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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: 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)
MrSpeakers Alpha Dog (T50RP Mod)
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The world's first 3D printed production headphone.

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