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Drop + JVC HA-FWX1 Review – Golden Hour

Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. The 7 kHz peak is a coupler resonance as it was not audible at all during my testing. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the FWX1 100hrs of burn-in prior to review to ensure maximum performance during my subjective analysis. Do also note the channel imbalance, this was noticeable to me in the treble with a slight left-channel dominance when listening to sine sweeps, however, it was not quite as apparent for music playback. While it is possible this is unique to my unit, when you have a non-homogenous material like wood, it is difficult to achieve the tight channel matching as with other driver types and materials. For me, this level of imbalance was acceptable.

Preamble –

I admit I recall the FX800 with rose-tinted glasses as, by modern standards, they would be considered very wonky. The FWX1 is a similar creation in that it doesn’t much resemble what would commonly be considered accurate or balanced. This is intriguing given the recent resurgence of single-DD designs, most of which now boast very balanced, speedy presentations. The FWX1 is quite archaic by comparison yet this is also what makes it a unique proposition. It’s a soft, slow but altogether well-controlled and inviting sound that feels equal parts nostalgic and uniquely appealing in the modern-day. This is a genuine old-school sound through and through with no concern for linearity, but a more antiquated sense of richness and naturalness when it comes to instrument timbre especially. I spent many hours contemplating what makes the FWX1 so appealing, especially when there are so many great single-DD designs these days.

To me, it is a combination of its rich tonality and unique note presentation that give it an almost speaker-like delivery of sound. By that, I don’t mean chest-thumping bass or a wide-open soundstage, but rather the style of attack and decay. The earphone has a great amount of dynamism and drive, delivering a strong and assertive attack. At the same time, it decays slowly yet in a well-defined, well-damped fashion – seemingly due to the weight of the driver rather than resonances in the housing. This produces drawn-out notes with a thick, rich texture that makes it a specialist with any form of grand, atmospheric music such as soundtracks and instrumentals. Cellos and acoustic guitars are especially flattered, as the FWX1 is able to capture the defined percussion of the strings and deep resonance of the body like few others.

Tonality –

But returning to my analysis on tonality, the FWX1 is a clearly V-shaped IEM with a warm, rich tonality counterbalanced by lifted articulation and clarity in equal measure. The midrange is laid-back, male vocals especially, but female vocals do boast a relatively intimate and delicate presentation on behalf of their uptilting tuning through the upper-mids and lower-treble. In so doing, the earphones remain pleasantly clear and avoid excessive contrast, thinness or congestion. Though warm, the FWX1 isn’t remotely veiled, it is a very well compensated style of colouration. The result is a surprisingly well put together sound that is clearly coloured but far more inviting and natural than one may expect.

Bass –

The low-end is richly toned and full-bodied with a good amount of emphasis. While I wouldn’t consider them to be bass-head earphones, the FWX1 is certainly a bass orientated in-ear and Drop’s decision to taper back the quantity here is in good taste. They’ve received a fairly typical mid-bass centred elevation that tapers off gently into the sub-bass and more substantially into the upper bass. In so doing, depth and weight are enhanced, but slam doesn’t overshadow mid-bass texture. Similarly, the low-end isn’t too warm, tubby or stuffy due to the reduced upper-bass/lower-mid region. As you’d expect, the large driver grants a great extension and physicality to the sub-bass, it has ample pressure and a thick rumble. However, slam doesn’t strike me as being too aggressive or overly pressurised which works to the benefit of long-term listenability. Timbre on a whole is great besides the thicker, fuller note structure, I didn’t find the low-end to be bloated at all. Overall, this gives the FWX1 a grand and textured bass presentation over a high-energy, dynamics-focused one.

As aforementioned, attack is very concise, mid-bass impact is a standout. Notes resonate with rich body and decay slowly, imparting hugely textured and fleshed out notes – years later mid-bass texture remains some of the best on the market. Bass control operates at a high level too and note definition impresses despite their slower decay. Accordingly, though notes are big and bold, they aren’t too fuzzy or exceedingly round. Their keen attack also creates a good sense of drive meaning dynamics perform at a high level yet with minimal aggression. The focal point is undoubtedly the mid-bass and texture on display which both epitomize the beloved qualities of the dynamic driver platform. Still, though control and drive are superb, this remains a full and slowly decaying low-end and, in turn, separation is their weak point. This means faster genres are susceptible to sounding relatively disorganised and some smearing of fine details is evident in extreme cases. In general, however, I did find the unique note presentation and rich tuning to be highly enjoyable and it provides a beautiful foundation for the rest of the sound.

Mids –

I was unsure how to approach the midrange as the tuning is atypical to say the least. As on most V-shaped IEMs, the lower-midrange is recessed and they begin a progressive climb to redeem vocal presence and clarity, thereby balancing out the bass. However, the difference here is that the FWX1’s tuning increases in quantity linearly until 5kHz. This gives them a very high-contrast sound with heightened warmth from the bass, enhanced clarity and intimacy from the upper-midrange but also lifted articulation in the lower treble. I applaud both companies for their restraint in the treble, especially the 6kHz region which means though articulate, impressively clear and just slightly biased towards head-voice, they are never sharp. Part of this can also be attributed to the bass tuning as the sizable increase in warmth helps to fill in the midrange note body lost from the lower-mid nadir. In turn, though clarity is enhanced and articulation is very clear, they remain a very well-structured earphone that, if anything, err on the full-bodied side. There are downsides to such a sculpted tuning, though in general, I would consider this to be a naturally voiced and forgiving sound that is very easy to enjoy.

Specifically, the inclined tuning means male vocals do take a few steps back which usually isn’t too obtrusive but can exacerbate distance on tracks already mastered with laid-back vocals. Male vocals can also sound a hair dry though I found this to be a relatively rare occurrence. Otherwise, instruments are well-bodied and presented with a rich, organic timbre. Female vocals are quite the opposite, being intimate, clear and powerful with a euphonic warmth carrying over from the low-end. While the FWX1 doesn’t have an especially linear sound with perfect balance throughout and across different mastering styles, its structured nature and smooth note presentation gives it a very inviting voicing. In this sense, I do not consider this to be an especially resolving midrange as separation once again leaves to be desired and general definition is only just ample. The lifted articulation provides the impression of a more discerning sound but on direct comparison with a BA competitor like the Etymotic EVO, it is apparent just how much fine detail and definition here is missing. However, it does excel with texturing and you will miss the deep resonance and texture of the FWX1 on many such competitors alongside its sweet and musical tonality that is, if you don’t mind male vocals taking a backseat.

Highs –

The top-end follows a similar trend to the frequencies below in that it presents well in an inviting yet coloured fashion but doesn’t appear hugely technical in nature. However, that doesn’t entirely explain the situation in this instance as the FWX1 does excel in several key metrics. Starting with tonality, presence is derived chiefly from the 5kHz region and drops off gradually above meaning there is reasonably limited air and sparkle is mostly absent too. Extension is not the FWX1’s raison d’etre with a focus instead on providing a pleasant, organic and focused foreground detail presentation. It does so with aplomb and cannot be faulted here either technically or tonally – unless your preference is for an especially high-clarity or open treble which this is not. Treble instruments sit a hair forward from the midrange and in line with the bass. They are flattered with a crisp voicing yet retain a natural, organic body due to the linear incline from the upper-mids. This means the 5kHz emphasis doesn’t sound isolated or sharp.

The transient response is also impressively clean for a dynamic driver earphone, notes have a precise attack, with a defined leading edge and a natural decay thereafter, perhaps being a little over-damped. Though they aren’t the brightest earphone, this gives treble a good sense of clarity and separation, which contributes greatly to their proficiency with acoustic instruments and percussion. Furthermore, as they drop off above, the foreground is granted immense focus alongside great contrast to an immensely clean, almost jet-black background. While background and micro-detail retrieval aren’t outstanding, they are sufficient to craft an involving sense of dimension and layering here, albeit don’t expect the performance in this regard to challenge class leaders. Once again, this is a very old-school treble in all senses. It’s clean, crisp and very well textured with an organic sense of note body that is rarely seen these days. The FWX1 is not especially well extended and falls short on micro-detail but presents plenty of pop and represents a beautiful antithesis to the clinical sound of modernity.

Soundstage –

The FWX1 has a pleasing but not overtly spacious soundstage. Width extends just beyond the head but depth stretches in equal proportion, offering an immersive sense of projection. They lack the background detail retrieval to offer a huge spatial experience but fade out nicely at the edges. Imaging is IEM average, they have a good centre image and most elements spread out laterally. You don’t get the pinpoint precise localisation as you may on a high-end IEM with a more linear frequency response. Part of this can be attributed to their separation which is just sufficient. As they are quite full-bodied throughout and don’t have the largest, airiest stage to balance it out, most of the stage is filled by its large, empowered notes. Though textured and immediate, there is only a hint of air around each element, and on complex tracks, instruments aren’t clearly isolated.

Driveability –

The exact driver specifications are unknown though it is likely to reflect the fundamental design of the HA-FW1800 which sports a 16-ohm impedance and 103dB sensitivity. I would say this is accurate as the FWX1 is one of the more efficient dynamic driver earphones I’ve tested, but not nearly to the extent that source noise becomes a problem.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

Being a single-driver earphone, you would not expect huge deviation with higher output impedance and this is the case here too. Switching between the Hiby R6 (10 ohms) and Shanling M2X (10-ohm) revealed a minimal shift in sound signature beyond colouration from the sources themselves. This means you can enjoy a similar sound from a variety of sources with different output impedance permitting wider pairings.

Driving Power

The FWX1 scales nicely with amplification especially. Switching between the M2X and my desktop stack with THX789 revealed a good bump in driver control especially noticeable in the bass which become more defined and articulate. While the M2X wasn’t lacking impact or extension, it was a slightly softer sound with less texture. The treble also sounded more resolved on the desktop source. Listening from my Xperia 5 II yielded a similar effect with a softer, less defined note presentation. This was handily solved by introducing a dongle like the Hidizs S9 Pro or an in-line amp like the Periodic Audio Ni which both provided a hearty bump in bass control. Otherwise, noise is a relative non-issue, with the M2X on volume 0 with the amp circuit on, there was no audible noise.

Suggested Pair Ups

The FWX1 isn’t sensitive to either output impedance or source noise which greatly simplifies source pairings. At the same time, it is efficient enough to run from lower-power portable sources such as smartphones though you will notice a drop in bass definition especially. It scales nicely with additional power even up to desktop sources, but marginal gains are to be had after higher-powered DAPs, portable amps or dongles such as those aforementioned. In terms of colouration, the FWX1 benefits most from a source with higher note definition and a neutral tone like the THX789 and S9 Pro. It swings very hard towards the forgiving side so a more revealing source can be enjoyed to tidy up its note presentation and separation without casting bright in any manifestation.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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