There’s no doubt in our minds that Sweden’s JAYS is one of the best canalphone companies in the world; the company’s in-ear designs are still amongst the very smallest and best-balanced we’ve heard. But c-JAYS (£80/$120), a new pair of either white or black plastic on-ear headphones, is a departure for JAYS, and the results are unfortunately not quite as impressive.
It’s obvious that JAYS was working to find a new balance of audio performance and clean design, and in the most basic implementation of c-JAYS, the company actually succeeded. This pair of headphones is built around multi-layer diaphragm speakers that are designed to deliver superior sound quality in small packages, and the results are 1.75” square, pivoting earpieces that are attached to an adjustable headband. JAYS includes three user-replaceable earpads that can fit on top of your ears, ranging from small to medium or large sizes.
None of the earpads completely blocks your ears against ambient sounds. The small ones look quite good, deliver the best sound quality from the speakers, and will most likely rest completely on your ears rather than hanging off their edges, but provide the least surface area or shape for isolation. Medium and small sizes are interestingly rounded squares with circular depressions in their centers. JAYS also packs several types of cable adapters, including an original iPhone-compatible extension cord, plus a simple fabric drawstring carrying case.
With the small, thin foam pads on, c-JAYS sounds really very good—potentially B+ caliber for the size and price—delivering a somewhat warm, bass-rich sound signature with solid treble detail and enough clarity to make songs pop. The bass is accentuated enough to slightly overwhelm the midrange, but songs actually are fun to listen to, and possess enough depth that you can hear tracks as layers. We’re not huge fans of on-ear headphones, but these are small, light, and nice enough that we’d actually consider using them.
The bad news is that there are a few serious issues with c-JAYS, all related to the earpads. While the small ones are made from foam similar to the material Apple used to include with iPod earphones, the medium ones are thicker, and the large ones thicker and coarser still. As a result, with each step you take upwards, the pads feel less comfortable, but unexpectedly, they also become more durable. We tore the small ones after only a week or two of use, and there aren’t any extras in the package. When we compared the sound quality through the medium and large one, we weren’t as impressed: the foam actually gets in the way of the sound, and between that and the odd shape of the large pads in particular, which draw the speakers away from the ear, anything but the small pads will diminish the audio.
So where that leaves us is with an attractive pair of earphones that sound very good and feel comfortable with pads that are way too easy to tear, yet sound and feel worse with the only other pads in the box. Some users may like the super-large L pads, which are almost afro-like in their exaggerated size and make as much of a statement about your sense of style as anything else, but other than their pure amusement value, we wouldn’t pick them given their impact on sound and comfort. We never thought a pair of JAYS earphones would rate below our B level, but without good earpads, c-JAYS doesn’t live up to its full potential; they’re worth considering only if you’re sure you can handle the small pads very carefully, or if you plan to use one of the other sizes despite the sonic impact. Our hope is that JAYS will rethink these parts and re-release c-JAYS in a modestly changed but much improved form.