Review: JAYS s-JAYS Siren Armature Earphones
Long-time readers know that we are rarely enthusiastic about premium in-canal earphones that purport to offer "powerful bass," as the words all too often denote both a heavy sonic skew and a bloated low end that can just as easily be found in $30 earphones. But when JAYS of Sweden announced s-JAYS ($85), a pair of reasonably priced earphones with "JAYS' most powerful bass system so far," we were actually intrigued. This company's earphones have developed a reputation for clean, nicely balanced sound and interesting industrial designs, so we knew that anything bassy coming from its engineers would begin from a point of neutrality, and have the potential to be great. In short, s-JAYS turns out to be a somewhat odd little earphone, but sonically, it's definitely a nice choice for those who appreciate bass quality rather than quantity.
True to JAYS form, s-JAYS is sold in an attractively minimalist black box that’s loaded with parts: a small zippered carrying case, airline and splitting plug adapters, replaceable plastic filters, multiple eartips—here ranging from extra-extra-small to large, and for the first time in JAYS history, foam tips. You choose from black or white glossy plastic bodies, and get a sectioned cord that can be used as a whole with iPods and iPhones, or split in the middle for attachment to wired remote controls.
Virtually everything in the s-JAYS package is familiar and cleanly designed except for the earphone bodies themselves. It’s easy to call them unusual, grub-like, and Wrath of Khan-inspired, their gentle curved bodies designed with intentional grooves and bubbles that evoke completely different responses than the company’s earlier minimalist designs. Unlike the company’s super-tiny q-JAYS, one gets the sense that the the need to create a bass chamber required a certain body size, and JAYS’ designers tried to make it as interesting and organic as possible. The result, ear worms, don’t fit completely inside your ears, and you may find that they don’t stay snug even if you find the right tips in the package. Notably, JAYS has made it all but impossible to figure out which earphone is which; you’ll find tiny L and R markings on the rear sides of the earphones at the points at which the rubber cables meet their plastic bodies.
Similar but slightly different issues also impacted JAYS’ earlier d-JAYS, which offered a really nice, neutral audio balance in a package that was fine for some ears, but didn’t always stay stable in others. JAYS’ next major earphone, q-JAYS, was both tiny and outstanding, designed in a shape that would fit virtually any ear. s-JAYS reverts back to d-JAYS’ direction, substantially larger than q-JAYS and somewhat bigger than d-JAYS, and once again, its cable connection is angled inward in a way that may cause the bodies to pop out. We suspect this is being done for aesthetic reasons, but we really don’t like having to hold earphones in place, and some users will find that this is an issue with s-JAYS due to its design.
Will they bother? They might. Once again, JAYS has come up with a worthwhile sound signature, here using a new balanced armature speaker design called the “Siren Armature” to produce audio that manages to be worthy of the $85 asking price—arguably more. Understand up front that JAYS’ aforementioned claim about offering its “most powerful bass system so far” is important here: this isn’t the industry’s most powerful, deep, or dark pair of bassy earphones, even for this price, or in a single-driver design. Pop in a pair of V-Moda’s now similarly priced Vibes and you’ll hear a Darth Vader-like bass echo chamber effect that s-JAYS doesn’t match; similarly, pony up to Klipsch’s tiny, expensive Image X10—or many other earphones—and you’ll hear lows that aren’t apparent in s-JAYS.
But importantly, what you will get in s-JAYS is control. If you can imagine taking Apple’s current packed-in iPod and iPhone earphones, isolating all the external sound they typically let in, and then dramatically reducing their distortion, that’s essentially what you’ll hear from s-JAYS: a pretty nice balance of treble and midrange, with an added boost of bass to satisfy bassheads, its low-end warmth slightly encroaching on midrange detail. You’ll hear all the cymbals and claps, but without sharp edges, and you’ll be able to feel—lightly—the deep beats in your songs. With the exception of really low notes, you’ll find that the sound’s all there, restrained rather than excessive, with enough detail to let you hear some things you’ve missed before.
It’s worth noting that JAYS’ chosen sound signature has advantages and disadvantages. s-JAYS excels in tracks with distinct beats, but doesn’t do as well at creating a sense of popping instruments; for instance, it has a tendency to warm guitars to a point where they fill your ears, leaving voices to melt in and out. The result is music that tends to sound smooth and relaxed, rather than clinical, dynamic, or artificial.
In summary, though we’re not bass fanatics, we liked the sound of s-JAYS, appreciating its relative clarity, its judicious approach to bass emphasis, and preservation of enough treble and midrange detail to render music enjoyable. For the price, we’d generally place s-JAYS in the A- category on sonics alone. Yet fit and comfort are extremely important, and while the inclusion of various ear tips is a major positive, they’re offset by the unusually bulbous bodies and inward-pointing cable connectors, which some users will find problematic in achieving fit and stability. Competing single-driver designs we’ve tested have done a better job of staying in our ears during extended listening. So, if you’re looking for a great-sounding, sub-$100 pair of canalphones, consider s-JAYS worthy of a test drive from a place with a good return policy; if they fit your ears and the concept of earphones with a judicious bass boost meets your needs, they’ll be keepers.