Review: JVC HA-FX67 Air Cushions aka "feel like I'm getting away with something"

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Code Monkey

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Review: JVC HA-FX67 Air Cushions aka "feel like I'm getting away with something"

I noticed a couple of weeks ago at Wal-Mart that JVC had updated their Marshmallow line again (it is now the HA-FX35). The most obvious change this time is they've altered the driver body shape. I've had a pair of HA-FX33 Marshmallows for a few years that have become my trusty lawn mowing phones because, while they're only marginally acceptable for music, they block out outside noise great and let me listen to spoken word podcasts while I mow without sweating into my much more expensive Sleek SA6s. I was curious and checked head-fi and didn't find anything of substance so I grabbed a set: these are a big improvement over my HA-FX33. First, the change in driver body shape makes them actually fit securely and comfortably without frequent fiddling like with the original driver body design of the HA-FX33 & HA-FX34. They now fit like higher end IEMs that rest along the bottom of your ear cup and then slightly extend into the ear canal. Second, while they're still a bit on the bass heavy side for my tastes, the sound quality is now very good - I can listen to music on these :)

The change in shape of the driver body for Marshmallow line was reminiscent of another cheap JVC IEM I'd been meaning to get around to trying, their HA-FX66 Air Cushion. There're are a few passionate fans of this line on head-fi but I'd never gotten around to trying them, chiefly because nowhere I shop in the physical world carries them and I'd never motivated myself to order them online. I checked on Amazon and saw that, like the Marshmallow, the Air Cushion had recently been updated to the HA-FX67... curiosity fired by the improvements to the latest iteration of the Marshmallow line I went ahead and ordered a set.

Oh.My.Goodness.

I paid $18.33 for these "cheap" IEMs and I feel like I'm getting away with something every time I listen to them.

First, they're simply the most comfortable, best fitting, most idiot proof sealing IEMs I've ever used. Whoever designed the driver body on these deserves some sort of portable headphone Nobel prize equivalent. They go in easily, have a low profile, and are comfortable enough to leave in indefinitely. They even fit flush enough with your ear that they can be comfortably worn laying with your head side down on a pillow.

I've never been the biggest fan of IEMs in spite of their ubquity. Few actually fit all that well for me and the slightest tug on the cord and there goes the seal. The only ones I've found satisfactory prior to the Air Cushions are those that can be worn over the ear so the ear takes the force from any cord tugs. The Air Cushions are very secure worn in the standard way, truly the first IEMs I've tried that I can say that for (plus, their shape is so specialized they don't fit well when worn reversed and over the ear anyhow). And, if their default security isn't cutting it for you, these come with an alligator style clip for attaching the cord to your top so the clip will take the force from any cord tug or snag. Sure, it's just a plastic clip, but this is the sort of accessory that's normally reserved for significantly more expensive IEMs that are prone to microphonics and other cord noises (of which these are relatively free of).

As far as other pack-ins, the Air Cushions come with the usual suspects of three different sized silicone tips plus a set of JVC's long lasting Marshmallow foam tips. Their isolation is moderate with silicone tips and much better with Marshmallow tips, but I found them feeling a bit stuffed in there with Marshmallows. FYI, the sound bore is the same size as on Sony, Creative, and UE IEMs (and, I'm sure, many others) so you can likely mix and match whatever extra tips you've got stuck in a drawer somewhere if one of the four included options doesn't fit or otherwise suit you.

However, it's the sound quality that makes these feel like such a steal for less than $20. Now, these are not the equivalent of my reference of the Sleek Audio SA6, but those are also $200 IEMs that I once upon a time put head to head with Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10 pros... and chose the Sleek SA6 over them. The Air Cushions still compare very well against my reference IEMs - not their equal, but a worthy little sibling at less than 10% of the cost. Unlike the HA-FX35 Marshmallows, that I find a little bass heavy even given the improvements to the current iteration, these are "just right" on the bass with a more or less balanced spectrum. Their strength, though, is in the midranges since bass could be tighter and the highs are slightly rolled off. Still, got to remember that they only cost $18! There are IEMs that cost many times more that have loose bass and rolled off highs, and the impact on the Air Cushion's overall sound quality is so sleight that it's impossible for me to hold it against them, especially when talking about a set of headphones that costs less than a replacement cable on my reference IEMs and, more tellingly, will wind up replacing them in almost every instance I'd use an IEM: the sound quality is close enough and the comfort much superior.

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I've got a "thing" for exploring the world of cheap headphones. Most of the time you get just that, cheap headphones. Sometimes, though, you find something that blows your mind, that performs well beyond how it has any business performing for what it costs. The JVC HA-FX67 Air Cushion IEM style headphones are just such a find. I've been more excited by these headphones than any since I got my Sleek SA6 in 2008. If you're looking for IEMs on a budget or just enjoy "dumpster diving" I recommend these without reservation. Even if your budget is not a concern, these would make an excellent set of beater headphones for use in environments you don't want to risk your more expensive headphones, yet they wouldn't make you feel like you were giving up good sound quality. If nothing else, if you've been turned off other IEMs because of fit or comfort, these are well worth a look just for their design.
 
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