 Ref but in 4th March ’17 is the limited edition UPG001 Rh+ which is more and evolution from the original UPG001. The Rh+ refers to the Japanese-made Rhodium plug in the forms of 3.5mm single ended, 2.5mm TRRS, and 4.4mm 5-pole. The UPG001 Rh+ uses the same 7 layer structured single sheet shielding at the termination points, and like the UPG001 Ref also uses the Titanium memory hooks. The connectors however are the more standard Oyaide 2-pin or MMCX, and the FitEar with plastic overmold.
Brise Audio also has different cable offerings for headphones starting with their basic UPG001HP which is an 8-core spiral. It doesn’t incorporate the kind of shielding at the termination points or Y-branch. Having said that Brise Audio are looking some headphone cables with shielding. I managed to try some pre-production versions of the cable for the Focal Utopia and for the Sony MDR-Z1R.
At the left and right channel branch and at the termination plugs, extra shielding is hand wrapped around the cables as below.
Henceforth the other Brise Audio headphone cable offerings start to incorporate shielding of different levels more comprehensively where the shielding is throughout the cable rather than near the termination points or Y-branch. All 4 shielding option offerings use the same 37 strand 4 core copper wires however are of different gauge from the UPG001 series.
Starting with the TotL Murakumo, it has the full 13 layer for the main cable up to the Y-branch where it’s 8 layers per channel.
The Masamune has 11 layers of shielding on the main cable and thereafter is the same 8 layers per channel.
The Shinkai uses 8 layers shielding throughout the whole cable, whilst the OSafune uses 6 layers for the whole cable.
Despite these cables having a more comprehensive shielding than the UPG001 series, they are surprisingly light and quite flexible. The cables are thick though and therefore not so suitable for earphone use (as you may see from the picture below of the MMCX terminated Murakumo on my FitEar MH335DW-SR - done as a joke of course, but it sounded really really good!).
In the Listening Room...We arrived at a home that appeared to be in the residential area - serene, and quiet. As we walked in through the front door, there was a kitchen in front that quickly opens to a very decently sized listening room with these gorgeous pair of B&W 800 D3 speakers, on the right, multiple racks of speaker components in front, a shelf of LP and CDs on the left, and a lovely comfortable chair in the middle of the room for one listener.
Watanabe-san and Okada-san explained the B&W 800 D3 were only 2 weeks old and hardly broken in. Apparently even audio showrooms at hifi shops don't have them on display for demo. As a B&W owner myself, I appreciated the beauty of the construction of this line - although my B&W speakers are a humble pair of 17 year old N804s compared to these luxurious 800 D3's.
The component racks were pretty much divided into the LP/phono on the left, CD (surprisingly no SACD support) in the middle, the pre-amp, and the network player on the right. Some components were 100V driven whilst others were 200V. Needless to say the components were all high end such as the Linn Sondek LP12 player dedicated channels Pass Labs XOno Phono preamps, Esoteric P-0 CD Transport, Esoteric D-01 Monarual D/A converters, CC1 Grimm Master clock, Ayre Acoustics KX-R pre-amp, dCS 904 A/D converter, and dCS 974 D to D converter. Brise Audio also had a pair of loaner NMode desktop amp for personal audio on the floor.
Needless to say, Watanabe-san had Murakumo cables with the signature silver sleeving used throughout the whole component interconnects and AC power cords. And whilst talking about power, Watanabe-san had made his own power distribution rack :-
When one gets to this level, you know he's serious! Interestingly no power conditioner is at play here either. Watanabe-san explained the power was stable enough there wasn't a need for one. The white vertical box on the wall is the power coming from outside the building.
Watanabe-san cabled up his B&W 800 D3 with Murakumo N1-Sp speaker cables for the woofer lower frequencies and Murakumo S1-Sp speaker cables for the mid and tweeter upper frequencies. The N1-Sp is
hese python-like cables are impressively thick.
The setup was impressive nevertheless. I have heard high end speakers in the Tokyo International Audio Show almost ever year but having a personal listening session in a listening room was simply grand. My introduction to Watanabe-san's listening room setup was Fly Away by Corrine May. He just hit play and the music just filled the room. The detail and soundstage portrayed puts my home B&W N804 pair to shame. I felt I was the emotional instrument played by Corrine's voice coming out of the speakers attempting to invoke a reaction out of me. Had it caught me in my moment of weakness, I would have actually fallen into her vocal trap and balled my eyes out. It was a very emotional song.
Watanabe-san played a few different other genre such as classical, 80s pop, J-pop, rock and a cappella and the whole audio system was just remarkable in its presentation of the played tracks. If there was any criticism, the only one I mentioned to him was I did feel the treble presentation still had room to refine itself further - but it was not unexpected as the speakers were only 2 weeks old and hardly had any burn-in time.
Watanabe-san and Okada-san weren't finalised on their listening room setup yet as they were still refining their already impressive components replacing with products with more features. It was surprised their setup during my visit didn't support SACD and DSD and that was one of the features they were planning on adding in upcoming weeks. However after hearing what I had heard, I'm not even certain if it's needed.
We also spent some time listening to headphones as I brought my Focal Utopias along and they had their Sony MDR-Z1R. As mentioned above, Brise Audio had some pre-production UPG001HP headphone cables based similarly to their UPG001 Ref cables for earphones. Their pre-production Sony MDR-Z1R cables incorporated the Murakumo shielding placed strategically in various parts of the cable similarly with the cables for the Utopia :-
If there's anything that the Brise Audio cables have thought me, high quality OFC wiring can sound very impressive if used properly in the construction of a headphone or earphone cable. In the past I would have overlooked copper cables in favour for silver/gold or some other fancy composition but the way Brise Audio has build their cables using high quality materials and leveraging on shielding, I may consider just going back to plain OFC cables more seriously. I don't even know if it's the shielding that Brise Audio has employed or the purity of the copper cable they have used but their cables as a whole, have impressed me greatly. These days where I my taste in signature is to be liquid smooth analogue, the Brise Audio cables just play into that.
All good days must come to an end....As much as I could go on over indulging myself with Watanabe-san's and Okada-san's wonderful listening room setup, I felt bad occupying their precious limited weekend rest time especially since they have been working on other weekends either making cables or attending audio shows exhibiting their products. Watanabe-san and Okada-san couldn't have been more accomodating and I was extremely lucky they welcomed me to their hometown and to introduce me their listening room.
By late afternoon it was time for me to make may way home. Watanabe-san and Okada-san drove me to the station and it was another began my 2 hour journey back home - but extremely satisfied and honoured to be given such an opportunity.
Once again I have to thank Watanabe-san and Okada-san to be so welcoming. I do hope to re-visit their listening room again in the future.