Review: JH Audio JH16 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors

Here's a my review of the JH Audio JH16 Pro custom in-ear monitors, what may well be the finest in-ear monitors money can buy. Personally, recorded music has never sounded so good.

Jerry Harvey's JH16 Pro IEMs retail for $1,149 – because life is too short to listen to those white Apple earbuds.

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In-Ear Monitors

First, a little bit about “in-ear monitors,” or IEMs, which were created for the needs of performing musicians which have also been beloved by audiophiles for their quality of sound and their ability to be custom-fit.

Before the invention of IEMs, concert musicians used loudspeakers placed on stage that played back their instrumental or vocal performance and mix with the rest of the band. While these monitors are still widely used today, they possess a the inherent disadvantages of having a fixed position (limiting performer movement) and creating competing sound between band members (diminishing their effectiveness and clarity).

The solution? Miniaturized monitors that fit in the ear canal of the user, housed in a custom shell that simultaneously blocks external noise and allows for extreme musical fidelity. Awesome for stage musicians, audio engineers and audiophiles alike.

Jerry Harvey & JH Audio

One of the pioneers and innovators of in-ear monitor technology? Jerry Harvey, the founder of JH Audio.

As the apocryphal story goes, Jerry Harvey designed his first pair of IEMs in 1995 for none other than Van Halen's Alex Van Halen while working as the band's primary audio engineer.

When none of the existing in-ear monitors on the market could meet Van Halen's requirements, Harvey began sourcing his own components and build what would be the first two-way, custom-fit in-ear monitor. Within the year, Harvey co-founded Ultimate Ears and went on to design all of the company's professional in-ears monitors for the next decade.

Since then, Harvey's pioneering designs have been in the ears of pretty much everyone, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top and everyone in between. Not only did he invent the modern custom in-ear monitor, Harvey has over three decades of experience as a sound engineer and has toured with some of the biggest names in music.

So, in short, Jerry Harvey is pretty much the guy to trust with your ears, whether you're a touring musician or just dyed in the wool audiophile who wants the best possible quality.

With JH Audio, Harvey set out to raise the bar on the field he helped pioneer with the very best in-ear monitors available. Enter the JH16 Pro.

The JH16 Pro In-Ear Monitors

The 16's boast an impressive (and mind-boggling) eight drivers for each custom earpiece. Yes, eight: four low-end drivers and two each for the mids and highs.

Just a slight improvement from Jerry's first design with one high and one low driver.

Compared to the JH13 Pro, the JH16 Pro includes an extra two low-end drives for increased bottom-end capacity. Jerry Harvey has assured his fans that the JH16 Pro isn't necessarily “better” than the JH13 Pro, but that this extra low-end “leg room” is a solution to the unique needs of live musicians for the broadest frequency range at the low end due to the dramatic dynamic range of live mixes.

In addition to multitude of drivers, the JH16 Pro utilizes a “triple bore” design for undistorted and optimized delivery of each frequency range.

While the JH16 Pro were designed as the ultimate solution for touring musicians, what all this attention to sound quality means for the rest of us is sweet music to our ears.

Specifications

  • Proprietary Precision-Balanced Armatures
  • Double Dual Lows, Single Dual Mid, Single Dual High
  • Integrated 3-way Crossover
  • Triple Bore
  • Noise Isolation: -26dB
  • Input Connector: 1/8″ (3.5mm), Gold-Plated
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
  • Input Sensitivity: 118dB at 1mW
  • Impedance: 18 Ohms

Custom Impressions

While the JH16 Pro might sound like a miracle, the JH Audio team can't magically fit your earpieces without a little help (unless you see them at a tradeshow or go to their lab – in which case they can). Since the JH16 Pro are custom earpieces, impressions for the molds must be made by a professional audiologist.

JH Audio builds their custom earplugs using a “full-shell impression,” which includes the helix, tragus and anti-tragus of the outer ear. Basically, this includes all the weird parts of the outer ear that's going to make for a secure and comfortable fit, as well as for a sound-isolating seal. Good for rockers doing hair whips and for desk jockeys alike.

After the impressions are sent in, it may take 5-10 days for JH Audio to complete a set of custom monitors and satisfy your aural fixation. But rest assured, good things do come to those who wait.

What's In The Box

JH Audio's packaging dispenses with the frills and concentrates on the essentials – something I can appreciate. There's a paper sleeve wrapping the customized OtterBox and owner's manual, but these two are really the “meat” of the delivered goods. One nice touch? A customized metal plaque on the box personalized with your name.

Inside the box is a small black pouch, which contains the JH16 Pro and a small cleaning tool. The tool features a small brush on one end and a very fine wire loop on the other.

The OtterBox itself is just a nice touch, since it's waterproof (to 100 feet!) and crushproof. And it will float – you know, in case you're kayaking with your IEMs.

Owner's Manual & Instructions

The owner's manual for the JH16 Pro features all the standard stuff you'd expect, but it's actually hilariously written, too. For example, the final step for inserting the earpieces includes, “Touch your ear and shout, ‘blue team go' in your best Jack Bauer voice. Trust us, it's awesome.”

And you know what? They're right.

Design

Every pair of JH16 Pro will look a little different – they're custom-fit, after all. That said, the overall design of these monitors is a thing of beauty (the weird parts that mold to your ears aside – that's your fault).

I opted for clear shells with the JH16 Pro because I like being able to clearly see the drivers inside, but all of JH Audio's IEMs are available in clear and 52 other colors of acrylic, as well as options of solid color or translucent.

The serial number of each set is printed on the side of the shells that rest against your ear, as well as the initials of the user. Nice touch. Blue and red lettering distinguishes the right and left earpieces, respectively.

Build Quality

The build quality on the JH16 Pros is nothing short of excellent – and for a product that's built for the rigors of the road, you'd expect nothing less. After all, When was the last time you saw a rock star “baby” anything? Between a tough acrylic shell housing the drivers to kevlar-coated cabling, these things are tough.

The acrylic shells themselves are flawlessly molded with no bubbles, cloudiness or other imperfections.

Cable

The cable of the JH 16 Pro is thin and very flexible, with the main cord composed of three individual insulated cables twisted together. The cables, while not truly braided, are twisted in such a way with the natural “grain” of the wire that they stay perfectly tight and wrapped together.

At the end connecting to the earpiece shells, the cables feature a length of PVC tubing and memory wire, which allow the cable to be molded around the ear for a custom fit. This memory wire keeps the cable leads well out of the way and tucked behind one's ear.

As mentioned, the wiring is coated with kevlar (you know, the stuff bulletproof vests are made from?) and just slick enough to shrug off tangles. However, due to the relative flexibility and thinness of the cables, proper storage is necessary – you can't just ball the cable up into a rat's nest in the Otterbox and expect the cord to escape free and clear.

Opposite the earpieces, the cable terminates with a gold-plated, right-angle 3.5mm jack.

With all canalphones, there's an issue of microphonics due to the cable rubbing against clothing or other objects and telegraphing these vibrations into the ear. Thanks to the cable coating and braiding, which are designed to dampen vibrations, microphonics are practically non-existant.

Just like all of JH Audio's offerings, the JH16 Pro feature detachable cables using a two-pin connection. So, in the event that Kevlar isn't enough to save your cables from destruction, they're user replaceable at a $32 a pop. In addition, the modular design allows the use of aftermarket cables if you're into interconnects made out of rare-earth elements and stuff mined from asteroids and the like.

Comfort & Fit

Aside from audio quality, comfort and perfect fit is one of the biggest reasons to switch to custom IEMs. Even the most accurate or sonically-pleasing pair of earphones is worthless unless they're comfortable to use.

To this end, custom earpieces offer the promise of extreme comfort and the freedom to wear these monitors for hours without fatigue.

One thing to note with in-ear monitors is that there is a break-in period for custom earpieces as your ears become accustomed to the molded shells. At first, I found the reality of having pieces of hard acrylic intimately put into the contours of my ears not entirely pleasant. At the very least, it's unnatural.

However, the process of becoming accustomed to the earpieces is similar to that of wearing contacts, in which use is gradually extended for longer and longer periods of time until they can be worn effortlessly.

Having never used custom IEMs before, only universal models, my own break-in period was about 3-4 days of regular use. After becoming used to wearing my pair of JH16 Pro, I can say that these are not only the best sounding earphones I've used, but also easily the most comfortable as well.

With the custom JH16 Pro earpieces, I can comfortably just them for hours on end. Unlike headphones or even most canalphones, the earpieces don't exert any pressure on the head or ears. At best, they simply rest in the natural shape of the ear itself, which allows for comfort to the point that they almost disappear.

JH Audio also gives 30-day warranty for fit, which is a nice safety against the possibility of poor impressions.

Isolation

Thanks to the custom-molding, the JH16 Pro, like most custom in-ears, offer around -26dB of noise isolation. There's a lump of acrylic and miniature, balanced armatures in your ear, after all. This isolation offers a few key benefits.

For one, the massive reduction of external noise means that it's possible to use lower volumes – great for your hearing when you're piping sound directly into your ear canal.

In addition, blocking external noise means that all the gorgeous detail the 16 drivers of this JH16 Pro are pumping out is perserved with reduced competition.

I've used the JH16 Pro walking around New York City's Union Square with people and traffic all around. The only sound that actually interrupted the music was a motorcycle revving up through traffic.

Moreover, the JH16 Pro are the first earphones that have let me listen at normal volumes while on a plane, effectively lowering engine noise to such a degree that I don't have to blast my eardrums just to compensate.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of the first things that's readily apparent with the JH16 Pro is that they demand quality source material, both in terms of the source mastering/mix and the quality of the format.

Poor quality recordings and files can file small and thin, as if they fail to fill the stage the JH16 sets. Overall, it's enough to make one consider listening exclusively to lossless FLAC or ALAC.

Source:

For my listening, I'm using a Ray Samuels Predator DAC/amp connected to my Mac Pro. The Predator offers beautiful conversion for the JH16s with an extremely dark listening “background.” For my ears, normal listening levels are at 9 o'clock on the volume knob and below. The Predator is completely silent below 12 o'clock on the low gain setting, such to the point where there's no discernable difference between the JH16 Pro being plugged in or disconnected in terms of noise, hiss, or silence.

As the JH16 Pro are extraordinarily sensitive IEMs, they're devastatingly revealing of the slighting connectivity issues. I'm beyond pleased to say that the JH Audio JH16 Pro sound beautiful with the RSA Predator.

Disclaimer

To be quite honest, I don't consider myself an audiophile, only a music lover. To this end, I'm not going to get hot and sweaty doing a sonic, track by track analysis of the JH16 Pro.

I also don't profess to have golden ears nor super-human hearing. I'm a music photographer, after all, with what in all likelihood amounts to a mild degree of hearing loss. I shoot, on average, over 100 concerts and festivals every single year. That said, I do love music. I'm a music photographer, after all.

What I will offer are my thoughts on the experience of using the JH16 Pro as a whole and, more importantly, their real benefit.

Sound Quality

With the JH16 Pro, there's a visceral quality in the presentation feels more like a live performance than the playback of a recording. There's an immediacy to the sound that makes the instrumentation and vocals seem alive.

In terms of presentation, the JH16 sound effortless. They're not strikingly forward, or relaxed – they hard to even say they're balanced. They just sound right. While they don't have the seemingly infinite air of superb open headphones line the Grado GS1000i, the sound is wholly intimate and engrossing. Throughout, the JH16 Pro present details with a precise lushness.

Compared to even other excellent universal in-ear monitors like the Shure E500/E530/SE535, the JH16 produce a more full-bodied sound, with extension in both the top and the bottom registers. It's a cohesive, wholly addicting sound quality through the entire range.

In terms of the JH16 Pro's bass reproduction, one does get a real sense of the extra extension provided by the quadruple low-end drivers. There's a body to the JH16's low-end that grounds the presentation. Moreover, there's a speed to the attack and release those four low drivers deliver; it's like they're a boxer with the punch of a heavyweight and the dancing shoes of a featherweight.

However, all the revelation of details, sublime smoothness, grounding bass – these are just the details. The big-picture effect is wholly more interesting.

The biggest testament to the sound quality of Jerry Harvey's JH16 monitors? The JH16 Pro make me fall in love with my favorite music all over again. They make listening to music exciting with the promise of details and depth never before heard in even my favorite, well-worn tracks and albums. And that's the game-changer.

Summary

It's safe to say that the JH16 Pro are the most sophisticated set of in-ear monitors that Jerry Harvey has designed yet, which is saying a lot for a man credited with inventing the first two-way custom in-ear monitors, the foundation for modern IEMs.

With a staggering total of sixteen balanced armatures and three-way crossovers and a retail price of $1,149, the JH16 Pro should well sound like the best thing you've ever put into your ears. They do.

The JH16 Pro present a cohesiveness, detail and depth that belies their diminutive form. Combine this sound quality with a comfortable, custom fit that allows for isolated listening for hours on end, and you have what may be the perfect delivery for sonic bliss.

However, the real importance and value of the JH16 is that they simply make you want to listen to music. There's a true thrill in listening to old favorites with such depth and brilliance that it's as if it's the first time. The 16's make everything new again.

What Jerry Harvey and JH Audio offer in the JH16 Pro is a revelation to make you fall in love with your favorite artists and albums all over again. Nevermind the sticker shock – that's priceless.

Where To Buy

You can purchase the JH16 Pro directly from JH Audio:

JH Audio JH16 Pro at www.jhaudio.com

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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