The JVC XP-EXT1 is an intriguing concept – a home cinema headphone set intended to bring all the joys of the latest surround-sound cinema settings, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, to an individual listener.
We can think of a number of situations when this might be useful – from late-night viewing sessions where you don’t want to disturb the household, through to those who don’t have room for a full-blown system, via the user who simply wants to be completely immersed in the action with no distractions. It is definitely a solo experience, however, so the market is already reduced for this specialist piece of kit.
The set-up will cost you £1000 ($999.95), which might give many potential purchasers pause for thought. For that sort of money, you could buy a decent soundbar and surround speaker combination (for example, a Sonos Arc and a pair of Sonos One SL); and, for not much more, an excellent fully-blown surround-sound system could be yours. Of course, those would take up considerably more space than this box of tricks.
The system comes with two main components: the conventional-looking over-ear headphones and a processor unit that does most of the hard graft by sending the signal to the headphones via Bluetooth. Also in the box is a micro-USB charging cable for the headphones, the power supply for the processor unit, a soft bag in which to store the headset, and a cable to use in the set-up process that allows measurements to be taken of the user’s ears and head to optimise performance.
Inputs HDMI x3, optical, stereo jack
Output HDMI (eARC)
Audio formats Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby True HD
Driver 40mm Neodymium
Battery life 12 hours
Weight (headphones) 330g
The processor unit has three HDMI inputs, an optical input and a stereo jack. There is one HDMI output with eARC compatibility that can send and receive a signal from your TV – so how you connect all your kit together depends on how old your TV is.
For those with a newer TV with eARC onboard, all you need to do is connect the two with an HDMI cable and run the JVC’s system set-up. For older TVs, you will need to disconnect the kit from the TV and plug it directly into the XP-EXT1. Not as neat a solution, but perfectly effective.
The step-by-step set-up guide is easy to follow. First, download the ‘Exofield Theater’ app, then plug the kit in and connect the headphones to the processor unit using the provided set-up cable. A series of beeps and clicks later, we’re good to go, with the headset connected to the main unit by Bluetooth, and our head and room measured appropriately.
You can have four sets of measurements stored for different people or situations. As is the way with many products nowadays, once set-up is done most of the controlling and switching of modes and inputs is done via the app – although there are buttons on the unit should you wish to use them, as well as lights to give confirmation of what the unit is doing and the sound it is processing.
The first thing that must be said is that the headphones are comfortable and well built – they are certainly designed for long listening sessions. We have no issues at all, as far as comfort goes, in watching a three-hour movie or having a long gaming session.
The high-quality plastics and leather make this feel like a premium product – which of course, at this price, it is. The leather earpads are softly padded, as is the adjustable headband, and the headphones sit over our ears nicely and create a good seal against the sides of our head – vital, of course, if the software is going to be able to do its thing to any great effect.
And on the face of it, the software has to work quite hard. These headphones, it is claimed, will reproduce the sound of a full 7.1.4 surround system in your head using a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X signal; they will even up-mix two-channel and 5.1 ‘vanilla’ surround sound as well.
The app, as well as guiding us through set-up duties, provides access to various sound tweaking options, including four sound modes to go along with ‘Flat’ – Cinema, Music, Game and Custom – and an equaliser to adjust levels.
There are also two settings for what JVC calls ‘sound field spaces’: Theater Room 1 and Theater Room 2. One is aimed at giving a wide soundfield and natural space to the sound; Two concentrates more on the clarity of voices and boosts the bass a bit for that ever-popular action-movie thump.
The app is also the easiest place to turn the Exofield Theater processing on and off, and to switch inputs (although there are buttons for those functions on the processor unit as well).
We spend a lot of time with the JVC XP-EXT1, switching between modes and source inputs, and playing with the various settings, and it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into the system. Overall it’s an entertaining product, and it certainly gets the user engrossed in movies and games.
Watching The Highwaymen on Netflix in Dolby Atmos, there is no doubt at all when the Exofield Theater software is doing its thing. There is a fine feeling of space and air to the sound compared with the regular stereo setting.
The midrange in particular is good, with voices coming through clearly even in the more frantic scenes. Gunshots come at you from all around with power, and the headphones certainly provide a compelling, atmospheric soundstage.
The treble is occasionally a touch sharp, although that can often help in action scenes, and the bass errs on the tubby side – again, not always a terrible thing when watching movies, as long as it doesn’t impact on voices. And it doesn’t.
The switch from stereo to full-on Dolby Atmos mode brings with it a loss of rhythmic punch and sonic dynamics, flattening things out in the sonic spectrum a little. None of these things, though, is terribly off-putting in the big scheme of things when we’re talking about being engrossed in the action in front of us.
Clearly, the XP-EXT1’s main purpose is for the user to enjoy movies and gaming with ‘proper’ surround sound coming at them from all angles – and this is where it doesn’t quite live up to the impressive claims made for the product.
Our main issue is that, while there is certainly a decent amount of space to the sound, there is also a vagueness of positioning of the sounds that are coming at us. There are clearly bullets flying all around, but it isn’t always obvious where they are. And, on occasion, when there is a character in the middle of the screen, their voice seems to be floating above us, rather than being nailed down front and centre.
This positioning weakness becomes more apparent when playing games on a PS5. We can hear movements behind us, but it’s not always immediately apparent precisely where that creak has come from – there’s only a vague “it’s behind you” signal.
There’s also that age-old problem of getting surround sound over headphones: those sounds are all still ‘inside your head’ rather than coming from outside space. This is initially distracting, of course, although once you’re into a movie, it becomes less of an issue.
For their premium outlay, though, we had higher hopes of this exciting proposition. There’s a lot of technology here and it’s clearly working hard, but it falls between two stools. The headphones themselves are well made, comfortable and provide a good, properly-rounded sound; but they are easily bettered by rivals costing less than a third of their price for stereo listening.
For movie watching and game playing, the JVC XP-EXT1 are certainly a great means of getting engrossed in the action – and the surround processing is effective to a degree. But it’s not really close enough to a proper surround set-up to justify the high price – unsurprisingly, we get far better Atmos performance from the Sonos Arc and the surround speaker set-up.
This is a great concept, and the JVC XP-EXT1 headphones perform decently – they are comfortable, solidly built and provide a well-rounded sound appropriate for movie watching and gaming. For someone with specific requirements for solo listening, they could well fit the bill.
What they can’t do, though, is stand up to a proper surround sound speaker package or good soundbar surround set-up. And we can’t help feeling that, for £1000 ($999.95), they need to get closer to that benchmark before we can unreservedly recommend them.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Build 4
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