Why do this test? Jude has already expertly reviewed them, so what is there for me to add? Probably not much, beyond the honest desire to attempt to give something back to the forum, where I have learned so much. I do not consider myself an audiophile yet, it takes more than money and equipment to become one. It requires us to develop critical listening skills, without which even the best equipment and reference mastered recordings are wasted, since most of our ears and minds are not trained to detect and appreciate the subtle nuances previously masked by crude reproduction. It is a journey that can be confusing for most people, me included. Although I do have an IT engineering background, I do not claim to be an EE expert beyond the basic public domain knowledge of electrical component.
This whole thing began with a Google search for the term “IEM” sometime November, 2009. An order was placed for a UE SF5Pro the same day. TF10 order followed a week later, along with unknown quantity and type of tips to attempt to screw those cans into my ears. Then came the Shure SE530, which followed by a Westone 3 or two. Joined Head-Fi and began to read about customs. JH16 Pro announcement led to statistical analysis of total amount invested in universal IEM collection. JH16 Pro preorder was placed 2 days after. Most of universal IEMs were sold to cover costs. I’m not going to bore you with my tale of the various top-quality Amps from Ray Samuels, the ALO RX, and most recently the TTVJ Slim bought from the ever helpful Todd Green. Craig Sanborn’s excellent Whiplash TWAg’s have been another leap of faith investments as each of his masterpiece IEM cables cost as much as a high-capacity iPod Touch. Once I’m in, however, I typically go all the way.
These are the main reasons I have and will continue to invest in the best available portable music reproduction technology to bring my music collection ever closer and closer to perfection:
- I do not own, nor do I intend invest in a conventional home system. My current lifestyle and employment does not allow me sufficient time to enjoy that to make it worthwhile
- I do not suffer full-size cans, no matter how good they are. I had once own a KOSS ESP-950 and most of the time it ended up collecting dust. BA customs are awesome in every way and if properly fitted, you can sleep wearing them if you want. You are barely aware they’re on.
- Purchasing the JH16 Pro was a huge leap of faith for me. I have received many PMs asking about it since after Jude’s I was one of the first who received theirs. At any rate, this technology in combination with modern, miniaturized versions of audiophile quality amplifiers, DACs and combo units such as the Predator and the TTVJ Slim/DAC coupled with my JH16 Pro has allowed me to experience what I suspect is near-equivalent sound costing tens and tens of thousands of dollars worth of conventional equipment that is stationary. Now, with the release of the RSA Protector a (partially) balanced experience had been introduced to the portable class taken our critical listening enjoyment to another level closer to the reference audiophile systems.
- Vinnie Rossi’s RWA Super iMods allowed me to significantly enhance my mobile SQ while retaining the ease of use and reliability of the Apple iPod OS and leverage the iTunes platform and carry up to 221GB of lossless music in my pocket. The game has truly been changed.
- Since my “elevation to the next level” to partially paraphrase Jude’s characterization of the JH16 Pro, I became concerned that I have moved up to fast to the top without some retrospection along the way. The current reference standard in high-end customs is the JH13 Pro and I just blew past it without the slightest consideration. Did I get the right sound signature for me? Is my perspective now skewed? Afterall, there are many who will say--without having ever had the pleasure to evaluate both in a non-demo version. I am fortunate enough to be able to do this and offer my perspective, since as of last week my new JH13 Pros have arrived.
Yes, if there is one edge I have over most of the true experts on this forum, including Jude, Jamato and others, is that I came to own the JH13s after having been endowed and attuned to the sound signature of the JH16 Pros. Therefore, at least I can offer my subjective opinion from that somewhat unique perspective. Perhaps, it will benefit to the a) should I get a custom IEM and b) which one should I get JH13/JH16 crowd. It’s not an easy question to make that decision somewhat informed, because their pricing is nearly identical. That fact continues to puzzle me even more after this review especially when comparing it to the UE18 Pro pricing, which is $200 more than the JH16 Pro.
More or less commonly held perception of the JH16 Pros can be described as a JH13 Pro EB edition with a quad-bass driver pack for the bass heads, therefore, by definition, not suited for those who desire a reference monitor with balanced, natural SQ. Jerry Harvey himself had been careful enough to point out that the SQ of the JH13 Pro has been difficult to improve upon. Yet he didn’t say it was impossible either and so he proceeded to design the JH16 Pro, which is “capable of providing extra headroom” under certain, primarily live performances. It seemed to me there had to be more to this equation than meets the eye, so I have attempted to take a closer look of both of this masterpieces and see just how they differ from one another both in terms of architecture and design, but even more importantly their ability to provide musical enjoyment at the highest level.
JH13 Pro Main Specs (from the JHA Website)
Freq Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
Impedance: 28 Ohms
Drivers: Dual bass, dual mid, dual high (Total: 6 per shell)
Architecture: Proprietary precision-balanced armature with integrated 3-way crossover circuitry
Sound Channeling: Dual Bore (Low+Mid/High)
Notice the combined mid/low driver cluster feeding into the same bore. One of the challenges as I understand in multi-driver custom IEM design is to overcome phasing between different frequencies. For example, to minimize ear canal reverberations and to maintain natural balance higher frequency drivers should be closer to the ear drum with the bass drivers should be farthest to allow optimal tuning during the final phase of assembly for each ear canal molded shape as much as possible. The combination of mid- and bass drivers into a single bore represent a small design compromise compared to the JH16 Pro's below.
JH16 Pro Main Specs (from the JHA Website):
Freq Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
Impedance: 18 Ohms
Drivers: Double dual bass, dual mid, dual high (Total: 8 per shell)
Architecture: Proprietary precision-balanced armature with integrated 3-way crossover circuitry
Sound Channeling: Triple Bore (Low/Mid/High)
Observe the same basic design with several enhancements. The mid-driver pack is now physically separated and positioned closer to the output via a dedicated sound bore. Crossover circuitry seems slightly more elaborate design, although that is harder to tell from these macro shots.
Slightly different angle, allows a bit better visibility of the high-driver pack and the positioning of the mid-driver pack. Unfortunately the colorized translucent shells are very difficult to penetrate without reflections, even with the use of diffusers on my Nikon SB-200 SpeedLight units.
2010 MacBook Pro->Audiophile USB with Neutrik IC->Pico Upsampling DAC->Silver Mini-Mini->RSA Protector->Balanced Whiplash Audio TWAg IEM Recable->JH13/16 Pro.
Approximate burn-in time at the time of test:
RSA Protector: 125 hours
HeadAmp Pico USB DAC: unknown, bought here in the forum from Knubbe (thanks again!)
JH16 Pro: 175 hours
JH13 Pro: 40 hours
TWag: 35 hours
In case you'd like to view unedited versions of these and additional pictures in the review reel, please visit my Facebook Album
A/B TEST METHODOLOGY
Simply mount and unmount both IEMs after each track. You'll notice that I always started the next session with the last IEM mounted to minimize switching cables to a minimum amount necessary. Before each track, I have carefully adjusted one notch on the Protector's volume control knob to attempt to compensate for the difference between the JH13 Pro higher impedance levels. It is very minimal, but it is immediately noticeable and a slightly louder representation always "sounds" a bit better. So, I did my best to level these two as best as I could.
Chesky Labs: The Ultimate Demonstration Disc
Jazz In The Pawnshop - K2HD Mastered Version
Music Format: AIFF/ALAC encoded, 16-bit/44.1KHz sampled (Red Book)
Playback Software: iTunes 9 - EQ and Sound Enhancer OFF
High-resolution - Spanish Harlem.
JH16: beautifully robust and warm bass, tight imaging, sparkling highs. Rebecca’s singing sounds exactly as described in intro, air all around it. Shakers are precisely rendered.
JH13: bass is there, but far less pronounced, muted. Shakers rendition is similar to JH16s. Strings are precise and balanced. Rebecca sounds quite similar, but a bit more artificial, less airy. Switching back to JH16s for one more round of impressions: confirming previous session, far more robust bass and sub-bass harmonics are present including bass guitar, and piano. A more dynamic presentation overall without sacrificing any detail.
Winner: decidedly JH16
Depth - If I Could Sing Your Blues
JH16: beautiful depth rendering, trumpet to the right and drums behind Sara to the left. Lush recording with vocals filling the studio, occupying the midrange spectrum. Minor bass resonances are present at vocal peaks and from the piano. Drums sound natural and soundstage rendition is excellent.
JH13: bass tonality is reduced significantly, trumpet rendering is similar, but sounds a bit different. Percussions occupy the same stage and appear to be more sharply rendered. No bass resonance present here, but the recording can no longer be described as “lush.”
Winner: JH13 due to more balanced reproduction
Atmosphere: Maiden Voyage
JH13: Good bass tonality and transparency. Bass is not overpowering, just present. Piano solo nicely rendered in midrange. Percussion lives in the background, sometimes seems missing. This is a robustly rendered recording, but forward sounding. Sounds like the whole track lives between lower and upper midrange spectrum. What happened to cymbals?
JH16: Awesome dynamic in opening sequence. Lushness all over, cymbals are back. Lenny’s singing no longer carries the entire tracking. Piano and bass harmonics allow picturing of an expansive local, missing from the previous representation. I think the extended headroom is paying off here big time! Interestingly, Lenny sounds like a carbon copy from the previous JH13 session. Overall, far more emotional representation of the atmosphere, truly musical. Bravo!
Winner: JH16 by a wide margin
Midrange Purity - Grandma’s Hands
JH16: Oh yes, the snapping the intro calls for. Beautiful. Vocals a precisely rendered with accurate detail including background choir. Clearly drawing breath.
JH13: Snapping rendered slightly better, but vocals are not as warm. Precisely rendered overall, just no emotion missing.
Winner: N/A this is a draw
Naturalness - Correnteza
JH13: Beautiful strings and rainforest imaging. Truly sparkles. Complex recording with a lot of overtones. Violin is subtle but sometimes comes forward to surround Anna’s voice which is also supported from the left by the acoustic guitar. Mid-range percussions only, very pleasant reverberations.
JH16: Rainforest imagery strikingly similar and equally as impressive to the 13s. Percussions, however, now slightly extend to the upper bass range, producing pleasant reverberations. Anna’s vocals rendered equally precisely. Acoustic guitar also, violin sounds a bit more pronounced in certain passages. The congas at 3:30 mins into the track evolve into an almost hypnotic presence. Very smoothing effect, simply missing from JH13 rendering.
Winner: JH16 (who would have thought?)
Transparency - Played Twice
JH16: Percussions sound visceral. Bass very warm and pronounced. Piano is nicely augmented by rumble of the drums sneaking across from the right. Very dynamic track despite only 3 instruments are present. Yup, these guys are at it full tilt boogie.
JH13: Good bass without lower subharmonics. Midrange and higher percussion rendering is very close to that of the JH16s. Rumbling is there but less dramatic. Cymbals are more forward (is this good or bad?). String resonances are rendered better.
Winner: JH13 by a hair despite less effective rendering of bass
Presence - Ask Me Now
JH13: McCoy’s tenor sax bites, quite visceral sounding. Yes, he’s in my head, I have no doubt.
JH16: Slightly bigger sax bites. I’m confused, now my head seems to be INSIDE the sax, which is simply not possible while intact. Wow.
Winner: JH16 - just a more visceral rendering
Visceral Impact - Sweet Georgia Brown (“Play this one loud...oh, yeah”)
JH16: This is one of my favorite tracks on this album. Simply overpowering when played on the 16s. Robust and dynamic, each instrument has ganged up and now attacking in force. Is that sweat I smell? Watch the 3:30 min pause and bass solo. Bravo!
JH13: This is interesting. Almost as much dynamism, but more detailed. Not as robust overall but equally as impressive. More crowd noise seeping in on occasion that previously went unnoticed. Clearly a more analytical representation. Is this good or bad? I have an almost visual image of the band playing, but somehow I’m no longer tempted to bop my head as much. Trumpets are sharper in the end.
Winner: N/A - Take your pick
Rhythm & Pace - I Love Paris
JH13: Beautiful cymbal and violin. Sounds a bit overly sterile. Rhythmic, but it doesn’t draw me in as much as I hoped. Hard to believe the guy (Johhny Frigo) was 72 years old when this recording was made. Sax solo at 1.55 is awesome, finally some broadening of the spectrum. FInal sequence finally having some effect and I’m now bopping. Great finish.
JH16: So there is bass in this recording, barely noticed before. Violin and cymbal similarly rendered, beautiful. Strings on the right better represented. More energy is transmitted somehow by the JH16s here.
Winner: JH16 - feel like I just had a Red Bull
Focus: Vivaldi - Flute Concerto in D
JH16: Beautiful rendering overall, flute solo is mesmerizing, including the palpable feeling of air blown into the instrument. Spacious soundstage.
JH13: Move along, nothing to see here...if there is any difference in this presentation between these two customs, I could not hear them.
Winner: N/A - draw
Holographic Imaging - Festival Te Deum
JH13: Beautiful, expansive soundstage, you just know this is not a studio recording. Organ hiss is so clearly present, but it is sweetly rendered. Majestic. Organ fills the church at 4:40ish, first clear representation of height.
JH16: Decidedly warmer representation, elevates the presence of the organ. The organ hiss is less pronounced, making the recording more enjoyable but perhaps less accurately reproduced. Imaging is a bit more transparent, cathedral background noises are eerily real, someone was shifting his/her weight on the stage and the wood creaked...male choir blends with the organ warmly and seductively.
Winner: JH16 - warmth generates a palpable emotion in music reproduction for me
Transients - The Royal March The Soldier’s Tale
JH16: Very sharp, visceral representation of virtually all instruments. Trombone and percussions seem to be at war. Fantastic reproduction over balanced setup!
JH13: Slightly tighter and lighter tone, bass now seems filtered, but still there. Seems equally dynamic and I feel this is a more natural representation and proper mix. Again, it didn’t generate the same emotional response as the 16s, but the impact of that was less important in this recording.
Winner: JH13 - Transients reproduced more accurately and in balance
Bass Resonance - Best of Chesky Jazz, Vol 2
JH13: Nice instrument resonances...neat bass reproduction?
JH16: Ha! Perfection can be improved upon! As expected, the extra headroom, 2xdual bass drivers easily outperformed the JH13s. Bass representation was decidedly full-bodied.
Dynamic Test - Best of Chesky Jazz, Vol 2
JH16: Smashing drum solo, perfectly rendered.
JH13: Starts up identically until about 45 seconds. Less robust, tuned more towards cymbals and treble emphasis. A good copy, but not convincing.
Jazz At the Pawnshop K2HD Mastered Version - Jeep’s Blues
JH13: Perfect soundstage, best quality recording so far. I am THERE in the pawnshop. Alto sax is quite mesmerizing. Friendly, non-obtrusive bass. The best live recording remaster I’ve ever heard, period. Transparency defined. Yup, $60 box well spent for this. Why do you have to fork over major cash for a decent recording like this? Anyway, there is no way the 16 can beat this. I guess we’ll see...
JH16: Back in the pawnshop. It is the same band, but somebody moved my chair closer to the bass player. Stop fooling around here, I got an objective review to write! Yeah, right. Ouch, slamming the drum tandem with the bass finally did it. Again, it’s that hidden reserve of pure bass energy you won’t miss, won’t acknowledge and simply not present until you put on the 16s. Not only that, but it’s doing it in a way that doesn’t take away from the rest of the experience which is remarkable. But you’ll need a reference master recording like this to awake the beast. Stage monitor? You bet!
Winner: JH16 - dynamic live recording with a bass player present? Weapon of choice loaded and locked in.
As I have written this to many who privately asked, which one is better, there is no way you can go wrong with any one of these IEMs. They exhibit very similar basic sound signature and reproduction characteristics that rivals the best conventional headphones, period. Although I do not own them, I did listen to most of them at least briefly, so I am not making an unfounded claim. The JH13Pros have appealed to my analytical side and were able to show with uncanny precision of how properly mastered recordings should sound. They left me yearning for nothing...until I switched over to the JH16s and filled up with the rest of that visceral, almost animal-like energy that some recordings--particularly the ones recorded live and with high transparency and depth contain that sometime get lost in the disciplined rendering of the JH13Pros.
So, where does this leave those who are happy owners of JH13 Pros? Would I upgrade if I were once of them and could otherwise afford to do so? My qualified answer is that it depends on the type of recordings I own and primarily listen to. For most people, however, it would definitely not make sense. That money could be spend on other components, a better source, amp, DAC or cables.
If you are, however, considering either of these customs, this review at least hopefully gives you some additional reference points. Again, depending on the type of music you are listening to, the JH16 Pro enhancements may or may not be immediately important to you, however, there is no real downside to going the JH16 route and you can always take pride in the fact that even on a busy street of a major city will you find another music enthusiast with more BA drivers crammed in their heads than you...with the exception of another JHA fan, that is. There are other choices out there, but for my money, you will not want to buy this kind of technology from a specialized small-business for the best support and customer service. Even better if their founder happens to have pioneered and patented the balanced multi-driver phase tuning technology. Will I be back on the preorder list when the JH32 Pro is announced next yet? You bet...hmmmm 16 drivers each. Just kidding!
If time allows and there is enough interest, I would like to write another review from using the TTVJ Slim amp thru the Pico DAC with a single-ended TWAg. I love the warm, almost tube-like sound signature and I’ve been using it with both JHs with my iMod. At some point it would be interesting to pair up the PIco DAC with the new Pico Slim amp as well, but I that will have to wait since I am not on the preorder list. It seems like an excellent design and ideal form factor for on-the-go listening.
Thanks for reading this and I hope you were able to get some value out of this long post.
I would like to reiterate that this review represents my own observations. I have not received any input, endorsements or special considerations from any vendor whose products have been mentioned in this review. I always welcome any constructive feedback and dialog from others since I believe this is the fundamental purpose of this forum.
Edited by warp08 - 7/6/10 at 5:21pm