JAYS, the company formerly known as “Jens of Sweden”, lately shifted their focus from manufacturing well-designed audio players to equally classy looking in ear phones. After their relatively inexpensive j-JAYS and d-JAYS models they now launched their first dual armature driver phone, the q-JAYS. JAYS claims they managed to create the world’s smallest IEM (in ear monitor) to date, at a fraction of the size of most other single armature earphones, let alone dynamic driver models. They’re available in black and white, come with a boat-load of accessories, and are competitively priced to similar multi-armature phones.
We’ll try to find out how the q-JAYS hold up to the well established competition in the high-class ear monitor game…
- Quick Look
- Dual micro armature drivers, “AirBooster” (air chamber for bass enhancement)
- Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Impedance: 39 Ohm @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 95dB SPL @ 1kHz
- Cable: 60cm (24″), Y-style, straight 3.5mm gold plated stereo plug – comes with two 90cm (35″) extension cords, with angled and straight plugs
- Accessories: stereo splitter, airline adapter, carrying case, silicon sleeves (7 pairs), canal filters (4 pairs), user guide
The q-JAYS come with the biggest variety of accessories I’ve ever seen for an IEM. In the box there are two 90cm (35″) extension cords: one with a straight plug, the other with an angled one. They look and feel very well made. Similar to the high-end Sennheiser HD650′s cable, they’re coated with PVC and have Kevlar filling on the inside. The same goes for the 60cm (24″) cable that’s attached to the earphones. Furthermore there’s a whopping seven pairs of silicon rubber sleeves to provide perfect fit for even the tiniest ear canals (L, 2 x M, 2 x S, XS, XXS). There are four pairs of canal filters, in case the original ones get dirty or damaged. A stereo splitter, allowing you to attach two pairs of phones to one audio player, and an airline adapter for in-flight usage are also included. The stereo splitter is a bit on the large side; it might put too much strain on a player’s audio jack. I prefer splitters made with two separate cables instead of a solid block. They seem safer to use. A quite undersized white pleather carrying case (which barely has space for the phones plus one of the extension cords) and the nice looking user guide complete the huge selection of accessories.
All accessories are very well made, matching the appearance (and price tag) of the q-JAYS. Nothing generic to be found here, even the branded phone splitter and airline adapter fit the design of the phones very well.
Wow, you almost need a microscope to see these ear monitors. The q-JAYS are smaller than any other IEMs I know of – and JAYS even managed to cram two armature drivers per phone in there – very respectable indeed. Small obviously means beautiful in this specific case: the q-JAYS’ design is clear and functional. “No-nonsense” seemed to be the objective of Urban Ahlgren, the designer – and in my opinion he certainly succeeded.
Build quality seems top notch: the plastic housing of the earphones appears to be sturdy, and parts of it are rubberized. The tone canal nozzles have a good diameter; they sure don’t break while trying to fit differently sized silicon flanges. These canals are covered by filters made from fine metal mesh, preventing ear wax and dust from entering the phones. Four pairs of replacement filters come in the box. The silicon sleeves themselves are of the basic variety, maybe a bit thicker than the ones that come with cheaper earphones. Don’t let the glossy advertising pictures fool you: the sleeves aren’t totally smooth like the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi or Future Sonics Atrio fittings, the q-JAYS sleeves do have injection mold ridges. Not that it matters – I feel no difference. Both styles of silicon fittings are comfortable for my ears.
The cables are PVC coated and contain Kevlar filling for improved strength. The strain-relief on the cables works well and feels as sturdy as the rest. As happy as I am with the cables’ solid feel and build quality, I’m not quite sure if the length of the cables provided with the q-JAYS is optimal for most people. The cable permanently attached to the earphones is 60cm short, which might be a good length if one uses the phones with a player attached to an armband, or a player with a cable remote. It’s definitely too short for any other use. However, the extension cables are 90cm long, which brings the total to a lengthy 150cm. In my opinion this is far too long for portable use: I’m no basketball player and I don’t store my audio player in a pocket at ankle-level. The excess cable I have to fit in my pockets is fairly bothersome. First I resorted to using a cable-wrapper; however, these things are quite bulky themselves and don’t work well. After that I just braided the cable to get them down to an acceptable length. Having to deal with the additional 3.5mm plug/jack connector between the two cables isn’t that great either. I find it somewhat confusing that JAYS caters to the minority of users wearing players on their upper arms while making life harder for the vast majority of people using their gear in trouser pockets or bags….
Another quite noticeable issue is the amount of cable microphonics. If I wear the q-JAYS with the cables hanging down and on the outside of my clothes, I notice scraping, rasping cable noise from even the slightest movement of my head, or from every step I take. Most of these cable noises, though, can be eliminated by wearing the q-JAYS with the cables going over the ears, around the back, and tucked away under the shirt or jacket. For the faint-of-heart, the manual even shows graphics of how to insert and wear the q-JAYS both ways.
At the risk of sounding like Statler and Waldorf (for those of you who still remember The Muppet Show), here’s my last beef with one of the q-JAYS’ design decisions: they’re not that easy to remove from t
he ear canals. Since they’re so incredibly small, there’s hardly any space to get a good grip on. The only way I can get them out of my ears is by tugging at the cable. There is no way to get a hold on the phones themselves. I hope they’re sturdy enough to survive this kind of abuse. It’s something I would never do with any other IEMs (except with the similarly built Etymotic ER-6), but there’s hardly any other option to get the q-JAYS out.
Enough of that… let’s look at some positive points for a change. Q-JAYS stealthy size and form factor makes them some of the most comfortable earphones I know of. Wearing them to sleep is very enjoyable. No sore ears in the morning at all, since they almost completely disappear into my ear canals. People keep talking to me when I’m wearing the q-JAYS, since the phones are more or less invisible when worn with the cables up around the ears – and I sure can’t hear those people going on about some thing or other. That’s the only downside to that… or is it?
JAYS’ frequency response claim of 20Hz – 20kHz is fairly accurate. I assume they include the usual tolerance of (at least) +/- 3dB in that. Too bad the company didn’t publish specs about the q-JAYS’ loudness margins or a frequency response curve.
My trusty Miami Bass subwoofer test CD shows that the bass becomes quite perceptible at around 25Hz, but below that frequency, it’s not all that well defined. This is a quite good result for a balanced armature driver, since these kinds of drivers usually have issues with reaching low frequencies at decent volume levels as easily as traditional dynamic drivers. JAYS’ “AirBooster”, the air chamber around the drivers, seems to really help in correcting this shortcoming that plagues many other armature-equipped IEMs.
It’s not that easy to measure the opposite end of the spectrum with my own two ears – they just don’t go that far beyond 16kHz anymore. However, the q-JAYS certainly aren’t rolled off or lacking in the treble regions. They’ve got plenty of high frequency energy – nothing seems to be missing.
The q-JAYS’ rather high impedance of 39 Ohms and the low sensitivity of 95dB SPL are an excellent counter measure to prevent the background hiss from which most portable players seem to suffer when paired with efficient low impedance phones. My main player – the Cowon D2 – hisses with almost any phone you throw at it. Not so with the q-JAYS, they make the D2 perfectly “black” at all reasonable (and not so reasonable) volume levels. Sure, these specs mean that I have to turn the volume louder than with other ear monitors, but the q-JAYS are still efficient enough to work with the wimpiest players and weakest amps out there.
When I asked JAYS’ product manager if there was some kind of crossover circuitry inside the q-JAYS or if the two armature drivers are differently tuned, his answer was, “It’s a secret.” Oh well, I can understand JAYS’ engineers having some pretty nifty tricks up their sleeves which they don’t want to reveal to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. How else would they have come up with this miniature prodigy phone? It’s a rhetorical question; please don’t answer “magic.”
For the pursuit of knowledge and progression of mankind, I removed a perfectly good canal filter from the q-JAYS nozzle, trying to find out if they have one tone canal or two for each armature driver. Common wisdom suggests that a separate canal per armature is better than both sound drivers mixed together before they exit the phone’s housing. Two separate canals prevent blending of the sound coming from both armatures, thus preventing some interferences and phase cancellations, at least in theory. However, underneath the fine metal mesh of the so-called filter I found what I assume to be the “real” filter: a green piece of plastic, resembling the filters found in Etymotic phones. I didn’t try to remove that filter – so, in conclusion, I’m not sure if the q-JAYS sport two canals or one. Not that it matters, they definitely sound very good, be it with one or two canals.
Isolation is good on the q-JAYS. Their standard silicon tips isolate slightly above average in comparison to other IEMs. They isolate more than a Super.Fi, MylarOne, or Sennheiser CX300, but less than an Atrio or Etymotic. No wonder, since these two come with either double/triple flanged silicon or foam tips. It is noticeable that the q-JAYS keep bass and mids out very well, but they’re less efficient at blocking higher frequencies.
On a side note… it wouldn’t be normal if there wasn’t already some talk about “modification”, in the first few days of the q-JAYS’ release to the public: some people report good results with Shure foam tips on the q-JAYS instead of the stock silicon ones. This should improve isolation a bit, for those who need it. For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly happy with their regular level of outside noise attenuation.
The first thing one is aware of after shoving the q-JAYS into the ear canals is their breathtaking clarity and detailedness, reminding of the most precise IEMs and headphones out there. The second impression might be that they’re not plain cold and analytic (which could be assumed by their clarity), but quite pleasantly balanced.
Testing them on various gear, ranging from low-end portable players over solid-state amps to a full-fledged Woo Audio 6 headphone tube amp, they show a slight tendency to reveal the attached source’s character, more so than many other earphones I know of. For example, while the Future Sonics Atrio or MylarOne XB sound (almost) the same when attached to the Cowon X5 or D2, the q-JAYS show some sonic differences between these otherwise quite similar sounding players (the X5 sounding warmer and fuller, the D2 colder and a bit more harsh). However, as mentioned before, they don’t need a strong amp by any means, despite their high impedance and low sensitivity. They work fine on any source you throw at them – as long as it is of good quality, and not too bright sounding.
Treble is smooth and silky, fast and precise: female vocals, saxophones, or hi-hats sound great on the q-JAYS. Certain frequencies shine and sparkle over these phones. They can have a tiny hint of sibilance on certain audio tracks, but this just shows faults in the recording or source, not the phones. They’re very revealing and definitely not forgiving to badly mastered or encoded audio material – or shoddy sounding MP3 players. So don’t even think about using them with your computer’s onboard sound chip or some dubious knockoff player. On bright sounding sources they can be a bit fatiguing, but not overly so. On good quality gear with less accent on treble they sound just fine.
Mids are natural and not as recessed as on many other IEMs. They might be a bit in the background compared to the energy coming from the treble frequencies, but nothing is missing or overly distant. Rock, jazz, string quartets, and similar small ensembles sound great on the q-JAYS. Every little detail can be heard – in an enjoyable way instead of simply being aggressively analytic. I don’t find them overly engaging with some dense orchestral pieces or movie soundtracks. Mind you: that’s only some, not all – but that might just be me. “Hot mastered”, compressed-to-hell music (aka victims of the “loudness war”), as found on MTV and in the charts sounds less intriguing over the q-JAYS, which is the same as on any other high-end audio equipment, for that matter. Constantly blasting at maximum SPL, lack of dynamics, and clipping is not something the q-JAYS are fond of reproducing. But that’s what other, less sophisticated earphones are for…
Bass is remarkably nice and warm, considering the dimensions of the q-JAYS’ housing and drivers. The best thing is that they reproduce “real” bass, not some midbass hump. They don’t output an excessive amount of bass, but the sound that comes out is tight and punchy. They’re not basshead phones by any means, but they respond very well to EQing. They can be tweaked to show some respectable botto
m end (for those who want it) without clipping, distortion, or veiling of the midrange or treble; provided that your source, amp, and EQ are of good quality, of course. Blasting some drum’n'bass or dancehall riddims over the q-JAYS is not entirely out of the question.
Soundstage (or headstage, for that matter) is not bad at all, compared to many other balanced armature IEMs. It could be better, seeing how some dynamic driver IEMs are able to deliver a quite impressive soundstage, first and foremost the Atrio and V-Moda Vibe. But considering the small size of the q-JAYS and how close the drivers sit to your ear drum, it just might not be possible to tweak them into creating a wider, larger out-of-the-head experience. I’m a sucker for a grand soundstage in general, but I’m fairly content with the q-JAYS portrayal of dimensionality.
They don’t sound their absolutely best on very quiet volume levels, but neither do many other earphones. Full-sized headphones and a strong amp generally seem to have an advantage for quiet listening, at least from my experience. However, it’s still very acceptable using the q-JAYS in bed, on the lowest volume level my MP3 player provides.
What can I say? If you like the AKG K701 or Sennheiser HD650, you most likely might find the q-JAYS very appealing to use on-the-go. If you like the Etymotic house sound or the way Future Sonics sounds, you might find a very interesting alternative in the q-JAYS. I’m well aware I just mentioned polar opposites, sound signature wise. For me, the q-JAYS stand pretty much in the middle. They rock, they whisper, they punch, they shine, they growl, they croon, they sing, they sparkle… just try them for yourself. I really like what they do to my music collection. I found myself listening more closely to the tunes stored on my portable players – not just because I’m writing this review, but because they make me hear things I usually only hear over my full-sized amp and headphones. Am I gushing? Well, sue me…
Calling the q-JAYS the “Volvo of IEMs” would probably sound rude. Yes, they’re Swedish, they’re well built, and they perform nicely. However, while Volvo’s design is debatable, the q-JAYS certainly are very pleasing to the eye, even to the most discriminating design aficionado.
All joking aside, the q-JAYS are truly great sounding phones. They surpass the Super.Fi 5 Pro, Etymotic ER-6, and similar phones in almost every aspect, giving these big boys a run for their money. They offer excellent clarity and instrument separation, silky treble, realistic midrange, quite good bass response, and a halfway decent soundstage (compared to other balanced armature IEMs). They’re very comfortable, incredibly tiny, and they seem quite sturdy. While they certainly could be considered to be analytic phones, they’re still fun to listen to. They’re neither bass heavy nor anemic and dull. They’re neither particularly “warm” nor “cold” sounding. They can be a bit sibilant and fatiguing (depending on your source and audio quality of your files), but not overly so. However, since the q-JAYS respond really well to EQing, they can be tailored to fit almost anyone’s sound preference.
There are no substantial negative points in respect of their audio quality, just some inconveniences with some hardware design decisions (microphonic cables, annoying cable lengths, awkward to remove from the ear canals). However, this could be considered nitpicking, since it really doesn’t distract from thoroughly enjoying how these phones sound.
The q-JAYS are definitely recommended for anyone owning a good sounding player and well encoded audio files. If those conditions are met, they’re worth their price.
- Great clarity and detail, balanced sound response, refined across the whole frequency spectrum
- Decent bass for a dual armature IEM
- High impedance, low sensitivity – prevents background hiss on most portable audio players
- Very small, stealthy, and comfortable
- Good build quality and design
- Comes with lots of accessories
- Very microphonic cables (unless worn over the ears), rather unfavorable cable lengths
- Somewhat difficult to remove from the ear canals due to their tiny size
- They can sound a bit too bright and fatiguing on some players (without proper EQing), soundstage could be larger
In the US you can purchase the q-JAYS from HeadRoom which is the only official US distributor i know of; In the EU or UK, you can buy them directly from JAYS, or look for a local reseller/distributor.