Pros: Light-Weight; Changeable Filters; Great Frequency Response; Sturdy Cable; Tuneable (see text); New Balanced Filter (W00T!)
Cons: Filters Loosen Easily; Slightly Microphonic Cable; Needs More Tips; New Balanced Filter Slightly Bass Lean
Preamble: Break out the Champagne, the silly putty has left the building! 23 Nov 14...Since this review was originally written, Rockjaw did exactly what they said they would do...go out and create a new filter combining the best aspects of the black and silver filters. In other words they created a balanced filter for those that wanted...well...a more balanced sound (what did you really expect me to say here? ). Did they succeed? Let's find out...
(Updated info is highlighted in red)
“First in last out!”
While the above makes for an excellent military motto, it really sucks for an audio component reviewer. I must sincerely apologize to Rock Jaw, Rockbob, and the folks waiting on reviews for my tardiness. Unfortunately, while being one of the first of the review teams to receive the Alfa Genus IEMs; work, health, and family issues prevented me from setting aside adequate time to sit down and record my thoughts for the forums. Unfortunately, I was no less tardy with the update...my apologies again...
While I didn't have much chance to sit and type, I tried to listen to the Alfas at every opportunity, making observations and suggestions to Rockbob. The good news for readers is all my observations or suggestions were also being made by other forum members and is being/will be addressed by Rock Jaw. I deliberately did not read any other Alfa Genus reviews so I would not be biased in any way. The views and opinion expressed here are strictly my own, so if I sound like a broken record compared to the other reviewers, it's all on me.
When I received the Alfa Genus IEMs (AGs), they were in their prototype packaging which, it has been announced on the forum, is being changed so the pictures you see below will not match the “Retail” packaging.
The IEMs, tips, cable, and info came in a box made up partially of a slide out tray with foam cutouts for the earphones, two extra filters and a plastic tray for the extra ear tips.
There was also a cable clip included but no ¼” adapter (included in the final release). One item of note was the lack of a carrying case for the AGs. It would be very difficult to put them back in this kind of packaging. I’m not sure about the final packaging, but I believe Rock Jaw intends to address a carrying case or bag of some sort (I believe this was also addressed).
Pulling them out of the box, I found the AGs a little more delicate feeling than I anticipated. For I good while I wondered if I wasn’t going to break the things since they felt so light in my hand. The wood and lightweight metal make them seem like there’s no weight at all compared to some all-metal IEMs I have that feel like boat anchors (I swear they are made of iron or steel). My biggest concerns were the metal cable strain reliefs and if they were going to come loose from the housings. So far I have not had any issues with them and I have not been overly gentle, using them to twist and adjust the housings in my ears. One problem I did have was telling which side was left and which was right. The lettering needs much better contrast or color for low-light conditions (or folks like me with poor eye sight). (Fixed as well from what I hear...)
I really like the sleeved, braided cable. While slightly microphonic, I really didn’t find it much of a distraction. The one thing missing was a sliding adjuster at the splitter. That would probably reduce the microphonics.
The Alfa Genus comes with two sets of “filters” which are really the heart and soul of its sound. This can be both a blessing and a curse and can lead to some interesting discoveries in how you can affect the sound by something as simple as your fingertips…or silly putty... (and now there are three...)
But first I must digress…When Rockbob (RB) first announced the opportunity to review Rock Jaw products, the only real experience I had with IEMs were two sets of hybrids with a dynamic driver and two balance armatures. Mentioning this to RB, I figured I’d get a chance to try out their hybrid and compare it to the ones I already have. But RB had a rock-solid idea (sorry, Bob)…he felt the best way to evaluate a product was to try it on a person who didn’t have a lot of experience to get a fresh perspective, so imagine my surprise when I got the Alfa Genus with a dynamic driver and sound filters! (Digression over)
Being new to sound filters, I never realized how drastically you can change the sound of a driver just by changing a stem on an IEM. The stems are threaded and screw on but can loosen easily (a little rubber o-ring might provide just enough resistance to prevent the stems from loosening). So be careful when removing the AGs from your ears to ensure the filters don’t come loose and fall off.
For the filters themselves; there are two now three colors, each representing different sound preferences. My personal labels for them are thus:
Black: NOT BASS!!!
***UPDATE*** Champagne: Balanced!!!
A bit extreme? Actually yes, but not an entirely inaccurate description. Let’s break it down:
The silver filters offer a bass that is prominent to the point of being a bit bloated and overwhelming. Sit in the trunk of your buddy’s 1994 Ford Mustang while he's got his 500-watt sub-woofer going at “11” and you’ll know what I mean. While never owning a pair, I imagine this is what you would hear if you owned “Beats” headphones, so if you like that sound (and there are many that do), you’ll enjoy the silver filters. Even with the overwhelming bass, I could hear beautiful mids and smooth treble struggling to break free (which I will address in a following section).
You know, I almost named the black filters “Grado”. If the “NOT BASS!!! issue hadn’t gotten in the way, they would have been my favorite filters. They have smooth, forward mids and solid treble that reminded me of the several Grado cans that I owned over the years. I didn’t notice any sibilance even though I was half-expecting it. What I did notice was the smooth extension in the upper range and going down to the lower-mids and almost to the upper bass but stopping there. I kept hoping the next notes would go lower in the spectrum but it just never happened. This is a great filter for listening to acoustic stringed instruments but even guitars hit some lower harmonic frequencies that the black filters can’t support. Put a little bass extension on the black filters while keeping everything else intact and these would be some beautiful sounding filters!
So, you’re saying you didn’t care for them…? Actually, no. Surprisingly, I came to enjoy one of them due to the oddest circumstance…ill-fitting ear tips. (Don't give up, keep reading!)
I tried almost 30 sets of ear tips on each filter of the AGs. It wasn’t so much for the fit but to see if I could alter the sound with a tip in a way so I could live with the filters. I used different tip sizes and lengths and different opening sizes but nothing seems to tailor the sound in a way that I liked.
One night, I had the silver filters installed and a particularly difficult set of ear tips that just didn’t want to seat themselves in my ears. I just wanted to see what they sounded like so I pushed the AGs in to seat the tips and…WHOA!!...what just happened…?? Why is the bass tight and punchy? Why are the mids and treble prominent? Why does the music sound so balanced? I pulled the AGs out and looked at them, checked the tips, tried it again without pushing in the earpieces too far…bloated bass…pushing the earpieces in with my fingertips...tight bass. Is it the ear tips? Then I noticed the sound ports on the back of the earpieces. I put on a set of tips that I knew would seal, covered the ports, and proceeded to enjoy an overall balanced sound with tight punchy bass that wasn’t overwhelming, smooth mids, and nice treble. This was a sound I could listen to anytime…but my fingers were getting tired. Fortunately, the children had Silly Putty lying around so I made use of a little of it to cover the ports and experiment with the sound some more. I found the stock tips worked best (although some additional tip options would be nice). The putty mod did not work with the black filters because it reduced the level of what little low frequency presence was already there. (Almost there...!)
The infamous "Silly Putty mod"...
I figured people probably wouldn't want putty stuck to back of their IEMs so I PM’d Rockbob telling him of my results and suggesting a third filter be made for the AGs (and it looks as if that’s going to happen) so I guess my work here is done!
NOT OVER YET...
There are times when you just have to admire the drive and dedication of folks who strive to make the the finest product they possibly can to satisfy a very small (but demanding) clientele. I've seen that demonstrated in the many products made by small companies I've found through Head-Fi. I guess that's why I have Audeze headphones, and a Schiit amp and DAC and have owned and listened to many many more from other companies/builders. I have seen their creators pour their heart and soul into a product for the benefit of others and I have the greatest respect for those folks that put their products before a critical eye looking for a way to make things even better. Rockbob and Rock Jaw have done just that, going so far as to significantly revise their product before wide release on the market. They looked to the folks on Head-Fi for comments, critiques, and suggestions; from the most intricate testing conducted to the silliest suggestions of blocking (tuning) the rear port with silly putty to add balance and reign in the bass on the silver filter. From the cacophony of feedback arose a third filter that is to be included with the Alfa Genus; a "Balanced" Champagne-colored (or coloured) filter.
Having received a pair of the new filters, I immediately set them in place with my favorite ear tip and played my favorite test track "Red Wine," from Mannheim Steamroller's Fresh Aire IV. The first thing I noticed was there was an organic quality to the strumming of the (I believe it's a) Lute. The mid and treble elements were there in spades and the the bass elements started to show through when called for (It's not a bass-heavy piece). It's a very natural sounding filter but I was wondering how it would handle heavier bass elements so I threw on Alan Parson's "A Recurring Dream Within A Dream" (from "A Valid Path") which has a prominent bass riff throughout the song. I find the bass is present but a little light, lacking in punch and with almost no sub bass frequencies present. Don't look at this necessarily as a bad thing because two issues may be affecting my opinion of the sound this time around; I was having a devil of a time trying to get a proper seal with my ear tips and I was just finishing up with listening to several bass-prominent IEMs and my LCD-3s so Your Mileage May (indeed) Vary. The more I listened to the Balanced filters, the more I became accustomed to the sound. The bass didn't seem quite so absent (although sub-bass frequencies still were, but that's almost to be expected of a driver that's supposed to cover the whole dynamic range).
(Update to the update): I finally got a good seal and am getting hints of bass punch which just adds to the overall utility of the filter. I'm listening to rock, classical, modern folk, electronic, and a soundtrack or two. These Champagne Filters just refuse to come out...they remain versatile enough to handle my everyday needs for music listening with IEMs.
As you may have noticed, there is (more than) a little tongue in cheek in the review above. All of the impressions and observations are sincere but the review is maybe not as "analytical" as it would have been if I'd have had a chance to write it earlier (on the other hand, it may have turned out just as cheeky). For those looking for an overall assessment, let me say the following in all seriousness. My primary headphones are Audeze LCD-3s that until recently, were driven by some good Schiit components, so I do appreciate a balance sound with good bass, mids, and treble. Of late, I have been delving into portable high-fi with two DAPs (iBasso DX90 and FiiO X5), a FiiO E12 DIY OpAmp Rollable Amp, and Two Hybrid IEMs from a Chinese company called Dunu (DN-1000 and DN-2000). With all of that, you would think I would be quite satisfied with the sound I have. However, I find the IEMs I reach for the most to listen to all those excellent portable components are...
Rock Jaw Alfa Genus IEMs with silver filters and a spot of silly putty on the ends the Champagne Filters. That's where I get the most musical enjoyment from. 'Nuff said.
...I could naught but at least raise the grade half a star for the excellent work by the fine folk at Rock Jaw.
I must say it is amazing to watch a company that is so responsive to their customer’s suggestions and recommendations. If Rock Jaw continues on this course, I see them being highly regarded in the Head-Fi and Audio community. I truly believe they are headed in the right direction! ...A most apt statement which continues to be true to this day...Rock On, Rock Jaw!
My sincere appreciation to Rockbob and Rock Jaw for giving me the opportunity to review the Alfa Genus and offer my impressions and recommendations. Again, I must apologize for the delay in releasing this review while continuing to maintain my faint glimmer of hope that we can all just get along…