MSRP: $599.99Where To Buy
: MrSpeakers Alpha Dog pageReview (Click to show)
Before I begin, I'd like to express my deepest thanks to MrSpeakers for the loan/demo of these headphones. Both the Alpha Dog and Mad Dog headphones reviewed on my guide were supplied directly by Dan aka MrSpeakers. Dan always aims to please, and though I have never met him personally, I fully expect him to be one hell of a guy in real life as well. He stands behind his products, and seems very proud of them. Rightly so, if I could be completely honest. That out the way... on to the review.
The Alpha Dog. The successor to the immensely popular and highly regarded Mad Dog. What a successor it is. The Mad Dog was generally labeled as a closed LCD-2, and though I don't completely agree with that statement, I do find the Mad Dog to be the closest thing to a closed LCD-2 (I haven't heard the new LCD-XC). I personally felt it was not an LCD-2 clone, but it's own headphone, with it's own strengths and weaknesses.
With the Alpha Dog, Dan set out to improve upon the Mad Dog, with a rise in clarity, speed, level of detail, neutrality, and soundstage/sense of space. As far as I'm concerned, he fully achieved his goal. How he was able to transform a $100 T50RP to something considerably more high end, especially being a closed planar magnetic, is anyone's guess. Not only does the Alpha Dog look the part, but plays it to the tee as well.
The Alpha Dog is truly something to behold. Nearly gone is any trace of the retro-looking Fostex T50RP, with the only visible remnants of the T50RP being the black/grayish rubbery headband with the huge Fostex branding on the top (I personally hope Dan finds some form of leather or cloth wrapping to cover up the rubbery headband, like some Pro model DT770 leatherette headband cover), as well as the extension arms holding the cups/drivers. Speaking of the extension arms, gone is the copper/brass color, now anodized in black dye with MrSpeakers and R imprinted on the right side; Alpha Dogs and L on the left. Aside from the leather comfort strap (first introduced on the Mad Dog), every other external piece else has been replaced. The most noticeable change is undoubtedly the new 3D printed cups, which ironically takes on a look that more closely resembles the flagship Fostex TH-900's red urushi lacquer cups.
The Alpha Dog's cups are simply a thing of absolute beauty. It is completely devoid of any marks, brands, logos, etc. Just a glossy red/burgundy candy coat of paint to feast your eyes on, as well as two cavities near the arms. These cavities have a purpose: They are the tuning mechanism for the bass on the Alpha Dog. With the supplied miniature hex key, you're able to adjust the screw inside the top cavity, which alters the bass on the Alpha Dog. However, be warned: doing so removes any liability on MrSpeakers's part. If you mess up the tuning, MrSpeakers will re-tune the drivers to their stock state at a cost. The bass adjustment was meant as a one time adjustment, not as an on the fly bass boost/reduction.
The Alpha Dog uses 4-pin XLR inputs on both sides for the new cables, with your choice of a single ended 6.3mm cable, or balanced cables. You can also order both sets of cables for an additional cost. The standard cable is thick, of good length (6 feet), durable, and heavy duty, terminating in a 6.3mm Neutrik plug. The last thing to ever complain about here is the cable, I assure you. The immensely popular Alpha pads (first introduced in a more recent version of the Mad Dog) are back and put to great use here. Made of lambskin leather, thick, soft, and angled, the Alpha Pads are arguably one of the most if not THE most comfortable pair of (lambskin) leather pads ever used on a headphone.
Wonderfully built from head to toe, I don't see any points of weakness anywhere on the Alpha Dogs. The only real reason you'd want to baby it is so as not to ruin the wonderful finish on the cups. That is a worry not found on the utilitarian Mad Dog with it's matte black plastic cups which could take quite a beating and come out relatively unscathed.
The Alpha Dog comes with a full suite of goodies:
- Metal headphone stand. This is an awesome bonus, though I feel it's not exactly convenient. You can't exactly place the Alpha Dog on the stand with cables attached unless you add some foam or anything else that will raise the headphone enough to give the cables some clearance. As aesthetically pleasing as the headphone stand is, I don't see anything pretty about adding a block of wood or foam, etc. I'm sure some people will find elegant methods to provide enough clearance for the Alpha Dog with it's cables.
- Cloth carrying pouch
- Microfiber cleaning cloth
- Mini hex tool for adjusting the Very-Bass screw at your own risk
The only things missing are a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter and a hard case for solid protection. For the sake of versatility, I would've preferred it if the standard cable was terminated in a 3.5mm plug with a 6.3mm adapter, though considering the kinds of setups/systems the Alpha Dogs were built in mind for, it's understandable. The Alpha Dogs were made to be powered of desktop amps which tend to come with 6.3mm inputs. I recommend a Grado-style 6.3mm female to 3.5mm male cable, not a simple 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter, as those tend to put strain or outright break 3.5mm inputs. As for the hard case, would be nice, but not necessary. There is simply no legitimate reason to be unimpressed with the amount of accessories packed with the Alpha Dog.
As mentioned with the Mad Dog, the Alpha Dog has an incredibly similar comfort factor, the difference between the additional weight of the new cables and cups. It is a very, very comfortable headphone overall. The added weight over the Mad Dog is noticeable, but mostly inoffensive. The Alpha Dog would practically fit on any head, isn't oversized, and has some moderate clamp (clamp can be adjusted by bending the headband, which extremely easy to do). The Alpha Dog used in this review has some moderate clamp which I didn't want to mess with, as I feel it's a good middle ground for comfort and optimal sound quality.
The leather comfort strap feels great on the head, distributing downforce relatively evenly. The Alpha pads are as usual, very comfortable. Not on the same level as the best velour or alcantara pads (Shure 1540 pads as an example) out there, but certainly among the best of the leather/pleather pads. The pads are soft, seal very well, and don't get as hot or sticky as some of the worst offenders out there. They still do build up heat, so don't expect cool ears on hot days.
The only complaint I have with the Alpha Dog's build itself, is the implementation of the bass adjustment screw. While I haven't personally adjusted this, it feels restricted, a bit ardous, and potentially harmful to the headphone's tuning (not to mention the possibility of damaging the inside of the housing). I hope the future provides further improvements on the design, adding a simpler method to adjust the bass or return it to stock form. I also hear the Alpha Dog is very reliant on seal, and needs to be adjusted to fit the head properly for the optimal sound quality/seal. I don't have a problem in this area, though your mileage may vary.
Like the Mad Dog before it, the Alpha Dog isolates pretty well. It provides a good amount of passive noise cancelling when a source is playing, and controls noise leak relatively well. Not the final world on either internal/external noise control, but should suit most environments.
Before I get into the specifics on the Alpha Dog's sound, I want to say that the Alpha Dog had a LOT of hype built around it, and I wouldn't have been satisfied if it failed to live up to most of it. I'm a realist, a skeptic, and pessimist at heart, but I do give things their chance to prove themselves. I don't know whether I was expecting the Alpha Dog fall short of it's hype, or whether I was expecting it to be a complete success, considering how well the Mad Dog performed. I was basically torn, prior to hearing them for myself. I'll start by saying that MrSpeakers pulled an incredible feat with the Alpha Dog. To me, the Alpha Dog is the most successful headphone to meet the high expectations and hype built around it.
In true planarmagnetic form, the bass on the Alpha Dog is incredibly linear all the way down to the lowest depths, not giving any attention to one aspect of it's bass in favor of another. Full bodied, tonally neutral, tight, impactful, well balanced, correct, and quick in speed and decay. It's one of the most realistic presentations of bass I've heard on any headphone. It's not my FAVORITE presentation of bass, as I prefer a warmer tilt with some emphasis and longer decay (like it's sibling, the Mad Dog 3.2), but I can't fault the complete neutrality and technicality in the Alpha Dog's bass. The bass lends itself well to any and every genre, from most genres of EDM, hip hop, rock, and acoustic, and everything in between. In true Alpha Dog form, the chameleon-like sound signature starts with it's bass.
I didn't alter the bass with the Very-Bass screw, and to be quite honest, I don't feel like it needs to be tuned. The Alpha Dog was built for utter neutrality, and the bass is neutral in every sense of the word. The bass is bass. Nothing more, nothing less. It is completely dependent on the recording. If your source is bassy, the Alpha Dog will happily transfer that energy to your ears. If the source has little to no bass, the Alpha Dog will also transfer that politeness straight to your ears. That to me, means near technical perfection. Objectively, the Alpha Dog's bass is absolutely reference-level. Spend enough time with a reference-type bass like the Alpha Dogs, and many others will start to exhibit their lack of finesses and correctness.
Following suit to the incredibly accurate bass, is the incredibly accurate mids. It is tonally neutral to my ears, perfectly in harmony with it's bass and treble, and present at all times, without being recessed or shouty. Most audiophiles will most likely prefer a warmer, more organic, and intimate mid section (I admit to being one of them), but that is a subjective preference, not an objective quality. There is no compensation here. It is all presented evenly, so if you're adverse to certain areas in the upper mids (which tend to be smoothened out and blunted down with many headphones to produce a more pleasing tonality), you may find some upper mid/lower treble glare. The Alpha Dog does not mask any imperfections, and will expose any and all flaws in a bad recording, which tend to come out most in the upper mids and lower treble range.
Personally, I'd prefer a fuller, thicker, more intimate tone to the mids (like the LCD-2 and HD650), but for the sake of neutrality, I feel the Alpha Dog puts out the more correct sounding mids, with plenty of musicality and enjoyment factor. One thing is certain, the mids on the Alpha Dogs are superb, both subjectively and objectively. Not thick, and not lean, the mids are what I can only label as properly represented.
Treble was one area many people were negatively vocal about in the Mad Dogs. Too mellow, rolled off, soft, etc. Those were common complaints with the Mad Dog, though I personally wasn't unhappy with it's treble presentation as it shifted the focus on the Mad Dog to it's wonderful bass and great mids, which I found more important to maintain. The treble on the Alpha Dog is the antithesis of the Mad Dog's treble presentation. Airy, extended, energetic, and again, more technically correct in every single way. The Alpha Dog's treble will expose problem areas in many bad recordings, mainly in S and T sounds, so if you're susceptible to sibilance, and/or have many recordings that exhibit sibilance, the Alpha Dog won't do you any favors. It will sizzle if the recording favors brightness. The Alpha Dog demands clean sources and recordings. I foresee many people throwing away badly mastered tracks, all thanks to the Alpha Dog which is a master of exposing flaws up top.
The treble is understandably not as airy as some of the better open-backed headphones on this guide, but you may be surprised by how airy it actually is. I'll touch upon this in the soundstage section which is aided by the presentation of the Alpha Dog's treble range.
The Alpha Dog is without a doubt the cleanest sounding, closed-back headphone I've ever heard. Even next to the stellar, open-backed headphones that excel in clarity, the Alpha Dog stands among the best. It even does so without giving up fullness and body, which tends to be a typical trade-off for headphones that aim for the highest clarity and detail. The Alpha Dog maintains clarity and detail in almost any and every situation. People complained that the Mad Dog was too dark, overly warm, mellow, masking some upper range detail and extension. The Alpha Dog is here to put that argument to absolute rest. There is nothing dark, overly warm, or mellow about the Alpha Dog. How MrSpeakers was able to achieve this level of clarity out of T50RP drivers...well, some deals must have been made in blood. That's the only explanation I can think of.
Virtual Surround: 8.5/10
One of the goals MrSpeakers set for himself with the Alpha Dog, was to improve the soundstage to one that would more closely resemble an open-backed headphone's soundstage rather than a closed one. As a fully closed-back headphone, the Alpha Dog had quite a challenge ahead in order to fulfill that goal. As a gamer, I'm admittedly critical on the size of a headphone's soundstage. It is essentially one of the most important factor in terms of what I rate highly for competitive gaming performance (the others being clarity and detail). Many times did I hear of headphones like the Mad Dog having a large soundstage, which personally wasn't the case to my ears. It was decent for a closed headphone, but that's all it ever was for me. Now, with the Alpha Dog, all the hype, all the mentions of it sounding open, made me overly skeptical. One of my personal issues is that I personally try and debunk unrealistic hype.
With a skeptical mind, I put on the Alpha Dogs, and immediately tested some music (I hadn't even tried gaming first to test soundstage). What I heard simply shocked me. The Alpha Dog is simply the most open sounding closed-back headphone I have ever heard. So much, that at first, I thought I put them on wrong and broke the seal on the pads. Yes, the Alpha Dog has fooled me on various occasions. Even as I sat down, listening to music and typing this review, I still got the feeling that the pads had a broken seal because the sound is projecting out like an open-backed headphone in a quiet room.
No closed back headphone that I've used has given me this type of aural sensation. The sound projects outwards, cleanly, and convincingly. I don't know how MrSpeakers did it, but I assure you, he has done it. The closest I've personally heard were the Denon D7000 and Beyerdynamic DT770, both which have excellent soundstages for closed headphones, but won't ever fool anyone of being anything but closed.
Now, don't misconstrue my words: the Alpha Dog is no AD700, K701, MA900, or HD800. At best, the Alpha Dog sounds like an open-backed headphone with a good soundstage in a completely silent room. It also doesn't sound open with every source/recording, and sounds like a closed headphone in some instances. This needs to be particularly mentioned, because most people (I'm positive of this), tend to partly associate a large soundstage with a lack of external isolation. With an open-backed headphone, you feel the air, hear the ambient external noise, and feel the lack of seal. It fools the brain into feeling the 'openness' of a headphone's sound. This is why it's crucial to understand that the Alpha Dog seals and isolates very well, so no external ambience/air/etc will be mixed in with the Alpha Dog sound. Once you've taken all of this into account, you may finally understand what I mean when I say that the soundstage on the Alpha Dog sounds like an open headphone in a completely silent room.
The soundstage depth, as usual of planarmagnetics, projects outward about as well as any headphone I've ever reviewed whether closed or open. The width was an area of weakness that I found on the Mad Dog, and I'm happy to report that the Alpha Dog has good soundstage width, particularly for a closed headphone. It won't best any of the open soundstage favorites in terms of width, but even among open-backed headphones, the width would be considered very good.
In short, and to repeat myself, the Alpha Dog simply has the airiest, most open sounding soundstage on any closed back headphone I've ever heard. Not always true, but with great frequency, it will impress.
With incredible clarity, open-like soundstage, very good width and even better depth (which I argue is more important than width), it's pretty much obvious that the positional cues are very easy to pinpoint. The bell like clarity of surround cues which have plenty of virtual space to be located in a snap, the Alpha Dog an incredibly easy choice for gamers who'd like their headphones to isolate well without sacrificing openness and competitive gaming performance.
I feel the Alpha Dog greatly benefits from raw desktop amp power. It scales noticeably going from a portable amp to a desktop amp, and it's sound signature can expose an amp's tonal strengths or weaknesses. I personally recommend a strong amp with a warmer tonality, as I believe it would further aid the Alpha Dog's musicality and timbre. It'd be a disservice to the Alpha Dog and the owner to skimp out on proper amping. The more you give it, the more it will reward you. You're paying for high quality sound, it'd make sense to provide it with a strong, clean signal from source all the way down the chain, up to the headphone.
Movies, Music, Media In General? Yes
At $600, it may come at a steep price for many, but you get what you pay for. A jack of all trades, master of plenty, with some truly amazing performance all around. If you're looking for one headphone that does everything well or better, the Alpha Dog should be one of the first headphones you should look into, possibly even the last.
I don't have much to truly compare the Alpha Dog with at the time of the review (as far as being on a similar level), but I do have on hand another great, decidely neutral headphone near it's price range:
- Shure 1840: The open-backed Shure 1840 is without a doubt (and unsurprisingly) more open-sounding, though at the expense of body, fullness, and particularly, bass in comparison. The bass on the 1840 is prone to distortion at higher volumes, which can be audible at times. The Alpha Dog's bass is something the 1840 could only dream of. The 1840 is somewhat light and lean, and south of balance in the bass, sub bass in particular (though open-backed dynamic headphones never hit the target in this regard). The mids and treble are exceedingly well balanced on both headphones, with the 1840 being less prone to offend in sibilance, with a more 'pleasing' tone in the extreme upper range, at the expense of extension in comparison. Overall, I feel the 1840 is a great headphone in specific situations, though not nearly as well rounded as the Alpha Dog, and flawed in some areas (audible bass distortion). Comfort is great on both, though the 1840 takes the cake here, being fully open, with less heat build up, and pads that don't get hot or sweaty.
- Mad Dog 3.2 and LCD-2: Based off memory (I'm confident in at least remembering these two), as far as headphones the Alpha Dog will undoubtedly be stacked up against, I do prefer the warmer tonality on the Mad Dog and LCD2, though the Alpha Dog is objectively more capable than the Mad Dog, and I feel is on a similar tier of performance as the LCD2, with a different presentation of sound. The bass is fuller, and more upfront on both the Mad Dog and LCD2 over the Alpha Dog. However, the Alpha Dog's bass is faster, more energetic, and more tonally correct than either the Mad Dog or LCD2. The mids are warmer, more intimate, and overall more pleasing on both the LCD-2 and Mad Dog over the Alpha Dogs, but again, it will depend on your preferences. The Alpha Dog is definitely not lacking in mids, just that it presents it a little differently, with less coloration. The treble, yet again will come down to the individual: Do you want sparkle, clarity, and extension found on the Alpha Dog? Or do you want a softer, less prone to harshness, and slightly polite/more relaxing presentation on the LCD-2 and Mad Dog? One thing the Alpha Dog is a clear winner in is the much more open soundstage than either the LCD2 and Mad Dog which sound closed in. Yes, despite the Alpha Dog being closed, and the LCD-2 being open, the Alpha Dog sounds more open, reaches further out, and will give you a better sense of music playing outside your head.
The Alpha Dog certainly lives up to the hype. With it's chameleon-esque neutral balance, with full, linear bass, clean mids, and airy treble, the Alpha Dog is a more than capable performer for any and all manner of things thrown at it. It's highly detailed sound signature, unnaturally open and spacious presentation (despite it's closed back design), and great comfort easily put it in the upper echelon of headphones I have ever tested, and I personally can't see many people being anything but utterly impressed with the Alpha Dog.
Whether it be any form of gaming, any genre of music, or any other type of media, the Alpha Dog sings along beautifully. At it's worst, it may not be the BEST headphone in certain situations, but it's worst is better than the best many other headphones have to offer. The Alpha Dog could simply be my one and only headphone, and I honestly couldn't think of any other headphone better suited for all of my necessities. It just does absolutely everything well. Everything. So much that I REALLY don't want to give them back!
Fun: 8.5/10 (Great. Despite it's incredibly neutral sound signature, saying the Alpha Dog is lacking in fun is completely untrue. Due to it's tonal balance that blends in with basically anything you throw at it, fun gaming sound as fun as it wants to be.)
Competitive: 8.5/10 (Great. For a closed headphone, there really is no comparison here. Incredibly detailed and clear, with a spacious soundstage, and fantastic positional cues. There's not much you can ask for that the Alpha Dog can't provide here. The added benefit of blocking outside noises may even give it an extra advantage...)
Comfort: 8./10 (Great. The combination of Alpha pads and the leather strap keep the Alpha Dogs comfortable for hours on end. It is on the heavy side, and it can stand to be less clampy for extra comfort. Since clamp can be adjusted, the score can potentially more towards an 8.5 for me, at best.)
Overall: 9/10 (Amazing. In case you hadn't noticed from the start of this review, I am incredibly fond of the Alpha Dog, and believe it deserves all the hype that has spread since it's reveal. You get top tier performance in all areas, without any real detriment to it's sound. Most jack of all trade headphones tend to lack a little magic, or give up some sound quality to become a more all around pleaser. The Alpha Dog gives absolutely nothing up. Even as a jack of all trades, the sound quality is absolutely master class.)