Picking up from Part 1—
Less than a few weeks from placing the order, your custom earbuds arrive. Shipped from near Orlando, Florida, your headphones will arrive in a small fabric drawstring bag and earwax cleaning tool inside an OtterBox 1000 keeping it protected from all the elements could throw at it. The box is very strong made out of Polycarbonate, the same material as bulletproof plastic and what Nalgene bottles are made out of. They are crushproof, waterproof, and can float. The top of the box is labeled with the JH Audio logo, phone number, web address, and a small window is embedded that says whatever you want it to. Mine says "pnosker.com" of course.
Opening up the small drawstring bag lets your new custom earbuds escape. Out comes something almost alien like, but perfectly suited for your own ears. They are both beautiful and unique. Inside you will see two tiny metal balanced armature drivers. Embedded within the plastic shell is the driver, attached to a thin flexible tube leading into the ear canal. There are two ports that both lead to the same location. Embossed onto the custom colored shell (you can choose pretty much any color you want) is your chosen artwork (Mine is JH Audio JH-5M), your initials, and the model number and code. It should be noted that while I am reviewing the JH-M Line's JH-5M, there will soon be other variants available with different driver combinations. They all share the smaller form factor and relocation of the cable.
The headphones are connected to the cable by a two pin gold coated connector paired with an unsheathed twisted and shielded copper cable. The cable itself is almost as beautiful as the dual-driver monitors themselves. For the first 1-2 inches of wire, there is a memory wire embedded which allows you to keep the cable in your preferred location. The cable is terminated with a gold coated 1/8" right angle plug for connection to almost any device you wish to use, from an MP3 player to a computer.
After pulling them out, I couldn't wait to try them! Beth Orliss of Hearing Dynamics did a perfect job of molding my ears. They fit perfectly! Inserting the custom earbuds looks harder than it is. In fact, It took me forever to get them in the first few tries. Then I figured out that you can use the natural shape of the ear to "screw" them in. The method I found easiest was to put the tip into the canal with the earbud pointed "forward" slightly, then anchoring inside the bottom of the ear, and twisting backwards. This allows you to insert them in less than 5 seconds. After they're in, they may feel foreign. That feeling will go away very shortly and after an hour or two it will feel natural and likely more comfortable than most universal IEMs. This allows the seal to be as close to perfect as you can get with 26 dB of noise attenuation. They make your surroundings quieter than the Bose QuietComfort headphones without the dissonant hiss continuously in the background with their use.
After they are in your ears, plugging them into my Sandisk Sansa Fuze loaded with lossless tracks turned them from good earplugs to great speakers. Unlike most custom IEMs, I never had to struggle to get a perfect fit, a comfortable seal, or good sound. The instantly responsive drivers make everything I played through them sound like butter. The music was simply amazing. Jerry Harvey's genius was instantly apparent. How could something the size of a nickel produce such fluid and incredible sound?
Thinking that the first song may have been a fluke, I put on a few tracks that I know many sound systems and headphones fail with. The first 15 seconds of 30 Seconds to Mars' "The Fantasy" often makes single driver IEMs struggle with the heavy bass with an almost silent laughter. The JH-5M did not struggle at all. Even while playing a heavy bass line, the laughter was easily audible and very clear. Similarly, later on in the song there is more heavy bass with vocals and a guitar riff in the background. Many headphones and earbuds blend the sounds together making the different noises difficult to differentiate.
To test other aspects of sound, I put on The Ultimate Demonstration Disk which is a compilation of tracks that few headphones and earbuds can excel at. Monty Alexander's Sweet Georgia Brown is a very fast paced song with piano, horns, and drums. The JH-5Ms played the entire song back with perfection. The lightning fast custom tuned balanced armature drivers hit each note perfectly.
Following a test of The Ultimate Demonstration Disk, I put the XLO Reference Recordings test disk in. The track "Polka and Fugue" is an excellent test of orchestral music. While closing my eyes and listening, each instrument appeared to emanate from different locations. The soundstage was both expansive and enclosed. What a great sound from these earbuds.
Needless to say, I was impressed. The JH-M line appeared to be better in sound quality than anything I have ever tried before. More accurate than Ultimate Ears Triple.fi and more noise cancelling than the Etymotic HF2, the JH-M line is a great combination of features. But why the JH-M line? Well there's another feature that I haven't yet discussed in detail: the JH-M line's ability to be used everywhere. It's not only a great custom in-ear monitor, but it's also small enough that you can use it underneath a motorcycle or other helmet. Because of the low-profile design, the earbuds can be comfortably fit underneath a helmet. All you have to do is put the helmet on, taking care to not put too much pressure on the earbud. To remove the helmet, it's slightly more complicated but not difficult at all. By taking the helmet off at an angle, with one ear out first, you remove that earbud. Then you remove the other, and take the helmet off. By "rocking" the helmet, it comes off without hurting your ears at all. A quick test with a set of JH-16s (to be reviewed shortly) shows that the low profile design really helps with comfort. The relocation of the cable also makes it much more comfortable.
A Comparison between the JH-16 and JH-5M
Because of the high isolation, it makes it possible to keep sound pressure levels down preventing damage to your eardrums. It also allows you to still hear noises important for driving such as honking. Because of the lasting comfort and ability to use them everywhere, the JH-M line is an all around upgrade on the JH Pro series.
Of course, the JH-5M are $100 more than the JH-5 Pro, but is it worth it? In my eyes, yes. Because they are low profile, they are comfortable to wear to bed for side sleepers. They can fit in constrictive spaces such as a helmet and provide an incredible listening experience. You may think that $499 is too much for headphones, but they aren't JUST headphones. They are a set of monitors designed for you by professionals. They are well made and are designed for life. Except for an occasional refit every several years (which is not as expensive as the initial investment), these earbuds will last forever with care. There are still cases of earbuds Jerry Harvey made in the early 1990's that are still being used today by stage musicians. They protect your hearing, possibly saving you from the hassle of getting hearing aids in the future. Think of them as the merge between two great products: A set of killer earbuds, and a pair of noise cancelling headphones. If that's worth $499 to you, then the JH-M line should be what you get. With them, you won't need anything else.
I have a special test planned for the future, so keep watch for an additional piece on the JH-5M.
Due to a few requests, I have taken a shot of each close up in my ear so you can see the size difference.
NOTE: JH Audio JH-M line is available only at Hearing Dynamics, located in New Jersey and found online at HearingDynamics.net