Westone ES80 ($1899)
Resolution – Both the Westone’s signature and price are somewhat of a diversion from Layla, but there is an important feature that warrants this comparison: their end-to-end extension, and accordingly, resolution. I consider both at the very top of traditional in-ears (using BA or DD drivers) when it comes to pure performance. In both cases, they offer fantastic bottom-end extension that offers a real sense of impact, and even betters many dynamic drivers. The difference between their bass is that the ES80 has a modest bump around its mid-bass, where Layla has the ability of dialing it up a notch.
Throughout the rest of the signature, they each go their own way. The ES80 is tuned to be neutral and linear, which is not only reflected in its very lightly warm tone, but its moderate midrange size and forwardness. The ES80 offers a fairly flat signature with a peak around 7 KHz, which neither sounds thin or bombastic. It does however offer excellent resolution, and a wide stage. Layla matches the ES80’s resolution, but has significantly more midrange presence, resulting in greater vocal power, as well as a more spacious, three-dimensional stage. Even so, Layla’s focus on bass and midrange strays it a bit further from neutral, making it both a bit warmer and darker by comparison.
Empire Ears Zeus-XIV ($2099)
Midrange – Layla’s midrange and treble tuning is easy to spot once you’re familiar with Zeus, which has been my go-to monitor for midrange prowess the last years. As Layla, Zeus is tuned with a generous bump between 1-3 KHz, alongside a 7 KHz peak. Indeed, Zeus equally puts on a powerful vocal display, with its dense and slightly forward vocals. And similarly, Zeus constructs a nicely three-dimensional stage, although the absolute size is in favor of Layla. The crucial difference between them however lies in the bass and upper-treble tuning.
One of Layla’s greatest virtues is her bass; in terms of extension, quantity, and control, Layla simply betters Zeus. Layla provides, at least the option, of truly impactful bass reproduction. Zeus has an amenable mid-bass hump, but its bottom-end extension is only moderate at best. Their other primary difference lies up top. Layla is tuned with a fairly linear, but well extended, upper-treble. Zeus in turn is tuned with a 12 KHz peak, which provides more sparkle and greater overt clarity throughout its signature. Layla’s top-end is smoother, but significantly more laid-back than that of Zeus.
Jomo Audio Flamenco (~$2190)
Tone – Jomo’s Flamenco is both contrastingly different as well as relevantly similar; with a bit of imagination it could be viewed as a brighter version of Layla. Both have a lifted mid-bass and rise in the midrange, resulting in sufficiently dense and focused vocals, along with precise imaging. They also share the ability to adjust the bass, and in the case of the Flamenco the treble as well. Similarly, both have a three-dimensional stage and provide high resolution.
Even so, Layla surpasses the Flamenco in a few regards; the extension, impact, and overall quality of the bass, while taking it a step further when it comes to vocal prowess. In addition, Layla’s stage is a bit more spacious with the bass in the standard setting. Accordingly, Layla not only provides a fuller sound, but gives its notes more room to breathe. Even so, these are moot points for those preferring brighter tunings. Flamenco is significantly more upfront in its detail retrieval, while offering more treble sparkle – Layla appears a bit dark in comparison. While I prefer Layla, the treble-enthused will easily choose Flamenco.
Empire Ears Legend-X ($2299)
Bass – I am normally not inclined to use two iems from the same company, but there is a point to be made which requires the Legend-X: the power and sheer enjoyability of Layla’s bass. The Legend is a powerhouse when it comes to bass, with its two dynamic drivers generating an impressive amount of impact, while offering excellent bottom-end extension. With its accompanying lively treble, the Legend’s U-shaped signature remains my favorite bass-head guilty pleasure.
With Layla’s bass dialed up to a higher setting, it can however match the sheer quantity and impact of the Legend. And despite the BA configuration, Layla’s bottom-end extension isn’t any less. Besides, its decay is quicker, providing an advantage in speed and separation. Even so, the natural decay of the Legend’s bass remains a treat to listen to. Overall, the two are vastly different though. The Legend is significantly brighter, while its midrange is slightly pushed back. Layla is warmer, smoother, and more prominently puts vocals in the spotlight.
Layla has been around for quite a while now, and has firsthand witnessed the explosive rise of competitors in the custom in-ear industry. But none of that drove Jerry Harvey to modify or update Layla, asides from her material form. Furthermore, Jerry isn’t planning to update Layla any time soon, because he is confident she is perfect the way she is. And quite frankly, I have to agree. Layla isn’t the perfect monitor for every type of listener, considering the eclectic variety of tastes in the current market. No monitor is. Layla however is technically still one of the best monitors out there when looking at objective metrics: stage dimensions, end-to-end extension, resolution, as well as ability to provide such a full-bodied sound while maintaining a high level of definition and separation. Layla’s technical prowess is nothing short of impressive, and still bests most.
Taken together, the formula is quite simple. Don’t consider Layla if you’re primarily in it for the treble. Listeners searching for a bright and stimulating sound filled with an in-your-face detail approach might fail to be impressed. For there is a darkness in Layla’s soul, that if attuned to, radiates with great power and emotion. Layla however should come to mind if you adore the midrange – and because you love bass. It’s a sound that is big and bold, combing superior technical ability with full-bodied notes. I might search a matching silver cable to bring a bit more liveliness in the upper mids. But in that case, and perhaps even regardless, Layla is pretty much as good as it gets for me.
Jerry Harvey Audio Layla
Design: 12 BA drivers, fourth order crossover with Freqphase technology
Dutch/European dealer (where applicable)