Here's my review of my first pair of custom IEM's the JH5's. Lemme know what you guys think
The first CIEM by JHAudio, the JH5Pro has been a long-existing audio option for those looking for a custom fit at a lower price.
That being said, lower price isnt necessarily a good descriptor, as it starts at $400, and can easily go higher when custom graphics, custom cables, shipping, and rushes are added. In addition, a lower price entails a compromise in sound quality compared to the more pricey models, which is definitely not the case with the JH5 as microdetails, dynamic range, and musicality are all there, in spades. But a more in depth analysis of sound quality will come later.
Purpose of this Review
When I was looking into different custom IEM's I was particularly interested in the JH5, namely because if it's legacy and the maker behind the product, Jerry Harvey. I also looked through numerous threads trying to find the best value for my price range, and there seemed to be a smaller supply of reviews on the lower end of custom IEM's. For those who are still looking, I recommend starting with Joker's awesomely huge list of IEM reviews here
The reviews I did find for the JH5's were mostly superficial. They ranged from simple "these sound really good" to another head-fier's inebriated review of the JH5's which didn't detail any flaws at all. My favorite was Time's article, citing how the "complex circuits" of the JH5 made all music sound "good. seriously."
I would certainly hope so.
I did find Mike from Headphonia's comparison of them quite helpful, although not completely in line to my experience so far.
There seemed to be very few reviews for the JH5, which was surprising, and didn't help with my final decision to purchase these. Nevertheless, I took the plunge, and got the JH5's with opaque shipyard faceplaces and transparent shipyardII inners.
Ordering the JH5's
To begin, for those who don't know, you need to take a full-shell impression, which is what's used for a number of hearing aids. You can get them done at any audiologist's. I got them done at the Hall Hearing Aid Center in the Bay Area (in Northern California), for $30, which was awesome, considering most places charge ~$50-100 for them. They're also very friendly.
The process of getting your molds is not unpleasant in the least bit and I honestly have no idea why people make a fuss about it. You simply sit in a chair, with a piece of plastic to keep you mouth open, while the audiologist fills your ears with silicone. 20 minutes and your done. I got mine in pink in a plastic bag.
The molds themselves look kind of funny and a friend of mine said they're slightly reminiscent of pink "aborted ear fetuses." However strange and disturbing that observation may be, I can't help but agree with him on that. For those pro-life audiophiles, I'm sorry for the imagery.
Weird tangent aside, I sent my molds to apopka florida to JH audio the next day, with my order number, and the creation process began. I received the IEM's about five weeks later (and I paid for a rush).
To give you an idea of how pumped I was for this package, I smashed my left foot into the corner of my bed when I heard the UPS guy come. I limped to the door, and when he asked for my signature, I replied "yes" three times before actually registering what he said. After hobbling back to my room, I grabbed the closest sharp object, and tore the box open, and gazed in stupor at its contents.
It was finally here, my first set of CIEM's. The package consisted of a graphic-ey paper sleeve, which enclosed the instruction manual and the waterproof polycabonate box with the IEM's inside. Inside the extremely robust otterbox, complete with my name and JHAudio written on it, was a cleaning tool, my IEM's in a velvet pouch, and a set of Comply Softwraps designed specifically for custom IEM's.
While sounding very fancy, the softwraps are just two strips of adhesive foam that you can wrap around the part that goes into your canal. I can imagine that it provides more isolation and improved bass response (I havent tried it though).
Fit and Finish
The IEM's themselves came in great condition with no visible mold release seams. I got the 48" black cable, because the clear cables turn green after a while, and I dont like that. There are a number of bubbles in the mold, but I dont think they affect the product in any major way. There is also a bit of residual acrylic dust on the IEM's, probably due to the way that they abrade away imperfections. No problemo. Also on the interior of each JHA IEM is a serial number and your initials, written in red for right and blue for left.
I can clearly see the components in the IEM's, with the crossover near the top and the two balanced armature drivers. The bass one is about four times as big as the treble and is located farther into the interior of the IEM. I have no idea what model the balanced armature drivers are, nor do I care.
I would have never paid any attention to the bores of an IEM until I heard about JH audio. For each of JHA's IEM's each frequency range (i.e. lows, mids, highs) have their own bore, or sound tube, that leads into your ear canal. For the JH5's, I got two, one for the low, one for the high. For any IEM utilizing a 3-way crossover, you would get three bores.
Supposedly, Jerry spent more than a year perfecting just the bores to his IEM's, which is kind of ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean awesome..
Because the thing is, the length of the bores will dramatically change the frequency response of the IEM. Woodwind and Brass instruments directly exploit this by lengthening or shortening the resonation chamber to change the pitch of the instrument. To neglect this in a custom IEM would mean that each IEM they made would sound different, and that woulndt be very smart.
I took a look at the bores to mine and found something very interesting. For the bass (which I assume is the bigger one), the bore is consistently sized throughout. On the other hand, the treble one is flared out at the end, occupying about 2/3's of the available space. I presume this is to amplify the presence of the treble end, the way a cone can amplify a person's voice. Very cool.
I'm not sure if this is due to my rush, but the end of the bores are very rough, which is something that probably isnt consequential to the sound, but detracts from the general fit and finish a bit.
The first thing that I noticed with the JH5's is the dynamic range. What is dynamic range you might ask? It's the range, in loudness, that is present in the recording. In audio equipment, it allows each part of the recording to be played at the loudness intended, with good audibility, even for the more quiet elements of the song. Take for example the cowbell in "(Dont fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult.
A headphone with crappy dynamic range would not be able to pick out the very quiet, yet omnipresent cowbell in the song. Needless to say, the JH5 can.
This is especially evident in good vocal recordings. In testing the IEM's, I used "La Vie en Rose" by Sophie Milman and "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Michael Buble. The JH5's are adept at reproducing both male and female vocals, and the nuances presented are beyond the ability of anything I own (except possibly my ER4p's). The vibrato at the trailing end of each lyric are presented to the very end, with each intake and exhale of breath also pleasantly reproduced.
The roundness of drums is very well presented, and the sizzle of hi-hats are uniquely detailed. Both attack and decay of the percussion end is very detailed and realistic.
In "Cinema" by Skrillex, I could clearly pick out downsampled "talking" wobbles after the drop, following the first two notes, which I originally assumed to be some random high pitched ambiguous noise.
Separation is also top notch, provided you have a good amp. Straight out of an Ipod, parts of the music sound bloated and unbalanced, but with my fiio E17, separation comes out as another defining feature. I can easily find my way around the music, isolating each element in it's own place in the soundscape, both in depth and width.
The soundstage itself is also quite large for an IEM, which must be credited to the pure technical ability of BA drivers. While it doesn't come outside of my head (I have yet to find an IEM that can do that) it occupies the area in between my ears like a mini concert hall. In recordings such as "Tamacun" by Rodrigo y Gabriela, I can actually pick out the muted reverberations in, I presume, a small recording room. In live recordings, the soundstage expands even more.
The JH5's have a tendency to sound hot and sibilant in some recordings. On "So High" by Sojah, the hats sound overemphasized and more like white noise than a hat, and the vocals become slightly sibilant, both to my dismay, as I had never had that problem with that song.
As a result of the detailed and slightly hot presentation (contrary to Mike's review on Headphonia) the sound can be fatiguing, and I constantly find myself checking if I had turned up the volume too high. Take heed, these are veryefficient, and I've found that half my normal listening level will suffice for the JH5's.
Originally, the treble was much hotter, and I've found through the burn-in process that the treble does smooth over a bit with no loss of detail.
Basswise, these are not for those who enjoy heaps of midbass. Despite having a dedicated low-end driver, these do not pump out a lot of bass, but what comes out is very fast, very layered, and quite punchy. Keeping up with fast, bass-demanding songs like "Internet Connection" by Flux Pavilion is easy for the JH5's. There is enough to give the JH5's body, but it does not stand out as a defining feature for the JH5's. Subbass is there though, with songs like Datsik's "Swagga" possessing enough heft to be enjoyable. I find myself using the E17's bass boost for heavier EDM songs, but for organic bass, the JH5 is quite perceivable, and quite enough.
PRaT wise, the JH5's are very quick and forward, and would be great for any energetic genre.
In terms of presentation, the JH5's are a bit on the dry side, but that is to be expected from a BA based IEM. These compared to something like the Turbine Golds, with its buttery-smooth range and nonfatiguing sound, are like night and day. Personally, I'm not a big fan of a thick, veiled sound, so these are a win for me.
Edit: Following burn-in, treble is no longer sibilant, but the presence is still very much there.
Comfort and Isolation
And finally, by nature of being a custom IEM, these offer unparalleled comfort and isolation compared to most headphones and universal IEM's. While oftentimes my ears hurt after using a set of IEM's for too long, I could wear these all day erryday. Yee.
Isolation is also top-notch, giving great attenuation of background noise without the often-painful suction effect on the eardrums.
These offer a very fun yet technically-oriented sound, that fast, forward, and engaging. The detail is superb, along with the soundstaging, and I find its dynamic range to be one of the best, and most defining features of the JH5.
That being said, the sound can be fatiguing and the treble is on the hotter side for some recordings. I have noticed though, that the trend seems to be a darker signature as I burn them in more and more. I'd say overall that these are a very good product from a highly esteemed company and IEM maker, and that you will not lose if you choose to invest in a pair of these.
Look out for JHA sales if you want to get a big discount on these. I sure as hell wish I did, but pricing aside, I give these babies a thumbs up.
Edited by grapefruit - 7/10/12 at 9:25pm