Pros: VERY strong bass
Good overall sound
Cons: VERY strong bass
Not quite TOTL clarity and detail
Low-end can overwhelm everything else without bass plugs
Edited 05 Jan 2022: New Burson Conductor 3XP DAC/AMP changed the sound profile and got rid of some of the sibilances on the highs (but not all) while decreasing the overall bass for a more balanced profile. This makes the headphones an overall smoother listen than my Schiit did. I also have no issues with the bass and sibilance on a portable Fiio FC3 DAC for some reason, so it may be source dependent. I’ve tried the GHJM with both cables and the rougher highs (Across the Burren is painful)/boosted lows persist on a desktop amp. These work great for me as a portable solution, but not a desktop headphone. I have a pair of the JM Audio XTC-Closed (XTC-C) on the way, I will update with how those sound vs these.
I’ve had the Kennerton Gjallarhorn GH 50 JM Edition v2 (GHJM) for a little while now and I finally have the chance to write a review. These are the Blue Stabilized Maple version that you can’t even get directly from Kennerton as far as I can tell. The Baltic Sea version is more Blue/Green and are a lighter color than the dark blue of the stabilized maple. You can also only buy the Gjallarhorn GH 50 JM Edition v1 from Kennerton. The v2 edition must be sent to JM (@John Massaria) to get him to install the JM Proprietary Fractal Fiberglass Mesh Technology (TM) and some different sets of earpads. I am also using his balanced JM Audio 4-pin XLR cable, which provides great sound and is EASILY driven from my Schiit at ¼ power. From the cable, they receive power and conversion from a Schiit Bifrost 2/64 DAC and a Jotunheim 2 amp (both excellent Schiit btw). They are being sourced through my desktop PC with a Moon Audio Silver Dragon (what a waste of money) cable pulling from Tidal Hifi Plus. I picked these up directly from John, to replace my Focal Celestee (which my wife stole and won’t give back) as a closed-back set to compliment my Rosson RAD-0. I will be comparing these to the RAD-0, Focal Utopia, and Hifiman HE-1000 v2 (HEKv2) as well.
Man, I love how these feel, especially with JM’s fluffy earpads. Everyone says that they have an industrial look to them thanks to the wood and metal and leather, but I consider them to be more medieval than anything else. The headband with its crown-shaped leather and buttons makes me feel like a Jester in a king’s court. The stabilized maple is gorgeous and sturdy, but a little darker than I would like because it covers up a lot of the beauty of the wood that shows up on the Baltic Sea edition. Nonetheless, these are beautiful and well-made headphones. The GHJM is also extremely light and comfortable – around 400g. My only complaint in this category is that over time, the earcups start to sag and I have to push them back up – slightly stronger springs from Kennerton would solve this issue.
OK, so while I’ve owned a lot of high-end headphones, including the Meze Empyrean and Focal Utopia 2020, that doesn’t mean that I can pick apart sound like a professional reviewer. On the plus side, neither can most other people, and it makes for a boring read, so below are MY impressions on the sound – deal with it or go write your own review. I will list the song I use to test certain aspects of headphones and you can find my headphone test tracks playlist in my sig if you want to try your own headphones to compare. Also, I don’t have an accurate way to differentiate between mids and highs (most people don’t, can you really tell where vocals cross from mids to highs without measurement?), so I prefer to list specific instruments and vocals and let you judge.
These are hands-down the bassiest headphones I’ve ever heard. If you are in the market for a bassy, closed-back headphone, just stop reading and buy these now – you will not be disappointed. I will start this review without the bass plugs in just for you, but it’s not my preference as I am NOT a basshead (I hate the people who pull their car up next to me so they can rattle my car in time with theirs.) By the way, the plugs actually decrease bass, not increase it like I thought they would. Also, I am using the fluffy JM pads. The Knife’s “Silent Shout” just really accentuates how bassy these headphones are. The mid-bass just kicks so hard, and you can REALLY feel the sub-bass. That said, this overwhelms almost every other part of the song, the vocals and synths are drowned out by overwhelming bass. Once, again, if that’s your thing, there ya go. That’s the theme with the plugs out for every song, so I’m going to put the plugs back in. Starting “Silent Shout” over and now there’s still a ton of good, thumpy bass, but it doesn’t overwhelm the vocals as much and the synths come through much clearer.
David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue)” has some intense drums at the beginning and the GHJM highlight that. Once the sub-synth comes in, the reverb is so strong that you can feel it in your body. The vocals and high-synth are clear and sound very detailed. The drums do begin to drown the mid-synth out when they come back in though. Cyberpunk 2077’s “I Really Want to Stay at Your House” is another phenomenal sound to test these out in the lows. The bass has a ton of impact starting around 1:00 and it’ll blow your mind quite a bit. This is where these headphones really excel. That said, the RAD-0 has less bass, but it is cleaner, less distorted, and more detailed – but, the RAD-0 feels like it’s missing pieces of the bass as well that the GHJM definitely isn’t missing.
Instruments and vocals:
The Greatest Showman’s “The Greatest Show” shows that the vocals need a little work – I use the intro whispered vocals to test vocal clarity and there are points where it is hard to understand what Hugh Jackman is saying. High-pitched vocals are a little screechy at parts during the song too. Skillet’s “Stars” has some great low-end to start with, but it drowns out the mids a bit. Once the low-end fades away a bit, the vocals come through strong, but more muted and less detailed that the RAD-0. The snare drum and hi-hats are also more muted. It still sounds better than most headphones in this price range, especially closed ones, but these are the weaknesses of these headphones. High-pitched female vocals from “Stars” can also be grating or just missing altogether, once again highlighting the primary weakness in these headphones.
John Legend’s “All of me” highlights the lows again but does allow the vocals and piano to shine through. The vocals manage to overwhelm the piano a bit and the low portion can still overwhelm a bit. That said, it still sounds really good and if you listen to mostly bassy music, but want to jam out to some good vocals every once in a while, these can do it. I do have to warn you that the high notes in this song can sound shrill and harsh when he hits them. Some punk rock like Something Corporate’s “Hurricane” sounds great with the guitars hitting hard, excellent reverb, good drums and bass that don’t overwhelm, and great vocals. The piano solo that starts at 2:15 sounds really clear and isn’t overwhelming when the drums come in. Fireflight’s “For Those Who Wait” is another good example of the high-pitched female vocals being a bit harsh. So, great bass, good mids, sharp/fatiguing highs on some songs with very high notes.
The RAD-0 does not have the issues with vocals being screechy or hard to understand that the GHJM has. The RAD-0 is missing parts of the bass that the GHJM highlights – parts I didn’t even realize were missing until I got these. The Utopia and HEKv2 don’t have anywhere near this level of bass and are likely missing parts of the bass too since I got the RAD-0 because it does a better job of presenting clean, impactful, and detailed bass. The RAD-0 has better instrumental presentation, vocals, guitars, classical instruments, and a better soundstage, though the GHJM has a surprisingly good soundstage for closed-back headphones (thanks to JM’s v2 upgrade). Keep in mind, I’m comparing these to open-back TOTL headphones that cost at least $1,000 more. So, the GHJM holds its own quite well compared to most closed-back headphones and is likely one of the best short of the Stellia or DCAs.
But, guess what? The XTC-C is better in every way. JM Audio has essentially outdone itself by using their own beryllium drivers instead of the Kennerton horn drivers. The XTC-C has less bass, but it’s cleaner, tighter, and slightly less in quantity. The XTC-C has better mids and highs that are not harsh at all. I prefer the XTC-C to the GHJM for every genre of music – and it’s cheaper for now. The GHJM is however better than the Sony MDR-Z1R – with similar bass (plugs in, with plugs out the GHJM has more,) better mids, and less sibilant highs than the Sony. The Sony is still a great headphone, but when we’re comparing TOTL headphones, any apparent weakness has to be called out.
These are a great companion to my RAD-0 and work surprisingly well as mobile headphones powered by my HiBy FC3 phone DAC/amp. If you read all the crap I wrote above, then you already get it. These are basshead headphones, but also a good set of mid/top-tier closed-back headphones. They aren’t as good as the $2600+ pair of open-back RAD-0s, which is all I have as a comparison right now, but they are still really good headphones or I wouldn’t be keeping them. They could be endgame headphones for the right person at far less than TOTL prices. I mean, do you need to pay 2x as much for a Stellia? No, unless you really want smooth highs and perfect details, especially since those have their own set of issues. If these seem like your cup of tea, contact @John Massaria and order a pair or order some XTC-Cs (the regular colors of the GHJM are cheaper and easier to get, you can also send in an existing pair for the v2 mod).
You can buy them from Audio46 using my affiliate link if you want: https://audio46.com/?ref=wolfhawkaudioreview.com
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