JH Audio makes custom-fit in-canal earphones and monitors for audiophiles, sound engineers, and musicians. The JH13 Pro is the company’s six-driver model, and is slightly less expensive than the previously reviewed 8-driver JH16 Pro. It still costs $1,099 (direct) plus a $50-$75 visit to the audiologist for your ear canal impressions. As you’d expect for the price, the JH13 Pro is a pure delight to behold, with a superb balance of low frequencies and highs. It is capable of distorting on tracks with intense sub-bass content, but only at insanely high (and unsafe) listening levels. At safe levels, the audio quality from the JH13 Pro is nothing short of magnificent, and this pair is a shoo-in for our Editors’ Choice award for custom earphones.
Let’s face it: pretty much all in-ear monitor systems look the same. The JH13 Pro
is no different. Your ear will appear as though it’s filled up with a semi-transparent plastic substance, with a JH Audio winged angel logo printed on the outside panel. The cable, which has a rigid portion that you shape up, over, and behind your ear, is detachable, and you have the option to purchase one with an inline remote and microphone for mobile devices, though the standard cable doesn’t come with inline controls. The earpieces themselves are offered in a variety of colors, and you can add customized artwork on the outside.
The fun stuff is happening on the inside, though. Each ear contains six drivers—dual drivers for the low, mid, and high ranges. Recently, JH Audio updated this earphone pair, as well as the JH Audio JH16 Pro, to include the company’s patent-pending Freqphase technology. In short, the accuracy of the listening experience has been improved by attempting to eliminate the lag time between when low, mid, and the faster high frequencies reach your ear. Will you hear the difference? It’s possible, or perhaps not at all, but anything a manufacturer does to further the quality of audio performance, in a transparent manner, is always a good thing. There’s no digital processing going on here, it’s just solid, innovative engineering.
The JH13 Pro ships with a clear plastic, snap-shut case with your name etched on it, along with an earwax cleaning tool.
Custom-molded, in-canal earphones block out ambient noises as well as just about any earplug available, and are far more effective in eliminating room noise than active noise-canceling headphones. This is relevant not only because using them to block out noise is a stealth secondary use for pairs like the JH13 Pro, but also because, when outside noises are more or less eliminated, the earphones can operate at much lower volume levels and still sound loud.
At very loud volumes, the JH 13 Pro does not distort on tracks with challenging sub-bass content, like our low-end test track, the Knife’s “Silent Shout.” If you want to push these earphones to their absolute limit, distortion will creep into the mix. The maximum volume on an iPhone 5 produced some very minor distortion on the aforementioned track. But this is almost irrelevant, since we’re talking about seriously uncomfortable levels. At volume levels that allow you to actually enjoy the music, the JH13 Pro sounds superb and clean. The deep bass is reproduced with gusto, but not overwhelmingly boosted.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the JH13 Pro strikes a lovely balance. The drums are lent a nice, rich low-end without boosting things in a way that makes them move too much to the front of the mix. Callahan’s baritone vocals receive the ideal amount of high-mid presence to capture their gravelly edge without adding unwanted sibilance. The low-mids in Callahan’s vocals are delivered smoothly, and never seem to do battle with the drumming that also occupies this range. Similarly, the guitar strumming on this track could easily compete with the high-mid edge of his voice, but all the elements of these tracks seem to have their own pocket. It sounds fantastic. This is what six drivers per ear can do for a song.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop gets a nice bit of crunch on its transients, but it’s not as intense as it can be on bass-boosted earphones that also tend to boost the high-mids and overly sculpt things in order to create a semblance of balance. Here, we have actual balance—from the punch of the kick’s attack to the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the loop, which are reproduced with serious oomph, but not exaggerated so that they cloud up the mix. Vocals on this track are also crisp and clear, with no added sibilance.
Classical tracks, like John Adams “The Chairman Dances,” provide the JH13 Pro with another opportunity to shine. This track often sounds a bit too bright on pairs that lack bass boosting, or too heavy in the lows on pairs that do have bigger bass. The JH13 avoids both traps—you get the growl of the brass, the bowing of the higher register strings, the bright taps of the wood block percussion, and the natural resonance of the lower-register strings, all occupying their own space in the mix. It’s rare that I hear this track and think: This is probably very close to how it sounded in the recording room. In-canal earphones are always at a disadvantage when it comes to conveying a sense of depth and space in the stereo field—something achieved far more effectively by speakers or open headphones with recessed drivers, like those from headphone vet, Grado. And yet with the JH13 Pro you don’t care—the drums and timpani echo in the concert hall, and it sounds lifelike.
If you’re enamored with the idea of custom-molded earphones, but your budget isn’t in the thousands, you have options. We love the $400 Ultimate Ears UE 4 Pro, which is what you might consider an entry-level custom model, and it’s still fantastic—for far less money. JH Audio also offers a lower-priced model, the JH5 Pro, which starts at $400, though we have yet to test it. If the sky is the limit for your budget, the aforementioned $1,150 JH16 Pro delivers the level of excellence you would expect for its jaw-dropping price, and the $1,350 Ultimate Ears UE 18 Pro delivers remarkable, flat-response audio, with less bass boosting. If big bass is your thing, the $1,150 Ultimate Ears UE 11 Pro provides a healthy dose of bass-boosted response.
But many listeners might not hear a drastic difference between the JH13 Pro and the JH16 Pro, or at least, not one drastic enough to justify spending another $50. In this price range, though, I’d say it comes down more to audio preference rather than money. The primary difference is the JH16 Pro has more drivers covering the lower frequencies, which results in better clarity and a bit more bass response. Personally, I prefer the JH16 Pro—its subwoofer lends a bit more thump to the proceedings, but the JH13 Pro is also a remarkable custom pair and worth every penny. If you’re burdened with the tough choice of picking one or the other of these Editors’ Choices, pat yourself on the back.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc