My JHAudio JH-3A: Attempt #1

I didn't feel like taking a picture of my 3A, so here's Laslo's (warp08). His 3A was the first shipped to a customer.

So after long last, my JH-3A arrived from JHAudio. It landed on the 14th of June, just barely over a year since Jerry shared 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 signals from JHA turned the wait into long and confusing one. Today, though, I want to describe how things went when my JH-3A first arrived.

With the package opened, the first thing is to evaluate the fit. When I stuffed the phones in my ears, I immediately knew they were much too small, making it difficult to impossible to attain any kind of seal, let alone a good one. In speaking with Jerry, it seems that they let the impressions they took at CanJam sit for about 10 months before using them to make molds. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised they actually did this rather than reach out and ask me for new impressions. Well, no worry; they guarantee the fit.

Next, we turn to the amp. The shortcomings it has next to my expectations are several, but let’s start with the ones Jerry says he can fix for us. First, there is quite an audible hiss. Now I’m somewhat sensitive to hiss in amps and truly love it when I hear one with a perfectly black background — I’ve returned amps for hissing with my IEM’s before. This amp hissed much louder than I’ve ever heard an IEM hiss, and I was very surprised and frankly appalled at first given that this system was supposed to be tuned to the IEM’s.

Second, the range on the digital volume knob was downright silly. The very bottom cuts off the sound entirely as you would expect. When I hit the very first notch, the sound (when connected via USB) is somewhere in the moderate to loud range. This means that in order to listen comfortably, I would likely need to use this very first digital step and turn the volume down further in the digital domain — a no-no for those after absolute quality. The next few notches might be useful for serious rocking out, but the rest of the knob ranged from extremely loud to i’m-afraid-i’d-damage-the-earphones loud.

Thankfully, it sounds like both these related issues were purely an accident — something that, according to Jerry, the factory did to the firmware after he had “signed off” on it. They increased the gain, and it was missed in QA. I’ve just shipped everything plus fresh impressions back to them for adjustment.

Other Head-Fiers mentioned both of these issues — folks that did not seem to have the extreme gain issue that I did. And in following up with Jerry, it sounds like he is addressing them both further than just fixing the very broken parameters in my amp. He is lowering the noise floor further and tweaking the range on the volume knob further from his previous aim. I have high hopes that when my system returns, it will meet my expectations.

Just for posterity’s sake, allow me to enumerate the other, thankfully much less important differences between what was delivered and our expectations. I know a whole lot about the JH-3A project changed since last year such as the original DSP developer of questionable ethics bailing on the project, but here’s the list none-the-less.

  • Battery life went from the 20 hrs Jerry was aiming for at CanJam to 6-7.
  • The unit cannot be ran continuously: if you charge it (via USB) while using it, it will run for about 10 hours.
  • The max sampling rate of the DAC went from 192 to 96 kHz.
  • The “mic” feature (for pro use) means that if I hit the source select button one too many times, the earphones emit a very loud, high-pitched sound. I’m still a bit boggled that Jerry released a product that makes accidentally deafening yourself easy.
  • The “rust” color amp is no longer an option. The JH-3A is black.
  • The unit is incapable of accepting flash updates. The hopes of user-set EQ’s and other niceties are no more.
  • The JH-13 version is no longer available. Jerry decided it’s only worth making the JH-16 version.

Thankfully, just about none of those are going to impact my enjoyment of the 3A.

The JH-3A still holds immense promise in my mind. I still use my JH-13 all the time and am really looking forward to enjoying a well-functioning JH-3A. I think we’re on the cusp of seeing many very happy 3A customers, and JHA will earn much praise for this breakthrough product.

Saturday, June 25th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology

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