Pros: Incredible Bass Response & Sound-Staging. Sonic fluidity & Lower-Midrange Control & Precision. Overall Dynamic Gestalt! Emotively Impactful
Cons: Don't have Anything to Complain About Yet!
I feel obligated to share out-of-the-gate that I am no CIEM expert! As a matter of fact, I don't even particularly enjoy IEMs - I love over-ear or on-ear headphones. That said: Experiencing JH Audio's JH-13 Pro (now Freqphase) IEMs at Canjam 2009 was nothing short of a revelation for me. As a matter of fact, the experience was so far from anything I had to compare it with that I ended up being fortunate enough to write the first formal review of the JH-13 Pro for Positive Feedback! That was an intimidating task to say the least. There I was, at the time, a music and high end audio two-channel writer/reviewer, and I had to try and paint a sonic picture of how amazing these in-ear-monitors were! I decided to approach the review like I did with all Hi-fi gear: from the experience of listening to the music through the component. I didn't have the technological acumen to write a technical review anyway. So, I took a chance, and I am very lucky that it paid off. The review was effective. I ended up hearing back from many readers - and many of them took a leap of faith and purchased the JH-13 Pros as the result of my down-to-Earth style in that IEM review. It was then that I realized the potential for headphones as high fidelity playback systems! I haven't looked back since.
The really crazy thing is: I wasn't even looking for headphones for myself! I was shopping for my cousin, Kenny Gould. Kenny works on Special Projects for Stevie Wonder, and he sent me on a mission to check out different IEMS from Westone, Ultimate, etc. Now - I knew Jerry Harvey for years. When I worked at Atlantic Records I used to go to Jerry to handle all the on-stage in-ear-monitors for our top artists. So, needless to say, I/we entrusted him with the ears (and so livelihoods) of some of the labels top multi-platinum selling artists! That's not a small thing to entrust somebody with. So when I saw him at Canjam 09 with a new company, he asked if I'd take a listen to his latest design. Jerry also knew I wasn't fond of in-ear-monitors - so I think this presented a cool challenge for him. Could he convert me? Well, here we are! He blew my brain back then, and he and the JH Audio team have done so again with the Roxannes. Just when I thought the air and dynamic contrasts of the JH-13 Freqphase couldn't be beat, the Roxannes have come along and re-defined, once again for me, what's possible in a CIEM when it comes to sonic integrity and musical engagement (actually - the word engrossment might be more accurate here). I honestly didn't believe this kind of bass response and extension that I experience with the Roxannes was possible at this time! That was the only thing missing for me with the JH-13 Freqphase. As a guy with his roots planted firmly in high end two-channel audio, and, now, over-ear or on-ear headphone playback, the bass weight and impact of the JH-13s always impressed me, but I've been yearning for a CIEM that delivers bass like my Audeze LCD-XC or LCD-3 w/ Fazor ever since I started listening to Audeze headphones! Well, this may sound strange, but the Roxannes did not present themselves to me, sonically, as a pair of CIEMs at all during my first listening sesh with my own custom molds. When I demo'd the Roxannes at Canjam 2014 I could tell there was some magic there - but I could never quite get the seal right. We all know, especially when it comes to bass and lower mid-range performance, a good seal in an IEM is everything. I tried all sorts of tips that I brought to the demo - and with triple-flanges I finally got a glimpse of the potential for these amazing earphones. I could tell I was missing something, that the Roxannes could do even more than what I was experiencing at the time - but I was still blown away by their silky mids, big bass (not exaggerated, but weighty) and mid-range clarity. I knew I had to hear em again. Luckily my friend Andy Regan (who was at Cardas for years) was there with JH Audio. Andy's running the company now, and is very much at home. It was great to see him all smiles - so much that he flipped the bill for our Head-Fiers breakfast at Newport! Thank you Andy and JH Audio by the way! Luckily, JHA was also a vendor in our Audio360.org event at T.H.E Show Newport this year (at T.H.E Headphonium) so I got to give em another shot. After hearing them again, just knowing there was something was out there far superior to my JH-13 Freqphase drove me insane.
I admit being a professional reviewer has its perks. I didn't pay near full-price for these. But if you think that's some kind of payola, or that it drove me to write a positive review, well, lets just say that assumptions are the mother of all f_____ups. I've been an outspoken evangelist for JH Audio since I traveled the world with my JH-13s, especially after my review at Positive Feedback (and subsequent Writers Choice Award that I gave em that year). My advocacy for the brand did not stop at my review like so many other writer/reviewers. I share about my JH Audios often in my social media chain and any other place where I think people need to know about JH Audio. Believe me, I was perfectly content with my JH-13s! I didn't wanna have to upgrade! Actually, if I can approach a level of honesty bordering on stupidity here: You know what I said to Jerry Harvey when I heard the Roxannes for the first time at Canjam 2013? He can back this up: My exact words were (as I was using my own Astell&Kern AK120 as the source for the demo, so I knew the source material as well as a man can): F___ You! Meant as a compliment of course, as strange as that may sound. I meant it! There I was, now unfortunately armed with the knowledge that when I got on the plane to leave Denver after RMAF, and put on my JH-13 Freqphase, for the first time I'd be thinking: Damn, now I gotta get those freakin' Roxannes! I never thought of anything while bumpin' my JH-13 Freqphase before that! I was more than content, I was happy! Jerry disrupted that contentment. Damn you Jerry!
So, they arrived and I began throwing everything at them that I could think of...
I was also very impressed with the job they did using our Audio360.org logo! I didn't want the logo on both ears. That would be overkill (I think anyway). Since I'm a lefty the left ear was the best spot. I stuck with the JH Audio angel for the right side. I wasn't concerned with carbon-fiber or anything uber-pimp like that. I just wanted the CIEMS in all their sonic glory. After all, who cares what they look like as long as they fit snug and comfortably (which these do) and I can listen to em for hours. I also feel it's necessary to share that these are the only IEMs (even CIEMS, including my JH-13 Freqphase) that I have fallen asleep with em in my ears! Normally its not a matter of discomfort that prevents me from listening to in-ear-monitors when I sleep - especially since we always fall asleep listening to some form of meditative music - whether it be experimental electronic grooves or Dr. Wayne Dyer self-awareness LPs (yes, we listen to that lunatic sometimes - he's actually got some empowering tools to offer in his aural toolbox - I suggest you check him out) I have woken up with the Roxannes in my ears a bunch of times at this point. My cousin wondered why that was the case. After all, the fit is practically the same as my JH-13s! I told him I honestly don't think it's a matter of better fit. I think the improved sonics allow my brain to let go of the fact that foreign objects are sitting in my ears as I fall asleep! The Roxannes have this sense of three-dimensionality that's uncanny in a pair of CIEMs! That seemed nutty to me the first time I started jotting down notes about this concept, as the things sit in your ears! How can they create an actual sound-field? To be brutally honest: I don't know, and I don't care - it happens! The Roxannes are the one and only IEM I've experienced that paint a holographic image like an open-back over-ear headphone when I'm listening to tunes! Playing Fhloston Paradigm's "Light on Edge" from The Phoenix LP for example: There are these panning, transient synth stabs that travel in and around the sound-stage, encircling the airy vocal samples and hovering atmospheric sounds. I get the same spacial effect via the Roxannes that I get when rockin' this track with my Audeze LCD-3 w/ Fazor! How's that possible? I don't have a clue - I just know what I hear and it's mesmerizing. I can't get enough of this effect. I often play tracks like this over and over with the Roxannes, and, to me, that means there's something magical happening during playback and I want more of it every time I listen. The same thing happens while playing Eno & Hyde's latest album: High Life. I feel like I'm listening to large, over-ear headphones! On "Time to Waste it" off High Life there are also vocals being encompassed by breezy guitar-work and airy synths. This track is a little more stripped-down however, so the presence of space is infectious, especially considering I'm talking about listening to this with IN-ear-monitors! It's Eno & Hyde's use of the space between the notes/triggered sounds on this record that help make it such a captivating listening experience. I didn't know an IEM could be capable of translating that spacial quality. The Roxannes pulled it off with style, grace, and ease!
* Astell&Kern AK240 DAP - via 3.5mm standard stereo output
* CEntrance / Glove Audio A1 DAC/Amp for Astell&Kern AK120 & 100 (I'm using my AK120 for storage) - the A1 is a DAC/amp for older A&K models: Essentially turns your old player into a whole new DAP! - By means of turning the AK120 or 100 into the storage - and the A1 takes over duties as DAC + Headphone amp - via via 3.5mm standard stereo output
*ALO Island DAC/amp (w/ Amarra as source for the Island) via 3.5mm standard output
* Ernestolone Carot One tube/hybrid DAC/Amp
As indicated in the review
Another album that's been getting tons of spins over here is Recondites Hinterland. This record is pure ear-candy. Drivy kick-drums pound with abandon, floating synths weave in and out of other elements, and while each track has its own distinctive feel, there's a rhythmic pulse to this record that doesn't let up. For fans of underground electronic music - it's like a gorgeous, early-morning intelligent tech-house LP. One of my favorite tracks on the record is "Riant" - which, once it's in-motion, the forward progression doesn't halt until the end of the track, even during the breakdown. The wifey and I had our own lil' silent raves in my home office, dancing to this track. Usually she's wearing my Audeze LCD-3s, and me the LCD-2s (using my Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold as the power source behind it all). When I dropped this track using the Roxannes and Glove Audio A1 by CEntrance (currently two months out), a DAC/Amp for Astell&Kern's AK120 and 100 - the sound was so silky-smooth it sounded like water that'd been spilled on a pristine glass table - the beads of water moving along the glass until they trickled off.
The kick-drum was heavy, yet tightly controlled, the airy synths were like waves of sand. The overall effect was enrapturing. I couldn't stop listening to this track! I'd hit the play button over and over again. It was like being at an after hours party, when the 4AM DJ is just hitting his stride, and the beat is constant but also moody. The crowd, while over-tired, can't help but get up and move to the rhythm. That was me, dancing in my office at 5:30AM (oh, wait, that's happening right now...). I've never been so overwhelmed by the sheer power of music through CIEMs like this before. The track after "Riant": "Stems" kicks off with a pounding four-on-the-floor bass beat. The sound on systems that aren't resolute can be quite sterile, as there's a textural quality to the bass that's akin to that wonderful resonance you get when hearing a Funktion One club system, or the early Fazon systems in places like Club Twilo in the mid-90's. It's not merely a kick, its got a tonal quality that seems to ebb and flow, and the Roxannes captured and reproduced this is such glorious fashion. I swear these don't behave like IEMs at all when I'm lost in the music. It's just like listening to some of my better over-ear cans! The frequency spectrum is full-bodied and extended. From the lows to the highs I can almost feel the colorful timbre, the dynamic contrasts are extremely well-rounded. That is not to say there's any shading or muffling of any sound to make it so: The contrasts are wide and deep, almost opaque. The breath of sound is far greater than anything I've come to expect from IEMs or CIEMs! And the detail retrieval? That's another area where the Roxannes jump out at me. On Hecq's new Conversions LP (a remix compilation album) he re-works tracks of such musically diverse artists such as Bersarin Quartett, Bong-Ra, and TechDiff to Ruby My Dear and Anodyne! The sounds and styles are as varied as the artists names. The record's choc full of different sounds and effects, and it goes from chill-room atmospheric to slamming dub step in zero-to-sixty! It makes for entertaining listening and system tests (highly recommended btw)! The Roxannes did such an amazing job of reproducing the magical sonic variants of this album. That's no easy task. The transducers were getting worked, and they sound better the more worked-over they get! I can't wait to re-visit this review in a couple months. My JH-13s got better for at least 500 hours. I believe that. I heard it happen.
I'm going to recommend Hecq's Conversions to the crew over there for demo purposes! That's another thing you hear in the Roxannes: that the Harveys of Jerry Harvey Audio are into all sorts of music! I know it, as Jaime-Harvey Penrod and I share a passion for The Dirty Projectors, and turning each other onto new music. If they weren't fellow music addicts their earphones wouldn't be able to handle such a wide variety of sounds. Some of us have been hearing this happen to a few high end loudspeaker designers over the years. Since we know the designers musical taste: Lets say jazz, classical, and about as pop as they go is Janice Ian - than it's no surprise when their speakers play back Stravinsky's The Fire bird Suite heavenly, but crumble under Eskmo, Amon Tobin, Foreign Beggers, and artists like Goldie! While I'm no audio designer, I can say straight-up part of my goal would be to make a product that's capable of reproducing (as we're deep in the music reproduction end of it here) the depths of the audio spectrum that humans can react to. What lives on that system? There are so many different artists/people out there - I think people should strive to make a product that's only discrimination pertains to audio quality of the source! Your headphones or speakers should, IMO, if I'm forking over scratch to buy them, play back my music too, as well as whatever you're listening to. JH Audio gets this at a fundamental level. Jerry's a monitor mix engineer for bands like Van Halen! That's as close to doing what we do as listeners as you can get in the live music world. It's a boatload more work, and just about everything comes down to your mix! But Jerry has to be a professional discriminating listener to nail it live! Plus: he's also about getting the most music out of his products! He told me to get Drew's Silver Dragon IEM cables from Moon Audio for my JH-13s years ago. Now Jerry's company had cables, but he tested Drews and it was better so he didn't waste any time in an ego-battle about who's getting what. He was about getting the most out of his work, his art, and Drew's art complements his! I still rock Silver Dragon as a must-have today, especially at Meets and shows! Then they started offering them online with their IEMs. That's a man who wants you to connect with music like he does That's salt-of-the-Earth kinda-thinking we need in this community. Well, we have more of that here than any other tribe in the audio hobby. I believe that, but we must keep that outlook alive. The great thing here is, Jerry also makes the world's most musically exciting IEMs on the planet as far as I'm concerned. I don't like the word best when it comes to describing gear on the reproduction end. We're all reacting to an art-form: Music. That's being translated by someone Else's art - the gear! And to that end, we're all human and therefore all unique in our reaction to things. The Roxanne, however, is not something that I'll bother arguing with someone over. It's a great in-ear headphone. It does such a grand job that the best compliment I can give it is that while I was typing this, I heard this bizarre effect mixed into Hecq's Conversions, where the gain wasn't merely adjusted in the mix - it was brought down and they introduced the vibe of a three dimensional space, where a car travels from one end of the soundstage to another, and when the change occurred, I thought something was going on outside the headphones, I took em out and looked for Alexandra! There I am, like "honey, you OK? - and she's on the side porch with our cat. So, whether Hecq's new brilliant record is in fact a headphone album, and I believe it is, after hearing things like that get me a few times...
The best thing about the JH Audio Roxannes was, through that whole mix,
I didn't realize I was wearing in-ear-monitors! I went to grab a headphone off my head. No s___.
When I pulled em out I thought to myself, damn, these are amazing.
Sorry if I don't have anything to hate on.
These made my month, knowing I can travel with sound this big and powerful
without a couple cases! I'll only bring one headphone case when traveling personally now - YES,
it's a problem... I'm workin' on it.
The Roxannes could be Jerry's biggest challenge as he's reached such a high point in the in-ear-monitor arts!
Meaning: what's he gonna do to top this?