Pros: Can make you go deaf with sub bass alone. Double driver system with 55mm subwoofer driver is implemented well. Price dropping constantly.
Cons: Stock pads are worse than Satan, needs TONS of amp power for sickness-inducing levels of bass, not for those scared of EQ. Slightly veiled.
There are only two reviews of the godly SZ2000. Probably one of, if not the, most misunderstood headphones of the last decade. They sound strange and veiled out of the box, have some of the worst pads I've ever felt, need a ridiculous amount of power and EQ to sound their best. But I still gave it 5 stars and stand by that 100%.
You can drive them from any phone or DAP. They're pretty sensitive given their size and quad-driver setup. However they can deal with being fed way more power than most headphones can handle, and that's why they can and will make you quit before they do. Even if you're a car audio old-head who is used to making other people sick when they stay in your ride for too long, these headphones will make the most hopelessly afflicted bassheads call a time out. I can, with pretty good confidence, assure you that you'll either feel yourself going deaf or getting seriously nauseous before these damn things will show any signs of not being able to keep going. I've tried a couple times to keep pushing them to see if I could get them to quit before I had to and it just wasn't happening. And I will put my head right next to a 500w driven dual 15" subwoofer.
The first time I got these, I have to admit i was let down. I ignored advice to switch on pads from the $25 JVC HAM55X and suffered with the stock pads for months. Let me tell you right here and now that the stock pads are so bad, they make me want to cry, honest to god. How did JVC nail everything on this headphone so perfectly and then combine it with the worst pads known to mankind? Who allowed this?
Let's get one thing clear before moving on: these aren't everyone's ideal headphones. Not everyone's priorities for headphones include +30dB headroom @45Hz or the ability to rattle themselves off your head with 50Hz and lower. Also some people are going to be put off by the requirement of a strong amp and alternate pads to get the most out of these cans (keep in mind you don't actually need a strong amp to use these - they're actually fairly sensitive headphones. If you want to get to crazy bass boosting at high volumes there's no avoiding EQ. but more on that later). And yes they are fairly veiled - I'd argue mine have opened up a lot after all the use I've put in. But I've never loved a set of over-ears like these.
The stock pads are only acceptable in my eyes if JVC refused to manafacture them without them and there's a long story about a group of triumphant engineers who struggled to make the SZ2000 see the light of day.
Before I gave them another shot with the 55X pads, I dismissed them as unlistenable garbage. I can't stress enough how important the pad swap is. Just don't buy these without the 55X at the same time. Throw the SZ2000 pads away and give the 55x sans pads to a friend and tell them to buy HM5 pads on amazon and enjoy their headphones. If you don't believe me the stock pads are an affront to the good name of headphones everywhere, look at this picture where I swapped the pads of a SZ2000 and HAM55X. In this picture you see a 55X with the SZ2000 pads and the SZ2000 with the 55X pads. Notice how the 55X pads look nice, plush and comfy, and aren't deformed in an awkward manner. If you still don't believe me... your ears will touch the cloth protecting the driver on the stock pads. You don't want that, do you? I knew you didn't. Nobody does.
A picture says a thousand words. My thousand words are a thousand curse words to whoever greenlighted the SZ2000 pads.
Okay, so by now you want to know how they sound. Because of the crazy and bizarre driver structure, where you have actually 4 drivers total in your headphones. Two 55mm's in back providing all that sub bass punch while 33mm driver in front takes care of the detail. And the result is the closest experience I've heard to putting your head right in front of quad speakers plus a sub driven by two 400w power amps in mono in any headphone ever. Because of the unique design, I've found they're more sensitive to pad change than any other headphones I've heard, including planars. Which makes it even more of a shame that they come with such terrible pads. Anyway, I'll describe the sound as it is with two different pads: the 55X pads and Brainwavz HM5 pads.
You have to give JVC credit for being able to successfully place a dynamic driver in front of a bigger dynamic driver - and there are no technical flaws.
One of the most impressive parts of the SZ2000's design is without question this quad driver design. Naturally it should follow that four drivers, two of which are 55mm, are going to want a lot of power to work at their best. Part of the design is the ridiculous amount of headroom at low frequencies - it's more or less assuming you're never going to listen to these without some amount of EQ. For that reason, until you get to some serious bass boosting (see my EQ screenshot at the end of this review) do you get a truly balanced sound that makes you feel like you're really holding your ears right up against a high grade stereo setup turned to max volume. I can't express how amazing it is to have headphones brutally rumble actual notes that hard. Many times, more often than I'd like to admit, I caught myself looping bass test tones to feel nothing but the sine waves causing the headphones to rumble off my head. I could feel all the air the driver was pushing. Again, no other headphone I've ever used that could replicate this feeling. It doesn't matter what music you listen to. You're going to get floored with sub bass. It really is like cranking your stereo so loud your neighbors submit a noise complaint nearly immediately. Actually, I got three different noise complaints in one week when having fun with a new subwoofer I built, so finding something to satisfy my bass fix while keeping my stereo offline for a while was part of why I fell back in love with these headphones so much.
Below is a quick comparison of the SZ2k's sound with both the HAM55X pads and a particular set of HM5 memory foam pads I used to own (I since gave them away since I prefer the sound signature of the 2k's with the 55X pads). Other reviewers have covered the sound quality aspect better and more in depth. I'm aiming for a more technical audience here, which is why this review consists of a lot of rambling compared to sound impressions.
Music used for testing
This review is a culmination of my experiences with the SZ2k from Xmas '15 until now (5/22/2016). There's been a lot of stuff I listened to in that time. This list is not strict at all, it's more of what I listened to most of these headphones in this time period, and to give you a sense of what I listen to.
- Bass Mekanik - Quad Maximus
- Dancemania Bass #0-#5
- Gas - Nah Und Fern
- Too $hort - Gettin It
- Sharpnelsound - SPRX-0002 Ver2.0
- Terrordrome IV
- Beatmania IIDX 9th Style OST
- Sade - Love Deluxe
- 2pac - All Eyez On Me
- Healing Music From USA - Loess Gangue Ventifact
- E-40 - The Mail Man
- TM Revolution - The Force
- P-MODEL - Big Body
- DJ Haus - Burnin' Up
- En Esch - Cheesy
- Front 242 - Official Version
- OFF - Ask Yourself
Bass: Maximum bass impact pads. These will rattle off your head effortlessly! Bass refinement is great with these, impact is at their maximum, I would argue if you want refinement over impact then get the HM5 pads instead. These are the pads you want if you want to feel the bass. Yes I have to put it in bold. You may have though you've heard bassy headphones. Even if you've heard other basshead greats like the Fostex or Sony, you don't know what you're in for here.
Mids: Not as veiled as the stock pads, but slightly veiled. Some may consider it to be fairly to significantly veiled depending on your opinion. I think it's noticeable but not too bad. Certainly not a strong point, but I honestly don't have many complaints here. I wish it was more detailed and smooth, but at the price these go for, I have negative complaints. Would I like a SZ3000 for double the price that was the same with a lot more detail? I totally would, but I'm getting off topic now.
Highs: Can be just slightly sharp, EQ rolloff helps with this, but isn't necessary. Not sibilant or anything without rolloff, but not as smooth as with HM5 pads.
Soundstage: Not these pads' strong point. You should be picking 55X pads if you are a chronic basshead in need of maximum power to stay alive.
HM5 pads (tried memory foam angled pads)
Bass: Unbelievably refined. Some of the best bass I've heard of any headphone, period. The pads absorb a good deal of the impact but the payoff is so much extra refinement and detail in the bass. Takes on a slightly airy quality without sacrificing on power, like a well amped HD650, but with tons more impact.
Mids: Where'd the veil go! It's gone! The mids are ridiculously clear on these with the right pads. I found them to be very balanced and able to compete with headphones 2.5x their price. Sure a slight bit of veil was still noticeable, but it's hardly anything.
Highs: Very smooth, yet subdued. Definitely far back in the mix with these pads.
Soundstage: Not good enough you'd dump your other cans for these if you're all about soundstage - they're closed, after all - but it begins to rival the best soundstage I've heard in most any closed back headphone. I usually really don't like closed back headphones for sounding too stuffy and closed but I could listen to the SZ2k with the HM5 pads all day and not feel too cramped in head.
I'll be honest, I can't really tell if they've opened up a lot or if I've gotten used to the SZ2000's veil. But, having said that, I go between headphones like these and the Aurisonics ASG 2.5 or my Yamaha HS8 monitors seamlessly, and have no complaints. Yes you can still tell there's a bit of a veil but it's nothing that's so bad it's going to get in the way of your enjoyment, at least if you have the same priorities as me in your headphone enjoyment However I listened directly out of my Xduoo X3 without any EQ just to see how they fared, and I had to say I was pretty impressed. It was way more open & balanced sounding than I ever remembered it. Maybe it did break in after all that use, I dunno. I wish I could say for sure but I'll update this review if I ever get to measure my set against a fresh, unused set.
I am undecided on the burn in aspect. I usually don't buy it or believe in it, but larger speakers have a spider (also known as a damper) which physically changes over time and there is measurable difference in these drivers after some burn in. I haven't butchered a set of SZ2000's yet and I'll update when I do, but I have a feeling that at least the larger driver breaks in with time. It's a really big and power hungry driver so I wouldn't be surprised. If it's true it may explain why I thought some of the veil went away and the bass/soundstage opened up a bit. No proof on that though. I don't have a controlled test environment I can trust. Hopefully I can my broken in SZ2k's to a fresh set one day in a controlled environment, or maybe one day I'll mod them and look at the driver for myself and find out.
I haven't taken my SZ2000 apart, I love it way too much. I thought about modding mine but will shortly have a second set. They're good enough I want a backup. I don't know how I can make it through the day without these anymore. Until I live in the middle of nowhere and can blast my stereo at full power 24/7, these will forever be in my care until something better comes along, and even then I'd be awful hesitant to let these go.
These, aside from the 55X, are my only JVC headphone. I've only owned JVC Flats and JVC Mushrooms, both worth about $10 new at the time they were on the market. I can't say I know the JVC "house sound" too well but I've enjoyed the sound signature of all those headphones and the SZ2000 is no exception. In fact these have more headtime recently than anything else. I have no complaints about the sound at all. All I could ask for, honestly, is another step up from this. I really don't think I can ask for much more expect more headroom at super low frequencies so I can go deaf faster and more detail in the mids and refinement in mids and bass. I would totally buy a SZ3000 for almost double what these go for if the price warranted the improvements. I love these things so much I want to own two and recable one and go insane comparing the two.
Another thing that's great about these is the price. When I got them, it was hard to get them for much less than about $215-225 shipped to the USA. They've surged in popularity a lot due to the Basshead IEM and headphone threads. We know this because the XB90EX and SZ2000's, both chart toppers, have become both cheaper and way easier to get outside Japan in the last 6 months or so. We've seen the average price of SZ2000 go from about $225 to $175 new on Amazon Prime. I thought they were worth every penny at 225 and at 175 they're simply a steal. You can get these and the 55x's for barely over 200. That's a killer deal. It's almost such a good deal, because it can hold its own against $500-600 over ears, that I kinda wish there was a SZ3000 to fill that gap.
I'll leave you with my current EQ settings at the time of writing this. Keep in mind it's not necessary to do this to get good sound - I am more than happy bass bombing running an Xduoo X3 into my Cayin C5, turning on high gain and bass boost, and letting 'em rumble.
Lastly, if you're like me and told your girlfriend these are what you want when she asks what you want for Christmas, these are a good suggestion because she won't be upset when you don't want to stop listening to them. Happy sub-bassing.