t-Jays Four IEM with Jays Curves (Dirac DSP) app review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Nov 25, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube video review: http://youtu.be/sTmWZmVAjGs

    Note: This review applies to the t-Jays Four IEM when used with the Jays Curves (Dirac HD) music player, except as noted below when comparing the sound with the Dirac DSP (Digital Signal Processor) turned on or off. This app works with the i-device headphone jack obviously, but also works with the LOD (Line Out Dock) to an analog headphone amp. Both the 30-pin and Lightning connectors work (Lightning if you have an adapter), and while there's an obvious difference in sound with an amp compared to the i-device alone, this app is tuned for the headphone jack, so using a headphone amp from the LOD might change the sound in a way that the DSP is not optimized for.

    Review summary: The Jays Curves music player for Apple i-devices that use 'apps' will make the t-Jays Four sound about as good as any headphone I've heard, in terms of frequency response at least, if not other parameters as well. The limitations in using the Jays Curves player are: It works only with devices that support this player, maximum volume is reduced compared to using the t-Jays Four with the standard (built-in) music player, and the Dirac sound treatment applies only to the Jays Curves music player - not to videos, Web sounds, or any other audio facility of the device. Dirac uses (among other things) what is probably very high quality parametric equalization to smooth out the sound of the headphone, when using the Jays Curves app. I installed the app on my iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and it does the same things as the built-in music player, using the same music track lists.

    The appearance of this Jays Curves app represents a breakthrough in personal high fidelity, from my point of view. Until the Dirac music player appeared for Apple Earpods and earbuds a couple weeks ago, headphones were generally played without special sonic treatments, except for EQ applied by users, or "soundstage" enhancers provided with certain headphone amps. To my knowledge, the Dirac app for Earpods (and now for the t-Jays Four) enabled headphone users to take advantage of DSP for the first time, to clean up the impulse (time-based) response of their headphones. Without the Jays Curves app, the t-Jays Four is very bassy and bright, having what headphone users typically refer to as a 'U'-shaped response. The Jays Curves app flattens that out pretty well, but in fixing the impulse response too, it goes well beyond EQ (even perfect EQ), to create a clarity of sound that you would never expect to hear anywhere near this price point.

    The hi-fi breakthrough I referred to above is having the Dirac DSP for a "real" earphone rather than the $29 Apple Earpods. While the Earpods with DSP equal or exceed the sound quality of some pricy headphones in certain ways, they just don't have the ultimate resolution of audiophile headphones and IEM's. Comparing the Earpods/DSP signature to the t-Jays Four, the Earpods' bass is slightly boomy, and the midrange sounds lighter or very slightly more nasal. The t-Jays Four also extends and improves the highs in a way that makes high-frequency instruments like triangles and bells sound better (see the Jennifer Warnes track below), and those improvements create a better sense of space or soundstage as well. Some of the music tracks I've played are 320k CBR MP3's I converted from high-resolution downloads, from Chesky, HDTracks, Blue Coast, etc. One such track, David Chesky/Wonjung Kim - Girl From Guatemala, sounds as good as I've ever heard it - full dynamics, no distortion - extremely smooth.

    The Shure 1840 headphone has my favorite treble, but most of the others I have are treble-shy. The Sennheiser Momentum and ATH ESW9a have a recess of about 5 db in the main brightness or "presence" area, the B&W P5 is recessed about 3 db, and the v-moda M80 about 6 db. The t-Jays Four/Curves treble is much closer in sound to the Shure 1840 than to the next most accurate headphone, the ATH ESW9a. The Curves app not only gets the amount of bass and treble right, but smooth enough that I'm not experiencing irritations with sibilants or low-quality music tracks. EQ-related tweaks generally have negative connotations for audiophiles, since they typically introduce large, narrow peaks and dips to the left and right of the center frequencies of the sliders used by the equalizer. Parametric equalizers are better at this, but the DSP that Dirac uses goes beyond EQ and addresses many if not most of the problems that relate to resonances and other driver/earpiece issues.

    The Jays Curves music player has a button to toggle the DSP on and off instantly, so you can compare the untreated sound to the sound with DSP. There's a certain roughness to the sound with the DSP off due to the t-Jays Four's basic signature which is uneven, but with the DSP on, not only does the signature become much more like a high quality headphone, but those rough areas get cleaned up as well. Any new distortions introduced with the DSP could affect long-term listening enjoyment, but my ears tell me that the DSP is essentially flawless. Note that the sonic correction I'm describing applies only to this version of the Jays Curves app, the current version t-Jays Four, and plugging the t-Jays Four directly into current Apple i-device headphone jacks. My tests with headphone amps demonstrated to me that altering any of these parameters could change the sound in unpredictable ways.

    The t-Jays Four looks like a typical IEM to me, but the earpieces are made with a ~40 degree angle rather than straight, and straight would have fit me better. There are a total of 5 different sized eartip pairs included. The basic cable is about 27 inches long, and the extension cable adds another 36 inches. The 3-button Apple controls and mic are located about 7 inches below the earpieces. In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the t-Jays Four compares with each individual track.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2012
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    t-Jays Four review music examples

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the t-Jays Four.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the t-Jays Four are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well by the t-Jays Four.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled well by the t-Jays Four.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the t-Jays Four.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds excellent with the t-Jays Four.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the t-Jays Four renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The t-Jays Four plays this perfectly.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The t-Jays Four plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 20-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the t-Jays Four delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the t-Jays Four.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in some very expensive headphones. The t-Jays Four plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track many times now, I'm highly impressed with the t-Jays Four's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track. Of special note here are some high frequency instruments (triangles?), mainly in the right channel near the beginning of the track. I hear those OK with the Apple Earpods and Dirac player, but the t-Jays Four with the Jays Curves (Dirac HD) music player extends the detail in a way I would only expect from a premium headphone costing upwards of $700 USD.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The t-Jays Four provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the t-Jays Four plays them perfectly.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds very good with the t-Jays Four.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the t-Jays Four plays it perfectly.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat, but the t-Jays Four makes this music come alive. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but not with the t-Jays Four.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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