The Drop JVC HA-FWX1 is the result of a new IEM collaboration between JVC and Drop. Retailing for $449 USD, the HA-FWX1 is based on the JVC HA-FW1800 with special tuning refinements for the Drop audiophile community. It can be bought directly from the Drop HA-FWX1 product page.
Note: Drop shared a review sample of the HA-FWX1 with Headfonia for this article. Drop.com is not affiliated with Headfonia in any way, and as always our thoughts and opinions are our own.
A long A/V lineage
Apologies to JVC fans in advance, but I’ll admit right off the bat that audiophile wouldn’t be quite the first thing that comes to mind if you were to mention the initials “JVC” to me. Instead, it evokes fond memories of Australia’s Funniest Home Videos back in the early 90’s, which I clearly remembered JVC sponsoring, with lucky winners walking away with a stash of their (then) swish dark-grey TVs, camcorders, and VCRs.
The Japan Victor Company has actually been around since 1927 and has a storied history of success in the consumer electronics world, with perhaps their greatest achievement being the introduction of the VHS tape format, and its subsequent domination over Sony’s Betamax (RIP). I hadn’t given JVC much thought as a company (this century, anyhow) until the folks at Drop.com dropped me a line and asked if we’d be keen to check out their newest IEM collaboration with JVC – the new HA-FWX1. Drop has had a pretty sizable impact in the audiophile community in recent years thanks to a pretty unique and successful formula: take an existing audiophile product; tweak it sonically; and package it up in a more affordable co-branded package.
I did a little research while I was waiting for the review unit to arrive from Drop, and I learned that JVC has actually quite a bit of know-how when it comes to personal audio, and they have quite the small but ardent fan-base when it comes to their gear – in particular their IEMs, including their ~$2,000 USD flagship, the HA-FW10000. In fact, we’ve actually reviewed a few JVC products over the years here at Headfonia, which you can check out here. Drop explained to me that they were keen to continue the relationship that they struck up with JVC with the JFV HA-FDX1, and proposed that they do their own ‘Drop-take’ on the JVC HA-1800, with their own audiophile community in mind – the result being the HA-FWX1, which is the subject of today’s review. The HA-FWX1 retains not only the same unique wooden aesthetic as the HA-1800, but it was designed to keep much of the same sonic signature while slightly taming its generous low-end, which many in the audiophile community found to be overly-boosted.
Drop + JVC HA-FWX1 overview
The HA-FWX1 (let’s go with ‘FWX1’ from here), like many preceding JVC IEMs, consists of a relatively large 11mm wood-dome, carbon diaphragm single dynamic driver housed in an equally large wooden shell. The FWX1 is designed to be worn in a ‘cable down’ configuration, with the detachable cable (which uses MMCX) connectors going straight down, like your garden-variety smartphone IEMs rather than the looped/over-ear cable configuration that many higher-end IEMs use. I’m not exactly sure of the exact driver impedance of the FWX1, but if it’s closely related to the HA-1800, it shouldn’t be far off the 16-ohms quoted for the ‘donor’ model. The FWX1’s box cites a sensitivity rating of 95dB/mW which is on the lower side when it comes to IEMs. Speaking of specs, here’s the run-down of the other key details to note for the FWX1:
- 11mm wood-dome drivers
- Carbon-coated diaphragm
- Acoustic Purifier
- Powerful high-energy magnetic circuit
- Detachable 48″ copper-clad aluminum cable with gold-plated 3.5mm miniplug (attaches to each earpiece with pro-style MMCX connectors)
- 5 pairs of Spiral Dot+ ear tips made with high-tech SMP iFit material for a natural and comfortable fit
- Spiral Dot+ design diffuses noise and disperses sound naturally
- Frequency response: 6-52,000 Hz
- Included leather carrying case
- 9/16″W x 3/4″H x 1-3/16″D
- Weight: 34 grams
Packaging and Presentation
Like many Drop collaborations, the FWX1 ships in a relatively modest small cardboard box bearing the ‘Drop’ and ‘JVC’ logos – the only hint that a high-end, wood-crafted IEM sits inside. I’m more than ok with products being packaged like this – firstly, because I find ostentatious packaging super wasteful; and secondly, because I’d prefer that my money is going towards the best value product package possible – and this is one way the Drop is able to pass on discounts to their community. Besides, I only ever deal with retail packaging twice when I buy any piece of audio gear: when I open it; and when I throw it out (or, sell it later).
Inside the smallish cardboard box, it’s a relatively modest but perfectly adequate accessory package for this sort of IEM: a warranty + brief instructional pamphlet; a nice leather carrying case with a magnetised clasp; five sets of Spiral Dot+ silicone ear tips; and the detached 3.5mm cable. The ‘JVC’ monogrammed carrying pouch isn’t quite pocketable, but it is made super nicely from a nice, soft leather and certainly looks the part when it comes to housing this little pair of ‘woodies’.
Form-factor & design
The FWX1 is a little unusual in IEM design terms – most ‘straight down’ cabled IEMs are on the smaller size because they rely solely on their insertion grip to defeat gravity, whereas the cable loop on an ‘over-the-ear’ cabled IEM can help them from falling out. The FWX1 is not a small IEM by any means – and given that they’re designed to be worn in the traditional straight-down fashion, they certainly aren’t the most secure fit. The tug of their cable can, and will loosen them in your ears, and you are most likely going to need to readjust them from time to time. The FWX1’s nozzles are both relatively short and rather wide, which means that they don’t really ‘insert’ into your ear canal so much as stick into your outer ear, relying on suction and grip to stay in place. I was able to maintain a pretty good fit with the second-largest set of supplied tips, but let’s just say that you won’t be going to the gym with these suckers – these are for sitting down and making a dedicated plan to remain stationary and enjoy your music – at your desk, on the bus, or for taking with you while traveling and kicking-back in a hotel room. The FWX1’s fit really could be improved with the inclusion of a shirt clip, which would help mitigate the ‘tug’ of their cable, but unfortunately, there isn’t one included.
I did a little experimenting when it came to finding a good fit with the FWX1 and I found that you actually can wear them in an over-ear fashion, effectively wearing them ‘upside down’ and looping the cable of the top of your ear. This made keeping a secure fit markedly easier, and it actually made fit neater, and more flush in my ears. You see, the FWX1 doesn’t protrude straight out of your ear in a straight line – the nozzle is actually ‘kinked’ at an angle, and strangely that angle is forward, rather than backward, which would make it fit more flush in your outer ear.
The supplied cable that comes with the FWX1 is genuinely first-rate. It’s of the single-ended, 3.5mm variety, so if you have a balanced source you’re going to need to look into after-market solutions. However, I really don’t recommend that you need to because the cable is built exceptionally well from a soft, matte-covered plastic that is flat below the Y-split, and breaks out into two round thinner cables up to the MMCX-connectors. It doesn’t tangle, doesn’t make any offensive microphonic noises, and feels great to the touch. Full marks here.
The shape of the FWX1’s nozzles means that you might not be able to readily find aftermarket alternate tips for it, but the supplied Spiral Dot+ tips are more than fit for purpose. I did note earlier that it is hard to find a super snug fit with the FWX1 due to their shape and size, but of course, your mileage may vary here. It’s nice that there are 5 x different sizes of tips included, so most would-be owners ought to be covered.
I’ll finish the design overview of the FWX1 by remarking on their signature visual point of uniqueness – their gorgeous wooden design. The wood that JVC has used here is quite dark, and you have to look closely to see that actually is wood – depending on the ambient light and where it is that you’re looking at them. Look at them a little more closely under light, and it starts to become a more reddish-purple in colour, with their natural wood grain becoming more evident upon close inspection. Their overall build is nearly identical to the HA-F1800, the only giveaway that these are a different model externally is the use of dark copper highlights versus the gold colour used on the rear of the HA-F1800 shells, and of course the presence of the Drop logo on the rear of one of the FWX1’s shells.
The FWX1 really is extremely appealing both to the eye as well as in the hand – they feel crafted rather than simply machined or engineered – a little like the tiny musical instruments that they are. This wooden construction does set the FWX1 apart from its metal/plastic peers at the price range from other manufacturers, and it gives them a real ‘heirloom’ quality – they feel organic, rather than manufactured en masse.
Click over to page 2 to continue the review.