Prior to receiving my custom built Layla, I have only heard her universal AK counterpart. This experience had left me in quite a pickle. For one I liked what I heard, but I also had a very hard time fitting the huge monitors in my ears.
Before I have been listening to Layla I was mainly using neutral to bright reference monitors. The A18 Tzar was on heavy duty as my daily driver. This might have been the reason why I wasn’t immediately struck by Layla. My brain was so used to the extreme clarity and transparency of it that I had a hard time adjusting to the full and emotional sound Layla produces. Once my brain was set on Layla’s sound, it constantly got better and better. I started to completely fall for her, often catching myself to grab for her instead of other monitors when I just wanted to listen to music.
My bass dial does not go higher than 2 o’clock, as I find this setting the best for my personal preference. Everything above is too much for me. At this setting, Layla produces very dynamic and full bodied bass, with very nice sub bass foundation that gives the entire presentation a good boost. Layla reaches incredibly deep into the lowest registers with great texture and control. She probably is the most extended monitor I have currently. There is a slight emphasis on upper bass for enhanced body. Bass however does not bleed into the midrange and keeps it clean.
Mids are packed with emotion and body. Layla has a very organic and natural midrange, she especially excels at giving instruments and vocals a life-like presentation. Both female and male vocals shine through Layla, so much that you can truly feel the emotions some artists try to transport with their songs. Instruments are carefully placed in the constructed room, they sport nice weight and blood, yet don’t come across as too thick sounding.
Treble is the only part I consider to be a little recessed by tuning. Highs still are nicely retrieving, bringing forward a lot of hidden details. High notes are softer and not as in your face as on other monitors, making them free of fatigue. They still however are well extended, airy and shimmering. In my opinion they could be a touch more glowing and richer, rather than the dryer and analytical tuning they possess.
Layla’s sound stage stretches well into width and depth, whereas she doesn’t focus as much on height. The stage has a nice realistic size and goes out of your head on many occasions. Her abilities to separate instruments from each other are limited by the overall darker tonality she brings with. Though I must say that she still handles separation very well, with just the right amount of air between the instruments. Layering is top notch. Layla’s detailing and micro detailing is accomplished very well and she manages to bring out the finest of details with great manner.
She’s filled with resolution, though again due to the darker tone it’s not the highest I’ve heard in an IEM. Imaging is handled really well. What convinces me about Layla is her ability to make any recording sound really good. She’s engaging and fun sounding, often taking me into the music. It didn’t just happen once that I was enjoying my music on such a high degree that I lost track of time or focus on the things I was doing. Layla is a forgiving monitor and gives even bad recordings good sound, a monitor that has absolutely no problem with any genre. Be it bass pumping Glitch, smooth Jazz or powerful Rock.
A lot of manufacturers are pushing out differently tuned in ears with no real house-sound, Jerry Harvey takes a different approach and gives his gear a typical JH sound. His products are tuned with a fuller and thicker sound, with this sound he has created himself a very solid brand image. To me he is standing in the forefront when it comes to organic mids and a natural representation of music. He doesn’t create his IEMs to have head-scratching transparency or mind numbing sound stages. He cares for a realistic sound.
Layla, just like most custom and universal in ears, has no problem being driven by a portable source. I’ve been using my Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000 as trusted source on my commute. At the office I’m always listening to either the Chord Electronics Mojo or Hugo2. Since Layla has a warmer and fuller tuning on her own I suggest to look into a more linear or reference tuned digital audio player. Layla doesn’t really need an extra portion of juice, so when amped she doesn’t see any benefit. However you can always change the sound with added gear, if you fancy that.
Astell&Kern – A&ultima SP1000
To me the SP1000 is the best portable audio player out there. The AK has a very nice dynamic and punchy sound, with a deep black background and an overall brighter signature. This signature matches the JH very well, it gives Layla decent amounts of detail, a very big and wide sound stage and impressive layering. Everything sounds very cohesive and engaging with extended highs and lows alike.
Just like the AK, Hugo2 has a very big sound stage with outstanding layering. Where the AK and the Chord probably differ the most is in highs. Treble on the British DAC/Amp is softer with a nice silk cover, making them more pleasing to my ears. Especially guitars and strings can sound really breathtaking. Layla matches very well with Hugo2, I’m using the white reference filter and red or green crossfeed. The combination sounds organic and neutral with deep reaching, punchy bass. Hugo2 is one of the most resolving sources I have, and this exact fact plays incredibly well with Layla. It’s definitely the highest resolution I have heard Layla reproduce. This actually is my favourite pairing, and once 2Go gets released into the wild I might even use it as fully portable solution…
Chord Electronics – Mojo
The smaller FPGA powered DAC/Amp from Chord has made a recent comeback from the wooden box at home to my office. It now serves again as my main source of audio at work. Just like its bigger brother, Mojo is filled with details and resolution, though is not as organic sounding as Hugo2. Mojo‘s background is pitch black, with insane layering and instrumental separation. The sound stage is big in terms of depth and width and constructs a very three-dimensional sound. Layla sounds a touch dryer than with Hugo2, but at the same time also a bit faster and energetic.
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