For 2014 JVC will introduce white versions of their over-ear HA-M55X (pictured) and...
JVC HA-SR44X Review
The JVC HA-SR44X brings big bass to the budget headphone realm, but its sound signature has some less endearing quirks in the higher frequencies.
- Powerful audio performance with deep, distortion-free bassâa rarity in this low price range
- Inline remote control and microphone for mobile devices
- Tinny response in the high-mids and highs
- Ear pads can be uncomfortable over long listening sessions
- No volume control on remote
Deep, intense sub-bass has been a fad in headphones ever since Beats by Dr. Dre really took off, and now it’s finding its way into truly affordable models that can deliver it without distortion. The JVC HA-SR44X is part of the JVC XX line—standing for “Xtreme Xplosives,” a phrase that rarely describes an object I want to place on my head—and at $49.95 (list), it’s quite affordable. It delivers thunderous low-end for the price, and includes an inline remote control and microphone for mobile calls. Unfortunately, the high-mids and highs are quite sculpted, and can sound tinny and pinched on certain genres. It’s not surprising in this price range, but it does detract a bit from the splendor of the HA-SR44X’s distortion-free bass response.
The XX series uses glossy black plastic and bright red accents to grab your attention. The underside of the HA-SR44X’s headband and grille cloth inside the earpads are both bright red, as is the cable. An XX logo graces a bar of matte black plastic across each earcup and serves as the mounting point from which the earcups swivel to adjust to your ears. These earcups are on the large end of the scale for an on-ear (supra-aural) pair, and in order to get a secure fit, the headphones create a level of pressure on the scalp and the ears themselves that can be uncomfortable over time. On the positive side, the earpads do seem to block out a generous swath of ambient noise.
Along the red cable, there’s a black inline remote control and microphone. An A-B switch on the compartment exists to match compatibility with various phone models—if A doesn’t work (it does with iPhones), try B. Unfortunately, the remote itself is of the single-button variety with no volume controls. You can play and pause tracks, and skip tracks with multiple taps, as well as answer calls. Call clarity through the inline mic is fine.
The HA-SR44X comes with no accessories—a carrying pouch would have been nice, but the headphones don’t collapse or fold down flat, so these aren’t the most portable headphones to begin with and perhaps a pouch wouldn’t be terribly useful.
On tracks with deep sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the HA-SR44X does not distort, even at top volumes. At maximum volume, though the bass is delivered cleanly, the headphones vibrate so intensely that they’re a bit uncomfortable to wear. That’s probably a good thing, as no one should be listening at levels this high anyway. At moderate-to-loud volumes, the sub-bass still packs quite a punch—the HA-SR44X is definitely made for the low frequency fiends out there.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover” gets quite a bit of sculpting through the HA-SR44X’s sound signature. His baritone vocals receive only a little bit of treble edge, so they can sound a little lost in the mix at times, while the drums get significant low-end boost, which moves them to the forefront. Things never get muddy, but certain mid-high content, including, at times, Callahan’s voice, can sound as if it’s being delivered through a bottomless Dixie cup and into your ears—a tinny, pinched, overly-sculpted sound. This is common in budget-priced headphones, whereas the ability to deliver deep sub-bass content without distorting is not, so there’s a trade-off.
The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” has a sharp attack to it that sounds best when delivered with both crisp high-mids and a nice rich low-frequency sustain. Here, it gets less of the high-mids than it does of the lows, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with more gusto than most headphones in the price range can manage. The tinny sound is less noticeable here as the mix veers so heavily to the low frequencies, but it rears its head occasionally on the various vocal performances.
Classical tracks like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” tend to sound a little tinny through the HA-SR44X, with the higher register strings and brass taking center stage. The lower register strings and percussion rarely veer into sub-bass territory, thus they tend to receive less of a boost than the low frequency elements of other genres. Meanwhile, the midrange, from low-mids to high-mids, seems a bit weak here—the result is a closed-in, brittle sound for the higher range instruments that need the mids of their sound profiles to be more present.
Inexpensive headphones are making huge sonic leaps every year, it seems. The HA-SR44X represents the latest advancements in delivering big bass on a budget, but the rest of the sound signature suffers at the expense of the low-end. If you’re looking for a more balanced sound in this general price range, consider the Jays v-Jays or the RHA SA950i. If you can spend a bit more, the Logitech UE 4000 offers a solid balance of lows and highs, and the Skullcandy Navigator delivers big bass, with a less tinny delivery in the highs. The JVC HA-SR44X will certainly make fans of thunderous bass happy if $50 is the cut-off point, but for a little more money, you can get better overall balance.
By Tim Gideon, PCMag
- Type: Supra-aural (on-ear)
- Connection: Stereo 3.5mm
- Phone Controls: Yes
- Removable Cable: No
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Frequency Range: 8Hz-23kHz