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Multi IEM Review- PFE 232 vs JH5 vs JH16 vs AUD-7X

  1. kernel8888
    DISCLOSURE: These are subjective definitions and subjective results! I stake no claim in being an “audiophile” in the snobbish sense of the word, but I have been a music and sound enthusiast for a couple of years, with extensive listening experience to home theater equipment, full sized open and closed hp’s, as well as custom & universal iem’s. This is my experience from owning all of these iem’s for over a month at the same time, and owning each for at least 4 months. Take these comments for what they are (subjective listening observations). I have biased comments about each of these iem’s in the past due to honeymoon stages, but I consider these reviews to be more clearly determined based on spending more time with the headphones.

    Below is a table comparing four iem’s that I have owned on a 1-10 scale, and I tried to keep comparisons solely between the four headphones. Also included are definitions to help explain my ratings.

    Treble Extension refers to the how high in the frequency range the iem can extend.

    Treble Smoothness: The ability of the iem to reproduce treble frequencies smoothly and seamlessly, without harshness or edginess. The best way for me to explain this is by using shapes or car analogies. An example of this is the jh5’s treble being very slightly edgy and jagged (without being harsh) while the jh16 is more smooth and linear without losing extension. As a car analogy, the jh5 would be more aggressive like a sports tuned racing car, while the jh16 might be a TOTL Mercedes or BMW, more geared towards finesse and smoothness while still very fast.

    Clarity/Accuracy: This is an area where my subjective listening has a hard time discerning the differences between iem’s. I find it hard to not hear every detail with iem’s, especially compared to full size headphones and speakers. The only way I see an iem losing clarity would be because of the overemphasized presence of a frequency masking details in a less-emphasized frequency, or the dip or roll off of a frequency.
    Sibilance: Sibilance is fairly subjective, either it’s there or it’s not. Some recordings are produced with sibilance, for example I find Dave Matthews fairly sibilant, as well as many live recordings. I believe that some iem’s artificially cover up sibilance due to roll-off (AUD-7X).

    Mid Thickness: Mid thickness doesn’t necessarily refer to mid presence in terms of decibels, but more the refinement and clarity of the mids. While thickness can add weight and lushness, it can muddy up the sound and take much away from accuracy.

    Mid Clarity: While it may seem that clarity is the opposite of thickness, I have found that mid presentation can be quite paradoxical in iem’s (similar to hp’s/iem’s being warm and bright at the same time.) I have found that while thickness can take away from clarity, some iem’s can be thicker without losing clarity, such as the aud-7x and more-so with the jh16.

    Sub Bass Clarity/Texture: Talking quality here, not quantity. Clarity referring to the ability to hear the frequency, while texture is that refinement and tone that accompanies it.

    Soundstage (Height x Width x Depth): Pretty self explanatory here. Low ratings are due to the nature if iem’s, and the “in your head” presentation that is impossible to escape unless using external software or hardware.

    Weight/Body/Thickness: This is probably an unusual category to some, but it is a big deciding factor in my enjoyment of an iem. Thin sounding iem’s (ety-4/pfe 132) can be clear and accurate, but for certain tastes can lack impact and body. This is a ranking between these headphones, rather than a 1-10 scale, with 1 being thin and 4 being thick.

    OVERALL RANKING- My overall ranking would put the JH16 as a clear win, the JH5 slightly behind, the PFE 232 in a VERY close 3rd, and the AUD-7X in a close 4th. This is not to say that I dislike the 7X, because it is truly an amazing iem. My tastes just lean towards a brighter sound rather than mid forward. AND I struggle even saying that the JH16 is any more than 5-10% better than the JH5 or PFE 232. They really are very close in technical ability.


    Below is an EQ comparison chart, to compare neutrality and presence of frequency ranges. These are subjective listening tests, and measured from 0-10, with 0 being no presence in frequency range, 5 being neutral and in line with other frequencies, and 10 being over-emphasized compared to other frequencies. These numbers are not comparisons between the iems themselves, but between the frequencies of each iem.


    JH AUDIO JH5 Pro- The JH5 again comes off as warm but can seem bright without harshness or sibilance (for the most part). It seems the most flat frequency response based on my listening. The bottom end has weight and authority without any annoying mid bass or overbearing bass where it shouldn’t be. Bass was a bit light for movies based on my preferences, but was great for music. Bass seemed faithfully reproduced and extends low without any obvious peaks. Only downside is that it distorts at loud volumes quicker than the jh16’s but was equal with the other three in this regard.

    Mids on the jh5 are again right where they should be. Not overly lush, but make vocals and instruments musical and enjoyable. Overall tone is great here, it seems that some iem’s that have more presence in the mid region can also have a certain tone, color, or flavor that reduces transparency. JH audio has a great, natural tone which lends itself well to transparency and making audio sound how it was meant to sound, not like the “house sound” of an iem brand.

    Treble is clear and extended, if a little bit over emphasized or bright compared to the other frequencies. If any frequency was emphasized on the jh5, I might be tempted to say it is the treble. I am a klipsch lover though, so I appreciate a bright sound as long as it’s not harsh or tinny, which the jh5 is definitely not.

    Overall, the jh5 is the best bang for your buck in the lineup in my opinion, followed by a second hand pfe-232 picked up for 300-350. Biggest shortcoming of the jh5 compared to the jh16 is a thinner presentation overall, as well as a less refined and less smooth presentation, especially in the treble area. I love the treble on the jh5, and it is actually quite smooth, although not as smooth as the pfe 232 or the jh16. The best way to describe it is that it is aggressive and forward, which is great for movies and music.

    PHONAK AUDEO PFE 232- The pfe 232 is a bright iem that is very detailed and clear. My review is based on grey filters and comply tips, because I found silicone to be unbearably harsh and sibilant. Comply fixes these issues, imo. Bass on the 232 is fantastic in my opinion. While sheer impact is about the same as the AUD-7X and JH5, it has the most unique and layered texture I have heard. While texture is on par with the jh16, the thinner note weight and less lush mids add extra emphasis to the 232’s texture.

    Mids are linear, if a bit recessed compared to the emphasis on subbass and treble. I think that the mids sound great on the 232’s although their shortcoming lies in sounding a bit thin overall. They are very transparent and clear.

    Treble is very smooth, I’d say on par with the jh16 regarding finesse and smoothness. They are not as jagged and aggressive as the jh5 in the upper regions. They excel in clarity and detail retrieval, while their thin sounding presentation was the only thing that keeps these from excelling above the jh5’s.

    Presentation wise, these offered a more spacious soundstage than the jh5 overall. Other than note thickness, I prefer these to the jh5’s. That alone makes the mids on the jh5 shine forward compared to the pfe 232, while I do prefer the more smooth, refined presentation of the 232 with certain genres.

    DREAM EARZ AUD-7X- The Dream Earz AUD-7X is the mid centric iem of the bunch, and probably the most different sound signature. Bass of the AUD-7X is defined by its mid bass hump from 100-200hz, which is more than the jh5 for pfe 232. While mid bass is similar in quantity to the jh16, is interferes more with the overall presentation and the jh16 seems to make the mid bass boost blend in more seamlessly. Sub bass is on par with the jh5 and pfe 232.

    Mid range presentation is where the AUD-7X shines. The mids are forward, lush, and make strings and vocals sound amazing. The mids on these iem’s make the AUD-7X fun to listen to and add energy to their laid back presentation. While these qualities are great for most types of music, along with the forward mids is a thickness that can muddy up the sound at times, due mainly to the mid bass bump that can interfere with the mid frequencies at times.

    Treble presentation is smooth and laid back with a slight roll off that many prefer in the Audeze LCD line as well as other iem’s such as Westone and Heir Audio. From other reviews I’ve read, the treble presentation is much like the 8.A or ES5. This is great for many genres of music as well as listening at loud volumes. The treble is smooth, and sibilance is non-existent.

    The AUD-7X is a great headphone with an average presentation. Slightly less width than the JH models, but more depth and height. Being the least refined and transparent of the bunch, it is also the most unique in my mind. The strong and present bass, forward lush and thick mids, as well as laid back treble make them non-fatiguing and a very comfortable and engaging sound. These qualities also give the notes weight and body, making the sound very full.

    While the AUD-7X excels in Mids, Bass, Laid back treble, the mid range presentation as beautiful as it is, adds a “color” or a certain tone that is applied to anything ran through them. This takes away from transparency, as well as making them not quite as enjoyable for movies for my tastes.

    One more note about the AUD-7X was that it seemed a tad more source dependent than the other iem's. When used with a more dry, cold source such as an ipod 4th gen with accudio they sounded fantastic, while a galaxy sIII with neutron player added to the thickness and caused some congestion.

    JH AUDIO JH16 PRO: When I first heard the JH16 pro, I already had owned the jh5 for 8 months and the AUD-7X for one month. I was underwhelmed. I expected to be wowed, and wasn’t by anything except the bass. I sold them 4 months later. After testing many other iem’s, I realized that while they didn’t have qualities that may initially “wow” someone (such as exaggerated frequency ranges or presentation), they did everything right and everything beautifully for my tastes. The bass was strong, deep, tight, punchy and accurate with mid bass just below MY level of annoyance, the mids were lush and had body without being too thick and muddying up the sound, and the highs were extended, clear, and accurate without being too bright as to be fatiguing. While not everyone would agree with this assessment, they were the perfect fit for my tastes. So I re-purchased them.

    The bass on the JH16 is strong and present. Many have described it as “always on” which it is. I do like my fair share of bass, and with proper eq (which is usually none) the bass on these sounds “right” to me. I do use them a lot while driving and other activities, so the extra bass completes the sound for those activities. It is boosted from 80-100hz all the way down, and this is especially great for movies.

    The mids are lush and engaging. They really make music enjoyable to listen to and vocals clear and accurate. They pull off quite a feat hear, being thick and lush without becoming to congested like the AUD-7X. They carry more weight, impact, and authority than the JH5 and PFE 232.

    The highs are extended, clear, and accurate. They are not as “bright” as the PFE or JH5. They are just right in my opinion, although they can be a tad sibilant.

    These have a fantastic soundstage, which is defined most by their width. Height and depth are average for iem’s. The JH16 offers a full and warm sound and are in no way thin, while they still maintain speed, accuracy and clarity. They are aggressive and forward, and have fantastic dynamics. A large distinguishing characteristic of these iem’s is their impact. Snare drums and other instruments can reach out and really hit you. The JH16 is transparent and has a great, natural tone. Things sound like they should sound with no artificial tones or colorations.

    No IEM, headphone, or speaker does everything perfectly for everyone. There is always a trade off. While the JH16 is about as close as I can see myself getting to perfection, I still sometimes want a brighter sound or desire slightly less bass. Hopefully this is helpful, and even if you disagree your comments and opinions are welcome!
  2. kernel8888
    Sorry, comparison charts didn't format over correctly. Using an older internet explorer browser at work, I'll try to fix later when i get home.
  3. tinyman392
    I don't think that's an IE issue :p  That might be the website reducing whitespace automagically.  I'd recommend just putting the tables in excel, taking a screenshot, cropping it down, then posting it :p  
  4. goodvibes
    When I ordered from JHA it was either going to be the JH5 or the JH13fp. I went with the 13 but the value of the 5 is tremendous. The 16, while also great quality, has too much bass for me to acclimate to.
  5. kernel8888
    tinyman392 likes this.
  6. zenpunk
    Very complete, honest and clear comparison. Thanks.
  7. CantScareMe
    Awesome write up. 
    The 232's are perhaps my all time favourite headphone. Don't know where I'd be without them to be honest.
    I want to get customs quite soon though meaning that I found your review very useful!
  8. kernel8888
    Yea I do love the 232, and it does excel above the jh5 in some ways. Its purely preference between the two as they each have their own strengths.
  9. Bananaheadlin
    Great review! I've been deciding between the JH5 and JH16 recently, and think I might end up getting the 16 for the fuller sound.
  10. kernel8888
    Thanks! Just is a great phone and will give you a full sound. Can't go wrong if you've got the cash.
  11. lin0003
    Nice reviews! An interested read. :)
  12. kernel8888
    So I have to say, the jh5 is by no means bright. Don't know what I was thinking writing that. my ears must be more seasoned since writing.
  13. Toom
    I might have missed it, but what are you plugging these things into?
  14. kernel8888
    I had an iphone 5 at the time
  15. Tropic
    I tried the JH13 and really wasn't impressed. It sounded full and neutral, like it was trying to be a full sized headphone. Good performance but not something I'd get.

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