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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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?