By Doug Goldring on Mon, 08/09/2010
Wow! I have a confession to make. For the last 38 years, I lived a lie. I told everyone I knew that I enjoyed listening to music. Now, I can tell you the truth. I never actually heard music before I started using the JH16-Pro in ear monitors. To be fair, this was not an intentional lie. I just had no idea what I was missing. Now I do…and I do not think I will ever hear music the same way again. Jump in with both feet and hang on for a wild ride through the JHAudio’s signature custom in ear monitor.
Let’s get started with a quick look at the JHAudio custom in ear monitors (if it is OK with everyone, we will just call them IEMs). I had never used custom IEMs before, so I was pretty excited to check these out. The first thing I noticed right out of the box was how different these appeared than a normal set of earphones. Sure, they followed the same layout to which you have all become accustomed. You know, the “Y” shaped cable, with a 3.5 mm plug on one end, and the two buds you stick in your ears on the other. But what makes these custom IEMs so fantastic are the details which you will find scattered throughout like sprinkles on top of an ice cream sundae.
The first detail is the braiding on the cable. I had never seen this before in any headphones I ever tested. Essentially, the cable connecting the buds to your device is actually three cables, braided together to form a single cable. I had never seen this before, but I was told that this is done to stop “microphonic transmissions.” Essentially, this is an imperfection in the sound quality, which is caused by tapping or touching the earphone cable during listening. The movement against the cable creates a soundwave which reverberates up the cable and into the buds, creating a minor noise imperfection. The braiding dampens this sound imperfection, meaning that it is much less likely these soundwaves would reach your ears (or something like that). Once this was explained to me, I was pretty impressed. It says a lot about a company that they are willing to take that extra step in order to minimize a barely perceptible imperfection.
Moving on up, we find a few additional touches to help ensure that custom fit. Now, while I did send JHAudio molds of my ears, they did not have a whole model of my entire head, meaning the cables are obviously not custom sized to fit my head and chin. Instead, after the cable splits into a Y, there is a slider, which, is something we have all seen before from other high end earphone manufacturers. Basically, once you have the buds in your ears, just slide the plastic slider up under your chin in order to create a snug and comfortable fit.
Finally, in order to fit properly, the cables need to wrap around the top of your ear. Again, this is not uncommon when it comes to higher end headphones. What I have always found, though, is that it can be difficult to hold that cable wrapped behind your ear. Typically, they are just not firm enough to hold their shape and stay secured behind your ear. JHAudio addresses this problem with a thin piece of plastic tube, which covers the first inch or so of the cable. This tube allows the end of the cable to remain flexible, while also ensuring that the end closest to your ear will more or less hold its shape, guiding the cables around your ear and down to the device. It probably costs a nickel to add this feature (if that), but it makes a huge difference in the comfort of the cables, and their ability to stay secured behind your ears.
That only leaves one component left, and that is the buds themselves. Obviously, since these were custom made from the molds of my ear, they are only going to fit one set of ears…and that is mine (or yours when you get your own pair). Also, since even your two ears are different, there is a distinct left and right earbud here. What I really liked was that the writing on the two earbuds is color coded. Red for the right, and blue for the left. I cannot tell you how much I rely on this to make sure I have the right one heading toward the correct ear. Speaking of which, here is another interesting little touch. Take a look at the writing on the bud. In addition to the name of the IEM (JH16-3091), you also may notice the two letters, “DG” stamped there. Personalizing the buds with my initials is just a fantastic touch.
The other thing to point out here is the shape of the buds themselves. Now, I am used to a bud, as many of you likely are, which is a small piece of foam or rubber, that fits (imperfectly) entirely within your ear. Generally, in my experience, no part of the bud remains outside of your ear. The problem with these buds, however, is that they are improperly sized, and typically improperly placed within your ear.
The custom IEMs, on the other hand, not only feature the bud which goes into your ear, but also a mold of the outside of your ear. This means the bud creates the perfect yin to the yang of your ear. It also means that the bud will fit perfectly on your ear, and is held there by its own form factor.
That brings us to the fit and comfort section of the review. This is going to be fast, because let’s face it…these are custom fitted to my ears. They were specifically molded to fit the unique contours of my ear. So, of course, it fit perfectly. I would have been extremely disappointed if they fit anything other than perfectly. Of course, I was not let down in the least.
That being said, there is an important point to be made here. Even the best universal headphones have problems with fit and comfort. They usually utilize silicone (or something similar) buds, which drop into your ears. These buds come in several predetermined sizes, so it is pretty much a kiss and a prayer that these will actually fit. I do not know about you, but most people I know do not fit neatly into three or more sizes, especially when it comes to their ear canals. This means that all too often, I end up with an ill fitting bud, with varying degrees of comfort.
Not only was this not an issue with the custom molded IEMs, but they also offered an additional benefit. With standard buds, that little piece of silicon just gets crammed into your ear, meaning there is no consistency in the placement. One time, it drops in too shallow, the next it is crammed in so far, it practically rubs against your eardrum. Since the custom IEMs mold your ear, both inside and out, they ensure that the bud is placed in your ear consistently and perfectly every time. This consistency of fit is critical to creating the ideal listening experience, and JHAudio absolutely nailed it.
Despite all of this, I was still a bit nervous the first time I checked them out. Looking back, I think my nerves were primarily related to the unfamiliar design of custom IEMs. Such a large portion of the unit seemed to be outside the ear, there was no way they could fit properly. The truth is, though, I had no reason for concern. Not only did they fit perfectly, but also they remained snugly in my ears, often feeling tighter in my ear when I was done listening than when I started. Speaking of listening…let’s go ahead and “see” how these sound.
I started this review by stating that I had never heard my music before. Now is the time for me to explain that sentiment. I have been listening to music most of my life. I was a radio disc jockey in college, and even played a number of parties and weddings. So, I am pretty familiar with music and obtaining the best listening experience. What I found with the JHAudio headphones is that the gulf between listening and truly hearing music is much wider than I might have expected.
The reason I can say I never truly heard my music before comes from JHAudio’s unprecedented three-way drivers. Many of you have seen dual drivers before. They are pretty common in higher end headphones, and make for a significantly better listening experience. What JHAudio had done, however, is separate the dual audio drivers into three layers, giving you double dual lows, single dual mids, and single dual highs. The result is a quality of sound which is simply unmatched by anything I have used before. In fact, for much of the music I tested, I would be lying if I said it sounded like I was listening to the music live. This sounded far better than that. When I spoke with Jerry Harvey, the founder of JHAudio, I asked whether he felt his IEMs had a signature sound or whether there was a particular focus on one range of sound versus another. His response was that JHAudio strives to capture your music exactly…EXACTLY…as it was recorded. Well, his response was quite a bit more technical, so let me give it to you exactly as Jerry said it:
We design and build very accurate and musical IEM audio signatures. I feel that you should get out of the IEM exactly what you put into it. The earpiece should continue to ramp up with and improve as the audio source improves. The one preference that people have is bass response The JH13 and JH 16 have the same level of detail and accuracy from 155hz and up the difference is the sub bass tuning. The 13 has +6db at 50hz and the 16 +10 at 50 hz. The 16 has more impact down low but still does not cloud the low mid response.
In other words, this is simply the most accurate and detail oriented listening experience money can buy. And you will need to have a lot of money available for these. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. At nearly $1200, you will certainly pay for this. If you are a true audio aficionado, however, then that will seem a small price to pay for the incredible quality and listening experience you will receive in return.
Of course, with expensive, custom made units like this, the last thing you want to do is drop them in a pocket, or wrap the cable around your media player. You want to take care of them, and make sure they are always well protected. I have to give JHAudio credit for recognizing this and including an Otterbox case in the package. Now, you are all familiar with Otterbox, maker of some of the most rugged and indestructible cases known to mobile technology. Finding an Otterbox case included with these was simply icing on the cake.
I have now had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the JHAudio 16, and I continue to be impressed by them. I know I have already said it twice in this review, but they say that you have to say things in threes for them to be truly effective. I have been listening to music all my life. I have used some of the best high end headphones available. But I have never truly heard my music before. Before I started this review, one of the big questions on my mind was whether the audio quality would really be that much better than normal high end headphones, or whether I would find the same old sound in a better fitting package. It took me about 10 seconds with these headphones to answer that question. I was absolutely stunned by the crispness and accuracy of the sound when using these headphones. Simply put, I have never heard anything like the JHAudio 16.
The JHAudio 16 is available from JHAudio for $1149.
I want to thank Jerry Harvey and his team at JHAudio for taking the time to work with us, as well as answering all of my questions, no matter how ridiculous they may have seemed.