While most audiophiles value open headphones that emphasize balanced accuracy over artificial bass boosting, the popularity of digitally enhanced headphones like the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio prove the average consumer's attraction to bass. JVC hopes to steal back that market share with the HA-M5X, a $50 over-ear set of headphones that uses a proprietary antiresonance ring inside each earpad to add extra bass without using an external equalizer. If you don't mind their bulky design and tendency to leak sound, the JVC HA-M5X headphones are an affordable alternative to the Monster Beats for listeners who enjoy bass but can't spend $350 on aftermarket cans.
Design and features
The JVC HA-M5X headphones are purposefully overbuilt to withstand the abuse that mobile devices naturally experience. The headband, the outer earcups, and even the 3.5mm plug are all reinforced with tough plastic and rubber for extra impact protection. Still, JVC keeps the weight down to a little more than half a pound, the same as the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio.
Although the HA-M5X headphones are also constructed mostly out of plastic, they don't suffer from the same creaking noises that give the Monster Beats a cheap feeling. The Monster Beats' overbuilt plastic construction is also susceptible to cracks around the small screws holding it together.
One advantage that the Monster Beats headphones have over the JVC HA-M5X set is that they can be folded up into the headband for transport. In contrast, the JVC's headband connects seamlessly to swiveling earcups that allow minor vertical movement and little else. We give JVC the benefit of the doubt and assume its goal was to cut back on weak hinges, but we hope the next generation will fold up and come with a carrying case.
As with most headphones, the nonremovable earpads are made of artificial leather that reduces ear fatigue and keeps your ears cooler than real leather does, even after several hours of use. An extra layer of ribbed padding is fitted underneath the top of the headband for additional support. Not everyone will appreciate the HA-M5X's blue camouflage pattern, but there's no doubt that it adds a unique detail to reinforce its tough appeal.
The headphones have a dark red cable that stretches 4 feet down from the earcups and ends in a standard 3.5mm plug. JVC doesn't include a full-size adapter, so you'll need to pick one up if you plan to use these headphones with a 0.25-inch stereo port. The Y-shaped cord and the plug itself are insulated with flexible rubber that keeps the cord from tangling and adds thickness to the build.
The JVC HA-M5X headphones aren't just about looks; dual 50-millimeter neodymium magnets power the unit inside and give an additional bass boost thanks to JVC's proprietary Ring Port structure inside the earcups that you can feel just underneath the thin mesh covering each speaker. The small rubber ring is part of a larger unit that controls the sound pressure to add bass and prevent outside noise from entering your sound stage.
However, we recommend keeping the volume low on your music player while using the HA-M5X headphones in an enclosed space like a subway train or a bus, as they leak plenty of sound to the outside world that can disturb involuntary listeners nearby.
One downside to bass-heavy headphones is that the rest of the instruments in a song tend to get drowned out if you're not listening to genres like hip-hop and techno that favor artificial instruments. Additionally, the rock tracks we played through the JVCs appear to blend the mid and high sections into a muddy bump.
We minimized distortion by adjusting equalizer levels, though we understand that this can be irritating if you listen to multiple genres in a row. Also, keep in mind that the HA-M5X headphones only cost $50, so you're not going to hear the variable frequency response that you get in active noise cancellation headphones like the Monster Beats.
Design and features
The JVC HA-M5X headphones don't include extras like an in-line remote or a fold-up design, but they're cost-effective and built to last. We wouldn't recommend using them in a library since other people can easily hear your music, too, but active listeners who thrive on lower frequencies will appreciate their bass-heavy sound design and complementary frame.