CanJam at RMAF 2016 – Part 3 of 4

This is Part 3 of a four-part report on CanJam at RMAF 2016.

Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs


Like many volume-orientated headphone and earphone manufacturers, the Swedish firm Jays is responding to Apple’s new headphone jack-less iPhone 7 (what were they thinking?) with the firm’s first-ever Bluetooth headphone—the u-Jays Wireless headphone ($179.95), which is based on the popular u-Jays passive headphone.

Like the passive-Jays model, the u-Jays Wireless headphone features purpose-built dynamic drivers that deliberately treat the headphone ear cups and ear pads as a complete acoustic system, and that feature Japanese-silk driver diaphragms said to yield “crystal clear details” and “deep bass response.” Moreover, the headphone features “soft viscoelastic ear pads claimed to provide “superior sound isolation” and wearer comfort.

The u-Jays Wireless features full-featured touch control and wireless system offering 25+ hours of playback time per charge. A welcome touch is a control lock that “secures the controls to avoid unintentional interruption.”

JDS Labs

Up to this point, the Collinsville, Illinois-based firm JDS Labs has perhaps been best known for its modestly-priced but very good-sounding Element headphone amp/DAC ($349), but that may be about to change thanks to the introduction of two upcoming products.

First, JDS Labs will launch the new Element DAC (~$299). To be clear, the Element DAC is not merely the DAC section of the original Element amp/DAC broken out into a separate chassis, but rather is an all-new, AK-4490-based DAC designed to take the firm’s digital audio performance capabilities up to a whole new level. Then, JDS plans to  follow the Element DAC with the dedicated, amplifier-only Element Amp (~$200).

The concept, clearly, is that the next performance step up from the present day Element amp/DAC, which is the product responsible for putting JDS Labs on the personal audio map, would be to order up the combo of an Element DAC and matching Element Amp (presumably for a tick under $500).

JH Audio
The Orlando, Florida-based firm JH Audio is one of the most widely recognised makers of custom-fit in-ear monitors (CIEMs) on the planet, so when the firm announces major revisions to its product line that’s invariable big news in the personal audio community.

For CanJam RMAF 2016 the firm’s demonstration were focussed heavily on two new CIEM models that happen to fall at nearly opposite ends of the pricing spectrum. Up near the top, we have the firm’s new Performance Series JH16V2 PRO model (starting at $1,499), which incorporates JH Audio’s proprietary soundriVe balanced armature-type driver arrays—in this case quad low-frequency driver array, a dual midrange driver array, and a quad high frequency driver array. The driver arrays load into triple bores using the firm’s signature Freqphase steel tube waveguides, which co-optimise both frequency and phase response. Finally, lifting a design touch from some of JH Audio’s top-tier Siren-series CIEMs, the new JH16V2 PRO incorporates the firm’s patented variable bass features through which a user control embedded in the CIEM’s signal cables allows a ± 10dB adjustment in low-frequency output, to suit the user’s tastes.

At the other end of the price spectrum, JH Audio rolled out what I believe might be its most affordable CIEM to date: namely, the new JH3X PRO, starting at just $599. The JH3X PRO is a two-way, dual-bore, triple balanced armature-type driver-equipped CIEM said to offer “low end punch and upper mid detail that’s unparalleled by it’s rivals.” Like other JH Audio CIEMs, the JH3X PRO uses bore tubes leveraging Freqphase technology.


The venerable Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based headphone manufacturer Koss sometimes goes overlooked in discussions of top-tier headphones, which is a shame. The fact of the matter is that Koss may have ‘painted its masterpiece’ in terms of headphone design so long ago that the product in question has by now all but fallen off of the radar screens of some high-end headphonistas.

What product am I referencing? I’m thinking of none other than Koss’ rather remarkable ESP/950 electrostatic headphone system, which sells for a comparatively modest $1,000—for the headphone with electrostatic energiser included.  At CanJam RMAF 2016 I took the opportunity to give the ESP/950 a careful listen with fresh ears and came away favourably impressed.

Honestly, it occurred to me that the ESP/950 was developed so long ago that it was probably far better than many of the source components then used to feed it. Now, with much more modern source components on tap, it’s much easier to grasp the performance benefits of the design, among which are transparency, lightning-quick transient response, and reasonably neutral frequency response. In short, this design is a classic example of an oldie but goodie that arguably arrived on the market before its time. I think it’s well worth a second look.

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