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A Perfect Blend of Hifi Clarity and Fun

A Review On: JH Audio JH16 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors

JH Audio JH16 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors

Rated # 5 in Custom
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24Bit
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Pros: Dynamics, Bass, Forward Mids, Gentle Highs

Cons: Price, lack of dark background

 

  

JH16Pro Freqphase Custom In Ear Monitor
8 driver, triple bore design
10hz - 20 kHz
Impedance: 18 Ohms
$1149 
 
I once met Jerry about 10 years ago when he was still with Ultimate Ears.  At the time, I had no idea this man would eventually design one of the coolest, most shockingly yummy and satisfying headphone experiences ever.  Sonic Gold, my friends.  Sonic Gold, indeed.  I don't want to bore you with information in the beginning of this thread, so I will start off with the Conclusion first.  You can read the details afterward.  That is just how I roll...#likeaboss
 
 
 
The After
 
Audio FREQ's unite! The JH16 Pro Freqphase is scores high marks pretty much across the board. I highly recommend this monitor for anyone looking for a fun, highly musical, highly engaging, far from stark neutral experience. This is the stuff of the future, no question about it.  Something extremely personal and tailored for emotionally driven sonic experiences that can make or break your day.  After all, what is this hobby all about if not to enjoy music to the fullest potential imaginable.  Invoke something inside of you, escape from reality.  Sonic Drug Overdoses and Digitally allocated trips.  Getting lost for a few moments out of the day and forgetting the stresses in life, perhaps to mend a broken heart or slowly wallow into the deepest, darkest regions of space.  It is all about the musical journey, isn't it?  I can't speak for others, all I can say is that there are times when life can really get you...which headphone are you going to reach for when life knocks on your door?  The JH16 Pro is pretty much the best all arounder in the CIEM world that I am aware of. It is not the best, but it sure is one of the most fun and lively, most highly engaging and coherent experiences I've had in many years.
 
One for the money, two for the show...Hail to the King, Baby!  
 
 
The Before
 
 
A few years ago, the original JH16 was hailed as one of the best sonic experiences a human being can get in a custom inner ear monitor. ( CIEM for short )  Somehow, as if struck on the head with a bolt of lightning, or perhaps abducted by aliens, he was able to squeeze out the final 10% of what the elder JH16 was capable of:  He called it Freqphase.  It is Future Tech and in my opinion at the forefront of modern audio methodology, something that would be right as rain inside Captain Picards ears. Yes, the character was definitely an Audiophile and advocate of losing yourself in great music! 
 

 

 
Time Alignment is another term often used for what this "Freqphase" does.  Basically, all the sonic qualities from the lowest lows to the highest upper regions, all travel into the ear canal at roughly the same time.  In turn, everything sounds extremely coherent, effortless and down right tasty.  It is as it should be.  Most of you know this already so I won't go into detail on how CIEM's work. I predict that in the not too distant future, perhaps at the turn of the next decade, all headphones will employ their own version of this Freq'ed Out Time Alignment.  As cellular phones have advanced so far over the past generation, so too will Audio and Video products of all types.  Time Aligned audio equipment will become the social norm to the future youth of the world, they will be ignorant to the fact that we older Audio junkies had to wait for someone to finally get it right.  Don't feel bad.   Hi-Fi years are like reverse dog years, we've been in the dark ages for what seems like forever.
 
The JH16ProFR is not my favorite custom.  That title goes to my lovely UM Merlin.  Personal preference.  I prefer the tonality of the Merlin, but regard the JH16 as the Alpha of the pack. The JH16 trumps pretty much every Custom I have ever owned, and have I owned a few:  The original JH16 and 13, Westone ES5, Clear Tunes CT200, Livewire Triple, 1964 Earz, and lastly the Xfinity X3.  
 
 
 
The Gear
 
 
 
My primary home Dac lately has been the ALO International, prior to that it was the Matrix Mini.  Yes, I am a balanced snob.  I tossed my Matrix Mini into storage the instant I found out that it wasn't a true balanced design and that conversion from single ended to balanced was taking place inside of it.  I never dove deep into it, but once I heard my gear on the International I felt solidly enough to disregard the Mini indefinitely.  Sure, it sounded pretty darn good...but I'm a snob.  Remember?  More to come on the International soon, I will provide a link to a detailed review of it coming soon.  I also use a Black Dragon 3.5mm to ALO Balanced Interconnect from Moon-Audio
 

 

 
 
The Deep End
 
 
The Low End Bass Experience is positively sublime, solid, weighty and ever so satisfying...but only when properly fed the right source.  Out of my primary portables which include the AK120 and the Cowon J3 ( review of the AK120 also coming soon ) the low end is seriously lacking in potential liquidity and overall shock value.  With my HPL Balanced cable and International in Dac mode that is fed by Foobar2000 and the savory Real Bass Exciter DSP, the JH16 becomes a bass monster.  In more portable setups, something like this J3 > Black Dragon 3.5mm to ALO Balanced Interconnect > Internationals Balanced Output > JH16, the experience is shoulder shrug worthy at best to my ears.  Yes, it is quite special in this setup, but a substantial step down from a great Desktop setup.  Balanced or not, the JH16 sounded great and seems heavily dependent on source quality over amplification.  It is a light weight in my opinion and does not at all require anything more than Low Gain settings on most portable amplifiers.  When I am feeling Dubsteppish, I turn to the J3+International as my portable source due to that insane low end customization equalizer.  She hits hard and deep, but noticeably more chunky compared to one of the more upper tier portables.  For all other occasions on the go, I turn to the AK120 by itself. 
 
I wouldn't call the JH16 a Bass Head CIEM, but I would say that Bass Heads won't be upset by the lack of low end kick and rumble that is possible with the proper setup.  What I love about this Freqphase thing is that my original JH16 seemed to mask the mids noticeably more than the Freqphase version does when I feed it some low end EQ.  Got a Bass Booster on your portable source or amp?  No problem. The JH16 can handle it.  You get an ever so gentle warmness to it without morphing into something colored.  It is right on that border of typical Hi-Fi speaker setups but with a slight tint to make it both "Fun and Hi-Fi" at the very same time.  
 
Blue Sky's
 
Sure, most people rave about the Mids of this monitor, but hardly anyone raves about the upper regions.  Let me tell you something: I totally forgot Sibilance even existed when I first heard these.  The higher regions of the spectrum are absolutely, shockingly polite.  They retain solid bite factor without being overly forceful.  This is extremely rare with the customs that I have owned, only the ES5 in my opinion even comes close to this yet is still a light year away from the presentation quality of the upper areas.  Screaming guitars, violins and even harsh piano key strikes remain highly engaging without being harsh or too snappy.  ( Gosh, I hate when headphones make me wince.)  Thankfully, the JH16 remains extremely fun without being boring and while portraying supreme clarity all around.  All of the above applies to the Mid range and vocal experiences.  I need not say more about it. 
 
I have a gripe.  It is a small gripe...but still a gripe.  The JH16 is certainly not the most dynamic presentation in a custom you can get, but I will say again that it is probably the most coherent.  Your 10-2 o'clock range is extremely well focused but it remains far from the best monitor for stereo separation width and depth.  That reach out into space feel is not as eye popping as say the ES5 or the Merlin, nor is it as wide as the Merlin in this case, but those customs seem to lose something in the music in most tracks I listen to.  Something is missing, things seem too wide to be considered realistic.  ( Once again the JH16 Coherency reigns supreme in this area )  My gripe is the lack of stereo separation. The CT200 and the ES5 certainly beat the JH16 in airiness and separation of instruments...but lag behind everywhere else. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most tracks off The Essential Michael Jackson collection were beautifully restored and cleaned up over their original CD release counterparts. Special music cues that cause my jaw to drop were mostly found on the vinyl to CD conversion and were mostly post-digital compression.  I enjoy the older analog sound to the more modern digital compression that is very common with recordings post 1990 or so.  

 

Billie Jean Highlights:  Shockingly engaging drum taps at the very beginning of the track that are followed by an airy low end.  Vocals presented in a middle ground effect that is closer to forward than laid back, but still mid-ground to my ears.  The clarity throughout the entire spectrum is top tier and unrivaled, in my opinion, with the JH16 and compared to other customs I have owned.  Stellar, but still more enjoyable on the LCD2 and the Merlin, both known for excellent low end oomph and lush presentations.

 

Can You Feel It:  Due to the last few years of my Audiophile life being devoted to Planar Magnetics, I had forgotten how well this specific track was recorded back in the day.  Wide, Spacious and dynamic.  A perfect setup for the JH16 and significantly more enjoyable in terms of dynamics and an overall spacious yumminess compared to the likes of my LCD2 or HE-6.  Noticeably less grain on the JH16 than these two headphones via the International as my Dac.  Always nice to not feel like a level 100 Kingler isn't Vice Gripping my head while I listen to my tunes.  

 

 

 

Another great Album that is overlooked by the majority of my local friends and fellow Audio Hobbyists would be the Jazz Audiophile Voices Collection.  What a fantastic barrage of sonic bliss that spans from the 1940s all the way into modern times.  Due to the golden mid range and supreme clarity of the JH16 Pro, this is one of my favorite albums to listen to.  Most of these tracks are void of clutter, are slow paced and focus on the voice more than the instrumentals softly playing in the background.  A fantastic vocal experience.  I have found that tracks with focus on a vocal track and lean on the low end bass seem to play equally as nice on my portable rig as they do on my desktop setup.  This is not the case with most genres, but in particular, Jazz seems seems to be one of the better genres to listen to on the go with portable rigs that are not ultra high end.  Even the AK120 doesn't seem to have the same dynamic presence my desktop rig has, sure it is grand, but not stellar and reaching into the heavens.  Thankfully, I am a Jazzophile and most of my music collection is filled with this type of music.  I'm a product of the 40s in my mind.  Born into the wrong era it seems.  Most of my favorites are from that swinging jazz and ice berg lounge type of big band feel.  These Voice collection albums are excellent.  Definitely check them out if you get the chance.  The JH16 is the only headphone outside of the Stax 009 that I want to use with Jazzy Genres...

 

 

 

Ah here is where the fun begins, at long last.  Despite most of my tunes referencing the old school Jazz genres, I do enjoy a wider but still random and splashy laundry list of other genres.  I've been known to rock out with Metallica, heck I met Lars a while back...he smelled kinda funny but it was awesome to see him play 5 ft away from me.  I do blues, rhythm & blues, jazz, funk, soul. I can handle rock, pop, country, heavy metal, fusion, hip hop, rap, Motown, operetta, show tunes. In fact, I even listen to polka! However Caribbean is a type of music, I regret to say, which has not been, is simply not, nor will ever be a part of my repertoire. Ahem...moving on.  I've lately gotten into the Dubstep thing.  I'm sorry, Nonstop is a genius and I just can't stop watching some of his videos.  I thought it impossible, but I'm enjoying the really hardcore Dubstep scene from artists and bands like Watch The Duck's.  The beats and lyrics are so catchy and fun.  I enjoy Skrillex and find the bass Drops to be moderately enjoyable in comparison to my Merlin for example.  Which for this genre especially, seems on par with my LCD2.  Yummy Bass at its best without a doubt, but lacking that envelopment.  Something about this genre just does not go over to well with the JH16 to my ears.  Lindsey Stirling's - Crystallize is a track I enjoy very much and I just can't enjoy it as much with the JH16 as I do with my LCD2 or Merlin's.  It just doesn't sound right.  This is subjective of course, but I feel the JH16 low end to be more reference with excellent deepness than warmth or envelopment.  It is solid bass, but not expansive, which is the type of tonality to the low end frequencies that I seem to prefer for anything Bass oriented that is not an upright bass or invoked in a classical track from bassy instruments.  It does the job well, but not great for tracks highly centralized to Bass in general.  This is definitely more of a rocking out custom than a bass head custom.  Something to enjoy most genres and performing very well, but definitely lacking a bit for bass-centered music...still supremely clear though! Believe it or not, I just want more bass out of the JH16 on the go and hoped it would respond much more deeply on my portable rig.  On my desktop rig that low end seems more plentiful but that is due to some DSP usage I think.   On the go, however, things are not up to my standards, especially not after keeping the UM Merlin as my primary portable.

 

For everything else, I feel comfortable in placing my customs in my inventory box for storage for a while.  I personally wanted the JH16 Pro's low end to be a bit more warm and expansive, wide and enveloping.  Instead, its more precise, solid and supremely clear.  I wanted more texture, more off a wild tendency to it, but that is just my two cents on the subject, pretty much everything else is untouchable to my ears.  

 

 
-24bit

2 Comments:

Wow, you've owned a lot ciems.  Hopefully you'll own many more! 
 
Looking forward to your review of the JH Roxanne! ;)
I'd love to hear them, but my wallet is still receiving therapy from the JH16 purchase.
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