JVC HA-S90BN-B-E review

JVC tries its hand at a pair of budget noise-cancelling headphones... Tested at £90

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Our Verdict

JVC’s HA-S90BN try hard not to cause offence, but their performance leaves us cold

For

  • Well balanced with a sweet midrange
  • Decent amount of detail
  • Fine noise-cancelling
  • Plenty of features

Against

  • Timing, dynamics and organisation all troublesome
  • Lack any kind of punch
  • Soft bass
  • Poor fit and isolation

We are not among the professionally offended. There is no painstaking search in order for us to delight in something that rankles, desperate to turn up our noses.

In fact, usually what offends us most is the desire to be unexceptionable. In our book, not so blessed are the meek, and easy listening is not so often synonymous with it being easy to listen.

Our time spent with JVC’s HA-S90BN-B-E headphones is not wholly intolerable, but this kind of resigned character makes it all the more difficult to overlook any of its sonic or design flaws.

Build

Where there are positives, it is largely in the features. Create a wish list for your modern over-ear preferences and these JVCs will tick most of them off.

These smart, wireless noise-cancellers pair seamlessly via Bluetooth, requiring only a tap to pair with other NFC compatible devices, feature playback and volume controls and an built-in microphone to manage calls.

There is also the option of three sonic settings – for neutral, extra bass and extra ‘clarity’ – though, as is usually the case, it is the former we prefer.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is these JVCs’ response to 3.5 hours of USB charging. With wireless connection and noise-cancelling switched off, the Japanese manufacturer claims up to 27 hours of battery life.

That number can be trumped by using the included 1.2m cable, with the JVCs then offering up to 35 hours of background noise-free listening.

MORE: Best noise-cancelling headphones 2018

Comfort

While earlier we alluded to some shortcomings, there is little denying these cans look dead smart. The gloss black shells and shocks of chrome offer a more sophisticated aesthetic than most rivals, and even with the larger, over-ear cups they are far from bulky.

The issue appears to be one of design. We pass these JVCs around the office, and despite the variety of head shapes and sizes, each person was left with a breach between the bottom of the earcup and the side of their face.

If you have a relatively small head, a good fit proves even more elusive. The headband on these over-ears is adjustable, but at its narrowest is still rather wide.

For a product billed largely on its capacity to cancel external noise, the inability to nail basic isolation undermines that feature more than a bit.

However, the HA-S90BNs are not generally uncomfortable to wear; they’re nicely padded and, though that looser fit is not conducive to isolation, it does prove preferable to overly-tight clamping earcups over longer hours.

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Sound

There are still positives when it comes to performance. JVC has found a decent balance across the frequency range, hitting a sweet spot in the midrange that allows melodies and vocal lines to shine.

The HA-S90BNs aren’t particularly wanting for more detail, either. They can’t dig up the granular texture to offer the kind of in-depth analysis of wired class-leaders at this price, but they don’t ignore that kind of insight either.

There’s little lost between using them via Bluetooth and their passive performance.

Despite the leakage from the bottom of the cup, the noise cancelling works surprisingly well, and without an overbearing amount of the technology’s innate colouration.

But it isn’t quite enough to get excited about, and JVC doesn’t appear particularly keen to inject any further enthusiasm.

Overall, the performance is a bit flat, like the their heart just isn’t in it.

Timing is lackadaisical and, combined with a lack of organisation and a lethargic low-end, it makes sparsely textured arrangements sound uninterested and more densely ones frankly a tad confusing.

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There’s no real punch, either. Grand dynamic shifts are alluded to, rather than declared and there’s a shyness to make anything snap. Those yearning for acute expression will be left out in the cold.

Compared with Philips’s Award-winning SHB8850NC noise-cancellers, it feels a little like JVC is offering us the first rehearsal rather than a final, confident, polished performance.

The HA-S90BNs probably have a better, more rounded balance, but their determination not to offend begins as unstimulating and ends up becoming incredibly frustrating.

MORE: Philips SHB8850NC review

Verdict

There is plenty these headphones do well, and maybe not all will find their trying sonic traits quite so irksome.

But even for under a ton there is a variety of similarly equipped yet considerably superior performers on the market, and we’d consistently opt to shop elsewhere.

See all our JVC reviews

Specifications

General Information

Product NameJVC HA-S90BN-B-E