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Headphones, Impressions

Japanese twin wonder: Impressions of the JVC HA-FXT90

Ah Japan. How much more can you enhance my day-to-day life? First with anime, and now this wonderful IEM. This marvel of technology is yet another facet of Japan that has been invited and embraced by me to colour my world. Before I go on and present my impressions of the FXT90, let me set a few caveats first.

Wait, this is not caveat?

For my musical taste, you can read it here. As a quicky though, I like my music to be balanced on bass and treble side of things, with vocals and mid-range slightly more forward than both of them. No boomy bass, no hyper-sparkle, nothing too analytical or clinical, just the sweet voice of the singer and how it dances together with other elements of the song/music.

I also have not had the fortune to listen to a lot of headphones, and usually my experience is from what I have. I do read a lot of reviews and impressions though, and mostly already picked up the lingo and vocabulary to describe sound. And yet, none of them are useful if one doesn’t know what “airy” or “liquid mids” supposed to sound like. That’s me by the way. If you want to judge how well I do, I already did a review once on Head-Fi, regarding the venerable Koss PortaPro.

With that said, one thing that should always be in mind: this is my opinion and it should be taken as it is. They are subjective, and it may not fully agree with others’ opinions. This is a good primer regarding reviews and what to expect from a review written by a prolific reviewer, average_joe from Head-Fi.

That said, lets get on with my impressions, aye?

Accessories

For the $108 I paid from buyfromjapan on eBay, I find the accessories included quite generous. Included in the box is a hard case for your FXT90, 3 tips of different sizes (the medium sized tips are already on the IEMs), a shirt clip and a cable winder.

The cable winder is some sort of hard rubber or something, with an embossed JVC logo on one side of it. The shirt cable is simple enough; quite easy to put it on the cables and from what I can see, there’s no risk of shearing the cables when you’re putting it on or taking it of.

I still, to this day, don’t know how to wind the cable using the winder. I tried following the Japanese instructions, but I still have no idea how to. When I tried to do it as in the picture, I’m worried at how the cable could be easier to damage this way.

Overall, I’m quite impressed by the amount of included accessories. But after reading around some more, I found that there are other companies that are more generous in what they include as well.

Build and Aesthetic

Looks great, although not as refine as the wine-coloured L2. A fairly all-black colour scheme, with the chromed JVC emblem on the back of the clear, grey shell.

The shell, while plastic, does feel solid and reassuring. The strain relief on the shell seems adequate. It really blends in the overall aesthetic of them and I didn’t know it is the strain relied until I flexed it. It is rubber for obvious reason.

The twin drivers are arranged vertically, so the shell itself can’t be inserted too deeply into my ears. But since the nozzle is angled in such an ergonomic way, comfort is not an issue for me, once I’m quite practiced to insert it with a full seal.

The cable is some sort of smooth, springy rubber; adequately thick but not at all heavy. So far it’s quite flexible and not susceptible to kinks and twists. Further down, the Y-splitter is an all-plastic affair. Seems durable enough, IMO. Down at the end, the strain relief on the L-shaped gold-plated jack is top-notch. The L-plug itself is very slim, and can fit into narrow phone casing, if need be. It has a chin slider, as can be seen. Nothing too fancy there.

The left and right channel are marked on the opposite side of the shell from the nozzle, with a bump on the left side strain relief to easier distinguish between sides blindly. Overall, I can see it endure daily wear and tear around the house or when out and about. I don’t see it survive long though in a more active activity, such as jogging or taking it to the gym.

Fit and comfort

A few word about it: back when I first used it, the fit is a bit weird to me. Since the 2 micro-drivers are arranged vertically on top of one another, the shells take on a ‘tall’ shape rather than the normal barrel shape. As such they are quite cumbersome to get a perfect seal at first, and because of this design, it can’t be inserted deeply too. It took quite some time for me to adapt and insert it properly. Wearing the cable up over my ears is possible, although this way the insertion is lesser. The shells are designed specifically for each ear; as such I do get the same fit as if I wear it cable down if I swap sides, but then that would need a channel inverter/converter or something.

Using the included silicone tips provide enough insertion depth and comfort to be fairly isolating from stray conversations and moderately loud noises such as passing cars. But on the bus, it starts to falter a bit, letting in a little bit of engine noise and lessen the bass a little. In the Metro/subway, there’s even more noise leakage in. But it’s not all despair, as I can still hear the details quite good; just need to get the volume a little bit louder. Microphonics is almost non-existent when wearing it cable down, and disappeared when wearing cable up.

I’ve tried it with Comply T400 tips, and didn’t like the sound at all. While the comfort and isolation is slightly improved, the butchering of the treble is too much. I did chopped off a little bit of the foam until the silicone tubing, leaving the end of it a few millimeters from the nozzle, and while the treble is back to normal, somehow the pressure applied by the foam seems excessive and gets uncomfortable quickly for me. And another thing is the silicon barrel of the T400 is actually smaller than the nozzles’ diameter. So getting them on, and damaging them when I was taking them off, is a struggle.

I will most likely do a tips experiment on them once I buy a full Meelectronics ear tips replacement, and possibly  the faux Sony hybrid tips included with VSonic’s GR06. Until then, I recommend sticking with the default silicone tips.

Sound impressions

Before I get into it, I’m going to list what I did listen to the most when I evaluate the JVC.

  • Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OSTs, an anime OST that features a myriad of genres, and songs that I have listened to so many times. This helps a lot because I can recognize any changes, most of the time.
  • Muse, mostly from the album “Black Holes and Revolutions” and “The Resistance”.
  • A few other bands and artists on and off like Coldplay, Keane, Florence + the Machine, Adele, Bloc Party, and a few other anime OSTs like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’s OST and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica’s OST. As I have seen time and again, most of anime OST cover so broad a genre that I need to listen to them.

When I’m in front of my desk, I listen to them from my laptop using Foobar 2000 through a Fiio E10 USB DAC/amp device. When I’m out and about, I use my trusty 2-year-old Nokia N8. Music are mostly in .flac and 320 kbps .mp3 when on my laptop, and only mp3 on my phone.

While I’d like to start with the usual way people write reviews, I am not experienced enough to write that way. As such, I will try to write about what I hear separately by general frequency range, and will link to YouTube samples to some of the songs that truly highlights this IEM.

Bass is punchy and very impactful, but not boomy or flabby. Just enough amount of bass for a non-basshead to love it. I think the bass extension is quite low, but as I don’t listen to many bass-heavy songs, the strongest I could think are from Muse, I can’t really confirm this. It’s not too overpowering, although when a particular song is mastered with gobs of bass, it will deliver gobs of bass, not more, not less. IMO they are also quite accurate, but as I said before, my lack of experience does hinder this a lot.

Vocals are to die for with these, especially for female vocals. The way the vocals are presented through the JVC is just phenominal. While very slightly recessed compared to other elements of a song or instruments, they are not veiled and remain clear and detailed, even through a very busy song. I find the treble are not forward nor recessed. There is no sibilance that I could hear, and enough sparkle to brighten a song but not being painfully so.

Vocals more or less are centre, with it sounding like it comes from the back of your skull. They sound very intimate, and drowned out a bit when there’s bass going on in a song. IMO the soundstage is fairly wide; I reckon it extends to 30 cm, half a meter or so left and right, but not a lot in front and behind. Instrument separation are superb; on busy tracks, such as some of the instrumentals from the aforementioned Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OST, I can hear the different instruments playing quite well. But what’s great about it is that it doesn’t sound disjointed or too separate, all seem to be in sync with each other.

Overall though, I think the FXT90 is balanced on both ends in a very small ‘U’ shape frequency response, with a very slight bass forwardness. Also, I think this is a quite warm sounding IEM, but no ‘veil’ or anything covering the treble and mids.

Now onward to some of my choice songs that, IMO, truly highlights the FXT90. All of these will be highly subjective, so take whatever is said with salt and in context of my musical taste.

  • Muse – Map of the Problematic (Black Holes and Revelations)

Aggressive and powerful. Matt (lead vocal) just sounds so awesome and authoritative. I can hear a slight sibilance as of time of writing. Vocals can be a little bit recessed but I think it fits with the atmosphere of the song. Bass guitar complements in delivering the energy along with the awesome drum work.

For that live video (as I can’t find a studio version on Youtube that’s HD), it takes me back to when I was in a Muse concert last year. It makes me yearn to go back to that time, and make me look forward to any concert coming my way here in Moscow, or nearby. Have the same powerful, aggressive atmosphere around it, but felt like I was really there.

  • Muse – Resistance (The Resistance)

One of my favourite song to listen to using FXT90. The piano sounds so soulful, pierces straight to my heart, giving me shivers. i like it. the chorus is my favourite part. the way Matt’s vocals, the guitars and drums just complement each other, so sublime, yet full impact and powerful.

  • Symposium magarum (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica OST)

A sad and soulful soundtrack in context of the anime. It tells of a story how a strong and defiant character fights for the good of others, without expecting any gratitude. But in the end, all is for nigh when said character perish and becomes the force that he fought all the while. Perfectly captured the emotion. The violin perfectly accentuates the internal struggle the warrior is having.

  • Vocalise Op.34 no.14

Forgive me for being ignorant of classical music, but this is just blends in so well within Madoka Magica. It is in one of the OST discs that they released, and up until I wrote this post, I never knew this is written by Rachmaninoff. In the anime, this was played by the love interest of one of the main character. Sadly I can’t elaborate more as I risk spoiling one of the more important parts in it. The one in the OST disc ended at around 3:37 though. It’s too soulful and intoxicating for me to focus where the original and the one in the OST differs.

  • Salve, Terrae Magicae (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica)

Captures the hopes and dreams of what it is to become a magical girl, to be honest. Shows how it is a noble line of work, and can be sometimes fun to help people.

  • Fuura Kafuka (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OST)

A character theme. Just puts me at ease listening to this using the FXT90. Makes all my worries go away and transported me to a wonderful land full of hope and bright future, with no strife and struggle to be had. Sadly I can’t find a HD video of it. I think it is okay though.

  • Ootsuki Kenji & Zetsubou Shoujo-tachi feat. Rap Bito – Kuusou Rumba Rap (Kakurenbo ka Onigokko yo)

Oh look, my blog’s name! :D This song perfectly demonstrates the ability of the FXT90 to handle very busy and fast songs. As stated before, instrument separation are superb, nothing is a wall of sound and noise. The rap comes out clear and coherent. The few female vocals came out unveiled and clear as well. Drums and bass hits very strong without sounding boomy or flabby. Guitar sounds oh so good. I advice not to watch the video though, and only listen. This is a fan-made video of a full length opening song of the anime (I can’t believe it that I only found this now! D:) and only a fan can appreciate the… oddity of it, IMO. Sound quality came out pretty decent IMO, even if the video is only 360p.

  • Shintani Ryouko – Shujinkou (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OST)

Fantastically normal! (Don’t call her normal, please). In-jokes aside, I was debating with myself whether to put this up or another character song to show the strength of the FXT90 for female vocals. I decided to put both. Vocals came out lush and sweet, without being drowned out by the instruments. Backup vocals didn’t sound too forward, just where they are supposed to be.

  • Tanii Asuka and Sanada Asami – Kagerou (Nenchakushitsu Baizou) (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OST)

 

 A perfect love song. Both Tanii Asuka’s (the softer sounding one) and Sanada Asami’s voice are delivered with such sweetness, such lushness. Speechless.

Afterwords

 Suffice it to say, I think this is a great all rounder, jack of all trades IEM from JVC. While sometimes in a more bassy song I am left wanting, or when vocals just sometimes sounded inadequate, most of the time I am left very satisfied. Balanced on both ends, and quite capable when the going gets tough. I bought this from an eBay seller named buyfromjapan at $118 including shipping. Lucky Bieberlanders can get this IEM for a cheaper price of $100. At that price point, and considering what you get for the whole package, I’d consider these hyper-bargain for those of you who likes a balanced sound with a slight tinge of warmth for their music.

For a larger information on it’s technology, where to buy it and different editions and more experienced impressions and comparisons with other IEM, this thread is the place to go.

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About fEast91

A foreign student who happens to like manga/anime and headphones.

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