CES 2015: Astell&Kern sees more Sirens singing over at JH Audio


ces-logoFounder Jerry Harvey of JH Audio may have been somewhere at CES, but I never caught up with him. I did, however, find President Andy Regan — and boy was I happy I did.

Not too long ago, I finished my review of the JH Audio Sirens Series Roxanne custom in-ear monitor. That monitor was the cat’s pajamas for bass-heads everywhere, but I couldn’t help but note that the audiophile in me was looking for something a little different. I asked Andy about the tuning on that IEM, and he shrugged, “Jerry calls it a ‘rock and roll’ tuning”, which fits with my experience and goes a long way toward explaining the sonic signature of the entire JH Audio lineup. I mean, I love rock and roll, don’t get me wrong. But the new IEMs in the Sirens Series, announced last month and shown here at CES in collaboration with Astell&Kern, are a bit different.

The Layla ($2,495) is the new flagship of a JHA, and like the Roxanne, features 12 drivers-per-side in a physics-defying act of engineering. That’s four-each (quad armature) for bass, mids and treble. What’s different here, compared to the Roxanne (which is still in the lineup), is pretty much everything. All new drivers. All new crossover. And — most importantly — an all-new voicing. And yes, it does sound different.

I mean, it’s not a radical departure — don’t get the wrong idea, this is still a JH Audio product and the house-sound is very evident. But there’s much better mid-to-treble linearity that brings a whole lot more detail back into the mix. And yes, the bass is still adjustable. Go from flat — and, as Andy emphasized it, they really mean flat by ‘flat’ — to a massive 16dB bump in the down lowest of the down low.

The Layla brings a bit more bling to the party, too. The model I saw I had a nifty colored titanium ring, creating a sort of outer bezel on the face of the IEM, neatly framing the JH Audio and Astell&Kern logos. The shells are that deep, 3-D carbon-fiber first seen on the Roxanne. It’s very pretty. The Layla (and the Angie, which we’ll get to in a second) is universal-only at the moment, and sold in partnership (and only through) Astell&Kern.

As a universal-fit IEM, I’m not sure I’m going to jump at the Layla even though I do greatly prefer it’s voicing. For me, I worry a bit about fit — these are big shells, and chock-a-block full of audio goodness. That is, they’re also a bit weighty. Not sure that it’ll be a problem, but I can imagine that it might not get unanimous enthusiasm.

By contrast, the Angie ($1,095) carries a quad-armature for the up-high and dual-armatures for the mids and bass. As a universal-fit IEM, Angie is still large, but it’s much smaller and lighter (and, to me, more comfortable) than the Layla. In this format, I wonder if it’s the Angie that might actually be the more interesting bet — though formulated as a custom, with its significantly better fit … well, who knows.

I got to spend some time with both IEMs, courtesy of an attached Astell&Kern AK240 digital audio player. At the top end, this was a $5k portable playback system. Quite frankly, it sounded like it — it unapologetically kicked ass all up and down the Las Vegas strip. Bass, plus air, with a bathe-in-it mid-range — this is the ultimate in your portable personal isolation sphere of awesome.

Moving from the Layla down to the Angie shaved $1,500, but sonically, the Angie and the Layla are quite similar. For the record, the nod went to the much larger and much pricier Layla for overall power and ease in the presentation, but the separation between these Sirens might not be as vast as the price tag might seem to suggest. This is a happy thing — I think the Angie represents an enormous value right as you step into the Sirens line. And that, my friends, is awesome.

Here’s to hoping I get to spend some more time with Angie and her big sister at some point in the near future. Fingers crossed.