Advanced Alpha Over-Ear Open Planar Magnetic Headphones Page 2


Sound Quality
Like most planar magnetic headphones, the bass and lower half of the midrange response are flat as a board. Bass is well extended and tight and transitions well into the mids. Dynamic punch in this area is terrific. On the Conga solo sections of Conga Kings "Tumao de Tamborito" fingers hit drum skins with eye-blinking impact. Imaging on this area of the track has medium depth and good width, and sits a little lower in the head than usual...which is nice.

I could turn the volume up quite high with just the Conga drums and bass hammering on and it was quite nice. And then the sax came in to resume the melody. Youch! The rasp of the reed is far too hard and edgy. On other tracks with female vocals the sweetness of the overtones and articulation of consonants becomes over blown and strident. This headphone is brutally harsh and emphatic at around 3kHz.

This is one of those times when a fatal flaw destroys what would otherwise be a pretty good headphone. Response in the upper treble region seems good, but I simply can't get past the glaring 3kHz emphasis and hard vocal overtones. I'm not going to try to pars the sound further, it's just to painful to try to tease out a clear expression of what I'm hearing.

What I can say is that measurements show an appropriately high peak in response at 3kHz, but there is no slow run-up to it, as would be prescribed by the Harman target response, to properly integrate a natural sounding voice. Basically consonants overwhelm the fundamental voice. Switching pads helped very little—both sets of pads sound very similar—but the "deep" all protein leather pads seemed a little less strident than the "shallow" breathable pads.

Measurements also show an area of significantly higher distortion between 1kHz and 2kHz, with a corresponding feature in the impedance plot. This indicates to me an area where the driver is breaking up. I do hear the vocal overtones as being hard sounding. I tried to separate it from the 3kHz emphasis by notching out the 3kHz bump with a parametric EQ, and did find the vocals remained hard sounding.

There you go, a perfect example of why you can't trust sonic impressions at a show. At a show, some extra 3kHz is going to improve intelligibility when the environment is very noisy. Maybe the track I selected just didn't bring out the problem well; maybe I was just excited to see another entry at this price; maybe my ears are just getting old and I need a quiet environment and ample time to put my finger on the pulse of the headphone. In any case—and I've known this for a long, long time—don't trust my, or your, show impressions.

What can you trust? You own ears, is the best answer to that question. One of the great things about participating in the headphone hobby is the opportunity to become a trusted member of the community and then be able to borrow headphones from others for extended listening before purchase. The forums also often have loaner gear tours sponsored by the manufacturer or by the board itself. Last but not least, The Cable Company has a headphone lending library. You have to pay for shipping and a non-refundable roughly 5% deposit, but the deposit can be applied in full to any future Cable Company purchase.

Physically, the Advanced Alpha is a pretty good looking piece of kit. Solid build quality with metal parts in important places. Swivels and joins are solid without squeaks or wobbles. The cable, though a bit short, lies well on the table and the braided design is very flexible and transmits no noise. Accessories seem very nice with an extra set of ear pads and an nice storage box. The only thing that mars the physical build is slightly too much tension on the headband elastic, which makes these cans somewhat uncomfortable for long listening sessions.

Sound is flat and well behaved from the bottom of the well extended bass to about the middle of the midrange, and then things go south. From 1kHz to 2kHz level is slightly recessed and gets very hard sounding. An abrupt rise to a 3kHz peak makes consonant sounds very forward. This puts a significant imbalance in female vocals making them wincingly hard and bright sounding. This, to my ears, is a fatal flaw and prevents listening enjoyment.

Not recommended.

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