In-between Denver’s RMAF and Tokyo’s Fujiya Avic event lives a two week window. Straddling the 10,000kms point to point, two aeroplane rides. Crossing the international dateline and a 15-hour time difference means a jet-lagged John arrives in Japan but a full five days before showtime. An opportunity for the body clock to right itself, some vinyl record shopping at Disk Union and time to meet local manufacturers on their home turf.
Fifty clicks south of the Shinjuku, just north of Kawasaki, sits an unassuming industrial park. Its narrow streets are quiet by the time I arrive just before sundown. A flight of stairs take us up the exterior of a two-storey building. Welcome to Final Audio, makers of headphones and earphones less ordinary.
Their demo studio is low-lit. To one side, a screen and a mannequin. The centre piece of the room is a loudspeaker/amplifier rig from neighbours TAD. A glass case in one corner houses the company’s range of IEMs. Another glass cabinet houses the Sonorous range of over-ears. The room’s stillness is arresting, its lightning intimate.
I’m a fan of Final’s Sonorous III – more so than their higher-end and bigger-bucked Sonorous VIII and X. An affordable, full-sized closed-back headphone that doesn’t neuter dynamics or narrow the soundstage is a rare beast indeed.
Final’s Jojo Hiramatsu explains how the top floor studio is used for private demos for would-be customers and to host the occasional, more intimate promotional event.
Downstairs, the factory floor is where cameras must be stashed out of sight. A development project (about which I am asked to remain shtum) in underway. Final’s chief technician not only makes the drivers, voice coils etc. but also designs and builds the machines that bring them into being. Impressive.
Across the floor, two young chaps work silently behind magnifying glasses and under bright white light as they carefully build in-ear monitors. Nearby, another Final employee transforms 2-D flat-packed nets into fully-branded boxes. The remainder of the space is given over to storage: of stock ready to fly and component parts.
Final’s present focus is the Lab II IEM. Back upstairs in the demo space, company president Mitsuru Hosoo brings the new jewels’ manufacturing process to life with a video of the shells being laser cut, layer by layer, from a Titanium block, their ‘chemical-peeling’ finishing process and the varied prototype versions of the ‘mechanical equaliser’ used to ensure higher bandwidth from each shell’s 15mm, in-house designed dynamic driver:
The LAB II don’t sit inside one’s ear canal as do other IEMs but instead rest (tentatively!) on the outer ear. According to Final, this renders their new earphone better suited to the lighter side of musical life. They are not for running to rock n’ roll or synthetic beats but for stationary listeners who prefer jazz and acoustic material.
Such specificity and an intense manufacturing process means only 200 pairs of LAB II will be made. Once they’re gone, they’re gone but at ~US$4000/pair such outward beauty doesn’t come cheap.
At the Fujiya Avic headphone festival, the LAB II made their long anticipated local debut:
A doff of the cap from this commentator to a manufacturer doing things completely their own way and without any obvious signs of material or methodological compromise. This Japanese company’s wares might not be everyman head-fi but Final’s industrial design elegance offer a timelessness not seen elsewhere.
Further information: Final Audio Design