JAYS q-JAYS Anniversary Edition

General Information

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Pros: treble performance, dimensionality, elegant design
Cons: restricted dynamics, underdamped bass
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I purchased the q-JAYS AE a few months ago directly from JAYS' website. This model sells for $349, and shipping is free. A 14 day refund period is provided by this Swedish firm, so I felt comfortable laying out the money for a brand and model I hadn't had any experience with. The included two year warranty on this dual BA design was also reassuring.

My interest in the q-JAYS was piqued after reading about the 2nd Gen q-JAYS here on Head-Fi. The original q-JAYS were released in 2007 and garnered lots of praise for its sound performance; JAYS then did a significant update to it in early 2015. Late in 2016, they announced the 10th Anniversary Edition which is the subject of this review.

I have to admit, when I first navigated JAYS' website and saw the q-JAYS AE page, it didn't take long for me to pull out my wallet—I'm a sucker for special edition audio gear, especially in this case since only 200 sets were made. The primary difference between the standard q-JAYS and the AE version is mostly cosmetic, however, JAYS does employ a newly designed cable, white in appearance, that uses high purity OFC conductors, so there likely will be a difference in sound compared to the standard model. Incidentally, the standard q-JAYS sell for $279/$299 depending on whether one requires an inline remote.

I received my purchase about a week after I ordered it, shipped to southern CA. The AE comes in a cardboard double box of sturdy design and includes a nicely bound manual which details the design methodology and specifications of the q-JAYS (there appears to be no difference in specs between the standard and AE versions). There is a silver, metal badge denoting the AE status which includes the serial number (mine was in the 80s). There is also a full set of white silicone tips including intermediate sizes, and one set of Comply T200 foam tips. The black case is a round plastic design with a screw off top. Embossed on the top is "Designed in Sweden," but there is no other nomenclature. For a special edition model, I would have preferred a case which included the brand name and serial number.

The casing on the AE is made from stainless steel that is polished giving it a slightly smokey hue. It employs two balanced armature drivers per side, one for the bass and one for the mids/trebles. The casing is very small, in fact, I recall some of JAYS' marketing materials claiming the q-JAYS as being the smallest dual BA design existent. I really like the tiny size since they slip into my ears with barely any trace of being there unless one were to look closely. The high purity OFC cable is unique in that it is removable, using SSMCX fittings which are threaded for secure connections to the casings. There is a bit of cable noise, but nothing that bothered me, even when hiking. Channel identification can only be done by viewing/feeling the subtle outward curves of the left and right casings—this works for me, even in the dark. Finally, there is a screw off cap on the front of the stem where an earwax filter resides.

Specifications

Driver: Custom dual balanced armatures
Sensitivity: 103 dB @ 1 kHz
Impedance: 50 Ohm @ 1 kHz
Frequency response: 5 - 20 000 Hz (Ear simulator), 8 - 16 000 Hz (+/- 5 dB), 5 - 40 000 Hz (Full performance), measured in free space
Cord: OFC twisted cables
Type: Exchangeable, custom threaded SSMCX
Length: 120 cm
Connectors: Gold plated, L-shaped 3.5 mm

Performance

I mostly used my AK240SS playing TIDAL HiFi files for my evaluation. I tried my iPhone 5s, but due to the highish impedance and lowish sensitivity of the AE—especially compared to many other BA designs—I found a very noticeable improvement in driving the AE using my A&K. For those who use a phone as their DAP, and depending on listening levels, an external amp may be needed for best results.

I have about 200 hours of playtime on my AE, so I feel confident that any audible improvement that may come from burning in the cable has been fully realized. Also, I didn't use any EQ, and I chose the Comply tips for my listening sessions.

Let's start off with the trebles, an area where the AE really makes its mark. The sound is super clean with very little grit. This frequency range comes through with no stridency whatsoever, seems well extended, and is very airy with fantastic delicacy in reproducing micro detail. It's a characteristic that comes across immediately on first listen, always putting a smile on my face. This is the kind of resolution and transparency audiophiles crave for from their setup, pulling us into the music, and reaffirming why our hobby can be so rewarding.

The midrange, in my view, is slightly warm sounding, but very palatable. Female vocals especially shine here. The one fault I can find, though, is that vocalists come across a bit flat sounding, missing out on the dynamics of more expensive designs. Unlike the trebles where micro detail is beautifully portrayed, the mids dull off the edges. Subtleties of vocal expression and instrument playing come across a tad subdued.

Because of the AE's exceptional upper frequency performance, especially in regards to micro dynamics, imaging is very dimensional. Soundstage width is quite excellent, and depth and height is very good as well. Certainly a character strength of the AE.

Listening to the AE at very high volume levels will cause the bass to distort, as if being overdriven by the amplifier (I'm not describing clipping due to overdriving the amplifier). The other IEMs in my collection all play louder, cleanly. I wonder if the tiny enclosures have anything to do with this, regardless, if you like your music loud, you may find the AE disappointing in this regard.

Conclusion

Most IEMs have design compromises due to their price points. At what I feel is a high value IEM given its overall performance, I'm less bothered by the bass traits of the AE and more enamored by the treble performance, so it's easy for me to recommend this model to anyone who values upper frequency resolution and transparency foremost. The smallness and lightness of the design makes the AE very comfortable for long listening sessions ... and while the bass distortion does detract somewhat from the across the board performance, this is a compromise I can live with.

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