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Can an audiophile find joy in a full-size $40 headphone?

JVC's HA-RX700 not only sounds better than a lot of $100 headphones, it's remarkably comfortable and ruggedly built.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The JVC HA-RX700 headphones Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I'm always on the lookout for great sounding products in all price ranges, so when an Audiophiliac reader suggested the almost too good to be true JVC HA-RX700 full-size headphones, I pulled the trigger. I'm glad I did, first the HA-RX700 doesn't look or feel like a cheap headphone. Better yet, it delivers a clear, highly articulate sound, with a wide stereo image, and it's the most comfortable budget headphone I've tried in years. Comfort is crucial, because even if a headphone is a top performer, but hurts your ears after a while, you're going to stop using it. The thickly padded strap that supports the headphone's weight is largely responsible for the comfort, but over-sized ear pads like this are a rarity for budget-priced headphone. The large closed-back design does a good job blocking external noise.

It's on the heavy side, it weighs 11.2 ounces, and the left ear cup has a permanently attached 11 foot long straight cable terminated with a 3.5 mm plug. A 6.3 mm adapter plug is included. Build quality is exceptional for the money, treat it well and the HA-RX700 should deliver years of service. Impedance is rated at 48 ohms, that's a little high, but it sounded perfectly fine with my iPod Classic.

The HA-RX700's sound is so good I resisted the temptation to compare it with my current favorite under $100 headphone, Sony's MDR-V6, for a week. The Sony is a true classic, it was introduced in 1985, and stood the test of time. It's still favored by film, TV, and radio engineers, and budget -minded audiophiles. The key to the MDR-V6's success is that the sound is beautifully balanced; bass, midrange, and treble are all clear; it's comfortable to wear for hours at a time and it's durable. Sony's Web site now lists it as a discontinued item, but there's no shortage of MDR-V6s in stores, and Sony claims it will resume production next year. The HA-RX700 is bigger and bulkier than the MDR-V6, and unlike that headphone the HA-RX700 doesn't fold flat or have hinges.

The JVC HA-RX700's extra-comfy ear cushions Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Swapping between the MDR-V6 and the HA-RX700 the first thing I notice is the HA-RX700's sound is warmer and softer. That adds a pleasant fullness to the sound, but it's less clear than the MDR-V6. Even so, there's nothing about the HA-RX700's sound that irritates or fatigues the listener, but it sacrifices detail and precision relative to the MDR-V6. The upside to the HA-RX700's sound is that overcompressed MP3s harshness is tamed, and that might be a deciding factor for folks with lots of MP3s. Not for me, so I prefer the MDR-V6, but the HA-RX700, for $30-$40 is a steal. The MDR-V6 is going for close to $90 on Amazon.

I also compared the HA-RX700 with the $199 Sol Republic Master Tracks headphones, and it was no contest. The Master Tracks made a lot more bass, but it was bloated and thick bass; the sound was utterly lacking in bass, midrange, or treble detail next to the much better balanced HA-RX700.