Disclaimer: the Jerry Harvey Roxanne earphone reviewed in this review is part of a Tokyo Headfi tour. And it’s cool.
Thanks to Fujiya Avic’s awesome (and sweaty) spring and fall headphone shows, on more than one occasion, I’ve had the opportunity to shake hands with one of the coolest names in the industry. Last year, I photographed and botched the translation of an interview with Mr. Harvey conducted by the pioneering Japanese audiophile, Sasaki. Jerry’s cool, calm demeanour impressed me as much as the snarling tattoos that crawled up and down his arms. The be-inked man isn’t just a bigwig earphone pioneer. Where it comes down to the perfecting of sound through endless, marketable tweaking, he’s a perfectionist, and an inventor. His character is carbon copied into each of his earphones. And Roxanne is the perfect facsimile of all that is Jerry.
Roxanne comes in two flavours: the custom one rings in around 1500$; and universal one rings in around 1300$ USD. Both models sport 12 drivers, four for bass, four for mids, and four for highs. Bass is adjustable from 0 to +15dB. This review covers the universal version, which was loaned me by Headfi’s Currawong. Sadly, it is no longer in the building.
Roxanne’s cable is a veritable rope. I am reasonably confident that if properly knotted to a good balcony rail, I could use it to pass my wife to the bushes below. Both the y-split and plug sheaths are thick, supple, and wear extremely well. This cable is less susceptible to fraying than some of JHA’s previous cables and cable-derived microphonic noise is minimal. That said, the metal-lined ear guides can kick up quite a ruckus. Honestly, for the glasses wearer, those guides are merciless. Jerry Harvey Audio have packed in a small screw driver for your caprice. You’ll need to adjust Roxanne’s bass unless you rock Harajuku nails. The good side is that it’s pretty tough to accidentally change bass settings. The L-shaped plug is supple, strong, and easy to use in combination with smartphone cases if that’s your thing.
A new four-pole female screw drive mates the cable to the earphone’s male bits. While a bit unwieldy, it is probably the surest connection currently out there.
The universal Roxanne looks and feels decidedly like a custom earphone. It uses the same UV-cured acrylic shells, the same sound tubes, the same internal wiring. New to JHA and the earphone world is the 4-pole connector and screw drive lock mechanism. While sturdy, because the cable locks directly to the earphone’s acrylic shell, the earphones shells may be less resilient to overt pressure than earphones with weaker connection systems. I don’t foresee problems stemming from normal usage, but it behoves you to treat Roxanne like a lady.
Shell machining is very good. There are few to no air bubbles, and the drivers are free of fingerprints and oil blotches. Internal wiring is a bit rockstar-ish, but until custom earphone manufacturers universally hire elves to do their dirty work, that won’t change.
Roxanne is a sensitive earphone. I’m a sensitive-eared lad. Roxanne easily renders hiss from noisy sources. In fact, it renders noise from some typically low-noise sources like the 6G iPod nano. Thank the Lords of Kobol that the volume of hiss is less than what passes through a Sleek Audio CT7. Roxanne’s sensitivity means that it doesn’t need much voltage in order to hit high volumes. Pretty much any old player or amp will do. Driving that volume to perfect resolution, however, is another story.
But first, let’s talk about how Roxanne sounds. She is a smooth, beautiful singer, whose main vocal thrust is the midrange. There, her lungs spit effortless detail and space. The forward and aft edges of stringed instruments are crisp and resonant. Ditto percussion, especially tom-tom drums and snares. Mids project with firm authority. Roxanne’s finest foot steps forward when rendering the clear voices of metallic chimes, or the touch of a brush on the edge of a drum, or the soft slap of a hand on a guitar. The most jaw-dropping part thing is that while Roxanne piles detail everywhere possible, there’s not an abrasive note anywhere to be found.
Frequency transitions are utterly smooth. Clean attack is followed by a musical, but speedy decay. Headroom in all frequencies is off the charts. Whether handing off upper bass lines to the lower mid quarter, or delineating the thumb from the string it plucks, Roxanne’s delivers absolutely clear transitions. Yet she does so with tender love.
Super low frequencies aren’t over amped. They are big, with duff where necessary, and crescendo cleanly when not. Bass detail is second only to midrange detail. Get ready for thrum and strum and a bit of slam.
Just this side of tizzy cymbals, Roxanne rolls gently off- but not to the extent that she sounds dull or veiled. Taking the place of tizz is clean, detailed high-frequency reverb. Despite the gentle roll off, high frequency details are articulate. Roxanne flushes forward the floor plan of the recording room. But because there is no added edge, poorly constructed recording studios and the records they put out don’t necessarily sound worse than they did before. They do, however, sound sloppy. Their overly wet high-frequency reverb wells rise up with slip and slap. Again, the effect is inflexion, not infliction. Roxanne doesn’t throw the details back in your face.
But let’s get back to the mids.
Even the benchmark-setting JH13Pro isn’t quite able to serve the same dynamics and detail, and midrange space. While it isn’t an endless chasm of space that Roxanne sets up around your skull, it is a precisely set space. Bass notes fall to the jowls and behind the os occipital bone. Mids project from the centre of your grey matter, through your eye holes, and around, to the temples. Highs shimmer around the sides, filling in at their discretion. Vertical ascent and descent of each frequency is limited to a space about the size of a beach ball around your pate. The precision of the spread is tip top. The breadth of the spread is wide, but not quite Dita The Answer wide.
Several times whilst demoing the Roxanne, I forgot to breathe. True story.
But if you’ve had enough of all that, Roxanne gives you the option of amping up her bass (and the above observations are rendered in different levels of moot). I feel most comfortable with the dial set to around 50% or less, where bass details and transitions remain superb. There is the merest hint of bloom around 150Hz. Bass-head audiophiles should be happy with the dial set to 70% or below, and bass-is-allers probably can’t tell the difference anyway. Go ahead, set it to 100%. Someone has to. 100% absolutely masks Roxanne’s trademark low to mid frequency transitions. It shifts focus away from the lovely, spacious highs. 150Hz goes wonky. Not that that isn’t useful at times. I’ll admit to digging the duff that only 100% gives when listening Dr. Dre’s The Watcher. (Can you blame me?) But when I return to John Denver, The Smiths, Armin Van Buuren, Depeche Mode, U2, New Order, Joy Division, Sandy Patti, The Doobie Brothers, Testament, Shirley Temple, and of course, The Police, I return also to my favourite 50% setting.
As long as you skirt 100%, Roxanne delivers the best inflexion this side of Halifax.
If only Dita Audio were in charge of Roxanne’s over-the-ear ergonomics. While the cable is strong, is relatively resistant to touch noise, and is comfortable, the ear-guide is a bloody pain. Literally. If you wear specs, it will pinch below one glasses arm or another. If you have long eyelashes and wear glasses (poor sod) prepare yourself for Roxanne wrenching your glasses this way and that until your lashes smudge up your Pierre Cardins. Through all that eyelash grease, you will swear you’re wearing blinders. If you don’t wear glasses, the above simply doesn’t apply. But, the universal version of Roxanne is massive; it can’t comfortably be fit into small ears. My conchas are medium-sized bowls. But I can’t properly get Roxanne in. And long as they are, the sound tubes may not reach your canals without a bit of yoga. My wife can’t get Roxanne anywhere near her ear holes without pain. I strongly recommend testing the universal version of Roxanne before purchasing, no matter how ‘you’ this review or that review describes. That, or pony up for the custom version.
As explained earlier, getting volume from Roxanne isn’t a problem. Roxanne requires setting your amp or player to roughly Dita The Answer levels in order to really sing. But where Dita serves up its best straight from your portable player, Roxanne is more demanding. Your player must be able to drop damn near 0 Ω to allow Roxanne to give ‘er. Even so, it probably won’t be able to support a super-stable dynamic range or stereo image. My fullest recommendation is behind a couple of amps, or something like an iBasso DX50. The first is the Cypher Labs DUET. The second is the Vorzüge PURE II.
Roxanne is one of the best-sounding IEMs out there. It may well be the smoothest, most midrange-resolving earphone on the planet right now. Yes, it trades grating edges for space, and it smooths over some of the chaos of live performances. But what it gives up in chaos it returns in transitional detail, sharp 3D spaces, and microscopic midrange detail. And none of its goods ever trip up the bass or treble. But if you’ve had enough of all of that charm and appeal, you can still turn up the bass dial for boom and punch. There are few earphones that are as capable of wowing on so many levels as Roxanne. Sadly, Roxanne wow’s glasses wearers with poorer than usual ergonomics. But to the earphone faithful, that’s nothing new. From team Headfonia, it’s ohmage to Roxanne till the red lights go out.