In the Happy Place
- Nov 27, 2010
(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:
|[attach]1141378[/attach]|| [b]Yoshihiro Sasaki[/b] 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, [size=inherit]どうもありがとう！[/size]
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.
| The first few times I attended these events, like anyone else I went straight to the heavy-hitters: STAX, Audio Technica, Shure, Fostex, and so on. But those guys don't always have something new every six months. So I made an informal commitment to start looking at companies that (to be honest) I had lesser expectations from. This included celebrity-phones as well as audio industry giants attempting to ride the current headphone boom. The fun thing about this is the unexpected surprises that occasionally pop up.|
JBL surprised me at this show with their S100 IEM and S500 headphones. Like most of these manufacturers I'm finding out that voicing can vary greatly throughout their product line. I guess they're trying to please as many people as they can- bassheads and not-so-bassheads alike. These (S100/S500) are for the not-so-bassheads IME.
| I like the sound of the LCDs... I really do. And in light of all of the expensive cans that are coming out, the LCD-2 is becoming a very good value comparatively. But until they shave a few grams (or pounds?) off of these and reduce the clamping force it will be hard for me to find a home for these. These are not for wimps!|
That's quite a long trip for the signal, huh?
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...
| FitEar had one mysterious prototype that they demoed at this show simply called 'fitear'. There was little technical information given out about this new universal IEM. They are often secretive like this because they want you to hear based on what comes out of the earphones- not based on the specifications. Part of me likes the impartiality of this (reduced placebo); but another part of me (my wallet) would like to know exactly what I'm buying. |
If I had to guess, judging from the similar nature of its sound to the F111, I would say it was a single-driver BA. At the time of this writing there may be additional information on this IEM- maybe someone will chime in below?
|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 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. (＾◡＾)|
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...
| 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.
|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.|
| [size=inherit]From the Fall 2013 [/size]|
← Three variants of Flat4 KURO with different length phase tubes.
People voted for whichever one they liked the best. →
CTM / rhines
JABEN / Rudistor
Oji Special / Sforza
Umbrella Company / YAXI
| [size=inherit]The amp (left of mixer) looks right at home in the studio.[/size]|
|With the exception of a few modified hiFace products, Aurorasound seems like a company specializing in the analog domain. I've seen them at past shows playing vinyl through their VIDA phono preamp. At this show I noticed quite a few exhibitors using their HEADA amplifier. Balanced throughout, it has that old school wood casing design that I'm starting to like and appreciate.|
| B&W didn't have anything new this year other than some new colors for the P3? Actually, the main reason I included this photo was because I really like that (cooling?) laptop stand but I don't know who makes it. It sort of looks like the LUXA2 (Thermaltake) M1, but it is a little different. Does anyone know?|
(Answered below! It's the X-Base by Balmuda)
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 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.
UCOTECH / VIC JOHN AUDIO
|Like many companies in Japan that sprang up from ex-employees of large corporations (often Sony), Ucotech/ UBIQUO started from a man who left OEM giant Cresyn to start his own company. UBIQUO is relatively young (7 years) and like most companies started at the lower end with earbuds. However, they've been steadily making new products and just released a new dynamic IEM- the UCT-IM300 Affetto. I’ve been able to spend some time with it and I am really enjoying it!|
|Beyerdynamic is marketed together with TEAC in Japan; thus they are usually displayed together.|
Venture Craft / Musica Acoustics
| It looks like [b]Currawong[/b] 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?
| The always friendly and helpful Dimitri from Musica Acoustics was trying to organize a group shot. I have a hard time remembering the name of his company. I often find myself doing searches for:|
Does anyone else have this problem?
|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!|
ON the ROAD
|To perhaps bridge the gap between physical and digital media are these 'ON the ROAD' 96/24 HQ Sound USB sticks. Basically a USB memory stick with pre-loaded content, so far there are three collections: Blues File 150, Jazz File 114, and Soul File 150. The number on the end refers to the number of tracks in that collection which are all remastered for this release, DRM-free, and include a ~100 page document of photos and commentary. The format is 24/96 FLAC. It doesn't have the smell of vinyl and it doesn't move when you play it. But it's still an interesting idea nonetheless!|
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.
STAX / Etymotic
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.
Arnaud posted some information from the press event for the TH500RP held during the Headphone Festival.
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.
The CKR line from A.T. was their big new release at the show. I was really looking forward to this...
|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.|
|And FINALLY, this was a quick coffee break I took with a friend- one I met a few years back at a previous show- where we had time to geek out. He's really into vintage things (including headphones!) and there is such a good supply of these items in second-hand stores around Japan. The Apple PowerCD sounded quite nice by the way!|
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!
|Last but certainly not least, the gentleman who makes this all possible: The chief of operations for FUJIYA-AVIC, Makoto Ishizone. The work that goes into putting on one of these shows is non-stop- vendors, press, promo materials, location, merchandise, presentations, live stream, and much more. Almost like the Super Bowl (except this is twice a year), after one ends he is already planning the next. (And occasionally there are little ones in between!) Once again, thank you and お疲れ様でした！|