• Best of Year 2014
  • Editors' Choice

JVC HA-S400 Headphones Review

The belle of the bargain bin

$26.03 at Amazon
6.4 score Tested by Experts
  • The JVC HA-S400 is better than 6% of the headphones we tested.
  • It is better than 10% of the headphones we have tested under $100.
  • It is better than 0% of the on-ear headphones we have tested.
Where to Buy
Amazon $26.03 Buy

Searching for cheap, high-performance headphones? If you're willing to use in-ears, it's like shooting fish in a barrel!

Sadly, if you want the same qualities in a set of over- or on-ear headphones, it's more like searching for a wild unicorn. Decent sound quality in the aforementioned styles generally runs you at least 60 bucks or more.

Meet an exception to the rule: The JVC HA-S400 (MSRP $39.99) on-ear headphones offer audio quality that normally costs a lot more. From looks to audio quality, these JVCs are a fine bet for anyone in need of inexpensive on-ears.

The Outfit

Affordable and fashionable, but far from plush

Petite price tags usually signal limited options and dull design, but the JVC HA-S400 on-ears actually dress pretty sharp.

I tested the white pair, which boasts rings of twinkling silver that encircle both ear cups. The white plastic sports a matte finish, and subdued gray pads cushion the interior of the matching band. The HA-S400s aren't the flashiest cans on the catwalk, but for sale prices around just 24 bucks, these look surprisingly sleek.

You can do way better for comfort by spending more or investing in over-ears.

The band clamps rather tightly, but foam pads along its interior keep the top of your head from aching with extended use. For on-ears, these really aren't as bad as most. Normally, the pressure that on-ears apply to the outer ear cause me pain—and though these are very far from luxurious, they're tolerable enough for an hour of listening or so. I just wish that the ear cups pivoted up and down as well as side to side. Bottom line: You can do way, way better for comfort by spending more or investing in over-ears, but as far as on-ear sets go, these are pretty decent.

Travelers probably need more than what the HA-S400 has to offer.

Travelers may need to ask their pockets for a bit more than what the HA-S400 has to offer, however; the band does collapse, but there's no carry case and JVC doesn't include a microphone or remote control of any kind. Aside from the sturdy, tangle-resistant cable, this is a very bare-bones product.


The Audio

Booming bass overshadows a swath of upper middle notes.

First, a reminder: Approach cheap headphones with reasonable expectations. Now that I've deflated your probably bloated hopes, I'll pump you back up a bit: For the price, the HA-S400 offers mostly satisfactory audio quality.

The HA-S400s produce thumping bass, clear vocals, and healthy high notes.

The HA-S400s produce thumping bass, clear vocals, and healthy high notes. Balance like this generally costs a good chunk more, so this is a big highlight for these JVCs.

The emphasis isn't flawless, of course. The prominent bass makes softer overtones tough to hear; overtones on guitar, cymbal taps, and snare drums don't sound out with enough clarity, for instance. Overall (and unsurprisingly), this product's audio quality sounds crowded and clumsy compared to high-end options.

Terrible isolation didn't help the HA-S400's overall score.

Terrible isolation didn't help the HA-S400's overall score. Unless you're listening to tunes at a hefty volume, outside noise has no trouble getting in—these headphones barely block any external sound at all. That's largely thanks to the build quality. The ear cups pivot a little bit, but not enough for a perfect seal.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the JVC HA-S400, take a look at these other headphones.

The Bottom Line

A prize kill for bargain hunters

The budget bin tempts all of us once in a while, and every now and again, its contents are rewarding. JVC's HA-S400 (MSRP $39.95) headphones didn't take my breath away, but this is one budget purchase that stands out from the rest: This level of audio and design generally costs much more.

Audio and design of this caliber generally costs much more.

The JVC HA-S400 isn't the only suitor vying for your wallet's heart. Monoprice has a 30-dollar heartthrob of its own, and Superlux wowed us with a great open-backed option last year—but those models don't look nearly as sleek as these JVCs.

To boil it all down, for sales prices as low as 24 dollars, the HA-S400 offers decently balanced sound, a moderately comfortable fit, and very spiffy design. The isolation is pathetic, there's no extras, and the bass is a bit much, but if those are your deal-breakers, you'd better make peace with a bigger price tag.

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