Samsung Unpacked Livestream Wednesday New Wordle Strategy Nest vs. Ecobee Thermostat Today's Best Deals Under $25 Fitness Supplements Laptops for High School Samsung QLED vs. LG OLED TV Samsung Unpacked Predictions
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

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.

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.