Quick Thoughts: Astell&Kern ARK03 (JH Audio Roxanne) — Hear No Evil, Feel The Pain

12 drivers. $1299.

Jerry wears the Roxanne with the AK240.
Jerry wears the ARK03/Roxanne with the AK240 (Picture from: Astell&Kern).

We all heard of the news last year. The audiophile interwebz was abuzz with the Roxanne. Carbon fiber shells! Twelve frickin’ drivers! Tunable bass!

AND, at $1299, the JH Audio Roxanne seems like a bargain compared to the likes of the AKG K3003, FitEar TO GO! 334 and a few other high-end, boutique universal-fit IEMs.

It’s got 12 drivers, for goodness’ sakes! Indeed, that’s the siren song of the Roxanne — at the outset, no one else will be able to give you twelve drivers working in FreqPhase for your ears. The custom version of the Roxanne costs a good $300 more. The shells themselves are 3D printed.

IMG_0524_ARK03_mini
The Astell&Kern ARK03, a rebadged Roxanne.

If you’re expecting Mr. T to lay the smackdown on Jerry Harvey and his outfit, I’m not going to. Well, not with respect to the sound alone. The sound of the Roxanne is stellar. It really is.

I must confess, however, that it’s not what I’d want to listen to all the time. I do like the sound of the Roxanne (with bass knob all the way down) more than that of the demo JH13FP. The treble is more composed and accurate, and the the midrange is slightly more relaxed, attaining a more neutral feel. It does possess some very good mid-high to treble response.

However, I feel that phase coherence degrades with the bass knob turned all the way down. Imaging does not feel as precise as that of the JH13FP. Bass also feels slightly overdamped with the bass knob turned all the way down. The 3800 woofers used in the Roxanne work best when they have room to breathe, but here they feel a bit stifled, and bass texture and layering suffers compared to what it can/should do.

Back when they first announced the release of the Roxanne, I questioned the point of the bass knob. It works, but why bother? Just because adjustable bass is something giddy audiophiles think are cool? A tiny variable resistor will definitely introduce more distortion than it’s worth.

Frequency Response of the ARK03, without target equalization compensation, measured with a source output impedance of <1 ohm, into a calibrated IEC60711 (IEC60318-4) compliant ear simulator. Data retrieval and processing was achieved via ARTA, smoothed 1/12th octave. Data acquisition was performed by a disinterested third party (anonymous).
Frequency response of the ARK03, without target equalization compensation, measured with a source output impedance of

A third party source, which shall remain unnamed, has kindly provided CYMBACAVUM with reliable data with respect to the frequency response of the ARK03.

The main thing to glean from this frequency response chart is that the mids are indeed laid-back and recessed, and it’s obvious from listening impressions, especially when the bass knob is turned up beyond default settings.

Can we verify whether or not the Roxanne really has 25,000 kHz treble extension? Not with standard IEC-60318-4 ear simulators. We’ll have to take Jerry at his word. The good thing is that, qualitatively, the Roxanne definitely sounds like it has decent treble extension.

Here comes the smackdown.

I managed to get a good seal with it, but my goodness, those are some truly terrible fit ergonomics.

The fit is heinous in every way imaginable.

Jerry mentioned in his Google talk that he got the idea for making the universal Roxanne from the success of other “universalized customs” like the FitEar TO GO! 334. Well, the TO GO! 334 can’t quite be considered a super-comfortable IEM, and many other large, high-end IEMs are actually quite clunky in fit, such as the Tralucent 1Plus2 (review here), but the Roxanne makes ALL of them feel like angels tickling my ears.

I don’t even want to continue talking about it. Actually, I should just cut it short here.

Maybe, someday, I’ll write something about Jerry Harvey the dreamer/romantic, and how JH Audio has mis-executed on numerous product launches in the past few years. But not today.

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