I always wanted to know the purpose of life.
I suffered from many illnesses during my childhood and was hospitalized many times. “What is the purpose of life?”, I used to ask adults, but I never got an answer.
During my teens, I was obsessed with MTV, renting records, and [Sony] Walkman.
In Japan, at the age of 15 there is an important test for Japanese students that would determine the rest of their lives, but for me it was ruined by a 3-month hospital stay.
What is the purpose of life? I started to think for myself.
I dropped out of a metropolitan high school and started making music because I thought it would be the same thing, although I did get a college degree.
In my early adulthood [20-25], I didn't know what to do because I was not very healthy, but I worked without thinking because it was hard to stop. What is the purpose of life? I came to understand that not thinking is good for my health.
In my adulthood [26-40], I joined Nakameguro Rays, a music production company for major record companies in Japan. Later I became independent and established PHONON. During this period, I also released lots of music as an individual and as Tokyo Black Star with my partner, Alex Prat, aka Alex from Tokyo.
I introduced interesting parties at club events, satellite radio stations, and sound systems, and regained my life with health and the power I gained by not thinking about it.
Path To MusicWhen I was a kid, there were many audio products shops in Akihabara—the back then’s electronics area in Tokyo. I was interested in them anyway and often went there even though I had no money. After all, I wanted to record from records to cassettes with good sound.
I interpret a strong negative experience as a positive experience after I get over it.
At the age of 15, I had an unexplained bout of osteomyelitis that left me in a corset for three months. In extreme pain and sedated, unable to change my posture and looking at the ceiling, I was saved by a library of cassette recordings of rented records. When the sedation wore off, I complained to the doctor about the intense pain, but he told me that I had to endure it if I could, because any more and the treatment would be equal to that of a terminal cancer patient. What is the purpose of life? It is a headphone part alone in a hospital room.
This intense and negative experience led to a life of making music and audio products.
I evolved with the development of the music environment, so I think I share the same feeling as everyone else in the world. I purchased my first Mac Plus, and my sound equipment has been growing rapidly. I bought my first Mac Plus, and the number of sound-related equipment kept increasing. My friend, Takagi Synth, has surprisingly kept all those gears part of the entire history of this evolution.
The Birth of PhononOriginally, a group of retired engineers from major Japanese audio manufacturers gathered at my studio for research, we collaborated, and before I knew it, PHONON was born. We all wanted to turn our ideas into a product, and we were strongly encouraged by our colleagues to do so.
I researched and developed various audio-visual accessories and cables in my studio, but I decided that headphones should be the main focus of the business. I developed headphones because I thought that if we were going to make a business out of it, headphones should be our main force. We started by modifying a standard competitor's product on the market. Since we started with no capital, we have been 100% independent and we made it this far while strategizing within our financial limitations. We have now started to rebuild our sales channels outside of Japan.
[Did you come across any hardships along the way?]
We go through many hardships. Many unforeseen problems occur, many very intense experiences. For example, being called by a lawyer and being abused. I hope to eventually turn this into a TV series.
The Phonon team, 2023:
Isao Kumano, CEO & engineer
Junko Kumano, Accounting
Alex Prat, International Representative
Ken Saito, Technology
Yuhei Onaka, Manager
Hiroaki Okamoto, Production
Company ApproachOur passion is creating as authentic and detailed as possible a natural reproduction of original sound. We focus on the purity of sound and aim to provide the highest quality product at the most reasonable price possible
I have been a mastering engineer for over 20 years. I have a wealth of sound sources.
In addition, PHONON members are DJs and high-end audio developers. Each member has their own criteria for evaluating sound quality. I collect their opinions and feed them back into our products so that they do not become too systematized.
I learned from Jean-Luc Godard that it is important to enter the race even with old race cars. I always think about creating new performance and value from old things that are taken for granted.
I was born in Paris. I moved to Bangkok, Thailand at 2 years old with my family for my dad’s work. We moved to Tokyo, Japan when I was 3.5 years old, grew up and went to the Lycée Franco-Japonais school in Tokyo until my baccalaureate diploma at 18 years old in 1991.
I moved to Paris in 1991 for my university studies. I was already heavily into music and DJing. I was accepted to a Business School where I studied International Management for 4 years. I dove into the club scene in Paris, and I started to DJ at club parties and on Radio FG in Paris.
I moved back to Tokyo in 1995 to finish my last year of my Business School at Sophia University in Tokyo. The music and club scenes in Tokyo were booming, I found my destiny there, I started to work at a record store called Mr.Bongo, I represented different French record labels like F Communications and Yellow Productions in Japan and vice versa. I DJed, promoted parties and events, etc.—I lived from music as a free-lancer.
I met Isao Kumano at Nakameguro Rays as a side-project he oversaw a DJ mix show on a TV satellite channel. We started to make music together as Tokyo Black Star in 1999. After we released our album “Black Ships” on the Berlin label Innervisions in 2009, we started in 2010 our new adventures launching PHONON without any real plans but with passion and necessity.
Isao is such a talented engineer and handy person, he crafted his music studio by himself making cables and his own equipment, he created his own sound! His studio was and is the place to be in Japan to have an amazing sound experience.
I moved from Tokyo to NYC in 2005 to become more International as a DJ, music producer and international co-ordinator. Looking for new inspirations and challenges, I moved to Berlin in 2016 where I have been able to focus my music and audio activities in Europe. I have been representing PHONON internationally since the beginning. It has been a huge, hard, challenging but fascinating project as we are 100% independent. We have been very fortunate to have a great network of professional DJs, music producers and sound engineers around us who have been very receptive to our PHONON sound and products, they have been keeping us alive. Our popular long-selling first model SMB-02 studio monitoring headphones have become a world standard! Our motto at PHONON is we make products that we would love to use ourselves. We have now 10 headphone models and we are looking forward to going to the next level.
We would like to thank all of you for your continuous support!