(2A22) JVC HA-FX500
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