(click on photos to see larger versions)
The JH Audio JH-3A might be one of the most interesting products (in the vein of Head-Fi gear) we'll see launched this year. It is a system: an amp and IEM combo. It's a commitment: that amp and the IEM need each other. It's definitely the first of its type to market: 3-way active crossover, phase and frequency optimized using DSP (digital signal processing), with the crossovers being completely in the amp. The amp's amplifier section consists of three stereo amps (six channels), each of those six channels outputting >100mA per channel. Each of the three pairs of amps drives the lows, mids, and highs.
Did you catch that bit about DSP up there? Yeah, this is where it gets interesting--really interesting. On the amp's faceplate are two controls: digitally-controlled bass output (0 dB to +12 dB), and digitally controlled volume. The DSP is employed to maintain perfect phase and time correctness. What makes this more interesting is that the DSP will automatically adapt to maintain perfect phase and time as the user adjusts bass output. Also, Jerry Harvey claims the DSP allows more extended high frequency response than previously possible, with real extension to 23 kHz.
Like I said over a year ago, when JH Audio was beginning its phase of being Jerry's re-launch into the IEM market, Jerry's a pretty humble cat, even though he's supremely confident that he knows his stuff--and "his stuff" is IEMs (and other things, but IEMs the most). But, as happened when he first talked to me about what would become the JH13 Pro, there's that tinge of bravado in his voice again when he talks about the JH3A system. When I asked him how much better it is, he said "a lot." He said he's not inclined to put numbers to such a question, but, if pressed, he'd say it's at least 50% better than anything he's done before, because DSP broke boundaries for him--allowed him to do things he couldn't do in the passive world. When asked what the biggest benefits were of maintaining perfect phase and time (since that topic comes up repeatedly in any discussion with him about the JH3A), Jerry responded "Imaging and soundstage--and layers. I'm not kidding, Jude, it'll blow your mind."
He's got my attention.
Important things to note: Existing JH13 and JH16 owners will be able to retrofit their pieces to work with the JH-3A system (see the information below). Keep in mind, however, that once your piece is modified to work with the JH3A system, you're committed to it. Current JH13 and JH16 models have passive crossovers built into the pieces (for obvious reasons), whereas with the JH-3A system, the crossovers are done in the amp (with DSP), with each of those amps directly driving its respective frequency range (low or mid or high); and so making the pieces JH3A-compatible means giving those amps direct access to those drivers (bypassing or removing the passive crossovers). Of course, if you order the whole system from the get-go (again, see the information below), then no retrofitting will be necessary.
CanJam is coming up on us quickly, I am slammed, and so I don't have the time for much of a writeup right now (not to mention I haven't yet heard it, but will very soon). It might reasonably be said that JH Audio stole the show last year with the JH13 Pro launch at CanJam 2009 in Los Angeles. Apparently, they want to do it again, and I think there's a good chance they'll succeed. I'll be hearing it Friday, and will let you know what I think. I think a lot of people will be hearing it this coming weekend (at CanJam 2010 in Chicago), and doing the very same. (Sorry, JH Audio girls, you might actually be the second reason people start heading over to the JH Audio exhibit now. )
Here's the info I received from JH Audio: