Hi there. It seems like just the other day I was writing one of these... more like six months. I'm running out of ways to start these off- so let's just get on with it.
< This is the place.
> This is the way in.
I'll come right out and say it: I love this guy and his IEMs... and tea... and store concept. I'm a fan boy. For those not familiar, Makoto Yamagishi is an ex-Sony engineer of almost 30 years. He is the creator for such oddities like the SRS-N100 active speaker, the SRS-AX10 desktop speaker, and the PFR-V1 headphone. He is also the inventor of the Acoustic Turbo Circuit (MDR-E252, etc.).
* * * * *
And after leaving Sony he decided to open a shop that encompasses three of his passions: Audio (of course), tea, and woodwork. The later is an integral part of his Flat4-Kaede and Donguri-Keyaki IEMs. At this show he unveiled his latest IEM: The Donguri-Keyaki which translates to "acorn-Japanese zelkova".
Having been teased by numerous prototypes, this is one IEM that I've been waiting a long time to hear. I generally shy away from giving impressions. But I will say that this IEM has a different sound than the Flat4 family- yet it still has a bit of that Ocharaku house-sound familiarity.
< These are three prototype-sample versions of the Flat4-Kuro. Their connecting tubes are all different lengths. This was an experiment to see which tuning people liked the best.
> After listening to all three, people could vote for their favorite. This kind of crowd-sourcing seems to be happening more and more at these events. It's a fun way to gauge what people want to hear.
If you are ever in Tokyo, you really need to drop by his shop 音茶楽. He'll pour you some tea, you can listen to some fantastic IEMs, and see the wood crafts of Oak Village with whom he collaborates to make the wood bits of the Kaede and Donguri.
This is of course the FUJIYA AVIC Headphone Festival, or as they call it ヘッドホン祭り！ This show took place last October and you've probably already seen pictures of it. The amazing thing about these shows is I've probably seen at least three different rather lengthy reports on it, and all of them show things I either didn't snap pictures of or things that I flat-out didn't recall seeing. You could say seeing everything at one of these shows is sort of like trying to eat at every sushi restaurant in Tokyo in a year's time. Impossible.
I've always liked this company for some reason. In the thick of giants like Sony, JVC, Audio Technica, and so on, there is this little guy. It's often companies like this where the little surprises come from. I think their Carbo Tenore (~$40) is a pretty decent IEM for the price- and they're crazy light too! Their new IEMs from the Carbo-series (Carbo Singolo and Carbo Doppio) have single and dual balanced-armature drivers, brass fittings inside underneath the carbon, and a brass nozzle which reminds me a bit of the FitEar titanium nozzles that inject sound into your earholes.
TDK is a giant company. This means they have lot of resources. In the past few years it seems like they've been putting those resources towards making some good headphones and IEMs. Their BA-200 is well-regarded and I really like their IE800 (not to be confused with the Sennheiser IE800).
One trend I am seeing in the IEM market is making different versions of a particular IEM model. Here you see designations like "Vocal", "Live", and "MegaBass".
And once again you see them asking show attendees which tuning of a particular IEM they like more. It looks like "Vocal" is winning on this one!
> The ceramic housing on the
TH-PVEC600 made them feel cool when initially inserted. Kind of neat!
KEF has long been a name recognized by audiophiles for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest audio memories was back in the early 80's listening to the Model 104/2 speakers at a small local hifi shop. But if you haven't noticed lately, everybody that has anything remotely to do with audio (and some not even that) are jumping on the headphone bandwagon. This makes me very suspicious when I approach headphones like these. But thankfully KEF did not disappoint me! I really liked the sound and comfort of the M500 headphones.
|< While I liked the M500 for its design and sound, the M200 (background) sounded good but was a bit of an ergonomic problem for me. The nozzles are huge, which will also make "tip-rolling" next to impossible. Too bad because when I was able to hold them in place, I really liked their sound.|
NAD / PSB
I'm putting these two together because apparently they're designed by the same people and they were at the same table at the show. I've heard a lot of good things about these headphones since listening to them and I have to whole-heartedly agree with the positive reception. Believe the hype- the VISO HP50 and M4U are both excellent sounding cans!
|< The PSB M4U sounded good. I just wish their construction was a little less 'Beats'-like with their shiny plastic. They have really nice comfortable pads though!|
From what I see in the stores, Beyer seems very popular in Japan. Below, the representative is showing the improved comfort of the new pads on the newly released T51P next to its predecessor.
|> Westone displayed their new 'W-series' IEMs. I confirmed that the W40 sounds pretty much the same as my W4, which I am happy about. Unfortunately, they did not have their W50 and W60 at the time.|
|> I've heard some good things about the Beats-looking Yamaha PRO 500. But I did not have time to confirm or deny that.|
I thought these HPH-M82s were some interesting looking headphones. They have a really nice fit-and-finish, but I was most curious about the comfort of those square looking pads. They sort of reminded me of beignets and made me a little hungry. They sit on your head with the points facing forward and they're actually quite comfortable!
|> One headphone they didn't have at their table (or I missed) was the HPH-MT220. But I did get to hear it at another store on a follow-up visit and they sounded quite good. They might benefit from some tuning, but they still sounded nice.|
I can't count the times I've passed by this table at previous shows. (Actually, I can- five and counting.) They've always had this nice spread of custom accessories for their portable amps. This year they had their new HA-11 amp. The build quality on this amp is unsurpassed by anything I've seen on the market.
A while back these people came to the Head-Fi room we had at the show and asked us to listen to some prototype IEMs that were quite impressive at the time. But when asked, "How much will these be?" some of us had reservations about a company nobody has ever heard of asking top dollar for a single-driver IEM.
The packaging shows just part of the attention to detail that DITA has put into these IEMs. Whether you opt for 'The Answer' or 'Answer (Truth Edition)', they both come with this classy kit. Other companies should take notice of this for their own top-of-the-line premium products.
|> Notice how all of the accessories are custom-made. Keep in mind this is their first product on the market, and compare it to other top-tier IEMs.|
I have to admit my weariness in the 'cable debate'. A lot of it for me comes from the dubious cost-benefit (if there is any) ratio. But the application here has me thinking the premium is well-worth the cost in this particular case: Answer = $500, Truth Edition = $800. The two IEMs sound like (wait for it...) NIGHT and DAY! The upgraded cable is the only difference between the two models- I was assured that everything else (driver, housing, solder, etc.) is identical. The added bonus of course is the little window that they made in the cable to give you a peak at the silver Van Den Hul inside. If I remember correctly, the rest of the cable is covered to prevent the oxidation and UV damage that anyone with transparent cables knows all too well. Some might call this a gimmick, but I call it "attention to detail!"
It was only a few years ago that Fostex had just come out with the TH-900 and HP-A8. Before that they had very little to keep audio enthusiasts excited. Now it seems like they are slowly but surely filling out their line-up with some serious products. This year the only new item for sale at the time of the show was the HP-A4. But there are many exciting things in the future for Fostex as you can see from the numerous prototypes that we've seen from past shows that are getting closer to maturity.
I thought the upcoming Fostex T-50rp-based prototype sounded good. But apparently they've been further tweaking it between demonstrations- the way they've been doing for a few of their other future products. With the comfort of the TH-series cans and a build quality that is many, many times better than its driver donor, I seriously can't wait for these to come out.
|< That HP-A4 sort of looks like a baby HP-A8, doesn't it?|
On the portable front, the TH-05 IEM sounded great and has been getting some well-deserved praise for their balance and neutrality at such a reasonable pricepoint of ~$150. Having been out in prototype form for what seems like forever, the HP-V1 tube amp was looking closer than ever to a finished product with its solid casework. Both the TH-05 and HP-V1 will be on sale (in Japan) next month!
People familiar with JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) audio know of radius and their DDM-equipped IEMs. They were one of the earlier companies to have dual dynamic driver IEMs. While not dual-driver, their latest NEF-series of IEMs tout some sort of "high magnetic flux density system". It sort of sounds like a Beyerdynamic Tesla thing, but I'm not sure if these have a particularly powerful magnetic field or if that's just marketing mumbo-jumbo.
|> Having looked at the price of these long after hearing them, I was surprised by how inexpensive they are- between $20 and $40. I had the impression they were around $100, so maybe there is something here.|
This Japanese giant is continuing to push the high-resolution format on all fronts- both hardware and software. On the hardware DAP side, we have the NW-ZX1. It's amazingly light for its size and one friend of mine has already replaced his AK120 with it. On my last trip to Tokyo during New Years, every store was sold out of them. Their lesser NW-F887 at almost half the price is also really nice- similar to the ZX1 but with plastic buttons, different analogue innards, and 64GB vs 128GB.
|< What I like about both of these players (ZX-1 and F887) is that their volume has 32 steps versus the 16 you are stuck with on iOS devices.|
Just released are also their DSD-capable PHA-2 DAC/ headphone amplifier and their XBA-H1, H2, and H3 hybrid (balanced-armature/ dynamic driver) IEMs.
When I was growing up, it was TDK and Maxell fighting it out for the cassette tape business. I guess they're back at it again- but this time not as the main players. What is good to see is that these companies aren't just making something for the sake of having something to sell. There is definitely some engineering and innovation in the works here.
The MXH-DD600 has dual dynamic drivers, while the MXH-DBA-700 and 900 have hybrid BA and dynamic drivers. These configurations seem to be a hot trend now.
ALO / Audeze
I put these two together since they share the same table at these shows, as they are both distributed by Mixwave in Japan.
The LCD-XC and the LCD-X were on-hand. Both sounded really good- I've always liked the way these cans sound. I just need to workout my pencil neck a bit more to support the weight of these beauties.
|> LCD-SP? I doubt we'll be seeing these anytime soon. Although you never know. I can't imagine how fun it would be to dampen all of those small bits and pieces.|
|< Lipovitan (リポビタン) is a Japanese energy drink that was invented back in the 60's long before Redbull. I'd imagine a lot of the ALO and Audeze crew needed these to help fight off their jetlag.|
This company is first and foremost a custom IEM maker. But since I do not live in Japan, my main interest with them is with their universals: The 'TO GO! 443' and Parterre. I finally got to listen to the later at the show. For me, the FitEars have this quality or tuning that doesn't impress me the first few minutes like many other IEMs do. However after listening to a few tracks, they are hard to put down.
|> It's always neat to look at the titanium nozzles on the universal FitEars.|
These gorgeous headphones from this new upstart company had to be some of the more memorable ones at the show. And I didn't even get to listen to them! Words cannot describe how beautiful these are. Aside from a few Ultrasones, the Sony MDR-R10, and maybe a few of the Audio Technica Anniversary cans, I can't really think of anything that matches the beauty of these. And as the cliche goes: Pictures don't do them justice.
The P-10 comes in three different iterations: 'Standard', 'ArtCase', and 'CustomMade'. They are supposed to be out this spring (2014) so perhaps I'll get to hear them at the next Headphone Festival. The only thing I know about them is that they are individually hand-built and take about two months to make one. Needless to say, they won't be cheap.
|< Beautiful, beautiful headphone. That's all for now.|
Here is (another) good example of technology crossing into art. The KM01 amp comes in basically two versions: One that is all solid brass and limited to 300 units of production, and one that is hand-painted in Tsugaru, Aomori in a distinctive lacquer finish that changes appearance depending upon the lighting. I think the hand-painted ones are all sold out.
The artistic aspect of this amplifier does not surprise me. We've seen this with GEM (IEMS), ORB (amplifier), and Fostex (headphones). What I thought was interesting was the fact that KOJO implicitly states that the finish on the brass version is not treated and will oxidize in time. Also, the surface is relatively soft for a metal and will also show scratches. This is all said to give this piece an aged appearance over time. The implication is that this is something that will be used or kept for more than just a couple of years. Wouldn't it be nice to inherit audio equipment as family heirlooms?
Despite its custom IEM-like price, the SE846 seems to be doing well as the uber-universal IEM market rapidly expands- for better or for worse. I personally find universals a bit more comfortable than actual customs, and I like the idea of being able to listen to the actual units before buying them; especially when spending that kind of money.
Admittedly not a huge fan of their headphones, this one might change that opinion for me. The sound of the SRH1540 seems far more neutral (read: not super-bright) than their other cans, they're super-light (or that's just the carbon placebo...), they have super-comfortable pads, and their overall construction is very nice. I want to spend more time listening to these.
I somehow managed to miss their eQ-8 (it's right there in the photo on the right), but saw this cute little tube amp- the Ta-Q7. I did not get to listen to this headphone/ speaker amp. But it has me thinking of bringing my own full-sized headphones to these shows so I can do some demo-ing of this stuff.
Aka Alpha Design Labs, aka Furutech. Mostly known for cables and accessories, they have a decent set of headphones as well as a new dual dynamic driver IEM.
|< The EH008 has a 5.8mm and 8mm driver. I found them to sound very similar to my TDK IE800s, which share the same driver configuration. The ADLs look nicer though!|
|> I'll be you thought Jude had his own camera and sound crew. Think again!|
|< STAX has had their same line-up for as long as I can remember coming to these shows. Actually to be fair, the 009 came out the first time I attended and I think the portable 002 is newish. And it wouldn't be a Japanese headphone show without them!|
Monster / Etymotic
I don't really have anything to say about them other than they were situated across from each other and looked like they were ready to have a food fight.
Oyaide / Zephone
Speaking of Etymotic, I FINALLY FOUND AN AFTERMARKET CABLE FOR MY ER-4!!!!! Sorry for the all-caps.
The Silver Seagull (gotta love that name) comes in two versions- one for the ER-4P and another that will turn your 4P into a 4S. I was looking for a cable with a better behaved wire below the 'v' of the silly stock one, and found it. One word of caution: Though pretty and easy to coil/handle, this wire is microphonic beyond belief. I don't move much when I listen to it so doesn't bother me too much. And at least it didn't cost more than the ER-4 itself- around $70 (show price) if I remember correctly.
HD800s and HD650s are all lined up. One thing interesting that I noticed at these shows is they seem to display the HD650s a lot more than the HD600s. This also goes for other vendors (amplifier, source, etc.) that use Sennheisers- they seem to pick the HD650 almost unanimously over the HD600. I wonder if that's just about preference or because the '650 is perceived as a higher model? I myself see them as a lateral move rather than one being better than the other. Maybe that's just me.
There weren't any anniversaries to celebrate this year. Too bad because I love their 'ANV' stuff!. But AT still had a lot to introduce.
Among the new items were these Sonic Fuel IEMs. I didn't listen to them, but I liked how they were displayed!
These Limited Edition ATH-A900X LTD headphones sounded nice. But I think they were no different from the standard issue A900X other than their color.
|< AT also had this new AT-HA22TUBE hybrid tube amp.|
Okay, admittedly I didn't come here to see all of that. What did get me excited was their new line of multi-BA driver IEMs.
My general thought is that they all sounded good, but I definitely need more time to listen to them to wrap my head around what I was hearing. There is certainly some 'flavor' to their sound- nothing radical, but something that will take a bit more time to analyze. The shells get bigger and bigger as you go from the IM-01 > IM-02 > IM-03 > IM-04 (single, dual, triple, and quad-driver). The IM-04 is almost as large as some customs. I didn't have any actual trouble getting a good fit, but I knew they were there.
The connector for the removable cables is the same on all four models and looks proprietary to me. So it doesn't look like cable rolling will be available at least in the short-term.
The transparent shells are a nice touch. Other new IEMs they introduced included the more entry-level IM70 (right, red) and IM50. Both have dual dynamic drivers. I thought the IM-70 sounded really nice and comes in at around the $100 range. There already seems to be a good following for this IEM on Head-Fi already.
|> The only reason I put this here is because I've noticed in the past that despite them being fairly ubiquitous in the U.S., I hardly see these DACs at the Headphone Festival. Instead I see the Grace m902/3 everywhere.|
|> Here is another JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) amplifier that I've seen at every one of these shows and I'd like to listen to someday.|
I had to do a bit of post-show research to figure out what the deal was with this table. (I actually learn quite a bit after the fact when writing these posts!) Apparently it's a small store in the heart of Akihabara that specializes in vintage tubes, selling a lot to overseas customers as well as domestic. Just go here and drop that into Google translate- you'll get the idea.
|< I have to admit, just looking at this table left me a bit intimidated to ask for any information. However I read that the owner speaks English quite well. So I will definitely be visiting this table if it's at the next show!|
I've gushed over the appearance of this stuff in earlier posts. I still haven't gotten a chance to sit down and listen to it. Okay, next time I will bring headphones. They actually have a cafe (no, seriously... this is Japan) called Cafe Triode that I want to go to before I die- just out of sheer curiosity. Judging from these pictures, it seems like an amazing place!
I hope nobody accidentally sat on those headphones!
< Ultrasone's latest 'Edition', the Edition 5. This was the feature for this show.
Ultrasone also had their Edition lineage on display, from back in the days before headphones cost $5k.
> Ahhh, it's not a Headphone Festival without...
John Lee Jeongkyu is based in Seoul, Korea but makes frequent trips around Asia and speaks fluent Japanese and English. I first met him a few years back when he was helping EXS (also Korean and maker of some pretty good IEMs) at the Headphone Festival. He had some prototypes and personal projects including some really nice all-metal earbuds that I'm hoping he'll someday finish.
|< His latest creation which just came to market is a balanced amplifier- the LZIO HAV3-SE Small, light-weight, and powerful is what he was aiming for with this amp. It is entirely handmade with extreme attention to parts choice, design, and detail; and runs off of one 9-volt battery.|
This is a new company I first came across at the last show. They described themselves as being a Hong Kong-based company that designs their (amplifier) circuits in Japan and manufactures their products in China. At the time they had a prototype amplifier with a processor which simulated a "tube sound" that I thought was well-implemented and sounded nice. Now it looks like they are coming closer to completion of their portable amp. It's a very stylish amp as you can see!
Final Audio Design
|> You simply cannot walk past the Piano Fortes without taking a picture of them. It's just not possible.|
< As difficult as the FAD Piano Fortes are to fit in my ears, this one from Skullcandy gave me even more trouble.
This is another enlarged version of one of their headphones- the Crusher. If you haven't tried these... well, you simply must try them. The idea is that there is a motor/servo inside of the earcup that vibrates along with the bass notes of the music you are playing. The effect will leave you laughing out loud- guaranteed! On a different note, despite their 'youthful' appearance, the Mix Master headphones from these guys are actually quite good. I have to say I was a bit shocked, especially coming from a company that has this much fun.
|< ...hello again. (Second day's outfit)|
By the way, the Autumn Headphone Festivals more often than not fall on the weekend close to Halloween which they do observe to a degree in Japan- especially the adults. I sometimes forget this when I'm walking around there at night.
I'm not sure if this is saving the best for last, but I was pretty impressed by the sound of the latest creation of Jerry Harvey's- the Roxanne. From my brief listen I wasn't able to fully digest what I was hearing, but I walked away with a favorable impression overall. The build, kit, and inline bass control all added to the appeal of this new custom IEM. I would very much like to listen to them again.
|< As always, Jerry flashes a big smile and positive vibe at these shows, even though this was taken towards the end of a two-day event. I'm sure he and all of the other U.S.-based exhibitors were battling jet-lag.|
Well, there goes another one. I'll wrap it up with this last group photo taken just after the close of the second and last day of the show. You'll probably recognize a few of these faces from other events as well as right here on Head-Fi. As with all of these shows that I've attended, BIG thank you to Sasaki-san (Head-Fi contributor who always comes through with providing us early access to the show) and Makoto Ishizone of FUJIYA AVIC. And I guess I'll keep going to these and reporting until I run out of PTO, money, or both.
Edited by Mkubota1 - 1/23/14 at 11:42pm