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This is the 17th in a series of reviews dedicated to the concept of 32Ohm Audio as embodied by the store of that name in downtown Portland/Oregon and described here - Ed.

Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: iPod Classic 160GB with uncompressed files
Amplifier: ALO Audio Rx
Headphones:Sennheiser HD800 w. ALO Audio wiring, AudioTechnica ATH-W5000, Grado PS-1000, AKG K702 with ALO Audio wiring, B&O ear clips, Apple iPod buds
Cables: ALO Audio 30-pin to mini link
Review Component Retail: $179

Headquartered in Sweden's Västerå and founded in 2006, headphone maker Jays is on a roll. In early February, they signed Luthman, "the largest Scandinavian operator in the field of music instruments and equipment. Luthman also runs two of northern Europe's biggest chains of music instrument stores, Musicborsen and 4Sound." A week later, Jays announced the pending introduction of two new series—the a-Jays and t-Jays—and the prestige model x-Jays, "the world's smallest in-ear phone with a quadro armature". Then publicly traded Transferator acquired 20% of Jays shares from venture capital fund Creandum. Transferator CEO Jakob Johansson said that "Jays has not only built a strong brand in only three years but also gained trust of both critics and consumers with its products and achieved international recognition. We are impressed that Jays, applying pure Nordic design, smart technical choice and high quality could rapidly manage to take an international position. Rune Torbjörnsen, Jays' CEO [left], added that "we are in a phase of high expansion. Jays' products are sold today in 20 countries and we are about to launch a strong and broad product line and expand even further internationally. This venture will contribute to a strong alliance between Transferator and Jays in just the right time."

So if you hadn't heard of Jays yet, these Swedes seem dead set on changing that. The company's Urban Kindhult had dispatched one of their q-Jays, a dual armature in-ear design whose blister-pack shipment includes a two-prong airline adaptor; a stereo splitter to feed two earphones from a single mini output; a 90cm long right-angle extension cord; a 90cm in-line extension cord; differently sized sleeves to fit any ear canal; replacement protective filters; and a plain zippered white leatherette bag.

The diameter of the driver housing nozzle is somewhat larger than a match stick head but not much - and the entire enclosure is an inch long.

How Jays stuffs two armatures into it is one of those miniaturization marvels that seem near magic even to adults. Specs include a 95dB sensitivity and 39-ohm impedance. Weight is 8 grams. Standard colors are black or white. Premium color trim is also available. The owner's manual in English, Swedish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese confirms ambitions for world domination.

On to proper eariquette. The q-Jays are sound isolating so don't wear 'em where your survival and safety rely on being able to hear your environment. With the correctly sized rubber seal for your ears, your lover in bed won't hear what you're listening to. That's how well the q-Jays shut out the world around you. Bass response too relies on achieving a complete seal.

If you've never stuck stuff into your ears for entertainment, it'll take some getting used to. Some listener may never. Liabilities here include highly microphonic leads. A turn of your head shifting the Y-harness or extension cord across your shirt or collar feeds back as a scratching noise. Proper cable dressing thus becomes important. Compared to on-ear phones like the stock units Apple includes with each iPod; or circumaural big 'phones whose diaphragms are actually off the ear; the q-Jays project the sound exclusively inside your head. Forget the 'occipital pillow' type of soundstage you get with normal phones. Sennheiser HD-800 or AKG K-1000 type headstaging is altogether different.

This too takes acclimatization. Just as the wear sensation of having your ears quite literally plugged may not grow on you, not everyone will wholly embrace the brain space. It's the closest thing to having the sound direct-coupled to your grey matter. Hence the q-Jays go after purely hard-panned sound. It's not the layered 3-D panorama which audiophiles reared on big speakers fancy and which relies on acoustic crossfeed and lots of energized air and ambient reinforcement. The q-Jays retaliate by going where ordinary speakers and headphones can't. Hardcore audiophiles should ask whether the imposition of unrealistic expectations with their innate usage restrictions outweighs doing it anywhere anytime? Who really wins, the snob or he with the most fun?

While the q-Jays are spec'd twenty twenty, one has to take the last 15 to 20 cycles with a grain of salt. The q-Jays do go surprisingly low. They completely avoid sounding thin and threadbare. In fact, they clearly go lower than my B&O on-ear clips [left]. But there's a big difference between low bass sound and low bass impact. In general, all headphones suffer this distinction. They all scale back and miniaturize things. Still, by comparison my big cans with their far bigger drivers and off-ear spacing all muster greater perceived gravitas than the q-Jays can. Until I hear more ear-canal examples, I should think this intrinsic to the design choices. And, wearing my studly rewired HD-800s to bed or on the tube is quite the no-go. As always, it's about adapting to given situations and making the most of them. The q-Jays shut out the world, are so small as to be virtually invisible when worn and work in close proximity to others without disturbing them. Hence they turn downtime into listening opportunities with nary a practical restriction on when and where.

On my iPod Classic 160GB, the volume for standard levels sat three-quarters up on the blue bar. Switching to my ALO Audio Rx amp via 30-pin-to-mini ALO Audio link created less of an iPod handicap than my usual loads where the iPod always gets badly beaten up. While bass amplitude, reach, tone and overall grippiness were better with the Rx, the iPod's headphone socket sounded far more respectable than suspected. Let me put it this way - should the Rx's seemingly endless battery charge expire one day before the iPod called it quits, I'd not stop listening to the q-Jays. And if it hadn't hit home yet just how small they are, the familiar iPod display below should frame the perfect reference.

The q-Jays have a clean, lively and punchy character that's well balanced and even-handed to suggest little tampering with the frequency response. Only the top end performs at a slightly lower level of suavity to keep career nitpickers in biz. Here's the thing though. Unless I want to keep my fingers on them, there's no way for me to get a proper seal with Apple's stock ear buds which are included with the iPod [lower right in the photo]. B&O's ear clips work far better but still don't seal anywhere near as well as the q-Jays. Of the three, the Swedes come out ahead in overall high fidelity and tonal fullness. With the right rubber plug that fit my ear canal just so, the q-Jays stayed put for hours and—considering that I'm not a real fan of stuffed ears—were also sufficiently comfortable to be used that long.

In fact, for late night sessions under the sheets, the q-Jays could be marriage savers. Now you won't feel banished out of the bedroom because your open-backed cans leak enough sound to keep your significant other up. If you're a music consumer, that's big. If you listen on the bus or subway to work or do a lot of flying, it's common courtesy to shield fellow travelers from your habit. Only in-ear phones will do the business completely and let you rock out. Here the q-Jays hit the big time with surprisingly advanced full-range sound from a truly tiny package. I don't know the logic behind Jays' naming conventions but the 'q' of this model calls up James Bond's trusted hi-tech outfitter. And that would be most à propos.

PS: A few days after the above published, I received this press release: "Jays has partnered with Bellman & Symfon, world-leading experts in hearing technology, to boost its range with the launch of q-Jays Custom, the ultimate personalized audio product mounted in a silicone shape cast to fit to the user's own ear canal for maximum comfort and sound quality. This hand-crafted mold provides close to complete sound isolation to allow enjoyment of the smallest earphones on the market completely uninterrupted. A unique feature is that the earphone can be safely removed and placed back in the mold, allowing for use also as a normal in-earphone. This makes it possible to change the silicone mold—which should be done in intervals of 4 to 5 years—without investing in a new earphone.   

"We meet hundreds of musicians and they often ask if we can provide this type of in-ear monitor to use in live performances" says Peter Cedmer, product manager at Jays. "Live performers are like the Formula 1 drivers of the audio world. They're an extremely demanding group of customers but working in close cooperation with them allows us to develop the very best products. With the launch of the q-Jays Custom we can now offer the very best in this personalized earphone technology to our non-professional customers as well."
Quality of packing: Good.
Reusability of packing: If you're patient and careful opening it, plenty of times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Pricing: Higher than the fashion crap but fully justified by performance and miniaturization.
Final comments & suggestions: A very good seal keeps the world and its noises out and you in your own private bubble. In-ear placement may not feel natural and regular ear cleaning is required to prevent gunking up the q-Jays with ear wax. These are a very good choice for frequent travelers and those who want to listen in bed. Y-harness cabling is microphonic so proper cable routing is wise to minimize having it move across clothes.

Jays website