Every once in a while I encounter products that do so much for so little that their value quotient is off the charts; the a-JAYS Three in-ear headphones ($59.99) from the Swedish firm Jays is just such a product. How good are these stylish little ‘phones in an absolute sense? They’re good enough that, in terms of sound quality, style, fit, finish, and the accessories they include, they could in may ways pass for models selling for two or even three times their actual price. These sleek Swedish ‘phones build a strong case for upgrading from stock earbuds to something much better, and they prove that you can do so without putting a big a dent in your wallet.
Jays’ affordable a-JAYS product family features four value oriented in-ear models, with the a-JAYS Three standing as the top model in the range. The a-JAYS Three features distinctive 8.6 mm TMD moving coil-type drivers powered by Neodymium magnets, with the drivers contained within an earpiece enclosure that provides tiny front and rear bass ports said to enhance low frequency response. Although the Threes are very reasonably priced, they in no way skimp on accessories or other important detail touches. On the contrary, the Threes sport features typically found only on much more costly in-ear models. Among these are:
• A rubberized black finish on the earpieces.
• A tangle free, TPE-coated, flat signal cable that is easy to coil up into a compact roll when the ‘phones are put in storage.
• Five pairs of silicone eartips (size XXS, XS, S, M, and L).
• An airline adapter.
• A stereo splitter that makes it possible to feed two sets of ‘phones from a shared headphone jack.
• A beautiful, minimalist hard shell travel case that is shaped like a small discus and that slips easily into your pocket or handbag.
JAYS’ corporate identity statement provides clues that help explain what Jays headphones in general, and the a-JAYS Threes in particular, are all about. The statement proclaims—in Swedish-inflected English—that, “We want to design the most authentic sounding and price worthy on-ear and in-ear headphones possible and create a global life style brand for music lovers. We do not want to be a narrow audiophile brand, but still playing as close as possible by the same rules.”
The a-JAYS Threes are extremely compact in-ear headphones that I found a delight to use, in part because they come with a very broad range of silicone eartips (so that there is a size likely to fit most anyone). Once you find a pair of eartips that allow a good airtight seal in your ear canals, you simply pop the earpieces in place and away you go. The Threes weigh a very light 14 grams.
A great detail touch is the a-JAYS Three’s flat, tangle-resistant signal cable, which not only helps prevent the “rat’s nest” of wire you might encounter with some in-ear models, but that also drapes neatly and smoothly from the earpieces, making them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. And when it comes time to store the Threes, the flat cable lends itself to being rolled up in a tight coil the fits neatly within the included travel case.
The JAYS travel case is an attractive piece of industrial design that provides a distinctly Nordic-looking, two-tone, matte/gloss black discus-shaped container for the ‘phones. My one complaint would be that the case is relatively small, meaning you’ll need to roll-up the headphone’s signal cable tightly in order to leave sufficient room for the earpieces to fit within the case.
Let me begin by observing that, while the a-JAYS Three is based on a moving coil-type driver, it achieves much of the sonic purity and clarity I’ve typically associated with balanced armature-type designs I’ve sampled in the past (for example, the classic Etymotic Research ER-4P, and others cut from similar sonic cloth).
Interestingly, Jays’ packaging for the Threes offers up two descriptive phrases that imply the headphones offer sonic qualities that, paradoxically, don’t seem to belong together. On one hand, the firm touts the Threes as offering “heavy bass impact”—a potentially scary phrase if ever I heard one (hey, if I wanted a boom box, I’d buy one). In practice, I found there is some truth to the “bass impact” phrase, but that the Threes’ moderate touch of low-end emphasis was nowhere near as heavy-handed as Jays’ promotional phrase led me to expect (er, fear). On the other hand, the product container also lauds the Threes for their ostensibly “Detailed and Balanced Sound”—a statement that also contains real elements of truth given that the Threes do on the whole place a premium on accuracy and (comparatively) neutral tonal balance.