The Standard Radio Corporation Connection

From left to right; Kazuyoshi Takanashi, Norinaga Nakazawa and Koki Matsubara. Picture courtesy of

In 1980 Superscope sold its overseas assets (except America and Canada) to Philips Netherlands. Various intellectual properties like the Marantz brand, its sales rights, and other overseas assets, were transferred to Philips. The Philips audio division aimed to lift its image in the premium segment by using Marantz’s high-quality audio and Marantz could enjoy the cutting-edge technology that Philips audio could provide. Around that time Standard Radio Corporation managed R&D for middle-class HiFi components, receivers, and mainly low-cost models. Standard Radio Corporation also handled the sales distribution in Japan.

Most of the stories on the internet tell you the same thing, but none of them covers the people behind the development of the most innovative period of Marantz. The period that Nakazawa San and his team started to make products for Marantz/ Philips Japan was all about the collective. That is why there is not a lot of information about the engineers of that time.

After graduating from university, Nakazawa San started his career at the Standard Radio Corporation. As an R&D engineer, he was responsible for developing quite a number of revolutionary innovations that changed how we listen to music: he developed a high-tech cassette tape recorder as well as the player, during the dawn of the digital age in 1982.

The Standard Radio Corporation’s core business in the seventies was developing amateur and professional wireless products and premium audio equipment. Around 1975, at the dawn of the digital age, US-owned Superscope took a 50% stake in Standard Radio Company. Superscope was partly owned by Marantz of the United States at that time. Under the new venture, Standard Radio was tasked to manage R&D of the low-to-mid class compo and HiFi receivers. Apart from this, it was likewise the sole distributor in Japan. It also transferred most of the manufacturing operations there.

A few years after the digital age began, in 1975, Standard Radio Corporation changed its name to Marantz Japan Inc. In 1980, Superscope sold some of its overseas assets to the Netherlands’ Philips Corporation. Marantz (read: Nakazawa Sans’ team) was given full access to various technologies within the Philips arsenal. One of the first products that originated from this collaboration was the Marantz CD-63, Marantz’s first CD player and certainly not the last!

The list of components that Nakazawa’s team has developed is quite impressive. The Philips LHH-1000, also known as the Marantz CD-12 and DA-12, was the first split Drive / DAC that the company produced. In 1989 it was followed by the world’s first CD player with a bitstream converter; 1-bit. Then came the AV1000, the first the world’s two-piece AV processor system + power amplifier (1989), the LHH800R, the world’s first CD player with an analog stage without feedback (1993), and the LHH A700 (1994). One of Nakazawa San’s favorite projects that he worked on (when asked) was the Philips LHH1000. The Marantz CD-34 is also one of Nakazawa San’s favorites.

From left to right; The Philips LHH-A700, a piece of the LHH-A700 schematic without feedback, and the Fundamental PA-10.

The LHH-A700 was something special wearing the Philips badge. Designed by Suzuki San, (Tetsu for friends) this LHH-A700 was the first one without feedback. Suzuki San worked at NEC before he switched to Marantz. At NEC he designed the A10x, an amplifier that still has a high reputation. At Marantz, he helped to develop the LHH-XXXR series. His name is also all over the Marantz Project D-1, a project that he supervised. After this project, he also worked at Marantz Professional on the PA-01 and PA-02. In Japan, he is a known good guitarist, a nice guy, and Suzuki San is a guy who likes music and coffee with lots of sugar. He followed Nakazawa San when he left Marantz and started working for Soulnote. Suzuki San continued his journey at Fundamental, where he designed the MA-10. An amplifier that looks like it is a better reincarnation of the LHH-A700.

Another display of excellence is the LHH-900R CD player. It was limited to 500 players. The chief engineer on this project was Kunihiro Kato. If you take off the bottom plate of the player, you can see the names of the other engineers; T. Ozawa, T. Suzuki (Tetsu), H. Miyamoto, K. Atsuta, A. Shinozaki, and M. Hanzawa. It has a copper-plated chassis, shielded transformer, swing arm mechanism CDM-4 Pro, copper-plated bottom plate, and enough capacitance as if it were an amplifier. According to the Japanese aficionados, it is a very analog-sounding player, just like the Philips LHH-700. The difference between the two players is that the LHH-700 uses two DAC’s and the LHH-900R just one. The current value of a second-hand LHH-900R is around $4500. A Philips LHH-700, compared to these prices, is a bargain piece of Japanese history. A good unit will go on the Japanese market for at least $1300.

A Philips LHH900R for sale in Japan.

The Marantz Project D-1 DAC was a project from 1998 where Nakazawa’s team got a “carte blanche” to design a high-end masterpiece. Satoshi Suzuki team, who also worked on the Philips LHH-1000, designed a DAC with his team, which is stunning to see. Initially, the Project D-1 DAC was a limited-edition of 500 DACs, but the story goes that there were only 430 produced1. They had to stop production because they were out of double crown ICs2. The engineers fitted blue Soshin polyphenylene-sulfide capacitors around the two TDA1541a S2 DACs, which were also used in the Marantz DA-12/LHH1002. I think that these Soshin capacitors are even more scarce than a double crown S2 DAC nowadays. A very thick, gilded, double-sided printed circuit board with four substrate layers was also part of the deal. Some even say that the PCB tracks were designed with specific curves in mind3. There is no digital filter chip used in this DAC. The filtering takes place via DSP.
This DAC was produced for the Japanese ‘High-End’ market only. Marantz did not produce the Project D-1 for other markets.

Left; LHH1002 by Michael Pickwell on Flickr. Middle; Dac inside of the Project D-1. Right; The Marantz Project D-1.

In 2001 the story took an unexpected turn. Philips sold a percentage of 1,5%, thus taking a minority stake so that Marantz could have the freedom to manage their own business. Philips also handed over the rights on the name Marantz, and the sales departments in Europe and the United States. Marantz, Japan, Inc. found in Denon a business partner. Denon and Marantz formed a partnership under the umbrella of the newly formed D&M Holdings, Inc. by their stock transfer in 2002 to the U.S. investment company Ripplewood Holdings LLC. The working environment changed once the ownership of the organization changed. Investment company managements care about the bottomline and production efficiencies rather than sound quality. Many high end audiophile products are uncompromising in quality and integrity, with financial considerations very much a secondary consideration. The question for Mr Nakazawa and his team was what was more important, quality and integrity or financial gain? The answer was unquestionably – quality and integrity. In 2004 when management was desperately looking for clues that they can conclude that this merger and acquisition was the right decision at the ‘Post Merger Integration’, he decided a ‘Management buy out’ together with the engineers who had the same beliefs & passions. Thus several quality engineers, around 50 people followed Mr. Nakazawa to his new organization. It was significant decision for staffs in a sense to resign 1st Listed company in Tokyo Exchange stock market and go to newly formed company, CSR, Inc. … But you can imagine they all were trembling with joy and dreams … Mr. Nakazawa came to think his role is not only to fulfill the dream for customers, but also to support the dream for engineers in CSR, Inc. …….. The brand, Soulnote was born by the passion Mr. Nakazawa had long held in mind along with many experienced engineers, including Mr. Kato, head of quality engineering team, previously responsible for Philips LHH series development4.

Soulnote A-2 Integrated Amplifier.

The legend of digital audio continues where it started. CSR, Inc. is still operating from Sagamihara-shi,Kanagawa-Pref. From their website:

Legend of Digital Audio continues……

CD Player was launched in 1982 by Philips Netherlands. Then Philips started the collaboration work with a pure HiFi expert team of Digital Audio in Japan, thus the reference CD Player series for Audiophiles was created. In this project, the expert team made the World First Stand-alone CD Transport and DAC unit, CD-12 (Philips LHH 1000), also the World First Bitstream Conversion CD Player, CD-11 (Philips LHH500).

Today, Soul Note inherits the DNA of that Philips reference CD Player series because that pure HiFi expert team is the one who made those Legend CD Player series with Philips, called CSR, Inc. Japan. CSR, Inc. Japan has come back to continue the Legendary story of Digital Audio !! And is using the very same facility as the original manufacturer Philips.

Soul Note by CSR, Inc., it’s a living Legend you can experience today !!

Nakazawa San had a wish to have a dream company to develop dream products for customers. This meant creating a company free from M&A risk, to develop dream products by engineers having the freedom without having to compromise on time and financial constraints. 

Nakazawa San

[1] Source needed.

[2] The remainder was bought by Chinese resellers (pun intended).

[3] Source needed.

[4] From the Soulnote history.

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