The JH Audio Contour XO is a unique collaborative monitor with L-Acoustics featuring 10 BA drivers tuned for audio pros. It is priced at €1350.
Disclaimer: The JH Audio Contour XO was sent to us as a sample in exchange for our honest opinion in this review. We thank the team at JH Audio and L-Acoustics for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about JH Audio monitors reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this 2-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
JH Audio launched two’ big-ticket’ items in 2021. The first of which was the custom version of the new flagship hybrid Jolene we reviewed earlier this year and got some seriously top marks. Not just for sound quality but it also felt like they threw in the technical kitchen sink without ramming up the prices which is always a welcome thing.
The second product launched, the Contour XO, is a somewhat more complex offering. This is a high-end multi-driver monitor developed in conjunction with renowned French pro-audio specialists, L-Acoustics.
This is a company well known in the studio and gig circuits for providing some excellent live audio and studio gear including line arrays, amplifiers, and signal processing equipment.
Plenty of pros use the gear and with that background, the Contour XO should be seen as the in-ear equivalent of L-Acoustics ‘signature’ sound. A tool primarily for referencing and stage performances but perhaps also a tuning that could meet the approval of interested audiophiles.
The Contour XO is an all-BA 10 driver monitor, available in both custom and universal format, (via L-Acoustics e-store). The driver grouping is organized around JH Audio’s proprietary mini quad-driver BA packs using their patented Soundrive™ Technology. So that means 3 specially grouped driver units with a quad low, a dual mid, and a quad high via a 3-way crossover.
The Contour XO drivers are houses in a unique Acoustic Sound Chamber design which is a 3D printed recessed tubing system in the nozzle to reduce ‘sweat creep’ and associated gunk from blocking up the tubes and requiring extensive cleaning to perform.
All of this is threaded together with an integrated 4-way crossover at those key points as well as the use of a triple bore with JH Audio’s Freq|Phase™ Stainless Steel Tube Waveguide for accurate phase timing.
For those unfamiliar with Freq|Phase, JH Audio contends that typical multi-driver monitors with different time signatures, positioned in parallel at the front, need to account for timing using distance as a factor. If these designs use equal length tubes and are not staggered in time you will get serious cancellation issues at the various crossover points.
These issues cannot be fixed with equalization or simply moving the crossovers. With Freq|Phase, the low, mid, and high BA driver packs are positioned differently with different tube lengths to account for the speed of each driver, particularly the highs.
The Contour XO also uses JH Audio’s Variable Bass Attenuator module housed on the stock cable. This is a twin dial (one per channel) that allows you to enhance or decrease the amount of bass in the sound signature.
It is not purely bass though that is where the impact is most felt. There is an element of the Fletcher Munson equal-loudness contour running throughout the FR to ensure the bass does not drown out the rest of the FR.
These are not subtle tweaks either with a variable range of 0dB up to 15dB and they do color the sound significantly depending on your preference. It is also the newer smaller module I first encountered on the Jolene which gives means a smaller and more welcome physical profile.
This is an extremely solid and well-built universal monitor with a form factor not that far away from the likes of the Roxanne Aion and to some extent the universal Angie.
The Contour XO is also a typically ‘JH Audio’ sized universal monitor which means fairly large due to the variable-length Freq|Phase tubing that needs to fit neatly into the shell. However, it does remain relatively lightweight despite the girth with only judicious use of metals in the new 7-pin connectors and acrylics pretty much everywhere else.
The aesthetic is all black with a subtle carbon-fiber weave inset on the faceplates, gold accents on the fenders and connector rings, and a polished black hollow body main shell. This is a clean lines pro look and quite a contrast to the exotics designs I am used to seeing on the custom side of the JH Audio monitor line-up.
Front and center are the L-Acoustics logos symbolizing the partnership between the two firms on the Contour XO tuning and to some extent, I can see why the color scheme is the way it is given L-Acoustics use gold in their branding. Black is an excellent and popular color to flesh out any gold trimming.
The Contour XO 7-pin connector socket is quite bulbous and does add considerably to the overall size of the monitor. However, it does have that same superior tidy finish that I first saw with the Jolene. The matching outer gold ring and sturdy gunmetal stem keep everything very clean around the socket.
Comfort & Isolation
The nozzle itself is not that long or wide but the elongated body design does mean it is fairly tall from plate to tip and should be considered a pro fitting rather than a relaxed audiophile listening insertion.
That is nothing new for JH Audio designs that are frequently known for offering very tall monitors and somehow I think that fits in quite well with the L-Acoustics pro audience also.
You will find that the Contour XO nozzle will insert deep into your ear canal and keep it very secure as a result, something which stage performances do require.
However, the actual main shell or body will stick out a little from your ear and not exactly flush. Nowhere near as far out as the custom versions but still a few mm out to allow for the bulkier 7-pin connector to guide the cable smoothly over your ear.
Bering an entirely balanced armature design, the Contour XO does not need a venting port which does help to improve the seal when in the ear.
The rest of the fit will come down to how ideal the supplied stock tips are which is a relatively straightforward lineup of 3 foam tips in s, m, and l and 3 single bore silicone tips in the same size options. You also get one additional set of medium single bore silicone tips fitted out of the box.
The Contour XO isolation level with the supplied stock tips is pretty good with the foam tips having a slight advantage over the single bore silicone alternatives. They do, however, have quite different fitting properties, at least for me.
With the silicone tips, I was going for a medium-size which allowed a deeper insertion into the ear canal. With the foams, I found the largest size offered the best seal and fit with the Contour XO but pushed the nozzle further away from that all-important second bend in the ear canal.
If you fancy going 3rd party then Final E tips will fit just fine on that nozzle with a similar insertion depth and level of comfort to the stock silicon tips. They will also create an excellent seal.
Cables & Connectors
The Contour XO cable uses the same 7-pin connector and variable bass module equipped version as the one the comes with the Jolene. The new 7-pin connection socket has grown on me since receiving both the Contour XO and the Jolene earlier. It looks cleaner than the 4-pin stem with a quicker connection and release system.
The female socket on the shell is much cleaner looking to my eyes with a dash of gold cleaning up the base joints very nicely. Gone are the dual-action slide and screw and in its place a simpler iridium-coated push and pull connector which looks very robust as well as doing an excellent job blocking out condensation.
Yes, it does take up a lot of space on the top of the shell but with the main body poking out of your ear a bit that does mean the arch of the cable from the socket clears your outer ear in a very comfortable manner.
The Contour XO comes with a 48″ long cable with an option to go to 64″ for an additional fee at the checkout. This is a high purity OFC 4N silver-plated Litz wire which should add a bit of fizz and energy to the high-frequency production compared to JH Audio’s darker OFC-only wires.
The bass module-equipped cable is relatively bulky but nicely finished with a tight braid instead of a twisted black jacket. I still do not know if this is an 8-core as opposed to 4-core on the older stock wire but it certainly feels thicker than the original 4-pin version.
The Contour XO stock cable memory wire is not the new springy type you see on most IEM cables but the materials are quite soft and malleable. It is also fairly retentive meaning you can bend and shape and it will keep that shape. The strain relief and low level of microphonics are unsurprisingly excellent.
This cable also comes with the new smaller and lighter 0-15dB variable bass module first seen on the Jolene. You will need that screwdriver to adjust it so keep that handy. It works really well with plenty of scope for bass reduction or enhancement where required.
Packaging & Accessories
As with most JH Audio monitors, the Contour XO packaging is very compact and well protected for shipping. The external graphics very much emphasizes the partnership with L-Acoustics and JH Audio branding and a short background story to both the lead protagonists on this project, Jerry Harvey and Dr. Christian Heil, on the side.
Inside, you get a strong foam-protected internal lining that includes the carry case and included accessories which are as follows:
- Wax Tool
- Bass Adjustment ‘screwdriver’
- L-Acoustics Stickers
- Flygirl Sticker
- Owner’s Manual
The Contour XO case is a modified JH Audio DiamonDyzed Aluminum puck-style IEM case with the Contour XO branding front and center. The L-Acoustics logo is on top and the JH Audio logo below, again to signify the Contour XO partnership.
These cases are heavy, moderately pocketable, (think cargo pants side pockets), but also very durable with a nice soft cushioned lining inside to prevent any accidental damage to your monitor shells.
Inside, the case measures 2 13/16″ diameter x 1 7/16″ tall so you get enough space for the cable, drivers, the cleaning tool, and the bass adjusting ‘screwdriver’. You can also squeeze in the bag of tips without losing the ability to screw on the lid.
Click on page 2 below for sound impressions and select comparisons