The JH Audio Layla Signature Design Series is Jerry Harvey’s top of the line in terms of pure build quality. It is priced at $3725.
Disclaimer: The JH Audio Layla Signature Design Series CIEM sent to us for the purposes of this review is a paid-for unit and does not have to be returned. Thank you to the team at JH Audio for giving us this opportunity.
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Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
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The Layla has been out since 2015 so a lot of people will already be familiar with JH Audio’s flagship creation. However, for us here at Headfonics, this is the first time we have officially reviewed a JH Audio product so in a way it is new for us.
Now previously, I had a dalliance with the Roxanne universal for a few years which I picked up locally from one of our group members and I liked it a lot. However, being a universal and a big one at that the fit never quite worked for me. That was when we decided that the Layla review had to really be a custom monitor to hear it at its absolute best.
I am glad we went down that route because the choice to use the Luthier Signature design has resulted in literally the best-designed custom monitor I have ever received. This is my 23rd CIEM received for review in a 7-year period so that is no knee-jerk reaction either.
What Is The Pitch?
The flagship Layla is a 12 balanced-armature driver custom monitor with an integrated 4th order crossover technology unique to JH Audio. The driver config is pretty balanced with quad driver arrays for lows, mids and highs per side.
There are a few things unique to the performance series which over the years a lot of customers have found useful and one of them is the variable bass output module on the cables used with the Layla. You can find them also on the Roxanne right down to the JH13V2 Pro series and always with their custom 4-pin connector technology. The general summary is that the module boosts or attenuates the low-end by up to 13dB to allow you a measure of customization on the go.
Integrated 4th Order Crossover
The other unique feature is the use of fourth crossover technology inside the Layla. Generally, most multi-BA driver designs will use a three-way active crossover to even a response curve on overlapping frequency ranges typical of a multi-BA driver design. The 4th order crossover takes a different approach by steep crossover slopes and less of an overlap to improve the IEMs phasing and generally produce a far more linear and cleaner response.
Something entirely unique and patented with JH Audio and the Layla, in particular, is their freqphase technology. At a basic level, 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 they are not staggered in time you will get serious cancellation issues at the crossover point.
These issues cannot be fixed with equalization or simply moving the crossovers. With freq phase, the low, mid, and high BA drivers are positioned differently with different tube lengths to account for the speed of each driver, particularly the highs. Check out Jerry’s own demonstration video below for something a little more in-depth on freqphase.
The final pitch and the one I think will grab your attention right away when considering to go custom is the Luthier design itself which is just outstanding. This is a Bacote wood shell using a Damascus plate with their signature FlyGirl logo on top and wrapped in a gold band.
Now I am used to wood in custom designs but this is an entire shell of layered exotic wood which is first for me. If ever there is a pitch to go custom this is it. The whole design is also made a lot easier by one of the coolest online design tools I have seen for CIEMs. Buying made simple is a powerful weapon.
While having an online custom design tool is nothing new the JH Audio designer is unique in that it draws from an AutoCAD legacy and gives you a true 3D perspective on your design. The best ones I have seen to date from the likes of 64 Audio are as detailed in the options section but the imagery is quite flat or 2D-like so you cannot see the full impact of the design you are choosing.
Now you would not think that a huge deal if you have not used the JH Audio version but it actually is. Being able to see both the back and front as well as twist it around gives you a much deeper perspective on the final design look and feel.
You can also focus on either the left shell or right only or both at the same time when you start designing and flick in between as you go about customizing your final look. When you click both the tool will bring both into focus showing you the progression of each shell without disrupting your creativity flow.
The builder offers you no less than 45 different shell options and 11 signature designs. The non-signature designs are arranged into familiar categories for those who have done customs before including solid, transparent, and glitter.
You do have an additional designer series where you can opt for a carbon fiber or “Lighting Strike” body solid design. If you choose these you will not be able to pick your plate designs as it is an all-over finish. You can, however, choose a pre-set JH Audio artwork graphic or upload your own onto the body solid design.
Faceplates & Artwork
If you opt for a regular shell design then you have access to a whopping 76 different faceplate designs ranging from solid, transparent, glitter, designer, and printed texture creations. Some of the creations are excellent including carbon fiber, wood, pearl, or titanium to name but a few.
You can then finish off your design with either a pre-set JH Audio artwork graphic or upload your own unique picture or design to put the final touch on the faceplates. There does not seem to be any additional charge for the artwork either.
Speaking of charges and prices there is a running total at the bottom of the designer tool that changes according to the options you choose. It is pretty much the same as any other designer tool in that regard though I would like to have some indication of the prices before I pick my options. Some of the design and plates will set you back a fair whack such as the Lightning solid body at $257.50 on top of the base price of the Layla. That is what I like about the Luthier Signature design. It is locked and loaded with a fairly fixed price.
Now if you have chosen the Luthier edition from their information page then when you click to buy the online design tool automatically loads up every aspect of the Luthier design for you which makes the whole process so much easier. You can also access the Signature design series by simply clicking on the “Signature Design” menu option on the top right of the customizer system.
The only irony of the pre-loaded signature designs on the customizer tool is that you cannot rotate them as you would in creating any other custom design from JH Audio. That being said you do get a picture of the actual final design which is very accurate to what you will receive.
When ready the store prompts you to ‘finalize’ your order. Here you get to choose the cables which are either in clear or black 49″ or 64″. The 64″ will set you back an additional $10. If you selected any CIEM that uses the variable bass module you will only have the option for the 4-pin connectors.
Those ordering the JH11 PRO and below will be offered a 2-pin 0.78mm cable with the same lengths and pricing or the option to upgrade to the 4-pin 49″ in clear or black for an additional $155.
The final add-on and another free of charge one at that is the ability to engrave whatever name you want on the carry-case. Given the quality of the case and the fact I think you will be using it a lot this is something worth doing right.
Accessories & Packaging
The Layla packaging is tidy, distinct, and well made. In particular, the carbon fiber and black aluminum carrying case with its protective outer wrap and magnetized lock. There is a ton of room in there for your customs, cable or two, and the little bass module screwdriver. If you want something even more low-profile then there is an additional black soft pouch that comes as part of the accessory kit. As with most CIEM packages, you do also get a small wax cleaning tool as well as a small desiccant pillbox for moisture absorption.
The Layla is also packed with some soft wraps. Now, why on earth would you need these if they are custom? I cannot say I will personally need them with my fit but it may well be that you may find them useful if your ear is prone to sweating or if there is moisture which may make the CIEM a bit looser. These are designed to simply wrap around the nozzle and give you an “additional layer” of seal and comfort.
Just 11 days. Ok, I am very impressed and I am told also this is not because it was a review sample this was, in fact, quite normal. I would be keen to hear if Layla owners got the 10-12 day treatment also but if that’s the norm that is the fastest turnaround time I have had a set of custom monitor designs made for me.
Given the quality of the finish and layering on the wood it is doubly surprising. FedEx took almost as long to deliver it! Note there is a rush service available if you want even shorter than that but I am sure you will have to pay a little more like most other rush services. I would say don’t bother, 10-12 days is outstanding for me.
Ear Impressions Guide
The final part is really after you place the order and that is getting a set of ear molds over to JH Audio. The company has provided a very useful help section at the bottom of their webpage which marks out preferred audiologists in the US, UK, and AU for doing your ear impressions.
If you are outside of that area they also provide you with a handy guide you can download, print, and hand to your local audiologist to follow in making your impressions.
For some reason, I could not find the impression tip guide easily on the website but you do get it once you have your ordered confirmed via an email link. Here is the link though for those who want to get it sorted right away.
Do not take shortcuts on the ear impressions as the shells of the Layla are quite big and they will need a full impression of your ear beyond the second bend and the full outer ear to work with. JH Audio prefers an “open-jaw” impression which will require a bite block during the curing process which is about 4-5 mins. Once done and confirmed, pop them in a hard container like in the picture above and send them to JH Audio via your courier of choice.
Click on page 2 below for Build & Sound Impressions