In the world of high-end, high-accuracy in-ear monitors, Jerry Harvey is regarded as a both a pioneer and as a bit of a legend. Harvey’s work in this area began at Ultimate Ears—a company that he helped found and for which he created a number of custom-fit in-ear headphone designs that have come to be regarded as classics by the performance-minded musicians and audiophiles who know and love them. Eventually, though, Ultimate Ears was sold to Logitech, with the result that Harvey exited the audio arena for a time, only to return in 2009 as the leader of his new company: JH Audio.
JH Audio focuses on one thing only: building high-performance custom-fit in-ear monitors, and at the very top of the firm’s product pyramid resides the JH16 Pro ($1149). In a brief conversation with Harvey at the Can Jam Chicago 2010 earlier this year, I learned that the JH16 Pro embodies everything Mr. Harvey has learned over his long and successful career as a headphone designer. Despite its diminutive size, then, the JH16 Pro is chockfull of technology; it is a three-way, triple-bore in-ear monitor based on eight (!) miniature balanced-armature drivers (grouped as four low-frequency drivers, two midrange drivers, and two high-frequency drivers) said to offer “lower distortion, increased headroom and greater detail and accuracy.” In turn, the JH16 Pro claims the widest frequency response (10Hz – 20kHz) and the highest sensitivity rating (118dB @ 1 mW) of any of the JH Audio models. In short, the JH16 Pro is Jerry Harvey’s masterpiece.
Does the JH16 Pro’s sound quality live up to its “buzz?” In very many respects it does. I know that when I first received my JH Audio review samples, I found them simply revelatory—so much so that I found myself listening to them every chance that I got. Relative to even the best universal fit models I have tested, they offered superior noise isolation, with greater resolution and terrifically smooth, neutral tonal balance.
Part of my favorable reaction is simply due to the custom-fit format itself, which offers—I have discovered—terrific potential for coupling drive mechanisms to the wearer’s ears in an effective way while blocking out extraneous noise. But part of my reaction is also due to pure and simple design excellence on Jerry Harvey’s part; excellence that manifest itself in the way that Harvey gets the eight drivers of his JH16 Pro to sing with one common voice—something that, in practice, is much easier said than done. This review will explore both the concept of custom-fit in-ear models in general, and the particular performance attributes of one the JH16 Pro, which I regard as one of the best of their breed.
Consider this custom-fit in-ear monitor if: you want to go to the sonic “mountaintop” and are prepared to invest in what is certainly one of the finest (if not the finest) in-ear headphones on the planet. Positive qualities include excellent resolution, neutral tonal balance, and remarkable “cut-from-whole-cloth” sonic integrity. Sensitive and easy to drive, the JH16 Pro can be powered directly by an iPod, though to tap this monitor’s full potential you’ll need and want to use a great DAC and headphone amplifier.
Look further if: you want to do “due diligence” and thus to check out other top-tier custom fit options available. Some models to consider would include the Sensaphonics 2MAX and the Westone ES-5. Playback will be reviewing these and other custom-fit competitors in the future, but based on our listening experiences thus far, we think JH Audio’s JH16 Pro can stand tall in any company.
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced in-ear headphones)
• Tonal Balance: 10
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 9.5
• Comfort/Fit: 10
• Sensitivity: 10
• Value: 9
• Custom-fit, solid acrylic earpieces provide noise isolation (-26 dB) audibly superior to that of any universal-fit in-ear model Playback has tested, plus a comfortable fit and terrific ease of insertion.
• Earpieces can be molded in any of 54 custom colors, where users can (in most cases) pick solid or translucent colors (translucent colors show the inner structural details of the headphones). External artwork can be applied to the earpieces for a modest $50 upcharge.
• High-quality signal cables are offered in either clear or black jackets in 18-inch, 48-inch, or 64-inch lengths.
• Passive three-way crossover
• Uses eight miniature balanced-armature drivers (four low-frequency drivers, two midrange drivers, and two high-frequency drivers).
• Triple bore design (where “bores” are outlet tubes for each of the three groups of drivers).
• Gold-plated mini-jack.
• Comes packed in a watertight “Otter Box” custom labeled with the owner’s name.
• Accessories include a cleaning tool (for removing ear wax from the bore tubes), and a felt drawstring pouch.