Lola, Layla, Roxanne, Billie Jean…I’m a big fan of all these ladies. And JH Harvey IEMs were my first introduction into high-performance in-ears. So, I have a soft spot for all of his models. But next to Roxanne, Layla is probably Jerry Harvey’s most famous IEM. And with the help of Astell&Kern, she’s just received a facelift. What makes Layla a favorite for musicians and audiophiles? Let’s revisit this luxurious superstar in this Astell&Kern JH Audio Layla AION Review.
Astell&Kern JH Audio Layla AION Review
IN the BOX
For my ears, JH Harvey IEMs offer the best sound isolation in town. And despite the large size of the shells, the ergonomics are great. I found them comfortable to wear even after long listening stretches. So, yes, they’re perfect for stage use or anyone who listens in a loud environment.
Layla AION sports a 12 balanced armature driver setup – 4 low, 4 mid and 4 high. The shells are made of machined carbon fiber. And they’re pretty too, with chrome logos over a pearly red and black design.
The balanced silver plated OFC cable appears super sturdy, especially at the connection areas; Atsell&Kern boasts military-grade iridium connectors. But the durable feel is also partly due to the large circumference of the 7-pin connections. The only problem with 7-pin cables, is that they’re not as readily available as an MMCX or 2-pin.
I found Layla easy to drive, and it needs very little amplification. Since Layla is attached to a balanced cable with a 2.5mm termination, I decided to go all out and hook it up to my good ol’ FiiO Q5. But if you don’t have a balanced output, you can use the 3.5mm adapter that’s included in the box.
One feature that makes Layla unique (as well as other JH Audio IEMs) is the adjustable bass dials on the cable. One for the left earpiece and one for the right. JH Harvey includes a cute little screwdriver for adjusting the bass. It’s easy to lose, so keep it safe. For the purposes of this review, I mostly kept the bass at the factory setting. The only time I played around with the bass adjustments was when testing out the lower frequencies. But more about this below.
At the factory setting, the bass has some oomph, but it avoids overkill. Let’s just say it’s reasonable without being stingy. And most musicians will probably agree that the bass falls naturally within the mix. Of course, if you’re bass guitarist or drummer and you want to boost the low-end presence, you have that freedom. But what attracts me to this profile is the amount of grip that these buds have. Tons of texture and traction, there’s nothing smoothed over about this bass. Indeed, it’s an extremely detailed and disciplined sound in this range. And with Layla’s crazy speed, listening to any funk track is like being smacked in the face.
At the default bass setting, there’s not a huge sub-bass response, so you won’t feel your nipples vibrating when listening to Drake. But of course, once you crank the dials to maximum bass levels, it becomes a different story. Still, the sub-bass response isn’t something you feel in your bones like you would on a classic Empire Ears IEM.
This midrange profile is perfect for folks who hate really forward leaning vocals or any sound signature that’s unnaturally dynamic; The upper mids avoid upstaging the low mids. And the lower part of this range is given tons of love. I have to say, this kind of balance is crack to me. Why? Layla has a crazy amount of body. That being said, for the price, I’ve heard better separation in the low-mids, especially when it comes to definition in guitar strums. But of course, once I adjusted the bass to the minimum level, the impression became tidier. And still, you’ll hear rich and incredibly clean layering in tracks with heavy instrumentation. So, in that sense, I think they work really well for stage use. Furthermore, when listening to acoustic instruments in this range, the timbre shines through in a way that I rarely hear even in the priciest of IEMs. Certainly, the detail is outstanding. And let me repeat the word, “rich.” Indeed, these buds convey ample weight and flavor.
There’s tons of solidity in the highs with respect to percussion instruments. It’s not a particularly sparkly or crisp sound. (This is a good thing if you’re on stage for hours. You don’t want to tire out your ears). That’s not to say that the highs feel rolled-off. But the peaks feel more cemented. And I personally love how dense it feels. In the same way, vocals aren’t light and airy. Rather, they’re thick and substantial even in the highest frequencies. She’s a brick wall. So fans of classical music may feel that strings in this range aren’t as delicate as they’d like.
The level of precision with respect to imaging is spectacular. Gradations of placement across the horizontal axis, for example, is incredibly accurate. And listening to my test tracks, I heard subtle shifts in placement that I didn’t pick up in the priciest of IEMs. Or maybe my ears are sharper than usual today. Who knows. Either way, in terms of imaging I would certainly trust Layla to give me the most accurate picture. And with respect to listening enjoyment, you’ll certainly feel a vast, multidimensional soundscape that lends tons of vibrancy and color to the track.
Layla got me on my knees, especially the longer I listened to her. She’s rich, expansive and incredibly detailed with scrumptious layering. Energetic, meaty and beautifully balanced, this sound signature is not only trustworthy, but highly satiating.
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