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.
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.
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 .
The only other words I'll put here are Crisp Candy Apple.
Yes, but how does it sound?
Nothing like the Mad Dogs.
(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
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 ).
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).
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