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SAEC is one of the very best brands who brightened the analog era and who had especially abundant fan base. This article introduces the brand’s history, its technology and peculiarities of its products and describes its representative models. After 30 years devoted to development and sale of audio and audio accessories, SAEC was highlighted by Special Prize of the Audio Excellence Award. Achievements of the brand founder Sadao Kitazawa are enormous. To understand them better and SAEC as such, we have asked the current director of the company - Keita Kitazawa to talk about the brand.
 
History of the brand prior to entering the market 
Sudden rise of domestic brands - Times when SME spirit of innovation shined
 
The times around 1974 were in general audio times. Audio makers were entering the stock market and quite a few brands turned into big corporations. Even general home electronics producers were one after another entering the audio market and also the components production fields. Besides Sony and Matsushita, which were producing audio products from the very dawn of the audio era, there were brands such as AUREX (Toshiba), OTTO (Sanyo), Lo-D (Hitachi), OPTON ICA (Sharp), DIANGO (NEC) which nowadays spur nostalgic memories.
 
All the competitors must have been taken aback when at this time all of a sudden SAEC tonearm entered the market. The admired tonearm of this time was the one constructed by SME. SME was using knife edge technology for vertical turning bearing and did not allow the competition to come even close. It was the tonearm of choice for players used for sound quality evaluation at every audio producer, for equipment of all audio magazines listening booths and standard equipment of players of audio critics. The only one who did not use it was domestic product supporter Tetsuo Nakaoka. Many audiophiles were convinced that even with the precision of processing technology available a tonearm of SME level could not be build in Japan.
 
Birth of SAEC tonearm 
Unique Double Knife Edge created and brought to life by a trailblazer engineer
 
It is surprising how little is known about the beginnings of SAEC products. The author of the present article also knew very little. Everything started with a sudden realization of one very experienced engineer. The engineer was Sakae Tanaka (born in 1922). His father ran importing business with light devices, train controllers, pantograph power collectors, etc.
 
Sakae Tanaka majored in communication engineering and after graduation entered JVC. However, the war situation worsened and he was send to Singapore as a communication soldier. There he was judged to be extremely gifted and was transferred to a domestic military research center in order to work on radar development. Just as he radically improved the radar capacity, the war ended. Supposedly, the experience he gathered during this period has been tremendously beneficial for development of audio technology. He reentered JVC but soon after quit and took on improvement of tonearms, etc. He was engaged in designing and developing audio players for big audio makers in OEM outsource company. And it seems that it was here where he grew more and more interested in possible improvements of record players, especially tonearms. Consequently, he spent some time developing audio components in cooperation with other companies. Finally in 1965, he founded acoustic equipment design consulting company Audio Engineering Co. Ltd. It seems that at the time there were very few places ready to recognize the value of intellectual property but just at this time, he was introduced by his friend working for OEM designing company to SAEC creator Sadao Kitagawa. The two were very good match and ended up starting in cooperation new audio business.
Sadao Kitagawa had experience working in audio shop and was also well acquainted with developments overseas. He was determined to put on market a product built by Tanaka and so the development of SAEC tonearm started. Sakae had good understanding with his younger brother Susumu and thus they have always worked together. As will be mentioned later, currently, Susumu Tanaka repairs and overhauls SAEC tonearms.
 
Returning to the topic of the tonearm, Sakae Tanaka has always felt that the solution of tonearm turning portion bearing represents the tonearm's technological limit. He was troubled because especially in the vertical direction, there was always no matter what some free-play occurring. The free play then caused loss of reproduction precision and tendency for turning to be vague. To solve this SME used knife edge technology but from the point of view of Sakae Tanaka even with this solution vertical direction free play could occur too easily. What to do about it? One day, younger brother Susumu was suddenly called by Sakae and he was the first to hear the explanation of double knife edge technology. Susumu’s instinctive response was ‘This could work!’. To put the idea into practice required some time but finally it was done. In parallel, Sadao Kitagawa founded SAEC Commerce Co., Ltd. and named the tonearm brand SAEC. This was in 1974. This cooperation project made Otaku Omori - the Mecca of precise processing - its home, the first floor was devoted to processing and production - Audio Engineering Co., Ltd. and the second floor was taken by SAEC Commerce Co., Ltd. SAEC tonearm debut was prepared here.
 
The first model WE-308 was introduced to the market in December 1974. It became instantly center of attention for its unique concept and ultra precise craftsmanship. The improved model WE-308N which was sold beginning from May of the following year 1975 yet enhanced the excellence of the first model.   
 
Excellence of double knife edge 
Unrivaled Extreme Precision and Subtle Construction
 
For bearing construction, it is ideal to reach zero friction. The ball bearing solution decreases plain friction by changing it to rolling friction but it is not enough. It was necessary to come up with knife edge technology to achieve zero friction. It is obvious from the name itself, if the edge was not sharp enough, thin enough to eliminate any friction it would not show such tremendous functionality. In case of tonearms, besides gravitation corresponding to the mass of the tonearm, also (when set on a record) force pulling the cartridge stylus ahead applies. Due to this force, also the edge portion of the tonearm is pulled ahead. When the tonearm weight is low, or pressure not sufficient, knife edge can be displaced from the bearing or when the weight balance of the knife edge is off one side of the knife ends up floating above the bearing. This presents during the record reproduction as rattling, murky treble, incorrect L/R separation or as other phenomena harming the sound.
 
The exquisiteness of the Sakae Nakamura’s idea lies in using two edges in upper portion and two in lower portion - in total four knife edges - so the bearing portion is pressed and has no free play in horizontal or vertical direction.
To be able to place four knife edges in a linear fashion, they had to be polished to 0,02mm. First they were turned on a lathe machine to 0,5mm level, than an experienced craftsman finished the operation achieving the thickness of 0,02mm.
 
Next unique construction was that of the inside force canceller. Any tonearm has a given finite length, to decrease its tracking error it is necessary to turn the tip of the tonearm inwards (does not apply to linear track arms).
 
This results in appearance of force pulling the tonearm inward (inside force). This force represents approximately 15% of the stylus pressure force. The first to succeed in canceling this force was SME with its elegant solution. It was a construction consisting of a weight hanging on a nylon thread which applied constant pulling force in outside direction. In case of tonearms for professional use, this kind of delicate mechanism was hindrance for use simplicity. That is why the mechanism would not be generally used and the reproduction was done relying on stylus pressure (EMT, Ortofon, DENON, Technica etc. professional use devices were built this way).
 
SEAC has further improved on the SME solution, the inside force canceller responds to the change in inside force which occurs due to changing position of stylus on the record surface. So the inside force canceling is optimal at all times. The mechanism is extremely simple, the cancelling force changes dynamically with the position angle of the tonearm. It is a display of flexible thinking.
Special high rigidity aluminum material was used for tonearm pipe and it was processed with high precision. In short, the tonearm reflects perfectionism and striving to eliminate any free play and make it so firm so that vibration or impact from the outside cannot affect it.
 
Since Susumu Tanaka was originally electrician, he improved the way cables are pulled out of the pipe and by twisting L/R in opposite directions made sure that the two audio signals do not affect each other.
 
As mentioned before, the appraisal following the start of selling the product was instant and overwhelming. Yet the tonearms disposed of a different kind of beauty than the elegant SME, SAEC appealed by its sheer functional thoroughness. The reaction of audio critics was extreme. However there was still a tendency to praise the overseas products in the audio journals at that time and so SAEC was rarely presented. Yet high admiration of the sound quality has been mentioned - the product was just too perfect.
 
SAEC collected positive response as a representative of accurateness. According to corporate records the total number of sold SAEC tonearms is around 35000. In the end, this excellent product sold very well.
 
SAEC compared to other brands had very simple advertising, so the competition with other products must have been hard. Even so, this one of a kind tonearm was also exported. And one European producer was even interested in using the double knife edge technology for its sheer excellence. But the talks stalled because the producer was not capable of reaching 0,02mm precision of processing.
 
But how was the tonearm business overall? The average audiophile had at his disposal about five cartridges which he changed freely so the sales numbers of tonearms were about one fifth of the cartridges. When we consider those buying set record player from some brand the number decreases to about one half. In other words, the target of the business were fans-craftsmen who would buy a record player case, motor and tonearm. Compared to cartridges, it was a business where one could not expect large sales figures. The cost of material was piling high and precision processing by lathe was difficult. Compared to cartridges it was business where cost and revenue were hard to balance. Many tonearms were designed to match the cartridges the company was producing, standard procedure was that only after some profit was made on cartridges the tonearms were designed and developed. To be able to develop business only in tonearms, the product itself would have to show excellent performance, identity, originality and outstanding design. No other company but English SME was able to achieve success in tonearm business. The original line of business of SME were scale models, so the risk connected with tonearm business was small.
 
Some experts are convinced that if SAEC started as the tonearm specialized maker ten years earlier, it would achieve worldwide renown and its existence would continue. But the entrance of CD onto the market in 1982 was coming closer by the minute.
 
The sales of SAEC tonearms were, as mentioned above, originally done by SAEC Commerce but starting from 1982 the sales were taken over by the production Audio Engineering and SAEC Commerce started to focus on the cable business. However, details of the development are not known. One can just imagine that CD appearance on the market started affecting the analog reproduction related companies in very serious fashion. If you have a look in all audio catalogue of 1995, there were only 5 Japanese tonearm brands with overall 9 models. SAEC was not featured.
 
Our days
We infuse new blood into SAEC tonearms thus saving all advantages of their brilliant mechanisms.
 
They say that there is something esoteric in passion of High End techniques. And we know for sure that there is something spiritual behind all of our electronic components, which assemble our favorite amplifiers and CD-players. A producer’s spark is a small part of design-engineer’s soul. All told, what makes alive recorded music and enables us to feel composer‘s emotions again and again.
 
We are not just an e-shop, we are the group of enthusiasts, lovers of high quality sound systems. During several years we have been learning different Hi-Fi components. We have touched such pearls of industry which can be found only at the collections. And now we have decided to apply our experience in listening and feeling music at work.
 
We have got experience in listening and hearing, used objective measurements in work, learnt language of graphs and schemes and now decided to apply our know-how.
 
We are helping to choose the most suitable component parts for upgrading your systems. If you can’t find in our e-shop what you are searching for - contact us and we’ll offer you the best prices for them.
 
On basis of our knowledge and experience we have opened a new department – service and upgrading of the legendary SAEC products. Besides we provide original and modern Japan accessories for tonearms SAEC, which are made on the best standards on CNC.
 
Thank you for visiting our website!
 

 

I. Product development policy

● Necessity of product development
SAEC specializes even within the field of audio technology on a very specific genre of magnetic pickups. This approach stems from a clear policy – an effort to deliver only highly distinguished products which can be developed independently by SAEC.  It is our sincere wish and pride that our customers can appreciate the entire SAEC brand based on structural concepts, used materials and the “sound” we imprint onto every individual product. 
● Concept equals “sound”
Products lacking conceptual solution are inevitably lacking also in their sound. The only possible way to account for the existence of a conceptually imperfect product with a perfect sound is that the concept itself is faulty. A faultless concept is sometimes surprisingly simple and always elegantly clear. 
SAEC obviously cannot offer products accommodating for factors such as warping or eccentricity of records which inevitably bring about sound quality deterioration. Warping and eccentricity of each record is unique and that is why there can be no definite solution for it. Moreover any measures addressing such issues would inevitably become gate ajar for retarding the performance of the product. In other words, solution of problematic aspects of records is a task for record producers; SAEC is a specialized brand devoted to magnetic pickup reproduction equipment and has to draw a line there.

II. SAEC concept of rigid body

“Rigid body” is the pivotal part of SAEC concept. The SAEC rigid body must simultaneously fulfill two basic (1)(2) and three detailed conditions (a)(b)(c). That is: 
(1) does not deform due to an external impact
(a) limitless spring-like resiliency (imagine strong spring)
(b) no internal loss  (imagine the opposite of a muddy swamp)
(2) does not move due to an external impact
(c) quantity of matter is unlimited (imagine a mass resembling an enormous rock)
This is what SAEC takes to be the ultimate rigid body. Also, an objects presenting high degree of qualities described above are thought of as having a high degree of bodily rigidity. However, general understanding of high bodily rigidity seems to impose only one of SAEC conditions, i.e. (a) limitless spring-like resiliency. Consequently, the pursuit of high bodily rigidity turns into searching for light and hard material (internal loss is welcome).

● Does light and hard equal rigid?
From the point of view of SAEC concept, a light thing cannot be a rigid body. Let’s take the diamond chip of a cartridge needle tip as an example. It has indeed almost limitless resiliency and the internal loss is extremely low (does not deform due to an external impact) but the diamond chip readily responds to even the slightest waves of disc sound groove. That is to say, the diamond chip itself definitely cannot restrict vibrations. It follows that light objects, even if they are hard and show almost no internal loss, cannot be classified as a rigid body. However, if the diamond chip was fixed onto a rigid body with its unlimited quantity of matter, the rigid body material could be considered a part of the diamond chip and so this particular diamond chip would be a rigid body.

● What are the grounds for damping resonance approach? 
When an object is affected by an external impact, first, it deforms, then as a reaction to the deformation it heaves upward and then as a reaction to this reaction it heaves the other way. Such sequence when repeated is in general called vibration. However, if the object had sufficiently high internal loss the deformation brought about by the impact would not exceed one half of one wave of the sine curve; the rest of the impact would turn into heat energy which would be absorbed. This is a traditional idea of damping through an internal loss. However, this approach has a blind spot, i.e. the external impact (cantilever vibration, air vibration from the speakers) during music reproduction comes continually. Even if the player cabinet and turntable mat were able to limit each impact to a half a wave each, there still would be impact after impact coming; and repeated half-wave deformations eventually do not differ from a regular vibration. In other words, this solution does not use what SAEC calls the rigid body. Just a marginal note: it would still be somehow acceptable if the object with an internal loss capacity were able to absorb all frequencies (number of waves) by heat exchange equally but there is a general tendency toward the selective absorption of particular specific frequencies (number of waves). For example, a part of the signal picked up by the needle tip of cartridge is lost in form of heat absorption and since the absorption is selective, sounds corresponding to some frequencies are emphasized and sounds corresponding to others are attenuated which is obviously not desirable.  This solution does not strive even at reaching 100% correct electric generation and the result is that the sound tends to be clouded and warped.
There are three principles applying to the amplifier power supply 1) the capacity of condenser should be as large as possible 2)the internal resistance should be as low as possible 3)the inductance of the line should be as low as possible. If we replace capacitance by spring-like resiliency, resistance by inner loss, inductance by lightness (amount of material); we will notice an astonishing match with the three principles of SAEC concept rigid body.

III. Componential concept

SAEC is definitely not a supporter of the idea that it is necessary to work on improving overall characteristics of the tonearm, turntable, player cabinet, cartridge, etc. as total. We strive at perfecting each single component, and subsequently at faultless assembly to enable perfect disc reproduction. That is why we feel it is necessary to theoretically identify the fundamental function of each component. Fundamentals of each SAEC product stand on this clearly established concept.
1) Tonearm (it is necessary to increase the rigidity of the tonearm as much as possible - hard, heavy and without internal loss).
As was mentioned above, SAEC is, despite the current situation where light and hard materials are considered ideal, convinced that it is necessary to increase the rigidity of tonearm - low and high compliance alike - as much as is practically possible. Making the arm a rigid body obviously results in it being rather heavyweight. SAEC arm may feel heavy when compared to other products. But if asked, we would have to admit that we would like it to be heavier still. The reason why it is necessary for the arm to be a rigid body as defined by SAEC is the need to fulfill the condition that all parts apart from cantilever must not move in any moment. If there were an arm with the mass of 100kg and if its bearing were ideal, it would be in principle possible to achieve 100% trace with a high compliance cartridge.
The majority of mainstream solutions for bearing part take free play of the bearing for granted. We are confident that our no diameter, no resistance SAEC double knife edge - consisting of two knife edges - which in principle does not develop any free play is the only solution of the kind.
Thanks to the bearing structure of double knife edge and use of super high rigidity materials, it is possible to damp low frequency unwanted vibrations sufficiently even with high compliance cartridge (high internal resistance).  Even if fo is decreased Q does not increase.
In this way SAEC is persistent in putting the sound as its topmost priority. Design and convenience are of secondary importance. For example, anxious about the sound deterioration, we decided to use construction dividing the body; arm lifter and arm rest when designing our highest class WE-506/30.
2) Time constant equalizer (T.C.E.) (as long as the record reproduction keeps RIAA specifications T.C.E. is an indispensable piece of equipment).
We believe that before long, it will be a standard apparatus used in audio systems all over the world. There is a current difference as high as 30dB between low frequencies and high frequencies during the electromagnetic generation when reproducing which is consequence of RIAA specifications. This cause of inevitable sound deterioration was neglected up to now. But time constant equalizer is equipment which can eliminate the cause of such a significant sound deterioration. Phase and frequency characteristics are orderly corrected and the cause of sound abnormalities which was generally overlooked is plucked out at the root. As long as records follow RIAA specification, the time constant equalizer is an indispensable item.

3) Turntable mat (the mat should be rigid and have no-resonance structure).
When SAEC introduced its original metal turntable mat SS-300 it created somewhat of a sensation. Nowadays hard turntable mats are becoming a common practice. Record vibration brought about as a reaction to cantilever vibration was received by the conventional soft mat but it was not damped. The rigid material use was born out of the idea to eliminate the vibration at the source. The unwanted vibrations occurring in turntable are eliminated using an effect peculiar to metal - two layers of different metal are used and vibrations canceled out on the critical surface.

4) Turntable deck (unwanted vibrations prevented by coming as close as possible to the rigid body structure).
The rigid body is an object which does not allow any vibration. SAEC has, based on the ridiculously simple idea that any part of the audio system where vibration is undesirable should be turned into a rigid body, developed SBX-3 turntable deck. SAEC has turned three principles of rigid body: as unlimited quantity of matter as possible, as limitless spring-like resiliency as possible, and a minimal internal loss, into an actual product - SBX-3 turntable deck - which can be used in real-world conditions of a listening room. Nevertheless, no matter how rigid the material is, when it is subject to a strong external impact, any non-ideal metal element vibrates (natural vibration). As a countermeasure SBX-3 has a non-resonant block (de-resonator) installed in a specific location which eliminates the resonance.
About howling: As is well known, howling is a phenomenon occurring when the sound energy from the speaker affects via air the player board, record and cantilever and the specific frequency  causes resonance which is amplified. If the difference between the turntable deck material density and the air density was enormous, deck would repulse the air vibration and maintain the non-vibrating status.
About the vibration coming from cantilever: the cantilever vibration is transmitted proportionately to the size of ratio of the turntable deck mechanical impedance and the cantilever damper mechanical impedance. When cartridge unit →tonearm→turntable deck are ideally assembled as one body (rigid body) the deck mechanical impedance is enormous and thus the cantilever vibration does not transmit to the cartridge unit, tonearm or deck at all. (The same applies to the motor vibration).

5) Peak up code and line code (impedance matching should be strived even in case of transmission system).
The qualities of used audio code can influence the quality of sound more than might be expected. Since there is either an output impedance difference depending on the cartridge type (MM, low output MC, mid-to-high output MC), or marked output impedance difference between the preamplifier, tape deck, etc. (less than 15Ω, 100-600Ω,1000-2000Ω) the specification of the code used between the equipment should come out naturally. In SAEC we use in total six types of PU code and line code depending on the output impedance. We commercialized the product only after recognizing the substantial sound quality improvements ascertained by repeated meticulous listening tests. We named them acoustic codes for the sake of music reproduction.
 

SAEC Saec commerce, ltd.
Audio ingineering, ltd.
Omorikita 3 – 12 – 3, Ota-ku, Tokyo 143
phone: 03(766)4150

SAEC Concept Brochure in Japanese (PDF, 1.87MB)