In the Happy Place
- Nov 27, 2010
Yup- you read that right: October 27, 2012. And no, this isn't an old thread that got revived. It's been almost six months since this took place and the next one is coming up in just a few more weeks - May 11! In the past you may have seen my long posts about this event. (Sorry about the current formatting on some of those- they somehow got reformatted after posting and some are a bit confusing to view now.) Those posts were usually done a week or so after the fact- after I've had enough time to recover from jet lag and everything was still fresh n my mind. This time around a few things got in the way. And as more time passed I was a bit less anxious to post. It takes a long time to organize and write these!
Anyway, I did take hundreds of photos as usual and I hate to see them go to waste. So this time around I will do a bit more of a simplified in-line posting. And as much as it kills me, for the sake of time most photos will be unprocessed straight from the camera. =( My listening impressions are kept in notes that I carry, but I will only give them if I feel strongly about something. One thing I've figured out is that it takes many listens to get a solid and reliable impression of a piece of gear; and I've often looked back on my listening notes and thought, "I wrote that?!?"
One more note: Things in this hobby move so fast, especially in Japan where they seem to have these events so frequently. So apologies if some of this is outdated!
And yet another note: If you are viewing this on an iPad or other mobile device, be sure to view it on the mobile version of the site. Otherwise the format will get compressed and the pictures and captions will not make sense at times. To toggle between desktop and mobile, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Like my previous trips to Tokyo, this one began with a quick stop first- Hong Kong. These first few photos are of Mingo. Some of you have probably been there. It is an amazing shop- the kind you generally only find in Asia.
This shop has a selection of portable tube amps (above left). It seems in Asia they like the warm tube sound, so they're quite popular over there even in portable form. Coincidentally, when I was hanging out in our private Head-Fi room at the Tokyo show, the marketing manager for Mingo showed up to say 'hi'. Apparently they wanted to see how the show was run so they could do similar things in Hong Kong.
And to fulfill all of the stereotypes of Hong Kong, some fake Beats at the subway exit:
And some more at an outdoor market place:
In all fairness, this was just a very specific part of Hong Kong- Sham Shui Po. It's a neighborhood full of street vendors selling cheap everything as well as offering services like 'fixing' your iPhone. The vast majority of stuff I saw in HK was legit. In most of the city they are far too sophisticated to settle for knock-offs. The reason I went to Sham Shui Po was to see this spectacle of old Hong Kong, but also to see some hidden little shops that had some really nice stuff. These cramped little shops packed with gear reminded me of some of the older shops we used to have here in the U.S. before chains and the internet took over.
And now on to Tokyo!
AKG - The new K374 looks a lot like the K3003, but at around 1/12th the price. I did not heard them. For this show, I brought my K1000s along for my fellow Head-Fiers to hear. I invited the rep from AKG to hear them in our private room (more on that later). I think he was quite happy!
Sonicweld - I don't know why, but I have an odd fascination with this thing.
Telefunken - Yup, these are the tube people.
Mr. Speakers - At this point many of you have probably heard these, and they are earning their accolades. This was before the new ALPHA pads, which I got to try a few months ago at the Bay Area meet. Though I'm not crazy about the stickers, I think they're a really good headphone for the money. And the new leather ALPHA pads are really nice too!
Audeze - They had their closed-back prototype. Though I've heard them at least a half-dozen times, I'm not super-familiar with the LCDs. So to me they sounded... well, like Audezes. And that's generally a good thing. Their comfort and weight are similar to the LCD2/3.
Matrix - They were not at the previous show so it was nice to see them there. This was before the release of the X-Sabre DAC.
That is John Lee Jeongkyu from JL Acoustic Labs talking to shigzeo. He was there to promote EXS IEMs among other things. Those (EXS X20) are the South Korean IEMs that I heard last time in Seoul that sounded a lot like DBA-02/ER-4P/ATH-CK10s.
But his main thing is these really cool cast-aluminum (?) earbuds.
At the time I believe they were still prototypes or a personal project of his. But I believe he is in the process of coming up with these semi-custom earbuds where buyers can pick different parts and literally assemble their own earbuds (above right).
HifiMAN - They had their HM-901 on hand as well as the EF6 powering the HE-6. No, I did not get to hear them.
Radius - Known for their DDM dual-driver dynamic IEMs, it appears that they are moving into the iTransport and amp business.
em - This company specializes in PC audio, in this case a HTPC that is built around a stripped-down Windows OS computer and optimized to deliver top notch computer audio. They are really nice people and I really want to sit down and hear their stuff one of these days!
Final Audio Design
TEAC - They had their full line-up of 501-series components.
TAKET - I still haven't heard these!!! Next time... no excuses.
Astell & Kern - This was their debut of the AK100.
Ocharaku - Known for their Flat4-SUI/KAEDE dual-driver dynamic IEMs, these are gaining popularity both inside and outside of Japan. Makoto Yamagishi is an ex-Sony engineer who decided to make his own IEMs using several patented methods- most notably the 'dual-driver + phase tube' design and the 'Tornado Equalizer'.
The Flat4-SUI and KAEDE (aluminum body and maple wood body respectively) are dual-dynamic driver IEMs that use two drivers with a metal tube connecting the two frontal chambers. While I don't fully understand the concept, from diagrams, his website, and what I gather from our conversations (my Japanese is quiet limited), the whole thing works much like an isobaric compound woofer system. The advantages can be both electrical and mechanical, where the two drivers cancel out unwanted resonances as well as augment each other in certain specified areas. I remember building a subwoofer based around this very concept a long time ago.
The yet-to-be-released DONGURI (translation: acorn) is based on the other technology: 'Tornado Equalizer'. He told me that his inspiration for this came from looking at rolled up tea leaves. Note that in his shop in Tokyo, he sells Chinese tea.
More on that later...
MHaudio - They make these really nice customizable amps as you can see. You can pick your case, knob, connector, and leather wrap. I definitely have to listen to these at the next show. They also make nice little desktop speakers.
STAX - They had their new portable, SR-002. I did not get to hear it. The STAX line-up never seems to change from year to year, which I guess is a good thing.
Honestly, if the dollar/yen exchange rate keeps going the way it is, I might have some serious decisions to make on this next trip.
RAL RATOC Audio Lab - This is a company I am very interested in. I've seen them at all of the past shows and seen their stuff in stores. I've even seen people use their mini-desktop components in portable setups using external USB battery packs.
Agara - This is a CD player prototype that was on demonstration. It was developed in collaboration with another company (47Lab) with whom they also made a new headphone amp. Looks cool- doesn't it?
And of course, this is their $10,000 headphone amplifier. It's NOT ugly. At the time this photo was taken it was more like $13,000.
TRIODE - I still think these are some of the best looking components out there.
ORB - Maker of portable and desktop headphone amps among other audiophile-related things, this company is known for their JADE-1 & 2 USB DAC/amplifier. They released a new amp (no DAC)- the 'Casa'. The gentleman there said that upon realizing the speed at which DAC technology changes vs. that of amplifier tech, it made more sense to separate the two components. At the time, he said they were in talks with another company (RAL) to partner up with on the DAC product.
Ray Samuels Audio - Ray Samuels made the trip over.
DIY - This group of headphone fanatics is probably the most interesting if not the most passionate group of audio geeks you will find. I love them!
Denon - Although a major departure from their D7000, I have to say that the D7100 is one interesting headphone to listen to. It's very colored IME, but there is something about it that makes me want to listen to things through it- if only to see what they sound like with such coloration. I guess it wouldn't be something I would personally buy (although you never know). But I still enjoy listening to it for some odd reason. No offense to owners of these!
Audio Technica - They had quite a bit to listen to: The new ADx series and the ESW10LTD. And I didn't hear any of them. However, on this trip I did manage to hear the older AD2000 as well as the ATH-ESW9. And I was quite impressed with both. So much so with the later (ESW9) that I bought a pair when I got back home. I think I'm turning into an AT fanboy because I also recently got their W1000x and W5000!
The wood is not quite as nice on the ESW11LTD as it is on the lacquered and highly-polished ESW10LTD- which is too bad. I also see a lot of these on the used market in Japan already.
I'd still like to listen to them, though.
TDK - The surprise standout of the show for me was TDK. They had a few surprisingly good things to listen to.
IE800s (not to be confused with Sennheiser's IE800) are dual-dynamic driver IEMs with one 8mm and one 5.8mm driver. I heard them while browsing a store before attending the show and liked them so much that I bought them. I wasn't even looking to buy an IEM on this trip! To me they have a very balanced sound to them. I think I like them more for what they don't do (boomy bass, shrill highs, etc.) than for what they do. I'm surprised that they are not more popular. I told the guy that when I think of TDK, I think of media (cassettes, VHS, and CDs). But maybe I'm just showing my age. On the right (photo below) is another IEM- they call it 'magnetic armature'. I'm not sure what the difference is between that and balanced armature, but supposedly they are different. I listened to them alongside shigzeo and we both though they sounded great for the money. They also had a rather unique looking fit system (those red 'tabs') that actually worked really well. Two (at least-) IEM winners from TDK in my book.
When I see headphones that look like this (ST800), I know exactly what to expect. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I put them on: Tonally balanced and good comfort. The faux stitched leather is miles ahead of other celebrity 'phones in terms of build quality and appearance. To top it off there is a slightly gimmicky but useful tone control/frequency (RTA-like) analyzer on the cable that works really well, giving both bass and treble controls. While maybe not something I would buy for myself, it is definitely something I can see buying as a gift and feeling good that I gave something nice.
Ultrasone - They debuted their IEM line: The IQ and Tio.
They used iQubes to demo their IEMs, even though most people in attendance had their own DAPs.
I like how the amps are just lying there on the table- not chained down or tied to RFID devices.
I saw this at a store and thought it was interesting. Up until that time, I had not seen what S-Logic looked like.
JVC - These new dual-driver IEMs (HA-FXZ100 and HA-FXZ200) were new at the show, but seem to have gained popularity here already. Coming off of the success of the HA-FXT90 are these two newer models. I had a brief listen to each. If you like bass...
I must say, I was a bit disappointed after hearing these. Their bass level for me was so out there that I couldn't really relate to them. For me, the HA-FX700 is already bass-heavy and I pull them out slightly to lose some of that excess bottom end. I suppose you could do the same for these, but I'm not sure that would even help. It's too bad because to me this is one of the best-looking, best-built universal IEMs out there. Even though it's all plastic, this is plastic done right! The cable is possibly the best cable I've ever seen on a non-custom IEM. In fact, other than the Ultimate Ears custom cable and the Audio Technica ATH-CK10 cable, I've never seen better. This cable is THICK and has the suppleness of cooked pasta. All cables should be like this!
Know fact: The Japanese like to dissect things. If you look at their magazines there are always pictures of cross-sections, manufacturing processes, as well as skeletal drawings and diagrams. (Left) is an FXZ200 sliced in half to show you the various chambers and drive units. (Below right) is a comparison between the FXZ200 and the FXT90 which is on the right. While the FXZ200 and FXZ100 appear to be huge, I had absolutely no fit issues with them. The bulky part is outside of your ear. Think of the Sony MDR-EX700- not the Ultimate Ears TripleFi.
I have to try me some of these! Admittedly, I already tried the HP-DX700 and found it to be uber-colored. And I don't mind a little bit of coloration, but they seemed to be a bit too much for me. I don't expect much different from the DX1000. But like I said earlier, I can never rely on a single or even a couple of noisy demos. I think I'm a sucker for wood cups which is why I am so tempted by these.
Sennheiser - They debuted their IE800. They are well built and really tiny! The sound? Some of the best bass I've heard from an IEM... and about 3x too much of it! Too bad. This IEM definitely has a boom and sizzle theme to it. That said, the mids were really nice and so were the details and overall sound. I can see people liking this. It's just a bit too much for me. After listening to these I went and heard the IE80s and though they sounded so much more balanced.
Sony - Their new headphone is more like a new headphone line. However, even though the names are alike (MDR-1R, MDR-1RBT, and MDR-1RNC) I believe the driver is slightly different in each headphone. These headphones have already taken off and seem to be quite popular- and for good reason. Right off, I thought the build quality was EXCELLENT on them. You can't really compare them to celebrity 'phones- these are for adults. That's just the way they are styled.
The headband adjusts with reassuring clicks- one of the things I like about the $1500 Ultrasone Ed 8. Again, although this headphone is mostly plastic, this is plastic done right. There are no sharp edges, the finish is smooth, and the pads are comfortable.
I had a chance to try the 1RNC noise-canceling version at the show. When I put them on, I had an odd moment because all of a sudden the ambient noise level dropped dramatically, just as you would expect it would. But it was so dramatic that I thought something around me had happened and the whole hall went silent! I can definitely vouch for the NC abilities of this headphone- at least in that sort of environment. Also, as the 1RNC does use different drivers than the 'plain' 1R, the former has an amazing amount of low-end sub-bass. It is definitely one of those headphones that will put a grin on your face with the right type of music. Also, assuming they will be used in a noisy environment, between the NC and extra bass I have to think that these could really work out well for some people.
Stack of the Show - At every show there are always a few of these notable portable rigs. I'm not sure I can even explain this one, as it obviously uses something we're not used to seeing.
Well, that's pretty much it! This was my fourth Headphone Festival and my fears of these getting old are non-existent. It should be noted that this show was two days long. It was just that much better! Unfortunately the upcoming one will be back to one day. Again, BIG thank-you's to Makoto Ishizone (Fujiya-AVIC) and Sasaki-san for organizing this and giving us our own private room at the show. Also, thanks to fellow Head-Fi members for schlepping their gear- in many cases very expensive and even irreplaceable- so that the rest of us can hear them. I will leave you with some shots taken by Anakchan of some of the cool things that we had in the room: