12V: Return of the Nak
Nakamichi Car Audio returns to the U.S market
Around 1990, just before I got bit officially by the car audio bug, I remember getting dropped off at high school and hearing the most amazing Nissan Sentra in the parking lot. Emblazed on the rear windshield was a vinyl decal promoting “Powered by Nakamichi Car Audio.” I had never heard of the brand, but it prompted me to investigate further. Along with legendary and legacy makers Alpine, Pioneer, Sony and Clarion high-end units, it was great to see another brand committed to sound quality and thoughtful engineering. Eventually, the company left the U.S. market – but now, it’s back.
Last May, Nakamichi Japan appointed Kiyokazu Igarashi as its new President, who previously served as President of Pioneer USA. Then Nakamichi reentered the U.S. market last summer and has since established its nationwide sales force of independent reps. It has begun selling through dealers from coast to coast. The well-known brand is offering dealers a mix of 12V products with a profit-minded marketing strategy. Distributor Petra will be handling the Southwest territories. Tate Morgan, president of Petra, noted, “Nakamichi has a reputation for high-quality products. We are excited to be partnering with Nakamichi as they return to the United States car audio market, and we are confident Nakamichi will quickly re-establish themselves as a premium brand.”
To show off its wares and build a dealer network of specialists, Nakamichi announced it is participating in Knowledgefest, and has jumped in with both feet, committing to a large booth at all four Knowledgefest shows. We were able to touch base with Robin McNeal, national sales manager for Nakamichi. “Response to the initial re-launch of Nakamichi has been fantastic,” he said. “We are looking forward to interfacing with dealers around the country at all the Knowledgefest shows.” Representatives from Sound Sales and Marketing (Southern California) and Cardoza and Company (Northern California) were on hand at the recent Long Beach show to introduce dealers to the lineup.
The retailers attending Long Beach were excited to see the legendary Nakamichi name resurrected in the U.S. Although the brand has been available in other countries, here, the Diplomat Trading company was presented the opportunity to be the exclusive agent for the brand. In September of last year, McNeal was brought on board to put the pieces of the puzzle in place, setting up sales representatives and establishing dealer and distributor partners. He grew up in the 12V industry and has experience at all levels of consumer electronics including retail, wholesale and manufacturing. Previously McNeal served at National Sales Manager for Clarion Corp. of America.
Although the Nakamichi car audio brand is currently offered in many countries, Diplomat Trading was presented the opportunity last year to be the exclusive agent in the U.S. The company is headed up by David Bradman, who believes in treating every customer with the highest degree of dignity and respect. Diplomat was founded back in 1981 by David and his father, who started in the home audio business. Today Diplomat operates from a 50,000-square-foot facility in Miami, Fla., and McNeal helps to run the sales side.
Currently, Nakamichi has a full range of DSP products. Some even include built-in amplification. On the speaker end, the company offers high-end component kits. “In the second quarter,” McNeal noted, “we are introducing a four- and a six-channel audiophile amplifier featuring vacuum tubes in the preamp stage.” Those shops who have audiophile enthusiast customers should be excited about their release.
We spoke with McNeal about the head unit lineup. Currently, the NAM3605 flagship receiver works with Apple CarPlay. But new units are being introduced and new feature sets specific to our market are being brought onboard. McNeal said: “Our head unit line just re-launched in the U.S. last summer. Since that time, Nakamichi and Diplomat have been collaborating with SiriusXM satellite radio and iDataLink for a Maestro unit for better factory integration. Nakamichi will introduce several new CarPlay and Android Auto units later this year with 10.1-inch floating screens.” We also asked him about possible integration with Alexa in the future. He said: “In-car connectivity is definitely something of interest to a growing number of drivers and part of Nakamichi’s ongoing development. Voice assistants are certainly part of that evolution to improve the in-car experience.” In other words, the brand should have all of the technological innovations of the current Tier One manufacturers of head units selling in the U.S.
Surveying the Lineup
Checking out the lineup, another focus was on small space-savings subwoofer solutions with built-in amplification. We asked if the American pickup truck market was factor in designing these systems where they can neatly fit under second-row seats. “No doubt, the U.S. pickup truck and SUV market is huge, and our amplified self-contained subwoofer systems are a perfect solution,” he said. “That said, the trend toward smaller CUV vehicles presents installation challenges for adding bass to the car. These powered subwoofers are the perfect solution, especially with the large number of leased vehicles on the road.” With an amplifier onboard and, potentially, DSP in front, it can be very easy to achieve good bass in a leased car with minimal changes to the interior. All it will take is for the customer to return to the retailer right before the lease termination to quickly have the equipment removed. Which also may lead to setting up an appointment to transfer it to the next vehicle!
McNeal said, “The ultra-efficient subwoofers are mated to the appropriate amplifier depending on the application. Nakamichi uses a variety of woofers and amplifiers to achieve the most bass while minimizing space, resulting in one of the smallest footprints available.”
If the Nakamichi lineup sounds promising, interested dealers can contact McNeal directly at email@example.com. “We have a great sales force in place utilizing manufacturer representatives from coast to coast, including Hawaii.” One area where Nakamichi wants to set itself apart from competitors is the introduction of easy-to-use DSP-enabled products, including the amplifiers. Right now, there are stand-alone DSP solutions, but we welcome amplifiers with robust tuning capabilities built in, to make installations even easier.
A Side Note: Taking Nakamichi DSP out for a Spin
We touched base with John Brown of Sound FX of Harriman, N.Y., who was one of the first retailers to try a new Nakamichi DSP in a customer vehicle. Brown explained: “Our usual sale is the typical $1,500 to $3,000 audio system, but lately, we have seen the demand for higher-quality systems, which is great. It’s great to see customers who demand quality sound systems for their music.
“Our customer came to us with a very good-sounding system already in place. It is a 1991 Camaro weekend show car that features JL Audio amplification and Hybrid Audio speakers. The Nakamichi unit, size-wise, is small and easy to tuck away – roughly a 5-inch-by-8-inch footprint. Once installed, the unit was very easy work with. Although Bluetooth tuning through a smartphone or other device is optional, I went for my trusty laptop, where I can see the screen easily and work with their software. We were using an Audiofrog microphone setup. The unit was easy to tune, and when we toggled back and forth between stock and DSP-enabled, we were able to get night-and-day sound-quality differences,” Brown said. “Unfortunately. I haven’t gotten to try anything else from Nakamichi yet except the DSP. Being that we are in winter, it is not a big audio month for me, but it usually picks up in a month, and that’s when I plan on trying out some more of their product. I was very happy with the quality of the DSP unit, especially the ease of installation and tuning.”