Next drink in the shimmer of a cymbal “tree” that is struck, so that notes show a delicate, sparkling clarity—almost like sunlight reflecting off the rippled surface of a pool. As the cymbals ring, you might be struck, as I was, by the JH Audio’s ability to serve up very high levels of inner detail, but in a gentle and unforced way, without any of the artificial “spotlighting” or etching that some headphones impose. Finally, note the way that the JH16 Pro’s deftly handle the subtle inflections and unusual vibrato effects of Jonasz’ voice (which, on this track, might briefly conjure up the mental image of a male vocalist “channeling” the spirit or overall feel of some of the late Edith Piaf’s vocals). At its best, Jonasz’ voice, like Piaf’s, is not so much about sounds, per se, but rather about the emotions behind the sounds—something the JH16 Pro’s make abundantly clear.
“Le Temps Passe” is a fascinating track in that is starts simple, with almost minimalist instrumentation, and then gradually adds layer upon layer until the instrumentation becomes comparatively complex. Where some headphones tend to become flummoxed and to sound congested when serious musical complexity comes along, the JH16 Pro simply revel in it, always maintaining clarity and composure, and demonstrating a wonderful ability to delineate individual musical threads within the broader musical tapestry. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect it was this very capability that Jerry Harvey had in mind when giving his JH16 Pros such elaborate, multi-driver arrays (again, two drivers for the highs, two for the mids, and four for the bas—in each earpiece). By distributing the musical workload across a multitude of drive units Harvey ensures that no one driver ever gets overtaxed—in the process giving the overall musical presentation a relaxed, effortless quality you can both hear and feel.
To give you an idea of how the JH16 Pro compares to other top-tier custom-fit in-ear monitors, I discuss its performance relative to two leading competitors: the Sensaphonics 2MAX ($850) and the Westone ES-5 ($950).
JH16 Pro vs. Sensaphonics 2MAX ($850)
• The JH16 Pro costs roughly $300 more than the Sensaphonics 2MAX.
• The JH16 Pro is a three-way, 8-driver design, where the 2MAX is a two-way, 2-driver design.
• Overall, I found the voicing of the JH16 Pro to be more evenly and neutrally balanced than that of the 2MAX. The JH16 Pro comes as close as any in-ear headphone I’ve heard to achieving ideally neutral tonal balance, with beautiful integration and balance between mids (where most of the music lives), bass and highs. By comparison, the 2MAX offers two subtle regions of emphasis—one in the mid-bass and the other in the upper midrange/lower treble region. These “regions of emphasis” in the 2MAX typically did not register as overt colorations, per se, but rather struck me as offering judicious touches of dramatic emphasis, which some listeners might prefer.
• Resolution levels between the two monitors are comparable, though I would give the nod to the JH16 Pro’s by a narrow margin. Note, however, that the 2MAX’s offer exceptional noise isolation so that they manage to achieve—thanks to their ultra-quiet backgrounds—appealing qualities of sonic intensity and focus.
• One of the biggest differentiators between the JH16 Pro and the 2MAX involves the construction of their custom-molded earpieces, where JH Audio uses solid acrylic earpieces, while Sensaphonics uses soft-gel silicone earpieces. The difference in feel is significant.
• The JH16 Pro solid, smooth acrylic earpieces make them extremely easy to insert. Indeed, the JH Audio earpieces lend themselves to an insertion process where you gently rotate the JH16 Pro earpieces until they “snap” into position, achieving a very good seal and an extremely comfortable fit in the process. The JH16 Pros offer noticeably better noise isolation that any of the universal-fit in-ear ‘phones I’ve tried, though some other custom-fit ‘phones that can achieve even better levels of noise isolation.
• The 2MAX’s soft-gel silicone earpieces take a bit more effort to fit correctly (in part because the 2MAX earpieces fit quite deeply within the ear canal). To achieve an optimal fit, you must first rotate the 2MAX earpieces into approximately the correct position, and then press—gently but quite firmly—over the ear canal area to get the earpieces to seal correctly. The resulting fit can seem disconcertingly tight at first, but the end result is very comfortable, while the level of noise isolation achieved by the 2MAX’s is spectacularly good—better than that achieved by any other headphone (regardless of type) that Playback has tested thus far.