The Layla is JH Audio’s current flagship and comes in both custom and universal format and is our Top Gear 2018 custom IEM prize winner.
The Layla is an all-BA design compared to Jolene’s hybrid driver configuration. Inside, you get 12 custom-made proprietary BA drivers using JH Audio’s Soundrive™ Technology with a quad-low, quad-mid, and quad-high split using Freq|Phase and a 3-way passive crossover.
The Jolene also has 12 drivers but it is a bit more complex. For the lows, it packs two 9.2mm dynamic drivers and two smaller manifold 4.9mm dynamic drivers with D.O.M.E enclosures for the mids.
Where they do share some commonality are the quad packs of BA drivers with Soundrive Technology for the highs though the Jolene doubles down with another pack of 4 for the mid-highs.
The Layla is rated at 20Ω and 117dB SPL compared to Jolene’s 10Ω and 114dB which seems to suggest JH Audio has done a good job maintaining a high level of efficiency despite the larger low-end dynamic drivers presence.
However, Layla is still the more sensitive of the two monitors and you will find yourself cranking up the volume a bit more on Jolene when A/B comparing.
Both are actually very good performers on sources with higher noise floors with the Jolene marginally more resistant to hiss. Both are very quiet going SE on our test DAPs, the LP P6, iBasso DX300, and the Cayin C9 tube amp. Sadly, no balanced comparison as our Jolene sample came with a 3.5mm termination.
Both designs are fabulous in their own unique way though I do believe the Layla Bacote wood design is now retired in favor of an even more luxuriant range of which the Crimson & Clover is one of them. Certainly, the addition of the brass plate on the Jolene does make it the heavier of the two but it does seem to give it a slight edge in aesthetics.
The form factor and size are pretty much the same which means big and sticking out of your ear a bit but the seal of both is world-class with tremendous amounts of passive isolation. I guess that’s more of a compliment for Jolene since normally dynamic driver monitors seal a bit less due to heavier venting.
My older Layla sample is 4-pin and the nozzle is more of a traditional design. Since then, the Lyla now uses the 7-pin connectors and the Acoustic Sound Chamber tech found in Jolene so no difference there for new buyers. The same also for the newer OFC 4N silver-plated Litz cable and smaller bass module which both monitors now use.
I actually find both Layla and Jolene to be similar bedfellows in terms of their target smooth natural to slightly warm tonality. The core differences you are going to hear are down to the Jolene dynamic drivers and the way they shape the staging. There are definite textural differences compared to Layla’s all-BA setup plus some nuanced top-end tuning differences.
Firstly, Jolene’s staging extends deeper and has that classic dynamic driver response and signature decay at the low end. The Layla has good energy on the low-end but not the same power or subterranean level of extension. Consequently, staging is not quite as deep or as spacious sounding on the Layla compared to Jolene’s expansive sound.
The Layla also seems to retain a bit more elevation through the mid-bass and lower-mids so guttural male vocals are a bit more intimate on the Layla. Whereas the Jolene drops a little bit earlier into the mids creating a bit more separation but also a harmonically more accurate tone and better bass fundamental to mids instruments and vocal timbre.
Upper-mids and treble also have more energy on the Jolene around the 4-5k marker with percussion timbre a little cleaner and imaging more forward compared to the Layla’s more relaxed and liquid tone.
Bass Adjustment Differences
The bass adjustments on these two also operate very differently and of course, your entire listening experience will be colored by their respective module’s performance.
I cannot say for sure this is the definitive sound of the current Layla because it is an older module and JH Audio may have tweaked it since our 2018 review. That being said, the effect of the adjuster on the Jolene is much more dramatic than the Layla.
With the bass adjuster set to its lowest position the Layla still has plenty of warmth and body rippling through the low end. With the same setting on the Jolene, it feels like a hard stop at 400Hz, with the two 9.2mm drivers really muted down to the point where it sounds incredibly neutral or even flat.
The Layla at the 2pm gets quite thick and warm sounding and that is massively reinforced with the max module setting. Everything right up to around 1-2k gets pushed forward in a big way with a lot of bloom through the mid-bass and a slight loss of separation and spaciousness compared to its more balanced ‘zero’ setting.
The Jolene sounds far more controlled, even at the max bass setting. The target frequencies for the module’s peak magnitude do seem to be set a bit lower and perhaps more attention is given to the 9.2mm driver’s response sub-100Hz as there is less bleed into the mids, even when set to max.
As a result, the Jolene sounds very powerful with better low-end layering and separation compared to Layla’s bass boosted performance. It also retains an airier mids and treble giving it a bit more balance and headroom despite the obvious low-end coloration.
Empire Ears Odin
The Odin is Empire Ear’s TOTL hybrid universal IEM and despite the Jolene being custom we felt this was a worthwhile comparison. Not least because both deploy a dual dynamic driver for the low-end with the Odin using two 9mm drivers and the Jolene using a pair of 9.2mm drivers.
Thereafter, they part ways with the Odin using dual-driver BAs for the lower mids and the mids and a single BA driver for the mid-highs. The Jolene opts to continue the dynamic drive lovefest with two manifold 4.9mm dynamic drivers for the mids instead of BA.
For the top-end, the Odin uses a quad-EST configuration for the highs and ultra-highs and the Jolene using no less than 8 BA in 2×4 configurations for the mid-highs, highs, and ultra-highs.
Both companies double down on their proprietary tech so from EE it’s Weapon IX+ for the dynamic drivers, EIVEC transformer technology for the stats, syncX for crossover application, and A.R.C. for damping the internals.
From JH Audio its Freq|Phase for timing, Soundrive Technology for their quad-pack BA driver designs, D.O.M.E enclosures for the mids drivers, and Acoustic Sound Chambers for sweat and first resistance.
The Odin is rated at a crazy low 3Ω impedance and a relatively efficient 108dB SPL. Compared to the Jolene at 10Ω and 114dB SPL, the Odin on paper should be less efficient. However, in our real-world testing with the likes of the HiBy R8 and FiiO M15, the Odin did sound comparatively louder at similar volume levels on the SE output.
Neither have issues with noise from our tested DAPs and both the M15 and R8 can produce hiss on more sensitive pairings so that is a plus.
Since the Odin is a universal design there is a world of difference in aesthetics and form factor. The Odin is much smaller and lighter compared to Jolene but the JH Audio design is visually more luxuriant with a much better level of passive isolation and secure fit.
Tips can do well on the Odin and if lightness is your ultimate comfort guide then the Odin has an edge. However, in terms of the perfect fit noting can beat a well-made custom.
The Odin does use a standard 2-pin connection with a very nicely made ‘Stormbreaker’ cable which is a modified PW Audio 1960s 2-wire and a heck of a lot more expensive than the 7-pin OFC 4N silver-plated Litz cable that comes as stock on the Jolene.
The Jolene 7-pin connector is way more secure, far more suitable for stage artists but not as rollable as the 2-pin for alternative cables on the Odin. Hopefully, aftermarket companies will catch up.
(Core sound comparison is done with the Jolene bass module set at ‘2pm’ which we consider to offer the most balanced performance).
Apart from a penchant for killer sub-bass rumble, these two monitors are nothing alike. In fact, I would say they complement each other quite nicely side by side depending on your mood.
The Odin is a detail freak with a heavy emphasis on rapid articulation, airy but finely tuned treble, vivid and forward vocals, and a very deep sub-bass rumble full of dynamic driver texture.
The Jolene is denser, smoother sounding with a liquid top-end and a stronger lower-mids presence. It has a natural-sounding instrument/vocal performance that is rich in dynamic driver texture and a warmer mid-bass punch.
Timbre & Texture
You also get more of a dynamic driver and balanced armature textural contrast with the Odin through the mids. There are a few reasons for that.
The first is the bigger scoop and separation from the dual Weapon IX+ drivers sub-bass bias tuning into the lower-mids from 200Hz up to almost 1k. The Jolene has a bit more sustain into the mid-bass and a softer drop to 250-500Hz then starts to rise to a 1k peak.
From 1k the Odin BAs take over whereas the Jolene continues with dynamic drivers right up to 4k. The timbre is, therefore, a little cooler on the Odin with less lower-mids presence and a lighter almost sweeter tone through the mids.
Jolene retains its dynamic driver textural density and sounds weightier, slightly slower but also richer in both body and texture, especially for lower register male vocals and instruments.
From 1 to 4k the Odin has a very forward and precise BA sound signature. It is tremendously articulate but also a more ‘contrasty’ tone than Jolene’s denser timbre and slightly longer decay.
The Jolene does not pump the upper-mids quite as far forward either nor does it sound as airy and extended into the treble compared to the Odin. Not that the Odin is harsh or bright, in fact, it has a slight fade beyond 5k to take the edge off. Rather the forward upper mids capture a lot of upper harmonic energy that colors it a bit brighter than Jolene’s smoother top-end.
Vision Ears Elysium
The Elysium is the final pick because of the way it also uses dynamic driver technology for the mids similar to the Jolene.
The precise configuration of the Elysium is a single full-range BA for the lows, a 6mm dynamic driver for the mids, and a dual EST tweeter for the highs. That does feel quite a bit more spartan than the Jolene which has no less than 4 dynamic drivers for the lows and mids as well as 8 BA drivers (4×4) for the mid-highs, highs, and ultra-highs.
Note, both have specific techniques to control the midrange dynamic driver performance with both opting for smaller sizes that do not need additional venting. The Elysium uses a High-Precision Acoustic Leveling-Chamber or HALC for their single driver and the Jolene mid drivers have D.O.M.E enclosures.
The Elysium is rated at 16.4Ω and the SPL is about midway at 105dB. Compared to the 10Ω and 114dB SPL of the Jolene, the Elysium seems less efficient on paper for the usual sources such as DAPs.
This disparity was confirmed in our real-world testing the Jolene required less current than the Elysium and was able to sound as louder from lower volumes on both the R8 and M15 DAPs. Again, noise or hiss is not an issue for either monitor with both offering very black backgrounds when paired with our test sources.
Both have very striking designs though the name for this Elysium design is simply called ‘Elysium’ or Ely SE on their online design tool.
Compared to the incredibly exotic Jolene materials and finishing the Elysium design is perhaps a bit more simplistic though still quite original. JH Audio has really pushed the boat out with their Signature designs and you will have to pay a bit more for that compared to the Elysium design but it does feel worth it.
The Elysium is much smaller and lighter compared to the Jolene. That is partly due to the Freq|Phase tubing inside the Jolene requiring more space as well as the heavier brass and wood materials and simply a lot more drivers inside.
Both monitor designs do have a recessed tube single wide-bore opening. However, the nozzle on the Elysium is much shorter with the audiophile market a more specific focus. The longer Jolene nozzle feels more at home with active users and stage artists. Both have world-class passive isolation with a total block out of my 0.5hp window aircon drone from 2m away.
Both offer in-house branded cables with the Elysium paired with a 2-pin 28AWG 8-wire silver-plated SPC wire insulated in 200d Kevlar for each wire and wrapped in a very pliant translucent PVC jacket. The Jolene stock cable is a 7-pin OFC 4N silver-plated Litz cable wrapped in a black jacket with the bass module.
(Core sound comparison is done with the Jolene bass module set at ‘2pm’ which we consider to offer the most balanced performance).
In a nutshell, the Elysium brilliance in the mids and highs whereas the Jolene reigns supreme on the lows to the mids. It should come as no surprise that the Elysium BA low-end is a world away from Jolene’s dual dynamic driver sound signature.
That is not to say the Elysium low-end is fluffy or lightweight. VE has done an excellent job maximizing the BA low-end response with a linear sub-bass to mid-bass curve. However, it is still definitively a single BA driver with BA texture. It does not have the power, slam, or density of the Jolene dynamic driver low-end, especially when you max out the bass module.
What bass the Elysium does bring is comparatively tighter, cleaner, and faster, but ultimately more supportive of its mids dynamic driver than the star of the show.
Both have gorgeous dynamic driver timbre for the mids but with different colorations. For lower-mids to around 1k Jolene has a bit more of a rise from 500Hz to a 1K bump compared to the Elysium which drops from 500Hz to 1k and whose lowest point before transitioning into that midrange driver is around 1k.
Male vocals and lower-pitching instruments on the Jolene have a bit more body, natural warmth, and solidity to them. Whereas the Elysium strips out the fundamental a bit more focusing on clarity but with slightly less underlying weight and presence.
This is also where you start to hear the differences in the upper mids and treble tuning which in turn affects the overall timbre of both monitors.
The Elysium has more amplitude with a rising 1-4k tuning from that dynamic driver and plenty of EST articulation around 7-8k. The timbre is incredibly smooth but vivid and airy at the same time which works especially well for higher pitching vocals beyond 1k.
The Jolene is slightly more laid back in comparison across similar ranges so you get a more liquid and denser tone on female vocals and percussion passages and not quite as forward sounding.
The texture and pace of both are quite similar given both use dynamic drivers for the mids but the EST of the Elysium is a different flavor from the BA of the Jolene with more sparkle and presence.
The Jolene is a heck of an update to the line-up and a worthy TOTL hybrid for the JH Audio house sound. It all about natural tones, gritty and interesting texture, and tons of power on tap when you feel like upping that bass module adjuster.
And yet, imaging still remains important with excellent depth and width. Nothing really overpowers unless you dial it up to the max. The Jolene is not for treble heads and for me, it is a monitor that complements something like the imperiously articulate Odin rather than replace it.
The Jolene will greatly appeal to classic rock lovers, those who like a strong PRaT and an analog tone to their vocal and guitar delivery. It will also greatly appeal to those who like their custom monitors to ‘look like a million dollars’ without over-the-top prices because damn, the new Signature designs are some of the best I have felt and seen to date.