As I accumulate experience (or as my kids might say, as I “just get old”), I find myself investigating and better researching the products I purchase and where they originate. Purchasing something from a company with a proven history of quality, reliability and service is as important to me (if not more important) as the product itself. Buying from companies that have a passion for making a product is always a bonus.

JH Audio (JHA) founder Jerry Harvey certainly has had an influence on the in-ear monitor marketplace with his passion. He has a long history and reputation in the industry for providing professional musicians and engineers with their monitors. Some may say he has made his mark on this industry and now, with JH Audio, he’s doing it again. Here are my experiences with JH Audio’s flagship product, the JH16 Pro Custom inear monitors.

Features

What’s in the box? The JH16 Pro Custom kit comes complete in a compact waterproof/crushproof box with a velveteen drawstring pouch and an IEM cleaning tool with brush. I really like the compact box. As a guy who has carried the case holding all the band’s IEMs on and off airplanes all over the world, the compact case is greatly appreciated. The JH16 Pro is literally packed with precision-balanced armatures per side: two dual low-frequency drivers, single dual midrange and single high-frequency drivers. The JH16 Pro also include an integrated three-way crossover, and its input connector is a goldplated 3.5 mm plug. Specs boast -26 dB of isolation, assuming your impressions were made properly. Frequency response is a relatively flat 10 Hz to 20 kHz.

You can choose from a multitude of colors, including solid, transparent or ones that fluoresce under black lights. Custom artwork or logos can be silkscreened to the visible earpieces. Available cord lengths are 18, 48 or 64 inches long.

Upon first trying the JH16 Pro Customs, I reminisced about a pair of in-ear monitors I had received from Jerry’s first company years ago. Like those, the JH16s fit snugly, which is very important for isolation and good, accurate low-end response.

I was impressed with the material JHA uses for their translucent monitors. My last pair of in-ear monitors (not from JHA) were made of a hard, translucent material that I found extremely fragile in my professional use, as it would easily chip and break. In terms of comfort and fit, I have to give credit where credit is due. It is crucial to have a well-made set of impressions from a competent audiologist, who is trained and certified to make impressions specifically for in-ear monitors. Lisa Sykes, my audiologist, is the best! (Thank you, Lisa.)

In Use

But what do the JH16 Pro Customs sound like? I have to admit when I was asked to review these monitors, my curios ity was piqued even though I was extremely apprehensive. I am quite opinionated on multi-driver, armature, in-ear monitor technology. In order to produce a cohesive, smooth and flat response with multi-driver technology, there are significant manufacturing challenges to overcome. With this kind of technology (and with few exceptions) I’ve found major issues with phase, scooped midrange frequency band, and fatiguing, brittle high end. Knowing these challenges, I was interested to see if JH Audio had overcome them, so I accepted the offer to write an objective review of the JH16 Pros.

First impression? Dang, that’s a lot of low end! A tip for all users: Start with your volume down and ease it up slowly, because these things get loud! Bass players and drummers: If you want to feel your bass and kick drum in your head, the JH16 Pro Customs will give you that. The specs say the JH16s go down to 10 Hz. While I didn’t measure these, I have no reason to doubt the rating.

I’ve now used the JH16 Pro Customs on a number of gigs. The first was for Alicia Keys, who just happened to be wearing a pair of JH13 IEMs. Eli Ward, Alicia’s monitor engineer, came with her and stated, “They [the JH13s] have been working out so far” and that “Alicia seems to be happy with them.” From that successful maiden voyage with the JH16 Pro Customs, I next used them to mix the reunion show for the band Alabama. The sound check went well, but I had used a different set of monitors to program the mixes in rehearsal. Because of that, around show time I was a bit untrusting of the amount of low end coming from the JH16 Pro Customs to mix the vocals of lead singer Randy Owen. However, I have since monitored mixes from the band Dream Theater and James Taylor and most recently used the JH16 Pro Customs to mix the 2011 CMA Awards on CBS.

All in all, JH Audio passed its engineering courses! There were no perceived issues with phase smear. The JH16’s midrange is certainly not scooped. As for the high-end response, the JH16 Pro Customs have one of the smoothest high-frequency armature drivers I’ve heard to date: I had no ringing ears or fatigue from the highs at the end of shows. Overall, the JH16 Pros performed very well.

Summary

Like a pair of studio reference monitors, I want my in-ear monitors to have a flat frequency response. The JH16 Pro Customs have very smooth high end and nice midrange response, but there’s a lot of low end. Drummers and bass players can benefit from (and enjoy) this, but I would be cautious using them while critiquing vocals or for any one sound source with accentuated low-end issues. [According to Jerry Harvey himself, “The specs quoted here are correct, but I disagree with (Jason’s) statement that they are not for vocal monitoring. The bass response bump is centered at 50 Hz, then back to accurate at 125 Hz. So, if you listen closely, there are no boosted masking frequencies in the low mids. There are thousands of vocalists using the JH16 as well as the JH13.” — Ed.]

The JH16 Pro Customs are at the upper end of the price range of in-ear monitors; some experience-based perspective is required to be confident of what is desired in low end from such monitors. Because of the notably smooth high and midrange of the JH16s, I’m very interested in hearing other models in the JHA line, such as the aforementioned JH13 for vocal- and guitarmonitoring applications, specifically.

Price: starting at $1,149

Contact: JH Audio | jhaudio.com

Jason Spence mixes FOH and owns J Sound Services, a professional audio installation/integration company.