An unknown newcomer takes on the competition with these sweet ‘phones packed with super-low bass response
Jays? Sorry, the name doesn’t ring any of my bells when it comes to earphones. Not even when you say “Jays of Sweden”. That’s because the company is relatively new to the audio world, having only been around since 2006, with its first products being released in 2007. Compared to the likes of Sennheiser or Shure, this lot are barely out of swaddling cloths, but age is no guarantee of quality. So… can the new kid on the block show the old timers a new way to do things?
Jays certainly has an extensive range of products. Check out the company website if you don’t believe me. The products are new to New Zealand, and the local range starts with the a-JAYS One at $79, and runs up to the dual armature q-JAYS at a not so modest $499. The model on test here is the t-JAYS Three, which is the top model in the intermediate t-JAYS range, and retails for $179.
Features and Construction
The t-JAYS Three (henceforth Three) is a lightweight but oddly shaped in-ear ‘phone that uses interchangeable rubber sleeves to fit into the ear canal. Unlike the compressible foam tips found on Shure and Ultimate Ears ‘phones, these rubber sleeves don’t need to be shoved deep into the old ear hole, which makes them comfortable and unobtrusive. On the other hand, noise isolation is moderate at best.
That odd shape of the body has comfort implications as the back surface of the Three has some hard edges, which I could feel pushing on the side of my ear when the ‘phones were worn in the conventional ‘cables down’ style. They can be worn in the ‘cables up’ fashion where the cables are draped over the ear. This makes them less likely to work their way out of the ear and points the edges away from the ears, leaving a rounded surface instead. This will be a very personal thing and some users may not notice these edges at all – it’s well worth having a go with a demo pair if at all possible.
The Threes come in a neat plastic case, complete with five sleeve sizes from XXS to L, an airline adapter, stereo splitter and a hard travel case. The cable is split into an initial short length and a 70cm extension cord is supplied. This has pros and cons – the break in the middle acts as a strain relief in the event of the cable snagging and it also allows the short cable to be used for people who place their portable player in a shirt pocket, upper arm mount or around their necks. However, the connector is just another place to degrade the signal as well as a number of extra joints that can degrade or get damaged.
I tend to be brutal with review ‘phones, taking an accelerated durability test type of approach – the Threes don’t look or feel as if they’d stand up to too much abuse but they shrugged off all my beatings, which bodes well for long term use.
I get worried whenever a set of ‘phones has something like “Ultra Bass”, “Mega Bass” or “Ragnarok Bass” on the packaging. This tells me the product is probably orientated towards dreadlock toting teenagers who believe that music starts and finishes in the sub 60Hz range. The Threes have “Deep heavy bass” prominently placed on the case, with a claimed frequency extension of 15Hz to 25KHz. Now 15Hz is a long way down and it’s quite the claim for a set of itty-bitty phones.
Put to the test with a CD that has tones running down to 20Hz, the Threes proved that they definitely go low and deep, as in James Earl Jones low, Treebeard the Ent deep. Despite being noticeably down from 31Hz, they put out useful output at 20Hz, so they’d still be making some noise at 15Hz. They reach deeper than all of the in-ear earphones I had lying around during the test and even just pipped my Ultimate Ears Super-Fi 5 Pro, which are known for being bass heavy.
In portable phones, this bass heaviness isn’t necessarily a problem as long as the ‘phones have been designed to go low, and not tuned to emphasize the bass notes. There is a difference. Fortunately, the Threes largely fall into the former category, and while you’ll always be aware of a prominent bottom end, it’s more like hearing a hi-fi system with a good subwoofer sympathetically matched to the main speakers than a loose and boomy mess.
The initial benchmark for any aftermarket ‘phones is Sennheiser’s budget MX460. I really rate the 460s at their sub $30 price and dubbed them my budget product of the year for 2010. Fortunately, back-to-back listening prove that the Threes are substantially more transparent and faithful to the source and music than the Sennheisers, which of course they should be at something like five times the price.
The Threes sound fine plugged into an iPod or iPhone and have no trouble dealing with high-quality files and clean recordings. They also easily stand the test of being hooked up directly to a CD player, offering a cultured listening experience free from the aberrations that plague the cheap earphones supplied with portable players and mobile phones. There’s no bass boom, no harsh treble and no veiled midrange, which are the least of the sins found in much of the nasty supplied kit. Instead you get the ability to hear deep into the recording, as long as the recording is worth listening into.
Bass notes drive into your ears, which makes tracks from Gorillaz or Big Boi sound as big as life and drum-strikes blast forth with real impact and power. More delicate fare from the likes of Shelby Lynn or Bob Dylan is laid out in all its glory, with a treble that sparkles and a vividly clear midrange. There’s a good deal of extension at the top to match the bottom end reach.
Compared to my more expensive Shure e4c or Ultimate Ears Super-Fi 5 Pro ‘phones ($499 and $449 respectively when new), the Threes weren’t quite able to match them in any way except bass extension (they’re all over the bass light Shures in this regard). Both of these upmarket ‘phones are more transparent and offer an edge in terms of insight and openness, but the gap is nowhere near as huge as you’d expect given the price difference. In fact, you do need to listen carefully to pick it up on some tracks. Much of the time, I was happy to shove the other ‘phones in a drawer and just listen to music, which is the point of the whole hi-fi exercise.
For $179, the very well presented Jays t-JAYS Three Earphones are miles ahead of anything that comes in the box with a portable device. They’re capable of fending off the bang for bucks assault of the excellent Sennheiser MX460 ‘phones and they do a commendable job when faced with much more expensive models from long established and well respected brands.
That’s a good showing for Jays and for this model in particular, but bear in mind that these ‘phones don’t offer much in the way of noise isolation – on a busy road, in a gym or on a plane, you’ll be hearing a lot more of the environment than you may like. Then again, if the strange shape doesn’t irritate your ear, the comfort is very good (exceptional compared to ‘phones that require foam buds to be inserted all the way into the ear canal).
The bass emphasis is also worth remembering. I didn’t mind it at all, but you may find that it’s a bit too obvious and while it’s easy to dial back the bass using the EQ on most devices, it’s a far better bet to pick ‘phones that have a fundamental balance that agrees with your tastes. Try them first if you can but in my book, these phones are well worth consideration in the sub $200 range. It may sound like a lot of money but what’s your music worth to you? ASHLEY KRAMER
* Jays earphones can currently be bought at Magnum Mac & Telstra Clear stores