In-ear audio monitors from JH Audio


This probably falls under the "too much information" category, but I have weirdly-shaped ear canals. Instead of being roughly circular, the cross-section is pinched and narrow. As a result, in-ear buds don't fit well. My ear canals push them right out. I like wearing old-fashioned headphones, but they aren't always practical.

So when JH Audio offered to make me a pair of its PRO series custom-fit, in-ear audio monitors, I happily accepted. I've heard good things about these monitors. They're cast from your own ear shape, so they fit the contours of your ear bowl perfectly.

 Images AngelanelsonThe first thing I had to do was visit an audiologist to get a casting of my ears made. I visited Angela Nelson, a clinical audiologist in Burbank, California. She was very nice and even let me take photos of the process, explaining what she was doing every step of the way.

Ear-Monitors-4 She mixed together two goopy substances and spooned it into a syringe. Then she squirted the blue goo into my ears.

Ear-Monitors-2 For the next couple of minutes, while waiting for the goo to cure, I couldn't hear anything. (Thanks for taking this photo, Dr. Nelson!)

Ear-Monitors-1 Dr. Nelson then gently removed the hardened molds from my ears, put them in a cardboard box and sent me on my way. If you click the thumbnail image on the left, you will be treated to a view of my earwax.

Ear-Monitors1 I mailed the ear molds to JH Audio, and a couple of weeks later they arrived in what seems like a bomb-proof plastic case.

Ear-Monitors2 The first time I tried using them, it took about 5 minutes to figure out how to fit them into my ears. It's like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. (Now I can get them in without effort).

Ear-Monitors3 The sound quality is superb, and I can keep the volume of my iPod very low (in fact, I've learned to turn the volume down before putting the JH5s in my ears to avoid a shocking blast of sound). They do a better job of blocking outside noise than the noise canceling headphones I've tried. They fit snugly in my ear, and they are supremely comfortable.

JH5 Pro in-ear audio monitors starting at $399.00


    1. The Etymolics mentioned in other replies are a bit cheaper, but this doesn’t really address the main issue. Your hearing, like your eyesight, is one of those things that simply cannot be replaced. You can lop off a finger and they can sew it back on. You can have a heart, liver, kidney or even a face transplant now, but exposure to high SPL for even short periods of time can lead to irreversible hearing loss.

      As a musician and someone who works in an industry where ambient noise can reach 130 dBa, I have already lost a portion of my high frequency hearing, and my ability to discern individual conversations in crowds has diminished significantly. I occasionally wore hearing protection, but often didn’t. I regret that choice now. This is an accumulation of a lifetime of high volume for me, but I am only 31 years old, so it’s not a particularly long exposure period.

      I am also a member of the first generation for which headphones and earbuds were an easy option for listening to music, and in subsequent generations this seems to have become the prevalent option for many young people. Much ado has already been made about the levels these kids are subjecting themselves to, and I am not one to encourage legislation limiting hardware devices to certain volumes, but I do strongly encourage anyone to take measures to protect their hearing. These custom earbuds are absolutely one of the best investments you can make in your aural health, and are even covered under some (very few, unfortunately) health insurance plans.

      Another commenter mentioned his new hearing aids with Bluetooth, which I must say is pretty awesome, but he also mentioned the cost. I for one would rather pay $300 now and continue to use consumer grade products for years to come than pay thousands of dollars later for hearing aids, even if they do have Bluetooth.

  1. Huh, the sound-blocking aspect of custom-fit earbuds is not something I had considered, that’s a pretty significant advantage on top of the excellent fit.

  2. How beefy is the cord? I always seem to wreck the cord on headphones long before I have problems with earbuds. I catch it in a zipper or on a corner somewhere.

  3. My new hearing aids have a Bluetooth feature. That means I can listen to music and take phone calls using a transmitter around my throat. They cost a bundle though.

  4. Anon #1, I have Ety drivers as well — without the custom earplug. My ear canals are pretty narrow but the flanges that come with the ER4s are a good fit after they warm up.

  5. I’ve always had that problem with the in-ear buds also. I wish I could afford these JH’s. At the moment though on limited budget so this would take a while to save for and I have greater needs unfortunately.

  6. Can’t you do the same thing by re-purposing foam earplugs like the ones you get at all the industrial safety stores?

  7. I’ve never managed to have ear buds last longer than a few months, most often because of the cords.

    Real headphones often have the same problem, but for some reason it generally takes longer.

  8. Does the $399 include the castings from the audiologist? For this amount of publicity, they should have given you the $1149 model …

  9. I bought a pair of Shure SE115’s and they changed my world of music listening. With my iPod buds while commuting I would consistently listen at 80% or louder volume. With the outstanding noise cancellation of the foam attachments, I’m now more around 50% +-10. I can only imagine what custom molds would do.

    I can’t imagine the incredible damage loud volumes + street/public-trans noise do to the average iPod Joe’s ears.

    1. i get the same bennies from a $30 pair of skullcandy headphones, granted they’re probably not exactly as good as the shures but they’re also priced for the average consumer who woudn’t think of spending more than $50 for a pair of buds. the latex-free sound channels reduce outside noise and has an inline volume, they’re also not foam, but they do come with a set of foamy covers as well.

  10. I have passive noise cancelling earphones from Comply. They also make their foam tips for many other existing earphones. You squash the foam into a narrow shape and insert into your ears. After about 25 seconds they expand to fit your ear canal. I can’t hear much outside noise when they’re in, and can use very low volumes with players. The NR-10 model sounds great, has an inline volume control and costs $80

  11. @TraverJ #5: the cable is socketed and replaceable (about US$30 depending on length) so if you trash it you haven’t lost your investment in the earphones. The cord itself feels strong and sturdily-built (though it’s hard to know for sure since I’ve never put any serious strain on it). Despite this it’s very supple and not at all stiff.

    (FWIW the black version of the cable is a little less supple than the clear version, but both are very, very flexible. I’ve tried both since I misjudged the length I needed and the color I’d want the first time around.)

  12. I am a longtime Shure user. I currently have the SE 530’s. They are a bit more than the ones mentioned here (MSRP $550), but deals can be found on Amazon (I got for $350), and purchasing through Amazon (or an Amazon affiliate) comes with the warranty since they are an authorized reseller for Shure. (and you will need the 2 yr warranty for the cables – why oh why can’t they have plug in cables like all other high end?).

    I got some custom ear fittings made waaay back when I had my first pair of Shures (the e2c), and since their posts are standard throughout all of their line I can keep re-using them.

    I highly recommend the Shures or any relatively high-end monitors/phones if, like me, you listen to a lot of music and are concerned about your hearing. Even at about 30% volume on my iPhone, they approach being too loud. Plus the sound reproduction is breathtaking the first time you listen. Going from the relatively mid-range e2c’s to Shure’s flagship consumer canal set was the best choice I made.

  13. A well respected audio mixer warned me against noise canceling headphones. They cancel the noise by issuing inverse sound waves at the same db as the noise they are blocking. The dB energy is what damages your ears. The inverse wave is the same energy as the loud sound, but adds the energy to the existing dB. The result is twice as much energy even though you don’t hear it, and your ear drums are damaged at a much quicker rate.

    Not sure if its true, but he knows his stuff.

    1. It’s not at all true to say that noise cancelling will add SPL to the signal, if anything the reverse is true. It operates on the basis of the ‘beats theory'( constructive and destructive intereference. If two waves that are 90 degrees out of phase with each other and of the same frequency and amplitude are added they pretty much cancel each other out, reducing SPL.

      That said the only realistic benefit I’ve had with noise cancelling headphones is on flights. As they can’t cope with mid-high frequencies (too fast to allow easy production of anti-phase signal)or sudden transients they’re pretty much pointless in most circumstances and you’re much better off with noise attenuating plugs like Marks.

      1. Exactly, there’s no silent vibration happening. Either there is sound or there isn’t; the air vibrates or it doesn’t.

  14. ditto on the ER4P…excellent response and isolation with the flanged tips…way better than the (non-custom) rounded in-ear earbuds IMO.

  15. Etymotic just announced they will now turn any of their earphones into custom-fits for an extra $100 (plus, I presume, the cost of the audiologist appointment). This is actually a very good deal. The going rate for this upgrade used to be $250.

    Their 6i earphones, which list at $100, are an unbeatable value, even more so if you catch them on sale for $60. Other companies’ $300 earphones do not sound better.

    I have a pair of Fidelity Custom Earphones, the “Duals,” which are also very reasonably priced at about $260 plus audiologist fee. (I got them several years ago, when Etymotic would have charged me $500 for the 6i with custom fitting.)

    The ONLY downside to the Ety’s is that they use a simple, easily-broken, expensive to fix, electrical cable. NEVER remove the earphones by pulling on the cables. The Fidelity earphones have a unique user-replaceable cable, instead. (It’s actually a connector commonly used for extremely-high-frequency radio antennas.) Replacement cables are cheap and take 10 seconds to attach.

    Considering that all the electronics are embedded into a solid plastic body, there’s a very good chance that the Fidelity earphones will last the rest of my life, which is a shame, considering that for only a little more I could now get the Etymotic ER4S earphones — widely considered the most accurate sound reproduction available in any form for any price — instead.

    Note that ALL of these products produce what is called “neutral” sound. If you want extra-“breathy” classical, or boom-“danceable” techno, adjust your iPod.

    1. Actually, that $100 is likely the cost of the audiologist appointment.

      My custom ear plugs were $140. $70 up front (when the mold is done) and $70 when they come back, so they know they fit. Both visits took less than 20 minutes each.

      The Viirus

  16. The sound quality is superb, and I can keep the volume of my iPod very low (in fact, I’ve learned to turn the volume down before putting the JH5s in my ears to avoid a shocking blast of sound).

    Ha! The first time I put in a pair of Etys I didn’t factor in the lower volume setting needed. Nearly blew out my eardrums… Now that’s irony.*

    *Not really.

  17. I don’t have the same funky ear canal problem – memory-foam in-ear earbuds are available in the $80 range, with the earplug portions replacable (and even DIYable with some drugstore earbuds and a hot nail and some patience – there are a number of websites about the hack).

    These aren’t sexy silicone custom fits (I get what I pay for) but yes, the DRAMATIC reduction in necessary volume when riding on the bus blew my mind.

  18. I’m just chiming in here to tell Mark that the process is pretty much the same when you get a custom mouthguard, except they press the mould plastic against your upper row of teeth rather than in your ear.

    A really good custom one slips over your teeth almost invisibly, keeps them from being shattered in most situations, and you can still shout, drink, and spit with it on.

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