Pros: Good bass presence that does not overwhelm, balanced and friendly sound signature, gentle treble, good build quality, Isolation, comfort
Cons: Thick and stiff cable, the gaudy "Livebeat" plastic in the center of the cable, oversized, needs JVC's Spiral-dots tips for better fit.
JVC is a company of inventors. They are well known for unique audio technologies like a speaker made of carbon implemented on JVC HA-FXC51 and the first vertical dual-dynamic drivers planted on the HA-FXT90, which I happen to own.
I love the FXT90 for its aggressive and upfront sound. However at the same the FXT90 can be fatiguing after a while and I wished the FXT90 successor could be smoother and pump more bass. Then enter the FXZ100/200, the world's first TRIPLE dynamic drivers earphone. It is basically an FXT90 hooked with a third driver, a kelton sub-woofer, in the rear. Its initial release shook up the audio community back in 2013; however now, no one has really talked about it. It did not gain much popularity as I would expect and no audio companies have followed JVC's technology either. As an earphone collector and enthusiast, I am eager to discover what the triple-dynamics-driver technology would offer!
I chose the JVC HA-FXZ200 and I am impressed with its performance. In fact, It is the sound signature I wish its predecessor, FXT90, could be. Though the FXZ200 has a big woofer on the back of the earphone, FXZ200 does not sound like a "bass-head" monster - I consider it more as an "audiophile" bass-head grade earphone that leans toward balanced yet warmish signature.
The FXZ200 signature completely differs to its predecessor. While the FXT90 is energetic, edgy and intimate, the FXZ200 is warm, smooth, and bassy earphone with wider soundstage and good spatial location.
Note on source:
I use mainly on Sansa Clip Sport at this time because my Clip Zip has dying out and its buttons become less responsive - yet the Zip has been discontinued long time ago. I also use JVC's spiral dots tips for better seal and comfort as the spiral dots are firmer than the stock tips. Furthermore I do not use any equalizer and the volume is set on "normal" setting. The earphone had been burned for 40-50 hours with bassdrive archive and I found the bass tightened up and overall sound became more balanced and less veiled.
The FXZ200 is the least sensitive earphone I have and needs twice or triple more volume than others to sound best. This review took four months to make as I spent greater length comparing the FXZ200 to other earphones in order to assess its sound signature in general. Furthermore please take my words with a grain of salt.
Songs I listened and enjoyed with FXZ200 - you're welcome to try these and hope you'll like it!
- Insomnium - The one who waits (to test sibilance and shrillness)
- Insomnium - When We Sleep
- F.I.L.O - Nujabes - (Test bass tightness /boominess)
- Yellowcard - Two weeks from Twenty
- BuzzG -かくれんぼ
- Going Under Ground - With You (full album)
- Superfly - Kagayaku Tsuki No Yo Ni - For female vocal
- Superfly - Over the Rainbow
- The Yellow Monkey - Spark (Bass guitar "DUM DUM DUM")
- Muse - Thought of Dying Atheist (Again, bass guitar and sharp cymbal test)
- Muse - Knight of Cydonia ( for Soundstage)
- Dream Theater - Six degree of Inner turbulence (live) - for FXZ200 performance on a live song.
- Dream Theater - The Great Debate
- Livetune - Dreaming Shout ft.Nirgilis
- Livetune - Take your way ft. Sekai no Owari
- Disarmonia Mundi - Mindtrick
- Sonata Arctica - Victoria Secret ( That Good solo)
At first I thought the rear woofer would exaggerate mid-bass boost, but I was wrong - I find the bass of FXZ200 sounds rather special. It is deep, deliciously textured, and elevated while retaining its tightness. It offers great bass details without being overwhelmingly boomy nor interfering the other spectrums. The bass is so well separated it makes bass guitar and bass drum sound more fleshed out and full-bodied without decaying too slow, which I like to hear from metal / rock songs. The FXZ200 lays rich bass foundation on Dream Theater's live concert to convey extravagant performance. John Myung's bass plucks and notes are easily evident in Dream Theater's The Great Debate. The FXZ200 is capable of delivering clean and punchy beats without drowning the vocals in F.I.L.O by Nujabes
Overall FXZ200 gives plenty bass that would satisfy general listener without turning up the volume nor adjusting an equalizer to "feel the bass". However bass-heads would not find a skull-crushing or teeth-rattling bass either.
The midrange can be said as being neutral - the FXZ200 does not have a recessed nor thin-sounding midrange like its previous lineups, where all have strong emphasis on either treble or bass, or both. Instead it has smooth, warm tonality, and sweet sounding vocals presented in Superfly's Kagayaku Tsuki No Yo Ni and Nirgilis's Dreaming Shout - this characteristic reminds me of the Westone's W4 signature. The FXZ200 easily delivers natural and clear vocals without any sharpness or unevenness.
The FXZ200 midrange is similar to the FXT90 where instruments have more presence than vocals. Vocals are placed at a distance from a listener to convey more realistic stage performance - imagine if you were sitting in the farther seat from the stage. Furthermore its tonality strikes a good balance of being thick and thin notes - this is unlike in other JVC's lineups where female vocalists may sound too pitchy or shouty while male vocalists sound veiled or too distant. I find the midrange is FXZ200 another strength because it is refined and offers enjoyable full sound that eventually gives euphonic feeling.
Moving up to the treble, the FXZ200 again maintains it at neutral level without any hints of sibilance and harshness. However it lacks of sparkle and lively highs that other JVC lineups have. It sounds rather dark (polite may be a good term) but this signature works well for easy listening experience. It shares similar characteristic like the FXT90 where it does not have strong emphasis on upper-mid or lower-treble peaks like percussion crashes and tizzy notes. However the FXZ200 proves that its treble is much more gentle and realistic sounding while retaining good treble presence. Songs that are deemed fatiguing became more pleasant with the FXZ200. I guarantee one can crank the volume up without hitting the upper-mid/lower-treble tolerance wall.
Listeners may find FXZ200 lacks in airiness and upper-end extension as cymbal do not deliver enough crash and guitar pitch sounds rather blunted. This signature however makes it sounds soothing and less distorted; yet, one can crank up the volume without hitting treble tolerance too quick. Its weakness is compensated by greater details on lower end.
Lastly, it offers a wide soundstage while retaining good imaging (or spatial location) of its predecessor, the FXT90. The lesser upfront mid and edgy treble largely contribute to a bigger soundstage and distance while its separated bass give excellent depth. The JVC did a great job on tuning the woofer - it gives ample bass that does not interfere with midrange and treble. As the result, it does not suffer on congestion like in many bass-head earphones - one good example is the Yamaha's EPH-M200 which I reviewed a while ago. However it does not have holographic soundstage due to lack of airiness (like sparkles) and transparency of hybrid earphones like the Dunu DN-2000 or Sony's XBA-A3 though.
Next I added the comparison of the FXZ200 sound signature to other JVC's lineups I have.
FX102 (stock tips) - $20
The FX102 pumps a gargantuan, rumbling, and impactful bass. I often indulge its boomy bass when listening to metal and live concerts. The FX102 significantly offers more bass than the FXZ200 but compared to it, the FX102 bass is distracting as it tends to overshadow the midrange and treble. Yet it does not have the same tightness as the FXZ200;therefore, it sounds sloppier and unbalanced. The bass of FX102 makes the beats in F.I.L.O by Nujabes dominate the overall track and the vocal sunk within the pile of bass dumps.
Furthermore FX102 treble has more sparkle in order to improve its details retrieval. But its gets piercing when played at louder volume while the FXZ200 retains its smoothness. The midrange of FX102, on the other hand, sounds rather rough and unrefined compared to the FXZ200. Also the FX102 lacks of spatial location and wide soundstage that FXZ200 has; instead, the FX102 sounds more "blended" and two-dimensional.
My main complain is as shown in the image above. The FX102 has sharp ridges on the side of the earphone and they often hurt my ear conchas. The previous model, the FX101, does not have such ridges. I do not know why in the world JVC would add such painful features on earphone (maybe for gripping?) but those must be gone in the FX103. If one enjoys the FX102 with its big and pumping bass - and has no problem with the sharp ridges - one would not find the same bass from the FXZ200.
FXC51 (with Meelec's single flange) - $30
While the FX102 can be bass-heads' delight, the cheaper and miniscule FXC51 is JVC's detail monster. It offers better treble extension and sparkles; yet it has better space and instrument separation than the FXZ200, possibly because of its recessed midrange and airy treble. The FXC51 bass is tighter and somewhat punchy but of course it offers less bass quantity. The less boomy FXZ200 sounds boomier compared to the FXC51.
However my gripes are that the FXC51 is thin-sounding and its treble can be ear-splittingly harsh at some tracks, like BuzzG's かくれんぼ for example . It tends to intensify lower treble/upper mid section like the treble crashes and "tssh" notes; yet, female vocals gets too pitchy as well while male vocals sound recessed.
FXD80 (with EPH-100's stock tips, small-medium sized) - $60
The FXD80 shares similar sound signature like the FXC51; however, the former adds more mid-bass quantity and V-shaped signature than the latter. Yet the FXD80 still retains that recessed midrange and thin treble of its predecessor. However I find the FXD80 competes the FXZ200 quite well when fitted with Yamaha's EPH-100 stock tips. The FXD80 sounds much more enveloping and engaging, making the FXZ200 sounds congested when compared to it. The bass has good combinations of being impactful and vibrant. While the tips makes its tonality sound more organic, it improves its treble to produce more airs and details without being overly sibilant and sharp. I believe the bigger bore yet improved seal of the EPH-100 tips makes it sound spacious and separate instruments more apart.
Honestly the FXD80 may offer better sound quality than the FXZ200 at one-third of the price; however, the FXD80 has been discontinued around 2014 and been replaced with a newer model, FXH30, which may have different sound signature. Furthermore its price has been skyrocketing - I purchased FXD80 for 60 bucks back in 2013 and now it costs around $150 in 2016. Yet Yamaha does not sell spare tips for EPH-100 so the only way of getting EPH-100 stock tips is either by buying the earphone itself or buying unused pairs from another head-fiers.
FXT90 (with Spiral dots, medium sized) - $90
The FXT90 and the FXZ200 have two contrasting signatures. The FXT90 has energetic treble, upfront midrange, and punchy mid-bass while the FXZ200 has gentler treble, lush midrange, and elevated bass.The FXT90 sounds lively and somewhat harsh while the FXZ200 sounds warm and smooth.
However both share similar characteristics of bass, midrange, and treble. These two do not have rumbling and boomy bass; instead they have the same punchy and tight bass. However FXZ200 bass is much more elevated and well-separated while retaining the same tightness. Yet both have treble that avoids emphasis on upper-mid/ lower treble but the FXZ200 treble is much tuned down in order to prevent harshness. While FXZ200 is similar to the FXT90 where it focuses more on instruments than vocals, the FXZ200 sounds lush and smoother. I find the vocal of FXT90's is more upfront; yet, guitars have more distorted and gritty tonality which results in more aggressive and livelier characteristic.
The main difference is that the FXT90 sounds more intimate, or closed-in, while the FXZ200 sounds more spacious and offers wider soundstage. Bottom line, FXZ200 is the bassier (and smoother) version of FXT90. If one finds the FXT90 sounds too bright, one will be happy with the smooth treble Those who seeks a more aggressive or analytical version of FXT90 will not find it on this earphone.
JVC HA-FX750 ( spiral dots, medium sized) - $200
The FX750 is one of four JVC's high-end wood series and I find its main uniqueness is its realistic tonality that is free of distortion, which is perfectly described by a Head-fier Inks. The FXZ200 treble can be considered smooth; however, its tonality feels somewhat rougher when compared to the FX750. The wooden earphone sounds very refined and offers better treble details and sparkles that are free of sibilance. Yet, it delivers more vibrant and stronger bass than the FXZ200 while both retain warmish and full-sounding midrange. The FX750 is significantly more articulate and open-sounding that resembles to an earbud, despite of the highly exaggerated mid-bass boost and boomier bass. Hence the FX750 is the most spacious earphone I have listened so far - no earphones can deliver a realistic soundspace like the FX750, not even the hybrids.
However, the FX750 suffers from lack of isolation due to its open-back design - it is heavily vented as there are three small vents in front and one big vent on the rear. The isolation is so suboptimal I can hear myself typing this review while listening to the FX750. Although I really dig into its big and enveloping bass, It does not retain the same bass tightness nor balanced signature like the FXZ200 - I find the FX750 bass gets overwhelming in some bass-heavy tracks. Furthermore the FX750 midrange is more recessed than the FXZ200; possibly its midrange recession gives a more spacious and articulate space. Regardless most listeners and bass-heads would be impressed by the FX750's spaciousness and vivid tonality but only if they would use it in quiet places.
Klipsch X10 (with stock tips, medium sized) - $80
The X10 and the FXZ200 have similar sound signature where both have prominent and well-detailed bass, neutral mid, and tamed treble. However the X10 sounds far compressed while it tends to distort when played at higher volume, or similar volume like the FXZ200. It does not have spaciousness, separation, and layered composition that the FXZ200 has; hence, the X10 suffers from congestion and lack of realism - in another word, the X10 sounds more blended-in.
Though both midrange and trebles are maintained at neutral level, the X10 does not good job on those as its midrange sounds grainier and its treble lacks of refinement or gentleness. The cymbals on Insomnium's the one who waits drowns the guitars out and cymbal crashes leaves uneven peaks throughout the songs - on FXZ200 the cymbals shimmer gently with good crispiness while guitars and vocals have more presence.
Yamaha EPH-100 ( with stock tips, small-medium sized) - $150
The EPH-100 has been my old-time favorite since 2012 and none hardly have a similar signature like it. The tiny Yammy prevails by delivering bigger sound and more dynamics, making the FXZ200 sounds shy compared to it. The EPH-100 sounds more musical because it offers deeper and reverberating bass; yet it offers airier treble that adds spacious soundstage. Both earphones have similar lush midrange but the FXZ200 sounds more balanced while the EPH-100 is somewhat recessed due to its strong bass and slightly elevated treble. Also the EPH-100 has a slight emphasis on lower treble/upper mid which make percussion and tizzy notes more present. In the end I enjoy the FXZ200 more because it is more euphonic and easy to listen while the EPH-100's treble can be bothering in some songs presenting heavy cymbals or hi-hats notes.
However my main concern with the EPH-100 is its durability. The earphone is sensitive to moisture so those who have wet ears may experience frequent muted driver on one side of the earphone. Worse, I experienced dying driver primarily on the left side after prolonged listening, which I believe the driver itself gets fatigued. Though this problem can be solved by magnetizing the driver with the other one side, my EPH-100 has been back from dead for six times so I hardly can recommend its durability to anyone.
Furthermore, getting EPH-100 has been proven more difficult than it was in 2012 because there are plenty of EPH-100 fakes, or fake-baits, that cost much cheaper than the original price (around $40-60). The earphones usually comes in a plastic bag instead of original packaging. Yet their stock tips are flimsy like a plastic wrapper while the real one is thick and stiff . I have heard some individuals got fakes from Amazon.com so buyers need to do some research and purchase only from authorized sellers.
Sony XBA-A3 ( with stock tips, medium sized) - $300
If one thinks the FXZ200 is huge, the hybridized Sony XBA-A3 is even bigger and more protruding! On the other hand the A3 impresses me with fuller and spacious sounding signature that is similar - and improved - to my favorite EPH-100 where it delivers even deeper and more reverberating bass that is well separated from other spectrums. The A3 adds richer and more natural notes that make the FXZ200 sounds thinner when compared to it. Up to the treble, the BA tweeter offers greater upper clarity, sparkles, and airs that lead to an enveloping and holographic soundstage. The A3 also has excellent instrument separation and better imagery which may be contributed by its hybrid configuration.
Although the A3 treble sounds clearer, I find it has strong emphasis on percussions and tizzy notes; such peaks can be sharp and hot at some cymbal-heavy songs. My ears give up on the first ten seconds of Yellowcard's Two Weeks from Twenty where repetitive cymbals gets unevenly prominent and fatiguing on the A3 while the FXZ200 maintains balanced yet enjoyable presentation throughout the song. As a treble-sensitive listener, I tend to reach the upper-mid/lower treble tolerance quickly on the A3 while the smoother treble of FXZ200 allows me to safely crank up the volume for more immersive experience - and shortly to prevent ear damages! Lastly the A3 offers less isolation than the FXZ200 which makes the A3 less suitable for outdoor and gym use. As the result I tend to lean toward the FXZ200 due to its forgiving sound signature yet better isolation for everyday use.
Design / Size / Cable
The FXZ200 is definitely humongous by earphone standard - the aforementioned images explain how big the earphone is compared to other JVC line-ups. The rear "Kelton" woofer takes half of the housing; yet, it protrudes from my ears - therefore this earphone is not suitable for sleeping nor wearing a beanie on. I find the elongated housing can be dangerous as it can harm my ears when I nudge into some objects. However the protrusion works well because it helps me grip the end of the earphone when inserting or taking earphone off without accidentally pulling the cables out of my ear.
Aside of the size and protrusion, the earphone is moderately heavy, weighting 5.5 gram per one side of earphone - this is possibly contributed to the brass implemented on the rear woofer, exclusively on FXZ200. Thankfully the earphone does not feel weighty once worn; yet it is not as heavy as the DN-2000. Furthermore it is solidly made and never feels cheap nor plasticky. It does not make wind noises either, possibly because the vents are located on the posterior side, as shown in image above. *note, FXT90 weights 3.8 g, DN-2000 - 6.5g, EPH-100 - 2.7g
On the other hand, my only main complain is the cable - it does not have suppleness like its predecessor. Instead, the FXZ200 has thick and stiff cable combined with a big (and gaudy) plastic hanging at the center of the cable with "Live Beat" etched on it. I thought it would be nice if the plastic was a remote. Yet it has a straight plug instead of 90-degree plug of FXT90; this is very unlikely for an earphone that cost $150+ and perpendicular plug is a must to prevent plug stresses especially when being pressed inside one's pocket.
Comfort / Isolation
As fitting is critical, I find the FXZ200 is quite comfortable despite of its bulky size. The angled nozzle and the spiral dot tips help maintain good seals but this design allows for straight-down wearing only. The included JVC cable clipper helps stabilize the cable. Without it, I can feel the weight of the earphone and the thick cable tugging down my ear; therefore, having the cable clipper is a MUST for the FXZ200.
The FXZ200 is one of few earphones that I would bring for workout. Two main reasons are that the earphone maintains good seal throughout my training yet it does not create suction-effect or pressures inside my ear whenever I take deep breaths or grunt during my lifts. Yet it does not produce driver-flex or "clicking noise" like in most dynamic earphones either. The FXZ200 is excellent for cardio exercises like stationary bikes, the Elliptical and the Stairmaster but I cannot recommend these for running or jogging as noises from footsteps can be bothersome.
On the other hand the isolation is excellent, just like any other good isolating earphones in my collection. I have driven my car with this earphone on without a problem - I confess that I did not hear an ambulance passing by when driving. Also I could not hear someone called me when I was doing house chores until my sister threw an object at me; therefore, it passes noise isolation test. I guarantee The FXZ200 easily isolates crowd noises at a mall and a gym; however, its isolation is not powerful enough to block freeway noises and Dyson vacuum cleaners.
Although FXZ200 design may look oversized for some, it is actually a good all-rounder that combines comfortable fit, solid build, and high isolation. The FXZ200 delivers the most balanced sound signature when compared to its JVC brethrens where they have strong emphasis on either bass or treble, or both with noticeable peaks or harshness. One may assume that the FXZ200 may be improvement to its previous lineups. However I do not find the FXZ200 as an upgrade as each JVC lineups is tailored for each individual preference, for example, bass-heads, detail-oriented, V-shaped, realism,etc. The FXZ200 itself is gifted with one unique signature geared for those who prefer more refinement yet wish to enjoy good-rounded bass that does not overwhelm, warmish tonality, and non-offending presentation. On the side note, this is an excellent choice for listeners who enjoy full-bodied and prominent bass guitar notes without being sloppy-sounding nor distracting.
When compared to its competitor at its price range or more expensive ones, the FXZ200 may lack of explosiveness despite of having three dynamic drivers per earphone side. But those drivers are tuned to produce friendlier and likeable sound signature none like others. The FXZ200 does not demonstrate any potential flaws like its competitors where they compromise their design or isolation for better sound quality yet show evident unevenness or sibilance in favor of clarity and wow-factors.
Aside from its thick and stiff cable, cumbersome "LiveBeat" plastic, and exclusive availability in Japan, I can confidently award four and a half stars on the FXZ200 because its forgiving sound signature yet good fitting factor and isolation that makes it an excellent earphones for everyday use. More importantly its sound signature suits well with every songs no matter how bad or harsh the recordings are. As the Spiral dots works best with the FXZ200, I wish the JVC would include their spiral-dots ear tips in their lineups. Yet I look forward for JVC's creation in revamping the FXZ100/200 into a more compact design without compromising its sound signature.
Thank you for reading and I am outta here!