(Last Updated On: February 9, 2020)

Japanese wooden luxury IEMs finally reach North America – featuring deluxe materials and impeccable construction: they’re like sticking a Bentley in your ears.

Starting in 2008, the Victor Company of Japan, Ltd, (usually referred to as JVC or the Japan Victor Company) released their first IEMs made with wood fiber diaphragms, the HP-FX500. Since then they have released several generations of wood dome diaphragm IEMs including the HA-FX650, HA-FX750, HA-FX850, HA-FX1100, and HA-FX1200.

Header Image. The luxurious wooden JVC HA-FW01 IEMs.

JVC HA-FW01

"The HA-FW01 is special. No question. They clearly designed as much for art as they are for purpose. They embody the ubiquitous single dynamic driver IEM elevated to extravagant reference."

Pros:

  • »Super high-quality build with impeccable fit and finish.
  • »Generous assortment of ear tips and accessories.
  • »Warm and engaging sound.
  • »Big deep bass response.

Cons:

  • »Protruding cylinder body style may not be for everyone.
  • »Fairly expensive in today’s world of bang-for-the-buck IEMs.
  • »Revealing nature exposes a bit of grain in the lower treble regions with some music.
  • »Relatively thick bass may not be for everyone’s tastes.

In 2016, the FW series (the fourth generation of JVC’s wood diaphragm IEMs) was released in Japan. The FW range consists of the HA-FW03, HA-FW02 and the flagship HA-FW01. It’s this flagship, the ($300+ USD) HA-FW01 that we’ll be discussing today.

In 2018, JVC released an absolutely gorgeous 10th anniversary TOTL model, the HA-FW10000 retailing for approximately $1500 USD. Perhaps a Rolls-Royce Phantom to the HA-FW01’s Bentley Arnage?
The gorgeous JVC HA-FW10000. (From: facebook.com).
The gorgeous JVC HA-FW10000. (From: facebook.com).

Over the years, the JVC wood diaphragm IEMs (or ‘woodies’ to aficionados) have received many positive reviews, known for their warm, rich tone, and beautifully made bodies (also constructed of wood). Favoring a sound signature with an expansive low end more favorable to a bass-head then to a reference purist, the JVC woodie lineup has garnered a lot of fans.

But until now, if you wanted one of these legendary IEMs, you had to import from Japan, as they weren’t widely available for purchase in North America. This has recently changed with the North American release of the HA-FW01.

We’ll be taking a look at how this premium (but going on 4-year-old) IEMs measure up to the current IEM market. As you know, the infusion of Chi-Fi IEMs boasting incredible technological advancements and rock bottom prices has dramatically changed the expectations of what is possible in the last couple of years.

Even with the build of a luxury car, can the HA-FW01 still compete?

Rose gold metal highlights on a black wooden body.
Rose gold metal highlights on a black wooden body.
 

Technical Specifications

  • Driver Unit: 11mm single wood dome dynamic driver
  • Frequency Response: 6 – 50,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 16 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB / 1 mW
  • Max. Input Capability: 200 mW (IEC)
  • Plug: 3.5 mm 24 Gold plated stereo mini plug (straight)
  • Cable: 1.2 m OFC braided, cloth-covered, L/R isolated grounding
  • IEM Connector: Detachable MMCX connector
  • Weight: 14g (without cord)
  • Warranty: One-year warranty with online registration
The box promises that "premium sound" will be found within.
The box promises that “premium sound” will be found within.

Packaging and Accessories

The HA-FW01 come with a reasonable bundle of accessories, including:

  • Red velvet lined transport case with magnetic closure
  • Cable clip
  • Cable keeper / winder
  • 5 sizes of JVC Spiral Dot ear tips (S/MS/M/ML/L)
  • 2 sizes of foam ear tips (S/M)
The attractive and generous assortment of ear tips would be improved if the holders were removable and reusable.
The attractive and generous assortment of ear tips would be improved if the holders were removable and reusable.

The generous assortment of ear tips would have been improved if the holder that supported them in the box was removable and usable in future or (even better) as part of the transport case. Unfortunately, once taken out, they become a jumble of similarly sized tips that are difficult to differentiate.

JVC claims that their Spiral Dot ear tips feature internal dot profusions that diffuse unnecessary sound by lessening turbulence and resonance.

JVC touts a natural fit due to “the adoption of a material with mechanical properties similar to that of human skin.” (Yuck?)

In practice, I find the Spiral Dot ear tips to be entirely adequate (if not exactly an obvious technological revolution of design) and I appreciate the inclusion of sizing options beyond the standard three (Small, Medium, and Large).

The included foam ear tips do impact the isolation and sound signature, and I’ll leave it up to the user to find what sounds and feels best for you. While I’m often a fan of Comply style tips, I found myself going back to the Spiral Dots for most of my listening.

I’m a fan of the black faux-leather case with its magnetic clasp and dark red velvet interior. To nit-pick, I’d prefer a real leather exterior (or more convincing ‘protein leather’), but it looks and functions well. The rubber cable winder and black plastic cable clip are both of decent quality and utility.

The velvet-lined travel case is a nice inclusion.
The velvet-lined travel case is a nice inclusion.

Cable

The HA-FW01 cable is an attractive and unusual affair, featuring a metal 3.5 mm connector (a plus in my book), an Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) core, and a black fabric sleeving. The sleeving material is soft with a nice texture.

Overall, I really like how this cable looks and feels. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of issues with the sleeving wearing prematurely and occasionally causing twisting or tangling. Thankfully I didn’t encounter any issues during my review period.

Some folks will lament that the 3.5 mm jack is straight and not L-shaped (as is the case with the lesser 02 and 03 models). It has a ‘rose-gold’ clad metal exterior that feels very premium.

Here’s as good a place as anywhere to discuss the use of ‘rose-gold’ as the metal highlight colorway. Much like Apple’s ‘rose-gold’ products, I really see it just as ‘shiny pink’, and to be frank, it isn’t my favorite color. How I’d like a titanium version!
The beefy MMCX connector on the JVC HA-FW01.
The beefy MMCX connector on the JVC HA-FW01.

The MMCX connectors feel high quality and connect with a solid click. The ends are engraved with L and R and match easily to the color-coded (blue and red) IEM body sockets. Although a bit thick around the connector, the whole affair feels like a suitable and sturdy accompaniment to match the luxurious impression of the HA-FW01.

The cable is not balanced, but does feature a L/R-isolated grounding to “…achieve natural spatial expression with little crosstalk between left and right signals.” JVC does offer a fully balanced upgrade cable as a potential replacement if desired.

The cable sports a small black Y-split which has JVC and the HA-FW01 moniker on the sides. For those that appreciate cable cinches, there is a simple one included on the cable that matches the Y-split. These are not ‘over-ear’ cables and they hang downwards when the IEMs are inserted in the ears, so the cinch does help keep the cable controlled around the face.

Build Quality

The build is what really separates the HA-FW01 from a host of Chi-Fi competitors. Their fit and finish are exquisite. These things radiate high-quality construction and elevate easily into the luxury category.

The only real aesthetic niggle that I have with them is that the wood grain really doesn’t show up as prominently as it does in some of the promotional material.

It’s fairly difficult to tell that the exterior body is made of wood, unless closely handling and inspecting them. The black color really hides the material. And yes, the *ahem* rose-gold metal highlights do serve as an extremely attractive highlight.

The nozzle is shiny plastic, is labeled L and R, and it features three oblong vents. The exterior nozzle ends have a deep notch for ear tip retention and a fine black mesh screen inside. This notch fits the Spiral Dot ear tips perfectly and they snap smartly into place.

Comfort

JVC states that the HA-FW01 feature an “…ergonomically-designed form with a secure fit”. Which is a good thing, as these are quite large IEMs. They are also of the protruding cylinder style (which has been compared to the Frankenstein monster’s neck bolts) rather than the currently popular peanut IEM shape.

These aren't the currently popular ergonomic peanut-shaped IEM. However, they are very comfortable for long listening sessions.
These aren’t the currently popular ergonomic peanut-shaped IEM. However, they are very comfortable for long listening sessions.

Surprisingly, despite their fairly robust size, they aren’t as heavy as I’d expected.

I weighed the HA-FW01 against the MoonDrop Starfield IEMs, which feel smaller and are more ergonomically shaped. Without ear tip nor cable, each Starfield IEM weighs 9-10 grams, while the HA-FW01 weighs only 6-7 grams. The hybrid KZ ZSX weighs in at 5 grams.

The combination of the Spiral Dot ear tips, coupled with the well-balanced, cylinder-shaped, body fitting smoothly into the ear, means that the HA-FW01 is quite comfortable for extended listening sessions. They seem to stay in place and don’t require fussing with to get comfortable or to combat slippage.

“We listened to customer requests and worked them into the design. We studied the length, thickness, the angle of the earpiece and so on to achieve superb wearability that one can only get from high-end models.” – JVC

Technology and Internal Design

JVC has released a lot of verbose marketing materials that are rife with technical (sounding at least) terms, so a good place to start may be to discuss some of their touted features of the HA-FW01.

JVC HA-FW01 Technical Terms

Technical TermsDescription
Acoustic PurifierBased on the same technology of the Spiral Dot ear tips, small dot profusions were added within the IEM nozzles. These bumps are designed to diffuse and disperse the sound more naturally and to reduce resonance and turbulence.
High Energy Magnetic CircuitTo improve “performance and reality” a dynamic high-energy magnetic circuit was developed which uses a new plate shape.
Quad Metal HarmonizerResonance is further addressed by a combination of different materials such as stainless-steel rings in the front and rear, a brass inner housing, and an aluminum cap.
Wooden StabilizerDesigned to maximize clarity by controlling and suppressing the vibrations of the rear of the housing, a ‘wooden stabilizer’ made of laminated layers of wood was added to the internal structure of the IEMs.
The HA-FW01 are made of wood inside and out.
The HA-FW01 are made of wood inside and out.

Why Would Wood Work Wonderfully?

According to the promotional material for the HA-FW01, JVC has much to say on the “Story of WOOD”.

“The sound propagation speed of wood is… especially fast along the direction of the fiber grain, and not so fast against the grain…

Taking advantage of the characteristics of wood, that it doesn’t easily generate standing waves, we were able to achieve natural sound reproduction that is less likely to generate unnecessary resonance.” – JVC

JVC found that the mass of the diaphragm needed to be lightened to improve the “expressiveness” of the sound (their word), so they developed a proprietary slicing machine to create wooden sheets that are only 50 microns thick (from a previous 80 microns).

This allowed them to create a new 11mm diameter wood dome diaphragm driver for the HA-FW01. The HA-FW02 and HA-FW03 both share a 10mm diaphragm.

“For the housing and wood stabilizer, a laminated layer made of thin slices of wood, layered one after another at offset angles and compressed, is used. This laminated layer uses wood that has been precisely processed in Japan to achieve better sound quality.

This is a characteristic of WOOD that no other earphones feature.” – JVC

Audio Quality

JVC claims that they had many serious discussions on what sound signature that they wanted for the HA-FW01. Accordingly, they undertook a passionate quest for developing IEMs with an original character, that convey “vibrant and easy-to-understand sounds”.

“The sound of the HA-FW01 has a thick tone in the mid-low range and a dynamic tone and scale over the entire range… the low-range power is also attractive because the audio deviation values, such as resolution, texture, and musical expression, are high.” – JVC
The frequency response graph of the HA-FW01. (From: crinacle.com).
The frequency response graph of the HA-FW01. (From: crinacle.com).

Previous JVC woodie models had reported issues with excessive upper bass bleeding into the midrange, causing a somewhat muffled sound quality. The focus on resonance control with the HA-FW01 is likely in response to these concerns, in an effort to boost clarity and detail.

I’m happy to report that I hear no lack of texture or intelligibility. The thinner diaphragm also likely leads to improved reproduction speed and transients. The dynamics of the HA-FW01 are truly impressive.

JVC even makes recommendations as to what they would like you to listen to with the HA-FW01.

“Although it is a model that is highly compatible with various music genres, we want you to experience large ensembles such as an orchestra in order to feel the size of the soundstage and the three-dimensional sound field. I am confident that you will appreciate its superb sound quality.” – JVC
If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know I listened to a wide variety of music styles, formats, and quality to get an overall impression of these IEMs. I paired them with the Hagerman Tuba desktop amplifier, xDuoo XD05 Plus DAC/Amp and the Chord Mojo with my iPhone.

The combination of low impedance and high sensitivity means that the HA-FW01 can be easily driven directly from any source (such as a phone) although its impressive detail retrieval means it benefits from more resolving sources.

Frequency response graph for the HA-FW01. (From: reference-audio-analyzer.pro).
Frequency response graph for the HA-FW01. (From: reference-audio-analyzer.pro).

Bass

It should come as no surprise that these IEMs have stand-out bass performance. Certainly, audio appears very large in presence, yet they are able to retain excellent detail and timbre. When the music calls for it, they hit quite hard.

If you are looking for a purely balanced sound, look elsewhere, because the HA-FW01 have a fun, warm, and rich sounding presence. They feel big and wide, more timpani than snare drum.

Midrange

The midrange is no shirking violet either. It’s quite forward in the mix, but does retain decent naturalness. Voices and guitars are reproduced deeply and with ample detail. Depending on the track, however, things can tend towards a bit of grainy harshness and congestion. If the music’s midrange is very busy and boosted, this comes through in the HA-FW01.

I’m (of course) looking for flaws and for the majority of my listening, things sounded great. It’s perhaps an unwanted consequence of outstanding detail presentation. If the track has grain, the HA-FW01 doesn’t hide it. My overall impression is one of realism and extraordinary retrieval.

Treble

Treble extension is quite generous, imbuing the music with a feeling of sparkle but with minimal sibilance and without excessive brightness. Clarity and detail continue to be very good all the way through the higher registers.

The HA-FW01 deliver impressive impact while maintaining great separation and layers within the music. They provide a balance of dynamics and transparency that envelops the listener. If you like to get lost within, and to really feel the power and presence that great music can provide, it’s well worth a listen to these IEMs.

Maybe it’s simply a case of psychoacoustics, but the word that I’ve struggled not to use to describe the sound of these wooden wonders is ‘organic’. Suffice to say the HA-FW01 cannot be described as sterile or clinical sounding. They bring a power and presence to the music that is compelling and encompassing.

Frequency response and dB SPL graph for the HA-FW01. (From reference-audio-analyzer.pro).
Frequency response and dB SPL graph for the HA-FW01. (From reference-audio-analyzer.pro).

Conclusion

Thank you to Terry Shea of JVC for sending the HA-FW01 to us for review. You can purchase the HA-FW01 on Drop.

Back to my luxury car analogy.

Open the bank-vault-like door of a Bentely and gaze upon the luxurious interior. Sink into the lushly stuffed, buttery soft leather seat and grasp the ornate steering wheel. It responds to your touch with the solid feeling of granite warmed in the midday-sun.

Or for quite a few less shekels, experience luxury at a much smaller scale. JVC offers audiophile jewelry that slips comfortably into your ears and allows you to lose yourself in warm organic power, delivered with aplomb.

Dear readers, as you may have suspected… no, I’ve never been in a Bentley. I’m taking creative license to wax poetic.

Sure, there are plenty of (much) more expensive IEMs currently available. They boast scalpel-like precision and amazing stats. But they seem so sterile. So cold. The HA-FW01 is no stripped-down supercar and is the better for it.

The JVC HA-FW01 IEMs are a premium product in a world of bang-for-the-buck competition.
The JVC HA-FW01 IEMs are a premium product in a world of bang-for-the-buck competition.

There seems to be something about these IEMs that brings out the inner poet. Certainly, JVC was inspired to reach for words and phrases to inspire awe.

“The hidden force of the tree, I want to tell Overwhelming reality as possible to draw even to the air a sense of the place where delicate sound weave… enables the representation of the delicate nuances of high-resolution sound… adopted the new development “acoustic Purifying Fire”.” – JVC

The HA-FW01 is special. No question. They are clearly designed as much for art as they are for purpose. They embody the ubiquitous single dynamic driver IEM elevated to extravagant reference.

They are a luxury item. And to be honest, I struggled a bit with rating the HA-FW01. I’m a huge proponent for bang-for-the-buck and maximizing value for the money. Paying for prestige, or a brand name, or even a sumptuous build quality seems shallow if these things are considered before sound quality.

If they didn’t sound very good, I’d be especially hard on the HA-FW01. New contenders like the MoonDrop Starfield IEMs at slightly more than ¼ the price, offer a different (but exceptionally good) sound for the money. The Starfield also look great, sporting a beautiful paint job.

However, in the end, the Starfield just don’t exhibit the same feeling of opulence or intrinsic worth.

Look at the HA-FW01 as an indulgence. You will delight every time you open the case, and reverently insert them into your ears. Luckily the sound quality is equally luxurious. You can easily imagine a deep-throated throb covertly revealing the immense power of a finely tuned, idling machine.

They are likely more than you need… but everyone deserves a treat once in a while.

The Challenge of In-Ear Monitor Reviews

This section is a standard inclusion in my IEM reviews.

I’d like to add a caveat. IEMs are notoriously difficult to review and compared to full-size headphones, it is problematic to trust that the review findings will be applicable to all readers.

While the size of one’s ear may impact the comfort or the sound of full-size headphones, small details like the inner shape of a reviewer’s ear and the fit of an IEM greatly impacts not just the listener’s comfort but dramatically changes the perceived performance of an IEM.

This is compounded by the plethora of ear tip sizes, materials, and shapes (which may or may not be included with the IEM) all of which uniquely fit different people. Most significantly, the quality of the ear tip seal within the ear changes the sound. So, beware dear reader, what suits one reviewer may not be applicable to you.