Audio-Technica NARUKAMI: A Private Listening Session in Singapore

In 2016, I was invited to listen to the Sennheiser HE 1 when it landed in Singapore for the first time. Dubbed the most expensive headphones at about 60,000 Euros, the entire system comes with its own marble-body amplifier and tubes that rise up when powered. It was an unforgettable experience.

When the Audio-Technica NARUKAMI Series first system of the line, HPA-KG NARU Headphone/Pre-Amplifier and AW-KG NARU Headphone arrived in Singapore one week before the HiEnd Asia Singapore 2023 (6-8 Oct), the A-T team called me up and asked if I want to listen to this extravagant audio equipment at their office. This headphones amplifier was first unveiled at the Hong Kong High-End Audio Visual Show by the A-T President himself Kazuo Matsushita on 11 Aug 2023, and the kagami-biraki ceremony took place in front of invited guests. The official model name is HPA-KG NARU and the companion headphones is AW-KG NARU, with a list price for Singapore of S$113,888.

The First Encounter

Even after doing some online research on this product, it still could not prepare me for the moment when I met the amplifier for the first time. Seated firmly on a wooden-grained table in the A-T audio room, the NARUKAMI system radiates an imposing presence with its outlandish yet harmonious element. It looks better than the press images, appearing more muted and less red. The metal mesh cover feels thick, dense, and not cold. Neither do I notice any heat radiating on the amplifier surface when I was touching all over it just to appreciate the attention to details.

My Listening Equipment

To help me evaluate the NARUKAMI, I brought my best headphone equipment so that I can do some listening comparison.

HPA-KG NARU: Effortlessly Detailed, Outclassed Amp

The job of an amplifier is to amplify recorded sound while being able to bring out all musical data to the driver without sounding overloaded or tired. Powerful amplifiers like the NARUKAMI is certainly able to deliver more impactful sound compared to smaller amps. Compared with my Burson Playmate, the NARUKAMI lets me hear music details better as I turn up the volume without any hint of struggle or veil in expressing the content. The amp translates the source with amazing sensitivity and musicality. The music does not sound processed or digital. There is an air of realism and analogue even when listening to digital tracks.

AW-KG NARU Headphones: Impression

The NARUKAMI package includes the headphones, whose design largely derives from the ATH-AWKT wooden headphones. It will come with a 2-metre gold-plated balanced XLR-M 4-pin cable and a 3-metre balanced XLR-M cable. The headphones follow an Audio-Technica signature tuning, which is elevated upper midrange which emphasizes vocals. Among the three headphones I compared during the listening session, the AW-KG headphones attain the widest sound stage with most expressive vocal transparency. Any vocal music lover will find joy with this headphones. However, it lacks the meat in the bass section, and instrumental arrangements sound recessed, so the headphones do not provide a full warm cosy sound. For orchestral tracks, the AW-KG presents great imaging and open stage even with its closed-back design.

Difference between Balanced and Single-Ended Output

Technically, there is electrical signal difference between a single-ended (unbalanced) and a balanced circuit. On the NARUKAMI, this difference is very audible. When listened to an unbalanced signal, I felt a lack of space and dynamics. Once I switch over to balanced cable, the audio sounds more resolving and sensitive to dynamic expressions. It makes perfect sense to make full use of all the audio components by channeling the signal through the balanced circuits.

Supports Pre-Amplifier Balanced and Line-Out

The HPA-KG amplifier also serves as a pre-amplifier with preamp output functionality, driving using the TA-300B vacuum tubes to your next audio chain before hitting the speakers. I didn’t test the pre-amp function due to limited time, but it is good that owners can make use of the supreme all-tube preamp circuitry to connect to audiophile speakers.

Final Words

Music is art, and art is subjective. Each individual experiences audio differently. It is for this reason that the audio market has such wide variety of products, accessories, designs, features, and prices. It is one of the few consumer categories that offer products with price ranging from a single-digit price to six-figure value. There will be an audio product that you can afford.

Is the NARUKAMI extravagant? No doubt about it. Does it sound like it is worth S$113,888? I would probably say, it all depends on whether you feel the listening experience is worth that value. So, yes, the value is subjective. However, I know that the NARUKAMI is loaded with some of the best audio components in the industry, and from how it sounds, the sound quality is at its pinnacle.

The Goods
  • Outstanding musical performance
  • Precise, detailed, clean
  • Analogue quality without too brittle or excessive treble brightness
  • Elevates headphones quality
The Bads
  • Expensive
  • Design that may not blend with existing home audio components
  • Headphones tuning does not really showcase the amplifier full range

Summary


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