The JH House Sound
The most surprising part of this comparison is to discover how equally good the different models are. I like the fact that I have colored all three customs clear and red. I can put all three pairs on the table, and randomly pick one and try to identify which sound belongs to which custom. If you just do a quick glance, it’s fairly hard to know which one you just picked, since the fit is identical on all three, and they weigh almost the same (despite the number of drivers). Call it a semi blind-test.
During the listening sessions, all three customs share some similar characters. They have quite a forward presentation, slightly warm, clear separation of each notes, punchy bass, never lacking any frequency range in an obvious way. In another word, the three JH customs on this comparison would translate well to a lot of music. The forward presentation makes the music engaging. Bass is never lacking, yet the bass is never boomy. The soundstage is very wide, unlike on some universal IEMs. Treble balance is very good, enough treble sparkle but quite resistant to sibilance, despite the recording quality. The frequency balance is actually not flat, but it doesn’t matter because they sound so good.
In comparison to the Unique Melody Mage, for instance, the Mage is just as balanced sounding. But there is a clear difference in terms of sound signature. The Mage clearly sounds more laid back than the Jerry Harvey products, and likewise a Westone 3 remold with 8 drivers from Unique Melody also shares the same signature to the Mage. So, this becomes a choice of sound signature between the two brands.
Somehow Jerry is able to tune his customs to just the right balance, that each model is very pleasing to hear. Despite the significant improvements of the higher priced model, it’s never hard to go back to the entry level five, because it’s simply really good by itself. This is why the JH customs are so great, because I don’t find the entry level model to be unlistenable even after hearing the top of the line model.
The JHAudio magic is the sound signature: how Jerry was able to create such a balanced audio devices that excel at multiple genres, yet remaining to sound very musical for each of them. This is part of the reason that makes the JH13 such as crowd favorite when it was introduced. I don’t think we’ve ever heard anything so “universal” sounding on full size cans. Full size headphones, despite their advantages, comes with a somewhat polarized sound, though some more than others. A headphone that’s great in one area often have weaknesses in another, and at the end, it’s one headphone for one genre.
When I talk about “balanced”, I don’t mean an IEM that would measure flat on the frequency response curve. Rather, these IEMs are very balanced for music listening. Jerry knows perfectly where to tweak the frequency curves, without making them excessive, and they become very balanced sounding, in the sense that you almost can’t find any fault with the presentation.
Initially I attributed the advantage to the multi-driver technology. Where full size headphones only have one full-range driver to work with, Jerry has several that he can assign perfectly to handle parts of the frequency curve. But then I came to realize that the triple-driver universal IEMs that I compared also had that advantage, but they still have a somewhat polarized sound; good for some music, but not for another. Taking some quotes from the $300 IEM comparison article:
The Triple.Fi 10 …
remains our number one recommendation for Rock Music, with its gritty treble, good bass slam, and a slight airy sound. The sound is not bright or piercing like a Grado headphone, but somehow the Triple.Fi 10 is still very good with Rock.
One thing that you get with the Shure that you won’t get anywhere else, is its rich and liquid midrange.
… Be warned that the Shure sound signature is smooth, and may lack the edge and the attack needed for Rock music.
Westone never marketed the UM3X for personal listening, and I agree to why they do this. To some people, the word neutral, may give a certain Hi-Fi appeal. But unless you have heard the UM3X sound personally, you will be surprised to find that the sound is, quite uninvolving, to put it politely. To most people, flat means a lack of soul, and this is why I wouldn’t recommend the UM3X to the general listener looking for an IEM.
In contrast to the UM3X, the Westone 3 has a more exciting sound signature. The treble is much more alive, and it also has a nice upper bass bump that can be a lot of fun to listen to. However, with some music like Classical, the upper bass bump may sound unnatural, as it comes out like a small hump in the lower frequency range.
A lot of people would really like it if their IEM has a treble like the CK100. Sadly, we find the CK100 to lack bass impact and slam, and it turns out to be a disadvantage that makes it hard for us to make a recommendation for it.
All the IEMs quoted above come with triple balanced armature drivers, and yet they failed to capture anywhere close to what Jerry Harvey does with his customs. All of the universals have weaknesses, some more subtle than the other, but at the end you need to own a few universals to cover all the different genres of music perfectly. The JH5, on the other hand, is quite a master at different genres.
Of course, some people may love a particular trait of their IEM, and when they purchase a JH custom, they may find that specialty aspect to be missing on the JH custom. For instance, the SE530’s midrange, or the ATH CK-100’s treble. But when you go high enough, like the JH16, I can assure you that it has enough wow factor in itself that you won’t find yourself missing the universals.