Jomo Audio has swiftly started to depart from the label ‘startup’, to established manufacturer. Following the worldwide success of the Jomo 6R as a viable alternative for a reference monitor, it’s time for the next step: a flagship competing with iems at the highest level. The story of Jomo is becoming common knowledge: Joseph Mou is another hobbyist gone pro, next in the line in a tradition of manufacturers as Custom Art or Lime Ears. Jomo is located in Singapore, one of the Mecca’s for high-end audio. The competition might be fierce, there seems to be enough to go around there for everyone, making it a fruitful birthing place for young companies.
The link with Effect Audio, a cable manufacturer from Singapore, is easily made – two upcoming companies form Singapore, swiftly making their mark. After having previously collaborated on making a limited edition ‘Genesis’ ciem, the two partner up again for a more permanent agreement. Jomo’s new flagship Samba is not only delivered with a quality upgrade cable from Effect Audio, the Ares II, the internal wiring also consists of the same wire.
Jomo Audio Samba
-Drivers: 8 BA drivers; 2 low, 2 mid, 4 high
-Design: 3-way passive crossover, 3 sound bores
-Frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 KHz
-Impedance: 19 Ohm
-Sensitivity: 116 dB
-MRSP: SGD $2399 (ca. US $1725)
Samba is delivered in a standard Peli case. Besides the mandatory cleaning tool, Jomo goes the extra mile with a 6.3mm and airline adaptor, as well as a clip to attach the peli case to a bag or jacket. It further comes with a very nice dark metal warranty card with ‘Jomo’ cut out diagonally; a classy touch of personalization. All in all, the Samba comes with a nice set of accessories that gets some bonus points for the extra effort.
The Effect Audio Ares II cable
But the highlight of the accessory pack is undoubtedly the Ares II cable. More companies are starting to include a quality cables as stock, a development I can only applaud and encourage. Recent examples are the Westone W80, Campfire’s Andromeda or the Rhapsodio Galaxy. The Samba’s stock cable is a quality upgrade cable from Effect Audio, a 26 AWG copper Litz cable which sells separately for $150. The cable is beautifully built; copper cables often have an orange-pinkish color that I just can’t grow fond of, but the Ares has a more rustic brown that gives it a more classic look. The fine plastic shielding displays the Litz wires, where you can see how every wire consists of multiple individual strands. The cable is finished with nice components that give it a qualitative feel: a silver-plated jack with black and gray carbon finish, silver 2-pin connectors with the Effect logo, and a silver and black carbon splitter that is slightly on the heavier side. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a bit smaller to spare some weight, but it looks good. You can feel a slight pull, but it’s not overly bothersome.
To get an impression of the Ares II, I tested it separately with some other iems such as Zeus-XIV, S-EM9 and Aether. Copper cables are usually characterizes as warm, primarily due to an enhanced mid-bass that gives warmth to the presentation, but can also reduce the airiness or cleanliness of the stage due to the warm air. The Ares II departs from that, sharing more characteristics with a classic SPC signature (though this is a generalization). It provides a clean and controlled bass response, with good balance between sub- and mid-bass, while not being overly warm. The midrange is relatively uncolored, but also slightly dry, as it doesn’t provide an overly warm or lush sound. The cable leans towards an open tone. The focus is more on providing a relatively neutral and clear sound, with good articulation and definition of individual instruments. Compared to a stock 3-wire OFC cable, it provides a cleaner stage with better treble extension. Taken together, the sound is primarily flat and uncolored, and offers a clean stage with good precision.
Build and Design
With its 8 drivers, Jomo manages to keep the Samba quite compact. In overall size, it falls somewhere around the average, being neither or large. Insertion depth is also around average, and the fit is snug. The craftsmanship is above average; the shells are smooth, and lack any noticeable bubbles. Jomo offers a wide variety of shell options and faceplates, including some unique materials and designs that I haven’t seen before with other companies. It’s worth taking a look through, there’s undoubtedly something nice for everyone. I gave Joseph a few pointers for the design, but let him do his thing. The result is a gray shell, matched with a stylish swirl of grey and brown tones as faceplate, with ‘Samba’ printed in gold letters along the side. The finish not only looks beautiful, but feels nice and smooth.
The Samba is reference tuned – a linear and relatively uncolored sound. It’s clear to hear the tuning philosophy is focused on an accurate delivery of the original intending of the recording. The midrange isn't warm or bright; notes aren't colored by and additional thickness to make the sound more impressive than it should. With high resolution as well as clear articulation of individual notes, the Samba can be considered technically highly proficient. This is further demonstrated by a clean and airy stage. Although the Samba has slightly leaner average note thickness, the combination with excellent stage dimensions provides a high level of instrument separation. The combination of both a wide and deep stage with pinpoint precise imaging creates an almost holographic presentation – a term I don’t easily use. As such, the Samba effortlessly presents every detail in the music. This sense of precision is further pronounced by a quick decay; traces of notes are cut off somewhat quick. This gives the midrange and treble a sense of urgency, and Samba truly excels with fast-paced electronic or rock music, as well as string quartets. The quick pace of notes in a clean stage adds to the total sense of accuracy in a faithful reproduction of the music; there's a sense of control and calmness in the production of complex passages.
Samba’s low end packs a powerful punch – tight, controlled, but deliciously impactful. For my personal taste, this is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to BA driven bass. Overall, the sub- and mid-bass are very well balanced. The sub-bass is by no means shy; it powerfully dictates the sense of rhythm. The sub-bass hits deep, providing good depth to the stage. The mid-bass is detailed, clearly defined, and mostly controlled. The excellent control of the mid-bass aids in a clean and spacious stage: it doesn’t provide warm air to the stage, or to the midrange for that matter. While it’s sub-bass rumble might be considered a dissonant for a truly reference signature, it’s a more than welcome one. It adds that extra bit of power and dynamics to the presentation - this is a bass you can feel, while it retains a clean and technical presentation.
The midrange is very close to neutral in its positioning. It can be predominantly characterized as uncolored; this isn’t a particularly warm or lush midrange, but it isn’t bright or harsh either, nor is it recessed by any means. Due to the lack of coloration, it’s clear Jomo is aiming for a truly neutral presentation, rather than coloring the midrange for additional, but artificial, excitement. Instead, the Samba delivers an accurate portrayal of the music, with a high level of precision and separation in the delivery of individual instruments. As the lower midrange is slightly laid back, the vocal presentation isn’t focused on power or density; but both male and female vocals have good size, are clearly articulated, and detailed. The same story applies to the upper midrange; the trait that stands out most is a lack of coloration. Adding warmth or thickness to a midrange disrupts the purity of a chord of an acoustic guitar or violin, or the key of a piano; it might sound thicker, but it isn’t true to the tone. The Samba’s upper midrange is neither warm nor bright, but tonally accurate - you can get a clear sense of the original recording. While it isn’t overly sparkly, it isn’t laidback either. As it isn’t brightened to emphasize detail, it remains fairly smooth.
The treble is articulate, detailed, with a quick decay. Similar to the rest of the signature the treble isn’t thicker or particularly colored, but retains a focus on accuracy in its tone, rendering of detail, and pace. In line with Samba’s reference oriented tuning, the treble is very slightly forward, boosting its note articulation, and the overall sense of precision. In addition, it’s a rare case of an iem that manages to extend significantly further than the 10 KHz mark before rolling off. I wouldn’t classify the treble as either laidback or prominent. With brighter than neutral sources as the Lotoo Paw Gold or QPR1 however, the treble will not be completely smooth or non-fatuiging for sensitive listeners, due to a slight 7 KHz peak. In addition, the Samba doesn’t remain completely free of sibilance if it’s in the recording. The Samba is somewhat source dependent in this regard, and will sound more natural and smoother with a warmer or reference dap like the AK; especially its treble presentation.
Campfire Andromeda ($1099)
Campfire’s Andromeda is easy to listen to, and easy to like. It’s more of a ‘fun’ tuning, compared to the precision-oriented Samba. The exception is in sub-bass rumble, where the Samba delivers more power. It has tighter and more impactfull sub-bass. Andromeda has a more forward, warmer, and thicker midrange. Especially male vocals benefit from the additional lower midrange fill, although vocals sound slightly clearer with Samba. Samba’s notes are slightly leaner, though more neutral and uncolored in tonality. Andromeda has just a little bit more sparkle in the upper midrange, compared to the more neutral Samba.
Andromeda’s treble is thicker, while Samba’s has better definition. Both are enjoyable in a different way, with Andromeda’s being more engaging, but the Samba’s offering more precision and detail. They share a similar treble tonality, being slightly more prominent than completely neutral, although Andromeda’s is a bit more forgiving of bad recordings with brighter sources. Both share a high quality stage, large in all dimensions. However, the Samba offers a cleaner instrument separation in accordance to the leaner notes and airier stage, while its imaging is more precise.
Lime Ears Aether (€1100)
While both the Aether and Samba can be considered a variation of neutral, their tuning philosophy results in a different focus. The Aether’s focus is naturalness, with a warmer and more colored midrange, and smoother treble. With its variable bass switch, it has similar sub-bass impact as Samba in its upper position, but with a greater emphasis on mid-bass. This creates a warmer and smoother sound, and vocals are reproduced with more emotion. On the other hand, the Samba’s stage is consequently cleaner due to the tighter bass. Even in the Aether’s low bass position, the Samba’s bass is tighter and more controlled.
The Samba is a reference-oriented version of neutral, characterized by a tighter yet impactful bass, and an uncolored midrange. While the Aether has a beautiful tonality, the Samba has a more accurate reproduction of instruments due to the lack of coloration, and greater transparency. Piano and string instruments are purer, more true, compared to the thicker and warmer notes of the Aether. In addition, the Samba’s treble is more precise and articulate, although it is less smooth. This also results in more precise imaging. Both have a nice stage with good separation, although the Samba’s stage is larger and cleaner in comparison. Taken together, the Aether sounds more natural for easy-going band oriented or rock music, while the Samba offers a more accurate recreation of instruments for classical and jazz, while its precision makes it more suitable for electronic music.
Earsonics S-EM9 ($1490)
EarSonics offers its own variation of a neutral signature, albeit with a more pronounced U-shape. Both share a nice bass presentation, although the Samba’s sub-bass is more impactful. The S-EM9 in turn has slightly more mid-bass emphasis, though both have a controlled and quick bass response in common. Both share a relatively neutral midrange, although the S-EM9’s is slightly more colored in comparison. While Samba’s upper midrange remains neutral and uncolored, the S-EM9 has EarSonics’ trademark dip, making it smoother, but also sacrificing a bit of sparkle and clarity. In addition, this makes the Samba’s midrange more full and slightly closer in comparison. While both have a good technical presentation of the treble and a similar tone, the Samba’s decay is quicker.
The Samba has a larger stage, especially in width. Both offer good depth to the presentation, but due to the stage dimensions, the Samba offers a more effortless separation. Both perform very well when it comes to precision of imaging. With their stock cables, the Samba offers a cleaner stage, with an advantage in instrument definition. With a similar cable, the two come closer in price as well as technical performance.
Rhapsodio Solar ($1550)
Both the Samba and Solar have a powerful sub-bass rumble, that really knocks at the door when called upon. The Solar adds a hefty mid-bass, that adds warmth and fullness to the presentation. Accordingly, the Solar creates thicker notes; the Samba on the other hand is more neutral and cleaner, with an airier stage and greater transparency. The Solar’s upper midrange is also more laidback compared to the Samba, and the combination with the warmer sound makes it smoother overall, while the Samba offers more clarity and definition. This continues in the treble, where the Samba’s treble is slightly more prominent. The Solar in turn has a more natural treble tone. Both offer a great deal of precision in the treble tuning.
Both iems have a nice open stage, with well-proportioned width, height, and depth. Additionally, the instrument positioning and imaging is both excellent. Their main difference is the result of the Solar’s warmer mid-bass response; the Samba has a noticeably cleaner stage, with greater emphasis of subtle details. Overall, the Solar is warmer, thicker, and smoother, though less accurate in its tonality and precision. The Samba has greater resolution, transparency, as well as stage airiness.
Jomo’s previous former flagship, the 6R, was tuned with a reference signature in mind; aiming to be a viable alternative to iems as the UERM. With the Samba, Joseph is continuing in the same direction. A neutral signature, with a focus on technical abilities as clarity, resolution and separation. If I’d had to describe the Jomo in two words, it would be clean and organized; an accurate, high fidelity reproduction of music. Often, manufacturers might add a bit of warmth or size to make a midrange more impressive, or make it brighter to enhance detail. While this works for some genres like pop or rock, it affects the purity of an instrumental presentation, the tones of a piano or string instruments.
It is somewhat sensitive and source dependent though; with a brighter dap, such a signature can come across as dry and analytical, while it will present itself as more musical and natural with a neutral to warmer dap, though retaining its reference precision. As is, the Samba might not have the most emotional or lush midrange, it's not a signature that shouts for attention; but its reference tuning offers a benchmark for flat and uncolored sound – a level of accuracy I’ve seldom come across.