JVC HA-FR301 In-Ear Headphone

Build Quality

Lotsa bass
Comfortable lightweight design
Low price
Maybe a little too much bass

The JVC HA-FR301 isn't an accurate-sounding headphone, and fashion conscious buyers may turn up their noses at the design, but these inexpensive in-ears are a lot of fun to listen to.

Emphasized, or should I say pronounced bass is a guilty pleasure a lot of headphone loving audiophiles rarely admit to indulging in. Funny, almost all headphones, including a fair share of high-end models, have elevated bass, so what we're talking about here is a matter of degree. JVC's HA-FR301 is designed for bass fanatics who can't get enough low-end punch. Indeed, JVC markets them as part of its Xtreme Xplosives headphone line up; that pretty much says it all. But while most bassy headphones suffer from muffled highs and a missing-in-action midrange, the HA-FR301 isn't lacking in detail, not by a long shot.

Spec-wise, the HA-FR301 has 10 mm drivers and is equipped with a one-button remote and microphone for compatibility with iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android smartphones. Small, medium, and large silicone ear tips are provided and the phones are available in white or black with a matching hard plastic carrying case.

I can't say noise isolation was a strong point; the HA-FR301 was entirely average in that regard. Still, thanks to the abundance of bass I was perfectly satisfied with the sound while listening on the New York City subway at moderate volume. You see, while the low-frequency background noise on buses, planes, and cars normally masks the bass with most ‘phones, those disruptions didn't stand a chance with the HA-FR301. The bass came through loud and clear.

While listening in my apartment, though, the bass crossed over the line with bass-heavy electronic dance music, reggae, electronica, etc., so it sounded too thick and bloated for me, though maybe not for folks who crave maximum bass. Acoustic-oriented music with less bass sounded much-better balanced. For example, the solo mandolin on Chris Thile's exquisite Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1 CD was a delight. His fleet-fingered renditions weren't lacking in detail, and every pluck was clear as can be.

Mica Levi's unsettling score for Under The Skin is loaded with subterranean bass beats and an eerie, atmospheric haze. The HA-FR301 was remarkably adept at conjuring Levi's unworldly vibe. When I switched over to Klipsch's hugely popular Image S4 in-ear headphones the bass was just as full, though not as precisely defined. On Radiohead's tune "Reckoner," the HA-FR301 summoned up more excitement from the band's rhythm section; it's a much brighter/brasher sounding headphone. It's also more efficient, so it played louder at the same volume setting as the Image S4.

JVC's HA-FR301 may not click with persnickety audiophiles who demand razor flat frequency response, but shame on those guys if they’re really expecting that from a $40 headphone. On the other hand, the HA-FR301 will surely win over bass heads who also crave sparkly treble detail. I really enjoyed my time with the HA-FR301.

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