In a market saturated with celebrity endorsements, fashion experiments and ambitious mark-ups, it is always a delight to discover a product that focusses on functionality and performance. Swedish company Jays last month released its second-generation q-Jays reference earphones, three years after the release of the first model. We put them through their paces to see if they impress as much as the originals.
"Reference" means no thunderous bass presence or overly loud tops, just a clean, clear flat response that helps you hear music how the producer intended. For the average consumer this might not seem as appealing as terms like "full bass", "pump up the bass" or "rumble enhanced," but Jays has done an admirable job delivering a product that true audiophiles will happily shove in their ear canals.
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Each earbud is powered by twin balanced armature drivers, which is a sound transducer design that is very small and doesn't require external air to operate in the way that dynamic drivers do. This allows the transducer to be tuned extremely precisely. The drivers inside the q-Jays have a crossover frequency of 3.3 kHz, with one for bass, mids and low highs, and one for extra clarity on the top end.
The q-Jays come with a replaceable cable that threads in securely to the earbud. This is a neat feature that could prolong the lifespan of the product, but the real winner is probably Jays, which sells replacement cables for up to US$70. It’s worth noting that for that sort of coin you will be getting a fully integrated, microphone-attached model that will interface with your mobile device, not the standard stereo model that q-Jays are shipped with that go for $40.
One of the striking things about Jays’ products is the impeccable detail in packaging. Much like breaking into a new iPhone box, the design and feel of the packaging is something to behold. It would indeed be a delight to bring them home from the shop and assemble them for the first time.
The q-Jays ship with five different sized silicon earbuds, plus one squishy foam pair that can expand to fit almost any ear snugly. Because of the threaded cable, you can wear the earphones with the cord going down, or up and over your ears without inverting the stereo image. I found by wearing them over my ears I could minimize a lot of the bassy thuds that can travel through the lead.
Jays’ current range is renowned for its matt black minimalist design, something that is embodied thoroughly in the q-Jays. And these things are tiny. In fact, according to Jays they are the "world’s smallest earphones with detachable cables." I’m not sure how many products are competing for that title, but I’d surprised if anyone came near it given the size of the q-Jays.
The stainless steel housing is both lovely to touch and extremely durable. It is coated with a proprietary scratch-resistant anti-fingerprint coating so you can get your grubby mitts all over it without messing up the duco.
There isn’t a trace of a brand name anywhere on the earphones. That’s right, no one will know how cool you are for wearing these, so I’m sure there’ll be an appeal for rich hipsters who don’t want people to know they shopped outside of the thrift store. The only real giveaway that you’re handling an expensive bit of kit is the weight of the buds. They don’t feel heavy in your ears, but in the hand you can feel their quality.
Despite lacking any clear of indication of left and right, the feel of the earbuds immediately lets you know which is which thanks to its well-designed soft curve. My only gripe design-wise is that the detachable cables’ stereo indicator is so faint you can hardly notice the marking, even in good light.
The q-Jays deliver on what they promise – a flat response earphone with terrific clarity across the spectrum. Compared to my custom-fitted Westone ES5s (a stiff comparison to be fair), the q-Jays lacked a touch of warmth through the mid-range, but dispatched very vivid audio with no unwanted holes or peaks. The bass was surprisingly full, with no audible drop-offs in the sub range.
As the volume is pushed, it is definitely the high end that dominates, but there’s no harsh sibilance at reasonable listening levels. There can be a slightly metallic brilliance in the trebles that I noticed, but nothing that would deter the average listener.
The fit of the earphones is snug, but not isolating. Walking in traffic or flying in a plane could give you trouble with background noise, but indoors you can feel fully immersed without the sense of detachment that a custom-fit or noise-canceling earphone provides.
Comfort-wise, the q-Jays really shine. The tiny buds fit quickly and easily into your ear canals, and stay in place without requiring any clunky over-ear or outer-ear supports. Their light-weight, compact design means you can very quickly forget you just shoved something bigger than your elbow in your ear.
All in all, the q-Jays are a class act. They should appeal to audiophiles who want clear and transparent audio without chunky over-ear headphones, and who are willing to pay a little more for beautiful style, excellent quality, and standout comfort. The $400 price tag certainly does put them in the premium category, but at least with the q-Jays you know your money is going into sonic clarity and superb craftsmanship, rather than some sportsman’s latest supercar fund.
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