Jerry Harvey JH13Pro in Review – Sex for your ears
Every month of every year, enterprising audio designers create new gadgets which achieve some paragon of aural nirvana. Jerry Harvey founded Ultimate Ears to support the rockers, Van Halen with products which would both protect their hearing and relate greater production value to their fans. For 1099$, the JH13Pro stands with a 50$ cheaper price tag than its older — and now estranged — brother, the Ultimate Ears UE11Pro, but lacks a few of its amenities. What it doesn’t lack, however, is beautiful sound.
INC have a great article detailing Jerry Harvey’s moves which changed the stage performance industry.
The JH13Pro is considered by many audiophiles to be THE custom monitor: an item which transcends the hitherto understanding of inner-ear perfection. Housing 6 coupled balanced armatures per earphone, it is a technological marvel, but at the same time, amplifies the incessant market craving for more; if JHA can fit 6 drivers in the tiny housing, someone somewhere will fit more. The previous driver mogul is the limited production 5-driver TEAR by HiDition, an obscure hearing protection company based out of Seoul, South Korea. The JH13Pro, however, likely is gunning for Jerry’s former masterpiece, 2007’s Ultimate Ears UE11Pro. Jerry Harvey Audio cater to musicians, audiophiles, and oddly enough, aviators. Understandably, they have one of the most varied and unique line-ups of any custom manufacturer.
This flagship product is an important reminder that nothing is good enough when it comes to the audio market. But, my own nerve quivers in response to that axiom: true, the audio market must constantly pace itself for new, better products. But audio, like football isn’t judged in seconds or records, but by dirty referees: its users. Expect glowing reviews for this product: it is worth the wait.
Proprietary precision-balanced armatures
Dual low, dual mid, dual high
Integrated 3-way crossover
Noise Isolation: -26dB
Input Connector: 1/8” (3.5mm), gold-plated
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20kHz
Input Sensitivity: 119dB @ 1mW
Impedance: 28 Ohms
Cable: Copper, 125 cm
Package and Accessories
Jerry Harvey Audio have two different accessory packages: their older set comes in an overlarge carbon fibre box, and the new set with a hard plastic case from Otter. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages, but pragmatically, the Otter box is a much better accessory. The older, carbon fibre case, while large, and unwieldy, is classy, and uniquely available from Jerry Harvey. But, it doesn’t latch, nor protect the earphones from condensation, nor very well from shock. Also, the inner sponge, which is fastened by double-sided tape can rip out after repeated use. Understandably, this was a short-term gap option from Jerry Harvey, but it leaves the first batch of customers with a less-than-stellar storage solution for a very expensive product.
The Otter case, on the other hand, is less classy, but a better choice when protecting a large investment such as the JH13Pro. Much smaller and splash proof, it is better for touring, working and carrying around. And, unlike the patchwork design of the dark carbon case, doesn’t easily show scratches.
Both packages lack accessories other than the earwax cleaning loop. Considering the price and ostensibly audiophiles and professional market, a 6,3mm headphone jack adapter, extension cable, lubrication, and a travel case would be welcome additions. I am keeping an eye on Headfi’s appreciation thread because subtle additions are popping up. This link shows recent pictures taken by Hifidk, a headfi member who recently received newly re-fitted JH13Pro monitors. Quite a change for the better.
Fit depends on a number of things. Firstly, your impressions must be properly taken and shipped; and second, processed, manufactured, and buffed perfectly. Fortunately, little of that responsibility is laid on you. Jerry Harvey Audio employ stereolithography techniques which model a scanned ear impression to accurately ‘print’ the earphones one layer at a time. The result is less human error, though is a costly and time-consuming process. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and no matter the technology employed, even perfectly conceived processes may result in faults. So, don’t be daunted by fit problems – sometimes, they are just part of the process.
Assuming a perfect custom fit, the JH13Pro is a comfortable, yet still intrusive custom monitor. One of the unique construction characteristics of the Jerry Harvey line is its deeply reaching sound arms which reach very deeply into the ear and rest just millimetres away from the eardrum. Most samples I have seen reach very far into the ear and from anecdotal evidence, the JH series sits very deeply. This technique accomplishes two things: one; it aids in severing as much outside noise as possible, creating a great cavity in which only music exists, and two; it ensures that the inner ear exhibits as little of its own influences on the music as possible, enhancing bone conduction. With a good fit, every customer in the world should experience the exact same sound quality with little interference from their ear’s own equalisation. One side effect is that both inserting and removing the earphone isn’t as fast or comfortable as customs with shorter tubes. Also, you must remember that if the tube is pushing too far in; that is to say, if it touches your eardrum, it is dangerous. Care must be taken to ensure that this construction works for you, rather than against you.
The hard acrylic will not shrink over time and with good care, should keep the same shape, thus you should be able to use the monitors for years. Jerry Harvey’s cables come in the following flavours: black and clear; but both house soft copper wires which make wearing both comfortable and free from microphonic noises. Where users likely will draw lines against comfort is in the use of stiff memory wire where the earphone and cable connect. That ~3 cm length is supported by a stiff inner metal rod which can be bent to secure the cable around the ear. Personally, I find wearing glasses and the JH13Pro annoying, but your own mileage may vary. The memory cable and surrounding rubber sleeve do help anchor the cable for less touch noise and to proper routing, items which are important for personal and professional use.
Finish and Build Quality
Sound quality in its primordial definition, is the character of a sound. But as you will see below, the JH13Pro has little to say outright, and other than leaving the listener pleasantly mesmerised, falls pretty close into the category of instrument. Its performance is largely hinged on two fulcrums: combination of quality parts, and just as important, internal construction.
The JH13Pro comes in any colour you can dream of and for a small fee, with custom artwork. Though the outer shell is hard acrylic, all internal sound tubing is semi-hard rubber which travels though long acoustic arms; the effect is that each person’s ears’ own acoustic effects are minimised, allowing each customer to experience the same sound.
Some customs’ sound bores are carved into the acrylic shell themselves with no sleeving which can emphasise . Jerry’s design results in equable treble and mids. Bass is positively effected by the hollow, vibratory housing which transmits a subtle, yet tactile distinction between instruments. Inside, there is a vast empty chamber. Drivers, cables, sound tubes, and supportive adhesive aside, the JH13Pro is a cavern. Despite its great effect on sound, however, there are drawbacks: mainly strength. Under normal use and when stored properly, the hollow shell should not suffer any bodily ruptures nor cracks, but the shells feel, for lack of a better word, a little flimsy – even when compared to the slightly heavier and much less costly Sleek Audio CT6.
The JH series’ cable is a good blend of materials and manufacturing processes. It is soft and supple, yet strong. The twisted construction adds strength to the design which is completely immune to touch noise. And thanks to excellent stress relief from the right-angled plug to the stress relief, the cable shouldn’t suffer shorts. Supple twisted like this are susceptibile to knotting and unravelling, even when stored neatly. Even after careful looping, the cable will twist and kink. I predict that this will become a problem for some. Finally, like many similar cables, it will oxidise; if you have the silver cable, it will turn green around the ears and maybe further down while the black version should remain visually unaffected. I am led to believe that this will not affect functionality, but it is something to keep in mind. Fortunately, the cable is user-replaceable and uses the same connector and pin layout as a number of other cables.
Ultimate Ears’ connector is half-hidden in a recessed entry port which anchors the cable securely and protects the pins from bending, but Jerry Harvey’s models, like Westone’s are not anchored and are more likely to bend or break, though that too is dependent on user abuse. The hollow housing isn’t an issue, it is a design decision which positively affects sound by way of bone conduction. Lack of cable recession however, could have been retooled into a better construction method. I know of at least one cable with broken pins and can imagine that this may become a problem.
For musicians who want to use the earphones for live performance or monitoring, the JH13Pro will need to be treated carefully. For the careful audiophile, cable issues may not arise, however, this is the Achilles heal of the earphone and an issue which shouldn’t be overlooked. Too many manufacturers completely overlook the importance of cable and connection quality.
My review is based on the stock cable, which though free from touch noise, needs to improve.
“Listen Up” emblazoned on Jerry Harvey Audio’s website is a bold command to its potential market. But, despite its rich design legacy, technological prowess, and sumptuous looks, the JH13Pro isn’t a loud earphone; it doesn’t trumpet lows or highs, nor vaunt its mid section: like a good poem or book, it is best enjoyed slowly. But, the JH13pro is anything but slow. As can be seen in the attached photographs, each driver pair are tiny – much smaller than some competitors’ models, and like Ultimate Ears, use custom-tuned drivers. The combined effect of long inner ear arms, semi-hard rubber sound tubes and smaller custom drivers is breathtaking to say the least. In all frequencies, the JH13Pro is a detailed, edgy earphone which extends well toward both frequency extremes, but in a nonchalant voice. Listening fatigue should be a non-issue for all ears and musical preferences.
At only 28 Ohms and 119 decibels of sensitivity, by all conceptions, the JH13Pro should hiss from most sources, but thankfully it isn’t an incessant hisser. Of course, noisy sources such as certain laptops, receivers, wireless mics and digital audio players will hiss, but not acutely. Still, for the best listening, and considering the amount of detail this earphone can retrieve, it is best to pair it with a quality, low-noise source. For comparison’s sake, it hisses a little more than Sleek’s CT6, but not enough to truly annoy.
It is only natural to begin by praising what is in my opinion, the most neutral, sonorous rendition of bass that I have heard in an earphone. In terms of detail, every nuance is held dear, and no genre, fast or slow, will force the JH13Pro out of its element. Intimate strings from small jazz venues retain their soft edges while subtly caressing each twang, pluck, or kick from lowly-voiced instruments; whether string or percussion-based, bass notes linger perfectly and decay in the same vein. Congruently, soft genres are never too hot nor emotional.
Even more impressive is how the JH13Pro handles bassy music. The likes of Ice Cube and MC Solaar have been treated to hi-fi treatment with Westone’s UM3X, the Shure SE530, and Earsonics’ SM2, but Jerry Harvey’s masterpiece does one better. The JH13Pro isn’t a boomy earphone: even when fed the contour setting of Graham Slee’s Voyager headphone amp, the most forceful, bloomy bass retains clearly defined edges. While Ice Cube is better with the phat bass of Mingo WM-2, or the Victor FX500, his lilted English and adult themes have never been more succinct as when played through this 1099$ earphone.
Moving to trance, it is more of the same. Raw speed and detail preside over power, but in trance, too much power kills pace and space. The JH13Pro hits the floor in any genre, but doesn’t trip on it. Despite its relatively neutral bass response, in trance, the JH13Pro swims the English Channel; its depth is retained even amidst throbbing bass, the roar of crowds, computerised effects, and a steady stream of synth throughout. In a word, it is perfect.
The JH13Pro exercises one of the most beautiful bass signatures of any headphone and it’s little wonder: Jerry Harvey’s former masterpiece, the ponderous UE11 Pro is an earphone whose impact (and when controlled, definition) completely embarrasses most balanced armature earphones on the market. But, he set out to better his former flagship and in doing so, elucidates his position as one of the best engineers on the market. However, if you are a bona-fide bass head, the JH13Pro will probably not rattle enough brain cells. The UE11 Pro, and ostensibly, Futuresonics’ custom earphones may better fit your needs.
The JH13Pro’s mid section is slightly ‘wetter’ than the other frequencies, but it remains controlled and smooth. Never splashy and with no real preference for the male or female voice, vocals sound great. Sumptuously smooth, strings such as piano and harp are not bettered in any armature-based earphone. Like the Victor FX500, natural instruments have great texture and nuance, but where the Victor FX500 excels in fibrous bass and to a lesser extend, mid frequencies, the JH13Pro delivers a stunningly realistic and balanced production in both.
This is applicable to all genres. In trance, the mid section, though a little hot warm, never encroaches the synthesised timbres in the high or low registers. There isn’t a music which is too complex, too lilted to confuse this stunning earphone. What speaker listeners may notice, though, is that a slight mid-range warmth does not translate into vigourously emotive mids. Beautifully voiced, instruments are eerie, beautiful, and in perfect focus, but err limpid rather than hot.
Details such as a drum brush rasping on its canvass, the dull, dry pluck of a guitar string, and of course, the moist voice of a singer are readily noticeable. There is little reason to wax too lyrical, but it needs to be pointed out that, though not fibrous, there is loads of detail to be resolved from instruments, vocals, and the background.
The JH13Pro bares its dual tweeters like fangs very near the inner ear. The pair deliver a very good high-band listening experience. Especially when positioned so near the inner ear, an earphone needs to manage two things perfectly: decay and extension. I can vouch for a simple sine wave response of up to 20 kHz, which nearly all earphones can reproduce within certain tolerances. But music isn’t all about extension, especially as the frequency dips very low or climbs very high; ultra-wide frequencies are mere specifics which either sell a piece of audio equipment, or serve as a means to define its tolerances.
That aside, this earphone, as per usual, is a top performer where it counts, though in a soft-spoken voice. Treble spikes upward, but without the usual accompanying sibilance. It remains highly resolved and instrumental edges shimmer and fade, but borderline fatigue-inducing details aren’t voiced. Part of the reason could be that its specific high-frequency drivers are smooth; another could be that the semi-hard rubber sound tubes attenuate those frequencies before they reach the eardrum. The overall effect is a very listenable and pleasing treble which isn’t scratchy, sibilant, or tiring.
Only Robin Hood can split his own arrows when given impossible odds; and when asked, the JH13Pro is as focused, delivering sharp, contrasty punches. Yet, it holds onto faint shimmer and fade cycles for ethereal, realistic treble.
The combination of excellent dynamics, elite attack and decay, and the hollow housing is a wonder to behold. I have already noted that custom monitors deliver great, contrasty sound images which belie their speaker size. The JH13Pro only firm up that resolution. Though no sound escapes anywhere outside of the sound tube, the only physical mechanism which affects the virtual stage is bone conduction; the housing itself will minutely vibrate within the ear canal, and to a lesser extent, in your outer ear. While nothing like a pair of well-situated speakers, the JH13Pro has an uncanny sound stage which is wide and very clear. It goes without saying that instrument separation is good; in fact, there is so much air and individuality expressed within music that it is easy to mistake where you are in the midst of the performance.
I could go on and on, but it is fair to say that the 3D stage is great with this earphone that like a lively party, orchestrates great fun from a chaos of sights and sounds. At the same time, the long sound arms can feel stuffy, and despite the oustanding out-of-head sound, adds a thin veil to the sound.
Sound in a Nutshell
It wouldn’t make sense for me to lay down anything but spades here. No one can prove whether or not Jerry Harvey Audio’s claims that the JH13Pro has the least overhead and most transient speed of any earphone on the market. Marketing can stay where it stays: in and out of the back pockets of consumers. What is true is that there is a delicious miracle of sound behind and inside the hard acrylic shell of the earphone.
Low, high, and mid frequencies are beautiful, detailed, and for the most part, unrivalled. Some listeners may prefer more forward bass in which case, the viscerally dominant UE11 Pro may provide the fastest ticket, but in terms of balance, Jerry Harvey’s flagship product is indomitable. The slightly wet mids make for a truly remarkably detailed, yet pleasing listen which may be the best in the business. Lively, deep, wide, and immersive, it sings like no other. Know though, that its treble may be a little subdued for fans of earphones like the Etymotic ER4, but it is never fatiguing like the venerable grandaddy of inner earphones.
The JH13Pro simply disappears in the music; it is an earphone that does its job without pushing its weight around. If you want to hear and feel the music as purely as possible, this is your ticket to as near nirvana as is currently possible.
Out and About with the JH13Pro
What a joy it is to step into the bus, train, or roller coaster and hear next to nothing but your music. While JHA claim the same -26 decibels of isolation that other manufacturers do, this earphone is on the better end of that spec. It isolates almost as well as a good foam on the likes of the Shure SE530, and still can output quite a volume. Still, the volume of my iPod touch never rises above 40% in any situation and when used with an external amp, sat much further down on the volume pot. By the way, when properly amped, perfect gets perfecter. The hard acrylic does a better job of isolating low tones: cries, tapping metal, ticking mechanical objets – each will find its way into your music if you listen at safe levels.
Again, the cable is dead silent, and the perfect length for plugging into a hip-mounted wireless mic, or a digital audio player. The memory wire causes one problem which isn’t major – it exacerbates motion-noises such as footsteps for the unlucky four eyes among us. Glasses and memory wire is an annoying combination.
The JH13Pro exceeds its hype. In the world which Jerry Harvey helped to create, his latest and best had to be something different, and it is. It isn’t cold, nor overly warm, yet the clear voice projected through all frequencies and instruments is a touch of perfection which seems oddly out of place in high end audio world which is often full of hot air. It is smoother, more detailed, and dynamic than nearly anything your ears can plug into. If your musical preferences require heaps of icy sparkle and thick, chalky bass, there are other, more fitting options, but for a class-leading listen, there may not be a better option. Unfortunately, an earphone isn’t only sound; if it was, then the JH13Pro would be a perfect KISS in all categories.
As it is, there are a few disqualifying marks which stem mostly from build issues. While soft and free from touch noise, the cable is perhaps too delicate – susceptible to tangling and unravelling. There is no doubt that the connection port, too, is flimsy in comparison to the competition from Ultimate Ears, Sleek Audio, and Livewires. Sadly, that design is par for the course even with high-end manufacturers.
There is no doubt that the JH13Pro is the best sounding earphone I have tried, and may be the best in the market, but it is just ever so disappointing in a few, poignant areas to achieve total perfection. If JHA can improve one or two key areas, they will have achieved perfect aural sex.
|Title:||JH13Pro||Developer:||Jerry Harvey Audio|
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