Musician Hearing Solutions:
I recently took a fly drive vacation in the US and we started our trip in New York. Being in New York I took this as an opportunity to meet with Dr. Julie Glick of Musician Hearing Solutions to finally get too try some stuff that are either unavailable in the UK or just rather hard to get your mitts on. As a bit of a background she is an Audiologist in New York who is a dealer of JH Audio, Ultimate Ears and Sensaphonics and has made CIEMs for artists as big as Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and 50 Cent, the rest of this list is great and I highly recommend checking out the website for the extensive list. What I can get from this however is she is very good at what she does and all her clients are very pleased with the service they get. More importantly though she has a demo of every Custom IEM from the brands she represents in her office and was more than happy for me to spend an extensive time listening to all the different models.
While in her office I had my AK100 that had been modded by Mezzo Somprano in Thailand and an iPod Classic with the ADL X1 for music and for comparison my Lear LCM-5 CIEM and Widing ME 10-EL. I started with perhaps the most exciting product, the Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitor (PRM). The PRM is a CIEM that you personally tune to your exact music taste to make it well perfect. Julie describes it as taking an already amazing Armani suit and then fine tuning it to your exact needs and I could not agree more. To tune it you have to use a special tuning box that there is only a limited number of (4 I think) and these are currently only in the US. You then take the monitors and plug in your source and adjust the bass, midrange and treble to your needs. However, sadly her PRM unit was playing up with some channel imbalance so pinch of salt needed for this. That being said I still could gain a good understanding of how the earphones perform. Too start with they are amazingly clean, super detailed and well balanced with a slight brightness. The midrange tilts to the higher regions slightly but generally they’re a very balanced earphone. Bass is tight punchy and does have good reach but did not have a lot of rumble and no amount of putting the bass up could change this. Although I really did like them a lot as they are were and I am sure a lot of you would agree with that, I probably would bump up the bass a bit for a bit more body and tone the treble down a bit for less brightness. Their price is 2000 USD and that is a very big ask but I think the technology and the sound justifies this. They might not technically be the best CIEMs on the market, they could be the most personalized to your taste and that gets my thumbs up.
The next CIEM I tried was certainly a mistake on my part. I think it was so good that it spoiled the rest of the demo I had to try. It was the new Freqphase JH Audio JH13 Pro. This product is just too damn good and I will say it now, the best thing I have ever put in my ears, including the Tralucent 1plus2 and Lear LCM-5. Too start with it is probably worth saying they are not really my ideal signature, they do really have a big helping of bass and I would normally be turned off by that but here that is very far from the case. The bass was so extended and truly visceral, I felt it in my chest and it displayed true power. The mid-bass was slightly loose with a bit of extra decay but some how because of this the timbre was fantastic, the earphones had just the right amount of warmth and the mids were left almost unscathed. I say almost because I feel the lower mids take a small hit from the boosted mid-bass but they are still has a whole balanced, very natural sounding superbly detailed. The treble was perhaps the most amazing things I have never heard a treble so etched and transparent while having amazing extension. Along with this overall speed and cohesion was just jaw dropping and soundstage was very expansive, up they’re with the 1plus2. Honestly the whole experience is close to perfection and I would love to be able to bring you a full review one day. In the UK the JH13 are £950 and I think that is probably the best thing you can get for under a grand, if you want end game custom IEM, I would go there.
Something I also noticed about both these and the JH16 Pro demo is that they were very small, especially for housing 6 and 8 drivers, had great comfort and I think they would make an amazing product if they marketed and sold these as universals. I mean they are smaller than the 1plus2, Rhapsodio R^2, R2D2 and RDB Mini and not much bigger than the Heir universal models. I can also confirm the sound is unsurpassed so why not, I personally prefer universals.
I also tried out the Moon Audio Silver Dragon upgrade cable with the JH13. This about a 100 pound cable and had no memory wire which won me over, great flexibility and a sturdy build. It made the sound slightly tighter in the bass region and I think it did improve the overall enjoyment of my time with the JH13.
I then moved on from the 6 driver JH13 to the Freqphase 8 driver JH16. I was left quite disappointed. Although in its own right it is a good IEM I think going to it from the JH13 made things a lot worse. I would describe them as a dark and smooth CIEM. They are so smooth the word buttery comes to mind. Bass is really big, it is deep, powerful, visceral, and full bodied and dominating. The treble takes a real back seat and the lower mids take over the higher mids. They were still a very detailed, coherent earphone with a huge soundstage, they just really were not for me and unless you’re the biggest bass head in the world, I would go with the JH13. Oh these are still just under a grand at 990 pounds so not really a lot more than the JH13 so it would be down to preference.
The Sensaphonics 2MAX are a two driver silicone CIEM in opposed to all the others that are acrylic. However the demo unit was a really odd shaped acrylic shell and this did make me question the accuracy of the sound in comparison to the real thing. These remind me of my Etymotic HF5 but supercharged. They have a neutral frequency response but not in a bright sense. The overall presentation is quite thin but there is still a lot of emotion in the very airy midrange. Treble had super clarity and extension. Mid-bass was ever so slightly warm with not the best extension, more rumble would be nice. These are 550 pound and for that I would only get if you really want a silicone earphone, if not I would go with the Lear LCM-5.
I then moved onto the 4 driver Ultimate Ears UE11. This is a 1000 pound CIEM and I found that rather hard to take considering that is the same price as the clearly superior JH13. That being said they were clearly good earphones but they just did not really have something stand out and I think that is what they needed. They are a bassy model with a bass hump and deep visceral bass but this does come at a price and the midrange feels thin. I also found the treble to be very detailed but lacking extension. I will say it again that I think they really are good but they just can not compete with the JH13, in fact I have other universal models that could really test them at a much cheaper price.
Next up was the Ultimate Ears model with the biggest driver count at 6. It is the 1100 pound UE18 Pro. The sound signature is in between of the JH16 and JH13. The treble is quite calm and relaxed but does have a good sparkle region. The bass is slightly boomy and certainly big and the low midrange is also very lush and slightly forward but this does create a slight nasally effect. The higher midrange has a nice presence but does not really convey emotion. The soundstage has great imaging and width to it. Ohhh and the bass is really deep and visceral. Overall they are again a very good CIEM but could do with being tighter, more refined and clean cut and of course a bit detail would not missed and because of this I am not sure were these sit in the world of CIEMs being 150 pound more expensive than the outstanding JH13.
Being so impressed by JH Audio so far I really wanted to check out their entry level model, the 380 pound two driver JH5. The first thing you notice is wow, check out the bass, its deep, powerful and not overdone, and that’s from a single armature driver, cool. The midrange however is quite radio like, almost as if your in a tunnel, it is not quite natural sounding, it is just not quite there. They are quite an airy earphone and everything is well but together but they are just a bit slow and technically behind some competitors, the frequency response curve is there but not bits that make the best earphone. That being said they are a custom at just 380 quid and that’s not something to be messed with, I just personally prefer universals such as the Rhapsodio RDB+ V1 Mini and HiFiMAN RE-600 at the same price point.
I finished off on the infamous 850 pound Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors. These were made along with capital studios and were made using 3 armatures as a reference in ear monitor. These are some of the fastest earphones I have ever heard and superbly refined. Detail and clarity are at the top of the game and the timbre in the midrange and treble is truly amazing. However bass decay is short and there be more dynamic and aggression there along with some visceral feeling extension. They also have a very in your head soundstage. These are a great earphone, a very reference product that are not the most musical but do what they say on the tin.
So my pick of the products have to be the JH13 Pro as an end game monitor, the PRM as a revolutionary product, something that is really pratical, great sounding and changes the way you purchase a monitor and also the UERM as it is a true reference monitor. The others just did not do enough to stand out sadly. I can also say I am sure the customer service would be amazing from Julie, she made me feel truly at home and happily allowed me to listen to as many demos as I wanted and I think if you live in New York, this is the one place you should go if considering a new pair of Custom IEMs. I am very grateful of the experience.
Additional Mention – Headfone Shop:
On my fly drive I went to Toronto was I stopped in at the Heafone shop. A shop in a post office were I got to finally try the very nice sounding Mad Dogs, Ultrasone IQ and Sennheiser IE800 for a second time. The shop was really nicely laid out and had a good atmosphere and loads of products to try.
I just want to say to my readers that if your from Toronto area that you should check that store out! Also if any of you are thinking of getting the Ultrasone IQ, don’t do it, it would be a huge mistake, they are horrendous, do not go near them, they caused me pain and sound so artificial. Was not impressed in the slightest, they would be a huge waist of money.