JH Audio Jolene: Beyond Thunderdome – A Custom In-Ear Monitor Review

Presentation

JH Audio’s Jolene is a powerful, massive-sounding in-ear that, to me, most resembles a miniature PA system. It won’t lull the ear with soft serenades, nor is it intimate or saccharine in its delivery. It’s – without question – a stadium-worthy IEM that is most at home with big, dynamic, punch-in-the-gut music. Much of that has to do with its imaging. Again, it’s not a monitor that sits the singer onto you. Instruments, most of the time, line the periphery of this Jolene’s vast, holographic, flagship-worthy space, with you as an audience member a few rows away. Singular notes, such as solo performances or solo sections, won’t be as enveloping as multi-piece ensembles that truly fill this stage. But, at the same time, the power the Jolene’s four diaphragms possess allow those sounds the power and impact to ensure the distance is rarely ever felt.

The Jolene’s size is not achieved through much tonal trickery either. Instruments aren’t recessed, nor will they have their harmonics stripped to the bone. There is heft, weight and texture to them, which is crucial in making that power appear substantive. The one exception would be the in-ear’s relatively reserved upper-bass. Despite the potentially skull-rattling subs the Jolene possesses, the upper-bass isn’t as wet or rich by comparison. Instruments (depending on the recordings) may have a drier, less-cushioned attack to them, mostly at higher volumes. A snare drum with more crack than thump is an example, and so is a male baritone with more throat than diaphragm. So, although it’s not flawlessly linear, the Jolene puts up a good effort balancing naturalness and scope, as long as you have those colourations and those biases in mind.

Bass

When it comes to sheer power and size, the Jolene’s dual 9.2mm woofers definitely mean business. There’s that telltale, piston-like pump that only come from dynamic drivers, and these produce some of the largest (in terms of surface area) waves of bass I’ve heard yet out of an IEM. Kick drums, when recorded and mixed accordingly, can easily encompass the entire soundscape. Now, I don’t mean that in terms of forwardness, because it isn’t a dominant bass at all. Again, it does have a mid- to upper-bass dip to it. I’m referring to the air the bass is moving and the scope those notes have as a result. The extension, texture and clarity the sub-bass has got is incredibly strong, benefitting slightly from the (relatively) more reserved warmth of the mid-bass. All in all, it’s a massive, clean, thumping bass that I particularly love for rock and metal.

Tonally, I feel like those are the genres Jerry was aiming for most as well. Instruments like the upright bass or genres like jazz are less-suited to the Jolene’s mid- to upper-bass decline, because this is where a lot of those warm, woody, melodic overtones reside. Listening to the double bass on Lake Street Dive’s Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts, I heard more string-pluck boom than actual notes resonating off of the instrument. That was the case too for the intro to Zap by Dirty Loops and Cory Wong, where the bass guitar notes sat quite a bit behind the bass slaps. What that dip also does is take away quite a bit of cushioning for top-end transients. With certain recordings (or at certain listening volumes), there were times when vocals or horns would glare and seem dry without the bloom of the mid-bass. That was mostly on pop records. So, bass quality aside, I’d take note of this colouration if your playlist or listening habits happen to be the above.

To speak briefly of the Jolene’s bass attenuator implementation, it’s the first JH in-ear where I’ve really felt the attenuator was an attenuator. What I mean by that is I feel the Jolene was tuned with 100% bass as the default, rather than it being an over-the-top setting for bassheads; the 11 setting from This Is Spinal Tap. Around 2 o’clock is the lowest I can go before its tonality gets too lean or bright, and 100% is where it sits just above its mids to me. So, please do keep all this in mind. 

Midrange

The Jolene’s midrange stands at a healthy, even-keeled neutral; neither too light-and-dry, nor sickly sweet. Though those who looked at the dual-DD config may have assumed something warmer or more intimate, it’s certainly a midrange that leans closer towards steady and clean. Again, this is a timbre ideal for ensembles, as well as genres like rock. Guitars like Mark Lettieri’s lead on Magnetar have a nice balance of tone and crunch, and the rhythm parts do not outshine it either. Its DDs contribute a deeper, earthier texture to vocals as well. It’s a perfect match for Jacob Collier’s more gentle – raw – delivery on Make Me Cry. This is a welcome trait for belting, hard-rock voices like Chris Daughtry’s on Changes Are Coming too. So, as long as you do not mind vocals sat a hair more neutrally, the Jolene will deliver balance and texture in spades.

Dynamically, the Jolene’s midrange, again, exhibits a lot of power. As mentioned in Presentation, there’s always drive and slam to the IEM, despite its neutrally-positioned instruments. Guitars, snare drums and vocals alike always hit hard. The one thing the Jolene can’t do as well, I think, is be warm and alluring. Again, because of its mid- to upper-bass dip, it isn’t the ideal monitor for sweet, sultry, seductive vocals. This isn’t the IEM for a Laura Fygi or a Diana Krall. This’s more Alanis Morissette or Amy Winehouse’s wheelhouse. Similarly, piano or baritone sax solos will not be at their richest. The Jolene wasn’t tuned with the syrupy, enveloping warmth for it. So, again, it’s important to keep these colourations in mind if the Jolene is a monitor you’re up for. But, if you fall in the right camp, its mix of power, texture and control is a definite treat.

Treble

The Jolene caps off the signature with a more modern take on the JH treble, which typically consists of a low-treble peak (which some have called shrill in the past) and a warmer upper-treble. The Jolene’s iteration sees Jerry Harvey refine this low-treble peak to a smoother, more palatable rise. Then, higher up, it’s the most treble extension and air I’ve heard out of a JH IEM as well. It’s what hands its stage its organisation and size, and it lets cymbals ring and breathe very openly. It is a fairly articulate top-end, still. Make no mistake about it. Transients tend to sit at or just above the midrange. So, with vocals, you’ll get a cleaner sig that’s more studio than live. Similarly, percussion have a lot of crackle to them. Once again, keep this all in mind. But, again, the refinement and air Jerry has achieved here make it all a breeze to take in regardless.

An aspect the treble excels at is separating itself spatially from the rest of the ensemble. A blend of treble extension and clever tuning of the mid-treble allow tiny details like chimes and shakers to sit exactly where they should; a touch further back and a bit above (height-wise) the lead instrument. This further adds to that PA system sound. Speed on the Jolene is strong as well. It won’t glide as silkily or vanishingly as some of the better electrostats I’ve heard, but it’s a great showing from a quad-BA set for sure. Lastly, stereo separation is wonderful here as well, which is the final key to the Jolene’s vast, stadium-esque stage. It’ll compete against far pricier flagships in scope, which is both an impressive feat and a powerful show of competition. The Jolene sees Jerry Harvey up his treble to its technical best, whilst keeping it quintessentially his.

General Recommendations

The Jolene’s distinct, characteristically big sound is one I believe will strike it tons of fans, especially with genres that take advantage of its strengths. Down here are three of its specialties, which may make it the one to get from JH’s full line-up:

A vast, PA-system-like sound: Again, the Jolene’s main draw will likely be its stadium-filling tonality. Instruments are always a row or two away, but they hit with great power, and they’re always solidly, meatily textured as well. If what you’re after is a monitor that captures that live sound with the slam of a PA system, the Jolene has the scope and kick for it in spades.

Clean, roaring, rock-ready mids: The Jolene’s midrange works a particular treat for roaring electric guitars, as well as hard rock vocals. Whether it’s Chris Daughtry’s belts or Joe Satriani’s ripping solos, there’s a power and texture that’s palpable through this monitor’s dynamic driver pair; brilliant, if you want your mids to deliver with a fullness, cleanliness and bite.

Summit-fi technique: Despite what its price tag could imply, the Jolene’s imaging, expansion and detail retrieval can easily give flagships a run for their money. Again, vastness is one of its specialties. And, the precision it’s capable of within that expanse is impressive too. So, never feel concerned about settling, because the Jolene’ll deliver no less than TOTL chops.

There are, though, certain preferences or demographics the Jolene isn’t likely to please, whether because of its spacious imaging or its tonal colourations. If your criteria include any of the three below, the Jolene probably isn’t the CIEM to get:

An intimate, up-close presentation: The Jolene’s delivery is innately vast, where notes are neutrally-positioned and sternly-placed. If you prefer instruments that are up close and ebbing-and-flowing, JH’s Roxanne would probably be more ideal.

Rich, saccharine instruments: Because of its upper-bass dip, the Jolene also isn’t a monitor bathed in smoke and warmth. Examples I’ve included are bass guitars with more slap or boom than tone, as well as snare drums that are more crackle-inclined. So, if you have a certain preference for warmer, gooey-sounding instruments, the Lola would likely be stronger.

Raw, melodic lows: Another artefact of the upper-bass dip is a low-end that’s more felt and heard. Again, like a PA system, you’ll feel the rumble in your chest before you get any of it in the ear, and it’ll affect instruments as described above. So, if you love jazz and you want your contra basses and toms sounding as authentic as possible, the Jolene might be a pass.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Deezel

Deezel

Church-boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel Lesmana’s world revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing live for a congregation of thousands, engineering records in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, you’ll find him on his laptop analysing audio gear with fervor and glee. Now a specialist in custom IEMs, cables and full-sized headphones, he’s looking to bring his unique sensibilities - as both an enthusiast and a professional - into the reviewer’s space; a place where no man has gone before.

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