(Spring ∙ Headphone ∙ Festival)
Once again from Tokyo, Japan, here is my pictorial and more! It has been over two months since this event was held so please don't confuse this one with the more recent e-earphone Portable Audio Festival/ 'PortaFest'). Summer in Japan is a sweat fest so these May (and October) FUJIYA-AVIC 'Headphone Festival' events suit me much better!
Update: Anakchan just posted a report on the more recent FUJIYA-AVIC 'Potaken' that took place on July 19, 2014.
This was my seventh time attending this bi-annual show and each time in the past it was held at the 'Stadium Aoyama' complex in Aoyama- just down the street from where the 2020 Olympics will be held. However this time the show was moved back to Nakano where it was held in the past. Nakano is on the western end of Tokyo and is also where the FUJIYA-AVIC store is located, so you can call this sort of a homecoming. Nakano is a college town and has recently been growing in both development and popularity. Nakano Sun Plaza is a tall and distinctive building that houses a very large concert hall, meeting facilities, and hotel. Whereas the previous shows at Stadium Aoyama were held on three floors, this time the show spanned five:
As you can see people were lined up a few hours before the start of the show. They do this mainly because at each of these shows FUJIYA-AVIC has an event-only sale with limited quantity items. Most of these people waiting of course brought their portable rigs, listening to everything from custom IEMs and portable cans like the Ultrasone Edition 8, to not-so-portable cans like the Fostex TH900 or Beyerdynamic T1.
On the lower floor was a sort of open area where FUJIYA-AVIC had their event-only sale. And in one corner (right) was a private meeting area for Head-Fiers that was set up with the help of none other than our good friend Sasaki-san. I have mentioned him in previous posts of these shows, but I don't know if people know who he is. So here is a little info:
Yoshihiro Sasaki is an avid audio and photography writer/blogger based in Japan. He is frequently quoted in publications over there and often does interviews with leaders of the industry. If you can read Japanese, here is his blog.
For every one of these shows Sasaki-san has been the conduit between Head-Fi and FUJIYA-AVIC- getting us early entry on the day(s) of the show and often securing a private area or room where Head-Fiers who made the trip could check our bags, hold a mini/micro meet, relax and chat amongst ourselves away from the crowd, and even on occasion listen to prototypes or samples that vendors bring to us during the show. Without him we'd all just be swimming with the rest of the crowd which could get exhausting especially after two days. So if we haven't said it enough times:
THANK YOU SO MUCH, どうもありがとう！
Before I get into the photos, for this show I thought I'd do something a little different. While the pictures show you lots of cool gear, they don't really show you just how massive these events really are. So this time I took my camera and shot video as I walked all five floors before the opening of the second day. Then I dropped the footage (20+ minutes) into iMovie and threw together a quick walk-through tour- sped up ~8x. Now before you watch this I have warn ahead of time of the amateurish quality of the video. I've shot video perhaps 4-5 times in my life. Plus the time compression might make for a slightly nauseating experience for some- don't stare too hard! And finally since I needed some sound to go with the video, I simply grabbed the very first preset loop I found in Garageband and set it throughout. So there you have it... enjoy!!!
Getting early access before the general public allowed us to take photos like these. Don't let these images fool you- once the show started this place was packed!
Early entry also meant that we got to go straight to the tables that were debuting new products; thus avoiding the long lines that amassed during the show.
And finally one last thing before the gear, allow me make my standard disclaimer: I like almost everything. I like neutral. I like colored to an extent. I see headphones a lot like performance venues where they are all different, none are perfect, and I can enjoy most of them. I wouldn't want to be stuck with just one if it's avoidable but I do favor some over others. Also, I am pretty shy or at least reserved about giving out listening impressions because there are too many variables even within myself that lead to inconsistencies and miscommunication. I often do not hear things the same way from day to day with my own stuff, so I wouldn't expect other people to hear what I do. So yeah, I'm more of one of those sit-back-and-enjoy-it guys. To me this isn't like comparing cancer treatments or deciding which mutual fund I should bank my retirement on. Maybe some day I'll focus and settle on a sound that I'd like to pursue. But for now I'm having way too much fun!
One of the new products that appeared at the show was the PM-1 planar headphone along with its accompanying HA-1 DAC/amplifier.
There are plenty of other reviews and impressions of these that you can read, so I'll simply say that I thought they sounded really nice. And while many have heard the headphones, perhaps fewer have had time to sit down with the DAC/amplifier. Here is a review done recently by Anakchan on the HA-1.
I didn't really see anything new at the AKG table this time. Note that the photo on the left was taken before or right at opening time. The photo on the right was more what it looked like for most of the show- packed with people.
Though I liked the distinctive design of the S200 (left), I preferred the sound of the slightly more neutral S100. I don't think they're quite as neutral as the HiFiMAN RE-400 or Etymotic ER-4, but I'd love to compare them side-by-side with something like the Zero Audio Tenores. The S200 sounded nice too- a bit more warm and bassy but nothing too crazy.
Our friends from DITA were showing their latest version of The Answer - Truth Edition. I was told that this was only cosmetically different (gold vs. silver) from the 'regular' model.
I think I've touched on this before, but I'll say it again: When I say "friends from DITA" it just highlights another wonderful thing about these events. Anyone who has been to a Head-Fi meet large or small can attest to the friendships that are often made at such gatherings. And each time I come back to this event I create new relationships. Sometimes we keep in touch via the internet, but often it's simply about seeing a friendly familiar face on the other side of the world when I'm over there. All of this just makes this hobby that much more richer and interesting! Okay, moving on...
|Because the line to hear these was so long and I wanted to keep things moving, I actually forgot to snap a photo. So I borrowed this one from FitEar's website.|
Astell & Kern / Fiio
A&K did not have the new MKII versions of their AK100/120 at the time- or I missed them. But the AK240 seems to find no shortage of people in Asia willing to pay $2500 for a DAP. Fiio (right) had the X5 'Japanese Edition' on display. The differences were mostly cosmetic- the jog-dial is textured on the Japanese model.
|A few days after the Headphone Festival a group of us met up for some really tasty Korean BBQ in Shin-Okubo. Notice the striking similarity between the iron platter and the AK240. (＾◡＾)|
JVC had a few new things at this show: New 'woodies' and a portable amp. Being a HUGE fan of the HA-FX700, I was really looking forward to the new woodies- especially the HA-FX850. But I was a bit disappointed by the (again) bass-heavy nature of these. I have the same issue with the FX700 that I am able to somewhat alleviate with a loose fit and/or some other mods. With a quick listen I really didn't find the FX850 compelling enough to purchase. But not being one to quit so easily, I will give them another try later!
The new portable DAC/amp SU-AX7 is a work of art in terms of appearance and build quality. Super-sleek and solid. I might be carrying one right now if it weren't for the (I suspect) high-ish Z-out. The amp did not pass my UE-RM (quite sensitive to high output impedance) test. I guess if you went exclusively with JVC's IEMs which are all dynamic driver, this would be less of an issue. And also...
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Not long ago I would've put Philips in that classification of "not expecting much from them". But they definitely are worth looking at these days. I tried the Fidelio X1 at the show and came away very pleased by their sound- to me somewhat reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD650 in tonality. Comfort is an A+ for me. (reviews)
Note: I doubt any of them are reading this; but just in case I should apologize to some of the vendors for catching them off-guard. A lot of these photos were taken before the start of the show so some of these people were still setting up, unboxing, and untangling. You might even spot early morning cups of coffee or energy drinks on some of the tables. I feel bad when I catch them like this because most of the time when they see a camera they will straighten cables, polish earcups, move brochures out of the way, and sometimes remove themselves from the shot altogether.
If you've read my previous posts on this show, you know I am a big fan (-boy) of Ocharaku 音茶楽. Their product line is slowly expanding and their popularity continues to grow; so much that they have created a second division or brand.
The parent or original brand will continue to be Ocharaku 'Sound Customize'. These will be their premium products incorporating their latest technology, sparing little expense on materials, and continuing to be made in Japan. Products include the Flat4 series, Donguri-Keyaki, and the custom-tuned ATH-CKM55.
The new brand will be called 'Surround'. It will be more affordable, yet incorporate technology trickled down from Ocharaku. You can easily see this in their first product- the Donguri-Raku with its resemblance to the more pricey, wood-endowed Donguri-Keyaki.
The Donguri-Raku's housing (colored part) is made of tapered plastic as opposed to the zelkova wood on the Donguri-Keyaki. I had a chance to sit down and compare them to each other and they sounded quite different. I suspect that more than because they are made from different materials, these two are tuned differently from the start. The Raku sounded very mid-centric. IEMs that came to mind while hearing these were the Westone UM-3X and Shure SE535- both from memory as I do not own either.
|You can see how similar the Raku is to the Keyaki. By design concept you could say that they are identical. However casing materials and driver are different. Also the 'Tornado Equalizer' can be tuned differently by length and thread pitch, much like the customized CKM55.|
New at this show was also the 'AKA' variant of the Flat4. The 'KURO' also got a makeover as the 'KURO Type II'. The improvement over the original KURO seems limited to a new coating on the phase tube which is supposed to give a very slight increase in bass. The 'AKA' (red) is a result of crowd feedback from the previous Headphone Festival. This model has a slightly longer phase tube than the KURO. Depending on your ear canal, you may find one preferable over the other.
From the Fall 2013
← Three variants of Flat4 KURO with different length phase tubes.
People voted for whichever one they liked the best. →
Westone finally brought out their new W50 and UM Pro 50 universal IEMs. I liked the UM Pro 50- they sounded like the W4 but with a little more bass which is a good thing in my book. The W50 sounded similar to the W3 tonally. I was told that they were tuned closer to the W3 while the (upcoming) W60 will be tuned more like the W4. I will definitely be looking forward to hearing that.
CTM / rhines
Compare to the Headphone Festival in 2011 that I first attended, it seems like there are more manufacturers from outside of Japan taking part now. CTM Custom In-Ears (USA) and rhines (Germany) made it out under the umbrella of the Taipei-based store JM-PLUS.
This small Japanese maker of preamplifiers, amplifiers, and DACs had this PEHA-6010 portable amp that comes in either a kit form or fully assembled. It runs off of one 9V battery and allows for opamp rolling. It also seemed to pass my low output impedance test (driving the multi-BA UE-RM).
I briefly listened to the well-regarded Lynx Hilo. But with unfamiliar material on unfamiliar headphones, I didn't get much information out of this. Interesting was how the Hilo was connected (right) to the Macbook. With all sorts of USB to S/PDIF interfaces, USB conditioners, and USB to i2S, I wonder what Thunderbolt has to offer?
JABEN / Rudistor
Walking past the JABEN table displaying Rudistor, I saw some headphones (far left) that I thought were Grados. But looking at photos and reports afterwards I realized that they were actually the Rudistor CHROMA MD2. Oops. Also on display were the Abyss AB-1266 (right) connected to the Aurorasound HEADA amplifier which seemed to be quite popular with a few other vendors at the show.
Oji Special / Sforza
Oji Special (left) is a Japanese company that we've seen at past shows with their modded Ray Samuels EMMELINE amps. Their main business is high-end digital as well as headphone amplification. By high-end I mean a $6,000 DPAT Seven64 Model 496 transport, $9,000 MTCSS 8128U DAC, and $5,000-$6000 BDI-DC 24A amplifier. And you might also need a clock somewhere or it'll all sound like crap... I'm not sure. Sforza (right) also makes high-end digital transports and players (also used the HEADA amp at the show).
Sony didn't have anything new this time on the headphone side. But one thing new they did have was their entry into the premium table-top all-in-one speaker box. These seem to be gaining popularity everywhere- including in the U.S.
Umbrella Company / YAXI
While Sony didn't have anything new at their table, they did have something old at another. The MDR-CD900ST has been and still is a studio workhorse alongside the MDR-7509 and MDR-V6. And The Umbrella Company actually makes an amplifier specifically for this (CD900ST) headphone. They even sell an adaptor that allows the BTL-900 to mount on top of a microphone stand for studio duty (below). Another company, YAXI, makes the 'For Studio Headphone' pads (right) that are protein leather replacements for the Sonys and are said to also fit other headphones including ones from Ultrasone, Audio Technica (yup, the ATH-M50 included), Yamaha and Beyerdynamic.
The amp (left of mixer) looks right at home in the studio.
ORB is known for their headphone amps as well as power-related products- think Furutech or Oyaide. But they also have what I would call these 'lifestyle' compact units that can power both speakers and headphones. This class of all-in-one units are quite popular in space-deprived Japan. The Soleil is apparently a hybrid using one 6922/6DJ8 tube in front of a Class D 'ICEpower' amp. This set-up was one of a few speaker demos at the show.
MH Audio is probably best known for their portable and highly customizable amps (HA-1 and HA-11), as well as their array of interconnects. They also make these tiny wooden cube speakers called WAON. MH Audio puts a heavy emphasis on finish quality and it shows with these little speakers.
|Notice the serialized markings, nice binding posts, and rear tuned-port. There is also a threaded hole underneath for tripod mounting.|
DigiFi / Stereo Sound
In Japan it is common to bundle goods or samples with magazines. In fact it might be related to what I remember as a kid going to Japanese grocery stores, where in front of the checkout counter they would have packages of candy or gum bundled with a toy. One might look at it as really buying a toy and getting free gum. In the case of DigiFi magazine, which is published by the same people who do Stereo Sound (popular Japanese audio magazine that started back in 1966), they might "include" anything from a USB DAC to a small amplifier!
In reality these special magazine issues do cost somewhere around $30-40. And you can even buy the electronics separately on the magazine's website. But c'mon... where is the fun in that? And by the way, the electronics aren't exactly junk throwaways either. They're made by Olasonic and you can find reviews online for these kits.
Yes, that is the name of this company: MEAN. At first when I passed by their table I thought, "Oh man, those are the tackiest headphones I've ever seen in my life! Especially the silver ones."
But as it turned out those were just foam or plastic props. The product is the case! Yes, these are acrylic (I think) cases for your precious cans. To be honest I'm not sure what to think of these. I guess if I had the Orpheus or some handmade one-off headphone, I might consider this. But for now I'll be sticking to my plastic drawer boxes from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Final Audio Design
Before talking about the new goodies from FAD, I must acknowledge the passing this past June of Kanemori Takai, president and founder of Final Audio Design. He was a pure out-of-the-box, no compromises, 'my way' kind of person whos creative vision and drive will surely be missed. Let's hope FAD can continue to make more fantastic if not sometimes quirky products like they have under Takai-san.
I had the chance to hear the pricey LAB I (left), which sounded quite nice. Build quality is what you would expect from this company- something that would not be out of place in the Museum of Modern Art. They also had display (empty) prototypes of the upcoming Heaven VII and VIII.
Perhaps more known for their digital PC stuff as well as amplification, ifi also had a nice vinyl rig for their iPhono.
UCOTECH / VIC JOHN AUDIO
I met John Lee a few years back at one of these shows when he was representing EMS, Ucotech, and his own brand Vicjohn Audio. John lives in Seoul, Korea, and he speaks fluent Japanese and English. Mainly building portable amps and cables, everything he sells is handmade by him. And although you can find his stuff at stores like FUJIYA-AVIC and e-earphone, his items are generally low-volume, small batch goods. One unique item of his that has always caught my eye at these shows is his sterling silver earbuds. There is nothing like holding these in your hand- very reminiscent of Final Audio Design Piano Fortes in many ways. They are like jewelry and they do sound quite good. His cable work on these and his interconnects is impeccable and shows what a craftsman he is.
|Beyerdynamic is marketed together with TEAC in Japan; thus they are usually displayed together.|
That's shigzeo (left) breaking something while the nice lady looks on politely. The T51p (right) is soooooo comfy! They're just a bit too bright for my tastes. I wouldn't mind giving them another try though since usually at these events I am listening at a much higher volume level than normal to overcome the ambient noise; and this typically makes things sound more fatiguing.
Venture Craft / Musica Acoustics
It looks like Currawong is trying out the V-Moda XS at the Venture Craft table. V-Moda of course has a close relationship with Venture Craft since VC makes the VAMP VERZA for them.
I think this photo deserves a caption contest of some sort- what do you think?
|I've stopped by this table at the last two shows and it's nice to see how their portable DAC/amp is coming along. The case is still the coolest looking of any amp I've seen out there. The size is perfect. I was asked which of the finishes I liked which was a hard decision because they all look so good. If I remember correctly, this will support both iOS and Android. It also has a plain ol' line in. When I listened to it via iOS USB, the sound was a little bit off. Not the kind of 'off' where some tone deaf guy tuned it. More like a technical issue with obtaining the digital stream. The good news is that when fed from the line input it sounded good. In fact it passed my low impedance IEM test. And this is good because most companies seems to screw up the amplifier side, and I'm pretty sure they will work out the digital issue. (We talked about this a bit.) I really hope to see this near completion at the next show- perhaps even on sale. It's an exciting product!|
For size perspective, that (left/ above) is an iPhone 4s. They have roughly the same footprint, the amp being a wee bit wider and of course thicker.
ON the ROAD
I came across the FP10 headphones at the last show but didn't get a chance to listen to them. Well this time I did and I'll get straight to it: Their target sound is definitely NOT neutral, reference/ studio monitor, measurement tool, or whatever you want to call that. Think more Final Audio Design here. Better yet, think Piano Forte. I'm not saying they sound exactly like the PFs. But their concept sounds similar to my ears: A 'vintage audio' -type sound. They're not going after the HD800 or MDR-V6 here and that's fine.
The craftsmanship needs to be seen (and held!) to be believed. It's nothing short of amazing. Thankfully the headphones are quite comfortable with what appear to be real leather pads. Customization includes different high-polish wood or lacquer finishes as well as fabric options.
The design of this headphone is something I've never seen and I'm sure plays a big role in producing their very unique sound character. While at first glance they appear to be a closed rear cup design, the outer-facing panel is more of a floating cover and probably serves to dampen and/or tune the sound. That (right) is the rear of the driver you can just barely see within the gap beneath the outer cover.
Monster had two sorts of displays. I didn't listen to their headphones though.
This time around I did get a chance to listen to the e-Q8 which is basically the silver-endowed version of the e-Q7, I think. Silver wire, silver voice coil, and a silver finish complete the package. I thought they sounded awfully close to the e-Q7. I would probably have to sit down with them for longer to make that final decision; but in any case it sure wasn't day and night to these old ears. Nevertheless, I liked the sound of both of them.
STAX / Etymotic
I put these two photos and companies together here because of what they had in common: Neither had anything new (that I was aware of) and one could argue that they don't need to. The SR-009 is still one of my favorite headphones to date and the ER-4S despite its age can really hold its own against anything except maybe the most expensive customs. And even then, single-driver coherence has multi-BAs struggling to keep up in certain aspects.
I'm not sure if Japan is having a similar resurgence of vinyl like the U.S. is having. But certainly on the high-end it seems alive and well. Yoshino components are always distinctive for their chrome faceplates and gold knobs.
The much anticipated HE-400i and HE-560 made their appearance. As I understand it these were pre- or early production units. They changed the wood cups and pads slightly, but the sound is fundamentally the same. And I thought they sounded really good. But that's all IME, YYMV, FWIW, OU812, etc. What is indisputable (and oh yes, measurable) is how LIGHT these are! Wow... weight is probably what ultimately kept me back from getting their earlier offerings. Kudos to Fang Bian for putting these things on a major diet!!!
Fostex is always developing something out in the open. And taking in feedback for the final product. Finally having released their HP-V1 portable tube amp and TE-05 IEM, they are also working on a balanced armature counterpart for the later- the TE-07.
Tonally, the -05 and -07 couldn't be more different . Where the dynamic IEM has a "fun" sound signature to it, the balanced armature model has a more mid-centric tone- at least for now in its current prototype state. I came dressed for the occasion (right) with my orange Nano!
The long awaited (much) bigger brother to the T50RP was the highlight of the show. In brief, super-comfortable and light weight, the TH500RP had a very warm yet bass-light tonal balance to me. Those looking for Audeze-like bass impact should look back at the TH600/900. I can see the TH500 being great for certain genres- just leave the rock and EDM for the TH900.
Arnaud posted some information from the press event for the TH500RP held during the Headphone Festival.
Not seeming to have anything new this time around, I am still curious as to why the HD600 is virtually MIA in Japan. Sennheiser never has it at these shows and you don't see them in the brick and mortar stores either.
Timelord (Ultrasone / Chord)
Timelord is the distributor in Japan for Ultrasone, Chord, Focal, and Audiofly among others. People showed quite a bit of interest around the Chord Hugo.
Hearing a different sound between what I thought should have sounded the same (edition8 Romeo and edition8 Ruthenium), I noticed that the pads were different on these two headphones. The Romeo's appeared to be more squared off at the edges whereas the Ruthenium's (right) were more rounded. I also noticed that these headphones were very position sensitive (perhaps due to the S-Logic offset drivers?); so I'm not sure which was responsible for the difference in sound. But these variables might explain why I've had very different experiences with the '8.
The CKR line from A.T. was their big new release at the show. I was really looking forward to this...
... but unfortunately their sound signature didn't appeal to me. (It's complicated... don't ask.) And like so many of these IEM lines, I preferred the sound or tuning of the lower models- in this case the ATH-CKR7. Either way, for now I think I prefer the sound of their other dynamic (CKS) line.
But not all was lost with A.T. for me. At the last show they released a line (and then some) of over-the-ear IEMs, including the now quite popular ATH-IM70. This time they introduced a cable upgrade for their ATH-IM* line- the AT-HDC5. It's a six-nines OFC cable that runs ~$100USD. But these cable deaf ears couldn't really hear the difference between it and the stock wire (on the ATH-IM04). Anyway, it turned out that I fell for the sound of the IM04 and picked up a pair; so A.T. still got my money! You know...
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
|So you've figured out that portable audio is sort of popular in Japan (and most of Asia). They also walk more than we do here in the U.S. And that means they need something to carry their stuff around in. VanNuys is a company that makes cases and bags for all of your worldly toys- phone, tablet, camera, portable audio... you name it. Check out their site and you'll get the idea.|
|Ever see anyone with one of these in your neck of the woods?|
|Not worrying about getting attacked or killed over a phone allows for some freedoms that I wish we had here. Oh well.|
Well, there you have it! Another six months went by and there will be another one in October. Please read the next post for more information on these shows, especially if you're thinking about attending one in the future! Also since this show happened a little over two months back, please feel free to post any new information or corrections and I'll try to update and clean things up a bit!
Edited by Mkubota1 - 7/22/14 at 1:37pm