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MrSpeakers Alpha Dog (T50RP Mod)

Posted

Pros: Design and looks are excellent; Very comfortable; Variable bass tuning implementation; Front damping options; Somewhat neutral and spacious sounding

Cons: Sound quality can be a bit hard and artificial sounding, isn't the cleanest sounding headphone, and may have a bit too much bass

Note: Much of this comes from a review I wrote and posted elsewhere a month or so ago, but with some editing and organizational tweaks.

 

I have wanted to do a full Alpha Dog review for a while, and now that my pair has had some work done on it to better balance the channels and I have had plenty of time to listen and experiment with them, I'm good to go. My pair came with two of the damping “dots” applied to the front side of each driver and the felt damping discs for additional tuning. My main review and analysis will be done without using any of the felt discs, though I’ll provide rough and basic results of what these tweaks bring to the table as well.

Presentation, Looks, Features, Comfort, Etc.

Presentation and looks are obvious highlights of the Alpha Dog. The cups look great and are beautifully painted. The new baffles work well and allow the pads to more seamlessly integrate with the entire headphone. Little touches like the black slider bars go a long way in making this feel like a premium product. And everything feels very sturdy and well put together, including the somewhat thick and microphonic cable. (It's a good cable, don't get me wrong.)

Also included are some basic accessories, such as a microfiber cloth, a hex key to tune the vents, and a headphone stand. I know some have complained about the height and size of the headphone stand, but given its historical roots in needing to fit a medium-sized, priority mail USPS box, I think it works well. For me, I have no problems with unplugging the cable and storing it in the middle section of the stand, though now that Dan has switched to other shipping providers, perhaps the height of the stand will be adjusted in the future. I thought it was a nice touch and don’t see much of a reason to fuss over it.

Speaking of the hex key, the tuning options available to the Alpha Dog are quite nice. If you find the sound to be too heavy or lacking in the bass, you can adjust the tuning vents with the included hex key (more on this in a bit). However, this does come with a disclaimer warning against tuning multiple times, as only once is recommended, and that MrSpeakers/Dan won’t be liable for any damage you cause. I believe you can get them re-tuned for a fee if you mess them up. Personally, unless you have really good ears or measurement equipment to verify tunings, I’m not sure how much I’d recommend this. Regardless, having the option is nice, and the implementation is smart and well-done.

Comfort is quite good on the Alpha Dog. Assuming the leather headband strap is adjusted to act more like a suspension headband, it evenly distributes weight across the head. You may need to shorten it a bit on your own for this, though this tweak might be the norm for recently shipped and new AD pairs. Clamping force is rather light, and the alpha pads are, as always, very comfortable. The Alpha Dog can get a bit heavy for long listening sessions, but it’s not at the level of some of the heavier orthos.

The packaging itself is rather modest, but it is efficient and gets the job done well. It at least matches the red and black colour schemes. Overall, I give the Alpha Dog high marks in the non-sound related categories. Perhaps the cable could be less microphonic, and perhaps the headphone stand could be taller, but I don’t think it’s worth worrying about. This is a great looking, well-designed, and well-built headphone.

Sound

It’s no secret that I was not a fan of the early Alpha Dog iteration I heard. I simply found them too uneven, peaky, and exaggerated in the treble. There was potential, but I just did not think the Alpha Dog was quite ready for launch in that state, as good as they looked externally. You are welcome to disagree with me on that point, as I know many were and are quite happy with the early pairs. Now that the new damping “dots” and felt discs are available, with most or all Alpha Dogs shipping default with one or two “dots” per channel now, if I am correct, I was pretty eager to check them out again. Whether or not any other internal changes have been made, I cannot say for sure.

The new damping tweaks certainly make a positive difference, in my opinion. Treble response is smoothed out and less harsh on the ears compared to the early revisions. If one desires an even darker, smoother sound, they can use the felt damping discs. For this review, I stuck to listening without felt discs and relied on the two “dots” per channel. Those "dots" do their job fairly well.

The Alpha Dog can be a bit difficult to adequately describe from a sound perspective at times. In most situations, it has a fairly neutral sound with some caveats. It does seem to have an inherent sort of hard or even slightly glaring aspect to the sound, most noticeable in how the upper mids and treble are presented. That’s not necessarily to say the Alpha Dog is a bright headphone, though it can subjectively be a touch bright at times. It’s not necessarily a problem with the frequency balance, resonance/ringing, or distortion. It’s actually quite hard to pin down, so I’ll just say the sound can be a bit fatiguing at times for reasons that aren’t always perfectly explainable. To reiterate and put slightly differently, the tonality and timbre lean towards sounding a bit hard and artificial. Thankfully, there are tuning options to mitigate this, and given I am more on the sensitive side of the hearing spectrum, I doubt most will find this problematic or hear it at all. Personally, one felt disc added per channel goes a long way for my ears, though many of the traits, positive or negative, still shine through. On the other hand, the felt discs still aren't quite perfect, in that they do take away some positive elements despite smoothing out the response. It will be up to you to decide what works best for your ears and what compromises you are willing to make.

The next thing that jumps out about the Alpha Dog is the bass. It is a fairly bassy sounding headphone, though not necessarily thick sounding. If anything, the elevated bass feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the sound. This is immediately apparent against other headphones with a flatter, more linear bass response. However, I think it is somewhat tasteful (still a bit much for me), and it has a nice sense of impact, presence, and rumble without overdoing it. Decently clean, detailed, and textured. It’s just odd that, for being relatively neutral in most regards, the Alpha Dog does have some extra bass. Take that as you will. If you don’t like it, you can simply adjust the tuning vents. I have since adjusted the vents for a more neutral sound, and this does work quite well.

Some smaller aspects I noticed were a very slightly cupped or honky sound to the Alpha Dog and a very slight lack of cohesiveness and clarity across the spectrum compared to some other headphones. In regards to the slight lack of clarity across the spectrum, there are other, neutral headphones out there that simply sound a bit more "hi-fi" and, well, clear compared to the Alpha Dog. As one example, and despite being a bit darker, less spacious, and more lush sounding, the ZMFxVibro has a better sense of clarity and detail across the spectrum and internal layering of the sound. I want to emphasize that this was all pretty slight on the Alpha Dog and might be difficult to notice unless one is doing direct comparisons against other headphones. Some of this also comes down to getting a good fit/seal and letting the pads warm up a bit on your head. Truthfully, there are very few, if any, headphones that sound perfect to my ears in this regard, so I don’t really think less of the Alpha Dog for it. But, when having to pick with my hard earned money, these small differences can matter in the end.

The Alpha Dog does sound fairly “open” for a closed headphone. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to really open, airy sounding headphones, but it does very well for being closed. It does a decent job with layering and picking out subtle, low-level details. There is a nice balance between sounding not too intimate and not too distant. Plenty of presence to the sound and a decent sense of room space and reverberations.

 

Subjective Conclusion

In summary, the Alpha Dog is a bassy-neutral headphone with a slightly hard and artificial tonality that I suspect most won’t mind or notice. If anything, I could see a lot of people liking that. I just don’t think it particularly excels in any area of sound, nor does it have any faults that get in the way too much. I’d like to hear a bit more refinement, which may or may not be solvable with other front damping tweaks. However, given that it does well enough and, perhaps one of the best things about the Alpha Dog, has a few routes one can take to tune the sound to their liking, I also don’t have issues recommending it. Those willing to further experiment with other front damping schemes will likely find room for improvement. It's clear a lot of people will like the Alpha Dog quite a bit, though whether or not it’s the best, closed headphone option in this price range is something I’m not convinced of. I briefly mentioned the ZMFxVibro, and though they don't target the exact same sound signature as the AD, I do think the ZxV is more enjoyable and more refined sounding. I will have a full review of that up soon, as I know quite a few are interested in how they compare with the AD. Anyway, at the very least, the Alpha Dog's imperfections aren't too out of scope relative to something like the HE-500, which I also don't find quite perfect (not saying they do things similarly well or poorly, just that the scope is roughly on par).

Measurements and Analysis

As always, lengthy, subjective listening sessions take place before measurements. These results are also NOT comparable to other measurements out there, though you may find some similarities at times. If you are curious about how I take results or need tips on how to read these, feel free to PM me.

The frequency response results are quite telling. From above 200Hz on up, the Alpha Dog does have a fairly neutral and somewhat flat and linear sound. I do see some emphasis around 5-6KHz, at least on the left channel, and the treble quality overall isn’t the smoothest. This might somewhat explain the hard and artificial sound I heard. Subjectively, I think the treble is more filled in and cohesive sounding than measurements indicate (likely a measurement artifact due to how the AD and pads interact with my setup), though it isn’t perfectly smooth to my ears. Relative to the 1KHz point, the bass response is certainly elevated below 100Hz by roughly 5-6dB. Tyll's recent measurements of the AD also showed a bass hump, and Dan's measurements he sent me of my AD seem to confirm my results. Ideally, I’d like to see less bass and a smoother transition leading up to the 200Hz point. I think this was the root cause of the disconnected sound I heard. Channel matching is quite good overall.

 


Harmonic distortion results look OK, but not stellar (generally pretty low but quite rough looking). These results might tie in with the slight lack of spectral clarity I mentioned. The T50RP driver seems to have limitations here. There is some extra HD in the bass, but it’s not terrible. This might account for the slightly rumbly, tactile nature of the bass. The right channel exhibits some particularly odd looking harmonic distortion results. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here, but this also isn't something I haven't seen before with other T50RP mod measurements. Either way, I’m not too worried about it so long as I don’t hear any glaring faults. Again, the T50RP driver certainly has some limitations.

 

If you weren't sure, D2 is 2nd-order harmonic distortion, D3 is third-order, and so on. You can also find calculators online to convert the dB difference to THD percentage. For example, at 1KHz or so (roughly 90dB), D2 is about -47dB to -48dB lower, which equates to roughly 0.4-0.45% THD at that spot. At 20Hz (roughly 95-96dB), D2 is about -32dB lower, which is roughly 2.5% THD at that spot.

 

 

CSDs are very clean above the 1-2KHz area or so. This is not at all surprising to me. I generally don't worry about the CSD measurements below the 1-2KHz point, though the AD does exhibit some extra resonance there relative to some other headphones I've measured. This too might account for some of the tiny lack of clarity I heard. Left channel CSD first, then right channel.

 

 

Raw measurements show a fairly consistent performing headphone. I generally trust the first and second raw takes the most, as the third and fourth takes are done in a slightly different way. However, I might actually prefer the third and fourth takes this time around, as they seemed to more closely match what I hear.

 

 

Below are some rough and quick measurements showing how the damping "dots," felt discs, and bass tuning measurably affect the sound. Since these were rough and quick takes, I'll start with a "reference" measurement of the left channel. This is with two front damping "dots" and no felt discs. You'll notice the FR matches the third raw take of the left channel above, and you might be able to extrapolate how these changes would look with a full set and averaged measurements. Keep in mind the scale of these graphs is large, like the FR/THD measurements above, and can make things look flatter or changes look smaller than they actually are.

 

 

Results with one felt damping disc (ignore that high treble ringing, should just be an artifact):

 

 

 

Results with two felt damping discs:

 

 

Results of tuning the bass vent so that is was almost closed, but not quite (enough room to breath so the sound didn't get weird or anemic). You'll notice this also affects the treble. This is with two "dots" and no felt discs.

 

 

Results of the above (tuned bass vent) but with NO dots or felt discs.

 

 

As you can see, the dots do help smooth out the treble, but they do impart other measurable characteristics to the sound that may or may not be pleasing to the ear.

Posted

Pros: Truly neutral and color-free response; sublime comfort; tuning options; accessories

Cons: Stock cable; weight; discontinued

MrSpeakers Alpha Dog:

A reference class Dog

Introduction

First, a disclaimer: I purchased the Alpha Dogs ($499USD, discontinued) with my own money after doing my own research and thus this is my independent (and highly subjective) opinion. A special thank you to @JerseyD of Inner Sanctum Audio for his advice and sale of these for an excellent price despite their discontinued nature. 

 

Though I have some experience under my belt now with IEMs, this is my first review of full-sized cans on Head-Fi, and as such any and all advice on how to improve this review or future others will be highly appreciated. I'll try to keep things simple, practical, and relate what I'm hearing to music I hope others can recognize to put my impressions in context.

 

A little bit about me and my music tastes: I only got into this hobby in late 2014, slowly working my way up from budget and entry-level cans in an attempt to find my "holy grail" like many aspiring victims of this rabbit hole tend to long for. I was going through a pair of full-sized cans every week or two and always finding something that I couldn't live with or found wanting after. It wasn't until January of this year I was blessed enough to stumble upon MrSpeakers and his very popular Fostex T50RP modification and pet project, the Mad Dogs ($279USD, discontinued). This headphone simultaneously addressed issues I had with comfort, build, and sound quality from the first time I listened to them until this day and hopefully for years to come. Needless to say, I dropped all interest in looking for other equipment (until now) and I always felt the only upgrade I could find for them was another offering from MrSpeakers.

 

The Mad scientist himself. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

 

 

While I was on the hunt for headphones that took everything I loved about the Mad Dogs and added more treble presence for my own tastes, I was initially torn between the Alpha Dogs and Alpha Primes. I read through roughly 600 pages of forum posts and countless reviews before finally going for the Dogs which I felt were the safer option. I’d like to think that my wallet is half as grateful as my ears are. :rolleyes:

 

My music tastes vary widely, but I would describe myself first and foremost as a mid-head and female vocal lover. Thus any headphones that are known to showcase the mid-range in music and offer it up front and center pique my interest. All of the sonic impressions below were obtained while running the Alpha Dogs in combination with the Objective2/ODAC combo. While the Dogs would no doubt benefit from even more power, I felt the O2 drives them very well, and efficiency is very similar to the Mad Dogs they are replacing. Without further ado, on to the review!

 

Accessories

A pretty impressive set of accessories are included with the Alpha Dogs, assuming you are lucky enough to source them new. Included is a single cable (balanced XLR or ¼”), a tuning kit which I will cover later, a hex-wrench for bass-tuning as well as a microfiber cleaning cloth, velvet carrying bag and headphone stand.

 

I will begin by saying I am not a massive fan of the stock cable. The mini-XLR connectors are great and the termination is fine and dandy, but the cable itself is just too short for most practical use. I am of the opinion that if you’re going to package a higher-end set of cans with a single cable, it should be on the longer side to suit most people since that is safer than including one that is simply too short. The Alphas are already a pretty heavy set of cans, and unfortunately this cable only adds to that weight to the point where I find my head tilting forward by itself due to its tug. While it is thick and sturdy below the Y-splitter, it is surprisingly microphonic above the Y-splitter and especially around the mini-XLR connectors. Really disappointed in this cable personally and I have already commissioned a custom one, but I am probably being harder on it than most will.

 

The tuning kit includes the not-so-patented ‘doggie treats’ from MrSpeakers which are composed of small dots meant to be placed directly over the planar magnetic driver to smoothen the treble as well as felt discs which are meant to be placed directly over the driver or inside of the earcup in order to darken the treble response. While all late production models of the Alpha Dogs seem to have some pre-installed dots in an effort to provide a flat response, users are free to experiment with a variety of different combinations to see what works best for them. This is a pretty cost effective and neat way to give users some customization over the treble response, so kudos to MrSpeakers.

 

The treats in question. I don't quite see the resemblance.

 

 

 

Also included is a microfiber cleaning cloth which you’ll want to use to keep the gorgeous finish on these headphones clean as well as a stand that is unfortunately too short to fit the headphones on unless the cables are detached. Still, it’s the thought that counts and one can easily prop some hard foam on top of it to remedy this.

 

Build / Comfort / Isolation

Despite being quite a large pair of cans, the Alpha Dogs are gorgeous and a lot less goofy looking than the obviously modded Mad Dogs. Sporting either a claret red or a dreamy deep space metallic black paint (you can guess which color I have) they really give off a premium feel both in the hands and on the head. The risers have been kept from the Mad Dogs but are now anodized black and have MrSpeakers written on them as well as L/R indicators. The stock Fostex headband has been kept as well as the well-received leather comfort strap, but the headband is now circular instead of the silly [ shape found on the Mad Dogs, though it can be easily bent if you prefer that.

 

Comfort is pretty much sublime on the Alpha Dogs. Perhaps it is the effect of brand new pads but they are somehow even more comfortable than my Mad Dogs despite being noticeably heavier. The added weight is evenly distributed, though it is certainly heavy enough that people who experience chronic neck problems will not be able to enjoy these for any extended period of time. Out of the box I did have to adjust the clamp, but it is as simple as bending the quite malleable headband to better mimic the identical headband on my Mad Dogs, and it is quite easy to undo this bending in case you go overboard.

 

Being a closed headphone, isolation is quite good. They don’t exactly block out the entire outside world or give that claustrophobic feel when music isn’t playing, but I actually prefer that. When tunes are playing though don’t expect to be able to hear the doorbell ringing or someone calling you.

 

Sonic Impressions

“Music the way the artist intended.” I have heard this quote used to describe many a headphone, ranging anywhere from cold-hearted treble-cannon studio monitors like the MDR7506 to so-called ‘natural’ headphones such as the warm-tilted and soft-spoken HD600. While it is an ill-fated superlative, I have never found this statement to be more true for any headphone than the Alpha Dogs. They are truly a chameleon if relating reptiles to headphones (or in this case canines), their color-free sound really does not tilt one way or the other and to my ears adjusts itself to best reflect the music coming through them.

 

Perhaps the largest difference between Mad and Alpha, or at least the most readily noticeable is the absence of any sort of mid bass hump. In fact, the bass on the Alpha Dogs is very flat and extends satisfyingly well. I am sure some may find it lacking, especially those coming from or seeking after a “fun” signature. It may even strike some as unnatural or unnerving at first, but the simple fact of the matter is that the low end on the Alpha Dogs is never portrayed or exaggerated apart from what is actually in the recording. In comparison the midbass on the Mad Dogs seems bloated and the sub bass lacking. However, I do rarely find that the Mad Dog is marginally more musical in some melodic pop and rock.

 

I have to award the Alpha Dogs top marks for bass speed and texture, keeping up with every hit in complex percussion arrangements with the source of every beat easily identifiable. There is a bass port that may be tuned for those who want more bass (or perhaps even less?) but its adjustment is meant to be a one-time set it and forget it type thing and is not something I want to mess with, so I cannot comment on it’s effects.

 

 

"Waking up and getting up has never been easy..."

 

 

If you couldn’t tell from my avatar on Head-Fi, I am a huge fan of Elastica (the band, not the album). I am also a huge fan of 1995’s Elastica (the album, not the band). This 16-track debut would go on to be a chart topper in both the UK and US, and despite blazing by in an unforgettable 40 minutes almost every track could be considered a cult classic in its own right. While die-hard fans never quite got the second studio release they were hoping for, the group still secured their place in rock and britpop fame, at least in my humble opinion.

 

It’s safe to say I am pretty peculiar about how this album sounds through all my gear, and it is one of few I have actually bothered to source in lossless FLAC as I felt most 320 MP3 renditions were not good enough. It’s fast-paced delivery of front woman Justine’s effortlessly sexy vocals make it quite easy for cans to be unable to keep up, or worse, lose the vocals all together in a sea of distorted guitar and new wave punk. Thankfully, the Alpha Dogs speed is more alike to a cheetah than a dog as it replays every guitar solo, drum intro and addictive vocal hook without respite.

 

The mid-range on the Alpha Dog is neither forward nor recessed to my ears. While I am a self-admittedly biased mid-head, often in search of phones with unnaturally elevated upper mids, I find that the Alpha Dogs do not require this coloration in order to render vocals organically. Due to the fact that the rest of the response is so flat, vocals really do shine on this headphone when the recording calls for it, lending itself to a great experience with acoustic and folk music.


Some poorly mixed tracks will be played back that way, that is to say with the singer lost in a sea of guitars or other instruments. Other times some recordings will have the vocals pushed too far forward already to sound better on inferior gear, and this can get a little tiring on the Alphas. While it is a shame, it really is no fault of the headphones themselves, and it’s still better than having fatigue from an over abundance of micro details or treble in my opinion. I have heard others describe this phenomenon as a ‘glare’ but to me that implies an unevenness in the response and that simply isn’t true. It’s really something the listener has to experience for themselves to understand, but the bottom line is that it isn’t a major issue 95% of the time, at least for me.

 

 

"Not yet twenty-one, from the land of the Rising Sun..."

 

 

Yeah, you guessed it, I’m gonna talk about female vocals some more. Donna Burke is the embodiment of “Big in Japan”. Despite being a Perth native, since first moving to Japan in 1996 and supporting herself by teaching English; she’s done tons of VO work for anime, video games and even Japanese TV commercials. Her voice has even been used since 2005 on the Shinkansen bullet train system for announcements. Despite receiving vocal education and training, her solo discography is still unfortunately tiny. None of this however impacts my immense enjoyment of Blue Nights (2005) which plays like a groovy Jazz tape you’d expect to play in an obscure corner of Yodobashi Camera. Donna’s voice is capable of carrying immense emotion as well as high peaks, and the Alpha Dog is more than capable of rendering it. Heck, the jazz arrangements aren’t half bad either. Jokes aside, outro track Goodbye Nakamura is a litmus test I run through a lot of gear to test vocals. An emotional tale of a Japanese diver who was never able to make it home to his wife-to-be, the Alpha Dog has no problem conveying these emotions and passes this test with flying colors.

 

I would not describe myself as a treble head and I often embarrass myself trying to describe this part of the FR, but I find I do prefer brighter signatures overall. While the original Mad Dogs were nothing short of dark, the Alphas have a much better treble presence in every way. Early impressions and reviews of this headphone were often laced with complaints of sibilance or peaky high frequencies. Since then, MrSpeakers has implemented the use of tuning dots or ‘doggie treats’ which are basically intended to smooth over these peaks, and to my ears eliminate any sibilance at all.

 

The highs on the Alphas really were a treat to me after being accustomed to their darker sibling for so long, cymbals sound great and have just the right amount of decay; while singers holding the right notes can send shivers down your spine. Those more partial to darker signatures can experiment with combinations of the included felt discs and tuning dots to achieve their ideal signature, but the default setup for your pair should be pre-tuned for the flattest response.

 

 

"This is a tale of Robin Hood in reverse..."

 

 

When it came time to write this review and choose the three albums I would be covering, I was faced with a pretty difficult choice. Usually I like to pick EPs that showcase the strengths of a  particular headphone, but since nothing really sounds bad on these I was pretty much given free reign of what to choose. Bad Religion’s True North (2013) seemed to be as good a choice as any, and at least it doesn’t have the female vocals you’re probably sick of hearing me rave about by now. There is not much to say other than this album sounds amazing on the Alpha Dogs. The deft and often vulgar transmission of vocalist Greg Graffin’s political commentary and drummer Brook Wackerman’s restless collisions doesn’t have the Alpha Dogs breaking a sweat. This album is particularly more enjoyable on the Alphas versus the Mads thanks to the clean up of the bass frequencies and, as a result, increased speed.

 

I’m not a soundstage fanatic, in fact most of the time I skip discussion of it entirely. It’s just my personal preference for things to be intimate. If I wanted that out-of-head experience I would listen to speakers instead of headphones. Snobbish as I may be, it is still prudent to discuss soundstage with these cans since they certainly don’t have the same characteristics as most closed cans. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they sound like open headphones, but the 3D-printed cup enclosure as well as the distance from the driver provided by the plush Alpha pads really does give a sense of space in music that even I can appreciate. That being said, the Alpha Dogs are not the final word in cohesion or instrument separation. Perhaps it is a result of the flat tuning having all frequencies on the same ‘plane’, but layering and depth certainly do suffer on this phone. While it doesn’t impact my personal enjoyment too much it is still noticeable, and it does seem to be a common complaint. I am going to emphasize however that these were only my impressions with the Objective2, and it is quite likely a beefier amplifier with more power will increase the transparency greatly.

 

Summary 

I apologize if this came across as a lengthy review, this simply isn’t a headphone you can easily summarize in a few words, and I feel as though I have chapters more to talk about even as I am hammering away at the conclusion. I’ll try and break down the key points in bullet form:

 

Pros

  • Truly neutral and well-extended bass
  • Razor-flat mid range and wonderful vocal reproduction
  • Easily tunable and crisp treble
  • Excellent comfort via thick leather pads, head strap and adjustable clamp
  • Overall value at price point for closed cans

 

Cons

  • Stock cable has too many issues (If you're picky like me)
  • Quite heavy (Better hit the gym and work those traps)
  • Lack of mid-bass hump may detract from 'realism' (It's not really real though, is it?)
  • Not the final word in transparency or layering (I wouldn't go as far as to say congested)
  • Discontinued (Oh the humanity!)

 

So that just about sums it up, while I spent a great deal of this review talking about how track dependant the various aspects of the response can be for these headphones, I only meant that in the nicest way possible. It is unlikely you’ll have to throw out half of your library to enjoy these cans, but you may want to double-check the recording quality of some of your favorites once you hear them on the Alphas.

 

I personally find that these headphones more than any other allow me to focus on my music and what I’m listening to versus listening to my gear. So much so that on my second night of ownership I found myself staying up exploring new music entirely as simply listening to a library I was already familiar with was not good enough. If that sounds exciting to you, then for this price the Alpha Dogs cannot be beat. If you’re after a colored or V-shaped response suited to your personal music preferences, then it’s possible the Alpha Dogs will be too dry for your tastes.

 

 

Posted

Pros: Comfort, isolation, bass and mids and low-treble, spacious sound with good imaging, dynamics, separation, detailed but fun

Cons: Weight (sometimes, when I'm tired), looks, upper-treble is lacking, it won't do my taxes for me

Since October, I have had the good fortune of having access to a pair of Alpha Dogs on-loan to me from a buddy of mine in these forums.  He and I had talked a lot about the kind of sound we each enjoy in headphones, and he told me that he was almost positive I would love the sound of the Alpha Dogs, and so he asked if I wanted to borrow them.  How could I decline?  As it turns out (and as will become clear in the following review) he was completely correct about how well the sound of the Alpha Dogs fits my preferences, and I almost certainly plan to purchase a pair of them (or the Primes) for myself once I can in the future.  So, on to the review, in which I will begin by covering every aspect of these headphones other than the sound, and then devote the rest purely to sound.  Please keep in mind that this review will not have a "comparisons" portion, because I have too little experience with Planar Magnetic headphones, nor with headphones in this price-range, to feel qualified to compare the Alpha Dogs to similar headphones.

 

Comfort

 

These headphones are SUBLIMELY comfortable.  The earpads are absolutely HUMONGOUS and so very soft and cushiony, and feel like plush pillows resting lightly around my ears.  The headband never seems to create that "pinching" feeling on the top of the head that some headphones get, and the clamping pressure is completely reasonable.  The one and only issue these can sometimes have with comfort is their weight:  Like most Planar Magnetic headphones, the Alpha Dogs have quite large and bulky earcups in order to accomodate the drivers, and I find that if I am very very physically exhausted it becomes a strain on my neck to wear them for a long time.  However, issues with comfort due to weight have only arisen once or twice during the four-and-a-half months I've had these, so I am taking off as little as I can from their comfort-rating in this review to account for that.  Do keep in mind, though, that very petite and/or very thin-built folks might have an issue with neck strain due to the bulk of these. . .for anyone for whom that is the case, that is a shame, because they are probably not going to have any luck when it comes to comfort from any planar-magnetic headphones besides perhaps the Oppo PM-3.

Keep in mind that it is because of the weight that I didn't give these a top rating for comfort, but that for me, the weight isn't an issue. . .I simply did that with the rating out of consideration of the fact that other folks might find the weight annoying.

 

Build

Immediately upon holding these in my hands, I knew they were incredibly sturdy.  Since they are not actually my own headphones, I have of course been extremely careful with them; however, I am absolutely positive that they could withstand all kinds of punishment (NOT THAT ANYONE SHOULD EVER TEST THAT! Seriously, don't, hahahahaha) and remain completely fine.  The steel frame for the headband is super-thick and sturdy, and the custom earcups made by Mr. Speakers seem very durable.  The stock cable is about as thick and durable as they come, and the engineers made a very, very good choice of cable-connectors on the earcups:  The way they screw and lock into place pretty much precludes any possibility of bending or breakage.

Basically, these seem like headphones that would last years even for a fairly irresponsible and clumsy individual.

 

Power Requirements

Don't believe what people say when they tell you that the Alpha Dogs need some kind of super-duper-powerful source in order to achieve close-to their full potential, although they can certainly benefit in some ways from a high-power amp.  They do just fine (with bass-impact at about 98% of what it is from a higher-power source, and everything else the same) driven straight from my Fiio X3 2nd Generation DAP, which has a power rating of a maximum of 200mW into 32ohms.  Even on normal/low gain, the X3ii is able to drive the Alpha Dogs loudly enough to become borderline-painful on most tracks with the volume at maximum, while with the gain on high, it drives them to truly-painful levels.  However, the X3ii does not give a lot of volume head-room for the Alpha Dogs. . .a decent amount, but not a whole lot, so if that's what you're looking for, something a bit more powerful is definitely recommended.  The guy who loaned me the Alpha Dogs is also loaning me a Schiit Asgard 2 headphone-amp, and I'm finding that the Asgard 2 pairs extremely well with the Alpha Dogs. . .not only is it able to drive them with a MUCH larger amount of volume-headroom than the X3ii (so if you're the kinda guy who likes listening VERY loudly, something like the Asgard 2 should go well with the Alpha Dogs) but unlike the X3ii the Asgard 2 has a 1/4" instead of a 3.5mm output, which in my opinion is preferable for a stay-at-home headphone like the Alpha Dogs--when I myself purchase the Alpha Dogs, I am going to be going with the option of the 1/4" cable rather than the 3.5mm, as it is much sturdier and more reliable in the long-run.

 

So in conclusion, a super-powerful amp is not necessary in order to drive the Alpha Dogs to truly loud levels; however, any source less powerful than say, a max-power of 150 or 100mW into 32 ohms will probably be too little for the Alpha Dogs, and will need to be paired with an amp, meaning that nobody is ever going to enjoy listening to these straight from a smartphone.  And if you want something which will give you lots of headroom for volume-control, the Alpha Dogs should be paired with an amp like the Asgard 2 which outputs over one whole watt (1000mW, for those who are not familiar with such unit prefixes) into a 32 ohm load.

 

Value

Honestly guys, I have too little experience with planar-magnetic headphones, as well as with headphones in the over-$400 price-range, to really judge how good a value these are myself.  However, people I know in these forums who ARE very knowledgable about such things all seem to be of the opinion (and have told me so) that all of Mr. Speakers' headphones, including the Alpha Dogs, are a very very good deal.  And in all seriousness, while they cost $500, they sound way more than even just twice as good as any of the $250 and $300 headphones I've ever listened to; so, I am going to give them a very high rating under the "value" category.

 

Looks

So here we get to the one and only truly "major problem" with these headphones, other than perhaps their weight for certain more petite and/or scrawny individuals.  Frankly guys, these headphones look dorky, bordering on downright stupid-looking.  My roommate and I think that I look like some kind of "mentally challenged spaceman" wearing them because of the huge awkward earcups and the guide-rails for the headband adjustment that stick up and out like antennae.  However, is any of this really an issue?  In my opinion no, considering that these are certainly not portable.  As long as I won't be wearing them out of the house, I don't care what they look like.  But I'm aware plenty of people might care, and so that's why I gave these a somewhat lower rating for "design" than in other categories.

 

Isolation

These isolate really well from outside sound, probably by virtue of the humongous cushiony earpads as well as whatever material the earcups are made from.  As soon as I put them on, all outside sound (especially in the midrange and above) is reduced drastically, and then as soon as music starts playing I basically cannot hear any outside audio-stimuli.  Very nice!  These are truly "closed back" headphones in a very, very real sense.

 

Sound

Okay guys, so here's the big part, the part everybody REALLY cares about!  As in previous reviews, I will first give a general overview of the sound, followed by a category-wise breakdown.


First of all, it is my opinion that for $500 these sound amazing.  I have listened to over-$1000 headphones at meets and stores taht at best sound subtly better than these, but not over twice as good.  Meanwhile, as I said before, these $500 headphones sound way more than just twice as good as headphones that are half the price, in my opinion.  I would classify their sound as slightly on the warm side of neutral, but still very close to neutral, with rolled-off upper treble characteristic of planar magnetic drivers, as can be seen here in the Alpha Dog (2014 model) measurements from Innerfidelity: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/MrSpeakersAlphaDog2014.pdf  However, what I am hearing does differ in some ways from those measurements in the treble, as I will explain in more detail below.  Meanwhile, what really strikes me about the sound of these is that they manage to have quite good clarity, transparency, separation, and detail, all while managing to not sound overly-clinical, but rather to sound truly fun!  Finally, there's the soundstage and imaging, which are frankly MINDBLOWING (that one had to be in all caps, this is that darn serious) for a fully-closed-back headphone with isolation like this, and sounds very nearly like an open-backed headphone.

 

Bass

As is typical with Planar Magnetic driver technology, these produce very linear, clear, undistorted sounding bass.  While the frequency-response is somewhat on the warmer side, I would say that the bass still sounds quite close to truly "neutral" alongside the mids, to the point that if one were to (as I have) experiment by playing sweeping-test-tones ranging from 20Hz to 20Khz, it is incredibly difficult to even discern exactly where, if anywhere, the bass is "boosted."  Basically, the bass that comes from these, at least to me (YMMV) sounds exactly the way it is supposed to as any given track was mastered.  If the track has heavy, thumping bass, so do the Alpha Dogs, while if it has subdued, barely-audible bass, then that's what you will hear from the Dogs.  But when it needs impact, these have serious impact.  Frankly, the bass is wonderful.  I do SOMETIMES hear a very, very slight distortion/breakup down in the sub-bass when the volume is very very high, but I have to actually TRY to listen for it in order to detect it, unlike the very-audible subbass distortion which far too many headphones produce these days.  Meanwhile, at reasonable-to-loud volume levels, I never hear any distortion in the bass. . .it is pure, impactful, and clear, and I would give these a grade of, say, 93% (so an A but not an A+) for how they do bass both in-and-of-itself, as well as relative-to-the-mids.

 

I would also like to make a brief note about another big positive aspect of the bass from these:  IT IS TUNABLE, GUYS!  Yes, the Alpha Dogs come with a tuning-kit for tweaking the bass!  Personally, after trying it I adjusted the bass back to how it was when I first received them, as I liked it best that way---but that may simply be because my ears had already grown most accustomed to the signature at that point, as I did not try the bass-tuning at all until I'd already had them for a few weeks.  So, YMMV, and I'm sure plenty of you guys will find that even if the "default" bass does not quite fit your particular tastes, you will be able to tune it exactly to your liking :)  Heck, I mentioned the default signature is very slightly warm due to the bass, right?  I'm sure someone could tune these to have bass truly neutral relative to the mids, if they want, which should certainly be a huge, huge plus for a lot of audiophiles considering buying these headphones.

 

Mids

Just like the bass, and as is to be expected from Planar Magnetic drivers, the mids are nice and linear through their entire range (as well as relative to the bass), with the first hints of frequency-response roll-off not becoming at all audible until you get past the upper mids and into the treble at 2Khz or so.  The mids are clean, clear, and detailed, with a nice smooth sound.  Vocals, guitar chords, etc., they all sound awesome; as-in, the midrange sounds at least as good as it should for a pricetag of $500 on these headphones, and just like the bass is far better than one will get from the vast majority of traditional Dynamic-Driver headphones.  I would give the way these do the mids a solid 97% (A+) grade, as is to be expected from any planar-magnetic headphones.

 

Treble

Here's where we start to run into a little bit of an issue, as anyone who knows much about Planar Magnetic technology could have easily predicted.  The frequency-response, according to the measurements from Innerfidelity, starts to experience seemingly significant roll-off after about 2Khz.  However, I can barely, BARELY actually hear this roll-off at all, myself, until around the 7Khz mark or so, even when listening to equal-relative-loudness sweeping-tones.  In other words, the treble I am hearing sounds more like the uncompensated (grey colored) measurements from Innerfidelity rather than like the compensated ones.  So while there certainly is an issue with treble roll-off, it isn't "severe," in my opinion.  The treble starts to become at least somewhat-noticably rolled-off at 7Khz, but it is past about 9.5 or 10Khz that one finds truly serious roll-off in the treble.  So, what does this mean for the sound?  Basically, these headphones do bass and mids incredibly, the lower 50% to 60% (on a logarithmic scale) of the treble quite well, but have the upper-50% or so of the treble severely rolled-off, so that the overall sound is somewhat lacking in upper-end air and sparkle.  It only really becomes audible with things like cymbal hits.  Anyway, I would give the way these do the lower-50% (up to 8 or 9Khz) of the treble a grade of 85% (so a solid B) and the way they do the upper-treble a grade of 75% (a C).  Meh, what can ya do?  Treble-extension is the primary weakness of Planar Magnetic tech, and there's not much that can ever be done about it from an engineering standpoint.  I am 100% positive that the engineers at Mr. Speakers did the absolute very best they could to eke out the best treble they could from these drivers.

 

So what's this mean?  Basically it means that if you're a hardcore treble-head, these are not good headphones for you, and you should probably just stay away from Planar Magnetic headphones in general in that case.

One big plus to the treble from these, though?  It is very smooth and never ever fatiguing, without ever being strident.  I have also not once noticed any sibilance where it does not already exist in a recording.

 

Clarity and Detail

I don't understand how these manage to have such great clarity and so much detail while at the same time sounding fun and upbeat/energetic rather than clinical and analytic.  Sure, these headphones are not kings of detail and clarity, I mean they aren't STAX electrostats and they aren't Sennheiser HD800's, and they only cost $500.  But, wow, I can hear waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more detail in my music from these than I ever could before (with the exception of briefly demoing the HD800s, the Ether C's, and a few other summit-fi models), and the clarity is so very nice and sweet, as if I can really "hear into" the music.  Other stuff I've listened to has (to use a visual metaphor) been like looking at things without my glasses on, while listening to these headphones is like suddenly having my glasses on again to look at the world.  Meanwhile, headphones with summit-fi-level detail and clinical accuracy are like having my eyes replaced with those of an eagle, but I find that to be TOO much and downright overwhelming :p  Basically, these strike a fantastic balance between being fun and smoothed-out, and being clinical and super-detailed.  I don't know how else to describe it.  Of course, that detail and clarity unfortunately falls-off in the upper 50% of the treble, corresponding to the roll-off there in the Frequency Reponse; but what can ya do?

 

Dynamics and Speed

Wide and rapid swings in volume, super-fast sequences of wide-ranging (frequency-wise and volume-wise) successive notes, whatever, these can handle it all when it comes to dynamics and speed.  Everything sounds VERY energetic and fun on these headphones, and they ALWAYS make me want to start bobbing my head and tapping my foot :L3000:

 

Soundstage and Imaging

It is in this category, more than any other, that the engineers at Mr. Speakers have impressed me to the point of absolutely blowing my mind.  I have seen several reviewers on here call the soundstage "congested" or simply "decent," but I honestly cannot see how they can think so when considering that these headphones are closed-backed.  These headphones have a soundstage ALMOST as wide as the soundstage of decent (but not great or high-end) open-backed headphones, and of course way wider than the soundstage of almost all closed-back headphone I have yet listened to.  And while the soundstage is lacking in depth compared to width, it is still quite deep for a closed-back, providing a good sense of separation between the instruments, at least to my ears.  And the imaging, it is INCREDIBLY realistic.  With songs that were very well-mastered in terms of the sense of space and position of the instruments, I often get that super-cool sense of almost (as opposed to a good open-backed headphone where it's no longer just "almost") being "in the room" with the instruments and being able to hear each of them from a slightly different direction than the others.  So, that is obviously a huge point in favor of these headphones, and of Mr. Speakers in-general. 


Let me tell you guys a somewhat-brief story (which you can feel free to skip, just skip this paragraph if you want) illustrating just what I mean about the soundstage of these headphones.  I have a friend, Alicia, who is not the least bit of an audiophile. . .for example, this girl totally thought, like most folks, that Beats were actually good headphones (because the Mass-Media says so, guys!!!!!) until I corrected her on that belief, haha.  And she is usually quite content to listen to, say, a pair of Apple Earpods (*barfs violently*).  So clearly, this girl knows nothing about hi-fi sound, right guys?  Anyway, so one day, she asked if she could listen to my headphones, since she sees how much they interest me.  First, she listened to the Sony MDR-1A, and then the Sony MDR-100AAP, both of which (especially the latter) are quite good closed-back portable mid-fi headphones.  The MDR-100AAP in-particular has a pretty good soundstage for a closed-back intended for portable use.  But, as soon as Alicia put on the Alpha Dogs, I could see on her face that her mind was blown.  After she was done I asked for her impressions, and this is what she said: "well, with those first two headphones it was like the sound was just coming from right here *gestures forming the shape of a very small box right in front of her face*, but with those big dorky looking headphones I tried last it was like the sound was coming from ALLLL AROUND ME *gestures in a big sweeping motion all around her body*."  Basically what I'm saying, guys, is that these have such a great soundstage for closed-back headphones that even a complete non-audiophile who knows nothing of sound-quality was immediately blown-away by it, and was even able to describe the actual concept/definition of "soundstage" as a result.  Pretty cool, right? :D

 

 

Conclusion/Summary

In conclusion, these are very, very nice headphones, in my opinion, for a stay-at-home user who wants a closed-back headphone for the purposes of isolation, while at the same time not wanting to sacrifice TOO much of the soundstage and imaging achieved by good open-backed headphones.  They have quite nice clarity, and great detail through the bass, mids, and low-treble.  The overall signature is very slightly warm, but can be tuned (YAY!) to be neutral through the bass and mids if desired, and has roll-off in the treble which starts to become quite audible around 8Khz due to the constraints of planar-magnetic driver technology.  And while not sacrificing the aforementioned detail and clarity, these are also very very FUN and dynamic sounding headphones, and invariably make me want to start tapping my foot to the beat of the music.  Finally, these are very very comfortable as long as they are not too heavy for a person.

 

So, the biggest points against these headphones would be: the aforementioned treble roll-off (although keep in mind that below 8Khz the treble is very good, and it is always smooth and non-fatiguing. . .personally, I prefer a rolled-off non-fatiguing treble rather than treble which is strident and piercing in an attempt to sound more detailed), the weight (for some folks, but not for me), and the looks which are simply dorky-as-heck:p

 

So, do I think these headphones are worth spending $500 on?  Definitely.  Will I be buying a pair of either these or the Alpha Primes for myself someday, after experiencing them as a loaner?  Oh yes, yes I will, definitely.  I've pretty much reached the conclusion that these are what I have always been looking for in stay-at-home headphones, and they or the Alpha Primes will almost surely be all I'll ever need (at least for a long long time) in that regard, once I can afford a pair myself.  My search for stay-at-home cans is over, and now I only need to find the "perfect portables" and my "ideal IEM's" to one day complete my collection.

Posted

Pros: Professional looking, excellent sound (clear), good comfort and isolation, very good presentation and accessories, excellent customer support.

Cons: Heavier than Mad Dogs, cable is great but don't particularly like Y-cables, bass impact, still needs ample amplification to sound its best.

Introduction


First I want to start with an "I'm sorry" because I took so long to write this and to top it off, I feel as if the review was a "waste of time" because, well, I don't see it as very in-depth, my first impressions still stand (mostly), and everything has been mentioned to death but I thought I at least should record it for posterity :p
 
Anyway I've been a fan of the Mad Dogs since I got them on June/July 2012 and I've definitely been very vocal about them. They just hit all the right buttons I was looking for on a closed-back headphone:

 

  • good comfort
  • isolation
  • no leakage
  • excellent mids and good bass response

 
I remember the first time I got the Mad Dogs, I put them up to test and noticed something was "off". Bass response and extension wasn't what I was expecting and indeed the headphones couldn't properly reproduce sound below 40Hz (as far as I remember). Dan noticed my post in the thread, contacted me, requested the headphones back, and after a few days I got the properly tuned headphone (all at his expense of course). So now, not only did I had an excellent sounding headphone in my arsenal, the best thing, it kept getting better with updates. Moved from the Shure pads to the Dog and Alpha's (but did not perform the final 3.2 tuning as I felt they were great as they were.) Then... big news, Jude introduced a video talking in length about these new 3D-printed headphones... MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs.
 
Now, I didn't have access to the video at work so I didn't even noticed Jude's enthusiasm until later but I went to the order page on the spot and just ordered blindly!

And I'm glad I did! ;-)

 


Specs:
 

  • Frequency response (+/- 3dB): 16Hz to 18KHz
  • Efficiency: 90dB/mW
  • Weight (without cable): 440g
  • Cable: Dual entry

 
 
Package Contents:
 

  • Alpha Dog's black Box (very good looking actually).
  • Headphones
  • MrSpeakers Stand
  • Dual-entry cable
  • Black pouch
  • 3M Cleaning Cloth

 
 

Design, Comfort and Build:

Design-wise, the Alpha Dogs still look like the original T50RP. I guess this is due to the unchanged headband design (although MrSpeakers adds a leather strap just as he did with the Mad Dogs). The new 3d-Printed cups though are a treat. They seem well constructed, and they are definitely well painted. Overall, they look very professional and in fact shares a bit of similarity with Fostex TH900s regarding color choice and form. Just like the original T50RP, I think they could withdstand a bit of abuse but I'm not sure how prone to scratches or marks the paint job is (and I don't want to find out willingly! ;-)) nor how durable the plastic used for the cups is but they feel sturdy enough for usual and even portable use.
 
Comfort with the Mad Dogs has always been great and when the Alpha Pads were introduced, they were like pillows on your ears. I'm glad to say that this feeling was not lost with the Alpha Dogs. You can put the headphones on your head and the comfort is excellent BUT after a few hours you start noticing the weight the new cups and the cable is exerting, especially if you use lighter headphones as well.

 

 

I find the Mad Dogs more comfortable in the end due to the weight factor but if you like the MDs and don't mind the extra weight, then you should be good to go!
 
 
Sound:
 
Now the most important part. The sound.
As usual, the first time I put the Alpha Dogs over my ears I knew I had to give it a bit of time so my brain
could play "catch-up". For some reason, every time I use any dynamic headphone (be it the Momentum, Signature DJ, Dido D901, etc.) and jump to the Mad Dogs or Alpha Dogs I ALWAYS find the headphones underwhelming!!! I have mentioned this a few times before on the Mad Dog threads and I think this is very important because even though I've had the Mad Dogs for a year plus now, I still experience the same thing (this doesn't really happen when I compare or use other headphones). So I don't think "quick 5 minute impressions" work well with these 2 cans. Anyway, first few times I used the Alpha Dogs the first impressions were:
 
1) "Oh, they sound very clear..." (i.e. the "warmth" of the Mad Dogs was not as present)
2) "Wait, where is the bass?"
3) Love my girl Sara Bareilles on this!
4) "Amber Rubarth. Are you singing to me?"
5) "but highs sound weird..."
 
Then I remembered, "let's spend at least 20 minutes with these..." and there it was... Non ear-piercing clear highs, sibilance on bad recordings was not "enhanced" (i.e. like happens on some of my "Studio" headphones), vocals were shining through (male and female), guitar crunch was splendid on some of the metal I listen to, basically the mids were mostly left untouched as-in it is still fairly "neutral", but that added "air", that "clean-up" did make most genres more enjoyable and in fact most instruments sound more "natural" to me. Listening to something like "Basin Street Blues" is a total treat on these. Changing gears, I went through my usual playlist consisting of:
 
Thrice - Under a Killing Moon
Miguel Bose - Este Mundo Va
Kaskade - Fire in your Shoes
Blink 182 - Kaleidoscope
Jon Cleary - When you Get back
Mima - Oigo Voces
Esperanza Spalding - What a Friend
Sara Bareilles - Vegas
Killswitch Engage - Fixation on the Darkness
Juancho - Pillala
Boston - More than a Feeling
J-King y Maximan - Ella me Pide Something
Calvin Harris - Feel so Close
Three Six Mafia - Late Night Tip
Orquesta Macabeo - Me Repito

 

 

Just like the Mad Dogs before it, the Alpha Dogs can play most of these genres without breaking a sweat. But again I noticed something missing. So let's get into a head-to-head comparison.

How do the Alpha Dogs compare to the Mad Dogs? As mentioned their sound is different and it is actually quite surprising how the drivers can behave with different enclosure and/or tuning. The Alpha Dogs added that something the Mad Dogs really lacked and that's a bit more treble energy, a bit more "air" in the upper-mids and highs. Not only that, but the Bass bump of the Mad Dogs was tamed a bit and it is more refined and faster. What this does is give the illusion that there is less bass presence and elevated mids/highs. And this is basically my main "nitpick". For genres that rely on bass SLAM and presence (sub-bass), the clean sound of the Alpha Dogs and tamed lower-end is not the best match (my preference though). So while the bass indeed goes low, the lack of impact extracts a bit of the "fun" factor in songs like Kaskade's "Fire in your New Shoes"/"One Heart"/"Room for Happiness" or even Jon Cleary's "When You get Back". On the other hand, all of these sound very good with their forward mids and controlled highs (something a couple of headphones cannot do either!). Oh my! ...

 

Soundstage is actually one of those topics that were discussed a few months ago in detail and quite frankly I don't find it as a huge upgrade to the Mad Dogs, but again, the "clearer" sound make it sound like it is a bit wider. Imaging though is actually improved and it's probably one of the upgrades I like the most! This is what I liked the most from the open-back Shure SRH1840s and now I can get it on a closed-back headphone! Yay! In the months that followed, I acquired a few other headphones and, what the heck, decided to compare them as well. 

 

First the Shure SRH1540s. I've been a fan of Shure for a few years now and have had in my posession the 440s, 840s, 940s, 1840s and now 1540s. I was surprised at their departure for their sound on this new flagship. Surprisingly these are almost borderline basshead. After coming from the 940s (bright, boosted highs, cold-ish sounding) and the 1840s (warm, laid back mids and highs with good bass presence, similar to HD600s by Sennheiser) these sound weird, but in a good way. Compared directly to the Alpha Dogs, 1540s offer more bass, a bit boomy, mids not as forward but clear and good sounding, non-offensive highs, excellent imaging (similar to the 1840s and ADs), wider sounding. These Shure actually leak a bit of sound though and they are more comfortable (lighter as well) than the ADs.

 

 

Also got some Beyerdynamic T5p with Blue Dragon cables, bought used. The only other Beyer I had was the DT770 Pro 80s which are basshead preferred and they don't sound anything alike. Anyway, I have to say that the T5p's are "Ok". Their highlight is definitely their mids, very clear, forward and just excellent. Soundstage and imaging are very good as well but their highs are a bit too much sometimes (maybe too revealing to my tastes or maybe they are too peaky?). Bass is actually quite anemic (surprising since the DT770s were so powerful) but what it shows it's good quality. These are very comfortable as well, good isolation and no leakage.

 

Comparison summary, 

 

Bass quantity: SRH1540 --> Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p
Bass quality: Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p --> SRH1540
Mids presentation: Beyer T5p --> Alpha Dogs --> SRH1540
Soundstage/imaging: Beyer T5p --> Alpha Dogs == SRH1540
Highs: Alpha Dogs --> SRH1540 --> Beyer T5p
Sound Isolation/Leakage: Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p --> SRH1540
Fun Factor: SRH1540 --> Alpha Dogs --> Beyer T5p
Price: Alpha Dogs == SRH1540 --> Beyer T5p

 

In case you were wondering, one of the features of the Alpha Dogs is the inclusion of a feature called "Very-Bass" tuning which as it's name implies it can modify bass output on the headphones. So, (copy+paste from an earlier post) I followed Dan's instructions in order to perform them tuning changes correctly (and to get back to "standard tuning" after I played with the settings) and I have to say, I did NOT like it. It seems to adjust the mid-bass quite a bit (not sub-bass) and I felt the mids being a bit muddied as well. Listened to about 4 hours straight with tracks I know by heart or that I play on the guitar, etc. etc. and, well, went back to original settings. Still, the added "weight" to the mid-bass didn't come as "slam" or "impact", it was just that, weight... as in coloring the sound with a sucky EQ app (I don't like EQ'ing) so I really didn't like it as much. Maybe it was my ears, or maybe changes on the tuning indeed affect it as I heard it but since there doesn't seem to be many people that have tried this, I guess I wont know unless Dan himself tells us and/or maybe provide updated charts with the "normal tuned" frequency of one of his Alphas and comparisons against their "tuned" selves! Love the natural tone and response at it's default setting, and if I really want bass impact/slam/basshead-worthy, I think I'll just switch headphones! ;-)

 

Finally, just wanted to mention that I tested these guys with my usual setup:

 

Cowon C2 --> Schiit Magni
FiiO X3 --> Schiit Magni
PC --> NuForce Icon HDP --> Lehman BCL
Straight from the FiiO X3 (and yes, the Alpha Dogs sound good from the X3)

 

 

Summary:
 
So, if I were to choose a favorite from these three overall, I would pick the Alpha Dogs based on their excellent mids, good imaging, Ok bass presence, excellent isolation and leakage control, and very good price/performance. Let's not forget about Dan's customer service as well. Now, does this automatically says the other two are bad?

Not at all. I've had fun every time I listen ot the Shure's and actually enjoy some Radiohead and acoustic performances on the T5p's but I don't feel these two particularly blast away the ADs.

 

I also would like to mention, I wouldn't spend $1300 on the Beyer's. ;-)

 

 


Conclusion:

 

So after writing all of this and taking my sweet time I can finally say that I'm definitely a fan of the Alpha Dogs.
Sadly I haven't compared it to other orthodynamics or flagships, but I'm only limited to closed-back headphones since I mostly use them in my workplace. Now, are the Alpha Dogs the BEST closed-back headphone I have ever tried soundwise? No, I actually prefer Ultrasone Signature DJs/Pros over them... ;-) but let's re-phrase the question.
Are the Alpha Dogs one of the most comfortable, very good sounding closed-back headphone I've tried? As of today, yes they are. Couple that with excellent customer support, excellent perks (removable pads, cables, etc.) and excellent price and you definitely have a winner!!

 

So all in all, unless you are a basshead or just want more slam, the Alpha Dogs are an EXCELLENT buy. Just be sure of what you really want and make your selection based on your tastes and gear.

 

 

Thanks.

Posted

Pros: Very good all-around headphone

Cons: Layering and depth

MrSpeakers Alpha Dog

 

INTRODUCTION

Like many I was bit by the planar magnetic bug years ago and I have not looked back since.  I have never heard any of Dan’s other headphones, but I have my own modded Fostex T50RP that I enjoy a lot.  Having owned the Fostex T50RP for 2 years I am familiar with its strengths (neutrality, focus, midrange, and tight bass) and weaknesses (air, polite treble).  I believe Dan has extracted every last drop of sonic goodness out of this Fostex driver.  When I first heard the Alpha Dog I will admit that I was not blown away.  I had just owned the Fostex TH-600 which I liked a lot, a more euphoric headphone in regards to treble and bass.  However, I was in want of those palpable mids that are associated with a well-driven planar headphone.  While waiting for the Alpha Dog I spent more time listening to my own modded T50RP which is a warmer version than the Alpha Dog.  Going from my T50RP to another headphone with the same driver took me a couple listening sessions to fully appreciate what the Alpha Dog was doing. 

 

In my brief time of 3 years in this audiophile world there were several headphone transitions that required an adjustment period: (1) Sennheiser HD650 to Hifiman HE-4 and Audeze LCD-2, (2) LCD-2 to HE-500, and (3) Fostex TH-600 to MrSpeakers Alpha Dog.  Spend some time to get to know the Alpha Dog.  We all know that our opinions can change over time.  I have experienced headphones that I never liked even after quite some time and then sold them.  I do not force myself into liking headphones.  Even with the Alpha Dog there were ups and downs in my experience with them.  After spending almost 2 months with the Alpha I am very fond of this headphone and that is what this review is about.  I usually own one headphone and amp at any given time so I will be recalling on a lot of audio memory.  I thought about waiting to release my review until I got to hear the Alpha Dogs on a solid state amp.  For now my experience with the Alpha Dog is that of them being driven by a very good, transparent Decware tube amplifier.           

 

SOUNDSTAGE

For a closed headphone the Alpha Dog does not disappoint in regards to soundstage.  Is it amazingly spacious?  No.  However, there is more than adequate width or stereo spread, all contributing to an accurate, coherent image.  The center fill is right where I expect it to be, not too high or too low.  If people are expecting an open headphone type experience then they will need to tame those expectations.  My only other mid-tier closed headphone was the Fostex TH-600 which probably beats the Alpha Dog by some margin in regards to air as well as soundstage width and depth.  However, on an amp such as the Decware Taboo which has a lucid mode I can narrow the gap in soundstage.  When I turn lucid mode off I lose a bit of width and depth.  It can be fun trying different amps with the Alpha Dog and observe the differences in the perception of soundstage.  I have owned vintage receivers which can present a very wide soundstage and then there is something like the Violectric V200 which has very good depth and average width.  Ultimately, there are trade-offs with headphones, amps, and DACs. 

 

In regards to layering I would give the nod to a planar like the LCD-2.  Maybe this is not fair because it is an open headphone.  Open headphones by their very nature may have an advantage in creating more space for notes to recede and generate an image with more depth.  However, I never felt the open HE-500 headphone had amazing depth, and therefore soundstage qualities cannot be simply boiled down to ear cup design.  And take the TH-600, I feel it has better layering and depth than either the HE-500 or Alpha Dog.  I do not doubt that one’s experience with the Alpha Dog will be largely affected by one’s amp.  I consider the Decware pre-amp and amp that I use a more than adequate in its ability to drive the Alpha Dogs with authority.  I feel the Alpha Dog will scale nicely with higher end systems.  I will be adding a solid state amp in the future, but I continue to enjoy planars with tube amps.  Tubes add a dimensionality, texture, and color to music that I like with planar headphones. 

 

TREBLE

My ears are not sufficiently trained to breakdown treble like other established members who can identify spikes and valleys quite easily without looking at a headphone’s frequency response trace.  I have not taken a look at the Alpha Dog’s own frequency response.  The treble is not fatiguing or harsh, at least for the recordings I commonly use.  The treble sounds natural and smooth to me.  I primarily listen to jazz and the Alpha Dog’s treble is well-suited for this genre.  I am a fan of treble sparkle or brightness but it is not a requirement of all my headphones.  Having owned the HE-4 and LCD-2, which take different approaches to treble, I feel there is room for all kinds of treble in this headphone journey.  

 

I feel the Alpha Dog is somewhere in the middle of my planar experience in regards to treble emphasis (HE-4 > HE-500 > Alpha Dog > LCD-2 > Self Modded T50RP).  I like the tuning of the Alpha Dog’s treble.  The music is lively with adequate realism.  I am guessing that when I get around to trying a solid state amp the Alpha Dog’s top end will be slightly brighter in comparison to the presentation I get from my tube amp.  I may change my opinion of the Alpha Dog’s treble when I get a chance to hear it from a solid state amp.  For now, I do not think the treble is neither a weakness nor a major advantage of the Alpha Dog.          

 

BASS

The bass is full and when called upon will deliver rumble and impact that is far from polite.  I did not adjust the bass from Dan’s factory settings.  I suspect what one hears in regards to bass may be dependent on other things in one’s chain such as amplification, equalization, and/or tubes in my situation.  Bass from planar magnetic headphones is something one loves or hate.  I enjoy tight bass but I can also get into the deep, rich bass of say the TH-600.  I would call the LCD-2 the king of bass among planars that I’ve owned, especially in regards to impact and rumble.  When I had the HE-500 I felt it had deep, impactful bass yet I always felt it was a one-note type of bass.  The Alpha Dog bass is more textured than the HE-500.  It has more personality to me.  I can’t take away the visceral nature of the HE-500’s bass and it extends lower than the Alpha Dog.  Additionally, the speed at which the LCD-2 and HE-500 can deliver quick, succinct and clear bass notes is not to be trivialized.  The Alpha Dog is not going to deliver those bass lines in the same manner.  If you like jazz you will likely enjoy the Alpha Dog’s low end response.  It is more than adequate for that type of music. 

 

MIDRANGE

My preference rankings for midrange, especially vocals, would go LCD-2 > Alpha Dogs > HE-500.  Keep in mind I could live with the mids from any of these headphones.  The LCD-2 midrange has that smoky Audeze house sound.  The strength of the midrange of the Alpha Dog is neutrality, clarity, and focus.  The vocal experience is full, intimate, and the smoothed treble works well with female singers.  Male voices do not sound flat and you will also like the Alpha Dog with male vocals from say Marvin Gaye or Kurt Elling.  The Alpha Dog really shines with acoustic guitar performances.  With its midrange I get an excellent portrayal of detail, palpability, texture, and smoothness that I enjoy.  The delicacy of the Alpha Dog makes it an excellent headphone for low-volume listening as well.  In the end, vocal and stringed performances that I enjoyed in the past with other headphones have retained their magic when heard through the Alpha Dog.  That is always a major worry for me when using a new headphone.  The Alpha Dog's midrange sounds very good to my ears.      

 

TONE

I use piano and acoustic guitar pieces as my reference points for tone and timbre.  Additionally, I play the clarinet and shakuhachi so music pieces that highlight these instruments are good reference points for me.  If these instruments sound natural then I usually can assume reproduction of other sounds will be on point.  Nothing sounds off key to me with the Alpha Dog.  I do not hear any major weaknesses in regards to tonality and timbre.         

 

ATTACK and PACE

The Alpha Dog has plenty of bite.  Although one might call it a smooth presentation among the competition of planar headphones, the Alpha is not so laid back to cause real concern.  When compared to the dynamic headphones I have owned the Alpha Dog leads the pack in regards to attack and pace.  In comparison to other planars, the LCD-2 and HE-500 drivers have more edge, punch, and dynamics.  I do believe those drivers are faster than the Alpha Dog which helps with rhythm and timing.  The HE-500 can be intoxicating and at times fatiguing because it hits harder, quicker, and sometime harsher than the Alpha Dog.  Even my recollection of say the HD-650 was that it has more energy in comparison to the Alpha Dog, especially for piano.  With that said, I prefer the overall presentation of the Alpha Dog to the HD-650.  The Alpha Dog is a planar to the core which means the T50RP driver delivers music in an impactful and visceral way.  We all have had headphones that do not move us.  The Alpha Dog will release those music-induced pheromones.  I do not worry about the Alpha Dog keeping up with faster genres of electronica and traditional Indian music that I have in my library.  Is it best for those genres?  That question is best left for those who listen to a lot of fast music.  In the end the Alpha Dog has very good control and is far from sluggish.  It is more than capable of keeping up with most of your music.             

 

DETAIL

Resolution or definition can be a hard thing to gauge among different reviewers because it can also be influenced by one’s audio chain.  I have owned detailed IEMs like the Heir Audio Tzar 350 and Hifiman RE-Zero but never a super detailed headphone like the Sennheiser HD800.  I would not consider the Alpha Dog’s detail level analytical or smeared.  Probably in the middle of the pack in regards to headphones I have owned.  The T50RP driver does not have the resolving power of the Hifiman and Audeze drivers, but it is not far off.  This is my opinion and where I really have to stretch my audio memory because it is not like one of these headphones dominates.  The Alpha Dog does not disappoint in regards to detail and there are no glaring weaknesses here.  Notes are whole and distinct.  Low-level detail is good.  For jazz trios this is important to me.  The subtleties of plucked guitar strings and the tapping of piano keys are never lost in the Alpha Dog.  Headphones like the LCD-2 and HE-500 have a bit more snap and crisp to them which help with emphasizing details.  In this scenario, the Alpha Dog may not be missing details.  It takes a more balanced approached across the entire spectrum with very little bias or overemphasis.  Though I am fairly loud listener of music, the Alpha Dog is very good headphone for low volume listening without losing the meaning of the music.  This is possible when the headphone has an ability to get across those micro-details.    

 

COMFORT 

The weight of most planar magnetic headphones doesn’t bother me.  The pads on the Alpha Dogs are comfortable and do not cause any type of sweating.  I can wear the Alpha Dogs for 1-2 hours with no worries.  Because I shave my head the Alpha Dog sits lower on my head than I would prefer.  I will likely add additional padding underneath the headband, such as I did with my own T50RP using HD600 foam.         

 

CONCLUSIONS

Purchase regrets?  None.  Is the Alpha Dog worth 6X the stock form of the Fostex T50RP?  In my opinion, yes.  The Alpha Dog improves upon the stock driver’s performance by a good margin, plus it comes with a better cable and gorgeous ear cups.  Let’s admit it; the Fostex T50RP in its stock form is capable but boring headphone.  With the Alpha Dog I am not worried about a laid back experience.  Sure it is smoother around the edges than other planars but the Alpha Dog never fails to deliver an enjoyable experience.  With music you love, you will continue to love it on the Alpha Dog.  For me the Alpha Dog is the last stop on the closed headphone tour.  I may get around to trying the other flagship closed headphones but I am not in any rush.  The Alpha Dog will be part of a one-two punch in many people’s rig with the Alpha’s taking care of the closed headphone portion and people throwing in their open headphone of choice.       

 

FUTURE

I want to hear this Alpha Dog on a solid state amp like the Emotiva Mini-X as well as compare the stock cable to the Q-audio cable.  I will offer anyone who wants to hear the single-ended version of the Q-audio cable with their Alpha Dog a chance to do so as with some sort of loaner program.  

 

Strengths

Female Vocals

Acoustic guitar and jazz trios

Non-fatiguing

Very good all-around headphone

 

Minor weaknesses

Layering and depth

 

Equipment used 

Macbook Pro > Amarra > Ciunas DAC > Decware CSP3+ > Decware Taboo MKIII > Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog (balanced stock cable, single-ended Q-audio cable)

 

Main Music Rotation:

Helge Lien “Hello Troll”, “Natsukashii”

Avishai Cohen “Sensitive Hours”, “Duende”, “Seven Seas”

Arvo Part “Tabula Rasa”, “Alina”

Diana Krall “Live in Paris”, “The Girl in the Other Room”

Joni Mitchell “Blue”

Dawn of Midi “Dysnomia”

Metallica “Black Album”

Pierre Bensusan “Altiplanos”

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman “Grisman and Garcia”

Jimmy Hendrix “Blues”

Johnny Cash “The Man Comes Around”

Ottmar Liebert “Up Close”

Keith Jarrett “Up For It”

Shankar “Eternal Light”            

Hilliard Ensemble “Morimur”

Groundation “Upon the Bridge”

 

Previously owned headphones serving my audio memory:

Hifiman HE-4, Hifiman HE-500, Audeze LCD-2 (rev1, rev2), Audio-Technica WS-99, Audio-Technica ATH-900X, Sennheiser HD-600, Sennheiser HD-650, Fostex TH-600, Fostex T50RP (self-modded – Blu Tack & Dynamat dampening, semi-closed vents, V-Moda cable, ATH W5000 ear pads), Beyerdynamic DT-770 LE 32 ohms, Koss ESP-950, Grado 225i

 

Manufacturer website:

https://www.mrspeakers.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=69

Posted

Pros: Strong extension from end to end, great clarity, Flat and even frequency response

Cons: Relative lack of air and black space, Realism suffers slightly due to mid-bass deficit, Soundstage could be a lot better, Treble lacks some weight.

Preface

 

 

 

 

A huge thanks to Dan (mrspeakers) for including me on the tour. I owned the Mad Dogs with alpha pads, so it's a great pleasure to get to hear this evolution of it.

 

The Alpha Dog is the world's first headphone with 3D printed cups. Even better, the inner workings and lattices of the cups were completely designed with sound quality in mind. Everything from the double-walled design to the lattice work is meant to optimize SQ while retaining isolation. Another benefit to going all in with the cup design is that Dan and his team were able to go into beast mode when finishing the outer aesthetics of the cups. My God, is this thing beautiful. The finish will have its own section in the review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packaging/Build Quality

 

 

 

The Alpha Dog's packaging is what I'd describe as efficient. It ships in a black box that has a brief description of the contents. The headphones themselves are very well protected from any potential shock during transport. You'll get a manual, your choice of single ended or balanced cable (the headphones are wired so you can easily use either, if you decide to change your amp), a headphone stand (!), and a little black pouch.

 

Overall build is excellent. I don't notice any unstable parts or flaws in the construction. It does retain the stock T50RP headband, which I find to be more than adequate and very sturdy. You won't be breaking your Alpha Dog any time soon. The pictures below are of the tour pair. Of course, a brand new set will look much better/less beat up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finish

 

 

 

Why didn't I just include this part in the build quality section, you ask? Excellent question. 

 

 

The reports of the finish Alpha Dogs have been that it is among the best they have seen. Yet, when I looked at pictures owners posted, I was left slightly unimpressed...until I pulled the tour pair out of the box. Wow. 

 

So, I've spent the morning trying to capture what the Alpha Dog looks like in person. I don't even think I succeeded, but you'll get the gist of it :D.

 

 

The only other words I'll put here are Crisp Candy Apple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, but how does it sound?

 

 

 

 

Nothing like the Mad Dogs. 

 

No, really.

 

 

(Note: I'm not touching the bass port. I'm sure it would be a great feature, but I don't feel comfortable doing it on a loaner pair).

 

 

The overall character of the Alpha Dogs can be described as flat from end to end, with a spike here or there that can tilt it to the bright end for some. 

 

The bass is great, extending as low as Little Sinegen would let me go. I clearly heard and felt air movement at 10Hz, with visceral rumble kicking in at around 17Hz. What i noticed though is that it doesn't quite have the kind of  slam that some may want for the more energetic music. For instance, the more foot stomping parts of Mumford and Sons' Lover's Eyes lacked that live folk-y feel to it that I could get with my other phones.

 

I'd consider the midrange to be tilted towards the upper mids, in a accordance with a more Diffuse-Field response. There's plenty of bite and clarity in the region for things like female vocals and distortion rock guitars. The side effect of this though is that it doesn't sound as full in the lower mids. Combine this with the relatively little mid-bass and things can a little too sharp in the mids.

 

The treble is more or less flat from end to end. However, I do hear a "detail spike" up there that is especially evident on things like guitar strums. The treble isn't exactly something I'd describe as full either. IMO, cymbals can be a bit thin, without the note weight and flourish I usually associate with the instrument.

 

 

Plenty has been said about the soundstage, but here is my 2c. The actual dimensions of the soundscape are fine. What I do notice is a lack of "dimensionality" or the ability to convey a convincing sonic image. For instance, my HD600 could do it despite its relatively modest soundstage size. I also own/have heard IEMs that convey a more convincing soundstage and image, though they all range from $50 more than the Alpha Dog, to more than double the price (Aurisonics ASG-2, Sennheiser IE800, Tralucent 1plus2). Images just aren't as "palpable", despite being placed well in the stage. I also have the Etymotic ER4S here, and it manages out to eke out the AD in terms of a convincing stage. Of course, all this is just in my opinion.

 

 

EDIT: Ah, I figured out the word! "Black space" is what I was looking for. The AD doesn't quite have the black space, or ability to make images materialize out of the proverbial darkness.

 

 

I like to describe what I hear using specific songs, so 

 

 

Test Tracks

 

 

The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
Of Monsters and Men - Sloom
Erlkonig - Schubert
The Lumineers - Flapper Girl
The Lumineers -  Morning Song
Noisia -  Could This Be

Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue
Lorde -  Tennis Court

 

 

Setup: Lenovo Y580 -> U2 Asynchronous ESS9023 DAC -> Tralucent T1 amp (1W @ 8ohms).

 

 

 

I'm more or less listening and typing notes as I go in this section, so apologies for the incoherent thoughts.

 

Starting with The Wild Hunt, the clarity is excellent, and I hear no lack of detail. Though, due to the slightly thinner mids than I'm used to, the AD doesn't quite capture the rise and fall of the recording. The upper mids are also sharper than I'd like, part of which is due to the nature of his voice.

 

Sloom was again technically great, but this track, and album, is very much sound stage dependent. It's just not as convincing for more.

 

Erlkonig is an old sprechstimme, describing the misfortunes of a boy who was kidnapped/killed by the fairy king. The vocals and piano don't have the power and fullness I'm used to. I'm not used to hearing classical male vocals sound sharp instead of full.

 

Flapper Girl and Morning Song both sounded excellent with the AD. Likely due to the forward upper mids highlighting the emotion in his voice and crunch of the guitar in Morning Song. The snare snap is very good. The cymbals however are a slight let down.

 

Noisia's Could It Be...now that's what I'm talking about! The bass wakes up to play with awesome texture, speed, and authority in the sub-bass region. However, the mid-bass can't keep up with the sub-bass in terms of fullness. I can also hear the bright mastering of the track, and the AD does nothing to alleviate this.

 

On Ocean Avenue, the guitars have great bite, but not enough body (this seems to be a recurring theme :o).

 

Lorde's Tennis Court, I've heard it rendered better. The relative lack of black space is truly distracting for me. My ASG-2 seems to dig the images out of Cthulu's dark lair to present them to you, whereas the AD just can't replicate this. The Tralucent 1plus2 also actually has larger soundstage dimensions than the AD, besting the HD600 (though not quite having the same depth).

 

 

 

 

Overall

 

 

 

The Alpha Dog is a technically great phone. Superb, even. It's just not something I'd use as my sole listening device, which is my main approach whenever I evaluate new gear. I'd actually see myself using as a mastering tool due to the nature of its sound signature, which I find slightly fatiguing. It should also be mentioned that this is not a light headphone. It's not as heavy as the HE-500, but it's no HD600 either.

Posted

Pros: great isolation, good mids, good comfort, more neutral than Denon/Fostex, great looks and design!

Cons: somewhat congested soundstage, instrument separation can be a bit fuzzy, not enough detail and transparency

Comparison rig:

Audio-GD NFB-28 via USB input, 0dB gain, balanced mode. Playing lossless music (with some high resolution tracks) on Windows 7 x64 and Foobar WASAPI.

Sound Quality:

- Soundstage of D5000 is noticably greater than Alpha Dog. Instrument separation is more clear on D5000s. ADs sound more closed than Denons (ADs have a greater effect on sound coming from inside your head). The AD soundstage is a bit congested and "fuzzy" with some tracks like piano solos. The soundstage of ADs improves very nicely with TB Isone. Great enhancement for those who play music on PC/Mac.

- ADs are definely more neutral than Denons, somewhat darker too, but not HD650 dark.

- ADs are less sibilant than D5000 (relatively speaking) and more forgiving to bad recordings with harsh highs. This works great for rock music.

- ADs have nice and smooth mids, instruments have "weight" in them, especially guitars (acoustic and electric). Better than Denon here.

- The bass of markl modded D5000 is more emphasized than default Alpha Dog. I found AD's bass just fine and did not mess with the screw adjustment. The fact that its possible to do that is amazing, wish more headphones would have these sort of built-in adjustments.

- ADs have less detail than D5000s

- ADs are less transparent than D5000s

Comfort:

I find the Denons more comfortable than ADs, but the difference is small. Both are very good. Neither are like the Audeze bricks. Denon seem to fit better for those of us with big heads smily_headphones1.gif. AD's leather pads are smoother and more luxurious to touch than the Angle pads I have on my Denons. AD's cable is quite microphonic.

Conclusion:

Overall, I preferred the Denons. IMHO, the main reason to get Alpha Dogs is for their great isolation, and better neutrality than Denon/Fostex equivalents.

Rating: A solid 7/10.

Some of the music used for comparison:
Sergei Rachmaninov - A Window In Time (TELARC)
The Body Acoustic - Bronxville (Chesky)
Antonio Forcione - Live! (Naim)
Giuliano Carmignola - Vivaldi - Le Quattro Stagioni
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out (vinyl rip)
Enigma - Seven Lives Many Faces
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (HDTracks)
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - stereo (HDTracks)

Posted

Pros: Overall sound quality, build quality, durability, price

Cons: refinement, soundstage

Nothing About The Sound Quality Part 

 

It has been awhile since I get to try many different flavours of headphones & speakers leave alone amplifiers and DAC. I have been so happy with my MrSpeaker’s Alpha Dog that I find myself stopped craving for an upgrade except for a very own custom cable for itself. That said, I did not regret paying the premium price to ship it via FedEx from the other side of the Earth to me although I am still not a fan of my local’s custom who made my premium delivery un-premium. 

 

Either way, the packaging itself are kind of standard, nothing impressive nothing overdone nor underdone. Comes with everything I needed and the jack is exactly what I choose so I’m happy. I just love the fact that not only does Mr.Speaker allow me to choose the color of the headphone I want between red and black, but also the jack itself, as that saves me a lot of trouble if the default cable isn’t what I was looking for and secondly, it gave me variety of choices but unfortunately, only the 3.5mm jack is suitable for me or should I say “fortunately” since I do not have to struggle on making a decision. There’s already enough decisions I have to make minute by minute. In fact, now I have to decide where I should start this review. 

 

Moving on. I sometimes wonder, and I still do, why would I pay so much for a DIY headphone that is modded originally from a very basic monitor headphone? Then I look at the build quality, then I look at the 3D work, then I look at its durability. That’s all I need to answer my question physically. The pads are thick too and soft at the same time. I have been using it for almost a year now and the pads have yet show any depreciation and that’s all I would ask from a headphone’s pads. I thought I might need an extra pair of pads just in case but turns out I might need an extra pair for my HM5 instead but I eventually passed on to my brother so to prevent myself to have any temptation but seriously, these things are comfortable. It’s almost like pillow hugs. 

 

The Alpha Dog sits nicely but not gently, rather, tightly on my head and I’d assume it’s to maximise sound isolation but I did follow some Youtube instructions made by Dan Clark himself, to reduce the clamp on it as it can be uncomfortable for long listening sessions. It do feel like there’s some weight when put on my head thought but since I don’t move my head that much, I’m perfectly happy with it. It doesn’t slide off my head so that’s cool too. Even though it is not the most comfortable headphone I have ever worn due to the clamp and the weight but the thick, soft pads made up a lot to me eventually. I wouldn't say its THE “comfortablest" headphone but still one of the most comfortable. Do keep in mind that, since it is a closed back headphone and the default clamping force combined with the thick pads is pretty ‘real” thus, it may not be idea if the environment is warmer than ideal. For the record, I find the Bang & Olufsen H6 deserves the “comfortablest" headphone I have ever worn. Not to mention its majestic premium look. 

 

The Alpha Dog is not meant for portability, but rather it is a reference pair of headphone so it lacks all the cool features most modern headphones have such as foldability and a single ended cable but it do have removable cable that ends on both side which is most efficient when it comes to left-right balance which it do very well. In short, it does what it does but nothing special. The Alpha Dog also have big footprint and thus the headphone stand comes in handy when you have restricted real estate on your table and do not wish the Alpha to overlap on anything. That said, the Alpha Dog is not for outdoor and on the go use but if I have heard someone wearing Audeze’s reference headphone in the underground station, dare to try with the Alpha Dog since it isolates very, very well. It could be the best passive closed headphone when it comes to noise isolation. It also comes with a soft travelling pouch for travelling[although hard case would have been ideal]! Sound wise? Depends what you like. 

 

The Sound Quality Part 

 

The Alpha Dog is more of a warm, dark sounding headphone that is not designed to impress or WOW anyone on the first listening but rather takes time to appreciate what it produces. I would say a good mixture of Shure & Sennheiser’s house sound signature combined. I would also say its balanced sounding but wouldn’t call it neutral. If anything, the bass is on point thought. It’s more on the bassy side than neutral making it suitable for basshead and even audiophiles as it produce some really good, tight, down to Earth, bass that doesn’t sound boomy in anyway. It is just nice for a little fun in the music and adds more actions to movies. Don’t want too much bass? Use the screw included and turn it down on both side however, do note that, the changes are rather subtle for certain tracks as it is adjustable to mostly just the sub-bass but nevertheless, having being able to feel and listen to AD’s bass is quite a blessing. It satisfies both stakeholders; basshead and audiophiles.

 

Coming from AKG K702 65th Annie, I appreciate the AD’s natural sound but I do miss the AKG’s soundstage. I miss it a lot so much that half of me regret selling it. Gosh, why did I do that? I might purchase it back some day but back to AD. The midrange of it as said, its a ted warm, and because of that slight gentle kiss of warmth, it makes it really suitable for RnB, acoustic music. It really touches me… or my ears, more precisely. While the midrange is not as loud as the Annie, and SHR1540, it does have a very natural sound to it however, if compared to the SHR1540, I prefer the Shure’s even smoother midrange without second thoughts. It is just something that I really like about Shure’s headphones which AD have in gene but just not as good as Shure. Comparing to SHR1540 again thought, the AD’s bass is a lot better controlled which makes the Shure sound a little boomy at times, which it is, even without any comparisons. 

 

The upper midrange/ treble is the interesting part about the AD. Some might like it, some might not; depending which category of stakeholder are you but Mr. Speaker was very kind to provide us with 2 pairs of “filters” & “squares” to help cop with the issue. Basically, what those does is, control the upper midrange of the AD and in my opinion, it’s essential piece of tools and really glad Mr. Speaker put some in the box. Stock wise, there are some spikes at the upper midrange which result in fatigue to some listeners who are more used to dark sound or otherwise, listens to music that have a “loud” recording which by the way, applies to many modern music for whatever good reason there is. However, it is nothing those tools can’t solve. Mr. Speaker even have a video of it on how to apply/remove it. 

 

Lastly, the highs are a little recessed as compared to the midrange and bass especially but surprisingly, it’s very detailed and you definitely won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything but don’t expect to have a really sharp instrument playing next to you kind of feeling as it will feels a little sit back behind the vocals and all other instruments but if you are not a fan of bright headphones, the AD are worth looking into. The soundstage as mentioned, not wide like the Annie and comparable to the Shure, but because of the more intimate soundstage, the music sounds closer to you which helps resulting in a more natural sound. The height may not be good but it does have good amount of width which gives really nice space for instrumental separation. Each and every bit of the music/sound have their own space which does not blend with any others making it very suitable for critical listening situation such as recordings, production etc with compliment to its amazing detail. 

 

The Endless Conclusion Part 

 

I love this headphone. Really, I do. There are many other headphones that are better than the AD for sure but the AD is really worth the price tag. If you have a little bit extra thought, do consider switching up the stock cable as it is a ted bulky. The headphones itself are already bulky, don’t let the cable to distract you too. I’m currently looking to custom make myself a cable but as a student that I am now, I have no time for it nor money. 

 

The AD basically have a bit of everything; bass, midrange, & highs then clarity, instrumental separation and natural, not to mention its surprising details. The soundstage is one of the exception but its a closed headphone after all but then again, sometimes it also lack the refinement that most headphones at $600~$700 have, refinement. Don’t get me wrong thought, it does have beyond average refinement, but to put it in comparison to its real competitors, there are still some missing puzzles. However, do keep it mind that, you can find some AD used for a lot cheaper which makes it really worth it. In comparison to Shure SRH1540, I would pick the AD for reference listening and the Shure if you want a more urban-style kind of listening as the SRH1540 is a little boomy and more “fun” sounding with of course, smoother midrange and the one big draw back is that, the drivers loose control once it hit the higher volume, adding an amplifier will greatly improve its performance but still not at high volume. 

 

Also, the AD is not that hard to drive as I can drive it to my listening volume with 50% on my iPhone but it does benefit A LOT with an amplifier. It’s a match-made in heaven when paired with a tube amplifier or Class A amplifier. May this AD be my end game headphone and may Head-Fi have mercy on me to be happy with this headphone and my desktop rig for at least, until I graduated from my university and got a stable job with good pay. I have this headphone for almost a year now but due to the very constrained time that I have for preparing my O’Level, and now my Pre-U studies, it literally took me quite awhile to have any progress on this review. 

 

Rig used in this review: PC USB 3.0 -> iFi Micro iDSD -> custom pure silver/copper 24AWG RCA cable -> Garage 1217 Project Sunrise III w/ Amperex 6DJ8 orange globe -> Mr. Speaker Alpha Dog 

Posted

Pros: Detail, Bass extension, Speed, Liquidity, Transparency, Tweakability

Cons: Lack of presence, Air, uncohesive soundstage

Pre-review info:
I've produced music for 6 years now these are my most expensive headphones I've bought. (prev Sennheiser HD600) These cost me 700$ due to Customs and Tax to Finland.
I'm driving these out of a Cambridge Audio Dac Magic Plus, also these are the first planars AND high end closed headphones I've heard,
so maybe you will find this review interesting. I had a lot of fun writing it. :)


First Impressions:

These feel really weird on my head.
*Starts first song* WTF (Takes cans off and sees I connected the wires the wrong way lol) There we go...
Oh wow that detail! That bass sounds super boosted though. (Immediately adjust the bass port 1 full turn)
Allrighty that's good. Hmm they seem to sound "hollow" (lacking 1-5kHz) Maybe the thick pads also had something to do with it, that gave it that impression.
The treble is not as sibilant as I would've thought but mine had 2 Dots pre-installed. Sounded rolled off actually.

After a few days I can now collect my observations more accurately.

The speed that these have is just INSANE...
Listening to Despised Icon - Les Temps Changent (Deathcore) Which is by no means a reference quality track.
At 2:14 in the song, I literally heard the ride cymbal as if there wasn't anything else there playing at the same time...
Like as if it had its own layer where none of the other instruments could leak in and mess with it and there being
guitar, bass, vocals, fast drumming at the same time in such fidelity is just crazy.

Also this is the first time I've heard EVERYthing in Noisia ft. Amon Tobin - Sunhammer.
It's the most complex song I've yet heard and the speed of the Alpha Dog just makes it sound effortless...
Lots of detail everywhere. Even though some of the sounds are compressed to **** It does not make you tense your ears,
It's just very effortless and liquid. You can hear everything clearly from the transients to the ends of reverb tails.

Now the soundstage:
Surprisingly wide: HD600 territory. Some sounds are more closed in but some sounds come further away than the what the HD600s could ever do.
The soundstage is weird though, while the sounds are clearly placed in the soundstage, it lacks cohesion. They are either in the middle or wide.
What's in between seems unfocused even though it is still there. Very hard to explain but it is still very good although not as good as the HD600.

Bass: At first it sounded all over the place and crazy in quantity (just like this review lol), but once I tuned the bassport 1-1.5 turns (can't remember what I finally settled on)
It now sounds... Well I don't know, none of my headphones / monitors has had this kind of bass, So I don't even have anything really to compare it to.
Like I'm unable to say "ooh texture this lack of distortion that." I don't know. What I CAN say is: It is very, very flat down to as low as I can hear. Straight line.
Finally able to hear the fundamentals on the sub-bass on Tipper - On The Natch which goes down to 35Hz. The bass is very tight and controlled So yeah...
It's super weird hearing those frequencies on instruments and sounds, that I thought never had them with the HD600's, which gave the impression of the Alpha Dogs being bass heavy
(Which they still are out of the box.)

Mids: Lacking. Just saying that first because it is the most prominent quality of the mids to me that I percieve.
They are really neutral though. Maybe that's just what it is, although people say the HD600's are neutral yet they sound way more present and engaging, so I'm not sure...
Boosting the mids ~3dB sounds more like them. The lack of mids for me just makes them boring sounding. They do not grab my attention at all, I have to actively "listen" to listen to these.
Recording my acoustic guitar through a Sony-PCMD100 and playing it back on the Alphas sounded exactly right though. They did not take away mids and listening to the same recording back
with my HD600s, they seemed to add some sparkle in the top end, so yeah. Otherwise the mids sound super smooth and liquid. Vocals on these, while sounding a bit lacking in fundamentals
make up for it in clarity.

Highs: This is where most of the tweaking comes in. You have to take the time to at least try the available customization options. Mine came with 2 Dots pre-installed which sounded too rolled off
so I took them off. Now the highs were peaky and piercing. Added one Dot on each side was the sweet spot, but I had to change the positions of the Dot to find the sweet spot also haha.
On one of the bottom edges it sounded the best to me. The treble lacks air and liveliness that I was seeking for unfortunately, but it is super smooth and fairly clean sounding.

Comfort: They a lot more heavy compared to HD 600's and It is very noticeable. It is not an uncomfortable headphone though, the thick leather pads hug your head nicely providing very good
isolation. Out of the box the clamping force is very high but it is quite easy to stretch the headband by hand, if it gets too loose you can also easily reverse the process to make them fit tighter.
Can easily wear for hours, but in the summer the pads might get too hot if the sunlight is directly on them.

Overall thoughts:
Man, I wish they had the quantity of mids and highs as the HD600. I could've seriously considered settling for these as an endgame headphone.
That and a better more cohesive and deeper soundstage,
and you have what I would call a "perfect" headphone. They defeat my HD600s in every other department.
They make the HD600s sound digital but you only really notice it when A/B'ing. They sound fairly dynamic but I'd say they could be even better.
Certainly again, beating the HD600s. I would think that if you like a more neutral/dark closed headphone,
you should give these a shot if you can find them.

Posted

Pros: Very open sounding, very solid looks, big upgrade from Mad Dog, great sound all around, decent sound stage, detachable cable, bundled goodies.

Cons: Heavy, cable's a little microphonic, stock cable is shorter than ideal

These headphones started life as a very early (first commercially available revision) Mad Dog, and after a little over three hundred dollars and a week or so, they're really pretty great. Price is approximate, considering the cost of the Mad Dog way back when and the upgrade cost recently.

 

They sound like open headphones. The soundstage is a lot better than I'd expect from a closed headphone, but not going to beat the best open-backs. It is not a disappointment. The whole FR is good, it sounds really good for this price range, and even in general.

 

Cosmetically, it's very nice. It comes with some goodies, like a stand, a carrying bag, and some "doggie treats" for adjusting the sound. There's also a screw you can use to adjust the bass. I'm quite happy with the stock configuration. Cable's detachable, too! Woo! The plastic stopped on the side are a little crooked - I assume they're placed by hand. Would be nice if they were perfect.

 

Not hard to drive at all. Magni 2 Uber does it and then some. I don't know if you'd even really need a "better" amp - this is fine.

 

Nothing I've listened to sounds particularly bad. It's very good listening. What other's say about these is mostly true! They're also pretty comfy, which is surprising given their weight.

 

As far as negatives, they are heavy (but not in a way that's too uncomfortable). The cable is slightly microphonic but not to the point you have to keep your head in a vice or anything. Cable's a little shorter than I'd have liked, but it's reasonable.

 

At 600 dollars, I'd say you'd have a hard time finding a better closed headphone. It'd even be near the top of the list if you were looking for any headphone at or below 600 dollars.

MrSpeakers Alpha Dog (T50RP Mod)
Description:

The world's first 3D printed production headphone.

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