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Thank you for talking about headphones in the last interview for Denon's 110th anniversary series. In this interview, we would like to ask you about how Denon was received and how it is recognized in Europe nowadays. As you are in Germany, we will again be interviewing you remotely via Skype.
How long have you been staying in Germany?
Fukushima: I moved from our office in Kawasaki, Japan to Germany about five years ago.
Which city in Germany are you living in?
Fukushima: Our office is in a city called Nettetal, which is on the west side of Germany. We are so close to the Netherlands that we can see the border from our office. In fact, our European headquarters are in Eindhoven, a city in the Netherlands, and I visit that office twice a week normally. Denon's offices used to be in both Nettetal and Dusseldorf in Germany, but now Nettetal is our only German office. I live near Dusseldorf, there are actually several satellite offices of Japanese companies and nearly 7,000 Japanese people living here. Japanese football players who play in European leagues also like to come to Dusseldorf to enjoy Japanese food.
Global Headphone Product Manager, Yoshinari Fukushima
Denon’s products spread all over the world, but what is the perception of the Denon brand in Europe?
Fukushima: I think Denon is recognized as a very technology-oriented brand. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Denon used to make professional audio equipment like CD players and MO disc recorders used by broadcasters. This led to our perception of reliability since professional audio equipment requires the ultimate in consistent performance. This know-how is also reflected in our consumer products. Secondly, Denon has had a factory in Germany since the era of EC (European community) and even before EU (European Union), so we have lots of longevity in the market.
Denon has a history of producing audio equipment in a German factory.
Fukushima: Yes, exactly. We do not have a factory here anymore, but some of our members from that time are still working at our German office. They are in charge of product management and service parts procurement. So you could say Denon’s function in Europe is not only as a sales branch, but the one with the spirit of manufacturing.
Denon has a strong recognition in Japan as a "long-established Hi-Fi audio brand,” but is this different in Europe?
Fukushima: Hi-Fi audio is very popular in Europe as well, and there are many Hi-Fi audio brands that operate here, including well-known ones to garage manufacturers. Denon is well-known for its audio performance in the 2ch Hi-Fi segment, however we are surely seen as the AV specialist. Beside that the quality of Denon audio HPs is appreciated very well too.
I think Denon's strength in the European market is more in AV amplifiers, home theater systems, lately soundbars and Wi-Fi connected wireless speakers, which require the scale of development and the latest technologies. The just-released Denon Home series, Wi-Fi connected wireless speakers, were received well in Europe.
How is music listened to in Europe? How different is it from Japan?
Fukushima: I think that sound preferences in Europe are relatively close to those in Japan. In America, they tend to like the power and the energy of the sound, which is often contrasted with Japan. It is hard to make a general statement about Europe because Germany and the U.K. have different sound preferences, and other countries have their own as well. For example, I think people in the U.K. like a relatively punchy and dry sound.
The words "powerful," "full-bodied" and "timing" are often used in audio magazines.
“The word 'timing' is used a lot in Europe," says Mr. Yamauchi, the current Denon Sound Master. Does timing mean like the groovy sound?
Fukushima: Yes, that is close to it. Generally speaking, when someone says groovy sounds, we mean ahead of the beat or behind the beat. Although in the U.K., the timing really means on-time.
They put a lot of emphasis on having the kicks and snares coming out crisp and on the just right timing.
This may be due to the listening environment. The one in Germany is clearly different from the one in the U.K. Rooms in the U.K. are relatively small, so maybe they listen comfortably in smaller rooms. By the way, they listen to music in much larger rooms in Germany.
So, what is "good sound" in audio in Germany?
Fukushima: In Germany, there's a bit more emphasis on the body of the sound, and reviews in domestic magazines often say things like, "This product has a sound with nice body in low-range.”
Is the word "body" as we understood earlier, refers to massiveness in the mid-to-low range?
Fukushima: That's a bit of a tough one to explain. Generally speaking, the word "body" refers to the mid and low range. But in Germany “body” doesn't include the mid-range and is often used to describe the feeling of speedy and clear presence of the low range.
I see that sound preferences are different in the U.K. and Germany. By the way, is there anything that is commonly emphasized in Europe?
Fukushima: European audiophiles place a great deal of importance on the soundstage.
For example, even with two channels of stereo playback, they pay attention to whether the soundstage extends to the outside of the speakers. Another example is when playing back an orchestra, they are focused on the point whether you can express not only the left and right but also the dimension of the stage.
It seems close to Denon's new sound philosophy of "Vivid & Spacious."
Fukushima: Yes, that is right. Denon's sound has gained greater reputation in Europe since our focus on upholding the “Vivid and Spacious” sound our Sound Master has been aiming for went into place. This new approach of “Vivid and Spacious” is a direction nicely reflecting the preferences of the markets like Japan, UK and Germany, while maintaining the Denon philosophy of true audio reproduction.
Is Denon better known in Europe for its AV amplifiers than for its Hi-Fi components?
Fukushima: Yes, I think that Denon is generally regarded as a manufacturer of AV amplifiers in Europe. One of the reasons why Denon is so well-known in the European home theater market is because of the following story.
Around 1998, Denon's then new 5.1 channel content, Mahler's Symphony No. 5, performed by the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra with Eiji Oue conducting, was released from the Denon label. At that time, Denon AV amplifiers were the only audio systems capable of playing this content properly, and in fact it was very well received. Denon was the first to present the splendor of multi-channel playback and 3D sound with both software and hardware in Europe, and the perception of "Denon is an AV amplifier company" became widespread after that.
Do you collaborate with Europe in terms of Denon sound?
Fukushima: We work very closely together. The picture above shows a sound quality study in the listening room at our Dutch office. The person in the middle is Mr. Takahashi, the AV amplifier engineer/sound master, and the two people on the left and right are the German product managers. Once a prototype is completed, it is brought from Japan to Europe for tuning. Denon's audio products are constantly being developed through a continual exchange of opinions with our colleagues in Europe.
What are some of the directions the Europeans offer when it comes to sound tuning?
Fukushima: Most of the demands from Europe are related to the sound stage. For S/N (signal-to-noise) ratio and playback range, it is easier for us to make them better in terms of measurement, but after that, it's a matter of sensitivity. At this stage, Europeans often demand the dimension and pitch of a sound in other words, the expression of the sound stage. The next most common demand is dynamic sound, the sound as if it flies out of the speakers.
That does not necessarily match the Denon sound that Japanese audiophiles are looking for, does it?
Fukushima: It's not a perfect match from the start, but our greater directions are the same. Basic sound is engineered in Japan, and then we incorporate European opinions in the listening sessions, and then refine it into a higher-quality Denon sound after both sides agree on it. Through these processes, our products are made.
This is the first time I have learned about Denon's perception and its close collaboration with Europe. Thank you very much.