Pros: Customizable sound, great bass timbre with the bassy filter, great value
Cons: Treble-heavy filter can be a bit too bright
RockJaw is an up and coming headphone company from Great Britain starting strong with a huge lineup. The Alfa Genus is one of their midrange offerings and offers a certain special something that is rarely seen in the IEM world other than a few OEM’s. …yeah so this is really late. Sorry to RockJaw for the delays! I’ve been busy with work and other projects (like a collab for a wooden T50RP mod [not ZMF] and trying to make a measurement system) and have another five or so reviews to write up which hasn’t given me much free time for these things.
Anyway, the Alfa Genus came in this really nice packaging, but I’m not sure whether or not it will be part of the retail packaging so I’ll just include a pretty picture of it rather than describe it much.
The IEM’s themselves are quite dashing with their ebony housing, flexible twisted cable coated with rubber, and silver accents. I do have a couple niggles with its build though. The main issue is that the filters tend to come slightly unscrewed after a few insertions since I tend to lightly twist the earpieces to get a good seal. A minor concern is that RockJaw didn’t really do much in terms of differentiating between left and right. There’s a light silkscreening on each side, but it’s basically the same color as the metal strain relief it’s printed on, so it’s almost impossible to read in direct sunlight. Something as simple as a dot on the left side would suffice though! Oh, I’m not the biggest fan of the tips. They take a little bit of effort to actually seal in my ears.
Their most interesting feature is their sound filters, which produce radically different sound signatures. Basically, the silver filter tunes the sound in a downward slope, with pretty big bass and rolled off treble. The black filter, however, does mostly the opposite. (Side note, the configuration definitely should have been switched; the black filter would totally make sense being the “darker” sound and the silver filter would make sense with the “brighter” tuning, but I digress)
But I guess that doesn’t really tell all too much, so I’ll go in a bit more detail.
The Alfa Genus was shipped to me with the silver filters installed. Since I’m lazy, I plugged them into my Audio-GD SA-31, which was most definitely overkill. They don’t have any discernable hiss (though I’ve yet to try a dynamic that did). To be frank, I was pretty disappointed. They were dark, kind of muffled, and the mids were just pretty unimpressive. Granted, I was using my AD2000 right before plugging them in, but it was more of a difference than expected. Per RockJaw’s suggestion, I let them run in and gave my ears time to readjust to a different sound signature. The second time around, they were definitely less unappealing, but there was a certain attribute to the midrange that was still a little off to me—the AD2000 was still probably the culprit; the thing has such a strange midrange that once you get used to it, everything else sounds weird. So after leaving them alone for a week to burn in and not using the AD2000 to skew my ears, they actually sound relatively “normal.” Of course, such a bassy sound signature (And trust me, they slam. I have no idea how the heck RockJaw did this as unlike the other cheaper tunable options, these don’t have a simple low pass filter to create more bass. Looking at both filters now, they seem to have similarly wide openings, so I have no idea how they sound so different) will never have glorious mids at this price range. However one thing this tuning does insanely well for its price range is its bass drum decay. It has fantastic texture and air. I honestly am really disappointed the bass is too much for my tastes because the magic is gone with the black filters. Seriously, it has better decay than my daily use IEM, the Hifiman RE600. It’s a shame it’s rather underwhelming with vocals, because this tuning is great fun with pop music (Skylar Grey’s Don’t Look Down is a great album to show what I mean). The treble is a bit subdued, but there are a few odd peaks that keep them from being a snoozefest in case the bass wasn’t enough to keep you up.
Now, time to move on to the black filters, which most of the other reviewers in the RockJaw testing program seemed to prefer to the silver ones. Oddly enough, I didn’t really like it. It sounded a bit too frigid for me, about as bright as the very trebly Sony SA5000 is from memory. There really is a lot of treble, and it colors the midrange to the point where they sound nasal. The bass naturally is significantly decreased compared to the silver filters, but as I said in the previous paragraph, it loses its character. The once great decay is gone, exchanged for upper end and the detail low level information that comes with increased treble. I was tempted to put a little bit of felt in front of the driver to act as a low pass filter, but since RockJaw is working on a third filter, I’ll just wait for them to finish that.
With both tunings, they sounded rather wide, but they both had a bit of a cupped sound that always made them sound an IEM.
Overall, for a new company, RockJaw is pretty dang impressive, coming out with an IEM hoping to disrupt the $50 market with an IEM that essentially gives the user two IEM’s for the price of one. While neither of them are perfect (Please, RockJaw, for your third filter, try to keep that bass decay; it’s actually what keeps me drawn to them and using them occasionally over not only my other IEM’s, but the beautiful Audio Technica W10VTG and Allnic HPA-3000 combo sitting on my desk) the combination of all its merits make them a very interesting product indeed. And there’s much more where this came from.