JH Audio (or any other in-ear monitor maker) uses the ear impressions to create casting molds from which the earpiece shells of your new monitors will be made. Different manufacturers use different materials and construction approaches for their earpiece housings and these are, as it turns out, highly significant both from a sonic perspective and in terms of ease of use. JH Audio makes its earpieces from a smooth, polished solid acrylic material that is available in a wide range of colors, with options for adding custom artwork on the outside of the earpiece shell. My set are done up in a translucent green color, with the Playback logo on one side, and the JH Audio logo on the other. Inside each earpiece there is a chamber that houses the drivers and crossover components, with a set of slender tubes (or “bores”) that channel sound outward through the ear canal tip of the earpiece.
One advantage of JH Audio’s acrylic earpieces, I have discovered, is that they are very easy to grasp and to insert properly (whereas some competing models take a bit more finagling and trial-and-error adjustment to seat correctly). With the JH16 PRO’s, you just tip the earpieces forward a bit, then rotate them backward until—kerplop!—they snap comfortably into place. How’s the resulting noise isolation? It’s pretty darned amazing for newcomers to the custom-fit world—way better, in my experience, than can be achieved with even the best universal-fit in-ear headphones, yielding backgrounds that are even quieter than those achieved by active noise cancelling headphones. Think about that for a minute.
So how do the JH16 PRO’s sound? In a word, I found them “revelatory,” and on several different levels. First, as mentioned above, they give excellent noise isolation. Second, and Jerry Harvey’s long experience in the field really shows here, they have an amazingly complete and coherent sound; I don’t know exactly how Harvey does its, but he gets the JH16 PRO’s eight (count ‘em) separate drivers to sing with one coherent voice. Third, the JH16 PRO’s offer wonderfully neutral tonal balance, which I regard as one of their greatest strengths. In short, the JH16 PRO’s have taken me straight to the uppermost level of in-ear headphone performance. When I do the full Playback review of the JH16 PRO a few weeks from now, I’ll provide detailed comments to show how it compares with the other top-tier custom in-ear models I’m now evaluating. But I can tell you right now that the JH16 PRO’s deserve to be finalists on anyone’s shopping list, if no-excuses performance is what you seek.
Are custom-fit in-ear monitors worth the steep price premium they command vis-à-vis universal fit models? If the monitors in question are the JH16 PRO’s, the answer is an unqualified “Yes.” They ain’t cheap, but they’re definitely worth the moolah if you can afford the entry price.