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JH 3a TOTL Headphone Experience in the palm of your hand

A Review On: JH Audio JH-3A DSP Amplifier

JH Audio JH-3A DSP Amplifier

Rated # 106 in Desktop Amps
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $1,800.00
jp11801
Posted · 1735 Views · 9 Comments

Pros: Speed, Detail, high quality bass, instrument seperation

Cons: battery life and factory gain setting

 

I first caught wind of the 3a about 18 months ago in the cryptic words of the designer Jerry Harvey, telling me that he had something really big on the horizon.

Prior to CanJam Chicago word spread of a very cool innovation that Jerry was going to show at the event. Most that heard the potential of the 3a that day were blown away at the increase in quality over even the already outstanding JH 13 or 16. The concept was to take IEMs and create crossovers and amps that use sound gains made in high end live sound and high end studio monitors. Many audiophiles love single driver speakers because they eliminate the crossover unfortunately they all largely roll off at the extremes. The 3a rips a page out of the book of high end studio monitors like ATC, take the signal and divide it prior to amplification then send just the signal meant for the driver in a multi driver set up. This optimizes the signal for the amp provides a much cleaner signal for the driver. 

 

JH is implementing this via DSP so an analog signal goes into an ADC (analog to digital converter), all signals are then converted to 24/96 and sent to the DSP chip where a digital signal processor applies the correct eq and phase correction.Then the signal is separated into three signals highs, mids and bass and then these three signals are sent to an amp section dedicated to just segment of the frequency. The signals are sent to the earpieces as three separate signals and then to your ears.

 

Jerry his company and customers went through a very trying time over the past year since he showed the concept. Various design changes and people who joined the project left but Jerry stayed the course along with a dedicated and slightly smaller group of customers. Well 8 months after the original release was it worth it? This customer says absofreakinglutely yes! Although I am not fully certain most headfi readers will fully understand what is going on for the current price of $1800. Given that there are three amps, a DAC, an ADC, a DSP module and the earpieces I'm amazed Jerry was able to come to market at this price. heck a JH16 and average amp from ALO, RSA or Headamp would run you $300 to $500 on top of $1100 or 1200 for the IEMs. 

 

Well with the backstory done here are some of my listening thoughts. I'll be doing this in two parts as I am waiting on a USB to spdif cable to test 24/96 and the spdif input. Part one will focus on the analog in from my iPhone and the USB input sourced by my MacBook pro and using Audirvana software for playback. 

 

To start the amp/DSP/DAC module is very well done there are two inputs a USB in the rear that also serves as a charging input and the mini input in front that serves as an analog in and a digital SPDIF input that will accept up to 24/96 signals. There is a switch marked B/M which is used to turn off the bass adjustment and allows for a mic input for performers ( a larger part of JH clientele). Then we've got a volume and bass knob. The gain is set high and my one suggestion is for the gain to be set lower as I've never listened above 10 o'clock and it might be great to have more volume adjustment at lower levels. That said I've not had a problem finding a comfortable listening level. 

 

I'll be looking at the following areas Treble, Mids and Bass response, speed, overall clarity/detail as well as tone/timbre.

 

Sonny Rollins , I’m and Old Cowhand from the Way Out West cd. Great detail, the drum into is well done and the bass is deep and defined. Did I say these are fast and dynamic, well when Sonny Rollins who is in the far left channel hits the sax hard you feel it. Overall tone is great and it is a wonderful track for this. I love jazz tracks that have moaning, humming or other vocal sounds that players make almost unaware. There is a great bit of this that is really brought out here.

 

Rolling Stones, Can’t You Hear Me knocking from Sticky Fingers cd. This track is a bit bass light but if you like you can bring the bass up without overshooting the mids, which is a problem with most iems I have tried. This may be the best separation I have heard from an IEM or headphone. Each instrument is able to be picked out in the mix. The middle section the 3a does a great job tone wise with the right side guitar’s wet tone, mid headstage percussion and sax and then left guitar that comes in later with an even juicier tone. 

 

Next up MIles Davis, All Blues from a KOB

 

The brush drum work is really clear and in focus here and the cymbal work is very well portrayed. Bass is ok, KOB for me has always had so so bass, it’s there but it is muddy on the recording and not alot for the 3a to do other than show it for what it is. Miles trumpet is very dynamic here. The best thing may be the way the 3a really allows you to openly hear each instrument very clearly. Mids could be a bit warmer but they are not cold just very neutral sounding. 

 

Terrence Blanchard and Dianne Reeves, I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love Me. I got

into this track when a good friend bought a pair of ATCSCM50 Anniversary speakers. This track really blew me away and the 3a portrays both Dianne Reeves’ vocals and Terrence Blanchard’s trumpet just as I recall. The pace on this track is deceptive as its got a bit going on for a ballad type song. The 3a tracks the rhythmic section very well along with presenting the cymbals effortlessly. 

 

Alice in Chains, No Excuses from Jar of Flies. 

 

Holy Cow that intro was crazy tom and bass drum hits are very very physical and definitely is a top three strength for the 3a. If you have a 3a play this track just for the intro ;-).

 

Led Zeppelin ll I spun Whole Lotta Love, What is and Should Never Be and Ramble On.

 

Great job separating out Jimmy Pages multiple guitar tracks. It is great to be able to clearly hear the multiple parts he plays here. Tone is spot on guitars and drums sound just right. It is really easy to track John Paul Jones bass lines and hear each note very distinctly. 

 

So overall 

 

Treble : 9 (could be a bit hot on hot recordings)

Mids : 9.5 

Bass: 10 best bass I have heard in the headphone world and I’ve heard a lot of headphones.

 

Speed/Dynamics: 10 best in class with out being sharp or hazy sounding.

 

Clarity/Detail : 10 best in class

 

Tone/Timbre : 9 to 9.5 depending on input used the analog 9 in is softer sounding and the USB 9.5 is brighter sounding. Neither are bad just marginally different. 

 

Compared to other headphones I have like the LCD2 or the Audio Technica AD2k I believe the JH 3a to be better. The 3a represents the entire frequency range better than either with the AT having better high than the LCD2 but the LCD2 having better bass. Neither appear to go as high or low as clean as the 3a. I do like the presentation on the LCD2s and will miss them now that they are sold. Either of these full sized headphones required a great amp and source to have them compete ( and lose) to the 3a. Given a lesser amp the contest would not have been as close. 

 

Things I’d change would be the gain it is set high and in the future I may have it set lower as it never rises above 10’ oclock. I’d love to see JH offer the SPDIf adapter cables with the amp or as an add on at time of shipping. Other than that I am one happy customer.

 

So I’d overall give the 3a a 9.5 overall score in round one. Jerry hit a Home Run with this product. Next up in the coming weeks will be impressions with the Halide Bridge USC to SPDIf feeding the 3a. I’ll be able to test how the 3a performs with high res materials. 

9 Comments:

I think it helps to keep the price in perspective by comparing the latest "top portable" setup that this replaces: The AlgoRhythm Solo portable DAC ($579) + mini-mini interconnect ($50-$100) + the RSA SR72B ($650) + balanced IEM cable ($200-$350) + JH 16s ($1150) + tax and shipping for everything is about = $3000. All of a sudden, $1800 is seeming like a great deal.
Excellent first-round review, JP. @AVU, the above comment is only partially correct, because it assumes you intend to feed the JH-3A from an analog input. Assuming your source is an iDevice you will still need a CLAS or a Fostex HP-P1 in transport mode to provide pure digital out for SPDIF input and need the appropriate custom digital IC for that as well. If you have a DAP which can natively provide SPDIF digital output, a Transport would not be necessary. A premium replacement cable may also benefit the JH-3A, just like it would any other configuration over the stock JHA IEM cable, so I wouldn't rule that cost out either.
However, for what it does and the overall sound quality it delivers in a portable form factor, the JH-3A is definitely a game changer.
For $1.8k that kind of performance is well worth it. My HE-6, Oppo 95 and tube amp cost much more than the JH 3A system. Wish I had $1.8k burning in my wallet.
BTW, I love SR's WOW.
Great review, it will be interesting to see how much better the spdif input is, especially with 24/96.
Thanks for taking the time to write it, hopefully you'll write another with the halide??
great review, JP. Deleted my earlier comment, bc warp08 is right about CLAS being required for portability. Looks like an incredible value for a transportable unit with a netbook, though!
It is important to acknowledge that since this review was done, this product's final design has been altered drastically.
Yes the active crossover is now passive which allows the jh16's to be used with any other device. I have owned both the rev 1 & the rev 2 (active & passive versions) and the rev2 is by far the better unit imo. The change of crossover has not affected the unit negatively at all, & with the issues ironed out, it is now sonically superior and more versatile.
Yes having had both in house I prefer the V2 amp although mentally I prefer the though of the active crossover. As of today my V1 unit is at JH getting the V2 amp and IEMs alterations. I had the demo unit for about a week and thought it better than the v1 unit. WHile the v1 unit is superb the v2 has better midrange and is ever slightly more natural in its presentation.
I may wind up redoing the review for no other reason than to avoid comments like Br777.
Custom nuts the Halide or Stello usb to spidf units make a huge difference in the sound quality and to my ears take the unit up to an end game rig. Now with the either unit you are across the $2200-2300 line in spend but you'd likely not get the quality I have experienced with a full sized for under $3500.
Thankyou JP, I plan to buy the audiophilleo2. If you have tried that with the jh3a, I would love to know the differences between the bridge and ap2 with the 3a? As the bridge is way more 'portable'.
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