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Going through far too many pairs of earphones every year, I’ve learned a fair amount about what I do and don’t like when it comes to audio equipment.
As I travel a fair amount, I need them to be small, comfortable, lightweight, and ideally (if they’re Bluetooth) have long-lasting battery life.
However, I’ve never truly given much thought to where these pieces of equipment come from, and after a bit of research, it turns out a whole load of them come from Japan.
Let’s take a look at the top Japanese audio brands that you should be listening to! (…or…with?)
We start this list with what is potentially the most well-known Japanese audio brand out of all others on this list, Sony.
What started in 1946 with a budget of ¥190,000 (About $69,000 with inflation accounted for), has grown to a company that pulled in around 11 Billion dollars in 2020. It’s no wonder Sony is such a huge part of many of our lives at this point.
As well as audio equipment such as MP3 players, earphones, and headphones, they also make smartphones, televisions, cameras, gaming products (Playstation, we’re talking about you!), and even robots.
Pictured above is the Sony WF-1000XM4. These are by far my favorite Japanese earphones. In fact, they’re easily my favorite earphones full stop. As such, it’s a brand I trust a huge amount with any audio equipment they’re likely to bring out in the future.
I was actually thinking about buying one of their MP3 Players to listen to music offline and not have to worry about Spotify. Maybe that’s a real niche thing that only I want, but it’s really nice to know they offer quality products in that area of the market if you consider yourself a true audiophile!
It’d be a great way for me to listen the, my favorite Japanese musicians, that’s for sure!
It’s for that reason that the well-known and loved Japanese audio brand “SONY” appears at the top of this list.
Onkyo is a Japanese audio brand you’ve probably seen without realizing, and likely even owned at one time or another.
Like Sony, it started in 1946 and has become one of the most prominent audio brands in Japan, and even the world.
They tend to specialize in selling high spec audio equipment like receivers, amplifiers, and A/V Separaters. Even though they do sell smaller consumer appliances like Digital Audio Players and wireless audio systems, they aren’t as well-known for those as they were for their HiFi equipment.
Sadly, since January 2021, Onkyo doesn’t ship any of their units to the UK, giving Brexit as their reason. I don’t know if that’s the truth, but whatever the case, it unfortunately means that for people like me in the UK, I probably won’t see any Onkyo products again.
Pioneer is the oldest Japanese audio company yet at 84 years, being founded in 1938. They’re most well known for selling Car audio and GPS systems, as well as DJ systems, Home cinema, headphones, and HiFi components.
Pioneer DJ was a brand acquired by KKR (86% of it) in 2015, and then fully sold on to Noritsu in March 2020. Noritsu is a Japanese holding company mainly specializing in the sale and development of audio equipment.
Founded in 1910, Denon was initially named “Nippon Denki Onkyō Kabushikigaisha”. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so you can see why they changed it! After later merging with other audio and electric companies, they shortened their name down to “Denon”.
Nowadays, the company specializes in professional and prosumer audio equipment including A/V receivers, headphones, wireless receivers, and blue-ray players.
They certainly aren’t the cheapest Japanese audio brand, but they might be the most luxurious.
I mean, who wouldn’t want a pair of wooden earphones!? …Or maybe I’m just really easily pleased, who knows!
Luxman began it’s life as a radio equipment department store in Osaka in 1925 and quickly became an important part of Japanese audio history.
In the 1980s, Luxamn became world-famous for its incredible quality audio equipment, namely the vacuum tube amplifiers that were easily the best in the world at that time. Couple this with the high-quality internal electronics and beautiful, minimalistic design of its units and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Due to changing attitudes from consumers, mass-produced cheaper audio equipment seemed to be on the rise. Because of this, Atsushi, the company’s CEO sold Luxman off to Alpine in 1984 before starting a separate brand, Airtight.
Unfortunately, Luxman was then advertised as a “cheaper” electronics brand which confused its customers and it seemed to have truly lost its way. This was the premium audio equipment brand in Japan, and Alpine seemed to have completely disregarded this fact when they acquired it. As it turns out, putting such a premium brand into Costco may not have been a great idea!
Alpine sold Luxman in 1994 and, for Luxman at least, it was a great move. The company still sells audio equipment today and sticks to its original values of producing high-quality premium products. If you search their website today you can expect to find a huge amount of Amplifiers including vacuum tubes, headphones, phone, and integrated.
6. Audio Technica
Last but by no means least on this list we have Audio-Technica, a Japanese audio brand perhaps most famous for their headphones.
Their history saw them create phonograph cartridges, the product that initially pushed the company to success. Fast forward to the 1980s and the company is under threat due to the growth of the digital industry.
More than willing to adapt, Audio-Technica decided to diversify its product line by listening to its employees at the time. Strangely, a sushi machine was one such idea that made the cut, who’d have thought!
After a huge amount of success in this area, Audio-Technica is still to this day one of the biggest producers of sushi machines in the world, though they’re produced under the name “Autec” to differentiate product lines.
In recent years the company has focused on condenser microphones and high-quality headphones (that I’m sure many of you have worn in the past!) and continues to pave the way in innovation throughout the Japanese audio scene.
Are Japanese audio brands worth buying?
If you don’t already own something from a Japanese audio brand, then you should absolutely consider them for your next purchase. It’s clear after the research that I’ve done, that a lot of these companies focus on the higher end, luxury area of the audio market, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to offer the casual listener.
Once you’ve found your favorite pair, give these Japanese music artists a listen! I reckon you’ll love them!