What if you can't or can't place a surround setup or soundbar ? Then watch movies and play games in modest stereo? But wait, because with the remarkable XP-EXT1 wireless headphones with JVC's Exofield technology it will be possible to experience Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. Is it also the solution for at night or in a study with thin walls? Maybe, but it comes at a hefty price tag.
JVC XP-EXT1 Wireless Surround Headphones
The XP-EXT1 has been described by the manufacturer as a personal wireless home theater system. Okay, that label isn't exactly sexy, but it does describe exactly what it does. It is a total solution to bring surround sound to headphones, while retaining the experience that the latest surround technologies offer with height channels. A key role is reserved for Exofield, an algorithm that JVC has been working on for several years now. It's cutting edge technology for – take a deep breath – out-of-head localization sound field processing, taking into account some of your personal physical properties.
This test is quite a first. The JVC XP-EXT1 will only reach the shops soon and will cost around 1,000 euros. That is a lot, but this is also a complete package. In the box you will find wireless headphones that immediately make a high-quality impression and a compact device. The latter is a multifunctional thing: it is the transmitter that wirelessly connects to the headphones, but also an HDMI hub with four inputs and one eARC-compatible output. This box also communicates with a corresponding app. In short, the promise that JVC makes with the XP-EXT1 is not the least. There are not many alternatives to what it does. The Sony MDR-HW700DS with 9.1 is one of the few, but it is already quite old and only supports 4K. But can these wireless headphones really replace a 7.1.4 setup? Time to investigate!
Just like an AV receiver
How do you use this unconventional device? The hub or processor can actually be considered as a simple AV receiver . It has three HDMI inputs to which you can connect sources such as a console or an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. The HDMI output is eARC compatible, which means that the XP-EXT1 can process surround from apps on your television. So there are two scenarios in which you can apply the JVC: as an extension to your TV (so that you mainly use apps such as Netflix or Disney + to check whether you have sources on the television) or as a hub for your video sources. Connecting in these two cases or the combination of the two is relatively simple.
And what if you want to use the XP-EXT1 in combination with an AV receiver, for example as an alternative to end the movie late at night? to watch? In our setup with a Denon AVR-X6300H, we first tried to hang the JVC transmitter on the second output of the receiver, but this still involves some problems with recognizing surround formats. Finally, we connected an Oppo UDP-203 and an Xbox One X to the JVC transmitter, then connected the HDMI output to an HDMI input on the Denon. Disadvantage: the XP-EXT1 must be on, even if you want to play sound via your surround speakers. We immediately add that we rarely look at that second or third HDMI output in our receiver tests. So it may be that with a more recent receiver or another model you can safely hang the XP-EXT1 from a secondary output.
The XP-EXT1 has some other connections besides its four HDMI ports. Two optical inputs and analog cinch connections allow the connection of other devices. Think of a CD player or just audio from a game console.
Headphones for longer listening
The second product in the box is wireless headphones. It is a larger, heavier device with very thick ear cushions and a headband with thick cushions. It's certainly comfortable enough to wear on your head for a full movie, though your ears will start to get a little sweaty by the time the credits appear on the screen. It is simply difficult to provide good wearing comfort and sound insulation without experiencing scalding. Also the weight is not exactly low, 330 grams, although we have certainly had audiophile models on our heads that weighed much more. These are really headphones for someone who sits in the sofa and may rest their head on the backrest.
The headphones themselves have a series of buttons. You shouldn't get out of your chair or use your smartphone for nothing. Use the buttons on the headphones to adjust the volume, choose which input on the hub is active and switch the Exofield effect on / off. A disadvantage is that the keys are completely flush with the housing and are very sensitive. If we occasionally wanted to press the Exofield button during testing, we would regularly accidentally press the input button.
The connection between the headphones and the transmitter is via a proprietary 5 GHz protocol, not Bluetooth. This higher frequency is a good choice for avoiding dropouts, a problem you may encounter with RF technology wireless TV headphones operating at 2.4 GHz. That's because 2.4 GHz is quite a busy part of the radio spectrum, with Bluetooth, WiFi and others using it, plus a lot of interference. The range is somewhat more limited with 5 GHz radio technology, but in this case it is not so bad. You will only use this device within a room. Based on our tests, the battery of the headphones lasts about 10-12 hours.
Bluetooth is present on the JVC transmitter, but only serves to connect to a smartphone running the Exofield app.
The app is the third leg of the Exofield story. After all, the XP-EXT1 does not just offer surround via headphones, but surround that sounds realistic because it is adapted to your physical properties. Think of the ear and head shape, and the attributes of your hearing. JVC has been working on this for a while and discovered, among other things, that the shape of the face (including the eye properties!) Has an influence on the perception of sound. In a lab, all these physical properties can be measured exactly, which is a bit more difficult in someone's home. That is why an intermediate solution is chosen for the XP-EXT1. Microphones built into the headphones themselves measure your ears (including the inner ear). Based on these results, the device will look in a database with larger measurements and look for the nearest match. By the way, you can see and feel the two microphones (one per ear) when you look in the headphones.
When you get started with the XP-EXT1, you must first take a measurement. To do this, you have to put the headphones on your head, temporarily connect a supplied cable between the headphones and transmitter, and follow a step-by-step plan in the app. The measurement itself takes a few tens of seconds, the calculations that follow take another minute or two. The test tones are not particularly loud, so it is not uncomfortable. Aren't you home alone? Four slots are provided in the app for measurements. This allows up to four people to have their personal Exofield noise calculated.
You are not required to continue using the app after taking the Exofield survey. Keep it handy, because it is handy. In the main screen you can see which codec is being delivered while watching a movie, you can adjust the volume and the Exofield technology can be switched on / off at the touch of a button. You can also use the buttons on the headphones, but somehow we found the app more practical. Maybe that's different for you. What you can not easily do through the headphones is to adjust the sound mode. There are four fixed ones (Flat, Movies, Music and Games) plus a custom mode that you can set yourself. It is not that much, because you can determine your own sound via a 5-band equalizer – and that is not enough to really fine-tune. In the app you will find a lot of settings, of which the separate volume controls for the LFE bass channel and the center channel are the most useful.
We were of course very curious about how well the XP-EXT1 succeeds in bringing a surround experience to headphones. As usual, we start with the official Dolby Atmos demos. The experience sets the tone for the whole test: sometimes it is very impressive, sometimes it is just good, but here and there also sounds that are not quite right. “Audiosphere” shows that Exofield does indeed sound surprisingly effective channels of height above you, but it is mainly the rear channels that make us say “wow”. The sounds float around our heads, it seems. We also experience that with 'Shattered', especially with the child's crying voice far away in the garden – but the falling glass pieces sound a bit artificial.
With the car race from 'Ready Player One' (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos ) we are again very impressed. Effects are all around our heads. Cars are slipping in front of us, engines are sounding behind us, wrecks are flying past our heads. The on-screen action is brought very well, albeit not as enveloping as with our discreet speaker setup. It is punishment, but not that big sound bubble that you get with a perfectly adjusted speaker setup. But still, with this scene you get something that is many times better than with regular stereo headphones. The positioning of sound effects is relatively good in this scene, and we are very satisfied with micro detail reproduction. All those little sound effects that make a scene perfect, like the coins picked up by Parzival and the bolts falling off the destroyed Akira motorcycle really pop out. We find less the representation of dialogues. They sound a bit too thin and a bit nasal, as if there is a little too much echo. This is strange, because other effects and music in the background do sound fine. After all, we are working on near-final software, perhaps this is another bug that should be removed by JVC. In any case, we have the impression that this has to do with the measurement, not so much with the qualities of the headphones.
In various films where music in the background propels the action, such as 'John Wick 2' (Ultra HD Blu -ray, Dolby Atmos) and 'Atomic Blonde' (Ultra HD Blu-ray, DTS: X), plays the musical part of the soundtrack far outside your head, with sound effects closer. This is attractive. The same is true with 'Hobbs & Shaw' (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos), where the final in the abandoned nuclear installation in Ukraine is packed with explosions, fist combat and gunshots, but you also regularly serve bad gags between the two heroes. gets. We notice that the Charlize Theron film with DTS codec sounds slightly better than the Dolby Atmos films.
Okay, if you feed the JVC headphones with Atmos or  DTS: X the result is quite impressive. But what about other content? On an episode of the impressive “Babylon Berlin” (Dolby Digital + 5.1), set in Berlin's nightlife just before the Nazis came to ruin the fun, the XP-EXT1 is doing well. What's more, the artificiality of voting is largely gone here, and the city sounds (such as cars passing by) are attractively reproduced. However, if we select a video (an episode of “The Orville”) with a stereo soundtrack, it really sounds mediocre. In the app's settings, we switch up-sampling from LPCM to Neural: X – and that's a lot more pleasant. But still, it's clear that the XP-EXT1 and the Exofield technology work best with an original surround soundtrack. Up-mixing from stereo to surround side is better. Also this: what would make this technology really perfect is the presence of a so-called HRTF sensor. At Exofield, “front” is always right in front of you, even if you look away from the screen. But it can also be different: for example with the Audeze Mobius game headset there is such a sensor, so that sound is anchored with the screen. When you look away, the effects move in your ear to appear anchored in the room / on the screen. The fact that with a Mobius, for example, the voices always come out of the screen, really adds a little more realism.
The XP-EXT1 does some things very well. It creates a larger virtual space around your head, which is much more pleasant than a classic headphone that plays “in” your head. It is really surround what we hear. Effects are often very correctly positioned. The great thing is that Exofield sounds great, but you remain very involved in the action on the screen. But in terms of tonality, not everything is very good, so that voices sometimes sound more artificial and a little too far away. Maybe the final software will improve this. That is possible, because in the end this is all the work of an algorithm.
So the JVC XP-EXT1 is still a bit of a work in progress, but what we are already seeing is quite impressive. Are you looking for a way to experience movies and series with a full surround experience but without disturbing the neighbors? Then these brand new (but unfortunately: expensive) JVC headphones are the way to do it. A discreet speaker setup cannot replace it, but it is an intriguing package for those who have no alternative or are looking to supplement the moments when the rest of the house is asleep.