Often, the headphone brands that try to reproduce deep bass frequencies faithfully (say, Grado or Sennheiser) are overshadowed by those that tend to boost them a bit too much (say, Beats). And then you have the Jabra Revo ($199 list). I’m not sure I’ve heard a headphone pair in the last five years that boosted the bass frequencies more intensely, that is, without also boosting the high frequencies to balance it. Bass-boosted headphones have their place, but if you boost the sub-bass and lows this much and you don’t also sufficiently sculpt the mid-highs and highs, the sound can be booming and muddy—a trap the Revo falls into.
The Revo may not be particularly visually striking or unique, but the matte plastic in black, metallic, and red shades create a good-looking supra-aural (on-ear) headphone pair. Beyond the looks, the plush padding of the headband and earpads feel great at first, but can get uncomfortable over long listening periods.
For a company associated with wireless audio products, Jabra does a better job with the Revo’s cable than several veteran headphones companies muster. The cable has an inline remote control and mic for Android and iOS mobile devices, and is detachable from either the left or right ear, which is an excellent feature that adds value to the high price. It’s also cloth bound and tangle-resistant, adding to the visual appeal and sturdiness of the Revo. A carrying pouch is included in the box.
The free Jabra Sound app is available for iTunes and Android and features Dolby Digital processing and custom user EQ. However, the headphones really don’t need Dolby processing, and it can actually hurt the mix of the song. You may end up getting the EQ balance closer to normal, but the dynamics get squashed. I advise skipping the app.
When I tested the less expensive Jabra Vox, I felt the earphones were far too bass-heavy. At $100, they get a slap on the wrist, but once you enter the $200 realm, a pair of headphones has to meet some standards. On one hand, the Revo doesn’t distort at all. Tracks with challenging deep bass, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout” get powerful sub-bass frequencies cleanly and intensely, but power isn’t everything.
You cannot have booming, boosted bass that makes a tom rack drum sound like the largest kick drum in Led Zeppelin’s arsenal. Or rather, you can, but you need to equally boost the high-mid and high frequencies to catch the other instruments, from the picking, bowing, or plucking of strings to the snap of a drum head being hit by a stick. If you just boost one side of the see-saw, the other side goes flying off and the mids disappear.
I had trouble discerning Bill Callahan’s articulate, unique baritone vocals on his track, “Drover.” It sounded like Barry White was singing to me through a cloth napkin—muffled, but with gobs of low-end presence. Some A-B testing with the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, a studio flat-response style headphone pair, made it clear that the Revo was having trouble with Callahan’s voice because it was of a lower register. It was extremely boosted in the low-mids, but there wasn’t enough treble edge to his voice at all. Booming low-end without a crisp, defining edge to it ends up sounded muddy and undefined.
Electronic music and some pop or hip hop can sound decent and powerful on the Revo. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” loses its treble edge, and thus the attack of the kick drum loop gives way to serious low-end thuds, and the sub-bass synth hits more or less own the stage. Jay-Z and crew have vocals that are on the higher-end of the scale than Callahan’s, however, so they stand out a bit more in the mix, but they’re still missing the contour that more high-mid response would give them.
Female vocals have a better shot of bouncing out in front of the mix, but still Joanna Newsom’s vocals on “Good Intentions Paving Company” have to do battle with the menacing bass of a piano. This is not how the mix sounds on a pair that has reasonable balance between lows and highs. There’s a bit of high boosting that makes her vocals sound a bit pinched and occasionally sibilant, but without it, the vocals would be totally lost in the mix.
Classical music, from an audiophile perspective, sounds almost ridiculous on the Revo. If you find classical music boring, you might not anymore—John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” gets a serious dose of added bass response. The lower register strings sound amplified and powerful and the large drums hits at the end sound massive. It’s not even close to what the recording actually sounds like, but it’s not boring.
If you like deep bass, I’d encourage you to check out a pair that better represents the rest of the frequency range. A more expensive example would be the Sony MDR-1R or, for a little less money, try the excellent Sennheiser HD 558. If you’d like a bit more balance to your mix, the Yamaha PRO 300 is a solid option that still gives you lovely bass response and balance. The Jabra Revo does not distort, doesn’t malfunction in the slightest, has an inline remote and mic, and it has tremendous power, but it’s missing the higher register definition that helps music sound like music.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc