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This article is translated from the original Japanese version

Five-star headphones that you should listen to now


Did you know that there is a brand of monitor headphones in Japan that has gained enthusiastic support from musicians in Japan and abroad?

We take a closer look at the true value of the SMB-01L, a must-have reproduction of a large monitor.

It accurately expresses the movement of low-frequency air on a large scale

An original monitoring headphone  born in Japan from an engineer's perspective

Among the many monitor headphones made in Japan, PHONON is one of the most highly regarded brands overseas, founded in 2009 and named after a physics term referring to the way sound waves shape matter.

The company's founder and president, Mr. Isao Kumano, is also an active mastering engineer, and his ears and knowledge contribute to the development of headphones. He succeeded in developing the SMB-01, a prototype that incorporated his original PHD theory, which incorporates several ideas for supplementing components outside the audible range and waveforms that are damaged inside the housing. The release of the SMB-02 followed, becoming a long-seller over the next 10 years.


As the music production world became dominated by the personal DTM environment, the role of monitor headphones for listening has also changed. The SMB-02 was designed to meet this need for a balanced sound in the headphone environment alone. In addition to sealing a small bag containing garnet to reduce sound reflection inside the housing, the SMB-02 employs unique technologies such as a frame ground that connects a metal frame to the GND pole to eliminate static electricity that accumulates in drivers exposed to strong vibrations.

Minor changes have been made to the cable since its release, and it now uses a four-core cable.

The GND is connected at the last jack part to solve the problem of common impedance. A shield to solve the sound muddiness was added.

The release of the SMB-03 followed, a play monitor type headphone with a detachable curl-type cable for musicians and DJs to listen to during their performances.

We will present here the SMB-01L, PHONON's latest flagship model.

The concept of the SMB -01L is to create a headphone with the sound of a large monitor that can transmit the ultra-low frequency range that is difficult to reproduce in a personal environment. While based on the SMB-03, a new mould was made for the housing through a crowdfunding campaign, and the acoustic design was completely redesigned. The back panel with a stainless-steel plate screwed to it is replaceable, and you can choose between a semi-open or an open type. The "L" at the end of the model number means "large monitor," and the sealed type has a large monitor sound that can be heard in a small environment even in the same studio, while the semi-open type has a large monitor sound that can be heard in a wider environment. The driver unit is a 50mm free-edge unit with a diaphragm made of PET material. The cable is a detachable single-sided cable with a four-core independent structure, and a balanced cable is available as an option. The ear pads are made of high-grade sheepskin, and the cushioning material is memory foam. Inside the housing is a newly designed mechanism that takes the place of a sachet containing garnet. The netting and a rubber ring fastened at three points provide the same effect, including sound absorption.

Replacing the plate as semi-open increases the natural sound and elasticity

The sound of the SMB-01L, first, when the closed ear plate is installed, is more impressive than that of the SMB-02, with a finer definition of the sound image, extended and controlled low frequency range, and brilliant high frequency range. The tonal gradation in the low frequency direction is finer than that of the SMB-02, and the low end is densely rendered with a sense of volume. Vocals are coolly defined, and the body is tight and smartly expressed. The horn section, piano, and cymbal sounds are hard, and the attack texture is portrayed realistically. The clarity of the rise of the sound makes it easy to see the reverb and other effects, and the expansion of the sound field is brought out naturally.

When I replaced the plate with a semi-open plate, I felt that the resonance was more natural and extended, and the overhang of the sound image was somewhat suppressed, which enhanced the sense of sound field. The thickness of the low frequency range also changed to natural. The sound of the piano extended straightforwardly to the low end, and the tone of the acoustic guitar was rich and stable. Vocals have a smooth bounce to them, and the movements of the mouth are expressed smoothly. The thickness of the body is also natural. The horn section is bright and the orchestral melody is well controlled. The aftertaste is quick and has a dry taste typical of monitor equipment. I was particularly impressed by the sound and the airiness of Simon Phillips' kick drum in TOTO's album "TAMBU. The rhythm section was tight, and the attack was expressed with a low centre of gravity, but the aftermath of the attack and the way the air moved were accurately depicted.

Balanced drive possible using an optional cable

Mr. Kumano revealed an unexpected way on how to use the SMB-01L: "The SMB-01L has a flat low-frequency output, so it can be used for tuning the low-frequency range in a listening room that is designed for speaker playback”. I'd like you to try them. As for future development, PHONON is planning to replace the SMB-01L's driver frame with a machined brass material and introduce a model with a double-sided cable. They are also considering replacing the standard SMB-02 with free-edge type drivers, and the evolution of PHONON headphones is not about to stop.

 First, I would like you to take your time to enjoy the essential charm of this brand with the innovative SMB-01L monitor headphones.

It reproduces controlled low frequencies as if it were a large monitor.


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