Drop / JVC FDX1 review Equipment used (not a whole lot really): • Sony WM1A music player • Yinyoo 4.4mm SPC balanced cable • UE900 single flange tips (blue core) First off I would like to extend a hearty thanks to Thomas, Christian, and the group at Drop for the gracious opportunity to listen to and review a pre-production FDX1. Thomas has been very helpful providing information on the back story describing how this project came about. I had kept up with threads here, and elsewhere on the web, about the JVC FD01's modification story, and was highly curious to hear a pair all along. I considered purchasing a set and performing the mods myself, but just never got around to doing it. Some time later I was amazed to learn that Drop actually worked with the modding community to put that exact configuration into production, and coordinated getting JVC on board to make it happen. It's not very often to hear of a large manufacturer listening to a small community of users, and taking their suggestions to heart. To me that is the coolest aspect of this whole story I think. I find it inspiring that JVC (and its engineers) may have learned a thing or two from the modding community about tuning their signatures to not be so hot and aggressive. As a former owner of the Victor FX500, and FX700, I was already pretty familiar with how their signatures could lean more on the aggressive side, and I was excited to see how this collaboration addressed that tendency. A few days after emailing with Thomas I received the sample from Drop. It arrived in a plain cardboard box, with a basic assortment of included items and accessories. This consisted of the IEM earpieces in small poly bags, the stock cord (which is very comfortable and soft but slightly microphonic), a nice magnetic closure carrying case, spiral dot tips, and of course the tuning nozzles. The white nozzles were what came installed, and they have no damping material replicating the stock level of detail from the FD01. ---=== Build Quality ===--- The construction of the FDX1 is excellent, with sturdy metal housings. The front portion with the nozzle rotates which allows wearing either cable down or up over the ears, and has the unique removable nozzles (which come off with the slickest tiny release button - a marvel of miniature engineering). One negative is that along with the microphonics of the cable, the metal shell seems to transmit any touch as a loud thunk in my ears while fiddling with them trying to achieve a good seal. While that is happening, I hear some driver flex as well, and I hope that doesn’t cause any issues with them down the road. They do feel extremely sturdy and well made, and the interchangeable nozzles are just large enough that I don't feel like if one gets dropped onto carpet it'll get lost. I recall having the FLC 8S, and losing a couple of the tiny bass ports, which soured me on the whole ownership experience even though I highly enjoyed the sound. Not the case here. ---=== First Use & Fit ===--- Out of the box and trying to get used to the fit, I initially found them hard to get seated well. I settled with cable over the ears orientation, but seal was hard to achieve with the Spiral Dot tips. So I went tip hunting in my stash, and found the newer UE900 (M/ blue core) silicones really helped get the seal right, and the sound was markedly improved to my ears. With that sorted, time to get to some listening.... I first tried them from the Sony WM1A's single ended output and stock cable. I was pretty surprised at how power hungry they were. Same story out of my Galaxy Note 8. So I swapped to an inexpensive Chinese 4.4mm balanced cable and tried it out of the Sony's 4.4 output... much better. With those things worked out, my first impression was present are all the dynamic driver pros, with none of the drawbacks that sometimes come with them. There's no slop, overhang, or muddy lack of focus (at all) that inherently come with poorly executed DD IEMs. Instead what I get from these is a laser-like incisiveness and clarity, much like you'd expect with the very best of BA earphones. The other thing I noticed right away was the purity of tone, in all bands. I don't think I've experienced any IEM which has this level of tonal realism, honesty, and that "right character" to every area of frequency range. There's also none of that clinical sterility which can plague some BA earphones. The FDX1 just walks the line, doing all of it exceedingly well. I do find that fit can be a touch fiddly even after finding the right tips. The shell’s barrel shape doesn't lend itself very well to a naturally snug fit like so many current universals meant to be worn over the ears only, and which have that "pseudo-custom" shell shape. Sometimes I found them breaking seal slightly, and I'd have to readjust several times to get them seated correctly again to have that excellent sound snap into place once more. ---=== Sound Characteristics ===--- Soundstage: When they are seated just right, the sense of space and staging is definitely quite good. It may lack that last iota of expansiveness and width, but it puts out a very respectable impression of height and depth, so there's an enveloping 3D feel to everything. The thing the FDX1 does so well is instrument placement within the stage, creating the clearest window into your music. All instruments - from deep drums, vocals and guitars, up through the highest triangle tings - are faithfully portrayed in space with room to breathe. So there’s not really much to complain about here, except that it doesn't quite match the expansiveness of a couple of the other IEMs I put it against. If these had that last bit of width and expansiveness, and air, this would be an end of the line IEM for me. Bass: The 11mm Diamond-like carbon drivers kick with a fantastic low end. It may not be the last word in quantity, but it has that laser-like focus I mentioned earlier. The character is snappy, taut, but reaches remarkably low when music calls for it. There's not an over-abundance of mid-bass though, but that keeps the overall sonic character very clean and clarity driven. Muddy is not a word one can use regarding any aspect of the range, especially the lows. There is a direct communication of a drum's quality - is it a huge bass drum that reverberates for a couple seconds?...this driver will faithfully reproduce it. Or is it a quick snap on a snare?...again, done flawlessly. You feel the particular drum's volume, the tautness of the skin, tonal character. For an example, I love The Tear Garden, and especially the album "To Be an Angel Blind, the Crippled Soul Divide". One of my test tracks is "In Search of My Rose" which opens with a very distinct and deep drum kick. Many earphones can make a mess of this, portraying the drums as muddy and thick. On the FDX1, it's got all the characteristics of great bass, and the volume of the drum is conveyed with amazing realism. I think when I got this track going the first time was when I really said to myself this IEM is something special. Mids: The FDX1 suffers no recessed or scooped mids, like with many current mass consumer tuned IEMs. This is a refreshing treat to me. Edward Ka-Spel's nasally voice is so lifelike it's uncanny, and I could listen to his vocals all day on the FDX1. And the strings in "In Search of My Rose" have fantastic texture. Electric guitars drive with authority, and have the proper bite. This IEM really shows why having recessed mids causes one to miss out on a critical area in the music's frequency range. Overall, the midrange is presented with remarkable clarity, and instruments/ voices are clearly delineated in space as they should be.. Treble: The treble is really special on the FDX1. This is of course with a damped nozzle installed. With the original one in place (which replicates the sound of the FD01), it is definitely too harsh and biting - it needs taming (showing the need and purpose for this whole project). Thankfully the other nozzles do the trick well. My feeling is that detail and dynamics get knocked back a bit and lost with the blue nozzle, but with the green one a perfect balance of nice detail and extension without the harshness was struck. The highs positively shimmer and sparkle, and reach quite high, beyond what my aging ears can detect. So there's no sense of roll off the way I hear it. Throughout all the highs, instrument character is again conveyed with great realism (just like with the bass). Triangle tings have real metallic weight to them, showing no hint of any strange tone or plasticky weirdness (as you sometimes get with BA drivers). Cymbals sound like cymbals, and all sounds as it should. Transients are super quick as well, with notes starting and stopping with great speed. ---=== Select Comparisons ===--- Audiosense T800: I recently purchased the T800 from Aliexpress after reading about its capabilities. Right now, it is probably my favorite IEM, and I highly enjoy its full range sound. The level of bass it presents is excellent for an all BA IEM. Like the FDX1, it has remarkable clarity and insight into the music you listen to. It just goes about it a bit differently. Being all BA drivers, it has a slightly noticeable BA character to it, and I think this is the biggest knock against it once I listened to the FDX1. The Drop earphone is just so clean and resolving, and as mentioned earlier, that purity of tone sets it apart from the T800 giving it a naturalness that the T800 can’t match. Detail levels are really about equal, but with the FDX1 showing a slightly clearer window on everything. You hear the same details on both phones, but it just seems a bit easier to get to them with the FDX1. It does miss the expansiveness of stage that the T800 has, and this gives it a more intimate and close in feeling. Like I mentioned earlier, if the FDX1 had that last bit of width and expansiveness, it would be ideal. Ikko OH10: This is not really a fair comparison, as the OH10 is significantly less expensive than the FDX1, and the overall characteristics of the two shine a spotlight on the gap. I do enjoy the Ikko with its great detail retrieval and dynamic extension, but when listened to back-to-back with the FDX1, it is obviously a less refined experience. The lows are boomy and thick by comparison, and midrange shows some recession. The entire midband exhibits much more lifelike tone on the FDX1, with far better fullness and placement. Everything just sounds grander in scale on the FDX1 with more height, heft, and richness. The Ikko’s stage may be a touch wider than the JVC, but it’s nowhere as full regarding depth, and encompassing feeling. So placement and space has better refinement on the FDX1. 64 Audio U12t: Now we’re getting into top tier territory and I wouldn’t expect it to be a fair fight, but the single dynamic driver FDX1 does a few things just as well or better, and a couple not quite as well. They’re different, but both amazing phones. As great as the bass is on the U12t, it just can’t quite cope with the tactile slam and depth that the JVC dishes out. The U12t’s low end has a trace of BA timbre to it (which would be expected), and doesn’t really have the ability to convey the feeling of the types of drums involved, or sense of air volume being moved. Both phones have fantastic mids, neither being recessed or scooped. The mids on the FDX1 may just have a hair more clarity and resolution though. That dynamic driver really digs out the resolution as well as any of the BA drivers I’ve ever heard. Treble is pretty much a wash, with both bordering on being edgy, with great sparkle and extension. Staging goes to the U12t though, and the FDX1 is not as wide or open feeling. Overall, the U12t perhaps has just a slightly more refined, smooth, and spacious presentation. But I’m impressed at how enjoyable a listen the FDX1 is after some time with the U12t. ---=== Concluding Thoughts ===--- I am really glad I got a chance to listen to the pre-production FDX1. To wrap things up, maybe a bullet list of what it does well and not so well best summarizes this awesome IEM: Strengths - • Fantastic bass quality and clarity, with lifelike texture, and focus • Overall resolution and detail which becomes almost like a clear window into your music • 100% faithful tone and timbre, the likes of which I’ve not heard before in any IEM • Modular function with the swappable nozzles, allowing user to tune the sound to his/her liking • Robust construction should stand the test of time Weaknesses - • Soundstage is not the last word in overall width or spaciousness • Fit is not the best, and may take some tip experimenting, and fiddling to get the perfect seal • Shell conveys thumps and knocks to the ears when handling trying to get seated • Some driver flex Congrats to Drop and JVC for coordinating modding community improvements, and user feedback, to bring a new and unique product to launch. While not perfect, this IEM gives a truly special listening experience, and in my book represents a huge value for the noted price. I will definitely be purchasing a set once the drop goes live. Color me impressed.