- Attractive design
- Warm, engaging sound
- Slightly bloated bottom end
- Lacks accessories of other Jays
- Review Price: £49.99
- 5 pairs of rubber tips
- In-line remote/handsfree
- Right-angle jack
- Flat cable
- 8.6mm driver
When browsing for a set of decent earphones that won’t bankrupt your entire family, a few key brands stick out. Sennheiser tend to be our first recommendation, followed by the tiny in-ear champs from Ultimate Ears and Sony. Skullcandy lags behind somewhat, but picks off a few straggler buyers looking for something a bit gaudy. Jays tends to get overlooked in the UK, but offer some of the best-value entry-level earphones around. In the shape of the a-JAYS range.
The Four is the top model in the a-JAYS series, and they are more Sennheiser than Skullcandy in design. Apart from a spot of white lettering and a silver back cover to each bud, these earphones are black, all-black. A white model is also available, similarly simple. Like all of Jays earphones – apart from perhaps the slightly odd-looking t-JAYS – they’re simple but offer clean, smooth curves that are understated, self-assured and stylish in a low-key way.
There’s no flashiness on show here, but there is something a little… cool about their chunky appearance. They look and feel a little more expensive than the cheaper models in the range, finished in matt soft touch black rather than shiny black plastic. Like Sennheiser’s CX range though, the a-JAYS series is plagued by a lack of clarity in the differentiation between models.
Ranging from £20 to £50, the clearest difference is price, as they share the same design – and that’s not really a good thing. The One earphones are the base model, the Two ups the game with a better accessory package and claimed improved frequency response. The Three keeps the same accessories, but uses an improved driver, while this Four model adds a handsfree and remote housing that sits around 15cm down from the right earbud. A bit clearer on the a-JAYS dynasty now? Well that’s just a fraction of the full JAYS range, which tops off with the £200 q-JAYS.
Although this is the top model in the a-JAYS series, it doesn’t offer the class-leading accessories package the Two and Three models come with. A generous five sets of rubber tips comes bundled, but you miss out on an airplane converter and earphone splitter. We tend to find these extras end up put to one side and lost pretty quickly, but if you’re a frequent flier or like sharing your love for N’SYNC’s greatest hits with a friend on the bus, you may feel differently.
In exchange, you get the dinky remote that adopts an attractively chunky design similar to that of the buds themselves. Looking like a black and silver traffic light, it features three multi-function buttons, while the microphone sits on the back, resting fairly close to your mouth in normal usage.
It’s only certified for use with Apple’s iOS devices, and it refused to work properly with the Android phones we tested it with. Paired with the right gadget (preferably an iPod Touch or iPhone) and it’ll switch between songs, change volume, fast forward, rewind and, with an iPhone, accept and reject calls. The microphone is non-directional. This means it’ll have no trouble picking up your voice, but also will pick up more ambient noise – not necessarily all that bad for you, but potentially not so great for the person you’re calling.
The Jays a-JAYS Four use rubber tips to block out the sound of your environment, which they do reasonably well as long as you attain a decent fit within your ear canal. That Jays has included five pairs, all of different sizes, really helps here. Some other pairs of earphones only offer three. The tips are of excellent quality too – thick, soft and comfortable.
Jays has also gone the extra mile with the earphone cable, chucking out the standard round design in favour of the much chunkier flat ribbon type. This is meant to decrease tangling, and while it works to an extent, it certainly doesn’t make them immune to turning into a matted clump of linguini should you leave them in a pocket or at the bottom of a bag.
This design doesn’t stop microphonics, the loud banging noises heard with IEMs when the cable bumps into your clothing. It’s fairly pronounced here, but if you want to go out running with the a-JAYS Four earphones, you can always run the cable over your earlobes, which cuts down this effect significantly. The extra weight of the thick cable helps to keep it in place when worn like this.
We’ve talked a load about the errant noises they make and avoid, but how do they actually sound?
Like the rest of the a-JAYS series, which are often tagged with the unfortunate “heavy bass” tag when sold online, they are pretty bassy. In this sense, they’re similar to Sennheiser’s CX-series earphones.
The low end isn’t tremendously well-controlled, but it’s warm and enjoyable. Like a warm blanket that’s sure to be a bit too warm and fluffy for pedantic audio nuts keen on clinical accuracy.
Apart from the big-booty’d bottom end, the sound is very well balanced. They’re virtually immune to sibilance and harshness, and provide an excellent fatigue-free all-day listen. We’d ideally like to hear a little more brightness, a tad more sparkle in those highs, but the Jays a-JAYS Four outclass the entry-level One pair.
This sound signature is reasonably flexible, providing an engaging and easy-going listen. The inflated low-end can let instruments like bass guitars, low synths and strings dominate arrangements disproportionately, and flub intricate passages, but performance is highly competitive at this high-entry or low-mid price point.
At around £50 RRP, they are not all that much more expensive than the Sennheiser CX 500 and CX 400, although intermittent bargain pricing of those hugely popular models means they’ll occasionally sell for much less. Sonically, they compare well, the Sennheisers just offering a little more energy higher-up the frequency spectrum. The Jays feel better-made to us though – the CX earphones renowned for dramatically falling apart in a number of different ways after a few months’ use.
They do inhabit a tricky position, though. For just £30 more, you can take the giant leap up to the big leagues with the Phonak Audeo Perfect Bass 012 – which supply superior, high-end sound quality. It may be a big much to ask you to invest an extra 60 percent, but consider that this extra thirty quid gets you from the top of the bottom of the market, to the bottom of the top.
Although not generally thought of as one of the top reliable earphone brands – it tends not to have enough presence – it’s a rep Jays deserves. The a-JAYS Four provide an attractive design and a warm and powerful sound, improving on sets lower down the range. At £50, though, it’s worth considering whether your pocket can take a little more pounding in favour of something a bit fancier – as these earphones still cling onto the slightly under-controlled (if enjoyable) low-end of the top entry-level earphones.
Score in detail
Design & Features 8
Sound Quality 8