Advanced Alpha Over-Ear Open Planar Magnetic Headphones

One of a nice handfull of $500ish planar magnetic headphones at the show, I was impressed with the Advanced Alpha at CanJam@RMAF last October. In my report I said:

Maybe it was just the show conditions, or maybe I was just in the right mood, but holy smoke these sounded really good to me on first listen. I've been wrong at shows before so don't take this as gospel, but I sure liked these Advanced planar magnetic cans.

Well, time to find out if we can trust my ears at shows.

When first I reviewed the HiFiMAN HE 400 S it was a unicorn—a $299 planar magnetic headphone that sounds great? Unpossible! Well time marches on, and now quite a handful of affordable planar magnetic headphones have made their appearance in the $500 to $800 range.

I recently reviewed the $599 Acoustic Research AR-H1 and found it okay...but not quite good enough. An enthusiast sent me the $299 Monoprice Monolith M1060, after measuring and giving it a listen, it went straight back. Just too ragged sounding. MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open at $799 is more expensive, but boy, it's a yummy sounding headphone. It went up on the Wall of Fame.

But the job's not done, three headphones remain before I feel like I've surveyed the field. The Audeze LCD-2 Classic ($799), the HiFiMAN Sundara ($499); and the Advanced Alpha ($499). I received an early LCD-2 Classic and wanted a known production unit with production packaging as a second check before writing a review, which I now have. I know some folks are a bit bummed out that I didn't get a review up during the holiday price special—sorry about that, but I've got to follow a process that will deliver as reliable a review as possible. I've also contacted HiFiMAN and am assured a Sundara is on the way soon. So, it's on to the Advanced Alpha.

Advanced Alpha ($499)
The Advanced Alpha is an open, over-ear, single-sided, planar magnetic headphone. Though I've got a few quibbles, I'd say the build quality, styling, comfort, and accessorization is fairly good at this price.

The Alpha's styling is a pretty plain-Jane, form-follows-function affair. Headband arch, headband end swivels, yokes, and capsule grill covers are all metal; headband and earpads are protein leather; capsule housings are plastic. All are black with varying levels of gloss; the metal outside grill is more Navy blue then black.

The use of metal in the headband arch, ends, and yoke is a welcome feature. There is a small aluminum knurled ring separating the headband end piece and yoke; the one on the right side is red to designate the right channel. A nice touch.


All protein leather "deep" pads at left; breathable "shallow" pad at right; bayonet clip on rear of pads at bottom center.

The Advanced Alpha comes with two sets of earpads: the "deep" pads are all protein leather; the "shallow" pads have a breathable fabric surface intended to reduce sweating in hot, humid environs. Both pads have perforated interior side panels. Pad openings are a fairly generous 58mm. Pads are slightly angled; the deep pad appears to be about 5mm deeper than the shallow pad.

Pads are attached with four bayonet clips and twist to lock in place. Pads are color coded with a small dot on one of the bayonet clips and a matching dot on the receiving slot on the baffle plate. Dots are red for the right, blue for the left. This attachement system seemed secure and positive in use.


With pads removed, the circuit traces of the 96mm silicon composite driver are visible under the bar magnet assembly. Note that there is no acoustic impedance matching mechanism like the Audeze Fazor or MrSpeaker TrueFlow technologies.

All swivel and tilt mechanics seemed very nice and rotation to a proper fit was quick and effortless without any squeaks or wobbles. Ear capsules can be rotated in one direction to lie perfectly flat.

The headband is self-adjusting with inner elastic straps. I find this type of headband rarely has the proper tension to remain comfortable. The Advanced Alpha headband is no exception, I found it moderately too tight on my head. While the caliper pressure seemed fine, the pressure of the headband on the top of my modestly larger than normal sized head was distractingly tight and not comfortable for long listening sessions.

The included 50" cable is a little short for a home headphone use—I like about six to seven feet. Conductors are silver plated copper and are woven similar to Kimber designs. The cable is a bit on the thin side but does lay flat without kinks and exhibits very little cable-born mechanical noise. The cable is terminated at the player end with svelt, metal-bodied 3.5mm TRS plug, and two 2.5mm TRS plugs at each ear capsule. No 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter is included.

There is a small inset hole in the ear capsule with a mating metal step around the plug to provide some strain relief in case the plugs get yanked. 2.5mm plugs are my least favorite connector for headphone cable termination, but I am glad to see the strain relief. There is a small aluminum cylinder that tidies the "Y" split nicely. The right earphone connector has a red strain relief to visually indicate the right channel.

Also included is a large storage case with dense foam cut-outs for the headphones, cable, and spare earpads. (Photo at top of next page.) The case appears to be of heavy cardboard covered with a textured vinyl fabric. I think this is a pretty nice case for a headphone at this price, though I would have preferred some sort of compact, clam-shell travel case.

In sum, apart from the somewhat excessive headband tension and slightly too short cable, I feel the Advanced Alpha is physically a modestly above average offering at this price. Let's see if the sound quality follows suit.

500 Northern Blvd, STE 004
Great Neck, NY 11021

thefitz's picture

Funny how 3kHz in the compensated curve is basically flat. Therefore, flat is very bad. Interesting.

metal571's picture

Tyll has said many times in the past that his independent of direction "stock" compensation curve is not to be considered after modern research shows preference for the Harman curve. At some point a graph generator with multiple compensations to choose from will be available and that will stop people from having to look for a down-sloping version of the ID curve and instead just a flat line.

TMRaven's picture

A 15db elevation at 3khz compared to lower midrange is considered neutral based off the harman curve.

This headphone measures very similarly to the HE-560, which sounds pretty damned good, but Tyll said he didn't like all that much. The EQ'd Sonoma Acoustics Model One is also +15db by 3khz, but also has a smoother transition from 1khz to 3khz compared to the HE-560 and this headphone.

Wonder what a pad swap would do. Changing pads on the HE-560 tamed its 3-4khz peak.

yanghetian97's picture

There are about 3db more on these than he560. And these have less 1k so makes it worse. IMO, not recommend it is a bit too harsh, should be better than that.

luvmusik's picture

3 More Planars in this <$800 Price Category, please consider a full review with measurements for -

Enigmatic Audio LFF Paradox and also Slant models.

Tidal Force Wave 5, not sure about this last one.

Thank You !

南开米饭's picture

received the Sundara and still say nothing? How dare you!

maelob's picture

I respect measurements but I wish Tyll would do his reviews in two parts. First initial impressions before any measurements, just tell us what you think of the sound. Then a second part with whatever measurements and conclusions he wants to write. But I find that when he talks about sound quality, the discussion start to get too technical. Although he combines his impression with the numbers. I am curious of his first impression without measurements, if that makes sense. I believe he listens first to headphones without measurements first, but I wish it would come across like that in the reviews. For example, "at first listen i didnt like the headphone and the treble was too much for me etc etc" follow with "the measurements comfirmed my impressions or not". Just my two cents

elmura's picture

As demonstrated with Audeze's historical measurements and product changes, planars are tricky to get right all the time. It's that tensioned diaphragm. Too loose and treble goes wonky. Too tight and bass suffers. Different materials have different properties.

I believe mid-range priced planars will be best suited to a 2-way approach having a dynamic tweeter handle the highs, and a simple crossover. Best of both worlds so to speak...

Do I foresee the future?