Disclaimer: The Sound Warrior SW-HP10 and SW-HP20 were sent to me on loan, they will be returned to Japan. This is a mini review
Dimitri from Musica Acoustics (http://www.musicaacoustics.com/) sent me the Sound Warrior headphones months ago for a review but if you’ve been reading our articles you know that no articles about the Sound Warrior SW-HP10 or SW-HP20 have been published. So first of all I have to apologize to Dimitri and second, there actually are multiple reasons why you haven’t read anything about these headphones on HFN yet.
Not sound – The very Meh
First of all we have a very long list of requests and that in combination with the fact these Japanese headphones are hardly known or sought after, simply doesn’t make them a priority to write about.
The second main reason for me is the build quality. These headphones look and feel cheap, and all you get, see and feel is plastic. Both headphones have soft and comfortable pleather pads though, I’ll give them that as those are really nice. The headphones come delivered without any accessory, carrying case or anything else and they come in the most basic box you’ve ever seen without any protection. At least that was the case with both my samples, I certainly hope that isn’t the case when you buy these.
Third, they don’t come cheap for what you get. Dimitri explained to me that the HP20 initially was going for $299 including shipping but that he’s been offering them at $249 shipping included. According to Dimitri you can’t get anything decent in Japan for $250USD, but he’s convinced they’re worth this price. He does admit that if this were made in China, the cost would have been about 150USD, as everything costs more in Japan that is made in japan. (because of the crazy expenisve labor cost).
So that brings us to the one and only reason that is still left to buy these headphones. The most important reason perhaps: the way they sound. And while I’ve been pretty negative about them up to know, it does get pretty interesting here.
Sound – The Good
The SW-HP20 comes with a removable cable and you get both a single ended 6.3mm as well a double XLR balanced cable. I however mostly used the Hifiman HE-1000 V2 cable with it. It’s an on-ear type of headphone and the large pads cover your full ear, but they’re very comfortable. In fact the whole headphone is comfy and light and it does deserve plus points for that. The SW-HP20’s tuning is very particular in the sense that it is clear and precise yet light bodied. The presentation is very soft and musical but you do get a good level of detail and lovely dynamics. Voices are more in the back and have a soft touch to it, yet they sound natural. The overall sound signature of the headphone is laid-back and the mids are more in the back. Sound stage and spaciousness-wise you get what you expect of a closed backed on ear headphone, but that’s normal, certainly in this price class. Bass is very light and it definitely is quality over quantity. It’s so light however that’s it’s hard to say it has great layering or depth. This is one of the lightest bass tuned closed headphones I’ve ever listened to actually. Once you’re used to the typical sound and presentation of the SW-HP20 it actually sounds very musical and engaging with heir soft yet lively presentation (thank treble for that).
In short: the Sound Warrior HP20 certainly is worth its price for what the sound quality is concerned, but it’ll take some getting used to its particular tuning. Its package and build quality however is basic and that might hold consumers back of buying it. This is a niche headphone, one for people that can forget about looks and build quality and only care about sound.
Its little brother, the SW-HP10, only comes terminated with a 3.5mm cable and like the SW-HP20 its pads and head band are soft and very comfortable. It has a more intimate presentation and typical more closed sound stage. The sound isn’t as spacious and the SW-HP10 sounds completely different from the SW-HP20. While I do like its rich musical presentation, the voices for my personal taste are a little too upfront. The SW-HP10 compared to the SW-HP20 is faster however and it sounds a lot more energetic. Bass quantity and impact is good, and a lot bigger compared to the SW-HP20. The SW-HP10 while less spacious and technically precise for most people will be easier to listen to because of the pleasant energetic character and elevated bass presence. The presentation for me is more V-shaped here and there’s a strong focus on the vocals and treble region. For some it might sound a bit too forward but that’s a question of preference and getting used to the typical sound of the SW-HP10.
So basically both headphones have things going for and against them. The perfect Sound Warrior for me would be a mix of both headphones where we have the SW-HP10’s bass, energy, speed and musicality combined with the voices and technical strengths of the HP20. Mike also seems to like their sound as it’s one of his regularly used headphones.
So taking into account how they sound these actually aren’t half bad. Do listen to these of you ever get the chance to. Maybe you’ll like them or maybe you won’t but try not to care about looks or build quality, just focus on the sound and maybe this will be the perfect headphone for you. There’s a lot of potential with these headphones in my opinion, Sound Warrior just needs to step up a little and deliver what consumers expect nowadays when spending their hard earned money. For now these are very special and unique headphones for a niche market but we all know many extremely good audio products come from Japan. I’ll keep an eye on these for sure.