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Expectedly great

A Review On: JH Audio JH3X Pro

JH Audio JH3X Pro

Rated # 62 in Headphones
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Purchased on:
Price paid: $510.00
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Pros: Fit, isolation, cable, bass extension

Cons: Slightly recessed treble, not as much of a bargain as low tier custom IEMs used to be

It has been a looong time since I've had the time to write up my thoughts on a new product and share them online, but for the JH3X Pro I'm finding the time for two reasons: I feel strongly that these are great, and - as far as I can tell - nobody else has actually published a review for them yet.


The Backstory


I've been using in-ear monitors as both a frequently-traveling listener and a performer / engineer for years. I got started with the Etymotic ER6i around 2004, and a few years later I upgraded to the Triple.fi 10 Pros from Ultimate Ears. The TF10s have their problems - notably, they are huge and can be difficult to fit into some peoples' ears, unless you're using foam tips like those from Comply. I love my Triple.fi 10s, and over the years I went through a lot of Comply tips, so it became time to think about switching to a custom which had a little less ongoing expense. When my factory-original TF10 cable started to go bad after years of use, the writing on the wall was obvious: it was time.


For those who don't know, Ultimate Ears (now owned by Logitech), was founded by a guy named Jerry Harvey. He has been in the IEM design game since custom IEMs were strictly professional tools, long before these monitors were also the choice of road-warrior audiophiles, holds plenty of patents on related topics, and the Triple.fi 10 is one of his designs. I loved the Triple.fi 10's general sound, so sticking with Jerry Harvey designs was a natural decision for me. These days, that means buying from his more recent company, JH Audio.


There really isn't such a thing as a "low end" custom IEM - these things are labor intensive to make and are totally unique to the wearer, so the price floor is pretty high, especially considering the cost of obtaining ear impressions from an audiologist. With that in mind, for years the bottom end of the custom IEM lineup from JH Audio was the JH5, a product which was widely respected, extensively reviewed, and seemingly a fixture of the lineup. Naturally, it was discontinued at the end of 2016, right as I was getting ready to pull the trigger on a purchase. The replacement model in the lineup? The JH3X Pro.


Deciding to buy the JH3X Pro was a bit of a leap of faith - the only content resembling a review I could find online was a few brief remarks from Tyll Herstens at RMAF2016's CanJam: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/canjam-rmaf2016-jh-audio-jh3x-pro-jh13v2-pro-and-jh16v2-pro-mulit-ba-iems


If Tyll Herstens thinks they're "a solid, right down the middle performer", that was good enough for me. I ordered my JH3X Pros the weekend of CES, when JH Audio was running a 15% discount promo on custom IEM orders. Cost: $509.15. I opted for a basic clear acrylic finish, with my initials on the inside of the ear and the JH Audio "flying lady" logo outline on the outside - red on the right, blue on the left - and I got a clear cable to match. While I was sending in impressions, I also had a pair of custom earplugs made using Etymotic's ER-15 musicians' earplug filters. I mailed my impressions off, and about 3 weeks later I got a package in the mail.




A seriously hefty aluminum case, and some new custom in-ear monitors. How do they look when worn? Something like this, in my relatively small ears:



The clear acrylic keeps a pretty low profile, which is nice when I'm using these on the train / airplane / etc as I often do.


The Sound


First, I'll mention the isolation. These are custom-fit in ear monitors, which all generally have the same degree of isolation from outside noise if they fit properly. Most manufacturers publish 26dB as the official isolation measurement, and I have no reason to believe that isn't the case here as well. The isolation from outside noise with the JH3X Pro is simply fantastic - equally as fantastic as any of their competitors. Its hard to go wrong here.


On to the other details... the JH3X Pro is a triple-driver, 2-way IEM. Its predecessor, the JH5, was a 2-way 2-driver IEM, both using balanced armatures exclusively. There is a trend in the in-ear monitor business these days to cram seemingly insane numbers of drivers into these tiny enclosures, and at the higher end of their lineup JH certainly does participate with a 12-driver flagship. Down here though, things are more reasonable. Interestingly, there seems to be some disagreement on the actual configuration of these 3 drivers in the JH3X Pro. Some online details describe them as a 3-way, 3-driver IEM... while JH's own website describes them as a 2-way, 3-driver IEM. In the InnerFidelity video interview with Tyll Hertens at CanJam, one of JH's reps describes them as a 3-way, 3-driver design.


Regardless, I can certainly verify that my JH3X Pros contain 3 drivers and have 2 sound bores - and the sound is generally great, regardless of how the drivers are configured. I have pretty varied tastes and listen to everything from percussion-driven electronic music where bass extension and punch are key, to acoustic jazz trios where delicate attention to ride cymbals and midrange for saxaphones or vocals are essential, and they do an commendable job handling all of this.


Bass extension is actually one of the biggest differences I notice in a direct comparison with my Triple.fi 10s - the TF10 is pretty widely regarded as having plenty of bass on tap, but while there is quantity the quality sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. I don't notice any such problems with the JH3X Pro. A track like DJ Shadow's "The Mountain Will Fall" which has prominent sub-bass throughout simply sounds great on the JH3X Pro, even when the low freq driver is also tasked with punchy kick drum at the same time. Where at the extreme low end the TF10 might start to roll off and the listener hears as much of the upper harmonics as the fundamental, I don't feel like I'm ever losing the fundamental. This is definitely an area where the custom fit is a huge benefit; balanced armatures are essentially useless for low frequencies without a complete seal, and the custom mold ensures a fit which is always good, every time, and doesn't change over time when your foam tips start to soften.


Bass quantity leaves a little, but not much, to be desired - trending much more towards neutral than the TF10, or one of my other comparison headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT770 250ohm. Both the DT770 and TF10 have bass. Tons of bass. Enough bass that some people are simply put off by the amount of bass available. The JH3X Pro manages to be much more neutral, making it both much more useful as a monitoring tool without lots of compensation required, and also a little more suitable out of the box for genres like classical where a lot of bass from a bass drum or low upright bass passage might actually be a distraction to have popping out of the mix. With that said, however, I've never been able to make the JH3X Pro distort on bassy music even at volume levels approaching the uncomfortable, so I have no doubt they'd handle some EQ extremely well if you found the neutral bass levels to be less than you desire.


Moving up in the spectrum to the midrange, there is lots to like here - JH markets these as having "upper mid detail that's unparalleled by its rivals". While I wouldn't go as far as to say "unparalleled", at least if I'm comparing to the pretty capable TF10, the midrange on these things is generally very good. My benchmark for midrange performance is my AKG K702s, an all-around amazing monitoring headphone which is about as neutral as they come. The JH3X Pro compares favorably here - on a track like Adele's "Hello", with lots of reverb-washed vocals over piano, I can easily hear every reverb tail distinctly; they aren't obscured by (or obscuring) the soft piano notes underneath. Switching to something more of an audiophile demo favorite like Norah Jones' album "Come Away With Me" yields similarly great results. These things are simply fantastic for vocal use, no doubt part of their professional heritage as on-stage monitors, where clear vocals are critically important.


The treble is where I finally have an actual wish for improvement - I can't help but feel like treble on these IEMs is recessed. On Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why", the soft ride cymbals are everywhere in the background of the mix - but can be somewhat more in the background than normal on the JH3X Pros (as compared to the K702, or even the very V-shaped DT770 Pro). For the record, this is also one of my primary complaints with the TF10, so in a sense it truly is a grown-up version of my favorite IEMs thus far. Though the isolation from these is certainly good enough that I could be listening to gentle jazz vocal standards on on the train or behind the mixing console, fortunately that isn't usually my pattern, so this thankfully isn't a problem for my particular use. I certainly wouldn't consider recessed treble to be a fatal flaw for the JH3X Pros, but I am very curious to see somebody get them made for a dummy head microphone in the future and record some actual frequency response measurements. In the meantime, when I'm sitting at home listening to Norah Jones on a Sunday night with a glass of wine... I'll probably keep reaching for my K702s.


The Other Details


In terms of ergonomics and accessories, I opted for JH Audio's standard 3.5mm twisted, right-angle minijack cable - in clear, to match the IEM body itself. This is unquestionably the best headphone cable of any kind I've ever had the pleasure of using. It is flexible, doesn't tangle, exhibits almost no memory, has plenty of strain relief, includes red / blue dots inside of the connectors to the IEMs to indicate which earpiece you should be connecting to. Notably JH Audio uses a 2-pin connector for these IEMs, instead of the MMCX-type barrel connector some of their higher end models receive. The memory-wire that forms the hooks which run over the listener's ears seems like it should hold up well over time. With the ear-hooks used properly, cable microphones aren't a problem at all (unlike the TF10 or ER6i, both of which suffered from generally horrible microphonics with their stock cables). JH Audio includes a heavy aluminum case, lined with a thin layer of foam, engraved with the owner's name. Personally I would have preferred one of their older plastic Pelican-style cases, but this should work sufficiently well to protect the IEMs when not in use... but boy, it is bulky. Also provides were a nice wax tool, with a brush on one end, and a set of Comply's "custom wrap" foam liners for custom IEMs, which I have not yet tried or felt the need to use.


My listening so far has mostly been done using a Fiio E7 headphone amp / DAC. I've also used the standard headphone out on my iPhone SE, and the headphone output from my higher end MOTU Audio Express. I've not been able to find any information on impedance or sensitivity, but the JH3X Pro seem to be remarkably easy to drive - with that said, it isn't much surprise that there is essentially zero difference in their sound across all of these equally-capable sources.


The Conclusion


Overall - the JH3X Pro are great. Anyone considering a nice, fairly neutral custom IEM with great bass extension and a fair price should give them a serious look despite the slightly recessed treble - especially if you're considering them for professional use as a vocal monitor. I'm very happy, and expect that they'll quickly become one of my most-used headphones simply by virtue of the convenience of being super portable, super isolating, comfortable for long periods of time, and always easy to drive from whatever source I've got on-hand.

1 Comment:

Nice review,

I recently also took a "risk" by buying these largely on JH's reputation.

These are my first IEM's and they do have a good seal but the right ear sits much more recessed in my ear, causing the clear cable connection to press against my ear just at the top of the Tragus (Discomfort nearly immediately). upon closer inspection, the depth across the IEM at that point is less than the left ear which may or may not be due to the molds provided.

I've contacted JH Audio to see if they can adjust for this and will post a full review pending that resolution.

That issue aside, my initial impressions are similar to yours, I'll reserve my full judgement after trying a few different audio sources / music genres.
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