Pros: Filters, Overall Sound, Build
Cons: No Cable Cinch
First I’d like to thank Rock Jaw for sending me the Alfa Genus for review. If you haven’t heard of Rock Jaw before, I don’t blame you. They are a rather new company that recently came out with a wide range of IEMs and headphones. The Alfa Genus is one of their mid-range IEMs, which is priced at £50, which is quite budget minded for people who don’t wish to spend so much on audio.
Those who know me will know that I have always loved IEMs, especially IEMs that punch above their price point and IMO the Alfa Genus is definitely one of them. Obviously, the sub $100 IEM market is filled with some excellent offerings from many companies and making an IEM that really shines in that price bracket is really quite hard but Rock Jaw have done it1 Let’s get on with the rest of the review.
**Disclaimer** These were given to me by Rock Jaw in return for an unbiased, fair review.
The Alfa Genus is definitely quite different from other IEMs that I have seen. It is actually made mostly out of wood, rather than plastic or metal. I am not really sure what effect this has on the sound quality, but it does look very interesting and quite nice. The cable feels like it can withstand some mistreatment, but it is a little rigid. The plug is right angled, which is a plus for me and there is sufficient strain relief on both the IEM housing and the plug. The shape of the IEM makes it quite hard for me to get a seal and I found that the Sony Hybrid tips were the best for me. I usually use a medium, but on the Alfa Genus I preferred the large ones. I do wish that there was a cable cinch to make over the ear wear a little easier though. Oh, and of course there are interchangeable filters, which changes the sound signature. The isolation is about average.
On to build quality. As a whole package, the Alfa Genus is quite premium feeling, mostly due to the wood housing, and the interchangeable filter which I don’t think are available in anything that is under $100. The packaging and accessories that I received are not going to be the production ones, so I’m not going to talk about them. I do hope that Rock Jaw include some more tips though.
Usually IEMs of this price range don’t scale up much when used with different sources, and the Alfa Genus doesn’t change dramatically, but I feel like it did change a bit, but obviously not enough to spend $250 on a DAP just for it. I actually really like the Sansa Clip+ and Clip Zip with the Alfa Genus, they match really well. With the DX50 and 90 they further improved, but not by much. I highly doubt people will be using the Alfa Genus with a $450 source though. Adding an amp did produce some good results, which means that it reacts positively to amping, which is always a good sign. Personally I would recommend a Sansa Clip to pair with the Alfa Genus, they really do sound very good together.
With the RE-400 dominating the sub $100 market, it is very hard for companies to make an IEM and price it around it. I will go out and say it now – the Alfa Genus sound very good, and with two separate filters and costing $20 or so less, mat be a very good choice for some people. Most my impressions are made with the “normal” filter, which is a lot less bassy than the bass heavy filter. Below, you will find comparisons between the silver and black filters.
When I first heard the Alfa Genus out of the box I was really quite shocked. It was bass heavy – very bass heavy. Luckily, the filter on the Alfa Genus was the bass heavy one and the black filters were not nearly as bass heavy. What I am hearing from the black filters is very clean, fast bass. It is definitely not for the bassheads (that would be the bass filter), I think it is actually slightly on the bass light side. I found myself just wanting some extra punch in the mid-bass at times. The bass is quite detailed, which is impressive at this price range. What I love most about the Alfa Genus’ bass with the black filter is the fact that bass lines never get muddy at all and are up there with some of the cleanest sounding IEMs I have ever heard regardless of price. Now we should probably talk more about the silver bass filters. Man, these guys punch hard! The bass is a slower that I would have liked, but it will appeal to a lot of bassheads out there for sure. The bass does bleed a tiny bit into the midrange and because of this, I prefer the black filters personally.
Here, the Alfa Genus is very crisp sounding and has great clarity that far exceeded my expectations. Vocals sound excellent and very clear. One little “issue” that I found with these is that the upper midrange could sound a little bit on the colder side at times, but that can be both a good and bad thing depending on your preference. The midrange reminded me somewhat of the TWFK drivers which also have great clarity and have a similar tone. The decay of instruments is a little on the fast side and sounds quite realistic, which is quite a feat at this price range. I would say that the midrange is not recessed nor forward, it is rather neutral. Luckily, there was not really any vocal sibilance here even at higher volumes. The silver filters did change the midrange a bit, making it sound warmer and a more like a RE-400. The clarity is not quite as good as the black filters, but that was expected but it is still quite impressive in that department. Overall the midrange performance of the Alfa Genus is one of the best, if not the best that I have heard in this price bracket.
Too many times have I heard a great sounding IEM only to be let down by its treble. One example of this is the Brainwavz B2, its treble was far too bright. The Alfa Genus is not one of them. The treble is quite well extended and a little on the bright side, but not exceedingly so. There was a little bit of sibilance creeping in at higher volumes, but it was definitely not getting in the way of the music and this was only on certain tracks where the treble was a bit hot to begin with. Details in the treble were quite good, but cymbals were a little bit too emphasized and as a result, some of the treble details were masked by the cymbals, but it wasn’t too bad. I might be a little less sensitive to treble compared to some people because others report a much more emphasized treble to what I am hearing. The silver filters were much more forgiving in the treble region, being less bright but still equally detailed. To my ears, the silver filter are much better here.
Soundstage & Imaging
No budget IEM I have heard has really impressed me with their soundstage and the Alfa Genus is no different. Now that I have heard more full sized headphones, I’ve come to the conclusion that all IEMs I’ve heard just do not do soundstage and imaging quite right. For an IEM, the Alfa Genus is not bad, but not really special either. The RE-400 and AX35 do a bit better in this regard. The stage is quite limited and is quite in your head, but at this price range I don’t expect any IEM to have a good soundstage.
Imaging is actually quite accurate and it fares very well for its price point. On sightly congested tracks it doesn’t do too badly, but on passages with a lot going on, the Alfa Genus does struggle a bit. This section may have come off a little bit harsh because I’ve been listening to a full on HD800 setup a lot lately and it excels in this area. The Alfa Genus really isn’t bad for its price in this regard, but it is not the best I have heard.
Details & Clarity
The Alfa Genus with the black filters was tuned to have great clarity and detail and it does. The entire spectrum is almost as detailed as the RE-400 and up there with the AX35, which are my favourite sub $100 IEMs. As Brooko mentioned in his review, these sound a little like Grado or AKG cans and I feel the same. Their brightness makes them overall sound seem clear and whether this is a positive or negative ting depends very much on what your preference is.
I don’t usually do a section like this in my reviews, but I feel compelled to do one over here. Rock Jaw’s customer service is simply incredible and every time someone posts on the Rock Jaw thread, Rockbob responds in a few hours or even just a few minutes. They are the first company I have come across that treat customers like this and I really wish that more companies would learn from them and pay more attention to what people want and answering people’s question on forums as well as via email. Rock Jaw also listens to what people say and they have made some changes to their models from our feedback already. Well done, Rock Jaw, keep it up!
The Alfa Genus is a great product, but it does has its flaws. With the 3rd filter that they are planning to add, the Alfa Genus could really turn out to be a true winner and a new baseline of what a budget IEM should sound like. If I’m not wrong the Alfa Genus is still in beta testing stages so I would expect Rock Jaw to make some minor tweaks to the sound and the Alfa Genus will be a great IEM.