Organised by Fujiya Avic, the Tokyo Headphone Festival is a bi-annual affair featuring in Spring and Autumn. The 2019 Spring edition happened on 27th and 28th of April at Nakano Sunplaza.
The Tokyo Headphone Festival is one of the biggest audio shows in Japan with a focus on headphones. For the Japanese, In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) and Earbuds are also classified as headphones.
Prior to attending the Tokyo Headphone Festival, I met up with Takuya Sugiyama (Sugiyama-san) in the morning of 27th of April, an individual whom I have made a promise to meet in Tokyo exactly a year ago.
Sugiyama-san is a Japanese portable audio enthusiast, famed for his POTA setups. After his POTA setup primed at a stack of 10 in 2018, Sugiyama-san shared with me that he has been optimising his POTA from the original stack of 10 to a stack of 4 today. He also shared with me that in order to present his best stack of 4 POTA setup, he had spent the night optimising and tuning the POTA, a gesture which I appreciated very much.
Takuya Sugiyama’s POTA setup
- Source: Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP1000 Stainless Steel
- Brimar Audio OTG cable custom to DAC/Amplifier
- DAC/Amplifier: JVC SU-AX01 DAC/Amplifier
- Acoustic Revive PC-Triple C/EX 3.5 TRS cable (special) to Amplifier 1
- Amplifier 1: Oriolus BA10 (OAK) Tube Amplifier
- Rhapsodio Dark Night 3.5 TRS cable to Amplifier 2
- Amplifier 2: Mass-Kobo model 404 Amplifier
- Brimar Audio The Grand Priest 4-pin XLR Balanced out to Headphone
- Headphone: Focal Utopia
That morning, we spent 2 hours in a private room listening to Sugiyama-san’s stack of 4 POTA setup. Owning a pair of Focal Utopia myself, I am familiar with the sound signature of the Utopia when properly powered and I must say that I am impressed by the sound quality and output. Having had time to chat with Sugiyama-san on the way to Nakano Sunplaza, his passion to continually improve his POTA setups left me a deep impression, particularly upon hearing that the enclosures including those separators that you see on his setups were all handcrafted by the man himself.
During the second day itself, he looked for me at Nakano Sunplaza. Beaming with pride he asked me to listen to his setup once more, he has further optimised the stack of 4 POTA setup and added two layers of insulation at the bottom of the setup. Without a doubt, the night before was yet another sleepless one for him but the passion and pride of his setup is what keeps him going.
Prior to my departure from Tokyo to Beijing, Sugiyama-san sent me a message as follows:
Goh-san, thank you very much for testing my POTA setup. If not for your presence, I would not have realised the sound quality today. The pressure provides the power for the heart to progress for me!! Please keep in touch! Thank you very very much Goh-san!
– Takuya Sugiyama
Thank you Sugiyama-san, I look forward to seeing you soon and hope time allows me to visit you yearly.
“40 years’ sound creation of Sony headphones” by Koji Nageno
During the first day of Tokyo Headphone Festival 2019 Spring, Koji Nageno (Nageno-san), Senior Acoustic Architect of Sony delivered a talk on “40 years’ sound creation of Sony headphones” in Japanese. Thankfully, the slides had English text on them and were pictorial in nature.
The talk touched on many aspects of headphones starting from the historical front where French engineer Ernest Mercadier patented a set of in-ear headphones in 1891, through to the Sony MDR-3 with TPS-L2 Walkman – Sony’s first Portable Audio offering in 1979, as well as how Sony’s development of headphones in the subsequent 40 years are influenced by Style, Format highlighting 1982 when digital audio was introduced and subsequently DAT, MiniDisc, DSD and Hi-Res Audio.
He then spoke about Professional Monitors, Sony’s collaboration with CBS Sony Shinano-machi Studio (now Sony Music Studio) as well as co-development with real professionals. Supreme was next on the list where he spoke about the research, challenge and brush up during the development of high-end headphones MDR-R10 in 1988 in Sony pursue of supreme sound without limit which also showcased the MDR-F1, MDR-Z1R and IER-Z1R. He next focused on Comfort, Integration, Trend and Communication as influencing factors in headphone design today.
Recognised as the walking “encyclopedia” of MDR category by his colleagues and fans, Nageno-san is an individual I admire massively. Thank you Nageno-san for the efforts to allow non-japanese speaking individuals like myself benefit from yet another insightful sharing.
Astell&Kern launched the KANN CUBE, the second model in the KANN performance line at the Tokyo Headphone Festival 2019 Spring. The KANN CUBE features two (2) 8-channel ESS Sabre ES9038PRO DACs in a dual-mono configuration, which is typically used in a high-end studio or home pro audio equipment. It supports up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and DSD256 playback natively, features a 5-inch high definition screen and will be released at the end of May 2019 for USD 1,499 and will be available in Astell&Kern dealers worldwide from June 2019.
Fostex showcased its TM2 True Wireless Stereo Headphones, the TM2 is a True Wireless earbud featuring Fostex proprietary 6mm high-quality driver or, via MMCX connector, connection with any other earbuds/In-Ear Monitors using MMCX or optionally CIEM 2-pin Type 1 and 2 short connecting cables. It supports Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX codec with True Wireless Plus mode connecting each side independently with the host to eliminate drop-outs. Priced at USD 299.99, the TM2 will be first to ship in North America, Japan and Hong Kong in Q2/2019 with other territories to be advised.
Huawei showcased its latest Wireless Earphones, the Huawei Freelace. Launched during the Huawei P30 Series Launch event at the Paris Convention Center, the exquisitely designed wireless earphones supports Huawei HiPair, allowing it to be easily paired with and fast charged by Huawei smartphones intuitively – by simply plugging into the device. The Huawei Freelace also supports LHDC (HWA) 2.0 HD audio codec alongside Bluetooth 5.0. Available in launch colours of Graphite Black, Amber Sunrise, Emerald Green and Moonlight Silver, priced at about USD 99.
Just ear by Sony
Just ear by Sony announced a collaboration model with well-known anime singer, LiSA. The XJE-MH / L1SA Special Edition is tuned to LiSA’s personal preference, especially the presentation of the low-end. The faceplate of the special edition will also include “ANOTHER GREAT DAY”, the theme of LiSA’s 2014 tour concert. Priced at JPY 250,000 + JPY 9,000 for ear impressions, orders for the XJE-MH / L1SA Special Edition started with the product audition during the Tokyo Headphone Festival 2019 Spring and will end on August 31st 2019.
oBravo has given us a special preview of Cupid, the first variant of a new series of IEMs to be introduced by the company. Cupid features a single 8mm planar magnetic driver and a single 6mm dynamic driver hybrid design. The 8mm planar magnetic driver is a patented driver design which was also used on erib-1, the Flagship model of the company’s planar magnetic series. With an impedance of 16 ohms and frequency response of 20Hz to 35kHz, the drivers are encased in tinted gold plated brass enclosure and will continue to feature the company’s proprietary oB-MMCX connectors. Offered in two different combinations; the first being a basic combination which will include 3 pairs of regular ear tips, a high-purity copper cable at USD 169 before tax, the second being a luxury combination which will include Comply ear tips in place of the regular ear tips, a gold-plated OCC cable with a balanced 2.5mm termination in place of the high-purity copper cable at USD 269 before tax. The oBravo Cupid is scheduled for release on the 29th of June, 2019.
VanNuys showcased what is probably the first third-party case for the Astell&Kern KANN CUBE. Product pricing and availability are to be confirmed.