Added JVC HA-FXT90 and JVC HA-FX500
Reviewed Jan 2012
Details: JVC’s high-tech take on the dual dynamic earphone
Current Price: $135 from accessoryjack.com (MSRP: $149.99)
Specs: Driver: Dual Dynamic | Imp: 12Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 8-25k Hz | Cable: 4' L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: stock single-flanges, short bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (4/5) - Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), shirt clip, cable winder, and clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The plastic housings of the FXT90 may be rather ordinary-looking compared to the metal FX300 and wooden FX500/FX700 shells but it feels very well put together, in typical JVC fashion. The strain reliefs are long and the L-plug is beefy. The cord itself is reasonably thick, soft, flexible, and – best of all – not modular as it is with JVC’s FX500/FX700 models
Isolation (3.5/5) – Quite good with the ergonomic but shallow-fitting shells
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Very low when worn cable-down; nonexistent with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4/5) – Despite the vertical arrangement of the dual dynamic drivers, the FXT90 is no less comfortable than most conventional straight-barrel IEMs. The ergonomic nozzle angle helps, as do the smooth surface and rounded edges of the housings. Over-the-ear wear is possible but may require longer eartips than those provided
Sound (8.9/10) – The FXT90 is JVC’s first attempt at a dual-dynamic earphone. Utilizing no crossover, the FXT90 relies on the differences between the materials of the two drivers to create a natural variance in their response. Like Fischer Audio’s similarly-priced Tandem, the FXT90 positions the drivers vertically in the ear. Unlike the Tandem, it offers up impressive presence across the frequency range without straying too far from the sound of JVC’s higher-end wooden in-ears.
The low end of the FXT90s is strong but not overly dominant, with a mild mid-bass hump and excellent note thickness – similar in quantity to the Sennheiser IE7, but quicker and more controlled. Impact is good and the bass sounds full and fleshed-out. Compared to JVC’s FX500, the bass of the FXT90 is less prone to overshadowing the midrange, partly because the note presentation is thicker in the midrange and partly because the FXT90 exercises better control over its bottom end. The bass may not be as fast and tight as that of the VSonic’s GR07, but it is more forward and has both greater body and more impact. The GR07 boasts shorter decay times and tends to be quick and punchy, but not as powerful in comparison. Fischer’s dual-dynamic Tandem, too, is flatter through the bass and midrange but yields to the FXT90 in both bass impact and depth.
The midrange of the FXT90 is strong and prominent – not as forward as the mids of the Sennheiser IE7 or Fischer SBA-03, but not in the least laid-back. The good note thickness of the low end is retained, as is a bit of warmth. Despite the presentation being airy and nicely layered, the mids tend towards intimacy. They are smooth and full, with excellent timbre and good transparency. Clarity is good – better than with the Sennheiser IE7 and Fischer Audio Tandem but not quite as impressive as with the more neutral-sounding GR07 or the armature-based ACS T15. Detail levels are nearly on-par with the GR07.
At the top end, the FXT90 is again prominent, yet very competent. The mild emphasis tends to point out and even exaggerate sibilance present on a track but the edginess of the FX500 is all but absent. The energy is still there, however, as it is with all of the higher-end JVC in-ears I’ve heard. Compared to the similarly-priced FA Tandem, the FXT90 is significantly brighter and more sparkly but - luckily - has quality to make the treble work. Treble detail is excellent and the resolution and transparency give the GR07 a run for its money. In comparison, the similarly-priced PureSound ClartyOne lacks separation and sounds both thinner and peakier while the Sennheiser IE7 sounds plasticky and lacks smoothness. Absolute extension at the top is decent but trails both the ClarityOne and the IE7 slightly.
Presentation is yet another strength of the FXT90 – the earphones are airy, well-separated, and nicely layered. Soundstage width is about average but the depth is quite good. Compared to the GR07, the FTX90 sounds narrower and less spacious but has slightly better imaging. Its presentation is more intimate compared to the GR07 and Tandem and more well-rounded than those of the similarly-priced ClarityOne and Fischer SBA-03. Dynamics are good and the efficiency is very impressive. That’s not to say there’s no upgrading from the FXT90 – there is a noticeable gap in detail, refinement, and soundstaging when moving to a higher-end set like the HiFiMan RE272, but for the asking price the FXT90 is a very impressive all-around performer.
Value (9/10) – JVC’s FXT90 is not the first dual-dynamic earphone to hit the market, but it may just be the first one you’ll actually want to live with. From a usability standpoint it is clearly the best of the bunch, foregoing not only the awkward fit and questionable design of the dual-dynamic competition but also the modular cable and open-back housings of the other high-end JVC monitors. The sound of the FXT90 is balanced in an aggressive sort of way, with the intimate midrange giving up only a bit of emphasis to the prominent bass and sparkly treble. The sound is strengthened by good timbre and a nicely layered presentation – the same qualities that make the FX700 a cream-of-the-crop top-tier. Simply put, at $135, the FXT90 is one of the best deals in portable audio.
Pros: Lively, competent sound; solidly built; low microphonics
Huge thanks to Inks for the HA-FXT90 loan!
Reviewed Jan 2012
Details: JVC's original wooden in-ear, known in some markets as the HA-FX1000
Current Price: $160 from seyo-shop.com (MSRP: est $195)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 8-25k Hz | Cable: 2.6' I-plug + 2.3' L-plug extension
Nozzle Size: 4.5mm | Preferred tips: stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (4/5) - Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), foam tips, 2.3' (0.7m) extension cable, and small hard-shell carrying case
Build Quality (4.5/5) - One of the first wooden IEMs on the market, the FX500 uses a combination of wood, metal, and hard plastics to achieve a weighty, high-end feel. The rear port and nozzle are both protected by metal meshes and the cable entry point features a ¾"-long strain relief in addition to metal reinforcement. The cable itself is similar to the cords found on JVC's lower-end products - soft, reasonably thick, and quite flexible. The 2.6'+2.3' cable configuration can be annoying
Isolation (2.5/5) - The FX500 is an open-back IEM but isolates slightly more than the higher-end FX700 model due to the smaller rear vent and potential for deeper fitment
Microphonics (4.5/5) - Cable noise is extremely low when the FX500 is worn cord-down and nonexistent with over-the-ear fitment
Comfort (4/5) - The HA-FX500 utilizes an angled-nozzle design with a straight-barrel housing. Weight is not an issue and the slimmer housings lend themselves better to cord-up wear than those of the pricier FX700
Sound (8.9/10) - Released back when wooden earphones were few and far between, the HA-FX500, known also as the HA-FX1000 in some markets, became JVC's first truly high end IEM. In deciding how the flagship in-ear should look, JVC clearly drew inspiration from the brand's flagship full-size consumer headphones. In sound, too, the FX500 is far from a studio monitor. Not surprisingly, it shares much of its sonic character with the newer - and pricier - FX700, but is a ways less refined than its successor.
At the low end, the FX500 is powerful, rich, and full-bodied, with great impact and plenty of weight. Bass depth is good and the response curve may actually be flatter than that of the FX700, though the FX500 tends to sound a bit more intrusive at the bottom. Despite the above-average resolution, the bass tends to be ever-present while the more dynamic FX700 scales its bass response down when necessary. The drivers aren’t slow but compared to sets like the VSonic GR07 and Sony MDR-EX600 the low end of the FX500 is on the boomy side and could stand to be cleaner and more controlled.
The midrange of the FX500 is a bit more prone to being overshadowed by the bass than that of the FX700, especially at higher volumes, but actual bleed is minimal as a result of the relatively flat response curve. Part of the reason for the relative dominance of the bass may be the slightly thinner note presentation of the FX500 compared to the FX700. Clarity and detail are still excellent in the midrange, though the brighter signatures of sets such as the Sony EX600 and Sennheiser IE7 create an illusion of better clarity in comparison to the warmer JVCs. As with the FX700, the FX500 is not really v-shaped in the sense that it suffers from a highly recessed midrange, but its mids would fare far better if they were not overshadowed by the powerful bass and treble quite so often.
The top end of the FX500 is lively and sparkly. It is high in energy and gives the sound an airy, lightweight character. At the same time, it is harder and edgier than the top end of the FX700, especially at high volumes. There is no question that the FX700 is more refined here as the FX500 can be a bit sharp and fatiguing with the wrong track. There are no huge peaks and in vocal sibilance tests the FX500 came out as being less offensive than the brighter VSonic GR07 and Sony MDR-EX600 at low-to-moderate volumes, but only by a hair. On the whole the FX500 tends to add a bit more harshness than the others.
Presentation is probably where the FX500 is most similar to the FX700 – airy, spacious, and very versatile. Separation and positioning are very good although Sony’s similarly-priced EX600 images slightly better despite a more elliptical soundstage. As with the FX700, the FX500 also yields to Sennheiser’s IE8 and IE7 in headstage size and consequent ability to provide a highly enveloping musical experience, but easily makes up for it with significantly better timbre. The Sennheisers are made to sound plasticky in comparison and lose a substantial amount of realism as a result.
Value (8/10) – As with the pricier FX700, the JVC FX500 is a comfortable, well-built, and user-friendly dynamic-driver earphone with below-average isolation and a somewhat ‘v-shaped’ sound. Admittedly, the v-shaped sonic profile is a lot more common at the sub-$200 price point of the FX500, putting the JVCs in good company with sets such as the ATH-CKM99 and Atrio MG7. Still, despite having more bass than most high-end dynamics, the FX500 offers up detail and clarity on par with the best of the rest. The somewhat intrusive bass and edgy treble can become fatiguing, but not before the FX500 plants itself firmly among the better dynamic-driver earphones in its class.
Pros: Powerful, lively sound with an airy yet involving presentation; great build quality; nearly no microphonics
Cons: Sub-par isolation; odd cable lengths; can be fatiguing, especially at higher volumes
Huge thanks to Inks for loaning me his FX500 for review