JHAudio’s New JH-3A IEM System

The most impressive thing I heard at CanJam I think would have to be the new JH-3A system from JHAudio. It’s a system because the JH-3A consists of a chassis containing a DAC/amp and an IEM — buyer chooses either the JH13 or the JH16. What makes this such a revolutionary, first-of-its kind device is the fact that the crossovers that feed certain frequency ranges to one of the 3  (low, mid, and high) registers are no longer passive ones built into the IEM shells themselves, but are active ones that reside within the chassis. This allows the DSP to dynamically reassign certain ranges of the frequency spectrum to different drivers as the music plays, which apparently is lifting a very significant bottleneck that passive crossovers impose. Correction: While the crossover points can be tweaked in the software, they are apparently NOT changing as the music plays as I assumed from the word “active”. See The Active Crossover for a better idea.

When I put the demo pair of foam-fitted JH16’s in my ears (each of the 4-5 times I did) I was simply floored. I mean I’m already used to the superb performance of the JH13, but the sound from this system was nothing short of breathtaking. The detail was some of the most impressive I’ve ever heard; the soundstage was truly beautiful — and not just for and IEM. The sound was wonderfully clear as crystal, in a very good way. It was analytical and euphonic at the same time. The bass knob lets me choose how much bass I want to hear. (Jerry says it can be made to sound essentially just like the JH13 this way.) The DAC/amp is portable with 20 hours of battery life… It’s… exactly what I was looking for.

I got to spend some time with Jerry Harvey, chatting about the system. Since the system wasn’t quite production-ready, the demo included some sort of development box underneath the unit and a netbook that was using some emulation software to allow us to manipulate the volume and bass sliders that will ultimately be controlled via the physical controls on the front panel. They were feeding the JH-3A box with an iPad via an analog line-out dock.

The unit has a 24bit/192kbps capable DAC and a 3-channel amp. Each of the three amps is dedicated to each of the 3 registers of sound in the IEM. In the case of the JH16, we have 2 drivers for the high end, 2 drivers for the mid range, and 4 drivers for the bass. That bass control I mentioned is now able to act not as an EQ as such controls typically do, but actually manipulate the level of the bass amp discretely, entirely independent (literally and audibly) from the rest. The rear of the device will have a mini-USB input, and the front has a minijack input that will accept a digital coax signal, or an analog one. Since the device is manipulating the amp levels all in realtime to pull off the active crossover, the signal must always be digital before the amps. So consequently, even an analog input must be converted to digital inside the device before becoming analog again for your ears. So, a fancy DAC will not help us at all here — we’ll always rely on the D to A abilities of the device. Thankfully, they seem to be very good.

And speaking of restrictions, because the IEMs are without crossovers themselves, they rely exclusively on the box, and the box relies exclusively on the IEMs. In fact, the box is digitally tuned specifically for the IEM shells. No two people will get the same IEM or box.

In the end, this system sounded just too damn good to pass up. I plunked down the plastic and am eagerly awaiting some quality time with Jerry’s new innovation.

More info can be found on this Head-Fi thread.

Sunday, June 6th, 2010 Audio

22 Comments to JHAudio’s New JH-3A IEM System

  1. Jerry just clarified for me that the mini USB input in the final version will accept 16/44 (CD quality) and not the full, hires 24/192 that the DAC is capable of.

  2. thread on June 8th, 2010
  3. (Jerry says it can be made to sound essentially just like the JH13 this way.)

    so what’s the point buying jh13 now?

  4. Hadi on July 24th, 2010
  5. Sorry for slacking on the comments. I’m going to make sure I get alerted to new comments in the future.

    To answer your question, Hadi, it doesn’t seem to me there’s much point in getting the JH13 over the JH16 in the JH3A system because of the tunable bass. (At least besides the fact that you’d save $50.)

    But some will definitely still prefer the JH13 (not in the JH3A system) over the JH16 sound signature. These IEMS with vs without the JH3A are entirely different things.

  6. thread on September 6th, 2010
  7. What would be the best source to feed the JH-3A? If you have anolog signal from a bad DAC it will still ruin the sound since the JH-3A can not know what the orginal digital signal was like? What is the smallest DAP player with digital output and good quality?

  8. Jonas of Sweden on December 20th, 2010
  9. Is it possible and how expensive would it be to make a cord with passive corssovers as a more portable alternativ to fit the modified JH 16?

  10. Jonas of Sweden on December 20th, 2010
  11. Hi Jonas,

    I believe the options for a portable source that can feed a digital signal to the JH-3A are very limited, and I don’t think I could recommend any of them. The Colorfly is the only portable player I can think of that has the SPDIF output needed.

    For now, I would stick to using digital when stationary, but analog when out and about. The truth is that the JH-3A will make analog signal sound fricking excellent — it was only an iPad analog output that blew everyone away at the CanJam demo.

    As for a cable with a passive crossover so you could use the JH3A’d headphones with typical single-ended sources… According to Jerry, this will not be possible. I asked him this question at CanJam, and he explained that by the time such a solution was implemented, the sound quality would be comparable to that of a dual-driver IEM. It’s simply not worth it.

  12. thread on December 31st, 2010
  13. Thanks for answers of good knowledge and research! They were expected, but one thing bothers me is that a source that leaves a hi quality digital signal should be able to do both small and cheap. The only component ,that I can think of, that needs to be good is the clock to get the digital stream correct. Otherwise there should not be no rocketsience to make such a product. The only problem is that until now it has been no need for such a product. Cant JH do one him self or even integrate it in the 3A?

  14. Jonas of Sweden on January 17th, 2011
  15. […] the demo of this amazing new twist on custom-molded IEM’s at CanJam in Chicago, IL. (I wrote a post about it then.) Originally slated for release in the fall of 2010, the inevitable delays and mixed […]

  16. My JHAudio JH-3A: Attempt #1 | Threadbox.net on June 25th, 2011
  17. Doesnt the QA350 have SPDIF out ? Its more transportable than ‘portable’, but when you are spending this kind of money …

    //qlshifi.com/en/wzcapi/qa350.htm

  18. Artie on October 11th, 2011
  19. hey guys i am noob in audiophile subjects and i have a question the jh-3a works like a dac plug in a usb jack in a pc?and how he works pulg in a player like the cowon s9 or j3?thanks for the help

  20. Caio Henrique on May 17th, 2012
  21. Hi, Caio. The JH3A accepts USB or coax for digital in, and minijack also as an analog input. As long as your player can feed the 3A in one of these ways, it will work.

  22. thread on May 17th, 2012
  23. thanks dude,and a cowon j3 or s9 can feed enough the jh3a?sorry for the english

  24. Caio Henrique on May 17th, 2012
  25. According to http://www.cowonglobal.com, the only output that the J3 and S9 have is a headphone output. That means that the signal is already being converted to analog and been amped by the player’s internal components. I have owned a Cowon i7 for some time and can vouch for the quality of the headphone outputs on their devices, but for a system as serious as the JH3A, I wouldn’t consider it as a good endgame plan.

    The fact is that the JH3A will do best with a digital source — and I hear that the coax input sounds better than the USB one. So if I was going to actually own a JH3A, I would absolutely be looking for something with a coax output to feed it as that is how you will get the best quality from it, and obviously quality is what you’re looking for from the JH3A.

    Unfortunately, though, the choices for a portable player with a coax output is severely limited. When I was honestly looking at owning the JH3A, my plan was to use it almost exclusively with a computer using the Halide Bridge which conveniently converts a USB output into a coax one. It is said to do very well with the JH3A. (Unfortunately, it’s not super cheap… and it’s not so portable as it requires a computer.)

    If you feed the JH3A with an analog signal, the system will have to first convert it into digital before it can go back to analog. For this reason, it makes absolute sense to skip this step and feed it digital in the first place — it will always be better this way.

    But this is all part of a discussion that is already under way on Head-Fi. They should be better able to speak to these issues. Just search for JH3A.

  26. thread on May 17th, 2012
  27. thanks again dude,so i have to feed the jh3a with digital source and is better coaxial than usb,thanks you help me a lot

  28. Caio Henrique on May 17th, 2012
  29. hey i have another questions,i have to plan buy a jh3a use the amp with the coaxial of the onboard soundcard of my computer and use the adapter to 3.5 mm jack to use with my blackberry,what do you think ?use the coaxial of my onboard soundcard is a good ideia? thanks dude sorry for the english and the many questions

  30. Caio Henrique on May 23rd, 2012
  31. Assuming the coaxial out on the sound card isn’t bad for some reason, that should work fine. Then you want to use the earphones directly with the Blackberry without the amp unit, using the 3.5mm adapter… this all sounds like a fine plan to me. Good Luck !

  32. thread on May 24th, 2012
  33. thanks again for the help!

  34. Caio Henrique on May 24th, 2012
  35. Hello, I’m an audio noob as well. I own a colorfly c5 and I am considering getting a jh3a. If I use a SPDIF output, will THAT convert digital into analog just like a headphone output? Thanks

  36. bryan on June 25th, 2012
  37. SPDIF is digital… the JH-3A will be able to use that directly, without the analog -> digital conversion necessary when using an analog input. So this actually sounds ideal, as long as you like the c5 interface. :)

  38. thread on June 26th, 2012
  39. thanks for the help!

  40. bryan on July 31st, 2012
  41. Could you explain what it means when the JH3a can take spdif 24/96 in yet be able to play sampling frequencies as high as 192khz?

    specs taken from:
    //www.jhaudio.com/product/jh-3a-dsp-amp-jh16-pro-custom-ear-monitor

    Thanks for the help in advance!

  42. Martin on October 9th, 2012
  43. You’re right. From their specs, it has a 96 khz input frequency and a 192 khz output frequency. What I believe happens is that everything is always upsampled to 192 khz in the DSP. Search on upsampling for more info about that.

    Btw, it’s worth noting that there is now a contender entering the ring… I’m keeping my eyes peeled on this one: //www.head-fi.org/t/613417/unique-melody-platform-pure-6-6-driver-custom-iem-dac-active-crossover-and-amp-pre-order-now/

  44. thread on October 9th, 2012

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