Woah. Thats all that I will start with. Until now the largest meet that I had ever been too was the final Canjam in 2010 at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. This makes that meet look like child’s play. The Fujiya Avic headphone festival was held at the Sun Plaza in Nakano Tokyo. They took up 5 floors, the 6th, 11th and the 13th-15th. It is a nearly overwhelming quantity of gear on display.
Headphones, and audio in general, are taken so much more seriously in japan. We showed up at around 945am on saturday morning to meet with the venerable Sasaki san to get some press badges for the festival. There was already a line forming outside the building and inside as well, mind you, the doors weren't even opening till 11am. A testament to how seriously they take their audiophilism.
On to some impressions of gear. And take everything I say with a massive grain of salt. Most things were heard for only 10-15 minutes at the most, either using my JH-13 fp, or straight out of my phone. A few times I borrowed some other gear to use for impressions.
One of the things that I really wanted to get around to finding was a good amp/dac combo thing to use with my laptop and JH-13s. I travel quite a bit taking the laptop but not the full-sized desktop rig and am looking for some better audio than the headphone out on my Macbook Pro with retina has to offer. There were several good units and several not so good units on display.
One unit that I quite liked was the ALO The Island. I had actually written this little guy off very early on after its announcement/release due to thinking it was going to be very similar to the Calyx Coffee(which I had heard at ChiUniFi 2012 and thought was truly horrid). Well it turns out that I was wrong in that assumption. The Island throws a fairly vast soundstage, and is pretty detailed and open sounding. The only knock I have against it really is that I think the output impedance is a bit too high, I could tell that when using m 13s that the deep bass was mostly non-existent, which may or may not have helped contribute to the very open sound that it was portraying.
The Resonessence Herus was another unit that I quite liked, it was also very detailed, and did not have the bass problem of The Island. It wasn't quite as open sounding though it did still throw a solid stage for me. It was more lit up you could say, in your face, but not congested. out of the two I would probably pick the Herus.
Once actually at the Festival though, Amos(Currawong) brought along his Geek Out 1000, which is a unit from the impressions so far I very much wanted to hear. I won’t lie though, when I first plugged it in to my macbook, it didn't impress me at all, not only that, I thought it sounded awful, very closed in and harsh sounding. Turned out that I was using the wrong jack on the unit and more importantly I needed to let it warm up(note: the 1000mW version gets very warm after it has been on for a while) it started to sound very excellent. Maybe still not quite as open as The Island, but more detailed and still with the bass. This would very much be my pick of a Dac/amp combo unit to use on the go. Though for IEM use I would get the lowest power version to conserve battery life on the macbook and so it doesn't get so unnecessarily hot. I’m now kicking myself for not jumping in on the crowd funding campaign for this thing.
Now for some of the ones that didn’t do anything for me. I forgot the company, but there was a Korean unit there, that was a little square with the whole top of the unit being a knob for volume with a giant DSD logo on it. was around 300 bucks and didn't sound anything special. Another one that I didn't care for was by a company by the name of Deff Sound. A rather larger square also with a large(and very good feeling knob) on the top of the unit, the sound did not live up to the quality of the CNC milled casing.
The last unit that I didn’t care for was the Resonessence Concero HP. I want to preface this though, it’s not that it was bad, or even worse than the above “liked” units. It was very detailed, I thought it did lack a bit in the staging department, particular in depth. My hesitation comes with the pricetag. Considering it costs double to triple as much as the above units I did not feel that it was worth it at all, at least with the JH-13s.
On to some portable amps. I didn't check out that many, and several that I didn't really care for I dont remember their names at all, but alas onto impressions.
My new favorite portable amp is going to be the Vorzuge Pure II. Holy heck is this in awesome amp, that doesn’t get nearly enough press I don’t think. Check out Shigzeo/Ohm Audio’s review for more detailed impressions, but I’ll say that it doesn't do anything wrong as far as I can tell.
Another unit that I liked quite a bit was from a Japanese company called MH Audio. I dont remember the model names, but they had two, a smaller and then a larger model. The larger one had several switches to control gain and then some bass and treble switches, whereas the smaller was just an amp. I really really enjoyed the sound of the smaller unit(i spent the most time with it) very detailed and transparent, and very open sounding. It wasn’t till a few tracks in that I realized it had a problem with the deep bass on some of my bass test tracks. This is when I asked, it has an output impedance of around 20 ohms I guess. Which is a shame, it won't work with any CIEMs which is what I would want it for. But if you're on the market for an awesome portable amp for use with larger full sized cans, I would say to give these a shot.
Another unit I quite liked was the SoundDroid Typhoon. It is a amp/DAC for use with iPhones. They have 3 different versions, the LME version(LME49860 I believe), a MUSES02 version and then a OPA627. Price wise they told me the LME was around 550, the MUSES was around 600 and the OPA627 was around 650. Which I thought was strange since I thought it was the worst of the bunch. The LME and the MUSES were my favorites with the MUSES just barely edging out the LME version, I would probably spend the extra 50 bucks.
The last unit I heard was the new Centrance HiFi Mini M8. This is a new unit that is drastically smaller than its larger sibling, and designed more for IEMs which is exactly what I would want to use it with. It still manages to have 4 digital inputs and supports iPhones, all while having longer battery life. Having never heard the original I sat down for a listen. I will say that it didn’t impress me at all, sound wise I thought it was rather flat, pretty poor staging, though it still has a ways to go till release to maybe this can be fixed. I dont recall a price.
I didn't spend too much time listening to full sized cans, but I did check out a few. The Sony MDR-1R was pretty great. Incredibly comfortable, fairly even response and not that expensive. I don't know a whole lot about the segment, but these were good, I'm considering getting a pair for portable use when I don't want CIEMs in my ears. I also checked out the Bluetooth version of the same headphones, since Jude told me they were solid, which they were considering the limitations of using bluetooth. I can definitely see a use case for the convenience of not having a wire in the way while still getting solid sound.
I stopped by the Final Audio Design table as well. Check out several of their IEMs which didn't do anything for me neither the balanced armature models or the dynamic models, but when we moved onto their full-sized line it got quite a bit better. All of their full sized models utilize a dynamic driver and also a balanced armature which looks to be pretty unique. They had 4 models, the 4,6,8,and 10. The 4 and 6 were in the 300 dollar range, and were not reference by any means, but I did enjoy their sound quite a bit same with the 8 which I dont recall the price of.
The other full sized I heard was the new Oppo PM1 orthodynamic headphone. Friday night we went to the office of the Oppo distributor for japan to check them out with the new Oppo Amp/DAC thing as well. I will start with the good. These are probably the most comfortable ortho I’ve ever put on my head. Very light comparatively. And they come with probably the nicest box I have ever seen for a headphone. The sound is very forgiving I would say. Fairly rolled off in the top end, though not nonexistent. They worked very well, and were incredibly listenable with a lot of the poorer metal recordings that I listen to very often. Basically zero fatigue. This is achieved through the rolled off treble, but also by the rather not detailed sound they have. They gloss over a lot of the bad parts of the music. So with that, price not accounted for I actually would be willing to listen to them, but I will say that for 1100 dollars I would never purchase these myself. The sluggish nature of the drivers, lacking detail and being rolled off, are ok in a cheaper headphone, but for price you can do much better, if you want a similar sound for significantly less money I would say to look at the HD600.
There were two other cans I had the same problem with so I can’t really post good impressions. I tried both the new Hifi-Man 560s and the King Sound stats. But even on the largest setting they wouldn’t fit my head. The ear pads wouldn't bend back far enough to get a seal at the bottom of my ears leaving a gap which just killed the bass performance making them flabby. When I pushed in on the bottom of the cups the problem was fixed on them both but I view this as a fairly serious design flaw. I was looking forward to hearing the 560s too…
Another disappointing can I heard was the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro that I heard several good things about. I thought they were a bit uncomfortably, clamping force was too high. but the sound, oh dear the sound. They have this tuning switch thing for the bass, that has 4 positions I believe, closed and then 3 different sized vents you can select. With them all closed was the most tolerable, but then they had almost no sub bass to speak of. Open up even the smallest vent though and the bass turned into a flabby overbearing mess, very disappointing cans.
I also managed to listen to a few universal IEMs while I was there.
One of the IEMs I really wanted to hear while at the show was the new JH Audio Roxanne, considering how much I like the FP JH-13s I have. They were actually the very first thing I listened to at the show on Saturday. I went straight to the Beats Audio table(their distributor in Japan) and put them in my ears. And I hate to say it but they were incredibly disappointing. very slow/sluggish sounding. Almost no high end to speak of, even with the bass turned all the way down, just a very un impressive sound. Speaking with Jude and Amos later they were surprised at my impressions. Amos in particular really wanted me to try out his pair with his fancy SpinFit tips, which he claimed would make them better. I was doubtful but tried anyways. This was the sound I was expecting! Incredibly detailed, open and ruthlessly revealing. Maybe just a touch bright but not unbearable in any way. And Jude assured me that the customs are even better than that. This is the closest to the sound of the original JH-3A prototype that was shown at Chicago Canjam in 2010 that I have ever heard, though from memory still not quite there.
The next universal I heard was the Dita Audio The Truth in ears. For full disclosure I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with Alex all weekend, though I would say that won’t color my impressions. These are very open sound and incredibly detailed, even the busiest of metal tracks didn't confuse them. What turned me off to the sound was that they were bright, even with the not as bright tips that I went back to try later. I am pretty sure there is a peak up there somewhere that just doesn’t jive with me at all. I can definitely see a lot of people enjoying these for what they do well. The guys that work there definitely know what they are talking about engineering wise though I didn’t always agree with everything they said. I never did get around to hearing the The Answer IEM, which is their lower end model.
I was also looking forward to finally getting to hear the newer Hifi-Man in ears, the RE-600s and 400s. These were pretty clear and detailed, but lacked any bass whatsoever. I guess there are people out there that consider this to be neutral or flat but I would disagree, bass and sub bass most importantly need to be represented in the music.
Now onto one of my highlights of the show. At the end of the day Sunday, I was walking around looking to see if there was anything I had missed, and I walked by a table for a company called Dynamic Motion, they aren’t a company that I have ever heard of before, which explains why I hadn't stopped there earlier in the weekend, but I was trying to kill some time and figured why not. I am very happy I did. They have two models the DM008 which has a plastic housing and is around 120 bucks and the DM008p which is a newer model, same driver, but in a metal housing now for around 200 bucks. I listened to the p model, and boy was I impressed. for 200 dollars these are pretty stellar little units, balanced with excellent bass. The plastic model I wouldn't recommend though, too thick with rolled off highs, definitely worth the 80 bucks for the metal version.
I couldn’t really tell you why, but most of my listening at the festival was for CIEMs. I’m not really on the market for anything currently, since I love my JH-13 FPs quite a bit, but I’m always looking for a pair that gives me the sound of the original JH-3A that was shown so I continue to listen, plus there were a ton there on display.
The first table I stopped at was the Fitear one. I had always longed to hear their in ears. A combination of loving Japan and Japanese products in general, so them being designed and built there was a huge draw. There was also the fact that till the Freq Phase version 13s came out, Jude had told me his preferred CIEMs were the MH334s which is high praise indeed. So I sat down at the table was immediately being helped by a very kind lady by the name of Asami-san. She was incredibly nice, doing her best to help me in english, telling my the differences between all the earphones they had. I wanted to start with the MH335DW though, it being the most expensive model they had. I immediately noticed a very open and refined sound, something I am used to with my 13FPs, this was a sound I very much enjoyed, though maybe a bit boosted in the bass. I took them off to find out that they were designed to be used listening to older jazz music from the 60s and 70s, the frequency response was tuned for that. So I asked her what the most reference model was, turned out to be the MH334 of Jude’s accolade. So I put them in my ear next. These exhibited a similar level of refinement and space as the 335s though without the low end emphasis. This was a very good sound indeed, something I would be willing to pay for definitely. What ensued after this was a rather long and difficult discussion to determine if I would even be able to order a pair since I am not a resident of Japan, which in the end it came down to a no, which is rather unfortunate. The last model I listened to was the MH335DW RS, or reference series, it is a modification to the regular model, that adds metal sound bores rather than the typical plastic ones. I thought they did make them more balanced but still preferred the 334s overall. It makes me sad that I will never get to own a pair of these, not that I will give up so easily, I shall try talking to them again when I am there in October for the Fall Festival!
The next table of customs I went to was the Wagnus table, who represents Noble Audio in Japan. Having heard a ton about these CIEMs I was excited to listen. I really wanted to start with the Kaiser 10s, but they were currently being demo’d by another guest. So having heard a ton about the multiple models that eventually turned into the current 4C they make, I really wanted to hear them as well. So I shoved them into my ears first. I will say I was a bit disappointed, they sounded good, but had very little low bass information and seemed to be tilted toward the top end by a decent amount, not really my type of sound, though I guess many consider this to be neutral. Next I tried the Kaiser 10s, and while I will admit these weren't neutral at all, they were incredibly fun, and also incredibly spacious IEMs, casting a significantly larger than most soundstage in my head, quite the feat really. When I say they aren’t neutral I mean they are also a bit emphasized in the bass, but for some reason I really loved them. They reminded me quite a bit of the Fitear MH335DWs but maybe better, I certainly liked them more. I realized later that I never bothered listening to the 8s, which might be a neutral IEM than the 10s but more refined than the 4s, I shall have to see next time.
The next CIEM table I went to I was tipped off to by the other head-fi guys, mainly Sean(AnakChan). Sunday morning before the festival he was telling me Unique Melody had some crazy new active thing, which I hadn't noticed when I had stopped by the day before. First I will talk about the non new things I heard. I was kind of out of the UM loop since I hadn't even realized they had released a new flagship, the mentor. So I listened to the Merlin first, having not heard it before. I won’t say it is bad, but it’s certainly not as good as the FP 13s so I moved on. To the Mentors, which also reminded me of a lesser version of my FP13s, similar but more in your face and less open.
The new active thing will get its entire own paragraph! So sunday I went back to the table, and there were the two Unique Melody gentlemen with their laptop hooked up to some crazy contraption that had not been present when I stopped by the day before. The new unit is a completely active crossover followed by separate amps for each section of the earpiece. It allows for total control of everything, crossover points, crossover slopes, timing and delays, phase, the whole shebang. So the first thing I asked was whether or not it would allow me to adjust for total phase accuracy. His response was that he didn't agree with Jerry Harvey that that was even that important, but that yes it would allow for that, kind of. This immediately put me off from the unit, since I am of firm belief that one of the primary things that made that original 3A prototype as special as it was, was the phase coherency across the frequency spectrum. Anyways, more overview. You can bring any CIEM you want to this parade, they were obviously demoing it with the Mentor, but you can send them any CIEM you have and they will convert it to active and make a preset in the software adjustment to simulate its original sound, but then also allow you to tweak it to your liking. Once you dial them in how you want them, you can them send them the file and they will make a new cord for your now active CIEMs, will the crossover built in that allows you to use them with normal gear, so that you don't always have to carry around the active box with you all the time, which is pretty cool though the sound won’t be as good sans active box. Currently the box was a bit noisy and didn't even have a volume control, you had to you a headphone out of something to get volume control. I was told the noise was due to the power supply having been built the night before by the engineer and it being external to the unit sitting on the table with them. In the future it will also obviously have volume control, and several digital inputs so as to avoid the ADC on an analog input. As for the sound, I was reasonably impressed, more fiddling would be necessary I feel, but they took the Mentors and made them quite a bit better. Way more open sounding, along with being quite a bit more detailed. Not as good as the 3A prototype, but still worth a longer audition for sure.
There were several other CIEM brands I listened to that didn't really impress me at all, to include Rhine Audio, a German maker that has been around for quite a while, and Kumitate, a Japanese brand, that is not that expensive, so maybe worth looking into if looking for cheaper CIEM, they just lacked a bit of refinement, though at the ~700 dollar level, they aren’t bad. There were more but I dont really remember their names.
The last thing I will discuss is full sized DACs. This is for one main reason, and that is that I only had my JH13 FPs and for a bit of the festival the Pure II portable amp to use. Not the best for evaluation DACs with. Not to mention I was spending most of my time listening to portable gear, mainly CIEMs and amp/DAC combo units to use with my macbook. Also to add onto that further, I am incredibly happy with my current Audio-GD Master 7, though I still need to purchase an OffRamp for it. But anyways, there were a few units that I still had to check out.
The first of which was the new PerfectWave Direct Stream DAC from PS Audio. I sat down and plugged in my laptop running Audirvana with iTunes. Took some fiddling to even get it to work, turned out you cant use Integer mode with the Direct Stream’s USB. Anyways, from the first moment I started listening to music, it basically blew me away, the detail, the bass, and the imagine and soundstage. From a technical perspective I will admit I was not expecting much from this thing, it sounded like it was trying to hard. But after hearing it, I will say that I definitely would love to get one in house for several weeks to compare against the Master 7, it was good. Really good. So good in fact that I sat and listened to it for almost half an hour, transfixed with my 13s in ear running through the Vorzuge Pure II.
The only other DAC I listened to was the MSB Analog DAC. I have long wanted to hear an MSB DAC so I was pretty excited and it was only two tables away, though from the same distributor, as the Direct Stream, which would turn out to be a bad thing. Going straight to this unit from that one, made for a bit of a let down. Not that the Analog DAC was bad, it was incredible as well, and I don't necessarily want to say that one is better than the other, but on first impression and which one I remember the most it would have to be the Direct Stream DAC.
Now to wrap this up…Holy cow I just wrote 6 pages of impressions. That would surprise me until I look back at the absurd amount of gear that I listened to at this monolithic event. A massive undertaking I am sure, and I would like to thank Mr Taniguchi-san of Fujiya Avic for organizing it. It was great to meet some old friends and make quite a few new ones, not to mention some of the girls at the booths! Before I wrap up completely onto my best of show. The best of show was for me, without a doubt, the PS Audio PerfectWave Direct Stream DAC, it really did blow me away. My Best in Show Value would very easily be the Dynamic Motion DM008P universal in ears, which for 200 bones are pretty stellar.
Until October Japan, I shall see you again!
Edited by SoupRKnowva - 5/15/14 at 7:06am