JVC Exofield XP-EXT1 Personal Home Theater System Review Page 2

Tonally, however, results were less satisfactory over a wide range of programs. While JVC's Exofield processing was spatially stable and believable, lows and midrange sounds, especially isolated voices such as news announcers, though well centered, suffered obvious tonal shifts. Excessive brightness, added sibilance, and a haze of hollow, "phasey," processed sound that I found distinctly unnatural led the list, while the lower octaves displayed some distinct oddities. Deep bass was still there, but more common bass, midrange, and lower-midrange were dramatically reduced or "scooped, almost as if a coarse comb filter was in action sucking out certain narrow bands. The entire 80 Hz to 320 Hz octaves seemed to be cut substantially, sometimes by 10 dB or even more.

JVC's app features a Custom setting where you can adjust a five-band graphic equalizer ±6 dB, but this had a much less audible effect than I'd expect, and I could not come close to restoring the bass weight or male-voice body I heard as missing. Wondering if my Exofield calibration was somehow awry, I ran its setup a total of eight times, but the results all were about the same. Defeating the Exofield processing yielded ordinary stereo sound, revealing the EXT1 cans to be generally competent, if somewhat bass-heavy, wireless headphones. The processing has four sub-modes: Flat, Cinema, Music, and Game. These appeared to be EQ variations, with fairly little distinction among them.

I next cued up the original 2014 Dolby Atmos Blu-ray demo disc and was rewarded with much better overall quality; still rather bright and faintly phasey, but not as heavily processed- sounding as what I heard from 2.0 and 5.1 bitstreams. On the Dolby disc's Leaf trailer, for example, the surround presentation was first-rate for headphones. The JVC system did well with Atmos height, rendering the fluttering, falling leaves as having originated somewhere distinctly above my eye-line, and descending well below my jaw, and the envelopment of forest ambience was impressive. Even more so was the thunder at the track's conclusion; the simulacrum of real, sub-30 Hz deep bass here was one of the better ones I've experienced via headphones.

I experienced similar results when sampling a range of both Atmos and DTS:X scenes on Blu-ray movie discs: still with a slight processed sheen on most voices (most noticeably male ones), consistently bright, and with the odd missing bass fullness. All of this varied much from disc to disc and from program to program. But I always heard much cleaner and more satisfying surround sound from Blu-ray (both regular and Ultra HD) than I got with less pristine sources like cable.

At its best, the JVC system's performance made it more- than acceptable for conditions like late-night viewing or baby naptime where running regular speakers is not possible. (By the way, at its maximum setting the system could produce, subjectively, a modestly theater-loud level.) The biggest remaining shortfall to cover here is the EXT1's lack of any head-position sensing. This means that if you turn your head, the sound- stage/presentation's orientation turns with you, while the visual image of course stays locked on the screen. This discontinuity tends to collapse the illusion rather drastically, of course, but is not an issue as long as you stay in one position with atten- tion focused onscreen.

About midway through my time with the system I downloaded a firmware update (v1.0.3). This proceeded at a truly glacial pace on my phone's connection, which I know to be very fast (about 300 Mbps), taking more than 40 minutes just to download. I didn't discover any added features, nor did I find any noticeable changes, audible or otherwise, and the separately listed Decoder and DSP software versions also did not change.

I had some hands-on issues with the EXT1. First was the tiny, dim control labelling on the processor mentioned above. Second, the unit's HDMI sensing and switching were slow. Jumping between HDMI- connected sources required a good 6-7 seconds, and when turning the JVC processor unit off or on—which is how you switch between amps-and-speakers and headphones playback—recovering audio required about 15 seconds in either direction.

Although there are hardware pushbuttons on the 'phones to turn the system's Exofield processing on/off and cycle through inputs, volume adjustment is carried out via a button-less "+/-" area on the right cup that functions as a capacitive touch control you access with your thumb. But there's no tactile landmark such as a bump or dot or recess to tell you where to put your thumb, so going "up" or "down" is a coin-flip. Also, the few-seconds delay before you get noticeable action doesn't help matters. (JVC's app, on the other hand, provides visual-feedback volume control.)

I found the JVC XP-EXT1 Personal Home Theater System's variable quality— ranging from quite good with the most pristine sources, all the way down to decidedly mediocre on TV sound and stereo music— puzzling. And at $999, it's not exactly a casual purchase. If you're seeking a private-listening solution that produces a palpable surround experience from top-quality sources like Blu-ray disc, JVC's is worth exploring. But if you simply want an all-purpose setup for music, movies, and TV, this one probably isn't it. Either way, the XP-EXT1 is definitely a try-it-for-yourself proposition.