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February / March 2010
Superior Audio Equipment Review

JH Audio JH13 Pro In Ear Monitors
Having loved and lost.
Review By Steven R. Rochlin

Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

JH Audio JH13 Pro In Ear Monitors (IEM)  Nothing in the world is like the feeling of owning your very first one-off custom made item. Made to measure Italian suits, a specially prepared Pininfarina draped Ferrari or perhaps a extraordinary piece of handmade jewelry to celebrate a special occasion. When it comes to high-end audio, most of the products are off the shelf unless you have chosen to dabble in the DIY side of the hobby. When it comes to things like headphones, there are a few guys who can, and do, tinker to achieve better than factory results. Yes those of us with more modest skills who want to seek the Holy Grail have to hire out. And so enter companies like JH Audio that have been offering custom made professional in ear monitors (IEM) for many years.

 

Design
So what makes the JH Audio JH13 Pro so special? Well, for one thing they use custom precision-balanced armatures that are specifically made to cover the frequency desired. In the JH13 Pro there are separate units for the tweeter, midrange and bass just as you would find in a normal loudspeaker. The drivers themselves are housed within special internal chambers and their output meets at the exit hole that sits comfortably right at the opening of your ear canal. Add to that, these are just not off the shelf enclosures as you need to visit an audiologist so he can make a mold of your ear. This mold is then used to make a housing that perfectly fits and seals just inside your outer ear. Benefits of this technique include a high 26 dB of noise isolation, yet the real magic is that they perfectly fit. Many in ear devices rely on you choosing one of three plastic pieces that then help form a seal so the IEM stays out, is generally comfortable to wear and isolated outside sounds.

 

After trying various IEMs from a few manufacturers it was time for the next level in sound quality. This is not to say that non-custom fit IEMs are bad, it is simply that many people have told me that once you go custom you will never go back to off the shelf models. While at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest cool dude and all around great guy Tyll Hertsens of Headroom suggested i give the JH Audio IEMs a try. Anyone who has met Tyll knows he has more experience in portable audio than pretty much anyone else on planet Earth. So when he says i should try something i take his recommendation very seriously. And what that said, i went over the JH Audio booth, had a mold made of my ear and then two weeks later a package showed up at my doorstep.

As a side note, every truly professional racecar driver or stage musician uses custom IEMs. Why? Because they perfectly fit as your body aggressively moves around plus high noise isolation. Add to that, options like an ambient vent allow for some of the external sound to be passively 'mixed' in so that while on stage, or in a racecar, you can hear a combination of the band (or racecar's engine/tranny) with your desired IEM content.

 

Comfort?
As for comfort, there is no comparison to normal IEMs. During a very long flight from the USA to Asia (see my China tour) the JH Audio JH13 Pro were in my ears for over 12 continuous hours and never once did i feel ear canal fatigue. Normal off the shelf IEMs like those from Etymotic Research, Monster Cable, Skull Candy, etc begin to become uncomfortable after only two hours. Adding to the comfort factor, the JH Audio units seem to isolate more external sound so that the constant whir and noise of the airplane did not cause me to suffer the usual agitation feeling.

 

The Sound
Of course all the above makes for a nice read, yet if a product can not deliver the high sound quality a musician and audio reviewer like myself demands then what is the point? The first thing i did upon getting the JH Audio JH13 Pro was give it a quick listen. Sounded good, darn good, yet like all brand new audio devices with moving parts, like speakers and IEMs, it was time to give them about 30 hours of usage via my special technique. Well, there really is nothing special as first comes some nice lower volume classical music for about ten hours, then some time to rest followed by ten hours of medium volume rock and roll. The last ten hours are highish volume levels with Kraftwerk The Mix and Prodigy's Fat Of The Land. Of course this is very easy with IEMs versus dragging big speakers into my basement for this running in of components.

After this 30 hours of usage without them being in my ears it was time for a listen and while the sound was not drastically different versus my first listen, the music did sound smoother and from very deep bass to the highs had excellent integration. In fact i was truly amazed by how deep the bass goes! This is not augmented bass like one of those boom cars, this is real and usable accurate bass, which is especially inspiring during pipe organ music and big orchestral pieces. Naturally rock and techno also benefit, and both in output and timing the JH13 Pro were very neutral with first-rate pace, rhythm and timing (PRAT).

Moving on to some outstanding jazz, Miles Davis' legendary Kind of Blue from a digital file rip i did of vinyl sounded very soothing. Inner resolution with the JH Audio JH13 Pro makes my old Sennheiser HD600 headphones sound downright upper mid-fi. Add to that, you truly do hear so much detail that it made me go back to many recordings i knew well for a listen. As cliché as that sounds, it really is true. So next came everything from Itzhak Perlman to Tool and all in-between. Harmonic textures flowed, everything from top to bottom in frequency was balanced and the speed of the drivers provided perhaps the best resolution this side of certain hornspeakers and the very best electrostat/panels.

So are they perfect? Well, not quite as the very high frequencies around 8kHz on up seems a bit rolled off. Anything over 12kHz was very much down in volume. As such, some of the 'air' and extension on my album THTST was generally missing in action. My only other criticism is that while the detail and resolution is truly excellent, there is a small bit of dynamic compression. 

It is small, and let me say that again it is small yet perhaps due to such high resolution it becomes a tiny bit noticeable. Think of it as having the perfect paint job on a show car and then you notice a small bit of overspray in the engine compartment. So it is really almost not worth mentioning yet retentive reviewers like me... and yes i tried various older Headroom amplifiers, a few newer Ray Samuels Emmeline DAC/headphone amplifiers plus my old faithful Dubiel Accoustics Skorpion HV-1 OTL tube amplifier. Frankly, the JH Audio JH13 Pro are so good it makes reviewing such amplifiers far easier due to their transparency. So please take my nitpicking as being overly so.

Before i forget, used the JH13 Pro while playing the drums along with other music and they were much better than the Etymotic Research 4P. Their immense clarity and isolation allowed me to easily hear the prerecorded music. In addition, they never fell out during even the most intensive drumming.

 

Custom Made, Just For You
Like a fine made to measure Italian suit from Brioni in Milan versus an off the shelf job, the JH Audio JH13 Pro separates the truly professional from a basic high-end product. After well over 250 hours of use i only wish there was more time to enjoy them. The sad truth is, during a US Airways flight to Daytona Beach i left them in the plane's seat back and they have not been seen since. The airlines did find my personal media player and sent it back to me, yet as of this writing the JH Audio JH13 Pro are still MIA. Whoever said "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" never fell in love with the JH13 Pro.

Added: Have acquired another set of JH13 Pro... and all is well in the world once again. Frankly, there is no way for me to ever go back to Sennheiser headphones or other IEM units that are not custom fit. The difference is that extreme and well worth the price of entry to this level of sound quality and comfort! 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Custom made in ear monitors
Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 20 kHz
Drivers: Dual low, dual mid, dual high proprietary precision-balanced armatures
Integrated three-way crossover
Noise Isolation: -26dB
Input Connector: 1/8" (3.5mm) gold-plated
Input Sensitivity: 119dB @ 1mW
Impedance: 28 Ohms
Price $1099 in stock form, with ambient vent +$50 and custom artwork +$50

 

Company Information
JH Audio
1321 Apopka Airport Drive
Unit 143
Apopka, FL 32712

Voice: (866) 485-9111
Fax: (407) 814-0018
Website: www.jhaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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