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[REVIEW] Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

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.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!


Edited by eke2k6 - 11/17/13 at 11:53am
post #2 of 9

Great review! I'm a little turned off by the mention of the lack footstomping "live" presence since I listen to a lot of folk and folk rock, but do you think that could be ironed out with EQ?

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ssrock64 View Post
 

Great review! I'm a little turned off by the mention of the lack footstomping "live" presence since I listen to a lot of folk and folk rock, but do you think that could be ironed out with EQ?

 

I'm sure a bit of fiddling with the bass port could help some. And some eq in the treble as well.

 

I don' know what it is, but the orthos I've heard seem to have this clinical quality in the way they present bass.

post #4 of 9
Excellent write-up. And the pictures look fantastic. That glimmer of natural light has a very movie quality to it which I love.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ssrock64 View Post

Great review! I'm a little turned off by the mention of the lack footstomping "live" presence since I listen to a lot of folk and folk rock, but do you think that could be ironed out with EQ?

I personally have never been able to EQ something like that in. I believe it's more a function of the mechanical properties of the system.
post #5 of 9
An interesting review. wink.gif

Soundstage
I found AD behaving differently in bass region depending to what I have it connected to. I think with my T744 I got more powerful bass than with Pan Am, but on the other hand with Pan Am I'm getting really nice soundstage. I can see people complaining about AD soundstage and that orchestral music sounds way better on HD600. I have heard a symphony on HD600 my self, and I do admit it was brilliant experience, but I also listened to orchestral music on AD and I do agree soundstage is not super-huge, but it's size IMHO is bigger than Dublin's IMAX and when I listen to symphony or J.Williams tracks I have that feeling of instruments being placed inside of some big auditorium. So even if soundstage is not infinite, it is huge enough to hear orchestra similar way as if you just went to see it live. However this is my opinion, and it's based on what I can hear from my setup that includes use of Pan Am, which is known for improving soundstage.

Comfort
I also found that depending on computer I connect my Pan Am to, and OS and software running, I get different sound. My best setup is when I connect it to either Y580 (same as yours as I believe), or to my desktop based on high performance motherboard and server grade cpu. And also best sound I get with Linux and Jack, rather than F2K on Windows 8. I have noticed when I had it connected to computer in my office, there was less bass, and kinda more noise. Possibly this could have been caused by jitter on USB, which was never designed to transfer packets with exact timing.

One thing you didn't mention in comfort section is clamping force. I was wearing them for prolonged times whole last week and my ears suffer now... Though yesterday I found it quite easy to reduce that force, but I won't be using them for some time until I'm sure my ears are good again.

Bass port
I have played just a little, and I found that one full rotation of the screw didn't make much difference in lower bass region, but I've noticed bleeding of high bass into low mids, so it sounded slightly muffled. I have decided to get back to original position, but I'm not sure if I achieved exactly that position. I have a feeling that I have turned half turn in direction that reduced bass, but I don't know. Whatever setting I have now I'm happy with the clarity of sound, and there is still lots of lower bass biggrin.gif
post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by koolas View Post

An interesting review. wink.gif

Soundstage
I found AD behaving differently in bass region depending to what I have it connected to. I think with my T744 I got more powerful bass than with Pan Am, but on the other hand with Pan Am I'm getting really nice soundstage. I can see people complaining about AD soundstage and that orchestral music sounds way better on HD600. I have heard a symphony on HD600 my self, and I do admit it was brilliant experience, but I also listened to orchestral music on AD and I do agree soundstage is not super-huge, but it's size IMHO is bigger than Dublin's IMAX and when I listen to symphony or J.Williams tracks I have that feeling of instruments being placed inside of some big auditorium. So even if soundstage is not infinite, it is huge enough to hear orchestra similar way as if you just went to see it live. However this is my opinion, and it's based on what I can hear from my setup that includes use of Pan Am, which is known for improving soundstage.

Comfort
I also found that depending on computer I connect my Pan Am to, and OS and software running, I get different sound. My best setup is when I connect it to either Y580 (same as yours as I believe), or to my desktop based on high performance motherboard and server grade cpu. And also best sound I get with Linux and Jack, rather than F2K on Windows 8. I have noticed when I had it connected to computer in my office, there was less bass, and kinda more noise. Possibly this could have been caused by jitter on USB, which was never designed to transfer packets with exact timing.

One thing you didn't mention in comfort section is clamping force. I was wearing them for prolonged times whole last week and my ears suffer now... Though yesterday I found it quite easy to reduce that force, but I won't be using them for some time until I'm sure my ears are good again.

Bass port
I have played just a little, and I found that one full rotation of the screw didn't make much difference in lower bass region, but I've noticed bleeding of high bass into low mids, so it sounded slightly muffled. I have decided to get back to original position, but I'm not sure if I achieved exactly that position. I have a feeling that I have turned half turn in direction that reduced bass, but I don't know. Whatever setting I have now I'm happy with the clarity of sound, and there is still lots of lower bass biggrin.gif

 

 

Thanks for the input!

 

Again, it's not so much the size, but the relative lack of air and black space. I think that black space and lack of a visual boundary is what distinguishes good open phones from the closed ones.

post #7 of 9

Thanks for the impressions! I see we share many thoughts on the AD. You mentioned the mid/treble unevenness could give extra bite to distorted guitars or make cymbals sound a bit thin. That in particular made them too fatiguing for me, but I'm also fairly young (hint: see username), inherently sensitive to elevated or uneven treble (harder to tolerate after hearing more gear and changing tastes as I age), listen to already-harsh music (metal, like Opeth), and listen fairly loudly. Couple that with my tastes for a smooth, neutral sound, often slightly tilted towards a darker signature, and the AD wasn't quite to my tastes without EQ. Fantastic with EQ to fix the issues I heard. I think for most folks and most music genres, it won't be an issue.

 

I never posted my impressions as a separate thread because, eh, laziness and was unsure it would get much attention. For anyone that didn't see it buried in the AD thread, you can find my post here. It's quite lengthy, and the above more or less summarizes it. I found this particular AD to have an emphasis around 5KHz and 10KHz.

 

Also, I've realized that any sort of light reflecting off the AD in pictures gives the impression they're a brighter red than they actually are. See the 4th picture of the headphone of the stand. One of the cups looks like it has a nice, dark red finish. It looks much closer to that IRL.


Edited by hans030390 - 11/17/13 at 9:20pm
post #8 of 9
In some of the photo's the shade looks more like a orange/brown hue, actually would like to see A/D available in this kind of shade (very 70's rose wood tones shade).
post #9 of 9
First thing I've played when I got my AD was Daft Punk's RAM. I back then I was used to very crispy cymbals on RHA30, and when I heard AD I was quite disappointed that they are not so harsh as on RHA30. However I have noticed when was listening to J.W Jurassic Park Anniversary the AD presented something that I never ever heard - the texture of instruments, like for example this trembling that is characteristic for french horns. I do find AD reverbant, but the reverb I hear is a reverb of a big concert hall, which is something that actually adds value for me. The RHA30 is an open headphone (open M50), and it's soundstage is infinite, it just goes and goes on to who knows where and it is interesting experience, but I do prefer AD's closed scene. But yes, the cymbals could be more crispy biggrin.gif

An interesting thing about AD is when you use Channel Mixer and Dolby Headphone as described in http://www.head-fi.org/t/555263/foobar2000-dolby-headphone-config-comment-discuss/690#post_9978056 thread you will get very nice soundstage and very good placement of instruments in 3D space, especially if your material is CD in Dolby Surround like my Stokowski's Wagner - I can clearly hear violins being on front left and definitely closer than timpani and then reed section centered in back of orchestra, and trombones behind cellos. It really is 3D sound. However I'm not using exactly same settings are shown in the thread.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This is the chain I'm using:


I first resample to high-rez, then resample to 48k and then to 96k (native of Pan Am). I use "Ultra".

and Channel Mixer settings:



I set small feedback, because all I want is to have an echo. I also set sub bass in rear channel, because this gives this effect of more space and more realistic imaging of EDM (like played on dance events rather than flat CD).
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