Matchability

Efficiency

The Lyla is rated at 20Ω and has a sensitivity rating of 117dB. On paper, it seems a doodle to drive but in actual fact, it needs a lot more power and gain than competitors such as the A18 and the VE8. I would say about 5-6dB at the very least over the A18 and even higher for the VE8.

The Unique Melody Mason V3 is much closer to the Layla for amping and volume requirements. The Mason V3 is rated at 24Ω and 104dB and in theory, should be much less sensitive. I would say that gap is not that big for volume matching off most DAPs I tested. Sources such as the Granbeat, DX150, AK240, AK380, and R6 all had around a 2-3dB adjustment between the two. As an example, on the DX150, both the Layla and Mason V3 sat comfortably at 100 and 105 on low gain compared to 80 low gain for the VE8 and 85 low gain for the A18.

Even on portable amps of moderate power, I found the Layla to suck up plenty more power than the average BA IEM. Both the V5 and Rx from ALO Audio had less headroom than I expected with the V5 performing much better on high gain.

Just as a word of caution, when boosting the bass output the general FR of the Layla will go up to 13dB on the low end and around 1-2dB on average across the range. You might find yourself just toning down the level of volume as a result, especially at 4 O’clock on the variable bass output.

Noise

The Layla is an excellent noise performer. Despite its rating on paper, it is quieter than the A18, VE8, and on par with the Mason V3. Sources such as the X5iii and the AM3 balanced amp module for the X7ii had no background hiss issues. Portable analog amps such as the VorzAMPduo II, Lear FSM-02 V2, and the ALO Audio V5 in low-gain all very quiet or dead silent.

Synergy

Personally, I found myself veering to neutral sources or amps with a clean signature when the bass dial was pumped up. When going back down to neutral on the variable bass output things got a lot more flexible with musical sources as well as resolving DAPs all sounding pretty good with the Layla. It will scale however and the dynamic range and staging ability, in particular, was exceptional from a few great portable amps.

JH Audio Layla

DAPs

Mid-fi

It can scale a little and its tonal bias also takes a tweak here and there depending on the source, amp, and impedance matching. For instance, on the HiBy R6, its low ohm rating plays against it with that 10Ω output darkening the Layla way too much, even in its more neutral setting. The veil over the mids and the murky low end is unacceptable for me. If this is your DAP then do get an IEMatch cable (2.5 or 3.5mm) and this will help clean up the output immeasurably and produce a more accurate response.

I also liked some of the AK4490 flavored DAPs with the bass output on neutral such as the DX150 and the Cayin i5. They may be slightly less resolving than the DX200 and N5ii but they have that musical punchy sound that I think really suits Layla’s presentation. The bass is impactful and the vocals have an excellent level of presence which is where the Layla really excels.

Flagship

The Sony W1z was also a very satisfying combo with a far more detailed and perhaps a slightly cleaner presentation than the AK4990 models. I also found the 1Z just to bring out a little more upper mids and lower treble presence on the Layla over the mid-fi units which some might find more to their taste.

The AK240/380 pairings had excellent detail with the AK240 giving me a slightly neutral sound from the Layla than the like of the DX150 and slightly less warmth also. My own personal preference was the AK380 with the PAF11 amp locked in. With this pairing, the additional power and smoother DAC delivered a more analog presentation and better dynamic range than the AK240.

Portable Amps

If you need portable amps I do recommend the V5 from ALO Audio despite the slightly higher noise floor. Out of the portable amps tested the V5’s sweeter more open midrange did a really nice job with Layla’s vocal presentation.

If you prefer something punchier and cleaner then the likes of the Chord Mojo and the RHA L1 have plenty of headroom and dynamic range for the Layla to perform very well indeed.

JH Audio Layla

Select Comparisons

64 Audio A18

$2999

Technical 

The A18 is the company’s current custom flagship monitor. The Fourte is only in a universal format. This is an all BA 18 driver masterpiece with Tia technology which is basically tubeless drivers.

The A18 is a hybrid Tia BA design rated at a very low 9Ω and 116dB which makes it fairly easy to drive but not as sensitive as the CA Andromeda for example. Noise control is good but not as good as the Layla. Neither the Layla nor A18 should be jacked out of a smartphone. The Layla will sound the more forgiving of the two on a smartphone but the dynamics and staging of both are sub-par.

Build Quality

The craftsmanship of the Layla is outstanding and puts the 3D printing process of the A18 well in the shade. Something I wish 64 Audio would reconsider as their new process may be more accurate but also more limiting and that is what customs are all about personalization. The Luthier Bacote wood and Damascus printed titanium plate with gold trim on the Layla is just remarkable in terms of attention to detail and aesthetics. You pay a premium for that finish but it is worth every cent.

Fit

The fit on both is quite different. The A18 is perhaps the comfier of the two with a great seal whereas the Layla is rock solid for stage and open jaw work so it will feel like the bigger fit. The A18 is also much smaller despite have more drivers and the Layla is the biggest CIEM I have received to date.

 

64 Audio A18

Performance

The A18 is a cleaner, more detail-focused presentation with a more neutral thinner instrumental timbre. The Layla is warmer, thicker, more powerful sounding with greater depth but less height and air. The A18’s soundstage is taller and airier with similar levels of width but while it extends just as well as the Layla it does not generate the same level of power and sub-bass quantity. The Layla’s bass performance is stunning. Even at its most linear position, it delivers a gutsier, thicker, and better-textured performance than the A18.

Lower-mids follow a similar pattern with the A18 showing more control and articulation compared to Layla’s better body and texture. Guitar work will sound more musical and authoritative with the Layla but perhaps the last extract of detail and nuanced spatial imaging beyond the A18. Vocals on the A18 are further forward and more intimate sounding than the Layla. The Layla will have a smoother tone, the more forgiving vocal with better sibilance control.

Treble is again a thing of preference. The Layla is full-bodied, natural-sounding, and fairly neutral to laid back in its presentation. It is very coherent sounding with just enough energy to produce a nice level of contrast with the rest of the signature. The A18 has more air, more sparkle, and better energy in the final octave. It will sound the taller of the two as a consequence with a palatable sense of detail but also a little thinner and brighter compared to the Layla.

Genre Preferences

For me, I am taking Layla for out and out rock, concert material, metal, and EDM. The A18 delivers big time on folk, indie, acoustics, and classical/soundtracks.

Vision Ears VE8

€2330

Technical 

The VE8 is the 8 BA driver flagship custom monitor from Vision Ears. Rated at 20Ω and 120dB it is significantly easier to drive than the Layla and will require less volume on weaker sources. It will also show up higher noise floors on portable amps and some DAPs far quicker than the Layla. It may sound more optimal on weaker sources though but I would still course both through a good quality DAP to extract the maximum level of resolution possible.

Build quality

Until now the VE8 was perhaps my favorite custom design out there with its heartwood plate and transparent green shell. I thought the VE team nailed it and to this day I still do. However, the sheer impact and exotic nature of the Bacote wood shell and gold trim on the Luthier edition of the Layla takes first prize in 2018. It looks more expensive, it probably is, but it puts a smile on my face.

Fit

The VE8 is much smaller than the Layla though and has a more comfort-orientated fitting as a result. There is less of a physical presence in the concha basin and less weight. The Layla will deliver a tighter seal though for rapid open-jaw movement. However, the VE8 is not far behind and slightly better than the UM Mason V3 also for getting a good seal.

Vision Ears VE8

Performance

Both the Layla and VE8 are on the musical side of things however the VE8 has a more pronounced u-shaped presentation compared to the Layla which stays a lot more neutral and linear without using the variable bass outlet. The quantity of the VE8 low-end is excellent by the way but it kind of pales a little in comparison to the huge spacious sounding sub-bass depth and quantity that the Layla can generate.

The VE8 dips in the lower mids also so instrumental timbre is not as warm or full sounding as the Layla gathering much of its fundamental power from its sub-bass elevation. The Layla will gather pace and deliver copious amounts of rumble once you turn up that dial. In fact, by 4 o’clock it is vast sounding compared to the punchy but slightly smaller soundstage of the VE8.

The VE8 does have a more pronounced rise from 1k onwards and does not dip like the Layla from 2-4k and has more extensive upper treble energy though not as much as the A18. As a consequence it’s vocal positioning is a little further forward and clearer and it does have a touch more air and headroom.

Timbre

Tonally, both have a very smooth sounding timbre, fleshy and lush in parts though for texture the Layla just edges it for me. The VE8’s more forward treble does provide for a little more 3rd order harmonic presence and a little more snap in its upper mids percussion.

Since both occupy a similar space in terms of ideal genres and musical intonation it really comes down to the level of treble you want, how much bass you can handle and how big you want that soundstage.

Genre Preferences

The VE8 should really be the one for small dance clubs, punchy EDM, and mosh pit rock where things are up close and personal. It works a charm with excellent pace, PRaT and resolution. It never feels claustrophobic. For bigger arena rock and EDM, even more sub-bass power for super dark synthwave, the Layla casts a slightly smoother but much bigger presentation with top-notch detail.

Unique Melody Mason V3

$2699

Technical 

Despite the different levels of sensitivity on paper the 16-BA driver flagship Mason V3 and the Layla are pretty much neck and neck in terms of volume matching, sources and even synergy. Both operate very well indeed in terms of noise suppression though not quite on the levels of say a Vega or Flares Pro dynamic driver setup. Still, these two are more flexible for portable amp noise floors and higher levels of gain than the VE8 and A18.

Build Quality

The build quality of the Mason V3 is fascinating with the Dreamweaver fiber shell layered build and temperature changing color options. UM also really upped their game in the design stakes with a lovely blend of blue and purple/red infusion and until the Layla, this was my number 2 design behind the VE3. I guess now its no3 behind the VE8 and Layla.

Fit

The size of the Mason V3 is bigger than the A18 and VE8 but is very much dwarfed by the Layla which stands taller, wider, and deeper. I have always had slight concerns with UM fits. I find them very relaxed and not built for open-jaw rapid movements compared to the Layla. The Layla is much more snug and bigger in the canal and ear so it is a question of supreme comfort at the cost of a slight bit of seal or good comfort but higher pressure and better seal.

Unique Melody Mason V3

Performance Tweaking

Like the Layla, you can play around with the stock signature of the Mason V3 only the options are a bit subtler than the variable bass output. The first is their db-go module which does increase the level of sub-bass and targets a similar frequency range to the Layla. However, it only goes up by a subtle 4dB compared to the huge 13dB range you get on the Layla module. The effect is much more nuanced on the Mason V3 as a result.

The second change is their dual-tone cable allowing you to swap silver and copper from the same cable. My personal preference is the silver for that slightly cleaner and articulate response but the copper will deliver a bit more body especially on the low end.

Stock Signature

With both neutral on their bass levels and both using copper cables the tonality of both are musical, detailed, and smooth sounding. The Mason V3 also has a natural tone and timbre, however, it has a bit more mid-bass bias but with much less sub-bass reach and power than the Layla. The instrumental timbre has a very smooth and detailed tone to it but it is slightly “lighter” in weight to the thicker body and texture of the Layla.

You could argue that the Mason v3 is the sweeter sounding of the two and the Layla is the more full-blooded and powerful presentation. Nevermore so with the vocal presentation in both monitors. The Layla is wonderfully smooth and natural-sounding whereas the Mason V3 has a little more odd-harmonic presence giving it an equally smooth but slightly lighter feel to its vocal delivery.

Both are relatively relaxed in their treble response, at least in comparison to the A18 but differ again slightly in their presentation and tone. Again, the Mason V3 has a bit more treble energy though not by a huge amount and a slightly more delicate to feel to its note quantity. The Layla is a bit thicker and rounded sounding with less upper treble energy than the Mason but the gap is not huge.

Genre Preferences

If I am dividing my time between the two I would pick the Mason V3 for pop, light rock, and any jazz where there is more intense upper mids percussion or light acoustic work. Genres where I find its slightly sweeter resolving tone and brighter treble to work to its advantage. I would still throw on my hard rock, metal, male vocal, and synthwave onto the Layla when I need that power and excellent body. Anything really that needs a big soundstage also favors Layla’s better depth and width.

JH Audio Layla

Our Verdict

The Layla Luthier edition is pure eye candy of the highest order and the best CIEM design I have seen in the 7 years we have been running this website. It will take a massive effort or something completely off the hook to replace the Luthier design as our top-scoring build quality.

Of course, this is ‘pure premium’ in terms of materials and it will cost you a bit more than the regular Layla unit but I personally think it is worth it. After all, this is about customization and nothing should be half-assed in that dept if you ask me.

All of this is nothing without a quality performance and no surprise the Layla can do just that. It is perhaps my most sub-bass potent CIEM out of the 23 received to date. It delivers awesome power and a thick note reminiscent of a quality dynamic driver never mind multi-BA. The mids are delightfully smooth and the vocal equally easy on the ear. It is spacious sounding to boot with great depth and width. If it lacks just one thing it is top-end air and energy for a little sparkle but, on the whole, this is a resolving and very forgiving signature that gels super well with my hard rock tastes.

A solid but early contender for the end-of-year accolades. Let’s just stare at it one more time, shall we?

Layla Signature Series Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 10Hz to 23kHz
  • Input Sensitivity: 117dB @ 1Mw
  • Impedance: 20 Ohms
  • Noise Isolation -26Db
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10 Responses

  1. Headfonics

    Hi Desmond, perhaps I can suggest the Cayin N5iis or the new iBasso DX120? Both are small, under $500, good clean sound. The N5iis might be the quieter of the two but we have not had enough time with the DX120 to say that definitively.

    Reply
  2. Desmond

    I’m considering to buy a new dap to match with Laylaii my requirement is mid tier and small size
    my option right now is
    Ak 70 mkii
    Do you have any suggestion DAP for Laylaii

    P.s. right now i have ak70 first version

    Reply
  3. Rick Hasemeier

    This review is about the build and looks and not any detail of how they sound with what tracks you listened to and what was your source DAC and type of amp (tube/soild state) . This style of review is feeling like a marketing peice vs an audiophile review. When I listen to IEM’s or gear I have my go too file list that I know inside and out to evalute gear at say RMAF. When I read acar review I look for same benchmarks like 0-60 or quarter mile. I beleive that Jerry Harvey makes some very good IEM’s but raise the bar on reviews. Tyll Hersten at Inner Fidelity had a set list of tracks and procedured that he went through to bechmark the gear he reviewed.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Hello, Rick thank you for visiting us and putting your 0.02c in.

      For each and every custom review we do we always start with the process and build because that is what makes custom monitors unique to universal and one of the main reasons why people choose to go that way. What we reviewed here is the Layla Signature edition and not the universal or standard edition because its the first custom monitor ever to use a fundamentally wood shell and not just a plate. It is only right for those who wanted to know more about the Signature series what the big deal was about it.

      Second, we have an entire page on the sound including all sources used and recommendations on what to pair the Layla with (page 3 – matchability and second half of page 2).

      And third, in all our comparisons, we have advised which genre of music suits which model better based on their performance with reference to artists in the review. You will find that at the bottom of each comparison.

      Your car analogy is interesting because those are specifications equivalent to say how much elevation there is at the 5k mark for treble between 2 monitors. That’s the equivalent to a car performance spec.

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  4. Carlo

    Good review, been thinking about this or the 64 audio U18 so it helps a lot. Damned if I can find many Layla reviews knocking around – ayos!!

    Reply
    • Marcus

      I think if universal I would favor the u18 over the universal Layla as the size is not for everyone. But for customs that should not be an issue since they are both going to fit perfectly (in theory). My initial impression of the Layla custom was very big and tight but after a few goes it fits really nice now, not sure why, either my ear expanded or the wood shell shrunk a bit?

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  5. Ricklin

    Yeah, but my big thing is soundstage so a bit worried the Layla won’t give me as much as the LCDi4. I get the whole outdoors thing though so just tryin’ da balance it all out.
    thanks anyhow, will keep an eye out for your i4 review.

    Reply
  6. Ricklin

    Thanks for the review, well laid out and easy to follow.

    Will you be comparing this to the LCDi4 when the review comes out? I am deciding between this and the LCDi4 and not sure is an open design is for me.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      I can compare it but for me the LCDi4 is a very different beast to the Layla. That open back design is the polar opposite of the rock-solid isolation of the Layla.

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