This was the first time for me to attend an e-earphone festival in Tokyo. It was quite a different atmosphere from the Fujiya Avic ones. For starters, vendors were forbidden from wearing suits and ties! Everyone had to be casual. The atmosphere, likewise, was very relaxed in comparison. The show was in a large exhibition hall upstairs, the downstairs area being dedicated to Beats and a number of performances going on, including one by an anime character that people were lining up for.
This casual atmosphere was also reflected in what vendors chose to display. While most brought their usual range of products, some chose to go more for pure enthusiasm, such as Audio Technica that brought a range of their famous wood limited edition headphones instead of their current range. You could listen to any of them.
Thanks to everyone who let me listen to and borrow products. Special thanks to mtthefirst who did his best to try and help me with the photography (a big room with a black ceiling is no good for trying to bounce a flash off).
Jerry Harvey was back again after touring Asia to promote the Roxanne. This time we had a better chance to listen and go over the features. My impression was that they sound like an IEM version of Audeze planar headphones. We have kindly been lent a universal-fit pair to try for a few weeks. Expect impressions from us soon.
At the end of the show, a bunch of people came up and asked Jerry to sign their amps, IEM cases or even sweater. As usual it was always great to talk to him and ask questions as he is always willing to talk about IEM design.
Dave from Cypher Labs with his new balanced tube amp as well as his new balanced portable amp.
Fostex had a new prototype of their up-coming planars available. The sound was improved on the one we heard at the October show. They are making steady progress with it but it may be a while before they have a model for release.
They also had their HP-A4 DAC amp, which I must say sounded very pleasant.
Last, but not least was a prototype of a new pair of IEMs with detachable cables, the TE-05, which are multiple-balanced-armature.
I forgot to photograph them, but instead of showing their current range (IEMs except) Audio Technica brought a range of their famous "woodies" -- limited edition wood headphones. There was even a W100 (ultra rare -- more so even than the famed W11R). I sat down and had another listen to the L3000s and talked about pad mods with the staff. While Audio Technica is known for making small amps, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had made both a USB DAC/amp and a small tube amp.
Denon has a new USB DAC/amp which will be sold internationally from February for around US$500. It had a neat feature that if you put it on its side, the screen automatically rotates.
Orb had a Class D tube speaker/headphone amp.
They also have their own portable amps. The portable amps have a very handy case giving easy access to the batteries.
Olasonic had their Ocharaku IEM, SACD player and DAC/amp.
Ortofon had their little tube amps hooked up to a $20k vinyl rig. The sound was sublime.
Ortofon still sell a version of Ultrasone headphones and other IEMs along with their own amps.
KingRex was there with the Headquarters and their USB DACs and cables.
Final Audio Design
I finally got around to having a good listen to the new Pandoras from Final Audio Design. They are unique because they use a balanced armature driver along with a dynamic driver. The sound with the treble and mids was very smooth, but they weren't so great with deep bass. Music also sounded a little odd as if there was some phase cancellation or cup vibration causing a few oddities. Regardless, I find them seriously interesting and unique.
Phillips had a gold X1 on display.
JVC had a couple of surprises. The first was a new range of headphones, some stylish and some serious, to go under the DX1000s in their range. They also had prototypes of an iDevice DAC/amp on display (but not for listening)
The models are all Japan-only, however.
Elekit had a portable tube hybrid amp on display, available with a variety of opamps. They are designed for full-sized headphones (16-600 Ohm).
While they didn't have as big a display as they do in the other shows, they were focussing on their lower-end models, including the portable.
This is the first time I have seen the full range of Resonessence products at any of the shows. I had a chance to listen with the Herus poratable DAC/amp at the show. I hadn't realised that it would work with my iPhone using an adaptor. The sound was pretty reasonable all things considered. I am interested in getting my hands on one to find out how good it could be with higher-quality USB bus power. I certainly wouldn't mind carrying something like it when I have to fly.
At the Venturecraft/V-MODA table the XL Memory Cushion pads were on display with the V-MODA range.
This is the Venturecraft Santa, of sorts.
Bispa is a Japanese company that makes portable amps. Here they have a range of aftermarket headphone cables on display.
The new inexpensive balanced DAP, the HM-700 was on display with an arm band. I quite liked what I heard from it at the October show so I hope to have a longer listen in the future.
ifi has the same distributor as Hifiman and the same stack of components on display in October was available for a listen here too.
Deff Sound (jokes about the name aside) make a small, portable headphone amplifier but are expanding into making desktop USB amps. They had a prototype on display.
We were pleasantly surprised to meet Stephen Guo from Unique Melody at the show. He showed us his new IEM, the Mentor and all the colours it would be available in. I had a listen to the demo Miracles for the first time and the Mentor. The Miracles seemed more "flat" with more focus on the mids and treble, but the Mentor was more full-sounding with stronger bass.
I hadn't previously heard of Radius, who were displaying a pair of IEMs as well as an interesting one-cable digital DAC for the iPhone to use with portable amps.
A prototype of the FiiO X5 player was on display. I had an SD card full of high-res music which I could insert and use to test the unit with. The sound with my Parterres was very good. I'm hoping to get a further listen to this in the near future.
Timelord had a single Hugo USB DAC on display. I didn't get a chance to try it, as there were always people listening unfortunately. The Ultrasone Edition 5s were on display again as well.
I had a brief listen to the very dark-sounding Cardas Ear Speakers. They reminded me a little of the FAD metal models, but with a more regular sound signature.
xDuoo makes small tube headphone amps, as well as markets Little Dot and other manufacturers in Japan. I was curious to try out his XD-06 tube DAC/amp and was quite impressed. Expecting a huge price, I was surprised to find it was only $650 or so.
Musica Acoustica had the Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs on display and I managed to get a good listen to Anakchan's pair after the show. They are still very impressive for what they are going for if their sound signature takes a little getting used to. Dimitri also had a heavy silver Chinese DAP on display which sounded remarkably good and worked with all the files on the SD card I had been using with my AK100.
Weird and Wonderful
No Japanese show would be complete without something weird. People dressed as animals and a headphone anime doll. The latter was for sale.