There is always something fascinating about an audio system that represents the realization of a personal vision. Of course all audio designs partake of the subjective, as does any human activity. (Even mathematics has a style in it, in a subtle way). But the Haniwa system is one of those designs that seem informed by an unusually personal idea of how music ought to sound and how to make it sound that way. In this case, the person whose vision it is is Tetsuo Kubo, and his particular interest lies, according to his Web site, in getting things right in the time domain.
To realize this goal, he decided to move into the world of high-bit-rate digital to create digital-domain loudspeaker crossovers and amplification, as digital allows separate control of phase (and thus timing) and amplitude behavior.
This idea of using DSP to control phase and amplitude separately is far from new in audio. For example, an application of the mathematical possibility was offered as far back as the mid-1990s in an Arion/Essex “add-on” unit, which would correct speakers both in phase and amplitude. And there have been other add-on units that correct phase from Holm Acoustics (Issue 208). There are computer-based programs that do even more extensive phase correction: Acourate, for example, corrects the phase in the bass in-room, and other computer programs are also available. This is an idea whose time has come in audio, or so it seems. But there are still surprisingly few speaker systems that offer this sort of thing as part of the speaker system itself.
Other aspects of the design
Kubo’s search for musical realism is not restricted to using DSP as part of the design. The design is distinctive in other ways. The one that is the most visually apparent is the cabinet shape. Not only is it unusual, it also presumably gives rise to the name—Haniwa being a ceremonial sculptural style in old Japan, involving terra cotta figures, which often had rounded profiles.
But the shape is just the beginning. Experimental tapping on the enclosure suggests immediately that the cabinets are of extraordinary rigidity and deadness. This combination is attained by lamination: The cabinets are made of a great many layers of thin particle board laminated with glue. (This kind of technique has long been used in aircraft construction, where super-laminated plywood was observed to offer extraordinary strength-per-unit-weight).
The Haniwa combines a sealed-box mid/bass driver with a modified Tractrix horn—modified in the sense that the outer edges curve around and the whole forms an integral part of the double-rounded enclosure. (The picture is worth quite a few words here.) In general approach, this seems rather reminiscent of the Gedlee speakers, but the Gedlees do not have the distinctive enclosure or the DSP processing.
Indeed, while each aspect of the Haniwa might be considered to have some precedent, it is safe to say that no other speaker line has to date combined all these things—ultra-rigid enclosure, rounded shapes, DSP amplification and crossover, and horn tweeter/dynamic mid/bass drivers—in exactly this way. The whole thing gives the impression of the designer following his sonic vision wherever it led him, regardless of difficulties or cost. (The speakers are expensive).