If you've laid down serious cash for a great pair of headphones but they're plugged into your phone or computer, you're missing out on a lot of the sound quality you paid for. Don't get me wrong, phones and tablets can sound acceptable, but their designers didn't focus on sound quality -- that's the last thing they worry about. The cure for so-so sound is straightforward: invest in a high-performance digital converter/headphone amp, like the Cypher Labs Theorem 720. It can be used with iPhones, Android phones, or computers via USB connection with … Read more
When I first reviewed the 1964 Ears V6 custom in-ear headphones earlier this year I not only loved the sound, I got the distinct feeling the company tries harder to please its customers than other custom in-ear makers. For example, 1964 Ears V6-Stage headphones are sold with a longer warranty (two years) and lower prices than the flagship models from more established high-end headphone competitors. 1964 Ears doesn't make universal-fit in-ear headphones, all of their designs are custom-molded to your ears for the best possible fit and maximum isolation from external noise. The headphones are hand-crafted by 1964 Ears … Read more
I've been listening to Jerry Harvey's custom-molded in-ear headphones for years. The very first one, the UE10, was a game changer; in 2006 it was the best sounding in-ear headphone I'd heard. Now with his new Freqphase JH13 and JH16 in-ears, Harvey's done it again. The performance gains in clarity, detail, resolution, and stereo imaging are huge -- the adrenaline-pumping sound of the music you love over a set of Harvey's headphones can't be matched by any other in-ear 'phones.
Years before he made headphones, Harvey mixed stage monitor sound for Kiss, Van Halen, … Read more
Jerry Harvey got into the headphone business by making in-ear monitors for just a few musician friends, and went on to build headphones for hundreds of bands, and now counts Mary J. Blige, Godsmack, Guns 'N' Roses, Alicia Keys, Eddie Vedder, and the Glee Live Tour as customers.
Harvey pioneered two-way (bass/treble) in-ear designs in 1995, and later the first three-way (bass, mid, treble) in-ear monitors. Harvey's multiple driver designs produce less distortion and increase dynamic range compared with conventional single-driver headphones, which include all of the standard headphones from Etymotic, Monster, Skullcandy, Sony, etc. The JH16 Pro I'm reviewing here is the world's first eight-driver, three-way in-ear headphone, and its sound is revelatory.
I reviewed the JH Audio's 13 Pro in-ear headphones last year in this blog, and the JH16 shares a lot of the same technology, but the big difference is in the bass. The JH16 has four low-frequency drivers (the JH13 uses two), two midrange, and two high-frequency drivers--for a total of eight drivers per channel. Both headphones feature "balanced armature" drivers, which are proprietary to JH Audio, and they're designed by Jerry Harvey.
The sound is addicting; once you've gotten used to hearing this kind of uber resolution, it's hard to go back to merely excellent in-ear headphones like my old Etymotic ER-4P ($300). I haven't heard any of Etymotic's latest designs, but the ER-4P now sounds small, cramped, and hopelessly outclassed by the JH16. Can't afford $1,149? JH Audio offers a range of custom in-ear models; prices start at $399 for the JH 5 Pro.
The JH16 is super efficient, so it can play louder, a lot louder than most headphones while being driven by iPhones, iPods, and Zunes' puny built-in headphone amplifiers.
Each JH16 is a unique hand-built creation, based on custom ear molds. The company's Web site has a list of recommended audiologists who make the molds (for around $100). Building a JH16 is a labor-intensive process; each headphone takes five hours to complete and test in the company's factory in Florida. … Read more
The Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitors are really expensive, but the best stuff always is. Then again, $1,350 may be a lot for headphones, but it's cheap for state-of-the-art speakers. Wilson Audio's Sasha W/P floorstanding speaker is in the middle of the company's line, and it goes for $27,000 a pair; Magico's entry-level tower model, the V2, runs $18,000 a pair. The UE 18 Pro is on par with them, it's that good. It's the best headphone UE makes, but UE's custom fitted models start at $399 for the UE 4 Pro, and universal fit UE models start at $50.
The UE 18 Pro is no "earbud," those things are placed in the cupped area around the outer ear canal; in-ear headphones fit into and, most importantly, seal the ear canal. The isolation from outside noise allows listening at significantly lower volume, so it's safer to rock out with in-ears than earbuds. The UE 18 Pro's custom fit (more about that later) hushes outside noise more completely than standard in-ear designs. With external noise hushed, you hear a lot more detail and subtlety from your music.
Never heard of Ultimate Ears? That's understandable; the company originally made its mark building custom in-ear stage monitors for musicians, including Aerosmith, Arcade Fire, Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty, the Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, and hundreds of other touring bands.
I'll tell you this: the UE 18 Pro is drastically better than say, my old favorite: the Etymotic ER-4P in-ears. That's not to take anything away from the ER-4P, but it sounds constrained and contained compared with the UE 18. It's hardly a fair comparison, the ER-4P lists for around $300, the UE 18 Pro is $1,350, plus the expense of getting custom ear molds made (figure about $100). Each UE 18 Pro is a one-of-a-kind creation, hand-built for your ears. … Read more
If you have ears, prepare to open them now.
I've just reviewed a bunch of contenders for the world's best full-size, over-the-ear headphone: Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000, Grado PS-1000, Sennheiser HD 800, Stax SR-007Mk2, and Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones--and all boast higher MSRPs than the JH Audio JH 13 Pro in-ear headphone.
Sure, full-size headphones can be used with iPods and MP3 players with varying degrees of success, but they're a lot more of a hassle to lug around than the JH 13 Pro. Honestly, I prefer the sound and comfort of over-the-ear models compared with in-ear headphones. Then again, the JH 13 Pro is a very different type of in-ear design, it uses six drivers--two woofers, two midranges, and two tweeters--to lower distortion compared with other in-ear designs. It's a difference I can hear.
The JH 13 Pro's resolution of fine detail is extraordinary, drums sound more realistic than I've heard from any other type of headphone. The JH 13 Pro is "fast," cymbals' shimmer and sparkle the way they do in real life, and when a drummer whacks his sticks against the drums' metal rims, the sound is more realistic. Dynamic oomph and slam are the best I've heard from an in-ear headphone.
The JH 13 Pro's bass goes deeper than any in-ear headphone to date, but it's the way these headphones decode palpable bass textures that's highly addictive. Electric, acoustic, and keyboard basses sound more different from each other with the JH 13 Pro. Switching over to Monster's excellent new Turbine Pro Gold in-ear headphone ($299) is startling, the Turbines sound mushy and muddled by comparison. The Monster has more mid-bass fullness, which some listeners may prefer. I do not.
The JH 13 Pro's midrange clarity is radically better than any in-ear 'phones I've used to date. Its bass, midrange, and treble are better balanced and accurate than what I'm used to from in-ear designs. … Read more