You can count on two things in Tokyo: earthquakes and audio festivals. The latter is made possible by rabid fans and manufacturers who just love to connect. The former sometimes makes it hard to get to the latter.
Last week's 2013 Winter ポータ研 went unhindered by quakes, tsunami, and other disasters. And the show? It was anything but disastrous. Billed as a smaller option to historic meets in May and October, the February meet blasted through all my expectations.
Sun Plaza's 14th floor was packed by hundreds of sweaty audio fans. I joined the fray, milling around some of the coolest gadgets I've seen in a while. Usually, manufacturers wait until May or October to release the cool stuff, but this time, they pulled out all stops. As a Japanese event, kitsch was there in full force, too. Kitsch in the lights, in the booth layout, in the wardrobe of the fanatics. But hey, what is Japan without overwhelming kitsch?
Below are the items that caught my eye.
hippo ProOne earphones
Historically, hippo audio have had a few problems with follow through. By consequence, their products appeared cheap in comparison to others in a similar price bracket. Those days are behind us. Their new earphone is a fine machine. Its low profile allows it to disappear in the ear, making possible side-sleeping, desk-kipping, and the like. But it doesn't give up sturdy fit and build. The earphone is solid and gives up a forward, softly aggressive sound that does rock proud. The cable could use a little work but it seems to fit the bill of purchase. Expected release early in spring.
Musix Cables Wagnus
Wagnus cables are for the fashion-conscious portable audiophile. Garnished with glittering plastic gems and sporting twinkling cable sleeves, they truly are eye catching. And, it seems their CEO, mastering engineer Haruyuki Kume, has a thing for Russian legends.
Centrance HiFi M8
I've been told that its debut is only a little ways off. From what I saw Saturday, it is ready. The HiFi M8 comes in several flavours, each of which is a delectable delight. No surprises from Centrance: the M8's noise floor is low and there is power to boot.
I had a hard time deciding where to put the Fostex TH600 in the line up. It is a fantastic headphone, clear, even-timbred, and mid-grounded. It's been a long time since the live music aficionado in me has been intrigued by a closed headphone. It comes at a more agreeable price, too, and for the chronic collector, its black matte surface will provoke less spousal interest and ire.
3D printed headphone kits
By far the most interesting gear to me were the new 3D headphone kits. Kits are purchased at 5.000¥ for starters, and go up to 12.000¥ with drivers included. The audio engine is driven by SONY's well-respected CD900ST studio headphone speakers.
My interest in 3D printing began with Jerry Harvey's custom earphones and was incremented as I first read Cory Doctorow's Printcrime. The fact that today, you can hold in your hand a headphone that began its life in someone's printer stresses the bounds to which democracy stretches. And yes, you get to build them yourself. Damn straight.
There were many other interesting products but these were were the most interesting to yours truly.