JH16 Pro vs. Westone ES-5 ($950)
• The JH16 Pro costs roughly $200 more than the Westone ES-5.
• The JH16 Pro is a three-way, 8-driver design, where the ES-5 is a three-way, 5-driver design.
• The voicing of the JH16 Pro is somewhat more smoothly and neutrally balanced than that of the ES-5. By comparison, the ES-5 exhibits a gentle region of upper midrange emphasis that tends to make certain midrange instruments, vocalists, and transients sound slightly more prominent in the mix. While this prominence can impart a sense of superior clarity, the tradeoff is that the Westones can occasionally sound “spitty” on hard upper midrange transient sounds, where the JH16 Pros sound unfailingly smooth.
• Resolution levels between the JJ16 Pro’s and ES-5’s are comparable.
• One of the biggest differentiators between the JH16 Pro and the ES-5 involves the construction of their custom-molded earpieces. The JH Audio uses solid acrylic earpieces, while Westone uses a combination of solid acrylic material for the main bodies of their earpieces they also use a separate, thermally sensitive, “soft-feel” material for the portion of the earpiece that inserts into the ear canal. As the Westone earpieces come up to temperature, their tips become semi-flexible and thus conform to the shape of the ear canal to achieve a better seal.
• The ES-5 earpieces in a sense “split the difference” between the JH Audio and Sensaphonics earpiece designs. On the one hand, the Westones have the easy-to-insert qualities of the all-acrylic JH Audio earpieces, while also offering some if not all) of the superior noise isolation characteristics that the Sensaphonics’ soft-gel silicone earpieces provide.
The JH16 Pro is the finest in-ear monitor that Jerry Harvey has ever designed, which is saying a mouthful when you look back at some of the groundbreaking products that he designed while at Ultimate Ears, and it looks and feels the part of a true flagship product. The two qualities that make the JH16 Pros most special are the overall smoothness and neutrality of their tonal balance coupled with the seamless coherency of the sound achieved by their eight balanced-armature drivers.
Though the JH16 Pro is sensitive enough to be driven directly from an iPod, you’ll need a very good DAC and headphone amplifier to realize the full scope of the sonic benefits the JH Audio ‘phones provide. Is it worth taking the plunge to invest in good set of custom-fit in-ear monitors? Yes, it definitely is if the monitors in question are the JH16 Pros. Though they are undeniably expensive, the JH16 Pros provide an audio experience that not even today’s best universal-fit in-ear headphones can hope to equal. For now, we think the JH16 Pro represents the sonic “mountaintop” among in-ear headphones.
JH Audio JH16 Pro custom-fit in-ear monitor
Type: Three-way, 8-driver (balanced armature), triple-bore, custom-fit in-ear headphones
Accessories: Otter Box custom labeled with owner’s name, JH16 Pro with earpieces molded in the owner’s choice of custom colors (see JH Audio web site for options), felt drawstring carrying pouch, cleaning tool.
Frequency response: 10Hz – 20kHz
Weight: Not specified
Sensitivity: 118 dB SPL/mW
Impedance: 18 ohms
Warranty: 2 years, parts and labor