For this year's festival the location was brought back to Nakano Sun Plaza, a huge, almost pyramid-like building near the centre of the city. The downside to that was that to get enough space, it covered floors 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15, but it didn't feel anywhere near as crowded as before, due to it all being wedding/conference space, rather than office space.
Thanks once again to Fujiya Avic and Sasaki for organising our access to the show and providing space for us to park our gear.
This year, I'm mostly sticking to new products or "new faces" -- manufacturers who had products at the show I didn't see at the last one, and presented in the order in which I took the photos on each day, as well as some unique gear.
Arriving on Saturday just before press time, we found a queue had been building from 9am and the show opened at 11am. Going by the queue to buy products, I think most people waiting wanted to take advantage of the bargains than anything else, as by later in the day, the register line had shortened considerably.
This is how the queue looked from inside the doors. Once we had all met up and had a chat, we went inside.
Anakchan and Jude with SoupRKnowva, Speakrs01 and Shigzeo behind.
John Darko, Anakchan, Expatinjapan, Shigzeo, Jude and SoupRKnowva (sitting).
As always, Vic John brings a number of interesting Korean IEMs and other devices with him. Here's a quick selection.
This is a balanced AK240 amp.
These multi-coloured things are USB DAC/amps that play DSD and cost around $300. The whole top part is the volume control and the glow around it changes colour depending on the resolution of the file being played.
It comes with a nice case.
With a fancy USB cable from an Android phone. It will power entirely off the phone without a problem.
Pioneer had their SE-MA9 "club sound" headphones on display. I hadn't seen these before and the "floating" cups look quite stunning.
Notice the extra port on this SounDroid Typhoon? That's a 2.5mm balanced 4-pin TRRS port.
I had a listen with my UERMs to this ~$700 unit using my AK240 as a transport via optical and it was pretty good.
Dimitri always turns up with weird and wonderful items and this time was no exception. Most of his display concerned Whiplash cables, which I felt did good with the HD-800s when I tried them.
I hadn't gotten around to trying the Kingsound electrostats in LA so I had a listen. They sounded quite good but unfortunately they had random crackling coming through.
Gavin brought a single pair of his Tralucent Reference 1 IEMs. They seemed to have a darker sound than the 1plus2s (think closer to Audeze where the 1plus2s were a bit more HD-800-ish). The bass kick with the dynamic driver was fantastic.
A bit of fun: This lady was working at the Musica Acoustica table, so I put on the C.C. Colletti binaural tracks for her with the HD-800s. As soon as it started playing, she turned around suddenly thinking the sound had come from somewhere nearby!
The big deal at this show was the TH500RP open-backed planar. After an hour-long presentation and Q&A (in Japanese, sadly) they described the design and challenges they had in producing it, then we got a chance to listen to the final version. The driver, while externally is somewhat similar to the one from the TP50 driver, a new zigzag trace has been employed as well as a carefully tuned damping scheme to control the flow of air through the headphones.
I did have a quick listen using my AK240 and the sound was lighter and more airy than the Oppos, though I ended up setting the volume to maximum due to their low sensitivity. The are only 380 grams and are quite comfortable, like the TH900s. Sadly, the cable is not detachable. They are priced at around $750 (74,000 yen). I have a pre-production pair on hand, so expect impressions and a forthcoming video and review.
Arnaud kindly did his best to understand the presentation and posted some useful comments in this post.
Impedance: 48 Ohms
Cable: 3m, non-detachable.
No launch would be complete without a couple of pretty girls to show off the headphones.
Fostex's Hiroaki Kawahata and Jude.
Kawahata-san with the TH500RPs.
This is Masaki Shimmachi of Fostex, whom I also played the C.C. Colletti. He was equally stunned at the binaural effect.
Some random dude who kept hanging out with us the whole time. I kid! This is John Darko of Digital Audio Review and 6moons whom we enjoyed having with us for the show.
Here's Fujiya Avic's interview video (in Japanese) showing the driver in the middle.
I did a double-take when I saw these unbelievably thin IEM wires. With 6 conductors inside a single cable less than 2mm thick and kevlar reinforcing they are the ultimate IEM cable. Compared to my stock UERM cable there was less harshness in the highs.
They were also demoing their custom IEMs which had two inputs connected to a special unit allowing the crossover to be switched on the fly.
The Hilo, which has been getting some attention on the forums recently, was on display.
Jaben had an pair of Abyss headphones powered by an Aurorasound HEADA (see later on). Here is Jude helping Mike Ting of Headfonia get a good fit.
Now that iRiver have brought out new AK models, what are we going to do with all the old AK100s and AK120s? The answer: Use them with a Glove, that turns them into a balanced headphone DAC/amp.
I didn't get around to trying this, so we'll have to take the word of the other guys who heard it and reckon it was good. It is made by our good friend Michael Goodman of Centrance.
Not only was the device itself on display at Jaben's table, but the CEO of Calyx, Seungmok Yi was at the show. I had a listen and chat about the design with him. The UI was a little jerky, but the sound quality was good. They expect to improve the UI and add search in the next few months. Unfortunately it only had one track on it which I had on my AK240 and I only tried it with my UERMs (single-ended out of both). I've made plans to be able to borrow and review this fairly soon.
Here's a video of the UI on the day.
Japanese high-end DACs and amps.
At least at present, the below Japanese brands are only local, but I was surprised to find just about a whole room dedicated to high-end brands. Most of the products in the pictures cost $2,000-$10,000 or so each. I didn't try any of them. If only I had half a day or more extra to do so!
The HEADA is one product that will be sold internationally. I reported on the VIDA phono stage, the design of which one engineer I spoke to commented, in effect, on the design that "I can't believe nobody thought of doing this before.". Given that, I'm keen to give the HEADA a listen with my own headphones later this year once it goes on sale internationally. Currently I believe it will be available from Jaben.
(I forgot the name of the manufacturer of these cute wood speakers.)
Bakoon Products Japan
For the first time at one of the shows both Bakoon Japan and Bakoon International had their products on display.
Bakoon Japan had the HPA-5520, a large, portable current output headphone amp.
Needless to say, the PM-1 and HA-1 were on display. We had a chance to sit down and listen before the show and we will be borrowing and reviewing the pair later on.
Stephen Guo had a very interesting custom IEM system on display. Hooked up to a computer via USB, the unit these IEMs is attached to can change everything from the frequency response to the timing delay via special software which you load onto your PC. The idea will be that you can borrow the set-up and, over a few months, tune the IEMs to your liking. Once you're happy with the resulting sound, it outputs a file with all the settings and they can build a pair of IEMs, either their own or a re-shell of other high-end units with all the parameters you have chosen.
While Stax didn't release anything new, I had a flash of inspiration and hooked up my AK240 to their portable. Divine!
We discussed knob feel over a few beers and sake and Nathan wondered why his beer tasted like chicken.
Noble Audio (with WAGNUS)
Noble Audio partnered with WAGNUS, the maker of uber-high-quality portable amps and cables to display their IEMs.
The Kaiser 10 demo with a ~$300 WAGNUS cable. The sound was lovely.
A ~$1000 (trans)portable amp.
The Geek Table
These guys, as always, have a lovely collection of weird and wonderful DIY amps and vintage headphones on display.
Check out the volume (?) display that uses vintage tubes.
Music with your Guarana?
No chocolate in this box, unfortunately, but something else special instead.
A Sony Walkman DAT player!
The first time I knew about the M8 I thought it'd be too big, but that didn't stop it being wildly successful and currently on back-order. When I saw this neat unit, I thought "Bingo!". Take out all the extra controls, put the gain switch on the front, lower the power on the headphone amp for a longer, 10-hour battery life and squeeze everything into a small case and this is what you get. It still has enough grunt for the LCD-X and XC though. The pictures are of a plastic prototype, but the final version should be much the same. The volume is digitally controlled though, I gather, and the headphone out also has an optical digital output built-in.
The neat thing about Japan is the DIY magazines that come with included kits and detailed discussion, including mods. Here are a number on display with compact DACs and amps.
Got wood? The JADE to go i Japan Edition is Urushi-painted.
Analog Squared Paper (via Jaben)
These amps have attracted a bear of a following. The little amps have transistors in the gap, instead of tubes.
A non-model was on display, without a name. It only had a notice in Japanese and English saying it was a "Reference Exhibit", so I'm christening it the "FitEar RE". I liked it, very much. Other people didn't, but then I like the Parterre and not the 334TG and the RE was nearer the former in sound.
I love this sign. Apparently everyone asks to speak to him, which you can do by Skype if absolutely necessary.
DITA displayed their limited Gold Edition IEMs, which come with a free, $199 mini-to-mini cable made with the same plugs and cable as the IEMs. They also had an AK240 balanced version of The Truth Edition.
Danny with Jude.
(Please excuse the press-release photo.) Last year this Aussie company released their new range of entry-level-to-mid-range IEMs. This show they had their Performance series on display, the AF120, AF140 and AF160. I had a listen to the latter (can you tell I go for the TOTL of everything first?) and they sounded pretty good.
Want more? Check out the Tokyo 2014 Spring Fujiya Avic Headphone Festival Impressions thread too.