Kiso Acoustic HB-1

I was sort of shocked to see the Kiso Acoustic HB-1. While I’d never heard of Kiso Acoustics, the speaker looked so darn familiar. The HB-1 is nearly identical in size and shape and design philosophy to the Onkyo D-TK10, a collaboration between Onkyo and guitar-maker Takamine, which I discussed back in late 2006.

The press sheet for the HB-1 states, “[Designer] Toru Hara lives in the beautiful Kiso area of Japan, near string instrument manufacturer Takamine….Takamine and Hara embarked on a collaborative effort to create a new kind of speaker cabinet that used the most advanced instrument-building craftsmanship, and was made without constraints on cost or effort.”

Back in 2006, when I listened to the Onkyo D-TK10, I found that it worked well with recordings of acoustic guitar, but failed to impart the natural tones of almost everything else I typically listened to, such as drums, voices, brass, and electric instruments. The Onkyos did all that for $1999/pair. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to make any comparisons between the two speakers—I don’t really know anything about the Kiso Acoustic HB-1—but what I found even more surprising about the HB-1 was its price: $16,000–$24,000/pair, depending on finish.

And that finish is extremely pretty, and a major upgrade over the more modest Onkyo D-TK10, but it’s not $14,000–$22,000/pair prettier. A hypothetical question, then: If the cabinets and internal bracing are basically the same, can different drive units and crossovers justify such an extreme price increase? Has inflation been that relentless over the last four years? I listened (for a few dazed moments) and didn’t hear any gross coloration, but did I mention I was shocked?