My first few entries into Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs) was nothing ground breaking. They were all good earphones, some of the best I had heard but they didn’t do anything magic or that great universal earphones couldn’t do. The first time I heard a Jerry Harvey (JH) Audio monitor my thoughts changed, even if it was a universal demo of the JH13 Freq CIEM, a 6 driver model and past JH flagship. Thankfully this led to talks of with JH Audio and I was hinted too of a new flagship coming, something very special indeed. This was a year ago and we agreed that I would review the Roxanne, the first model in a new Siren Series. Obviously they had to cater too customer first so it took a little time for me to get my hands on the monitors but now that I have them, I cant stop basking in their truly epic presentation of my music. These earphones are £1280 in the UK.
First though, I want too take it back one step and talk about the company. Founder of JH Audio, Jerry Harvey is the guy we have to thank for having great quality CIEMs on the market today. When touring with Van Halen as a sound engineer, he developed a very basic monitor that for the first time I had a two way crossover, which has since grown into the great models he has today. He has worked with Shure in the past and was also founder of Ultimate Ears before moving onto JH. What is great about JH is how they treat both sides of their business very equally. Being a sound engineer and originally designing these earphones for stage use, musicians and bands are obviously a big deal too them and they make monitors for some huge names in music, in fact a lot of huge names. Just a few of my favourites from the list would have to be Avenged Sevenfold, Iron Maiden and Linkin Park, but the music genres that are covered is super broad and list is surreal, worth going onto to their website to check out. That’s not to say they don’t give time to the audiophile and headphone enthusiast community as well because they clearly make an effort with attending headphone shows world wide and even by supporting websites such as myself with review samples.
So Jerry’s Roxanne, how does it differ to the infamous Roxanne created by Sting and the Police in which Jerry’s was named after. So after making customs for almost 20 years, Jerry’s innovation as taken him to a completely new and for now, very unique driver arrangement. 12 balanced armature drivers are used per side, 4 more than any other earphone in my collection and the only one of its kind. Now I have always been someone who has stood by driver count being far from everything, with what they can do being the major factor as well as how well the crossovers are engineered. I have some multi diver models, such as the 4 driver Earmo Shake 112 from Japan, that is pretty much unlistenable due to being so incoherent, even though the driver models are also used by the likes of JH. That’s when JHs proprietary technologies come into place and I can tell you they are not just fancy name for something everyone uses. The first of them is FreqPhase.
The time phase of an earphone is how and when the sound reaches your ear, so most multi armature driver earphones have multiple bores at the end of the sound nozzles and the sound with travel up plastic tubes through the bores until it reaches your ear and everything is kept apart until reaching your ears. The problem with that is if they don’t reach your ears at the same time you get a muddy sound that just doesn’t fit together right. I actually had my 4 driver, two bore Heir Audio 4.Ai phase measured and couldn’t believe the results, I was surprised it didn’t pass as faulty as the treble and midrange was getting your ears much quicker than the bass as well as a dramatic drop in speed in at around 4khz (the higher midrange) and together, this just doesn’t cause an ideal sound. JH have not disclosed how they have fixed this for obvious reasons but both time phase graphs of monitors that use FreqPhase and my ears when trying the JH13 Freq and JH16 Freq demos can confirm they are doing what they stated and keeping the all frequencies within 0.1 second of each other (obviously I am not confirming that measurement with my ear, I’m not that good).
The next technology was brought in for this model and has since being used in their Ambient FR model. It is called SoundrIVe and it how they stack drivers in a quad configuration for each of the frequency ranges, high, mids and lows with a crossover between each of the sets of quad drivers and a bore for each set as well. Add to the last two technologies a brand new connector, just for JH’s use and I am more than happy.
The new connector is a big deal for a number of reasons. First and foremost it is better than anything we have seen before on an IEM, CIEM or earphone. It has 4 connection points and screws on with an aluminum nut and what this means in simple terms is the pins wont snap off or bend in the sockets like with the classic UE style pins that a lot of manufactures such as JH use or you wont get a weak and worn connection (causing interferences) that I have found with MMCX plugs such as what Westone and Shure use. The second reason is a big kicker as well and that’s what them 4 contact points allow you to do. Each of the ports takes on a different frequency range with the fourth being a ground. Because of this if you add some resistance into the cable, you can effectively dampen a frequency range of your tuning. You’ve guessed it, that is exactly what JH have done, the have a variable resistor in a little box on the thick 8 braid cable that can swing from 0 to 100 ohms of resistance and this allows you tune the bass response. The bottom setting is actually with it set too 100 ohms of resistance and by taking that resistance away, you can increase the bass response by a staggering 15 decibels but we will go more into that a little later. For now it is only the bass that can be tuned and while JH have not said anything on the case just yet, I am sure there is a chance we will see other frequency responses be toyed with, I hope so anyway.
Fit, Finish and Build –
The last unique feature about these is something that I haven’t actually tried out and that is a customization option. JH like many companies have offered Carbon Fiber faceplates for a while, but JH decided they would push that boat out even further, yep, they made an entire monitor out of Carbon Fiber (CF). Now this clearly is a time consuming and delicate process because the build time for a full CF shell is longer as well as coming it an additional £400 for the option.
For my pair I actually didn’t go for any CF at all but instead opted for a Titanium faceplate, complete with the JH flying girl logo on both sides and my website logo on the left one. They can actually reproduce most artwork if you send some in, which is really nifty and it turned out super on my pair. For the shell I went for a translucent whiteboy as I really liked the colour compliment to the titanium and I also wanted to be have to have a little look inside. Designing your customs is as easy as it gets as they actually have an online designer so you and see exactly how your finished product will end up. You may not know it but you don’t the ability to visualize every colour and design with all companies so this is a major bonus of going with JH.
I can’t lie and say these are a flawlessly finished monitor, but that is only after a very thorough and close inspection. The faceplates are great and the shells are completely free of bubbles. However on the sides during the transition from the faceplate too shell, the whiteboy colour is off and it even has areas where it is completely clear and it is the little patchy area that is the only problem I can make out, but it does begin to really catch your eye.
The cable is however, very much flawless. It is soooo strong; it is actually an 8 braid cable in a tight twist that oozes strength. The control box has strain reliefs to prevent problems; the connectors work a treat and have an aluminum nut to prevent them breaking like the first round experienced (don’t worry about this, everything is sorted now).
You also get a pretty cool case along with the Roxanne’s, something unlike anyone else offers yet again. Now I did really like how usable and protective their old puck cases are but this is just next level cool. Going along with the full carbon fiber theme that these earphones have, or more so can have, you get a case that is completely CF! Complete with the JH logo on the top, Roxanne logo on the bottom and my name on the front where you open it. It gets even more EPIC though because inside is a CF insert that has negative impressions of your ear inside, so is a perfect groove for you CIEMs and then have a groove in the middle to wrap your cable round, making it the perfect case you could ever want for a pair of CIEMs, protective, trendy and customized. I do still think they can work on their CF finish though because my case has some little inconsistencies on the sides.
12 drivers clearly take up some room because these are the biggest CIEMs I own! In your ears they feel like any other, molded to all the little contours in my ears but they have a larger profile out of my ear, so it is not so much a problem but noticeable none the less. In terms of fit and isolation they are everything you come to expect with a CIEM, just amazing, I wore these on the plane during my family holiday to Turkey and the engine noise was completely eliminated and my music was well… uninterrupted and magical.
Listening Time –
It is funny, I used to use IEMs all the time, on the go, at home, and they were my first choice all the time. I think this was because I got better IEMs than my best home use headphones so I always preferred my IEMs. However when I got cans like the Sennheiser HD800 and HiFiMAN HE-500 and equipment to really push them, I started to stick to cans at home and only really grab my IEMs on the go, because I just loved that expansive sound that a great open can give, a holographic image that no IEMs I have had can match. That is however until now, once again I sit at my desk and find myself reaching for an IEM, the Roxanne to be more specific because it has a sound so big, I sometimes think it sounds more like a full sized headphone, certainly than any IEM I have ever owned, and that really is something.
Big, fat and juicy is what the Roxanne is, dynamics are HUGE and the tone is lush, forward and meaty. The sound signature of these is obviously down to what tickles your fancy with the variable bass, you can choose to have a balanced sounding Roxanne, a warm Roxanne or even a straight up bass machine Roxanne. The midrange is right up front and very well pronounced and the treble is smooth, detailed and just seems right. And this is all thrown together in a truly epic soundstage, so expansive and airy while being very precise. Oh and if I had to liken them to one headphone down to sound signature, the Audeze LCD-3 would be my pick.
Personally I like to have my Roxannes set on the lowest level and sometimes give it a roughly 3db boost when I listen to some beat produced music say, Skrillex or DeadMau5. At the lowest setting it is still a force to be reckoned with, it is deep and impactful, with a very organic decay that makes sure it’s heard and just gives you a groovy feeling. And that’s just one of the things with the Roxanne, it is isn’t the fastest CIEM on the market, it doesn’t carry the most finesse but it has this note decay that lingers and just sounds right, and that’s not something that you come across a lot, such a true to live timbre. I think this is because some of the other “reference” monitors such as Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor and Vision Ears VE6 focus so much on being so snappy and fast and being able to sprint through fast passages, that they become to fast and almost become light sounding and while they are speedy, they lack a certain reality.
When it gets too how the bass delves deep then it just continues where the rest of the mid-bass left off, powerful, true and boy does it rumble and give you a real punch in the pits of your stomach.
The Roxannes bass switch is a gimmick to me but at the same time, it does perfectly what it says on the tin and for that reason, I have to say its success. Bass tuning has been done before but I have never seen it be done quite like this, I have had earphones that have a couple of settings, I have had some that hardly work and I have some that go from no bass too the most disgusting bass you’ve heard which does everything in its power to cloud the other frequencies. The Roxanne does it right, you start as I have said with a very organic and deep bass and from their on up it just blossoms, into what ends up as a ferociously powerful bass attack. The bass does increase, steadily but it does increase and it ends up, very much enhanced. It just how it affects the rest of the earphone, that makes it so special, the treble remains untouched, and the mids (oh the amazing mids that we will get to in a minute) just keep their qualities, they stay full, the stay textured and yes, you can hear the bass moving in front and taking charge, you couldn’t not but the mids still stay in focus and they still stay epic.
I have babbled on about the bass and you wouldn’t be wrong thinking I loved the bass and I loved how the tuning of it worked but I wouldn’t say that’s the real star of this earphone, because that is a crown that belongs to the midrange. It must contain something illegal because you find your self becoming addicted really quickly, it grabs your breath and makes your hair stand on end, it is that epic. It is big and bold, it’s not like the Fischer Audio DBA-02 that may have forward mids, but they are also empty mids, these are forward mids that are PHAT. They have life; soul and they just have that perfect amount of control, so they still have a bit of decay. Vocals are crafted; they are bodied and have no restraint. They seem like they have the balance perfect, male vocals are as manly as they should be and female vocals are airy and delicate, carrying whiffs of their aura as they sing. Listening to Mary Lambert in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love”, you can see the song means a lot too her, I have never quite heard that kind of passion in an IEM. It doesn’t come with the usual caveats that normally plague a thicker more bodied monitor, such as a lack of detail retrieval or transparency. In terms of detail, this grabs all the intricate moments such beautifully but it shows off even more on the macro details, the explosive dynamics because these things can really blow up.
As it transits into the treble it is not over done, you have a present higher midrange but it doesn’t have a spike which can sometimes cause a nasally midrange of over done sense of clarity, yes these are clear but not faux in what they do. The treble is the most calm frequency range, it is smooth, detailed and only has enough sparkle to let itself be heard, nothing that is even near a fatiguing level. It is executed so well, if you’ve heard Dire Straits “Water of Love” you will be aware of Mark Knopfler’s piercing guitar that comes in on the left in the intro, boy does it let rip, blending effortlessly into the rest, just as it should. These are an airy earphone but I wouldn’t say these come across as the most extended earphones I have ever heard, they don’t roll off early or anything but is never something that struck me as over impressive or breathtaking. Too be honest the bass and mids are on a grand scale, they are big and the have a lot to show off, they are the kid that shouts “look at me” on repeat but actually has something very awesome to display. The treble is more about getting the job done, of course its detailed and clear but it doesn’t ever seem to overdo itself.
Back to the soundstage I mentioned earlier and how it impresses me enough to compare it too my open backed headphones. For a start the soundstage is both extremely wide and deep but it also has the precision and focus to truly pull it off. Why some instruments end up finding them selves in a very wide position, the center image is still perfectly in control, never slipping or losing its ability. I am sure when it comes to imaging some of JH performing background comes in because nothing feel like its off in some far away planet or the drum kit coming from on top of the vocalist, everything just seems right, just how you would envision the band and that is stressed even more in live recording such as Linkin Parks (who would have been using JH monitors funnily enough) recent release of the live performance at Download festival in 24/44.1.
The Roxannes are an earphone that upscale at an alarming rate but off the wrong gear can sound a lot more mundane. I know it sounds cliché but you cant really expect too run a £1200 earphone off a iPod Touch and it sound like what I’m getting off my modified PWAK120-B and Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure, which is the best I have heard the Roxanne’s sound. The most emotive I have heard them sound is straight from the Astell & Kern AK240, that is also a great pairing, but didn’t quite have the detail or dynamic ability of the previously mentioned rig. I actually preferred both of these quite considerably other the Chord Hugo, which I tried along with the optical out of a AK240, I found it too be incredibly refined but also a bit soft as well as not as deep or powerful in the bass. Now I know all of these are incredibly expensive options but that’s not too say you can’t still do well cheaper, although not too say it will be as good. I found the Centrance HiFi-M8 to be very detailed and offer great neutrality and also a slightly brighter treble with a more obvious sense of clarity or pairing an amp that is known for having a richness and powerful dynamics, like the Vorzuge Pure I use or even the Tube Amp TA-1/Lear FSM-02 V2 along with a clean and easy sounding DAP like the now discounted AK100 or iBasso DX50. What I would give a miss is something with a weaker output like an iPhone or even my Oneplus One, an over resolving DAP like the AK100 or AK120 on its own, its just too weak or the ALO RX MK3B which sounding very muddled and confused too me with the Roxanne.
These are my new favourite CIEMs, yep I have gone and said it. Up until now the best thing I had ever heard was the JH 13 Freq demo and while I cant say this is actually just an upgraded version, it is actually different sound altogether. I haven’t got my custom Vision Ears VE6XC (the most expensive CIEM on the planet, €1800) but comparing to the universal demo I had, this certainly seems to have the bigger sound, both in terms of soundstage and across the frequency spectrum. It doesn’t quite have the finesse or micro details though but it seemed a little bland in comparison. It was more of a Sennheiser HD800 vs Audeze LCD 3 comparison, one isn’t necessarily better but one is more of a reference device while the other is something that causes intense musical joy across a huge range of musical genres (not too say that I don’t smile when listening to the HD800 or the VE6). Although it has been a while since I heard the infamous Tralucent 1plus2 universal IEM ($1450), I had to bring it up and say that I still think that has a more resolving bass response. Other than that though, I can’t see anything else going the 1plus2s way, this has straight up better mids, bigger and more precise soundstage and more realistic sound. Other CIEMs I have such as the ACS T2 (£489), Lear LCM-5 (£550), M-Fidelity SA-43 (£600) or some more expensive universals like the Heir Audio IEM 8.0 ($1200) or Rhapsodio Ref1 ($1000) just seem to be a tier below and not even worth getting into comparing, which I think says enough about the technical level of the Roxanne.
So there you have it, do I need say more, these custom in ear monitors are bad ass, you have the usual perks of a custom fit product, some amazing sound, some really cool and unique features you wont find elsewhere and also the best bass tuning system I have ever to have used, can I do much more than give a nod of appreciation too the Roxanne.
By Sonny Trigg