Interview With Marc And Sander Van Berlo
Marc and Sander Van Berlo are the men behind Akiko Audio, Netherlands. This Dutch company, born from passion and love for music, is always in search of improvements and innovations. Since founding in 2011 they have focused especially on the high-end audio market. The basis for every audio system is good equipment, but by using the right accessories you can enhance your sound and bring it to a higher level. This is what Akiko Audio’s products are meant for.
GD: What does music mean to you?
MB: Music means everything to me, I couldn’t imagine a day without it. Especially after a busy day it works like medicine. I even experience music in the sound of birds singing, waves breaking on the coastline and wind passing through the trees. The sounds in nature is the reference to the rendering that we try to reach at home. As a child, I remember the shows of a beat group, in the street where I lived. I used to listen to them lying in my bed at night. Soon thereafter I got my first tape recorder, recording music with no end. I still have some from 1975. During high school, I experimented with tube radios, homemade speakers and my first Dutch stereo set was made by Philips. I also remember going to live shows, in my younger years, mostly rock and pop, and later on in life, jazz and classical too. It forms ones taste. Nowadays, I can enjoy every kind of music.
GD: How did you come up with the idea of Akiko Audio?
MB: It is a combination of curiosity, luck and experience. The idea came to me when I was visiting a famous recording studio in the Netherlands, where the entire recording room was shielded with copper foil (known as the Faraday cage) and the power was regenerated and filtered. At that moment, I experienced a calm that I had never felt before. The importance of reducing electromagnetic radiation and interference suddenly became clear to me.
But how does one reduce the influence of Wi-Fi, DECT, mobile transmissions and home appliances in a living room setting? To find that out, I started experimenting with different materials, together with my son Sander. We experimented with metals, minerals, crystals, wood, synthetics etc. The first success was applying tourmaline, after that we experimented with a mix of different minerals for different uses. It was clear that we were capable of reducing the high frequency noise, causing the music to become more pleasant in the higher regions. This has recently even been proven through technical measurements by Greek research. In 2010 the first product was ready. We gave it to a few audiophile friends. They were very excited and before we knew it everything became commercially interesting. Thus we founded Akiko Audio in 2011. Akiko means ‘brilliant’ in Japanese, the Japanese character means ‘sound’. This is how we made our hobby our work.
GD: What has been Akiko Audio’s best-selling product?
MB: The Tuning Stick is our most important product: affordable, applicable everywhere and when combined properly a beautiful improvement. We also do well in the professional business: recording studios in the Netherlands and England are already using our products.
Besides this we also supply raw materials to Kemp Elektroniks, who use our mixture of minerals in the best power strips and accessories. A collaboration we’re very proud of!
GD: What more do you plan to achieve with Akiko Audio?
MB: We now have a line of products that help to reduce the noise floor in several different places in the audio chain. This year, we are adding a new model: the Triple AC Enhancer. It is a powerful electricity cleanser that works by combining three different materials. The result of three years of research which we’re very proud of. A good high-end set works best on clean electricity. A simple and affordable enhancement can be made by installing a separate power group from the meter cupboard to the set. Designing a fine shielded installation cable is another one of our dreams. What differs us from other brands that sell accessories and power related products is that we work with a small team and craft everything by hand in our own studio. We also spend a lot of attention on the choice of materials, which sometimes results in the use of different materials from the ones used by other producers. Spending time working out ideas that initially may not seem very logical, but in the end turn out to enhance the musical rendering, such as treating the grounding or applying gold in the E-tuning, is another one of our unique tactics.
GD: Who have been Akiko Audio’s biggest customers?
MB: The best experiences we’ve had were with Mr A.J. Van Den Hul, owner of the eponymous company which develops cables and record player elements worldwide. He uses our products in his reference listening room and during international Hi-Fi shows. We have developed a model for extremely thick speaker cables especially for him: the Akiko Audio “AJ”.
I enjoy having demanding customers. It is always a special experience when someone has built a set worth more than € 100.000,- and we can surprise them with further improvements. The look on their faces when they hear that unexpected increase in quality is simply priceless! However, I also enjoy customers that enjoy upgrading their simple setup, since every improvement is a next step towards high-end. Of course, the term high-end is relative. Combining affordable equipment just right can also give much pleasure. For example: why would you use a factory made speaker cable, usually poorly isolated with PVC or plastic, when you can make one yourself? Just take a silver plated copper wire and isolate it with unbleached cotton and a heat shrink. Not expensive, but it sounds good!
GD: How do you listen to music?
MB: In our country there is a good Hi-Fi store in every city. This way, you come across products made by famous manufacturers, from which you can learn a lot. In my reference set, I have chosen monitor speakers from Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution (Italy). They are combined with equipment from Audio Research (USA) and Marantz (Japan). In our office, I enjoy the Bowers & Wilkins 804 Diamond loudspeakers (UK). A clear and natural sound that provides a lot of emotion. I can also however enjoy a ‘small’ system, if it is put together carefully. Even a € 1000,- set should be capable of conveying emotion. If a speaker or amplifier is satisfying, I try to optimize the rendering in such a way that the good qualities become great. That is ‘tuning’ to me.
GD: Do you think cables, accessories and tweaks makes any difference in a music system?
MB: The use of cables and other accessories are very important to me. Tuning begins in the meter cupboard (fuses and a separate power group) and ends with the speakers (not taking into account the acoustics). Every link in the chain determines the final quality of the rendering. A power cable has the most influence on the sound, followed by the interconnects and then the speaker cables. A single poor cable or power strip can rapidly diminish the quality. Besides that, the right isolation material can ensure much energy and speed in the rendering. Many accessories are very expensive, but you can also apply improvements that don’t cost much: put your equipment in a sturdy cupboard, put speakers on a heavy stone slab or tile, use shielded power cables and put equipment next to each other instead of building a tower…!
GD: What music do you listen to?
MB: A difficult question. Where do I begin? Looking at my collection of CDs, you’d come across crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin; beat music from the sixties: the Beatles, Byrds and Animals; seventies rock: Camel, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd; old Jazz and bossa nova; electronic music by Kraftwerk and Yello; too much to mention really! Currently, I listen to French singer Serge Gainsbourg a lot, but that can change with time. I also enjoy ‘Traditional Ragas’ by Ravi Shankar a lot. Another beautiful discovery is Haendel´s ‘Water Music’ in SACD performed by ‘Le Concert des Nations’ led by Jordi Savall. Breathtakingly beautiful.
GD: Where do you get your music from and what formats do you listen to?
MB: There are good shops in every town here, but lately, I’ve been ordering many SACDs over the internet. I don’t buy LPs anymore as the SACD player sounds better in my set and storing LPs takes up a lot of space.
GD: What do you think about free downloads and piracy?
MB: I am against free music. I believe artists should be paid for their work. Paid streaming is possible in the Netherlands for € 10,- a month (via Spotify). The quality is good: 320 kbps. Nowadays, youths are getting used to 128 kbps MP3 downloads. Those all sound terrible. A good music file and a pair of decent headphones can sound a lot better, for little money. I see it as my job to make youths enthusiastic for good music rendering.
GD: Do you have any other hobbies?
MB: Music of course is number one, but when I have some spare time, I enjoy a bike ride or walking through the limestone quarries in Maastricht. I also enjoy classical music concerts, but that would be talking about music again…
GD: What has been your greatest inspiration & why?
MB: Inspiration enters my life from different open doors, if I would sum all the sources in two words, it will definitely be “Spirituality and Nature”. Spirituality I find in family and friends, in beautiful music and art. Nature helps me meditate and I have much respect for God’s creation. Animals deserve our protection, therefore I’m a vegetarian. Travelling and get connected with different cultures and meeting new people are the sources that inspires me also.
GD: What is your favourite quote?
MB: “Let the music flow”. It is Akiko Audio’s motto. For me it means not to listen to equipment or speakers, but simply to enjoy beautiful music.
For more information on Akiko Audio please click on this—LINK.