Monday, November 7, 2011

High-end in-ear monitors: JH Audio JH16 Pro

I've been listening to my brand-new pair of in-ear monitors for a couple of weeks now. They're the JH16 Pros I ordered at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show.

They're extremely pricey and are custom-molded for my ears (done open-mouthed right at the show). In partial mitigation, they are complex, having 8 drivers for each ear, and the sound quality (especially the bass) simply blow the custom-molded Etymotics but bass-light Hf3s that I had before out of the water.

You really don't feel you're missing anything with such tiny devices. It's as good as the best full-sized headphones. It's significantly better than my car audio system. I don't feel like listening to the Etymotics anymore. The difference is night-and-day and readily apparent from the first moments. I simply enjoy my music more with the JH16 Pros.

(Note: believe it or not, they're not quite top-of-the-line for JH Audio. There is a brand-new fancier version of the JH16 Pro with an external box containing a DSP crossover and amplifier for maybe $600 more. It's called the JH-3A. But it's not as portable obviously.)

I bought it for use on trips: long flights and all that, so sound isolation is also important to me: hence, the custom ear-molds. I am listening to music (Apple lossless) out of my iPhone 4.

I'm told the sound can be further improved by bypassing the iPhone's inexpensive internal DAC (Digital to Analog converter) and headphone amplifier for an outboard solution: in other words, using the iPhone as a digital transport only and outsourcing digital-to-analog conversion and amplification to a (presumably, higher-quality) external box or boxes.

Two solutions exist at the moment to take the digital output from an iDevice: the Fostex HP-P1 which contains a 32 bit DAC and a headphone amplifier in one box, or the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo DAC converter feeding another box such as the ALO Continental vacuum tube-based headphone amplifier.

The cost to the wallet is another $750-$1200 depending on the solution, plus you sacrifice portability since you need to carry along one or two other boxes along with my iPhone that also need to be battery powered and charged. The upside is that you get the last 10% of sound quality out of the JH16 Pros.

Maybe I'll go the outboard DAC and separate amplifier solution at a later date, but right now I'm amazed at and very happy with the great sound quality I'm getting from such a tiny speaker system.

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