Review: JH Audio Layla – Merlot

JH Audio Layla

Sound

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.

JH Audio Layla

JH Audio Layla

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.

JH Audio Layla

JH Audio Layla

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.

Sources

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.

JH Audio Layla

JH Audio Layla

Chord ElectronicsHugo2

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.

Find out about Comparisons on the last page!

Review: JH Audio Layla – Merlot
4.5 (90.21%) 47 vote[s]

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

    22 Comments

    • Reply February 27, 2018

      MICHAEL BROWN

      Good review I have both custom Layla and universal Encore. I currently have my Layla matched with the Effect Audio EOS and find it a very good match. Looking forward to your follow up with either Leonidas or The Horus cable.

      • Reply February 27, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Michael,
        thanks a lot for your comment.
        I’d love to try my Layla with Leonidas, but mine is a 2-pin cable that can’t be used with JH Audio IEMs. Been looking for an adapter, but haven’t found a reasonable one yet.

    • Reply February 27, 2018

      Zach

      I know of an adapter with the bassport built in

      • Reply February 27, 2018

        Linus

        Hey Zach,
        thanks for your comment.
        Would you mind pointing me to that adapter? If it’s reasonably priced I’d love a pair.

        Thanks!!

    • Reply February 27, 2018

      Zach

      This is the item page: http://e4ua.jp/?p=2870

      Its in japanese and there is no checkout. You can email him for it here: info@e4ua.jp

      he doesnt write english so you have to translate what he emails you. Dont send him japanese unless you know japanese, just send him emails in english. I have purchased this adapter from him before and it is outstanding. It allows me to use plussounds wireless iem cable with my layla. He makes it in 2 pin and mmcx. Its about 250 usd for the set. Well worth it.

      Just email him what you want.

    • Reply February 27, 2018

      Guillaume Ceccarelli

      Thank you for your detailed review.

      I’m in the market for CIEMs with music production – including mixing and perhaps later mobile mastering as well – in mind, and your review of the Layla, thanks in part to your comparison with flagships from other manufacturers, has been the most useful I’ve come across so far. I’m decidedly thankful that you offered us a review even after ~3 years of the Layla’s existence.

      If I’m interpreting your review correctly, it would seem that Layla comes out on top when it comes to both
      – range of reproduction, since it seems to reproduce deeper bass than its competitors
      – being organic sounding while still successfully aiming for neutrality: maybe coherence would be a good adjective for it?

      Would you agree that this is an accurate understanding of your experience? I’m also asking because it was hard for me to grasp what “fuller bodied” meant to you as a listener and I’m hoping to get a better sense of it.

      • Reply February 28, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Guillaume,
        thank you so much for your nice comment, I’m glad you found the review useful 🙂

        Layla indeed does reach the lowest out of all my monitors, yet when it comes to treble extension I might give the A18t the nod.

        I wouldn’t call Layla neutral, as it has an overall darker signature.

        What I mean with fuller bodied is that notes carry bigger weight and sound fuller. If that makes sense… 🙂

        Cheers!

    • Reply April 7, 2018

      Phoorich

      Thanks for the review. Did all of the comparisons are done in their stock cable?

      • Reply April 9, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Phoorich,
        thanks for your comment, appreciated.

        Yes, all were done with stock.

        Hope that helps.
        Cheers

        • Reply April 9, 2018

          Phoorich

          Just decided to get the Layla thanks to this review. I did demo the encore and its indeed has better clarity but somehow I like the Layla more.

          Keep up the good works!

          • Reply April 10, 2018

            Linus

            Glad you found your poison 😉
            Also happy that my review helped you.

            Layla is special, I fully agree.

    • Reply May 10, 2018

      Nathan

      hi Linus, can you compare with JH Angie? or maybe soon in the future you’ll get Angie also. so you can reviewed it here. thanks

      • Reply July 8, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Nathan,
        sorry for the late response. Must have missed your comment here… my bad.

        Unfortunately I have never heard Angie and there are no plans for a review of it I’m afraid. But Berkhan has had the Angie (AK universal) for a while and he loved it, maybe he can chime in on a comparison of the two…
        He has also done this awesome comparison chart, you can find both Layla and Angie in there:
        https://www.head-fi.org/threads/iem-score-chart-constantly-updated.815852/

        Hope that helps.
        Have a great Sunday.

    • Reply October 3, 2018

      Yossi

      Hi,

      Thanks for your clear and detailed review it really helped a lot.

      I will be using the IEM for mixing live shows, so I want the most accurate sound possible. Which one of them should I get?

      Thanks

      • Reply October 3, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Yossi,

        thanks a lot for your comment.

        Which IEMs have you been thinking of?
        For mixing live shows I’d recommend Layla, 64 Audio’s A18t or A12t, Empire Ears has the ESR which is supposed to be super flat. Their Phantom is also used by professionals for mixing as far as I know. Apart from these I’d also recommend Noble’s Katana.

        There’s a good number of models which you can try I guess. 🙂

        Hope that helped.
        Cheers!

    • Reply October 23, 2018

      Yossi

      Thanks for your response. I was thinking btw the Layla and the A18t which one of them should I get for mixing live shows?

      • Reply October 23, 2018

        Linus

        Hi Yossi,

        tough one, depends what you’re after in the end.
        The Layla is the more emotional one, whereas the A18t has higher resolution and micro-detailing and also throws a bigger stage. Both have great imaging, which might be very handy for live mixing.

        The A18t is the more technical advanced in my opinion.

    • Reply October 23, 2018

      Yossi

      Thank you. I very much appreciate your response.

    • Reply November 24, 2018

      J Martinez

      Hello, I currentlt play drums, guitar and sing in a church, and really love music and a great sound with base and clarity where I can feel the stage. I cant decide detween the 64audio a18t, Layla or UE. Which ones would you recomend?

      • Reply November 25, 2018

        Linus

        Hi J,

        thanks for your comment!
        It all depends on what you want.
        The A18t is better on technicalities (resolution, layering, sound stage…) and has a very exciting sound. It also offers you two different sound signatures by switching the modules (you get both M15 and M20).
        Layla has a more enjoyable sound with more body for the long run.
        I can’t say anything about UE, as Lieven has done (and is doing) the reviews for them, but I know he really likes the UE Live.

        Hope that helps.

        • Reply November 25, 2018

          rob

          I have both layla and u18 (both universal) and would recommend u18 for long term/general use. The vented design is easier on the ears, I’d say the layla is three times more fatiguing. I’m just listening to my u18 way more.

          • Reply November 25, 2018

            Linus

            Hi Rob,

            thanks for the insight.
            I didn’t mean that the A18t is producing ear fatigue, but it produces a highly technical and exciting sound which isn’t for everyone.
            Layla is more laid back and fuller, but A18t is more accurate and precise in my opinion.

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