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
- Buy the JH Audio Lola on Amazon.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.
These sound impressions were made with Final Audio’s E-type silicone eartips, which I’ve consistently found to provide the most custom-like sound from universal demos.
JH Audio’s Lola is a vibrant, organic-sounding IEM with a sweet, sumptuous tone. It’s a predominantly warm-neutral-sounding monitor, but without the trappings typically associated with one. For example, the Lola won’t lull you to sleep. It enjoys healthy amounts of sparkle and articulation, which – when paired with the in-ear’s silky, well-rounded notes – result in the analog sound Jerry Harvey was gunning for. It’s not a monitor to smooth over nuance either. In fact, the Lola possesses wonderful layering and resolution. Instruments are melodic and full-bodied, but never congealed. So, these richly-textured images – and a stable black background – set the stage for a realistic, tactile and arresting signature.
The beauty of the Lola’s tone is in the wetness it possesses. Unlike JH Audio’s mastering-oriented Layla – which sports tighter, more stringent imaging – the Lola’s instruments aren’t as compact. For example, the snare drums and electric guitar on Mark Lettieri’s Summer Salt have this warm, resonant glow to them, allowing those instruments to intermingle with one another. It’s reminiscent of a cross-feed effect. But, at the same time, definition isn’t compromised either. Each instrument retains its edge and transients pop effortlessly, but there’s a very light breeze that binds everything together in a musical, collaborative way. The Lola is first-and-foremost a big picture IEM that pulls you in and engages you in the music as a whole. But, at the same time, it possesses the technique to resolve each element as its own sonic nugget.
In terms of raw stage size, the Lola achieves an appreciable performance hall. It fills headspace with ease, but doesn’t exaggerate its dimensions either. Ultimately, I believe this benefits its signature. Again, its prime goal is to immerse you in the music, and that’s most effective in a more intimate setting. Plus, the Lola excels in what I consider to be the more crucial criteria: Headroom. In all her exuberance, Lola never sounds strained, saturated or forced; a truly wonderful feat.
The Lola’s low-end is one of the airiest and most resolving I’ve heard in recent memory. Although that may imply a lean, sterile response, the Lola is anything but. Bass notes are well-rounded, meaty and dense, but infused with an immense amount of headroom. Clean air surrounds each thump of the kick drum, allowing the clarity and texture of those hits to come through. Between Dennis Chambers’ kick on Elroy and Matt Garstka’s kick on Tooth and Claw, the listener is given the tools to confidently discern between them. The bass is also impressively impactful without having to be prominent, by virtue of strong extension. So, it never gets in the way, and leaves the rest of the ensemble wonderfully transparent.
The tone of the bass is beautifully life-like as well. Because of how linear the region is from 20-300Hz, the low-end moves like a singular, coherent piston. Again, kick drums are a pure joy, and turning the dial up provides the presence required for EDM as well. Though, those who enjoy colour to their low-ends may not prefer the Lola’s more transparent response. There isn’t necessarily a mid-bass hump to inflate impact, neither is there a sub-bass lift to accentuate bass lines. The Lola’s presentation is more what-you-see-is-what-you-get, which makes track-surfing all the more interesting as you find new nuances in your favourite bass parts. The Lola’s lows are technically-stellar; teeming in headroom and effortlessly clear. Paired with a transparent tonality and the ability to adjust it at will, it’s a bass response as clear as it is versatile.
The Lola’s D.O.M.E-powered midrange is spacious, airy and clean. Honestly, I half-expected a richer, saturated response with all the talk about the diaphragm’s analog sound. After all, it’s easy to equate vintage sonics with low-heavy, buttery, harmonic notes. But, I came to discover that the Lola’s analog feel came from resonance and tone, rather than structure. There’s a sweet ring to the midrange that – again – emulates a musical, cross-feed-like effect. The snare drum and piano on David Benoit’s Drive Time capture this brilliantly. Thy have a vibrant glow to them without sounding awkward, honky or brassy. They pop at you with power as real instruments would, but with enough space in-between to not sound cloy.
Versus the bottom-heavy sign I initially predicted, this lighter, airier response greatly benefits technical performance. Cleaner notes encourage definition, separation and contrast. But again, that sweet, warm glow prevents instruments from ever sounding too analytical. The Lola possesses an upper-mid bias, so instruments adopt a more peppy, lively profile. Those who prefer their instruments deeper, chestier and more muscular may prefer the Roxanne or the Layla more. But, there’s no denying the novelty of JH Audio’s D.O.M.E technology. It’s like the difference between mic’ing up and recording a real cabinet, versus running a D.I.’ed guitar signal through an amp simulator plug-in. There’s a genuine, palpable depth that gives the D.O.M.E system a more natural, dynamic sense of projection, and an analog sound indeed.
The Lola’s top-end is articulate and clean, cutting through the mix with ease. The region as a whole sits in line with the midrange, which lends the top-end a neutral tone, and allows the midrange to maintain its warmish glow. Transients have an edge to them by way of peaks along 6 kHz, 8 kHz and 12 kHz. This gives cymbals and hi-hats a sufficiently crisp texture without becoming harshly metallic. But, with more compressed, modern recordings, the Lola won’t make an effort to hide any flaws. If a track inherently possesses any glare or grain, the Lola won’t smooth them over completely. Thankfully, treble notes are compact, and their edges are ever-so-slightly feathered. So, those prickly bits won’t last.
With more dynamic recordings, however, the Lola’s top-end absolutely shines. Again, it infuses just the right amount of attack to complement the body and wetness below. On Nathan East’s Love’s Holiday or Daft Punk’s Fragments of Time, the cymbals and hi-hats sound solid and tactile. The snare drums too sport a natural balance of crackle and body. Often, we hear the latter artificially emphasised for that short-term wow factor. Although the Lola can be slightly guilty of that with its 6kHz peak (just a tad bright), it largely commits to realism with impressive success. Excellent top-end extension is also key for the Lola’s spatial performance. Stereo separation and holography impress. Treble notes travel freely along the z-axis, which helps reinforce the Lola’s depth. And, a stable image with headroom and definition tops it all off elegantly.
The myriad of technologies JH Audio have infused into the Lola is key to both its performance and tonal balance. If the three qualities below are aspects you desire to have in your next in-ear monitor, the Lola is definitely worth considering:
A clean, airy tonality with warmth and sweetness: A vintage, soulful and euphonic – i.e. analog – signature typically requires a certain degree of fullness and warmth to become realised. But, with D.O.M.E, JH Audio have managed to achieve those sensibilities whilst maintaining airiness, clarity and definition. The Lola is lively and articulate with a rare dose of soul.
Resolution with resonance: Tying into the previous point, the Lola doesn’t sacrifice technical performance either with its sweet, cross-feed-like radiance. Images remain fully-formed and well-segregated from one another. Layering and depth are very much apparent as well. All of it is just bound together by a cohesive, musical resonance in the mids especially.
Outstanding bass resolution and tone: The Lola’s low-end possesses remarkable clarity and accuracy. It balances body and speed excellently. So, you can enjoy both the Lola’s dense, well-rounded punches and the nuance it’s able to deliver at the very same time. Finally, because of JH Audio’s 4-pin standard, the low-end can be configured to taste at all times.
However, the Lola’s inherent tonality will not appeal to everyone, as is the case for every other product in the history of the world. Nevertheless, the Lola should not be on your list if the following three attributes are must-have’s for you:
Chesty, full and muscly instruments: The Lola’s upper-mid tilt gives its midrange a lighter, airier, more breathy timbre. That shouldn’t be mistaken for insubstantiality or thinness. But, it can lack a bit of muscle if you’re coming from the Layla or Roxanne. If you prefer that gruffer tonality for male vocals for example, I’d suggest JH Audio’s 12-driver in-ear monitors.
A strongly-coloured low-end: The Lola’s low-end is linear in tone and true-to-life. Although that’ll obviously appeal to many, it may not please those who prefer a sub-bass tilt, or a mid-bass hump, etc. Although you’re able to set the region as a whole where you like it, you ultimately can’t change the tonality. If a visceral bass is preferred, the Layla is more ideal.
A universally-forgiving top-end: The Lola’s top-end is articulate, precise and quite accurate in timbre. But, if your recording has any glare or harshness to it, it won’t necessarily make the effort to smooth them over. It does have a swift, feathered edge, so it’ll never be outright sibilant. But, with more compressed recordings, you’ll definitely notice a quicker onset of fatigue that wouldn’t be there with well-produced material. If you have a wildly varied playlist, this is worth considering.
JH Audio Layla (Reshelled by Naga Audio)
The Layla is JH Audio’s flagship piece, built for professional mixing and mastering. The immediate difference between Layla and Lola lies in the top-end. The Layla has a more reserved treble, which results in softer transients and a slightly darker tone. The Layla’s top-end is more linear, which results in thicker notes with more apparent textural detail. On the contrary, the Lola’s top-end is sharper, more compact and more articulate. Listeners accustomed to immediate clarity will probably gravitate more towards the Lola’s presentation. But, the Layla’s is more discerning; shifting (for better or for worse) from one recording to the next. The Layla also has a more visceral, physical sub-bass than the Lola. Again, it has an emphasis on rendering textural data, while the Lola’s tighter, airier response has cleanliness and clarity in mind.
In the midrange, the two possess completely different timbres. The Layla adopts a fuller profile with thicker lower-mids and a more relaxed upper-midrange. Vocals sound richer and more euphonic. You definitely get a lot more harmonic content here. The Lola’s midrange is much lighter and breezier. Those thicker, chestier notes are a lot more laid-back, so vocals sound breathy and clear, but with that wet resonance that D.O.M.E provides. This is also responsible for the Lola’s more apparent sense of depth. Oftentimes, the Lola’s lead instrument stands on its own two feet as a tactile, corporeal body; just ever-so-slightly cohered to the stage by its warm glow. The Layla’s by comparison sounds very much coalesced to the rest of the ensemble. The Lola’s sharper top-end gives the midrange sharper contrasts too, as well as clean air.
Astell&Kern Rosie by JH Audio ($899)
The Rosie is an Astell&Kern-and-JH-Audio collaboration product. Based on the legendary JH13, it remains one of Jerry Harvey’s most underrated designs in my opinion. The Rosie and the Lola actually have relatively similar signatures. It’s a lightly warm shade of neutral with an airy, spacious midrange. The Lola takes it further in that regard. There’s more air to its mids, while the Rosie’s has a fuller 1-2kHz region; a slightly chestier, more muscular response. The Rosie’s fuller fundamentals give instruments like low-tuned snare drums more density and weight, while the Lola’s response favours lighter instruments like violins and woodwinds. Those instruments almost float in mid-air within the Lola’s soundstage.
In terms of stage expansion and stereo separation, the Rosie comes admirably close. But, the Lola does have the edge in rendering spatial cues. Instruments further back in the mix sound more resolved and solid. There’s a more defined contrast between the instruments and the black background on the Lola. This is because of its more energetic, sparkly top-end. Up top, the Rosie is smoother and more forgiving, while the Lola has that slight hint of glare around 6kHz, as well as a crisper upper-treble. This makes instruments like hi-hats and cymbals sound more tactile on the latter. And, it gives the low-end more clarity too. But, it doesn’t gloss over any of your recordings’ inherent peaks either. So, if you’re after the smoother, more laid-back one, the Rosie is your pick. The Lola is for those after airiness, sparkle and clarity.
The Lola is one of JH Audio’s most exceptional pieces yet. In a world where tonal diversity has neared stagnancy, leave it to the industry’s pioneers to deliver something delightfully unique to the table. Like the meaty, muscly Diana I heard last year, the Lola’s magic is in the midrange. The balance between resonance and air is unprecedented. Instruments flaunt depth, cleanliness and nuance, brought together by D.O.M.E’s sweet, summery glow. The low-end is one of the most life-like and clear I’ve heard yet. And, the top-end is articulate, well-extended and quick-paced, if a tad unforgiving. Last but not least, you also get JH Audio’s plethora of proprietary tech. Like a fine wine, the Lola continues to prove that JH Audio only top themselves with age. I’ve truly loved my time with it, and I can’t wait to see what else Jerry Harvey has in store.
JH Audio products are available to demo and purchase in Singapore via their authorised dealer AV One @ The Adelphi.