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The q-Jays earbuds are reborn, but are they worth $320?

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When spending big on audiophile headphones, folks may look at over-ear models like Masters & Dynamic's MH40 or open cans from the likes of Ultrasone. But earbuds? I doubt those are topping many people's sonic bucket lists. With that in mind, it's rare to see products like Swedish company Jays' new q-Jays unveiled for $320 -- on sale, no less. Yet, quality earphones can sound just as good as high-end headphones, as companies like Shure have proved. And I believe Jays has put enough style, engineering and sound quality into its next-gen 'buds to justify that lofty price.

Gallery: Hands-on with the second-gen q-Jays earbuds | 13 Photos

Jays, as mentioned, is a Swedish headphone company that has been on the scene for nearly 10 years. The new buds (on sale until September 4th) share some traits with the old model, which cost half as much. It still has the tiny size, curved shape and choice of five different silicon ear tips. Everything else, however, is new, including the one-piece metal housing, dual armature drivers, threaded connectors and even the packaging.

The company certainly didn't chintz on the unboxing experience. The dramatic packaging includes a case for the silicon buds, one for the cables and a round, plastic box with cutout foam for the earphones. The company claims the q-Jays are the smallest headphones available with removable cables, but they're so small that it's tricky to figure out which headphone and wires are left and right, because the markings are so discreet. Once I assembled them, I eventually figured out that they curve toward the back of your ears, which makes it easy to insert them by feel.

Build-wise, the headphones themselves are a far cry from the original q-Jays. Instead of plastic, the body is now made from a single block of stainless steel that's been CNC machined and finished with a fancy physical vapor deposition. Stuffed inside the 1-inch-long housings are armature drivers with both a woofer and tweeter, along with a crossover filter to blend them. The cable -- which is honestly a bit too short -- features gold-plated connectors and can be unscrewed from the headphones. If you're hoping to show off the buds in public, forget it; there's no Beats-style branding anywhere.

The five custom silicone tips combined with the tiny size of the q-Jays make them more comfortable than any earbuds I've tried. If that still won't cut it, they also come with expanding Comply foam tips. My ears got hotter with those, but I quickly became addicted to the tighter, more comfortable fit and (claimed) 40dB noise reduction. If you need a microphone and remote, there are screw-in modules available for iOS, Windows and Android that include a MEMs microphone with built-in noise/echo reduction.

Gallery: q-Jays press images | 9 Photos

The q-Jays have a near-flat frequency response, and Jays says it was shooting for "the most precise and authentic sound reproduction with minimal coloration." I'd say it's achieved that goal. The bass in The Chemical Brothers' "Under the Influence," Led Zeppelin tracks and "The Imperial March" was punchy, yet controlled. At the same time, it never muddled the highs and mid-range, showing the value of a dedicated woofer. In tracks like "Get Lucky," "The Battle of Evermore" and Mozart's "Flute and Harp Concerto (K299)," the highs were crisp and detailed.

If there's any weakness to the sound, it's in the mid-range tones. For the most part, vocals were clear and accurate, but occasionally a touch harsh -- like in Katy Perry's "Roar," for instance. On the other hand, the singing in Poliça's "Warrior Lord" and Massive Attack's "Protection" sounded impeccable.

Would I shell out $320 for earbuds? If you'd asked me that before, I'd have said, "Never," but after trying the q-Jays, I say, "Hell yes." The sound quality is in the upper echelon of earphones, and as accurate and clear as many decent high-end over- or on-ear models I've tried. The custom silicone tips will give most folks a good fit, and the Comply foam tips were a revelation. Finally, the high level of craftsmanship and understated design make you feel like you're getting what you pay for -- even though the q-Jays are so small and discreet that nobody else will appreciate it.

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