With "Xtreme Xplosives" part of their name, there's no mistaking what the JVC HAM5X headphones are about. These are bass-centric headphones that trade in some balance and top-end sparkle for a powerful low-end - which rarely wins headphones points from us.
However, after the branding and loud look instilled had us hoping the worst, we were pleasantly surprised by the sound. It's not perfect, but it's not terrible either.
The low-end focus is kept in check in-part by the open-back design, which is what lends an airy, wide quality to many pairs of top-end headphones. You don't get that airiness here, but there's a strong stereo image that helps to counteract the clogging effect of a low-end modus operandi.
Bass is given a disproportionate share of the spotlight, but it's quite deep and powerful - without the fug-like upper-bass swell that made us turn against the Beats On-ear last year. The low-end is not entirely well-handled, though. It's a little languorous in its response at times, lacking the toned punch of more expensive sets. However, we expect this effect - and the slight boom factor here - would be much worse if the JVC HAM5X had entirely closed backs.
At the price, these are some of the better-sounding bass-crazy headphones you can get, but they do lack the treble sparkle and insight you'll find from a more neutral-sounding or brighter set. They can leave vocals sounding a little flat and unloved, tending to favour other every other member of the band over the singer, so to speak.
The JVC are consequently pretty good at making aggressive instrumental music sound exciting, but the unbalanced bass just becomes too evident once you get the singer on-stage. It's much a question of tuning, though, because with some clever equalisation you can get these headphones sounding really very good indeed for the money - thanks to the open-back quality that you can't simple replicate in a similar manner with a closed set. Neutralise the bass swell and balance is restored, bringing a much more satisfying listen for the audio enthusiast.
Without such fiddling, though, the value of the JVC HAM5X is a little more questionable. The sound isn't well balanced, they're not all that comfortable, their look is a taste we're unlikely to acquire and the open-back style means they're not perfectly suited to their main use - listening out on the street.
The JVC HAM5X Xtreme Xplosives Around Ear headphones desperately want to make an impact. A hyper-aggressive look and the bassy sound have their eyes on the young, "urban" crowd, but they limit their appeal. These headphones sound much better once the unbalanced bass is tamed with EQ. And while the semi-open design has some major sound benefits, it limits their effectiveness on the train or bus.