JH Audio JH5 Review


Introduction:
As an audio enthusiast, Jerry Harvey is a name I am more than familiar with. For those who don't know, Jerry Harvey is the man behind JH Audio, where the JH stands for Jerry Harvey. He didn't start here though. Jerry is actually the founder of Ultimate Ears until he left and found JH Audio. In fact, some of Ultimate Ears' current most popular products are still Jerry's earlier inventions, including the TripleFi.10. He is the true pioneer of in-ear monitoring and one of the most influential man in the audio industry. 

The only Jerry Harvey product I have heard is the TF10. It is a great product and if there was ever a "top 10 of the decade" for universal in-ear monitors, they would definitely make the list. After hearing the TF10, I could only imagine what Jerry had for in store for the custom in-ear monitors (CIEM) market. Eventually and not surprisingly, I couldn't resist anymore and gave in to my temptations. JH Audio currently offers a full lineup of custom in-ear monitors ranging from the two driver JH5 to the eight driver JH16. The subject of this review is the JH5, which is the lowest model in JH's lineup. Don't be fooled though, they are in no way "low-end" and the $400 price tag is certainly more than what most people would pay for a pair of in-ears. For any potential first time custom in-ear monitor buyers who are on the fence, I can assure you that the advantages of custom in-ears outweigh the disadvantages. With the only disadvantage I can think of being unable to share a pair of earphones. In return, you get a perfect fit (that in itself will increase the sound quality) every single time, increased comfort and no more finding the right tips or changing them every couple weeks. 

I know I'm a little late to the JH5 party since their release well over two years ago, but I'm finally on board and honestly believe they still have excellent value. 

The Ordering Process:
  • Depending on your location, JH Audio products can be ordered from their website at http://www.jhaudio.com/ or through an authorized dealer in some international locations. 
  • JH Audio's order page is actually quite a step ahead of other CIEM companies. They have a "design your IEM" page where it literally lets you design and visualize how your potential product would turn out. Previously, people would have to submit their artwork and any other customizations to JH, then have JH email them back a picture of what the CIEM will look like. 
  • There is a 2 year warranty + 30 day refit policy.
  • Customer service was very good, although response time was a little slow most likely due to the high number of orders placed during the Black Friday and month-long Christmas sale. I ended up just calling them as they always pick up the phone and my questions get answered right away. 

My JH5 was ordered during the Black Friday sale with 15% off and free shipping. The total came out to  $345 USD with free shipping, which really was too good of a deal for me to pass up. 

All custom in-ear monitors are hand-made and individually crafted to fit your ears, and only yours, perfectly. In order for that to happen, it first requires a bit of extra work on the consumer's part. A set of ear impressions is needed and it is highly recommended that a trained audiologist with experience taking ear impressions for custom in-ear monitors do this. The other method is to use a DIY kit. A trip to the audiologist can range from $20-$60 (on top of the product costs) whereas a DIY kit is generally around $10 or less.

For my ear mold impressions, I went to audiologist Rhonda Martin at HearForLife in the Greater Toronto Area. She is an audiologist who has worked with many Canadian artists including Celine Dion, Drake, Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado and many more. To be honest, I was humbled to have her take my ear impressions. She was a pleasure to work with and I would highly recommend her for anyone in the Toronto area. Anyhow, the whole process took no more than 10 minutes and other than the slight discomfort I received from the cotton balls being inserted deep into my ear canals, it was a quick and painless procedure. 

The worst part about ordering custom in-ear monitors is the wait time after the impressions have been shipped off. It is always best to just forget you even have a pair of customs coming until you unexpectedly receive a tracking number for them. The turnaround time was 17 days from when my impressions were received to when the finished product was shipped. That's pretty impressive considering the amount of orders JH Audio must have received during the sale. 

Packaging:
The JH5 is packaged in a black pouch within a clear Otterbox 1000 that has my name embossed on it. The JH Audio sleeve that goes over the Otterbox is also a nice touch. JH Audio also includes a pair of the Comply Soft Wraps, wax cleaning tool, and an informative yet entertaining manual. The people at JH Audio sure have a great sense of humor. The Otterbox 1000 is shockproof, dustproof, and waterproof up to 100 feet so it's a great little portable case that keeps them safe. I never opened the Comply Soft Wraps, which is supposed to give you an even tighter seal and better comfort, but the fit is perfect on my JH5 so I don't see the need to. 

Design
Technical Specifications
 Driver: Dual balanced armatures (single low & single high)
Frequency Response: 20Hz~17KHz
Impedance: 21Ω
Sensitivity: 119dB  
Noise Isolation: -21dB 
Current Price: $399

The JH5 uses two balanced armature drivers; one for lows and one for the highs. There is no dedicated driver for the midrange, but I'll evaluate the sound further down. The smaller driver, for the highs, is located quite close to the tip with almost half of the driver inside the ear canal. The woofer on the other hand, is pretty much right in the middle of the shell. The JH5 has a dual bore design with a separate sound tube to carry the sound from each driver. I also noticed that the tube for the tweeter is much more recessed than the other. 

The shell is made of acrylic and has detachable cables. It is a flush socket and I don't believe JH Audio offers recessed sockets. I did choose the black stock cable over the clear stock cable because I didn't want the clear copper cable to be turning hulk green after some use. Plus the black cable matches my black faceplates better anyways.

As with most custom in-ear monitors, one can customize the way they want it to look to a certain extent depending on what the company offers. With JH, you would be able to choose the color of the shell, faceplate, or if you want any special designs/artworks on the faceplate. You can also pick from many faceplate options such as titanium, carbon fibre, etc. All these extra options (other than the colour) comes at an extra cost of course. You can go to their IEM designer page to find out more about the options available. I decided to go with a simple design and one that did not cost me extra money.


Build Quality: 
The build quality is excellent. The acrylic looks to have been poured well and there are just a couple very small bubbles, but I would only notice them if I'm nitpicking. On the left faceplate however, there seems to be 3 or 4 lines of noticeable scratches parallel to each other under the top surface layer. It's not a big deal and it actually flows quite well with the shape so I don't mind. The cable is a typical stock cable; which is flexible, lightweight and soft. There are a few times where the cable got tangled up, but overall they are very easy to handle.

Isolation:
Like most other acrylic shelled custom in-ear monitors, the JH5 offers up to approximately 26dB of noise isolation.

Sound: 
So how does an entry level custom fare against top tier universals and higher end customs? Well, in my honest opinion, the JH5 sounds better than all the other top tier universals I've heard. I think this is mainly the result of a custom fit. The JH5 is still no match for higher end customs such as the Heir Audio 8.A and Unique Melody Merlin though, and the price reflects that. For these listening impressions, I am using the JH5 directly out of the iPhone 4 with 320kbps MP3 files. That said, they do sound better out of a desktop set up or with a nice portable amp and an upgraded cable, but many people may not have all these extra audio "tweaks" so I have decided to conduct my review directly through the iPhone 4. 

The JH5 has a full bodied sound that works very well with a wide range of music, sort of like a cross-trainer of sorts. The dual drivers produces a more robust sound than other dual drivers I've heard and handle complex passages well with good speed. It has a bit of warmth and an aggressive sound signature that almost demands your attention. The bass isn't heavily emphasized but still north of neutral and the treble is slightly rolled off. They are more coherent than most other multi-driver universals but are still not the smoothest I've heard and can certainly be just a tad more refined, however that's really asking too much at this price. As a whole, the JH5 is very musical and have lots of energy. 

Bass: I was actually expecting lots of bass, warmth and even a mid bass hump -something like the Westone 3- but that's not what I was greeted with. The JH5 has a punchy, dynamic bass with good impact and weight. I wouldn't call it bass-light because the low end of the spectrum is definitely raised, but they also shouldn't be considered  a basshead IEM either. I can see why fans of a flat sound signature may find the bass excessive to their preferred amount, but I  also find it hard to believe that anyone would be offended by its quantity. Bass notes are authoritative and goes along well with the  relatively aggressive sound signature, but the decay times may be a just a tad slow depending on the track and your preferences. Personally, I find the attack and decay times very enjoyable. Notes are tight, clean and does not sound boomy or bloated. In fact, I don't hear a mid bass hump and all. The low-end extension is decent; although it can generate some rumble if the track asks for it, the lows on the JH5 can't reach way down into the sub-bass region and make a track rumble the way the Unique Melody Merlin does. I find the following statement to be less true once you make the move from universals to customs (especially higher end customs), but I still believe that dynamic drivers generally produce a "better" and more natural sounding bass response. I don't want to give the impression to potential buyers that bass sounds unnatural on the JH5, instead, it's more about how organic bass sounds on dynamic drivers especially when A/B-ing between the two. Overall, the bass is full and very enjoyable, which should satisfy the bass needs of most people other than bassheads.

Midrange: Without a dedicated midrange driver, I was quite curious how the midrange sounds like. First of all, the midrange is not exactly forward or recessed. If any, it is only a very slightly recessed. The mids offer very good clarity and detail, sounding crisp and just a little edgy with some bite. It is a little more on the dry side of things though, which can be a good or bad characteristic depending on preferences. Although the overall presentation is pretty forward, I do find the vocals to be situated just a bit further back on the stage. Regardless, I find vocals to sound very good, just without the sort of intimacy the RE262 and UM2 has. Note thickness is good and the tone is quite neutral. One complaint I do have is that the upper midrange can be slightly harsh and sibilant around 2kHz. It's not so apparent that it bothers me, but it is noticeable. I don't find the midrange to be the forte of the JH5, but the mids are definitely present and still pleasant to listen to.

Treble: The treble of the JH5 could use more extension as it is a slightly rolled off near the top. It does, however, have good sparkle in the lower treble. The treble is one area where I think adding an amp really helps. Without an amp, the high end lacks some refinement even when compared to some top tier universals.  Generally, the treble is crisp, clear and quite accurate. There is also good detail and clarity. The highs aren't as energetic as the Westone 3, but they are far from boring and I didn't experience any fatigue even through longer listening sessions. 

Soundstage / Presentation: The JH5 has a pretty forward, in-your-face kind of presentation. I don't find it fatiguing but I'd imagine it may be if you listen to it your music at high volumes. Its soundstage size is not the biggest, but instead more closed in. The width of the stage is quite wide, but there is not enough depth and layering could be better. Instrument separation is pretty decent as is the imaging and positioning.

Final Thoughts:
The dual-BA setup of the JH5 is not going to top higher end customs, but the sound produced by this entry-level custom is worthy of its $400 price tag. At this price range, you have the option of buying a top tier universal or going with a entry-level custom, and if you decide to go the customs route I would strongly recommend you consider the JH5. For the same price, you would get better isolation, a perfect fit every time, and customization options to personalize your pair of customs. The build quality of JH Audio is very impressive. Combined with great customer service, I have a peace of mind knowing that if anything goes wrong, the folks at JH Audio will do all they can to assist me.

Of course, going the customs route means much lower resell values so you'd first want to know what exactly sound signature you are looking for. The JH5 is not an analytical earphone, instead it produces a musical and slightly bass enhanced sound. The presentation is very enjoyable and I often find myself nodding my head along with the music. Although I currently have two other high end customs, I am still very impressed with what the JH5 brings to the table with its dual balanced armatures. How Jerry got such a big sound out of two drivers I don't know, but I am very happy with my JH5.