This is a bi-annual event that is held in Tokyo and this is the second (consecutive) one that I've had the good fortune to attend. Somewhat knowing what to expect, I was still blown away by what this show had to offer. As I wrote about the last show, there were far too many things to listen to or even see in the seven hours from opening to closing. Very luckily this time, with HUGE thanks to Head-Fi's very own Sasaki-san, myself and a few others were able to get advanced access to the show which made things so much easier... and yet I still managed to miss some things! In fact, to illustrate the size, depth, and level of excitement this event held for me, imagine going to a show and forgetting to listen to the JH-3A. Yeah. Throughout this post you will read a lot of, "I wish I got to listen to... maybe next time." Luckily this time there were a few more Head-Fiers there (including Head-Fi papa, Jude!) and you can read some of their impressions here:
...and bunch more photos:
In writing this post, going through these pictures not only brought back the show for me, but I also saw things that I missed or didn't know about. So feel free to ask questions, but much of this still requires further research and study for me! And before I forget, BIG, BIG thanks to Makoto Ishizone, COO of Fujiya AVIC who organizes this bi-annual show. Thank you Sasaki-san for getting us early access to the show, and thank you Jude for the super-cool t-shirts you had made up just for this event!
Fujiya AVIC is a hi-fi and professional A/V store located about 10 minutes outside of central Tokyo in Nakano. The store specializes in pre-owned gear, and it is stocked in warehouse fashion with mint examples of Accuphase, Esoteric, Levinson, Luxman, and many other high-end pieces.
This photo was taken at just after 9am- two hours before the show was to open to the public. In Japan, whether it's for a new video game, new gadget, or tickets to an event, long, patient, and organized lines are the norm.
Otaku as defined by Wikipedia: "(おたく / オタク?) is a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, hentai, manga, or video games. In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku is most often equivalent to "geek". However, it can relate to a fan of any particular theme, topic, hobby or any form of entertainment."
Headphone Girls greet attendees as they come off of the elevator onto the seventh floor. The gentleman on the phone in the lower right photo is Ishizone-san. Everytime I saw him during the show, he was running around on the phone or talking to people. He never rests!
RAL/ RATOC Audio Lab headphone amps and TechDAS high-end DAC
NuForce CDP-8 CD player and DAC-9 amp, Icon amps
Olive Music Servers, ORB Audio Jade - both uber-gorgeous units.
Shure had a few sets of the SE535 LTD-J on hand for listening.
While I admit to only having heard the 'regular' SE535s a handful of times and as recent as a few days before the show, to my deaf ears the LTDs sounded very similar. I have to admit though that I like the red!
I got to listen to the Furutech ADL (Alpha Design Labs) Cruise DAC/ amp the night before, and it's a nice piece of gear! The curved shape and finish are especially nice to hold.
Ortofon had the 'usual' headphone and IEMs on display, and a beautiful line of cables.
EAR Yoshino's vinyl set-up. Read Currawong's brief impressions here.
Kojo Technologies: A serious line of line conditioners and AC power-related components from Japan
I've always been curious about the 'portable' STAX- the SR-003. I finally got a chance to listen to them. And although the demo material was not familiar, I must say that I am intrigued by them and they warrant a follow-up listening with familiar music. My initial impressions are that they are midrange-centric. The ear pieces are unique in that they rotate on the headband so that the ear 'cups' will adjust to your ear. At first I thought they looked like suction cups on an octopus. But as it turns out they are actually quite comfortable for my ears.
Ken from ALO Audio was there. (Sorry, Ken- I incorrectly told you that I bought my HP-P1 from you, when I was thinking about my iQube!)
Not enough time to listen to the JH Audio JH-3A? Geez...
ALO had a set of the Audez'e LCD-3s on hand to demo.
The Rx mk3 amp... wow. The thing has muscle. It was driving LCD-3s on 'M' gain with the volume at around 9:30 just fine. I loved the feel of the control knobs (not too loose), and the bass is completely defeateable if desired. Just as the volume knob 'clicks' to turn the unit on, the bass knob does the same to add or remove it from the circuit. The LF gain is reasonably subtle- my guess is 4-6 db? I really like this amp. Ken says it will sell alongside the Rx mk2 at a different price point.
This thing was found out and about and had to be put back before it hurt anybody.
I've always wanted to hear the Monster Trumpets! They sound very much like the MD Tributes- which to me is sort of like a club (not a jazz club). Of all the Turbines, I still like the Golds the best. BeatsPro- they sound pretty much like you'd expect them too. Yes, they have lots of bass; but the rest isn't all bad. It's somewhat balanced and there isn't really anything too offensive sounding. One thing I have to praise these for is the build quality. The leather pads are just plain wonderful! These might not sound the way a $400+ headphone should (or as most of us might like), but they sure feel the part.
Being the Etymotic rep must be either the best or worst job there is. They rarely have anything new to push, but what they have is still d@&%ed good! One of my favorite questions on Head-Fi is, "I have ER-4P/Ss, and I want to move up to the next level." Hmm... for me it's more like "the next level over"?
AKG K3003: (From my listening notes) "hmmm... wow. Pretty nice. Great balance and FR extension in both directions. Very detailed. Highs are almost silky-sweet. Balance tips on the brighter side- getting a bit close to being 'cold'. Sounds a little like a reference monitor. Lots of HF detail though." Overall I liked these IEMs. They did remind me a bit of my UE Reference Monitors. They come with three different sound filters: Bass boost, high boost, and neutral. I listened to them with the neutral ones. While I can't really imagine using the high boost, the bass boost (probably more like an LP filter) might make me like these even more. But for the price, they are well into 'customs' territory.
Soul by Ludacris: The thing I like the most about this show, as you will see in other pictures, is there is something for everyone. In Japan, headphones and earphones are like cars in America: Everyone has or needs one. And just like cars in the States, they can be as much about fashion as function. Another thing I am starting to notice is that while some of these might be easy to dismiss based on their marketing or target audience, some of these cans WILL surprise you!
MH Audio amps and some really beautiful accessories, including LODs, knobs, and cases
Radius: "Who got ear crud all over my DDMs?"
Pioneer has these IEMs that you can wear underwater, or at least wash them underneath the sink. And colors for Bass Heads!
Bispa: Sells electronic components in Japan, much like Digi-Key or Mouser does here in the U.S. They manufacture their own little amp.
Zero Audio: The ZH-BX300 sounded quite a bit muffled in my ears, but the BX500 has a pleasing sound. I really like the build of these little IEMs.
Phiaton: "When I get my hands on the guy who shipped these to me..."
There were a lot of wireless/ Bluetooth products at the show, none of which I had the chance to listen to.
The last time I heard the SRS iWow 3D, I was intrigued but I thought the effect was a bit too much. It now seems that they have an App to use with it from which you can make adjustments. Sounds really cool!
Wow. I think the last Scosche product I used was an in-dash radio kit for my 1990 Honda Accord. I wonder if they know that phonetically 'Scosche' mean "a little" in Japanese?
Westone had a few pairs of the W4Rs to listen to. To my ears, they sounded very much like the 'regular' W4s. And I think I actually prefer not having the memory wire. But it will definitely come down to preference and the wish to have a replaceable cable.
The UM1 comes in Team Edition Corsa (red) and Team Edition UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling (orange). They are essentially the same as the regular UM1, but in a different limited edition color and no extra charge.
The really nice people at the Westone table remembered me from the Spring show! I'm not sure if that's good or bad. And to make me go away, they gave me this really cool Westone cable wrap.
Final Audio Design: Unwrapping some of the most pricey IEMs on the market.
So if you read my previous post of the May show, I wrote how I couldn't figure out how to get the Piano Fortes into my normalish ears. Well, the bad news is they still don't fit. I think I did manage to get them in further this time. Maybe it's like one of those things where you have to leave it in there and then let your body grow around it. Getting them further in and with a little help of keeping them in place with my fingers, I could see how these could sound really nice. I did notice a difference between the copper ones and the silver ones. And while I can see the potential if they happened to fit just right, for now it's still like trying to get someone else's custom IEMs to fit into my ears.
Moving on to their other IEMs, the 'BA-SS' are definitely on the 'fun' side of things. And yep- the ba-ss is the strength of these. The midrange and treble seem to have a bit of coarseness or edge to them, so this is definitely a rockin' IEM. The 'heaven s' is not bad but my overall impression was that it was just average. Now the 'heaven c', I thought these were nice. Tonally they are just on the fun side of neutral. The bass is very good- tight and low. I think part of this is because I seem to be able to get a really good fit with these (heavens). These can be quite detailed and the highs ride that fine line between detailed-sparkly and harsh. Some would call these harsh, but I really like them. And they can't possibly cost anywhere near as much as the Piano Forte's- can they?
Final Audio Design Headphone: You have to see these to believe them. Someone told me that they weighed around 1.3kg (just under 3lbs.). I would say that would be on the conservative side. I wasn't sure if these were for real when I picked them up. And the weight is just part of it. The clamping force on these things? At rest they're about 2-3 inches smaller than my head, which is average-sized from most accounts. To pull these apart you almost need tools. Think medieval torture device. I was afraid I was going to break them. But that would probably be impossible because the headband is as solid as it looks. There was nothing to listen to, as this was only a prototype and the real thing is due out sometime next year. There is already a thread here on Head-Fi about these here.
Audinst and Audiotrak were both there, the later showing their top of the line Dr. DAC2 TE or 'Top Edition', which is a limited edition DAC/ amplifier and uses new high-end op amps.
Ultrasone's distributor Timelord had these display booths set up for quiet(er) listening. The heavy cardboard booths are actually double-walled so they did a pretty good job given the ambient noise. This would be really neat for some of the larger Head-Fi meets, but they look pretty expensive.
Interviewing the owner of Timelord for Fujiya AVIC's UStream channel. She is also the owner of a new boutique headphone and earphone store in the upscale Roppongi district of Tokyo, where they have a store called GEM. The concept is a rather new and unique one where they make custom handmade earphones for upscale consumers. It really needs to be seen to be believed, as I was able to go by the showroom earlier and see what were really more like works of art or custom jewelry that happened to be earphones. They also make hand-carved and hand-painted Japanese lacquer (urushi) iPhone cases!
There were some really remarkable sets at the vintage headphone table. Who knew ESS made a headphone with nothing less than their Heil Air Motion Transformer? Wow.
Definitely a once in a lifetime thing. I wish I had spent some time here!
Vestax is definitely trying to capitalize on their reputation for having the best DJ gear (mixers), as well as cater to a female audience.
One of the stars of the show, seemingly agreed upon by the group of Head-Fiers there, were these V-Moda M-80s. They definitely have everything going for them including sound (of course!), comfort, durability, looks, and accessories. You might say that we were all biased since we were hanging out with the owner of the company, Val Colton, the day/night before. But personally I really like these headphones and to know that there is such a cool (nice!) guy behind them is just a bonus. Really try and check these out if you get the chance.
edit: It looks like these headphones are making the rounds here on Head-Fi. Check out this thread for a stack of opinions. I haven't read it yet, but I'd be surprised if they were anything but glowing.
Venetor Sound: I mentioned it at the last show and here again, I really like these compact digital integrated amplifiers that come in different glossy enamel finishes.
NineWave: Excellent review of these earbuds by ClieOS here.
"Somebody get this guy with the camera away from me."
I thought I remembered reading that Klipsch was going to discontinue the X5, which is too bad. It's one of my favorite IEMs that I hardly listen to anymore (mainly because there are others).
I didn't stop to listen to the JVC IEMs, mostly because I had just made good on my promise from last time to buy a pair of HA-FX700s. Done! And I already have my next IEM picked out, which you will read about shortly and won't be out until next year anyway.
Give them what they want- XX Deep Bass Sound & Tough Body! I had the chance to listen to the smaller JVC 'Woodies'- the HP-DX700, and I thought they sounded a bit hollow and echo-y. They're not bass heavy nor bright. They're actually pretty easy to listen to. I just happen to think that they sound quite a bit colored. But then looking at their design (large beautiful wood cups, oversized earpads), perhaps that is what they were aiming for, and I'm sure there are people who would like their sound signature.
Ultimate Ears brought custom demos this time- they didn't at the last show. Perhaps they are looking to expand into the Asian market. When I visited several shops in both Osaka and Tokyo on this trip, I noticed a few places that had JH Audio, Westone, FitEar and Canal Works custom demos. But not Ultimate Ears (yet?).
In no paricular order, Fanny Wang, Burson, PreSonus, and Ray Samuels modified by Oji Special Design Audio.
Edited by Mkubota1 - 8/3/12 at 11:15pm