DROP + JVC HA-FWX1 Woody

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Bombastic
Pros: - Real sub-bass
- Bass is full but not boomy
- Warm timbre
- Natural texture
- Bass doesn't cloud the mids
- Smooth and airy treble
- Excellent craftsmanship
- Very beautiful looking
- Spiral Dot+ ear tips and carrying case
- Well made cable with low microphonic noise
- Made in Japan
Cons: - Fit can be an issue for some ears
- At this price point they should have included a modular or a balanced cable
- Specific tuning not suitable for all uses
- They need power to sound at their best
The DROP+ JVC HA-FWX1 was kindly provided free of charge by Drop+, never asking for a favorable review.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of the product.
All links are not affiliated and I don't earn anything by clicking on them.

Introduction

JVC has been a world leader in audio and visual technology for nearly a century.
Founded in Yokohama, Japan in 1927, the company originally manufactured phonographs, but its dedication to research, development, and employing the world’s top talent quickly led to additional avenues. Among JVC’s many industry innovations over the years are Japan’s first phonograph, EP record, stereo record player, and VHS video recorder, which spawned a cultural phenomenon in and of itself in the 1980s.
Today, JVC’s innovations in the home-theater, video-recording, and audio industries continue to attract worldwide attention.

The Drop+ HA-FWX1 is not the first time that both companies collaborate to create a unique earphone since they have already released the HA-FDX1 to much critical acclaim.
The HA-FWX1 is a new attempt that follows a radically different sound tuning.
They sell at $449 directly from the Drop+ website.
https://drop.com/buy/drop-jvc-ha-fwx1

About the HA-FWX1

With astonishingly natural acoustics and professional-level performance, JVC’s Wood Series IEMs have earned accolades in audiophile communities across the globe.
The new Drop + JVC HA-FWX1, like the flagship HA-FW10000 and the streamlined HA-FW1800, features JVC’s ultra-thin 50-micrometer birchwood dome carbon diaphragm drivers to deliver expansive, natural-sounding audio.
Where it differs from its predecessors is the tuning.
Drop+ worked closely with JVC to tame the HA-FWX1’s bass frequencies, creating more space for the expressive midrange and natural treble response.
The result, according to Drop+, is a warmer, sophisticated counterpart to the analytical HA-FDX1, and a mid-focused alternative to the bassier HA-FW1800.

Like the HA-FW1800, the HA-FWX1 is a stripped-down take on the flagship HA-FW10000, featuring the same 11m Wood Dome drivers for excellent sensitivity, frequency response, and natural tone.
Deviating from the HA-FW1800’s stronger bass presence, the HA-FWX1 is tuned to give center stage to the golden midrange, while fortifying high frequencies for more texture and detail.
Together with Wood Series staples like a precisely crafted acoustic purifier, wood housings, and a high-energy magnetic circuit, these drivers give the HA-FWX1 a large dynamic range with plenty of warmth.
The HA-FWX1 is made in Japan and that explains the higher asking price.

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Cable and Accessories

The HA-FWX1 features a detachable cable with MMCX connectors that is made from copper-clad aluminum alloy with isolated left and right sides.
It is very slick and well made with some kind of matte plastic reinforcement and low microphonic noise.
The plug is a 3.5mm and at this price point with all that competition from China, a modular plug cable or at least a second balanced one should have been included.

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The HA-FWX1 comes with five sizes of JVC’s authentic Spiral Dot + ear tips made from SMP iFit material, nicely arranged in a handy plastic, holder card and a leather carrying case with a magnetic close.
The Drop+ JVC HA-FWX1 ships in an environmentally friendly package made from recycled cardboard that saves energy and money.

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Build quality and fit

With a brown colored natural wood body and a shiny metallic top, with the JVC and D logo printed on it, these are two beauty earphones to look at and feel.
They remind of an artisan handcrafted jewelry rather than something that is mass produced.
Build quality is excellent and they seem to be very sturdy, both the shells and the MMCX connectors.

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The JVC HA-FWX1 is designed to be worn the traditional way with the cable down.
The shell itself is lightweight (7.5gr each) and not very bulky but fitting may be troublesome for some users because of the relatively short length and the backwards (opposite) angle direction of the nozzle.
Thanks to the five sizes of ear tips we succeeded in achieving a proper fit but not a very tight one so we wouldn't suggest this for exercise, they are better suited for stationary listening.
The fit inside the ear is sufficient to offer good passive noise attenuation despite the two front venting ports.

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Burning and amping

The JVC HA-FWX1 definitely needs some proper burning time before they sound at their best.
Believe it or not you will be surprised to discover the noticeable improvement after about 80-100 hours of use so don't rush into early judgment.
Drop+ doesn't specify the actual impedance but they do state that they are rated at a sensitivity of 95dB/1mW.
They aren't that inefficient but they definitely need a good source able to provide enough current with some headroom on tap.
During testing it became pretty apparent that the usual low power output USB dongles aren't enough to make them sound at their full potential.
If you don't feed them with the power they ask then the bass is going to sound out of control, anemic and bloomy.
So be prepared to reach for more powerful sources, at least like for example the EarMen Eagle or even better the THX Onyx.

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Sound impressions

The JVC FWX1 was definitely tuned with the bass loving crowd in mind but not in the overblown "bass rule 'em all" manner.
This time Drop+ and JVC opted for a more balanced approach avoiding suffocation by allowing space for the rest of the frequencies to breathe and stay alive.
There is a generous sub-bass boost followed by a downsloping bass emphasis with the result of a prominent, full sounding low end till the deepest of the notes.
It is a weighty and bone rattling presentation with convincing dynamics while it exhibits a good level of technicalities as it is sufficiently controlled and tight without becoming boomy.
The most interesting part is that despite the emphasis the mid-bass doesn't sound overly clouded and the masking effect is on the minimal side, so multi-layered bass instruments are well defined with sufficient level of detail although layering and articulation aren't top notch.

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Midrange, thankfully, isn't dominated by the bass and there is enough space left for it to shine and speak of it's story.
Voices, guitars and other instruments are well portrayed, only slightly dialed back in favor of a treble prominence which is essential for letting the FWX1 breathe.
Frequency graphs might be deceiving and someone should think the FWX1 is leaning towards the brighter side but this is far from the truth since there is a well thought contrast behind the frequency response, in order to add the necessary sparkle and clarity without becoming fatiguing.
Higher frequencies sound smooth and well controlled and although they are not that extended nor too resolving they are very likable due to the convincing tonality.
What is so special about the FWX1 is the timbre which has a wooden warmth and a natural feeling to it that in combination with the slower decay is giving a laid back, darker sound approach with great levels of musicality and a lifelike texture.
The scene is portrayed with fairly natural proportions favoring width rather than depth while instruments seem to be loosely blended together instead of being tightly seated with pinpoint accuracy.
Obviously the FWX1 will favor certain kinds of music and sound tuning preferences while it wouldn't count as the first choice for reference sessions and music where a balanced tonality is of primary importance as classical music.

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At the end

The DROP+ JVC HA-FWX1 is a unique earphone with a specific tuning that was never meant to be a reference or an all rounder and honestly there is nothing wrong with that.
Designed for a special audience, that if you happen to be part of it, you are going to love it, not only for the preferred sound signature but also for the technical refinement, the artisan looks and the excellent craftsmanship.

Test playlist

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2021

jwbrent

Headphoneus Supremus
DROP has another hit on its hands with its latest collaboration with JVC!
Pros: Beautiful build and aesthetics, the exact same wood fiber/carbon diaphragm used in JVC's $2K flagship model, low noise cable with separate ground paths for each channel, bass performance improved over prior woody models with enhanced articulation, upper mids/lower trebles have a smoother, more liquid sound compared to its woody predecessor, the HA-FW01.
Cons: Fit may be an issue for some with the supplied tips, stage depth somewhat recessed in relation to width and height, requires power to sound its best due to a low sensitivity.
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Introduction

In 2008, JVC (Japan Victor Company) under the Victor label introduced the HP-FX500 ($199), the first IEM that used wood fiber as a diaphragm material. The resulting success of this novel method of design led to a succession of improved versions, and the "woody" phenomenon took off creating a cult-like following.

JVC is one of the oldest Japanese consumer electronic companies extant and is responsible for many innovations through its 94 years of operation. VHS videotape recorders were one of its most successful creations, and this format compared to Beta recorders from Sony dominated the market in the 1980s here in the US. As a research and development arm for Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), JVC is world renowned for its design and engineering skill.

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Impressions

Before I begin with my observations, I thought I would briefly detail my past experience for those new to my reviews. I spent nearly three decades in the High End home audio sector in retail and manufacturing, and as one who grew up listening to music as a primary form of entertainment, I couldn't have chosen a better career. I'm happily retired now at 62, but am still an avid audiophile, and music listening is still one of my dominant and joy inducing activities. My passion for this hobby of ours has led me on a long journey of headphone and IEM acquisitions, including many flagships at the top of the market.

I would like to begin by thanking Thomas Fernandez at DROP for providing me a loaner of the HA-FWX1 (FWX1) in order to share my thoughts on this new design. There is no innate incentive for me to write this review, rather, I do so out of love for JVC's woody designs; I've previously owned five different models including the HA-FW01 (FW01) which will be a point of reference in this review.

When I received the loaner, based on previous experience I burned in the FWX1 for 150 hours in order for the driver surround to loosen and the cable dielectric to form/stabilize. My source was the AK SA700, and no EQ was used. All my music files were lossless.

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A note of clarification for those new to JVC woodies, the FWX1 ($449) is a sonically customized version of the HA-FW1800/HA-FW1500 ($599), the latter marketed with the Victor label for the Japanese domestic market, but otherwise sonically identical. These two models are the successor to the FW01.

Let's begin with fit and finish. As typical from Japanese-made audiophile products, the FWX1 is beautifully made with what looks like ebony as the wood used for the casing. There is a fine grain to this wood that is only noticeable when viewed up close. The metal accents on the front and rear of the casing are subdued with a darker pewter like finish which I feel is a nice improvement over the rose gold look of the FW01. I also like DROP's decision to use its logo instead of spelling out its name on the end cap. The nozzle mount is satin finished plastic, and there is venting for the 11mm driver which is partially blocked by silk fiber in order to keep any debris from entering inside as well as helping control resonance within.

One thing I should also mention was the tips now included are the Spiral Dots+ which is the first time I've used these updated tips. With my other JVC woodies, the ML Spiral Dots were a perfect fit for my ears, so when I tried the ML version of the new tips, they were too large. I ended up using the medium size, but due to what may be a slightly shorter nozzle stem than past models, I initially had some trouble getting a good seal. I imagine using other branded tips would fully resolve this issue, but I didn't want to deviate from stock for this review.

The included cable is the same one that came with the JVC HA-FD01. I did one of my high speed walking routines to test whether there was any cable noise, and there is no such problem in my experience. I didn't have another MMCX cable available to compare against, but my impression is this is the best cable sonically and finish-wise that's been included in all of the previous woody releases. Additionally, as with the FW01, separate ground paths are used for each channel which helps prevent any noise on one channel from being induced into the other.

As mentioned earlier, the FWX1 is a customized version of the HA-FW1800 (FW1800). I never got around to listening to the FW1800, but apparently it is a bass monster, and DROP wanted a customized version that subdued this quality while enhancing its midrange clarity. The manner in which they modified the original design was through lowering the sensitivity from 103dB on the FW1800 to 95dB on the FWX1 thereby reducing the bass output which leads to less bleed that impacts the midrange. To my ears, this was a successful choice when I reference the FWX1 performance to the FW01. With the latter, the bass, although quite satisfying, created a less textured bottom end coming close to a one note bass identity. The FWX1 has much better bass texture than the FW01 without compromising what has been a hallmark of the previous similarly priced woodies, a bass head's delight.

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The biggest fault I heard on the FW01 was a grainy texture in the upper-midrange/lower-trebles that would reveal itself with less than stellar recordings. Fortunately, the modification done on the FX1 has improved this quality quite a bit, dare I say there is now a more liquidy texture in this frequency range, an improvement that should result in longer listening sessions without fatigue. As the graph above shows, there is about a 12dB bump from 1kHz to 4.5kHz, so the fact that I didn't find this bump overbearing is partially due to the warmer character the bass performance provides as well as the treble roll off, I would surmise. Still, even with the graph showing treble roll off, I found it quite satisfactory with good sparkle.

In regards to staging, imaging, and dynamics, technical aspects in today's jargon, the FWX1 does a respectable job. With staging, my overall sense is there is very good width extending out towards the outside of one's ear, but not beyond. On the other hand, depth was not as well done, there being a shallowness to the presentation that reached more to the rear of my head than the front. Height was on par with the width with good spatial cues that created an immersive performance. Imaging was a bit imprecise compared to what I'm accustomed to, but not in such a way that proved to be a distraction. Finally, micro and macro dynamics which contribute to the music feeling alive were generally ok. The FWX1 is not a technical beast, it is a warm, fun sounding design that is easy on the ears.

Summary

I really enjoyed my time with the FWX1 and I can wholly recommend it for those that like my description of its performance. $449 is what the FW01 originally sold for at the time of its release, and the FWX1 is a marked step up in overall performance at the same price, the only sacrifice being the plain white box it comes in instead of the normal packaging. The HA-FWX1 continues JVC's tradition of refining its woody designs for better performance and greater involvement in the listening experience.

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jwbrent
jwbrent
ok, you may be correct on this. I watched a video on the making of the FW10000, and the cable shown for it looked exactly like the FWX1 cable.
Stuff Jones
Stuff Jones
Any comparisons with the FW1500/1800?
jwbrent
jwbrent
No, I had mentioned that I never listened to the FW1500/1800. But from what I understand about them, the bass is decidedly forward sounding, hence, DROP’s release of the FWX1 is meant to counteract this tendency. In other words, the FWX1 bass is meant to be more accurate with greater nuance. ✌️
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