In an age of hype, where everyone ceaselessly self-promotes to gain attention and market share, Koetsu represents an oasis of calm. Founder Yosiaki Sugano (1907 – 2002) was a man of many parts - artist, musician, swordsman, calligrapher, business executive, and father. He drew inspiration from the 17th century Japanese artist Honami Koetsu (1558-1637).
So what else but to adopt the name of his hero Koetsu when deciding to manufacture high quality MC pickup cartridges back in the late 1970s? Amazingly, the company seems never to have advertised its products, nor produced any sales leaflets. All the same, word quickly spread among audiophiles, and the Koetsu legend was born. In 2014 Koetsu still doesn’t have an official website. Twitter? Facebook? What’s that?
With Koetsu, Hearing was Believing. Once you’d experienced a Koetsu, little-else sufficed. The original models were quite large, with a rosewood body covering. Later models slimmed down a little, and featured exotic body materials, from lacquered Urushi finishes, to the use of natural gemstones including Jade and Onyx.
Sugano’s minimalist approach soon earned him mythical status in hi-fi circles. It’s said his ‘death’ was erroneously reported no less than three times – something that apparently pleased him no end! It all became part of the Sugano legend, adding to the mystique of this most unusual of brands. Finally, though, reports of his death were not greatly exaggerated, and the legend died just a couple of months short of his 95th birthday. However, the Koetsu name lives on through Sugano’s son, Fumihiko, who was trained to take over his father’s legacy, and keeps the brand clouded in mystique to this day.
Koetsu cartridges still enjoy near-mystical status; the creations of a quiet infinitely-patient sage, steeped in ancient wisdom, slowly and painstakingly crafting transcendental products – and all this passed down the line from father to son, master to new master. Inevitably, the legend is somewhat at odds with the reality. But still the myth lingers on, and with good reason.