My JH-3A Journey Ends

So the latest news about the JH-3A broke a few days ago when JHAudio sent out an email update to their customers informing them of the latest developments. It seems that a patent that Jerry filed when he was operating Ultimate Ears finally went through, and so he is no longer able to use the active crossover design.

He has a clever solution, though. The original JH-3A design had the crossover in the digital domain, before even conversion to analog. This seems even better to me than the basic requirement for an active crossover: to have the crossover happen before the amplification. But what Jerry had to do in order to protect himself from UE is move the crossover into the earpiece, turning it back into a passive one.

So now, he’s still using 6 discrete channels (3 per side) of DAC and amplification, but instead of each being assigned a narrow band of the audio spectrum (which is supposed to increase driver control and dampening), all 6 channels output the full spectrum. The crossover (high-pass/low-pass filters) needed to separate the highs, mids, and lows is now in the earpiece.

Jerry says he can hear no sonic difference with this new approach.

But the big plus for this box still remains, thankfully for Jerry. Because he has the 6 discrete channels in the digital domain, he is able to calibrate the channels by adding tiny delays to make up for where the drivers are mounted in the earphones so that the waveform that exits the earphones has all the separate channels “in phase” with each other, adding coherency across the audio spectrum. This is really what gave the JH-3A the great leap in performance in the first place.

Apart from all the dropped features, though, the way in which JHAudio has communicated and treated their customers throughout this story has been bothersome. It took immense coercion to get updates out of them, with the juiciest of bits coming from leaked private correspondence. They gave a hard time getting refunds, ranging from complaining to outright refusing until they learned how they could be sued for it, without a product to ship. The latest evidence is this patent that Jerry filed himself, having been granted in January, that we haven’t heard anything about.

Folks evaluating this product should probably be looking at what it is and not what it is not, but for myself having been within the first 10 preorders, placed when Jerry first unveiled this thing at CanJam 2010 in Chicago, it’s been really interesting watching the feature list erode over the last year and a half.

In the end, I don’t think any one aspect of this journey could have deterred me all by itself, but when you add it all together, well.. it really adds up. Maybe if I was to find this product after release I could have jumped on board and loved it, but I really haven’t enjoyed watching and experiencing its development much — especially with the expectation that the product was going to ship in 1-3 weeks at all times. (Like basically since last November.) Peel feature after feature from what I thought I was paying for when I plunked down the cash, and the value this energy-sucking box has for me quickly diminishes.

Oh yeah — did I forget to mention that they took our money on day one? Consequently, it sure seems to me that they should be held to a transparency standard. Many have taken their refunds at various stages before me, but I’ve been serious about this device all along, staying the course through thick weather. I was mildly debating taking the refund recently until JH made it easy with the latest news about the great secret of the UE patent and the new design.

I think I summed it up on the forum:

I took my refund today because my original expectation of — having a breakthrough IEM system with a rust-color chassis, 24/192-capable DAC/DSP chip possibly capable of accepting flash updates, 3-way, active crossover, 20-hour battery life, absolutely silent background, and the ability to charge while listening, from a company who treats their customers with dignity and respect — wasn’t nearly met.

At the end of the day, the JHA folks are just operating the business the way they know how, and I’m sure they’re doing the best they can. This company is usually known for being friendly and easy to work with, so I can’t dismiss them completely for this experience alone. Maybe next time, Jerry.

Friday, October 14th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology

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