DISCLAIMER: Eng Siang (JH Audio’s Singaporean distributor) loaned me a Lola demo unit from their retailer AV One in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Eng Siang, AV One and JH Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.
No name bears more esteem in the custom in-ear world than Jerry Harvey. Having invented the first multi-driver CIEM in 1995, the man is one of the industries’ founding fathers – first with Ultimate Ears, then the eponymous JH Audio. Birthed in 2012, the latter have become the industry standard among elite artists worldwide, crafting in-ears for the likes of Van Halen, Jay-Z, Guns N’ Roses, John Mayer, and countless others. But, despite their reign in the custom realm, they’ve also invested a great deal into their universal IEMs. The Performance Series features 3D-printed shells and a new ergonomic design. Their frontman? The Lola – an 8-driver hybrid with a dynamically-driven midrange and a stunning, soulful sound.
JH Audio Lola
- Driver count: Six balanced-armature drivers and two dynamic drivers
- Impedance: 16Ω
- Sensitivity: 105dB @ 1mW
- Key feature(s) (if any): JH Audio’s arsenal of proprietary technologies (see below Build and Accessories)
- Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
- Price: $1599
- Website: www.jhaudio.com
Build and Accessories
The Lola we’re looking at today is a loaned demo unit from Eng Siang and AV One, who are the ones to go to for JH Audio products in Singapore. Because of this, I don’t have the retail packaging and accessories suite with me. However, taking a quick look at the Lola’s product page on JHAudio.com will immediately tell you what comes with your in-ear monitors.
The universal Lola comes with a black billet-aluminium case; the same one found on the custom variant. It’s wonderful to know that you aren’t missing out on anything accessories-wise between JH Audio’s custom and universal offerings. You also get silicone and Comply foam ear tips in Small, Medium and Large, totalling six pairs of tips in all. Finally, a small screwdriver is provided to use with the Lola’s bass pod, allowing you to configure the IEM’s low-end response to taste.
The in-ears themselves are made out of 3D-printed acrylic resin. They feature JH Audio’s revised universal shells, which are made to be more compact and more ergonomic than their previous iterations. Since the release of the Lola, they’ve revised the design again for their Diana IEMs, which I covered here. Regardless, to me, both designs are as comfy as JH Audio’s IEMs have ever been. While I love how my Rosie fits, the sleeker designs do serve dividends in the long-term.
The Performance Series monitors play an integral role in JH Audio’s recent push towards artisan cosmetic designs. The announcement of the Signature Design program has motivated a gargantuan leap in the company’s ambitiousness, imagination and creativity. The Lola’s Lightning Strike design is a clear example. The faceplates feature copper filaments stylishly strewn throughout carbon fibre. And, the metallic copper logos on top finish the look exquisitely. The glossy-black shells and lacquerwork are smooth and illustrious too, showing no signs whatsoever of 3D-printing or fabrication.
The Lola also uses JH Audio’s proprietary 4-pin connectors. Although they’re a bit bulkier than the standard 2-pin and MMCX, they have a level of security and functionality (see below) that supersedes those connections. I believe there were murmurs of build quality concerns back when they were first introduced. But, having used two monitors with 4-pin connectors for three years and one year respectively, I can happily report that all such concerns have been resolved.
JH Audio’s Proprietary Technologies
JH Audio’s Lola is the first product I’ve ever had to dedicate an entire bells-and-whistles section towards, due to the vast plethora of innovations that Jerry Harvey has introduced over the years. More impressively, the Lola has technologies packed inside it that JH Audio only pioneered within the last decade! As absent as innovation may seem to the eyes of many in the in-ear monitoring world, Jerry Harvey has certainly yet to call quits as far as novelty and wit are concerned.
Freqphase is JH Audio’s most renowned innovation. First unveiled at CanJam @ RMAF 2012, the main goal of the tech is to compensate for the different speeds that different frequencies travel at. Higher frequencies travel faster. So, in multi-driver arrays, the high, mid and low signals would arrive at different times. This results in phase cancellation. Sonically, this means poorer imaging, poorer separation and unwanted dips in the IEM’s response from destructive interference. Here’s a video from JH Audio’s YouTube channel detailing how Freqphase works, demonstrated by Jerry Harvey himself:
So, by altering those tube lengths to compensate for the speed discrepancy, the signals that each driver set fires arrive within 1/100th of a millisecond of each other at the ear. According to Jerry and reviewers who’ve compared Freqphase and non-Freqphase variants of the same IEM, this technology results in superior resolution, imaging and separation.
D.O.M.E (Dual Opposed Mid Enclosure)
D.O.M.E is a technology specifically developed for the Lola, yet to appear in any of Jerry Harvey’s other in-ear monitors. Whilst experimenting with dynamic drivers, Jerry discovered that they worked best in the mids for their analog tonality and depth. Once he realised a single 4.9mm driver couldn’t provide the response he wanted, he developed D.O.M.E.
What D.O.M.E consists of is a pair of dynamic drivers in a 3D-printed, phase-correct enclosure. By using dual opposed 4.9mm diaphragms, Jerry was able to achieve an effective surface area of 9.8mm. Then, by controlling the amount of air between the drivers via the enclosure, Jerry had them naturally roll off at 3 kHz, so there’d be no overlap or interference with the high-frequency drivers. Then, high-passing it at 200 Hz, D.O.M.E became a dedicated, dynamic midrange engine.
SoundrIVe technology was first conceived for JH Audio’s wildly successful 12-driver Roxanne in 2014. Essentially, what it is is a cluster of four balanced-armature drivers wired in parallel – hence, the capitalised IV in the name. Both the Layla and Roxanne have three SoundrIVe clusters for the bass, midrange and treble, while the Lola has a single cluster for its high frequencies. One of the technology’s objectives is to maximise headroom. The more headroom you’re allowed, the louder you can push the drivers without distortion. By splitting the load evenly between four drivers, this is achieved.
Additionally, SoundrIVe improves high-frequency extension as well. During a Talks at Google session, Jerry explained that a balanced-armature’s impedance rises as it goes up in frequency. For example, the impedance of a driver will be 20Ω at 1 kHz, and it’ll be 100Ω at 20 kHz. This is why in-ears tend to roll-off at the top-end, because they’re much harder to drive at those frequencies. SoundrIVe resolves this by having four balanced-armatures tackle that load, effectively quartering the impedance. So, no high-frequency roll-off occurs and the earphone produces usable data at 20 kHz and beyond.
4-Pin Connectors and Variable Bass
As mentioned in Build and Accessories, the Lola employs JH Audio’s proprietary 4-pin connectors. We’ve discussed this standard’s benefits in security and robustness. But electronically, they serve a massive function as well. By connecting a variable resistor to the pin assigned to the bass frequencies, the end-user can control the in-ear’s bass output. In the Lola’s case, it’s from 0dB to +15dB. So, you can set the Lola’s low-end to taste no matter the scenario, genre or track.
In addition to that, Jerry has designed the crossover network such that three of the four pins are wired to Bass, Midrange and Treble, respectively. The fourth pin is wired to ground. So essentially, you can create a 3-band EQ by connecting each signal pin to its own variable resistor. Then, the sky’s the limit as far as tone-shaping is concerned for any JH Audio IEM.