Ever since Layla was introduced a whole lot of other flagship custom in ear monitors have appeared on the audio horizon. We’ve seen JH also bring his first hybrid, Lola, to the market. I will compare Layla to some of the most prestigious products currently available. All of which are top of the line offerings from their respective manufacturers. We will also see how Lola stacks up against her bigger sister.
All mentioned prices are those of the custom built versions at the time of writing this review. The universal counterparts often are sold for lower prices.
JH Audio – Lola (2DD/6BA – 1750$)
Lola was one of the most intriguing designs I have come across in a long time. Not because of a high driver count, but of the constellation. Lola is an unorthodox hybrid, that uses proprietary dual dynamic drivers for mids. Most manufacturers take dynamic drivers and let them handle bass, JH used a common technique from the pro audio field and has put them into his first own hybrid. Lola features the before mentioned JH Audio house-sound. She also has a warmer tonality that makes her best suited for instrumental music. To me Lola is the queen of mids, she’s a touch more emotional and even fuller. Layla however overcame Lola’s biggest weakness, details and resolution. Layla’s bass is faster and punchier, where Lola has an airier presentation. Both have a wide extension in highs, though Layla seems to have a slightly brighter top end. Lola overall is a notch darker and doesn’t match Layla’s high precision rendering. Layla’s sound stage is a good margin bigger in width and depth, she also has better instrumental separation is more suited for a multitude of genres. Layla has a good portion more clarity in her, reaches deeper down low and has higher imaging abilities. It’s obvious why she’s Jerry’s number one.
The Noble in comparison has a wider sound stage and more air between the instruments. Layla reaches a good portion deeper into sub bass areas. Her foundation is also more solid and gives the picture more body. Plus you get the ability to fine tune your bass response with the dial system, which is very nice. Kaiser’s mids are again thinner and less emotional, but Noble’s are better layered. Upper mids and treble are a whole lot richer on Encore. In terms of resolution I also have to give Noble the upper hand. Many people seem to have problems with Encore’s high notes, some find them too harsh or upfront. Those who might find themselves in this situation could be very happy with the softer and more laid back treble of Layla. Encore also has an overall more fun tuned signature, just like Layla. Kaiser though is considerably brighter in comparison.
Noble Audio – Katana (9BA – 2099$)
Noble’s co-flagship is aiming for a neutral and reference sound. Katana sports extreme accuracy and precision with very high resolution. All of which are a level higher than Layla’s. The JH again has remarkably more body and fuller, more enjoyable mids. Katana has a pretty linear sound and also reaches deep, yet doesn’t have the sub bass rumble of Layla. This exact rumble gives Layla a more dynamic sound. Sound stage wise Katana takes the crown. Katana’s treble is warmer, richer and more revealing than Layla’s, which again goes for a softer and more neutral sound.
AAW – W900 (1DD/8BA – 2099$)
Singapore based Advanced Acoustic Werkes’ flagship has received a lot of praise last year, though personally I wasn’t fully convinced, especially W900’s harsh and aggressive treble has put me off. W900 has a slightly dark sound, a huge sound stage and tickles out a good number of details. Layla to me is more energetic and dynamic. W900 has a more organic and airier bass presentation, while Layla goes deeper, throwing a meaner punch when called for. Her full bodied mids are again out of reach for the competition, making it sound more organic and pleasing to me. Layla’s highs are a lot softer and less fatiguing than the one we can find in the AAW. W900’s sound stage is considerably wider, it sports higher resolution and better layering. But doesn’t stand a chance against Layla’s decisive and fun sound.
Now it comes down to a battle of the two most expensive custom IEMs in my possession, and maybe even the most expensive CIEMs available today. Both models do share some similarities but couldn’t stand further apart from each other in some areas. Their bass response is very similar, with the 64 as well as the JH reaching very low, though Layla goes even deeper. Layla of course gives you the option to tune lows to your liking, whereas A18t lets you alter the entire signature by replacing the supplied APEX module. The Tzar oozes of resolution and transparency, I have not come across a single monitor that could match it, and Layla also has to give first place in that regard to the A18t. 64 Audio is known for their incredibly big sound stages, and it is no surprise that their flagship creates a room that is considerably bigger and taller. Layla is again fuller bodied, with higher levels of enjoyment across wider ranges of genres. In the treble section 64 is more upfront and airier. Their tia driver is something truly outstanding. Both CIEMs sport wonderful details.
This is my second JH Audio review in just a few months, and again I was mighty impressed by the pure emotions I was presented with. Layla transports a very enjoyable listening experience, that has convinced me on the long run. She might not be the most technical monitor in this field, but after all she is not made to be that. Layla, just like all monitors I have heard from Jerry Harvey, is aiming for an organic and unique sound. She is full bodied like great red wine and features bone touching bass, immersive details and a wonderful realistic stage with superb stereo imaging. If I could make one wish it would be to be able to use my aftermarket cables with it. Though I actually wish for the other manufacturers to also adopt the 4-pin connector. Something like the PWaudio 1960s (4-wire), Effect Audio Leonidas or Horus must sound incredible with Layla.
Layla is extremely well built, comes with the most awesome carrying and protection case ever and on top sounds perfect with everything I throw at her. In my books she ticks off a lot of boxes and has certainly made it into my list of favourite monitors. I can’t wait to see what Jerry Harvey is coming up with next.
Chop chop! On the list of recommended custom in ear monitors you go!