JVC Flats On-Ear Stereo Mini-Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 28, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Jvc_Flats_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Jvc_Flats.jpg

    Sources: iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the JVC Flats headphone ('Flats' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (small on-ear, closed, wired only), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the Flats (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    The JVC Flats is not the kind of headphone I normally purchase, due to the extremely low price ($13 USD) and the extremely inexpensive and fragile build. Not surprisingly, the Flats' sound is somewhat shrill and devoid of any deep bass, but my EQ settings provide a near-hi-fi result, with decent response down to 60 hz. Below 60 hz there is some audible response, but nothing worth mentioning here. Amazingly, with my mid-bass boost and mid-treble fixes, the dynamic range is quite good and capable of clear and satisfactory listening volume on most of my music tracks. EDM, modern pipe organ, and other genres that depend on a solid deep bass sound thin with the Flats. Jazz, acoustic, classic (tracker) organ, and most pop music sound very good with the EQ'd Flats. The reproduction of upright bass is excellent.

    Very few if any audiophiles are going to order one of these for themselves, but in the case that they do so to give to children, I recommend against it. It needs a good EQ, which children won't generally have access to, and it's way too fragile for most young people who need a durable headphone. The extremely thin wires going to each earcup have no strain reliefs, for example. Still, the crystal clear and tonally accurate midrange of the Flats, along with decent mid-bass and a treble that can handle extreme percussion**, make it very listenable for me. I'd like to add that few if any reviewers comment on how a proper EQ can fix issues with soundstage, since with most headphones I've reviewed, it makes a big difference.

    **Compared to most $100 or so headphones I've had, given that the Flats is not going to be used with an expensive amp that pushes its dynamic limits.

    The Flats' headband is a thin but strong metal, sized to fit average to very large heads. The earpads are a cheap plastic that will probably last a few months at least, but the real problem with these earpads is the convex shape that slides off of the ears very easily. I have to sit very still with my head properly angled until the earpads warm up enough to stay in place better - although that's only a small improvement. The earcups can be pulled down far enough that the headphone can be worn around the neck all day with no discomfort. The Flats' isolation is almost nonexistent - not satisfactory for noisy public places. The leakage could be relatively low if it were possible to get a decent earpad seal, but I don't see that happening.

    In previous reviews I've included numerous music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the Flats compares with similar tracks. These tracks were evaluated using EQ settings as I noted above. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the headphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.

    LAST WORD: Of the 40 music tracks I selected from my standard playlist to present here, only one (Clannad) was less than satisfactory regarding the Flats' deep bass response. My final test was playing the Pappano/Orch.Nazionale recording of Saint-Saens' 3rd (Organ) Symphony, which has a good deal of weighty deep bass in the organ pedals. While the Flats does not reproduce the full weight of those notes, the overall sound had a palpable weight nonetheless, making for a very satisfying listen.

    Afro-Celt Sound System - Inion-Daughter (Pop): The bass is not as strong as some larger headphones, yet has good weight and detail here.

    Ana Victoria - Roxanne (Pop): Large soundstage around female vocal with good bass detail.

    Anik Jean - Gaspesie (Pop): Another large-ambient female vocal, in French. Great test for the Flats.

    Baaba Maal - Lam Tooro (Senegal Pop): The instrumental interplay here is unique to me, and sounds delicious with the Flats.

    Babel Metis - Nips Naps (Pop/Electronic): Surprising bass here - sounds deep with decent impact, even if partly illusion.

    Bassotronics - Bass Vibe (Electronic): The Flats pumps out some decent ear-pressure bass here.

    Beatles with Tony Sheridan - When the Saints go Marching In (Early 60s): Excellent bass line with Elvis-esque vocal - not something you'll hear on pop playlists in the USA.

    Beethoven (Dorati-LSO) - Wellington's Victory Finale (Classical): The Flats resolves the orchestral instruments as clearly as the average budget headphone costing 7 or 8 times as much.

    Belden-Carter - Everything I Love (Jazz): The instrumentation and ambiance are luscious here, especially the upright bass.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): Another luscious jazz combo tune, with another decent bass line.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz): Energetic jazz combo playing, with a terrific piano tonality, especially the deeper notes.

    Benedictines of Mary - O Come Emmanuel (Choral): Large, deep ambiance, with excellent choral harmony.

    Betty Davis - The Lone Ranger (Pop): Atmospheric female vocal - just wonderful, with a solid bass line.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (Pop/Jazz): My favorite of this genre, with great instrumental definition, particularly the loud piercing guitar at 0:42.

    Bob Dylan - Serve Somebody (Pop): Dark and moody Dylan-rap with soul chorus - a lovely tune with some decent bass detail.

    Bobo Stenson Trio - Indicum (Jazz): Wide range of instrumentation here, particularly the piano and bass guitar(?).

    Boz Scaggs-Booker T - I've Been Loving You Too Long (Pop): Great rendition of this tune by masters of the genre. The Flats does this justice.

    Buckethead - Soothsayer (Pop): Good guitar tone with backing percussion. Played well by the Flats.

    Camilla Johansson - Love is Blue (Pop): Bright treble instruments and fairly deep bass played perfectly by the Flats.

    Candy Dulfer - Lily Was Here (Jazz): Sharp instrumental details abound.

    Carbon Based Lifeforms - Accede (Pop/Electronic): Atmospheric tune that builds in complexity and intensity.

    Carlos Mejia Godoy - Nicaragua Nicaraguita (Jazz): Sax, bass, piano, percussion - everything in a good combo, played well by the Flats.

    Carmen Gomes - A Fool For You (Jazz): A very high-res recording played to perfection by the Flats.

    Cat's Miaow - Neu Monotonic FM (Pop): Artistic musical noise - the song that never ends (or seems so).

    Changelings - Incantation (Pop): Atmospheric, ethereal, moody.

    Charlie Haden-Pat Metheny - Waltz For Ruth (Jazz): Very nice bass plucking with tonally rich guitar.

    Chops (feat. Mystic) - No Pressure (Hip-Hop): Decent bass impacts and female vocals.

    Christophe Beck - Really Big Sandbox and Slayer's Elegy (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer): Atmospheric almost by definition - tonally worthy on the Flats.

    Cirque du Soleil - Alegria (Pop): The growling bass in this track is very satisfying.

    Claire Martin - Too Darn Hot (Jazz): Great upright bass backing with female vocal.

    Clannad - Last of the Mohicans (Soundtrack): There are some deep bass impacts here that are subtle at best on the Flats.

    Clark Terry - Sugar Blues (Jazz): Some of the sharp trumpet blasts here can irritate with some headphones. Sounds good with the Flats.

    Claude Pelouse - Paradise (Pop): Tune used in a popular tonal accuracy perception test - sounds fine with the Flats.

    Cocteau Twins - Carolyn's Fingers (Pop): Excellent guitar/synth tones over an ethereal female voice.

    Commodores - Night Shift (Pop): The growling bass here is very satisfying.

    Concrete Blonde - Song For Kim (Pop): Nice detailed bass line here.

    Cranes - Adoration (Pop/Goth): Nice deep piano chords lead off this atmospheric track.

    David Lynch-Lykke Li - I'm Waiting Here (Soundtrack): The strong bass here plays well on the Flats.

    Deborah Holland - Come to Me (from Fright Night 2): Surprising deep-sounding bass notes here.

    Scala and Kolacny Brothers - Creep (Pop): A female choral take on the Radiohead classic, with a decent piano sound.
     
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