As my wife and I planned an extended trip to South Korea, I realized that the perfect opportunity had arrived to get a set of custom IEMs from Hidition, a company I'd been fascinated by since word about them first cropped up here late last year.
When you enter "hidition" into Google, the first matches are Hidition's own website, followed by Head-Fier average_joe's reviews of the Hidition NT 6 and NT 6 Pro. This is no accident; his writeups are some of the most comprehensive resources about Hidition and their flagship products that you can find in English.
So with some advice from a_j via PM, and following a brief correspondence with Hidition, a plan was set: I'd visit their office to audition their products and, if I liked something, get fitted for it.
While we spent two weeks in South Korea, the first week was a whirlwind tour of the peninsula, so we weren't able to visit Hidition's office until Monday of the second week. It was not an overly auspicious Monday: the weather was cold and rainy and during our rush out to the bus I lost the notepad that I had prepared with questions. Fortunately there was a Daiso near Hidition's office where I got another notepad (with the weirdly charming sentiment "in spring plants come into leaf" on the cover). We spent a little time drying off in the store and I tried to reconstruct some of my questions before we proceeded.
Hidition's office is in a modest building near the Seoul National University subway stop. We found the building easily and headed up to the second floor. Despite the Hidition poster in the hallway by their office doorway, I got cold feet and worried excessively that this wasn't the right place... eventually somebody came out of their office to welcome us.
Byeongha Sung, founder and CEO, received us and kindly spent time with us while my wife and I auditioned his designs and peppered him with questions. With the help of Mr. Sung's translator and my wife, we had a small conversation while office staff plied us with water and orange juice.
Byeongha Sung (right, in sweater vest) and his translator (left), who declined to give his name.
Hidition had been a business with a full line of custom IEMs only since September of 2011. Previously, Mr. Sung had been designing customs as a hobby and sideline to his main business servicing hearing aids. (He remains a representative for Starkey hearing aids, and hearing aids continue to be a portion of his business.)
Until relatively recently, he had been fulfilling customs orders himself, but orders have exceeded the capacity of a one-man operation, and Hidition has now grown to include a product manager and an offsite facility. While most orders are domestic, overseas orders come primarily from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, China and Japan.
Orders from abroad are handled slightly differently than domestic orders. Principally, the high-quality cable jacketed in heat-shrink and tipped with a Paillics plug -- available as an added-fee option for orders within South Korea -- is a standard accessory for overseas orders, with the standard price incremented appropriately. This is because the standard cable is a relatively lightweight unit similar to those provided by Westone, UE, Heir, and so on, and is similarly more prone to failure. The upshot is that we foreigners pay extra -- not only for better sound quality but to ensure we don't suffer weeks of downtime while waiting for warranty replacement by international mail.
Universal versions of Hidition's single-driver Hear First, NT 1 and three-driver NT Recording Masters are on one side of the demo stand; the six-driver NT 6 and NT 6 Pro are on the other side, along with literature and accessories.
The consultation room had a glass desk with some product samples, and a two-sided product display with universal models of all Hidition's current offerings. I had already narrowed down my preference to the New Tears 6 and New Tears 6 Pro, so those are where I spent my listening time; my wife was on the fence about having universals at all, so she tried a broader range of models before deciding that she's still more curious than she is ready to take the plunge.
Mr. Sung had expressed mild frustration with the quality of the photos in his promotional literature and, having now seen multiple examples of his work in person I sympathize. What I saw was all quite beautiful. In particular, what took me by surprise was the fiber material offered as an outer plate option; it doesn't look particularly complimentary in photos but in real life it is more subtle and appealing; I sometimes regret not getting it, but my own day-to-day tastes tend towards simpler designs. The color-flecked pearl options are also more attractive than I expected: Subtler and less blingy than they appeared online.
I decided on a model, colors and materials, and the fitting started. Ordering a custom IEM is not unlike ordering a suit: You pick out what you want, consult with the designer to the extent necessary to finalize the order, and then you get fitted. Although instead of being poked with measuring devices, an impression is taken of the inside of your ear.
A Hidition staffer offered me a choice of bite blocks -- which were all hard plastic rings that seemed to be different diameters but about the same thickness -- and filled a syringe with silicone goop. As usual, taking impressions began by stuffing into each ear a piece of foam on a string, followed by an injection of goop. I drooled gracelessly over the bite block (much to my wife's amusement) while the goop set; after a few short minutes I was offered a plastic receptacle to spit the bite block into, and the strings were pulled out to remove the impressions. Mr. Sung inspected the impressions and deemed them to be good, and we eventually said our thanks and farewells.
Hidition emailed on Friday evening of that week to say that my order was ready. This rapid turnaround is unusual, but Mr. Sung was sympathetic to our travel schedule and had already offered to do this. The next day happened to be the only other significantly rainy day during our time in Seoul... but the weather was no impediment at all compared to the remarkable amount of traffic that fills the roads of Seoul on Saturdays. We arrived in the afternoon, with sufficient time to complete the fitting and talk a little more.
With a little flourish, Mr. Sung presented my IEMs, taking them out of their bag and uncoiling them from their case. I was a little awkward in getting them in my ears; for reasons I'll get into in more detail in my pending review, they were both exactly what they should be yet not quite what I had expected. The important thing is that they felt great and sounded fantastic, which I tested by sampling through a range of music -- the trial tracks included "So What", a couple Swing Out Sister tracks, and "Desafinado" by Stan Getz with the Jobims. I noted my approval to Mr. Sung's relief, and then I won his approval by carefully wiping down the IEMs and cleaning the sound tubes before returning them to their case.
Being the end of the workday, Mr. Sung was more relaxed and chatty, but this time we had obligations of our own that kept the visit unfortunately short. I hope that I can visit again in the future and that I'll have improved skill in Korean as well.
The future of Hidition is promising and, now that I'm regularly enjoying the products of his work, I'm even more anxious to see what there is to come. Mr. Sung said his company is on the verge of launching an updated website and new marketing materials, along with some new products and revisions to the existing product line. Hopefully soon I'll be able to fill in more about this as well.
Edited by ardgedee - 11/26/12 at 3:50am