Gorgeous wooden build, Solid accessory set, Rich and superbly textured bass, Lush and forgiving midrange, Crisp treble, Deep stage, Excellent background cleanliness
Treble extension is lacking, Separation just sufficient, Some smear on complex tracks
If you don’t mind a laid-back midrange or a relative lack of treble extension, the FWX1’s highly textured notes and rich instrument timbre permit a sublime listening experience with classical, jazz and acoustic.
JVC is a world-renowned Japanese audio brand that, like many other prominent players, not only produces consumer goods but also has a rich line of enthusiast products leveraging their decades of experience and scale. In the IEM space, their wood-driver FX and later FW earphones have garnered a strong cult following for their unique timbre and presentation. Scroll back a whopping 401 reviews and you’ll see that the first review posted on this website was actually covering one such model, the JVC FX-800. I was smitten with the wooden IEM and it remains one of my most regretful sales to this day. So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw Drop had continued their collaboration with JVC to produce a new model based on the FW1800. Welcome the HA-FWX1, using JVC’s 50-micrometre birchwood dome carbon diaphragm driver alongside a new tuning that tames the lower-treble peak, brings up the mids and slightly balances out the bass. Drop reason the result is an earphone that retains the magical acoustic properties JVC has become renowned for whilst providing a more versatile tonality. In addition, Drop managed to shave 25% off the asking price.
The DROP + JVC HA-FWX1 launched recently for $449 USD. You can read more about the development process and secure a unit to yourself on Drop.
I would like to thank Michael from DROP very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the HA-FWX1 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Driver: 11mm Wood Dome carbon diaphragm dynamic driver
- Acoustic Purifier
- High-energy magnetic circuit
- Housings: Wood
- Frequency Response: 6 Hz – 52 kHz
Behind the Design –
Custom Dynamic Driver
No doubt, a huge factor that contributes to the unique joys of JVC’s IEMs is their signature wood-dome driver. As seen on their newer models, the FWX1 assumes a wood-dome carbon diaphragm. Specifically, like other plated DD’s it has a PET base film-coated in carbon, the key differentiator being the 50-micrometre birchwood dome. JVC reasons this permits greater rigidity at the dome and a more ductility surround leading to improved responsiveness. As we’ll see below, the entire acoustic design has been heavily engineered and JVC’s long experience designing speakers and single-DD IEMs definitely shows.
Acoustic Purifier + Spiral Dot+ Tips
JVC’s spiral dot ear tips have gained a following of their own for their unique sound due to their dimpled sound tube. Like a golf ball, these are designed to reduce turbulence and functions to reduce reflections, resulting in a clearer, more detailed sound. The plus models implement a slightly firmer stem and a softer outer made from SMP iFit, a soft, highly biocompatible silicone designed by JVC. Acoustic purifier refers to a similar concept only applied to the nozzle of the IEM itself. They too have received the dimple treatment to further optimise the sound output.
High-energy Magnetic Circuit
JVC has implemented a strong magnet structure alongside a lightweight CCAW (copper-clad aluminium wire) with tuned stroke/amplitude. The benefit of a stronger motor structure is mostly perceived as increases in power and dynamics, often perceived as a more defined note attack. A lightweight voice coil contributes greatly to a sharp transient response as it directly affects the mass and inertia of the moving components in the driver. I can personally attest to this claim as the magnets inside the IEMs were so strong, I had difficulty photographing the two earpieces in close proximity.
Tuned Acoustic Chamber
JVC set out to achieve a dynamic and realistic sound with the FW1800. In addition to the aforementioned features, they spent a long time adjusting the acoustics surrounding the driver to provide optimal movement of the diaphragm. The driver is enclosed withing stainless steel. JVC adjusted the size and quantity of air vents front and rear in addition to adding damping material to adjust the impulse response. Furthermore, they calculated the ideal volume in front of the driver and refined the nozzle to minimise resonance. This is further aided by a quad-metal harmoniser that suppresses unwanted vibrations.
Drop has completely replaced the packaging with a more stripped down and frankly, if they were going to cut costs anywhere to make their lower price, this is the way to do it. While the box is small and non-descript, the accessories are unchanged from the FW1800. Opening up the top lid reveals three compartments, one containing the IEMs, one the cable and the other the case and ear tips. The earpieces are individually packaged to prevent scratches during transit. The case is the same as that included with the FW1800, it’s a magnetic clamshell case with a faux leather exterior and red velvet interior. I love the classic aesthetic that complements the earphones well. The ear tips come on a plastic organiser plate, the buyer receives 5 pairs of JVC Spiral Dot+ tips, 2 of which are pre-installed. Altogether, an unremarkable unboxing experience but a great set of accessories that I cannot fault.
All aspects of the FWX1 radiate a classic, timeless quality. From the wooden housings to the subtly bronzed rear vent/harmoniser and the traditional cable-down fit style, the FWX1 announces an un-modern aesthetic. At the same time, they reward with a distinct, high-quality haptic experience. The metal innards especially give them a very substantial, weighted feel. While the nozzles are plastic, they do look at home with the rest of the housings – it’s also likely an intentional choice to prioritise the sound output given the FDX1 sported an all-metal design at a lower price. The wood o my former FX800 did have some imperfections but this wasn’t the case here, leaving only a rich, authentic grain. All edges are perfectly matched and free of sharp edges. I personally love the contrast crafted between the dark wood and the metal end caps and MMCX plugs, they ooze an old-school HiFi kind of vibe.
Speaking of which, this was a common complaint on their first models that was quickly appended after the FX800. The FWX1 comes with a 4C OFC removable cable using MMCX connectors. The cable assumes an intriguing dual-mono setup with both channels insulated and a clear jacket keeping the wires intact above. Despite this, the wires are very soft and pliable with almost no memory. It’s a relatively lightweight cable and strain-relief leaves to be desired. In addition, the flat cross-section does mean care is required when winding the cable for storage. Besides this, I found the cable tangle-resistant and easy to live with. In addition, the soft jacket and wider earpieces mean microphonic noise isn’t a huge issue. For those that struggle with this, you can wear them over the ear by swapping the channels.
Fit & Isolation –
The FWX1 is not a small earphone but places its bulk mostly outside the ear. That means if you’re looking for a low-profile earphone, this is not it. At the same time, the bullet-style shells are quite unassuming, especially with their dark colour scheme, so they won’t attract any strange glances either. In addition, though relatively heavy, I did notice that the bulk weight is placed closer to the nozzle, so they uphold good fit stability. The slight fluting where the driver is located also aids this impression as the added thickness provides a rest for their weight on the outer ear. If you have smaller ears, this may cause hotspot formation, but I didn’t find that to be the case with my ears personally.
Similarly, if you have especially large ears, then finding suitable ear tips will be essential to achieving a stable fit, foams can be handy here. As you may expect, passive noise isolation is not their forte, though notably improved relative to the older FX-earphones. These no longer strike me as a semi-open design as before but achieve nigh passive average noise isolation for a vented dynamic driver earphone. Combined with their powerful low-end, they are easily suitable for general daily use and commute and provide some spatial awareness to boot. That said, I would want more isolation for especially noisy environments such as air travel or older metro systems.