Behind the company name JH AUDIO is Jerry Harvey. That name might not mean a lot to some people, but those who have been following the in-ear development race over the last couple of years might have come across it from time to time. Jerry Harvey has a long track record of producing some very innovative in-ear designs for Ultimate Ears like the Triple.fi 10 Pro and Super.fi 5 Pro.
Ever since Jerry Harvey stated his own company the world’s audio enthusiasts have been given a few treats. The guys and girls at Jerry Harvey Audio began by ambushing the market with a remarkable new three way six driver design dubbed the JH|13Pro. Not long after the six driver market got a bit more crowded with the arrival of the Ultimate Ears's bid.
Instead of one-upping UE, JH Audio released a new eight driver design called the JH|16Pro. Cramming eight balanced armatures into one in-ear along with a three way passive crossover is no easy feat of engineering. Today we take a long and hard look at what is one of the most expensive in-ears to date, namely the JH|16Pro.
- Impedance: 18 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 118 dB @ 1 mW
- Frequency response: 10 Hz to 20 kHz
The JH|16Pros come with a very sparse bundle. You get a manual which is really informative and gives you a few tips on how to insert and remove them easily. There are also notes on how to preserve them in mint condition. With the expenses for a set coming in just north of $1,200 one would definitely want to do everything in their powers to keep them at their peak performance.
Besides the usual wax scooper, you get a real nice Otterbox with every set of Jerry Harvey in-ears. Unfortunately the box is without foam inserts so it offers minimum protection against shocks. There is also a small pouch which sheds fibers that can get in everywhere. Fortunately JH AUDIO is reworking the bundle and have decided against providing a carrying bag.
The set we received were made from clear acrylic. On the JH AUDIO site there are a lot of different color options to choose from, and they even do custom graphics.
The cable is slightly thicker than what is on current generation Westone products and is also slightly harder. In terms of microphonic noise this cable is a wee bit worse off than the Westone equivalent, however, it seems better built and less prone to unraveling. Also the cable jacket seems to be much tougher.
One annoying detail to my ears is the memory wire inserted in the cable near the ear pieces. This upsets the fit and makes them hard to insert quickly.
Behold octo-driver galore! Since our sample is transparent you can see every little detail inside of them. It is remarkable how they got everything fitted inside such a small volume. The eight drivers are all hooked up to the cross over in pairs.
The drivers are placed wherever they fit inside the shell. There is still some room left inside the ear pieces but it is mostly towards the upper part of the shell where the crossover is fitted.
One of the things that surprised me was just how small the treble drivers are and where they are located. The smallest of the four pairs is positioned inside the nozzle part of the in-ear.
These in-ears are triple bore which means there are three sound tubes. The configuration is one big sound tube with two small ones inside. The midrange and bass drivers use the two small tubes whereas the treble driver fires into the large one.
The detachable cable uses a simple two pin connector. The connector does not hit the shell but the gap is only about 0.1 mm.
Size wise a custom in-ear will always be a bit bigger than your average universal in-ear. Notice how the cable of the Westone 3 is thinner and lacks the memory wire near the end.
The model we are testing today is the only eight driver design on the market. The eight drivers are hooked up to a three way crossover which means that there are four drivers to handle the bass, two for the mids and two for the highs. The JH|16Pros were tested on the the following rigs: Head-Direct HM-801 with GAME card and via line-out to a Ray Samuels Tomahawk IEM amplifier, iPhone 4 (headphone out), Cowon D2 (headphone out).
Even though this set of in-ears has loads of drivers it is still a very efficient design which means it can be powered by just about any DAP on the market today. Considering the price and performance level of these in-ears you need a high quality DAP to take full advantage of them. While they sound good on the iPhone 4 and the Cowon DAP, using them with the RSA Tomahawk fed by the HifiMAN's line-out really showed their true potential. They will undoubtedly sound better on an even more elaborate rig.
As you might expect with a four woofer design the bass is prominent and remarkably powerful. Amount wise these in-ears have a little more bass than the Westone 3s with foam tips on, but unlike the Westone 3s there is no fall off in the lower registers. The bass extension on the 16s is just incredible, the bass is elevated to a point where some might find it a bit too much. To my ears the bass is spot on, even though it is emphasized it is very linear which gives it a very focused and realistic sound. The linearity of the bass and speed gives these JH AUDIO constructions a very unique sound.
The amount of bass is perhaps a little over the top sometimes, but it depends greatly on what type of music you are listening to and how well it is mastered. On well mastered pieces the amount is just right, on more modern and loud masterings that are severely compressed it does have a tendency to be a bit over the top. Even though they have plenty of bass they sound quite analytical with a good amount of low end grunt. This I attribute to the fact that the bass does not bleed into the midrange. The midrange of the JH|16Pros is remarkably realistic or neutral if you will. Overall I would define the sound of the JH|16Pros as neutral with elevated bass due to the lack of coloration of the midrange. As opposed to the Westone 3s where the bass bleeds into the midrange, this gives them a warmer tonality overall.
The midrange has some of the characteristics of the bass. Definition wise the midrange is just mindblowing. The speed and weight of the midrange reminds me of the HE-5LEs which we recently reviewed. Because of the speed and weight percussive instrument qualities are right on the money. I would not go as far as describing the 16s as mid focused because of their frequency response, but the midrange is there and it is not lacking in any way.
Treble performance is likewise staggering. Both extension and amount is spot on, there is enough shimmer for it to sound engaging and energetic when need, but it is never tiring or annoying. They have a touch more treble than the Westone 3s, but without any hint of sibilance in the upper midrange which is amazing. Usually to get the treble energy needed, the upper midrange is a bit tipped so that Ss sound piercing or sibilant if you will. The JH|16Pros have no issues with keeping the midrange completely balanced and neutral sounding.
Like most in-ears these ones have a very intimate sound stage. The JH|16Pros are a bit special though, the sound stage seems more coherent and instrument separation is very good which is probably a result of the immense resolving power of the driver setup. Every little coloration of an instrument or voice is so easy to pick up and identify. These in-ears are the most detailed I have ever laid ears to.
Microphonics play a huge part in how usable a set of in-ears is. Unfortunately the cable JH uses is a bit stiffer and thicker than that of recent Westone models so it has a tendency to pick up a bit more unwanted noise. The JH cable is still far better than the majority of cables out there, but it is not the Holy Grail.
Value and Conclusion
- The Jerry Harvey Audio 16 Pros go for $1149 online (molds are not included).
- Incredible performance across the line
- Neutral sounding albeit with a slightly over emphasized bass
- Well made and durable cable
- Otterbox accessory
- Neutral sounding
- Very good build quality of both cable and ear pieces
- High cost
- Not the least microphonic cable out there
- Pouch sheds fibers
- Otterbox without foam lining
- Small sound stage
This über high end offering from Jerry Harvey Audio will undoubtedly serve as sound quality benchmark for a long time. The innovative design and perfect performance over a wide variety of aspects makes them stunning to listen to. On the downside we can mention the cable which could be less microphonic, but we understand the need for a durable cable as well. Then there is the subject of accessories, the Otterbox is nice but we would have preferred it if it had some form of foam or fabric lining to make it more shock absorbent. The con list is therefore very short and it contains only minor flaws.
These in-ears come at a hefty price tag of $1,149 for the in-ears, total cost of a set will be a bit higher since you will have to get a set of ear impressions done. A set of impressions usually costs around $50. So in order to get your hands on what is probably the best sounding in-ears around at the moment you have to be willing to dish out over $1200. This might seem like much, but these in-ears are actually on par and best some of my high end headphones driven by a somewhat expensive desktop system. Considering the fact that you can have these on you at all times and use them with great results on the move makes this solution much more versatile than a more conventional high end setup.
Since they sound very good you have to get yourself a decent portable source in order to take full advantage of them. A high end DAP will do but the JH|16Pros will reward you for spending a little time on getting a good IEM amplifier.
The pouch issue is being handled since the future packaging is being altered.