JH Audio is led by its founder and chief technologist Jerry Harvey, and the firm specialises in one thing: namely, creating some of the world’s finest custom-fit in-ear monitors and universal-fit earphones. Harvey began his career at Westone, went on to co-found Ultimate Ears, and now leads a company that has taken his initials as part of its name. JH Audio has worked to provide very high-quality monitoring services and products in support of working musicians on tour, so it comes as no surprise that JH Audio’s client list reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of past, present, and future stars of pop music.
At CanJam SoCal 2017, JH Audio showed an all-new CIEM design called the Lola, which is part of JH Audio’s top-tier Siren-series range. The Siren models are named for women who figure prominently in the titles of classic rock songs (e.g., Roxanne, Layla, and now Lola). Commenting on the new Lola (admittedly during his tenure at JH Audio), personal audio maven Andy Regan unequivocally stated, “I think it’s the best thing Jerry has ever done.” Given the high regard Regan has for Harvey’s earlier designs, this statement was roughly the equivalent of hearing a Renaissance-era critic say, “da Vinci just painted something better than the Mona Lisa.”
Even so, company presidents have been known to overstate performance claims for their firm’s products. Therefore, doing my best to exercise proper journalistic restraint and reserve, I nodded politely and asked to try the new model to experience its sound for myself. However, about 30 seconds into the first track I played through the Lola’s I found my critical reserve melting into admiration and then outright enthusiasm. Regan was right; the Lola might well be one of the best things Jerry Harvey has ever created, which is saying a mouthful.
More so than many CIEM designers, Jerry Harvey tackles CIEM design with the aesthetic sensibilities of a serious audiophile and the problem-solving acumen of a creative and analytical engineer. In fact, Harvey presently holds six core patents involving various earphone/CIEM technologies, with a possible seventh patent pending for the distinctive midrange driver array used in the Lola (more on this in a moment). But more importantly, Harvey’s best CIEM designs invariably emphasise three things: evenly balanced frequency response, proper time alignment and linear phase response, and expansive dynamics.
Up to this point, Harvey’s most technically complicated CIEMs have been the Layla and Roxanne models, both of which use sets of 12 balanced armature-type drivers per earpiece. With the Lola, however, Harvey has broken new ground with his first-ever hybrid design, which uses a combination of balanced armature and dynamic drivers.
Frankly, such hybrid designs are not an entirely new idea and when they have appeared in the past designers have typically used dynamic drivers as miniature woofers, while using balanced armature drivers for their superior lightness (and thus speed) to handle the midrange and high frequencies. But, for the three-way Lola, Jerry Harvey had a very different idea, which was to use a pair of light, fast, small-diameter dynamic drivers as a midrange array.
Each Lola earpiece incorporates eight driver units: a pair of balanced armature bass drivers, a set of dual proprietary 4.9mm dynamic-type midrange drivers, and four balanced armature high frequency drivers. Harvey’s 4.9mm dynamic midrange drivers are purpose-built to JH Audio specifications and are considerably more agile than the larger 9mm, 10mm, or even 11mm dynamic drivers typically used by competitors. What is more, Harvey mounts these dynamic drivers firing face-to-face within a horizontally opposed, 3D-printed, and patent pending cylindrical housing featuring so-called DOME (Dual Opposed Midrange Enclosure) technology. Why the shift to dynamic midrange drivers? In a nutshell, Harvey felt his fast and powerful low-mass dynamic drivers would offer what JH Audio describes as “a natural, silky, airy, gorgeous midrange” with a terrific amount of dynamic authority, plus the ability to produce “an extraordinary analogue sound stage”.
Like all upper-tier JH Audio CIEMs, the Lola uses the firm’s signature Freqphase technology and triple stainless steel bore tubes to deliver flat frequency and phase response. It also provides special user-replaceable signal cables featuring an in-line variable bass attenuation module with a pair of tiny, recessed adjustment screws that give a +0dB/-15dB range of adjustment (bass levels can be set independently for the left and right channels). The Lola Owner’s Guide advises that adjusting the bass controls to “the 12 o’clock position sets the bass output to the lowest setting,” but advises that most listeners will prefer somewhat higher bass settings.