DROP JVC HA-FWX1 review

DROP JVC HA-FWX1

Sound quality and performance

My take on the wooden design of the FWX1 is that it gives off decidedly ‘organic’ vibes, so it really was no surprise to me that when it popped it in and fed it with some music that the immediate sense that I got was an entirely natural, organic sound. The last IEM that I reviewed, the 5 x balanced armature driver Kinera Skuld, couldn’t be more different from the dynamic driver tone of the FWX1. Whereas the Skuld cuts through music like a scalpel through jelly, the FWX1 is more like spreading Lurpak with a spatula – it’s smooth, baby. The voicing of the FWX1 is warm, laid-back, and decadent – it’s a real put-your-feet-up-and-kick-back sorta signature. That’s not to say that it’s shy or not detailed, far from it in fact. 

When Drop explained to me that they wanted to tame the bass in the HA-1800 when developing the FWX1 I was expecting a more linear and flat response, but that’s certainly not the case here. The FWX1 is a gently V-shaped sounding IEM that is actually probably better described as being ‘U-shaped’. The bass is certainly very generous here, and if the HA-1800’s low-end is more than this, then Drop has definitely done a good thing here by dialing things back some because this is still a very bassy IEM – I certainly didn’t feel the need to give it an EQ nudge downstairs. Bass notes hit with impact and authority in the sort of way that only a dynamic driver can deliver, although it’s on the slower side of the bass equation, favouring body and tone over precision and articulation. For example, the bass guitar in Faye Webster’s ‘In a Good Way’ is a little on the ‘woolier’ side if we’re looking at things technically, but from a straight-out enjoyment perspective, the slower attack and decay of the notes just feels really…nice. The FWX1 makes instruments sound like instruments and helps you just relax into an album, rather than poring over it with a magnifying glass. 

To elaborate on what I meant by the FWX1 sounding somewhat ‘U-shaped’, there’s a mild recessing in the mid-range that makes instruments and male vocals, in particular, feel less front-foot. Ryan Adam’s ‘Prisoner’ album makes this voicing fairly evident, giving you the sense that he’s a foot or two further back in the mix compared to a more mid-range focused IEM, which makes the bass guitar and upper treble-focused tracks like acoustic guitars and cymbals stand out more in the mix. This gentle mid-range scooping aids to the sense of sonic ‘bigness’ in the FWX1, helping to give you the sense of a wider soundscape, whereas a more immediate sort of mid-range can make an IEM feel either more intimate, or even congested depending on the unit in question. Speaking of staging, the FWX1 isn’t hugely diffuse or ‘out-of-head’ when it comes to width or depth, but the scene it renders is a realistic one – one which is in keeping in theme with the natural characteristics of the FWX1. Individual tracks aren’t separated in an overly precise sort of fashion, but rather they’re blended together in a more liquid, smooth sort of fashion. Rather than being a technical marvel that gives you enormous insight into a track, the FWX1 simply has a more ‘musical’ take on things – I know the ‘m’ word is a bit of a cop-out when it comes to describing a headphone/IEM but it’s entirely appropriate here. 

The FWX1 does a couple of things very well in particular: entirely believable female vocals, and acoustic music. There’s a slight rise around the 4-5kHz mark that makes female singers step slightly more forward onto the stage. Alanis Morissette’s 2005 acoustic version of her seminal ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album is an absolute treat on the FWX1, making you feel like you’re sitting right in the studio there with her, able to catch each little vocal inflection and emotional nuance.

The FWX1’s voicing also lends itself really well to bass-heavy electronic music/IDM like Nicolas Jaar’s side project ‘Darkside’, with the additional sense of mid-bass body and low-end dynamics creating a nicely decadent, visceral treat. 

The FWX1 isn’t a classic ‘rock-out’ sort of IEM – its restrained mid-range doesn’t give you the same sense of aggression or ‘crunch’ that you’d expect from electric guitars, but that’s not to say it can’t play rock or metal in an enjoyable way. The Smashing Pumpkins ‘Hummer’ gives you a nice big ‘wall’ of fuzzy guitars with the FWX1, but it also makes some lower treble stand out in the mix and sound slightly grainy and splashy at times. Going further up the frequency chart, there isn’t a ton of ‘air’ up there on the FWX1 – you aren’t getting the sort of hyper detail that you might be accustomed to in an audiophile IEM as it is gently rolled away as you get into the cymbal department and beyond, but it really is in keeping with what the FWX1 is all about – they’re natural, non-fatiguing and for lovers of tone and texture. 

HA-FWX1 vs Final E5000

It felt prudent to compare the FWX1 to another similarly-priced, single dynamic driver IEM from Japan, and I happened to have one on hand in the Final E5000. Physically, these two IEMs couldn’t be any different in terms of form-factor, with the E5000 looking positively diminutive in comparison to the big, wooden shells of the FWX1. The E5000’s drivers are nearly half the diameter of the FWX1 as well, as a relatively small 6.4mm. The E5000 also has a meaty, dynamic tone with a slight V-shape, but it’s not as emphasized as the FWX1, and so sounds far more linear than the JVC. It’s interesting to note that the E5000 has an even lower sensitivity rating than the FWX1 at 93dB, at requires quite a bit of juice to get up and going, needing 93/150 on the volume dial of the Astell&Kern to get to spirited listening levels, whereas the FWX1 only needed 80/150. The FWX1 is undoubtedly a smooth IEM, and while it’s more laid-back generally than the more linear and focused-sounding E5000, its treble is a little harsher and does sound a little grainy and splashy by comparison, especially with cymbal hits. 

HA-FWX1 vs FiiO FD5

The FWX1 is even more starkly different when it comes to another dynamic driver IEM in the form of the $299 USD FiiO FD5. While the FWX1 is laid-back and full-bodied, the FD5 feels like a veil has been lifted away, offering a sheer boost in clarity and treble presentation – it’s a much more detail-oriented presentation, with vocals and information in the presence region being placed front-and-centre. Because there’s no sense of ‘scoop’ in the mid-range and lower treble like in the FWX1 the FD5, by comparison, sounds a lot more aggressive and almost ‘breathy’ at times, but this is, of course, relatively speaking. The FD5 is a far more neutral and linear-sounding IEM, and still maintains much of the natural characteristics that make the FWX1 sound as good as it does, but it’s done so in a much less overt way. ‘Default’ by Atoms For Peace almost sounds like a completely different track on the FiiO, with spades more air and ethereal decay compared to the more bass-focused signature and smaller staging of the FWX1. 

Source pairing 

With a 95dB/mW sensitivity rating, the FWX1 isn’t the most hard-to-drive of IEMs and does require a little bit of juice to get up and running versus some of the more super-sensitive BA IEMs out there. Having said that, you’ll be able to eke out more than adequate performance from most sources, including smartphones – provided yours still has a headphone jack, of course. My Samsung S9+ managed to get the FWX1 playing ‘loud enough’ at about 45% on the volume dial, and actually sounded pretty good, offering good bass control and overall levels of detail. Switching over to a much more dedicated discrete listening source in the Astell&Kern SE200, staging, and imaging improved by a noticeable degree, creating a more vivid 3D sound-stage and a more articulate dispatching of transients and bass notes. 

Given the modest sensitivity rating of the FWX1, this actually makes it a pretty decent candidate for pairing with dedicated desktop equipment usually suited for full-sized headphones. I found that there was plenty of usable volume range with the Schiit Jotunheim 2 set to ‘low’ gain, and not a skerrick of hiss nor background noise floor present. Seeing as the form-factor of the FWX1 makes it more suited to lean-back, sit-down sort of listening sessions, this might be a good thing to keep in mind for your circumstances if you prefer the form-factor of IEMs and wish to pair them with your desktop system. 

Final thoughts

Drop and JVC have a pretty unique IEM on their hands in the HA-FWX1 – it’s unlike anything else in terms of form factor and build, and you’re getting a lot of IEM for your money with it – quite literally. The FWX1 is no shrinking violet when it comes to the way it’s designed – it’s decadently built from big, tactile pieces of wood, and it’s best suited for the deliberate listener who appreciates craftsmanship and wants to enjoy their music in a deliberate, lean-back sort of fashion.

In a market where multi-BA, CNC-milled aluminium, or injection-plastic molded IEMs are a dime a dozen, the HA-FWX1 certainly offers an ‘interesting’ choice for the listener looking for a more organic, natural connection to their music collection. Sonically, while it isn’t the last word in detail or insight, the HA-FWX1 is like a big, warm hug – lovers of bass, V-shaped sound signatures, and those looking for the ultimate expression of the organic tone that only a dynamic driver can provide will delight in them.

 

5/5 - (4 votes)

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Hailing from Sydney's eastern beaches, Matty runs his own beer business, 'Bowlo Draught', as well as working in creative advertising. When he's not enjoying his hifi and vinyl collection at home, he can probably be found rolling-up on the green at his beloved Bondi Bowling Club.

2 Comments

  • Reply August 19, 2021

    Robin

    This should be named as FW1XXX instead of FWX1. It’s clear the exterior, cable as well as price are closer to FW1800 than FW01.

    Imagine Drop names their HD8XX mod of HD800s as HD65X – that’s not smart.

  • Reply August 21, 2021

    stacy

    Hey, Thanks for writing such an informational article. I would like to add that if anyone is looking for best mobile headphones and tablet accessories at very competitive prices then do check https://www.oydera.com/. We are offering the largest selection of mobile accessories at the most competitive prices. Whether you are looking for a charger cable, earphone, or a car mount, we have thousands of hard-to-find items that you can’t find elsewhere.

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