2015 Tokyo Fujiya Avic Spring Headphone Festival Report
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May 15, 2015 at 5:44 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 83
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This year's first show was promising to be bigger than ever, with no less than 5 floors and around 120 exhibitors. It says much that my preparation for this years’ shows was to prepare two cameras, one for photos and one for videos.  To geek out on the camera side for a minute, the Fujifilm X-T1 was going to do photo duty due to its incredible ability in low light, wonderful colours and intelligent flash, and the Sony RX10 was doing video duty. My pitch to companies was simple: Talk about your product for one minute. To process all this I hauled my old 17" MacBook Pro loaded with SSD drives.
 
Note: Videos are not up yet. I'll post when they are.
 

Nakano

Since I had some time on my hands on Friday, I thought I'd take a wander around Nakano and take a few photos and get off to an early start.
 
  
The back streets of Nakano are crammed with restaurants and stores of all kinds.
 
 
The plaza is so cool I had to photograph it twice.
 
  
Nakano Sun Plaza itself it is weird building, all the more so given that space is at a premium in Tokyo. While sitting in the Italian restaurant on the corner I turned around and realised that the karaoke place behind had a whole 4 floors of rooms. Tokyo is rather like that! The last picture is the view of the station from the hotel.
 

 
Fujiya Avic has 4 shops inside the building behind the plaza on the 3rd floor, respectively for audio, pro audio, pro video and photography. Like other shops, the amount of gear in such a small space is simply overwhelming. 
 

 

 

I thought my desk had too many DAPs on it, but this is basically all the high-end models in a single cabinet.
 

 

 

Need an Accuphase amp, or source or three?
 

One of the two listening stations with a bunch of high-end amps and DACs.
 

 

The IEM stand is along one wall of the shop on the outside.
 

 

Got wood? They have quite a collection of classic Audio Technica wood headphones.
 

The custom IEM universal test cabinet.
 
May 15, 2015 at 5:44 PM Post #2 of 83
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New Products

 

Astell & Kern AK380


 
 
Prior to the show we were allowed a look at the new AK380 with the presentation held in the wedding chapel and the AK380s brought in by two models. With an AKM4490 DAC than can receive full 32 bit data from the source, it has option cradles that allow balanced output and connection to a special CD drive allowing CDs to be ripped to the device directly. Uniquely the balanced output to the cradle is via special contacts on the bottom of the AK380 itself. 
A new app for iOS and Android devices will allow remote device control in a similar manner to their music servers. At the same time the AK380 can stream to a music server. 
Physically the AK380 uses aircraft grade Duralumin, Gorilla glass and carbon fiber like the AK240. Likewise the headphone output is the same as the AK240 with a 3.5mm unbalanced and a 2.5mm balanced socket.  
Head-Fi's own member, Sasaki, gave part of the AK380 presentation, including demonstrating playback through an Astell&Kern system.
 
 
 
 

 

Final Audio Design SONOROUS

 
The real flagship, the SONOROUS design uses a 50mm diaphragm inside a titanium housing with aluminium and stainless steel cups, all for rigidity. The SONOROUS X will be priced over 600,000 yen.
 
Sadly, after a brief listen using my AK240, I was rather disappointed with the SONOROUS X. The sound seemed very congested and lacking in detail. 
 
http://final-audio-design.com/en/archives/2433
 

 

 

Fostex

The T50RP III were on display. An update to their studio monitors, they have made improvements to the design to increase the sound quality.
 

 

 

Aurisonics

 
Dale Lott is one of the most entertaining figures in audio, and his presence was very enjoyed by the locals, especially the demonstrations of his military-grade IEMs. When a customer asked, through translation what the best way to clean his eartips was, so that they last a long time, he picked one up and tried (and failed) to tear it in two in front of the customer and told him not to worry about it! (See picture.)
 
He has released four new models, the Eva, Forte, Kicker and Harmony, the latter being a balanced armature pair with dynamic driver. I had a brief listen to the Kicker and Harmony and the sound was pretty good for the money with a good deal of clarity. The range is priced in approximately the $150-$450 range (I'll update these figures a bit later with the correct prices).
 
 

 

 

Ocharaku

 
Mr. Yamagishi, the tea-loving unique proprietor of Ocharaku, who used to work for Sony had a new pair of IEMs on display. The Chonmage, named after the traditional haircut for Japanese men, as a result of the shape of the driver chamber was present in two different tunings. Listeners were asked to place a sticker in the box of their preferred tuning, as well as how much they thought the IEMs would be worth. 
 

 

 
A model poses with one of the Flat-4 AKA IEMs.
 

 
Mr Yamagishi with the Flat-4 AKA (Red) dynamic driver IEMs. For the unfamiliar, they use two dynamic drivers in chambers connected by a tube to manage the phase characteristics and have a uniquely accurate sound.
 

 

Satolex

 
This very interesting company is a child of Hosiden, a Japanese OEM speaker driver and parts manufacturer. They had a very unique pair of headphones on display, the DH291, which comes in a regular analogue model as well as a USB digital model using "Dnote" technology. Rather than using a DA converter in the headphones, the DH291-D1 uses a special multi-voice-coil driver to convert the digital signal into analogue sound. If you're thinking "What?!?" then you're not alone -- I have no idea how this works!
 
What was apparently clear though was it did work and sound very good. Neither pair of headphones is particularly expensive, not much over $100 and $200 at today's exchange rates. Despite their basic overall design, the drivers appeared to have quite a bit of clarity, including the digital driver which had a very clear treble all things considered.
 
They won't be for sale outside of Japan at present, but these are definitely something to keep an eye out for in the future.
 

An old pair of Satolex studio headphones.
 

The D1 version of the headphones is on the left and the A1 on the right.
 

The DH291-D1.
 

RHA

One of the last items I tried at the show was the new T20s. With a unique dual-voice-coil driver, the sound was impressively clean and dynamic. I had to use a double-flange tip to get a good enough seal for the bass to come out, but given how tired I was by that stage, to be impressed by a product was quite amazing. They also had a non-functioning prototype of an up-coming DAC/amp on display which they were getting feedback on. The RHA team had flown all the way from Scotland for the show and it was their first time in Japan. 
 
  
 
May 15, 2015 at 5:44 PM Post #3 of 83
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iFi Audio

While not at all new to Head-Fiers, their distributor had the full range of iFi products for display, including the vintage-style hi-fi system.
 
   
 
 

Lotoo

Xiao Qi was on hand to demonstrate both the PAW 500 and PAW 5000, the latter of which is only around $300. It has a unique feature whereby with a press of the button the scroll wheel can be used to speed up or slow down the music without changing the pitch. Xiao Qi came up with the idea as he is a marathon runner and wanted the music to play at the same beat of the pace he was running. 
 
  
 
The same distributor (Topwing) also distributes Lotoo and Kingsound, and portable gear from both manufacturers were paired together to make an interesting transportable high-end headphone system.
 
 
 

Lumin

One of the many Chinese brands alongside Lotoo and Kingsound this year was Lumin, that had their selection of high-end network music servers on display. 
 
 
 

Aziz 

http://aziz.jp
 
This Japanese company has a very stylish and compact desktop speaker and headphone system. With single-driver speakers and Class D amps, the sound was quite pleasant. For people who want an even more compact system, they had a second set of narrower amps available.
 
   
 

KuraDa

Focussed primarily on custom-made designs, KuraDa had two pairs of lovely wood headphones on display which I sat down and had a listen to. While not the most refined and high-end sounding, they were relaxing and pleasant to listen with and I'm sure will appeal to a certain type of person who enjoys bespoke products. Even the front driver grills are of hand-carved wood.
 
 
 
 
 

Just ear


 
Just ear are now available to customers in Tokyo. In the photos you can see Satoshi Sugano, the manager of the Tokyo shop where impressions are being taken, talking to potential customers. At the show, they were taking orders for the fixed-tuning models. Monitor, Listening and Club tunings are available, which are respectively flat, with a slight bass boost, and with a bass and treble boost. I had a listen to all three and it was pretty much as described, the "Listening" model tuned to a fairly common frequency response. Not surprisingly, it was the most listenable, with an especially clear treble that was just right -- not too strong for modern music yet present enough to make instruments clear. The Club version was, not surprisingly, more V-shaped in its tuning, but not by a huge amount. 
 
If a custom tuning is desired, their lead engineer will work with a customer to provide a suitable frequency response. 
 
    
   
 
Update: VisceriousZERO went through the process of ordering a pair when he visited Tokyo. Check out his post here
 

Vinnie Rossi

Much to our delight, Vinnie Rossi made it out to Japan along with his wife for the first time. They brought the LIO system for demonstration, alongside which was a pair of early prototype Campfire Audio headphones from ALO Audio. Still very much under development, there was definitely potential in the design. 
 
 
 

Bispa

As always, this Japanese company had a variety of amps on display, as well as a portable PCM5102-based high-res DAC.
 

 

Brimar


 
For cable artwork the prize definitely goes to Brimar for their gorgeous looking cables. I didn't ask about the price!
 
 
 

ALO Audio / Campfire Audio

ALO Audio has come a long way from making cables, to making amps and DACs and now making IEMs and soon full-sized headphones.  Alongside the new Continental DAC/amp and Rx IEM amp will be the Campfire Audio brand of products which starts with three pairs of IEMs, the constellation-named Orion, Lyra and Jupiter. Ken Ball told me that he decided to go entirely his own way with the designs and sound signature. A brief listen of the latter two revealed a bright, but clean sound signature which I liked with acoustic music especially. 
 
  
 
May 15, 2015 at 7:56 PM Post #4 of 83
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Pioneer


 
The SE-Master 1 had a long queue of people waiting to listen to them, even at closing time and I didn't get a chance to listen, or even a photo, as they only had a single pair on hand in quite a dark room. 
 
They also had a desktop DAC/amp, the U-05, which looked quite serious. Sadly they didn't have any headphones I was familiar with which I could try it.
 

 

HiFiMan

There was definitely quite a bit of interest in the HE1000 planars at the show with people stopping by for a listen.  I've posted my main impressions in the HE1000 thread, but suffice to say, these are seriously good headphones, though with a presentation more along the lines of a 'stat in many respects -- open and airy, though with a bit more bit in the treble and impact in the bass. 
 
Check the TeamHiFiMan post below for pictures.
 

Sennheiser

I was very keen to have a go with the new and very unusual HD630VBs with their variable bass. While not particularly attractive, they did sound reasonably good and the variable bass allows tuning of the headphones from what I would call "monitor" through to "boomy". As much a factor of the headphones I had been listening to prior to coming to the show (Ethers and HE1000s) I didn't find them particularly impressive, with a bit of harshness in the mid range. 
 
  
 
 
 

Marantz

The HD-DAC1 was on display with its very heavily populated internals in full view. Unique to this amp is the gain system that changes the sound slightly when different levels are selected and it also has iDevice input on the front. A quick listen suggested that the unit will make for a good competitor to the OPPO HA-1. It also includes pre-amp and DAC functionality, though only unbalanced.
 
  
 

Onkyo

In collaboration with TEAC, Onkyo had two DAC/amps on the display, the DAC-HA300 and DAC-HA200. The latter is fairly straight-forward as an iDevice and the like compatible all-in-one unit that can accept everything include DSD. The former, however, is rather confusing. Though it will play back directly from an SD card without an external device, they hesitated to call it a DAP, suggesting it be used like the HA200 with an iPhone or Android phone on top instead. Alongside that unexpected suggestion, the cases had jutting wings which didn't make the unit look very pocket-friendly. I had some earwax blocking the ports of the Laylas by that stage so I couldn't get an accurate handle on the sound unfortunately. 
 

 

 

Comply

Steve Trinter of Comply was on hand, encouraging me to try his foam. Here is is passing small plastic bags to some dodgy looking foreigner....Oh wait!*
 
 
 
*Sorry guys, couldn't resist.
 
May 15, 2015 at 7:56 PM Post #5 of 83
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Local special manufacturers

I often get asked about local manufacturers, so here are a collection, some known and most not. For the most part, these manufacturers make their products in Japan, sell in Japan only or have very limited manufacturing capacity and/or overseas distribution. Stax and Aurorasound are exceptions to this.
 

Stax


 
While everyone is waiting on their new statement amplifier, they were present, as always, with their regular range. 
 
 
 

MASS-Kobo

Masanori Masuda, the owner of MASS-Kobo was on hand to discuss and demonstrate his amps. A manufacturer of high-quality studio microphones that are used by, among others, NHK Japan, he also makes studio grade amplification which has attracted the interest of some Head-Fi members, who have found both the desktop and AA-powered portable to be capable units for use with planar headphones.
 
    
 
 

OJI Special

What probably amounts to the most serious boutique manufactured gear consisted of the MTCSS UnitDAC at around $8000 and BDI-DC24A-R Extreme dual-case amplifier at over $5000.
 

 

Phasemation

As well as a number of phono products, Phasemation also have an award-winning balanced headphone amplifier, the EPA-007x on display.
 

 

 

McAudi

This small company manufactures a variety of business and audio components ranging from power cables and power distributors to phono stages and DAC/amps. They had a fairly serious system on display at the show alongside less exotic products.
 
http://www.mcaudi.co.jp/en/index.html
 

 

MACTONE

Since 1964 Mactone has been manufacturing high-end tube amplifiers, a number of which they had on display. 
 

 

FitEar

This show, Suyama-san was demonstrating how a pair of IEMs, even housed in different materials, would sound essentially the same. He had one pair made with plastic from a 3D printer, one pair in titanium and one pair made with solid gold, which you can see Anakchan wearing here. I thought they sounded subtly different! But I couldn't guarantee that I had inserted them to the same depth. He also had a pair of Stax SR-202s which had been modified experimentally with custom ear pieces.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Aurorasound

Shinobu Karaki was on hand to demonstrate his VIDA phone stage and HEADA headphone amplifier (which I reviewed recently here) as well as his USB to S/PDIF converter and clean USB power supply. 
 

 

Southern Accoustics / Acoustune

Kiyofumi Inanaga of Southern Accoustics had an interesting measuring coupler on display, which he claims can measure from 10-80 kHz! He had a demonstration up and running with cheap OEM IEMs that measured reasonably flat, so for fun I hooked up the JHAudio Laylas to his rig. To handle all the background noise, it was averaging out a measurement (the blue line). He was quite impressed with the distortion, FR and bass tuning function of the Laylas. 
 
  
 

Airbow

This small company is known for reselling cryo-treated Stax gear, obscure 'stat amps and, it seems other headphones (which I guess have been cryo-treated, though I wasn't sure). They are a Stax reseller as well. 
 

 

 

Olasonic 

At previous shows Olasonic had partnered with Ocharaku to resell their IEMs under their own brand internationally. They had a small amp and CD player on display which I hadn't found to be particularly special the time I listened to it, but this show they had a balanced amp on display.
 

 

 

JAPAEAR

The engineer for this new small company has apparently worked for two headphone manufacturers in the past, though they didn't want to say which ones. They had some new IEMs on display which sounded good, if quite bright (which seems to be a trend lately). 
 

 

Music With Kikakugai (Standard)

These DIY/vintage gear guys are always a trip.
 

 
"It's a new model."
 

 

 

 
3D printed headphones.
 

 
Did someone say "CMOY"?
 

 
The local village is well-powered.
 

 

 
Many old Sony portable CD players.
 

Stereo Sound

When you buy a magazine here, it is often possible to get a small kit amp, DAC or electronic device of some sort included. I picked up a USB isolator with a magazine for $30!  Many of the small kits that came with the magazines were for sale, with and without cases. Most are DACs and Class D amps.
 

 

 
The woman in the headphone magazine on the left was interviewing Fostex at one point at the show. She is apparently a famous reviewer.
 

 
A small USB DAC kit.
 
 

 
And that's a wrap! We had a great time at the show. Special thanks to Makoto Ishizone and all the members of the Fujiya Avic crew who looked after us and everyone who hung out, chatted, and entrusted us with gear.

 
May 16, 2015 at 11:37 AM Post #7 of 83

arnaud

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A very brief report from me, because I really only had brief time this morning to attend the show...
 
First and foremost, the usual thanks to Fujiya Avic / Sasaki-san to let us in early, it was fun to attend the unveiling of the Astrell & Kern AK380 in a ... chapel!
 

 

 
I will let Anakchan and Currawong comment on the specs / sound in detail. What stood out from the talk is the new AKM chip used with new (oversampling or brickwall, not sure) filters that should result in a smooth albeit more lively sound with various time / phase optimisation. One of the gurus from Asahi Kasei Microdevices who was part of the dev. team for the new chip I suppose showed an interesting figure with out of band noise from their chip vs. that of a "competitor" chip. Basically, while the AKM chip was dead quiet to 200kHz and only slight ramp-up to 400kHz I recall, the other chip was clearly spitting out a lot of noise in that ultrasonic range (which apparently can fold back into the audible range depending on downstream gear).
More info here: http://www.akm.com/akm/en/product/featured/velvetsound/
 
There were also rather complicated / confusing block diagrams with arrows flying around about possible streaming modes and connections to an ecosystem of devices to be released with the AK380. From what we understood with Anakchan, there's this connect app for iOS and Android that lets you use it as a (wifi) remote for the AK380 or stream music from the device to the AK380 by DNLA protocol.  
 
No information on MSRP / release date but apparently, 3500USD is the figure that was announcing in Munich.
 
I could not listen to the device but at least got a couple of teaser pics:
 

 

 
Balanced 4 pins and USB port to connect to an optional analog amplifier (shown later below):

 
Side by side with AK240, the buttons are relocated to below the screen to maximize real-estate (very bright screen, gorilla glass I recall hearing):

This is the dock / ripping station (apparently, you can rip a CD that gets stored to the DAP):

This is with the optional amp. When I asked about the benefits, the rep could not tell as this is a mockup and they've received no detailed information yet. Think of it as an analog balanced amp with extra gain I suppose (and USB passthrough):

 
 
 
 
 
Next stop was to give a listen to the new Pioneer SE-Master 1.
 
First some teasers of the driver, this is the back of the driver with various porous films and felts
(it's an open back phone but there are very little effect of putting my hands on the cup, which lets me believe these screen are quite resistive and the felt inside the diaphragm venting tube is quite absorptive):

 

 
This is a view of the magnet and cone (aluminum base + ceramic coating):

 

 
Now onto the sound: I have to be honest, it was a bit of a letdown for me. I used my iphone / lightning connector to the Pioneer DAC/amp combo which was driving the phone balanced. I used Qobuz / flac tunes I am familiar with.
The bass was rather boomy at first unless I strongly pressed on the pads to ensure a seal (again this supports the idea that the driver baffle, while open, has quite resistive acoustic screens). What I did next is replace the metal arc controlling the clamping force with a stiffer one (2 versions are provided with the phone), which surely felt much tigther:

I also got rid of my glasses (somewhat thick frame) and the bass did improve (although it still sounded a bit mid-bass centric / lacking extension on this short listen).
It did not sound bright and shouty but I did not get too excited about the overall resolution. The other very unsettling thing was how sensitive the tonal balance was to positioning. As if there is a very clear sweet spot and you don't want to be offcenter. 
It was very brief listen so don't put much faith into these thoughts but my take from today is that it's a bit of a steep price for the performance achieved, I'd place it more in the 500-1kUSD bracket.
 
 
Next stop was Hifiman, with the HE-1000:
It looks like Hifiman is establishing operations in Japan, the lady who was manning the table was a familiar face as she was taking care of the headphone floor at Dynamic Audio in Akihabara for many years. She just started with Hifiman this April and had the HE-1000 hooked up balanced to the HE-6, driven by their portable player / dock.
Again here, impressions to be taken with a grain of salt considering the chain (and limited songs I could sample but it was not the dreadful playlist of past year at least so I could use a few familiar tunes like latest daft punk, rebecca pigeon, hotel california live etc ...). The first most shocking thing was the bass kick. That's a given for orthos but I guess I always get surprised :). I love my stat gear but I think it's fair to say it just cannot give quite that level of rattling bass. It was almost a tight too bassy for my tastes actually. The midrange speed & smoothness was typical of good orthos, really nice. I was not as convinced by the mid-highs / highs but again, that could very well be due to other limiting factors besides the phone... It was also rather song specific, hotel california live sounded quite awesome actually.
Conclusion: I can imagine why people like the HE-1000. I'd take one if it was given to me, no question about it :). As it stands, my audio budget is just shot for the next couple of years at least so I will just watch the train passing on this one :wink:. That does not turn me away from my stat rig but that would probably have won me over 5 years back.
 
 
Last stop was Stax, having my traditional chit chat with Sasaki-san (director of sales):
- Nothing new at the show but we may expect something at the fall festival in the entry level (portable gear)
- No news about the T2 return but the project isn't completely canned at least
- We may see a refresh of the existing driver line, in particular the SRM727 and / or SRM007t2
- About the rumour in regards to changes to the SR007 and SR009: there's no such thing! (what do you expect them to say :wink: ).
- About the pads: there might have been alterations to the foam material but that is admittedly out of Stax control / something that sometimes happens at the supplier.
- Also sasaki-san commented that all their pads are made by hand by a small artisan. No two pads are identical to the others so these manufacturing variations may partly explain differences in sound perceived by some with some recent batches.
- Conclusion: Stax remains Stax, it's business as usual there :wink:.
 
 
That's it folks, looking forward to reading about the zillion over things I missed  ...
 
arnaud
 
May 16, 2015 at 2:35 PM Post #8 of 83

Edric Li

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Last stop was Stax, having my traditional chit chat with Sasaki-san (director of sales):
- Nothing new at the show but we may expect something at the fall festival in the entry level (portable gear)
 
arnaud

 
Okay.. So now we have Stax and King Sound doing portable electrostats. It's getting interesting 
ksc75smile.gif

 
May 16, 2015 at 11:08 PM Post #11 of 83

mscott58

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Thanks for the info! Keep it coming! Cheers
 
May 17, 2015 at 11:19 AM Post #13 of 83

Marshal Banana

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Nice show, with a billion of new stuff, I couldn't try evrything I wanted but I had a great time.
 
The Oriolus (a new hybrid high end IEMs), Oppo PM3, HE1000, FLC8, Lotoo Paw Gold and 5000, Noble Savant were my very favorite products of the show.
 
May 18, 2015 at 10:49 AM Post #15 of 83
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Check out my first batch of photos and impressions in the third post here
 
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