At around $26 online, JVC's Nanotubes are among the better on-ear headphones for the money.
JVC makes a number of types of inexpensive headphones, though not all of them are good. I'm a fan of the Flats , an on-ear model that retails for around $12 online (£5 in the UK) and the Gumy Plus earbuds, for $7 (£6), are also decent for the money. Now I'm happy to report that I can give a thumbs-up to the company's HA-S400 Carbon Nanotubes headphones, reviewed here. You can snag them for under $30 in the US, or about £25 in the UK.
From a design standpoint, the Nanotubes are a pretty ho-hum all-plastic affair. JVC sent me the white model, which has a chrome-colored trim around the earcups that's a little cheesy and stands out too much. The headphones also come in black, which I prefer.
While their build quality seems only OK, the headphones do feature a fairly thick 3.94-foot (1.2-meter) cord and L-shaped plug that lend some sturdiness to the dual-cord design. The cables are hardwired into both earcups.
In terms of comfort, the Nanotubes are pretty decent for on-ear headphones and they offer some sound isolation (they don't seal out a lot of noise, but some). There's no swanky memory foam, but the earpads are reasonably soft and with some small adjustments from time to time, I was able to wear them comfortably for stints of an hour or so.
Another plus: the headphones both fold up and fold flat, thanks to a hinge in the headband.
At this price, you don't expect much in the way of extras, and there really aren't any. No carrying pouch or case is included and there's no inline microphone for making cell phone calls (for that you have to pay more for the HA-S500 model, which I haven't listened to).
And oh, the headphones come in a one of those brutal-to-open blister packs. I hate those things.
JVC says its HA-S400 headphones are powered by the world's first "Carbon Nanotubes diaphragm." It's a 30mm driver and while I can't tell you how special that diaphragm is or isn't, the results are good.
The headphones sound pretty dynamic with a little extra sizzle in the teble, and deep bass that's reasonably tight. They've got what what we like to call a happy-face sound profile, with both highs and lows that are a little amped and mids that aren't. In fact, I'd say the mids are these headphones' weakest area -- there's just not a whole lot of warmth to the vocals -- but in all, this pair sounds quite decent for the money.
After having my initial listen, I ran them by Steve Guttenberg, our resident audiophile and author of the Audiophiliac blog, who assessed them favorably.
"Not bad," he said. "There's nothing offensive about them. And they're fairly comfortable."
From a high-end audio guy listening to $26 headphones, that counts as an endorsement.
I don't expect a whole lot from sub-$30 headphones, so when I find a pair that's a bit better than usual, I'm pretty happy. Among other models, these compete with Panasonic's RP-DJS400-K headphones (around $23 online, about £27 in the UK) and Sony's MDRZX300 headphones (around $26 online, about £18 UK). I haven't tested the Sonys -- I'll have to pick up a pair -- but I thought the JVCs sounded slightly better and were slightly more comfortable than the Panasonics.
In all, the Nanotubes may not deliver quite as much bang for the buck as the Flats, but they're also a very good bargain at their modest price.