e-earphone Japan – Featuring Impressions from FitEar, FAudio, Rhapsodio and more!

Kumitate Lab

For our last stop, we come full circle – back to the Land of the Rising Sun. Kumitate Lab should be no stranger to anyone who’s read my recently-debuted interview series An Inner View – where I speak intimately with CEO Ryosuke Ito about the company. Below are my impressions of their breakout models, the hybrid KL-REF with adjustable bass and the KL-Lakh.

Kumitate Lab KL-REF: The KL-REF is a neutral-sounding piece that – as its name suggests – is viable as a studio piece, but with quirks that separates it from other reference in-ears. Energy along 5 and 10kHz add great articulation and air, but the REF dips around 8-9kHz to ensure smoothness. It also adds a feathery quality to the treble that prevents it from becoming overtly hot or brittle. But, this prevents it from sounding perfectly linear to me without brief adjustment.

Despite this, the balance it maintains with the rest of the range is impressive. The mids are balanced and uncoloured with laid-back delivery. Instruments are generally presented with a matter-of-fact-ness that’ll work well in the studio, but may be perceived as dull for audiophiles. Additionally, the bass at default makes its presence known by extension, rather than quantity. Solidity and texture both impress with a slight sub-bass bias, but the warmth it imparts onto the image is neutral. Nevertheless, it’s a bass that never underwhelms in terms of quality – as technical performance is exemplary.

With the bass dial set to full, frequencies below 300Hz receive a healthy boost. In Gallant’s Cave Me In, the sub-bass fills the stage, positioning itself parallel with – if not a hair above – the lead vocal. It alters the bass to act more as a melodic instrument, rather than a foundational element. But even here, impact won’t be sufficient to please bassheads. I see it more as a means to help engineers mix low-end as things like the Fletcher-Munson curve or fatigue come into play.

Nevertheless, in every setting, the REF is most impressive in spatial performance. The stage it posits is large and evenly-expanded. Instruments evenly line the perimeter of the stage, allowing the listener to a bird’s-eye-esque view of the track – almost like you’re viewing it through a 24-70mm camera lens. Height is outstanding, as instruments are spread evenly along all three axes; ensuring consistent audibility throughout. This is the REF’s undisputed key to the studio.

Kumitate Lab KL-Lakh: The KL-Lakh is an energetic, detail-driven IEM maintaining elements of both the REF and the NEXT 5 series. While the first sounds that jump when listening to the Lakh are its prominent 12kHz peak and a lifted 100-200Hz region, both are paired with unlikely partners: A vast and deep soundscape, and a laid-back upper-midrange.

It’s neither a dynamic, v-shaped response, nor a saturated bombard of instruments. Rather it borrows elements of the latter to energise hi-hats, cymbals and bass drops, but transplants them onto a linear, reference-style midrange and an open stage. The result is perhaps the most realistic and undramatised representation of a “rock” IEM I’ve heard yet. Again, like the REF, spatial coherence and imaging precision are both outstanding, and tone is relatively realistic as well.

Despite what may sound like timbral schizophrenia, the elements at play work surprisingly well together with excellent coherence throughout. This is because the Lakh is a unique-sounding piece blessed with high technical foundations, most at home with genres like rock and EDM. For those who want both the energy those genres can provide, as well as the tonal realism that several other in-ears geared towards them have yet to deliver, the Lakh is truly one-of-a-kind.

For impressions of Kumitate Lab’s brand new flagship Focus, check out the company’s instalment of An Inner View, here.


Although this isn’t an e-earphone item, I thought, “What better way to close off an article semi-celebrating the wealth of Japanese portable audio, than with a titan like Sony?” On my last day in Japan, I visited Sony’s flagship store in Osaka. Although they hadn’t yet exhibited the highly-anticipated IER-Z1R as I had hoped, I managed to try something arguably more interesting: The latest in Sony’s exclusive Just Ear CIEM line: The XJE-MH/WM1 designed for the WM1A and WM1Z!

Sony Just Ear XJE-MH/WM1: The WM1 is a 1+1 hybrid. Immediately, it impresses in tonal balance and transparency. It carries a lightly warm, uncoloured, natural tone ideal for a studio scenario – whether mixing or mastering. This is further bolstered by extension on both ends, allowing resolution and definition to remain high despite average transient attack.

There’s healthy articulation from the lower-treble – 6-7kHz perhaps – but the upper-treble remains wisely laid-back. Full authority is maintained by way of extension. Instruments are neither veiled, nor dulled, nor congested. Each track is given space for analysis, but not so much so that tonal accuracy is lost. This is also the result of withdrawn upper-mids.

Melody is neutrally positioned, similar to another mastering maestro – JHAudio’s Layla. But like the KL-REF, audiophiles who prefer more vibrant vocals may find this presentation unexciting. The bass is clearly dynamically-driven. It’s a touch above neutral, but remains well-balanced against the rest of the range, and adds just enough harmonic content to bind everything together without excessive warmth. Extension is impressive, but sub-bass content is placed closer to neutral.

Hip-hop tracks like Eminem’s Lucky You won’t ever be skull-rattlingly visceral, but this was done – again – to maintain balance with the rest of the ensemble. This is the perfect amount of bass for my preferences for mixing and mastering. And, despite the slight laid-backed-ness of the sub-bass, linearity and coherence are both left perfectly intact. The bass performs like a singular unit with excellent definition – rumble just happens to be placed a touch behind in the mix.

Spatially, coherence is its most impressive aspect. Everything sounds evenly arranged and balanced with zero awkward imaging. But, in terms of headroom and size, it’s not far above average for a flagship. FAudio’s Major and the Layla both expand further, but each with their own set of compromises. At the end of the day, the WM1 is an excellent reference piece for professional work, which I hope will find its way towards more international waters within the near future.

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Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.


14 Responses

  1. Hey Rhyan,

    I first stumbled upon them on Instagram, so when I saw their products at e-earphone, I instantly wanted to try them. I got a couple minutes on a couple of their other models, but I forgot which they were. They shared a common house sound with a crisp treble, an emphasis on detail and a neutral tone, which I honestly find a bit generic at this point – not bad per se, but it’s something I’ve already heard hundreds of times before. So, the AXIS was clearly the one that stood out and really stuck with me throughout my entire trip.


  2. Hi Deezel,

    How did you came by the Flipears? I only know that they are Philippine made. Any more impressions on the Axis?

  3. Hey Neil,

    All three are pretty well-balanced. The most mid-centric of the three is definitely the 334.


  4. Hey deezel I wanted to know how the fitear togo 334 faced against the fitear est and fitear 2 which one is a better balanced out of the 3 but with still having a mid-centric signature

  5. Hi Tim,

    Unfortunately, I can’t find out what model it is by serial number alone. If the model number isn’t printed on the bulbous concha area, the only other indicator would perhaps be colour, because FitEar usually colour-code their universals. But for the most accurate information, I’d recommend e-mailing FitEar directly and asking them for clarification.


  6. Hey Deezel. Thanks for your interesting article. I have a Fitear model bearing the number: 084537. It appears to be from the Universal Series. Can you tell me if this is the case and what current model if any it most resembles?

  7. Well thanks for the detail, I will give a quick run down of iems I used to have ie80, ie800 , sm64/earsonics velvet, oriolus mkii, phonak pfe 232 to then picking up the andromeda which was amazing but had a bad fit to finally using the fitear tg334 which had great vocals, I listen to a lot of rnb (miguel ofcourse), old school hippop, triphop and country so for me mids and treble are important as is bass, so now you know my history interms of iems, I guess I learn towards warmish clear dynamic sound as fitear tg334 has a very dynamic bass but is a bit bloated

  8. I’ll copy and paste it here:

    “Hey Neil,

    I talked about the Major quite a bit in my e-earphone article here: https://theheadphonelist.com/e-earphone-japan/4/. I’m afraid I can’t say much more without another audition, but I have talked to FAudio about a potential collaboration with the Major.

    I can’t really speak to the comparisons you’re asking for, because I haven’t listened to them side-by-side with the Major. I can say that the Major is a step above its single-DD’ed brethren like the Dita Dream or the Sennheiser IE800S, but I don’t know whether it’s on par with technical giants like the Fourté. In terms of staging for example, the Fourté definitely has a more transparent stage. But when you take into account how much the Fourté sacrifices tonally in the process, all of a sudden the Major sounds like the more enjoyable option. Really, it’s too complex of a comparison for me to speak blindly on without an A/B audition, so you’ll have to wait on that.

    To put it simply, I think the Major punches considerably above its price, but we have to be realistic too. ????

    Given the Major’s tonal balance, it would work really well with hip-hop and house music. When you start talking about R&B and vocals, it really depends on what kind of R&B you listen to and what you look for from vocals. If the kind of R&B you listen to is more dreamy and vibe-y ala Miguel, for example, I think the Major would work really well. If it’s more pop-oriented ala John Legend, then it depends on how you like your bass. I think the Major’s low-end is guttural, visceral and placed just right, but with those genres of tracks, it may outshine the vocals a bit – not in presence, but in engagement and musicality.

    If you want vocals to be the clear focus of the ensemble, the Major isn’t perhaps for you. But then again, none of the TOTLs you mentioned do that either, so I’m guessing that’s not what you’re fully looking for. In terms of vocal clarity, the Major performs really well. Its treble is a touch darker and smoother than the Fourté’s, so instruments aren’t as crisp as the ones on there. But as a result, the Major is more pleasing to listen to and less metallic-sounding. If you want more body and wetness with your vocals, the Major isn’t too much for that. The Major’s vocals are on the cleaner side, but again, they’re very refined-sounding, so they won’t come across lean at all.

    My top three universal IEMs (i.e. IEMs that aren’t available in custom form, so the Legend X and U12t aren’t included) at the moment would probably be the Major, Earsonics’ Grace and Jomo Audio’s Trinity Brass. I love the Major for the reasons I described on my e-earphone article. Earsonics’ Grace has a wonderfully elegant, refined, gorgeous signature that my colleague Nic so accurately described in his review: https://theheadphonelist.com/earsonics-grace/. And, the Trinity to me fuses technical performance and musicality in such a wonderful way. It’s a fun-sounding, coherent and engaging piece with an effortless and not-showy technical foundation underneath.”

  9. Hi Neil,

    Unfortunately, I only caught this comment after replying to yours on the CanJam SG 2018 article. I hope you won’t mind referring to the comments section of that article as an answer to your question. Again, I can’t really describe the Major any further than I already have given the brief time I had with it. Is there anything in particular signature-wise that you’d like to know?


  10. Hey deezel I am really interested in the faudio major can you describe the signature more, what other iems does it compete against interms of the totl(fourte, legend x, solaris, u12t,trio) and would rnb, vocals, hippop and house work well with the iem, thanks, also what are your favourite top 3 iems regardless of price in universal

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