Every once in a while, I get my hands on an earphone so mind-blowingly enticing, I barely know what to do with myself. The new Layla AION – a collaboration between JH Audio and Astell & Kern – is one such earphone. Priced at $3499, this earphone goes toe-to-toe with other flagship earphones. But how does it sound? And can the Layla AION measure up to its competition?
Reviewing Astell&Kern Layla Aion In-Ear Monitors by Jerry Harvey Audio
Cracking the box open, you will find that this earphone comes with a few cool accessories. Aside from the eartips and cleaning tool, you also get the usual JH Audio tool for adjusting the integrated bass filters. But there’s also a nice soft pouch, a heavy-duty carrying case, and even a 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm adapter from Astell & Kern.
Holding the Layla AION in my hands I’m impressed by two things. First off, this earphone looks GORGEOUS. And secondly, it’s a little large.
Once placed in my ear, though, the size seems to be less of an issue. I would definitely say it wears better than expected. Thanks to that bulk, though, isolation also feels pretty impressive. As such, the Layla AION easily block out the sound of my coworkers arguing about the best Bond film (it’s From Russia With Love, dammit).
Internally, the Layla AION utilizes a total of 12 drivers in each ear – with four BA drivers each for the lows, mids, and highs. These drivers sit inside 3D-printed housings that also help facilitate JH Audio’s proprietary freqPhase technology.
Cabling comes in the form of a 4 ft (1.2 m) braided cable terminating in a balanced 2.5 mm plug. As mentioned, an adapter is included, allowing the use of a 3.5 mm plug.
In terms of amping, the Layla feels ultra sensitive. If you use a good earphone amp with it, you won’t be disappointed. However, during my own listening sessions, I found my usual amp a bit overkill. In truth, this earphone sounds great no matter what you’re running it from. For the purposes of this review, I ran it through my iPOD, an iPhone 8, and the AK SP1000m.
Due to the variable bass feature, the Layla AION’s low end can range from soft and understated to deep and throbbing. Right out of the box, the Layla’s bass-o-meter is set to full, so you’re going to be in for some intense sub-bass unless you dial it down a bit. That being said, I found the most pleasing lows at a medium setting, where impact landed with precision, but still felt deep enough to stay engaging. In terms of detail, this is a lifelike low end with plenty of nuance and subtlety. And that’s exactly what I would expect from JH Audio.
At first, the mids seemed off to me. Appearing recessed and distant, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would engineer an earphone to sound that way. However, during my second listening session, I realized why the mids sounded so strange to me: there’s no real emphasis on the mids – neither forward-leaning nor actually recessed, they simply sound flat. As a result, they sit almost abreast of the lows and the highs, allowing the entire frequency range to stand on its own without any one part being emphasized over the rest. And with that in mind, the mids are still very detailed – just not as in-your-face as they are on most other earphones at this price.
With four BA drivers handling the highs, it should come as no surprise that the Layla AION offers an impressive sound here. But what’s really impressive is just how tempered this sound appears. Never too bright, there’s still solid fidelity at play here, recreating strings, horns, and female vocals perfectly. While just smooth enough to avoid any harshness or piercing tendencies, its still a very articulate high end that does not disappoint.
There’s a ton of soundstage here, with good depth and excellent placement. Every instrument and vocalist occupies their own space, allowing notes to appear and fall away with three-dimensional impressions. All in all, this is very roomy for an IEM and approaching the kind of open-air soundstage one would expect from an open-back headphone.
The Layla AION is like that crazy-hot coworker who is just out of your league, but still smiles and says hello every time you see her. And while you’ll probably never be able to afford that high life, you still gotta give props where props are due.
And I feel like some folks will disdain the Layla AION based on the neutral, flat-ish sound profile. But that’s a shame, because this earphone feels incredibly detailed and revealing. For pure audiophile-level detail with ZERO coloration and ZERO embellishment, this is the earphone you absolutely need.
If you’re looking for a v-shaped sound and tons of emotive audio, skip the JH Audio x Astell & Kern Layla AION. Instead, opt for the 64 Audio Tia Fourte. With more highs and more lows, it’s a fantastic listening experience for fans of colorful and engaging sound.
People who want maximum bass and just slightly rolled off highs would do well to consider the equally-expensive Empire Ears Wraith – the ultimate Basshead IEM.
However, for fans of the most accurate sound – and the ability to dial in bass as it’s needed – the Layla AION isn’t just a great option, it’s the only serious option. No other earphone offers this clean or accurate listening experience. And if someone tells you otherwise, they simply can’t afford it, or they need to take a hearing test.
The Layla AION won’t be the most affordable earphone for a lot of folks. At $3499, it’s definitely priced like a premium earphone. But the sound quality lives up to the hype, and fans of JH Audio won’t be disappointed with this new earphone. And, anyone seeking a highly-nuanced, revealing sound needs to demo this gem, pronto. Our take? The Layla AION kicks ass and takes names with truly accurate sound that compliments any music library.
Invest in a JH Audio x Astell & Kern Layla AION for the best price here:
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