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In-Ear item created by Rockbob, Apr 22, 2014
Pros - Bass!! Tuning filters that can bring you some control over bass!! Solid build quality.
Cons - Bassy signature overall. Could have been a bit more detailed.
My review of Alfa genus V2 can be found here.
Sorry for the wrong post.
Pros - Quite versatile because of the filter system, very cost effective
Cons - No cable cinch, L/R markings are hard to read
ROCK JAW audio was kind enough to ask me to review their Alfa Genus IEM, so here is my honest opinion of the product that they provided. I'll be touching on several different aspects of the IEMs, including the build quality, packaging, included accessories, and last but not least, the sound quality of the earphones.
This video sums up my review pretty well. If you'd prefer a written review, well, read on!
I've been using the Alfa Genus for several weeks now, and have accumulated around 80 hours of listening and burn-in time. I don't feel that burn-in is necessary in most cases, but I figured it couldn't hurt to add on a few hours when I wasn't actively listening. All songs that I've based this review off of are 320Kbps Spotify streamed, sometimes though an ALO Rx Mk.3 B+ amp. I didn't use the amp at all times, because it's my opinion that a pair of mid-fi earphones should perform well out of anything... especially considering that a large number of users will be running straight out of their phones. Honestly these are ~$50 earphones, and you really shouldn't need an amp for them.
Basically, if you couldn't tell from the above paragraph, I'm not an audiophile. I just like my music, and it's as simple as that.
If you'd like to see the playlist that I used for the most part, click here to check it out. I keep it updated with all of the tracks that I use for critical listening.
With all of that out of the way, let's jump into my review of the ROCK JAW Alfa Genus.
Packaging, Accessories, Build Quality, and Other Stuff
The Alfa Genus is packaged well. When it comes down to it, a product's packaging is simply designed to transport and display it well. If it ticks off just those two marks, it works. A practical example of this would be Mr. Speakers' Mad Dogs, which sacrificed fancy packaging in order to provide stronger sound.
That being said, premium packaging certainly won't hurt a product’s chances, and it seems that RockJaw took that to mind.
[sup]The package holds the filters securely and in a premium way[/sup]
The soft foam held within a hard cardboard outer shell is a great combination, and it works well to store everything safely. In fact, I have very little to complain about when it comes to the way that the Alfa Genus is packaged. The only issue that I had is that the filters can be difficult to remove from the foam if they get pushed in too deep.
The first included item is the "case" for the earphones, which is simply a fabric pouch emblazoned with the RockJaw logo. The drawstrings on the top serve well in holding the IEMs within the pouch, and while it's not the most glamorous solution, it gets the job done. I do wish that it was just a bit more premium feeling though... there's nothing wrong with the pouch, it's just nothing special.
The only other included accessories (not counting the filters, which I'll talk about in the Sound section) are 4 different sets of tips and a small shirt clip.
[sup] All of the included accessories, not counting the filters[/sup]
Accessories are one of the areas in which the Alfa Genus could use some work. The included ones are fine, but they could be better. However, when you bring the price point back into consideration (hovering around $50 USD on Amazon right now), I feel that it's fair to cut RockJaw some slack.
As it says right on RockJaw's website: these bad boys are made from a combination of Ebony and Aluminum. Yeah, they're $50. I'm actually impressed by how nice the Alfa Genus really feels. My pair has different designs and wood grains on each side, which is a really nice touch.
[sup] The wood grain on my pair of Alfa Genus[/sup]
The cable is thicker than a typical one, and adds a level of confidence that I like. There is a short(er than I'd like) section of flexible plastic right where the cable meets the driver housing that feels like it'll do a decent job of protecting against any strain. The cable terminates into a 90° jack that seems to be engineered to fit into any phone case - it's thin and light, but also has a decent amount of strain relief. The Y-connector is simple, but light.
I have exactly two complaints about the build quality of the Alfa Genus: the left/right markings are nigh impossible to find, and there is no cable cinch to be seen. The lack of a cable cinch means that when you're sitting down (or in some other situation where the cable wouldn't be taut) the cables have a tendency to move outwards - a minor inconvenience. As the built in microphone will always be on the left side, the simple solution that I used to solve the L/R problem is just to use the mic to find the left side.
For the price, these earphones look awesome, and have a build quality to match.
Microphonics aren't great. Sounds are pretty easy to get if you disturb any part of the cable above the Y-connector, and it can get annoying. It helps to wear them over the ear, but with this type of earphone that's not much of a solution.
The other side of that negative is that the earphones are compact and lightweight. Their design makes them really comfortable to wear once you find the right tips, and it's simply pleasant to use them.
On the note of tips, the included ones aren't very sound isolating... at all. They are constructed well, but they simply let in some sound. If music is playing it isn't too bad, but don't expect CIEM levels of isolation.
The microphone could be better, and the inline controls don't work on any of my android devices.
Sound Quality and Filters
Allow me to preface this section by confessing that I have no idea how RockJaw got the filters to change the sound so much. As I compared the build of the black (reference) and silver (enhanced bass?) filters I was unable to find a single difference physically between the two - they looked fully identical except for the colors. With that in mind, when I tried both sets, they were very different. I... don't know how. The black filters made the bass back away and give the stage to the mids and highs, while the silver filters presented an enjoyable (more bassy) performance. I'm baffled.
I tested myself by using one black and one silver at the same time - there is a very audible difference. That's pretty cool to me. I can understand how the gold (neutral) filter changes the sound, as when you look through it you can see a foam of some sort. The black and the silver? Not so much. Magic!
Anyways, my preferred filter overall was the silver one, so I used it for most of my listening. I know that RockJaw released the gold filters in response to the reviews that they got over the years, but I found that the silver filter created the blend of sound that I enjoyed the most. My impressions veer away from what the box would have you believe, as my thoughts were that the gold (neutral) filters had more bass than the silver (enhanced bass) filters. I think that's why I like the silver filters so much - it's a good blend between the two others.
On a less positive note, this impression has me questioning the quality control in place to ensure that all of the filters produce the same sound. Other (more notable) reviews have concluded that the gold filter is the middle ground, while I found that it was on the end of the spectrum in my case. By far. The gold filter also reduces the sound level, probably because of the foam inside of it.
In any case, the two most noteworthy filters in my book are the silver and black. I'll now go a bit more in-depth into these two options.
RockJaw promotes the silver filter as having enhanced bass, which it most definitely does if you compare it to the black filter. I love this filter, and it turns the Alfa Genus into an awesome IEM for the price; one that I'd be willing to pay a lot more than $50 for. This filter is roughly V-shaped, and has more emphasis on the treble and bass than the mids. However, this isn't to say that the mids are drowned out, as the deep bass compliments the mids more than overpower them. I seriously I love this filter. The bass in the opening of "Windows" by AWOLNATION with this filter was so enjoyable that I decided I needed to make a note of it.
That being said, if you want the best clarity you can get from this IEM then the silver filter isn't for you. To be honest though, it wasn't designed to be the most clear. The silver filter presents an enjoyable sound that is reasonably clear, and the thumpy bass makes up for the drop in clarity (at least in my book).
The black filter would be my second choice if I could only choose one pair of filters. The beauty of the Alfa Genus is that you don't need to choose, but still. The black filter severely gimps the bass, but the rest of the spectrum is nicely clear and bright. So bright in fact that it can get fatiguing if you listen to the wrong (right?) genres of music for too long.
This filter is clarity, and it's awesome for some genres.
Other Sound and Filter Notes
One thing that I really like about the Alfa Genus is just how big the difference is between filters. Another IEM that I reviewed also had a filtering system, but I realize now just how little the effect was compared to RockJaw's offering. Instead of slight changes that you actually have to listen for, the Alfa Genus is almost three IEMs in one, and honestly I'd be surprised if it didn't make somebody happy.
RockJaw has done something special with the Alfa Genus. It's extremely impressive for the price, and the filtering system is so effective that it's one of the most versatile IEMs that I've used to date. In normal folk terms, it's awesome. I've loved my time with the Alfa Genus, and it gets my full recommendation.
Oh, and I can't forget to praise the company itelf. Free next-day shipping in the U.K. and free shipping to the rest of the world is pretty unique. My experience talking to Joe from RockJaw was very pleasant. Seriously, no complaints. I'm always happy to recommend a company who actually cares about their customers, and my experience has been that RockJaw genuinely does.
I can see the Alfa Genus going a long way from here, and it has been my genuine pleasure to work with both it and RockJaw.
Thanks for reading the review guys, hope you enjoyed! To see some more shots of the Alfa Genus be sure to check out the video review above, and thanks for being so awesome!
Pros - soundstage, clarity, filter options, dynamics
Cons - cable microphonics, filters can be a bit fiddly
So here's my contribution to the growing collection of reviews on Rock Jaw's Alfa Genus. For those of you interested in purchasing a pair, hopefully this is a useful addition; for the rest of you, another post on Head-Fi with which to while away the time!
Before we get underway, it would be remiss of me not to thank Rock Jaw for sending a pair to review, the opportunity is appreciated.
I'm going to take the slightly indolent approach of skipping a detailed description and comments on aesthetics, accessories &c. as these have been well covered in other reviews and the discussion thread, and because I don't have the retail package.
My listening sessions have been conducted using the ODAC/O2 separates, mostly with the champagne filters. I tend to listen to jazz, classical and pop/rock and those have been used here. I stick to well-recorded pieces where I can and all tracks were CD quality or better. No mp3s were used in the making of this review
I think it's fair to say that overall it's a win for Rock Jaw on build. The cable seems sturdy and flexible enough, and the insertion point is protected with metal. I must admit, I haven't used the Alfa Genus on the move, so I can't comment on whether microphonics would become annoying in that case.
As intended, the filters differ predominantly in bass quantity. In practice, I think most people will pick one and stick to it but the key is you get to make a selection and the alternatives are always available.
I found myself using the black and champagne filters the most. With both, the Alfa Genus produces a slightly forward sound but nontheless has a spacious soundstage with some depth to it. Instrument separation is good, balance is neutral-ish, altered slightly by the filters. (For me the silver filters are bass heavy; I probably wouldn't buy a pair of IEMs with this signature but that doesn't mean I would never use these filters.) My only real complaint sound-wise is a slight grainiess or harshness to upper registers, especially with strings but I may have to revisit this.
I focussed on the Alfa Genus whilst reviewing but have made some quick comparisons and found the Alfa Genus fared more than favourably.
I generally listen to a genre at a time when evaluating gear, to get 'into' that sound and see how well it's conveyed, so that's how I'll present the comments. The switchable filters are a major selling point of the Alfa Genus, so inevitably a large element of the reviews will concern them.
Starting with the black filters, I found the Alfa Genus to present a clean, clear sound, with individual instruments in ensembles distinct, yet the music was coherent. I like to use HoneyDripper from Jools Holland's Beatroute to assess how well larger groups are portrayed. This piece gets busy and has elements of fast percussion too. The Alfa Genus (black filters) did well here, maintaining instrument separation and keeping up with the pace, never sounding muddy. The black filters bring out cymbals and the like, and have a somewhat detailed, forward presentation. That said, I did note depth to soundstage on some of Diana Krall's tracks. Overall, lower registers do take a back seat with the black filters but the music still hangs together well.
Moving on to the champagne filters, bass is stronger with more reverb. The sparkly cymbals are more subdued and less 'in your face', the bass solo in King For A Day has more prominence. The champagne filters add overall weight to the sound, at the expense of obvious detail and some clarity but the trade-off is minor. If you're sensitive to treble you may find the champagne filters a better option for longer listening sessions.
I'm still exploring my personal filter preference for jazz. Initially I thought the black filters had better balance but now I'm not so sure. Occassionally the treble is a (tiny) bit much and the bass not quite enough, so there is a slight treble emphasis. That said, the bass is cleaner and 'faster' than with the champagne filters and still present. Ultimately, I could happily take either; the differences are worthwhile but not massive. Even better, you get both and don't have to choose! With both filters, the Alfa Genus presents good, strong dynamics, especially noticeable with percussion hits. Along with the soundstage, this results in a lively performance of faster/swing style tracks. As an aside, if you can check out the Doc Anello Disneyland binaural recordings (posted on Head-Fi many moons ago) with these, you're in for a treat.
I listened a range of scales, including string quartets, full orchestras, choral, piano, expecting the richness of champagne filter to play well here, and it did.
Instrument balance and tone sounded good, regardless of the ensemble size. I found it easy to follow individual instruments, yet the sound was still appropriately full with the other instruments. Listening to the likes of the Hebrides Overture and Canon In D with the champagne filters, the bass strings have decent extension. I would like the upper strings to be more liquid smooth but maybe that will happen over time. I should listen to Brahms' Hungarian Dances, there are plenty of strings there to sort out what's what!
Admittedly I have listened less extensively with the black filters but the upper registers are less smooth, maybe a bit grainy; however, they are by no means thin/brittle. At times the lower strings could do with being richer. Listening to O Fortuna, it was very vocal led and I felt that there should be more weight with the orchestra, especially the timpani. The champagne filters addressed this.
In this case, 'other' consisted mostly of pop and rock. When I say rock, I'm talking about the likes of Bon Jovi.
I perhaps wasn't listening as critically as with jazz and classical pieces, and that perhaps reflects that those genres are generally more intricate, but nontheless I found the Alfa Genus (with champagne filters) to offer an easy listening experience, where you can just get lost in the music. I noted good layering of instruments, clarity and nothing overly emphasised or amiss. I heard good detail and ancillary parts of the music. For the most part, the vocals stand out and female voices manage to acquire an airy quality whilst other components retain a good comparative weight. The soundstage is enveloping, having width but not pushing the sound purely to either side.
What I wasn't expecting, coming from the other genres, was to find the champagne filters initially a bit light. Whereas before I was debating between black and champagne filters, here I would debate between champagne and silver. If you like a prominent driving beat, the champagne filters may not cut it. I would characterise the lower registers and drums with the champagne filters as 'polite'. Everything's there, it's fast, tight, clean but not dominant. That's a presentation you may or may not prefer. As an example, I tend to find Meatloaf's Dead Ringer to either be on the heavy/slow side, or bright/fast. With the Alfa Genus it seemed pretty neutral.
I wonder whether the difference in apparent weight is down to the different mix of electric/acoustic instruments and relative importance of bass in different musical styles. Perhaps the soundstage also affects things? So I'm afraid that got a bit woolly and vague but I definitely enjoyed listening to the Alfa Genus here.
Overall, here I would describe the Alfa Genus (champagne) as natural, if not neutral. I certainly appreciated not being assaulted with treble, as can happen!
As an aside, I have a recollection of similar music out of a Rockbox Sansa Zip being too bass driven and heavy. It could be due to a lack of amping, or I could be completely mistaken! Unfortunately I have misplaced the Sansa, so I can't check Maybe someone else could.
In general, I have been impressed by the way in which the Alfa Genus presents sound across the styles I tested. The soundstage, instrument separation and dynamics are always good, levels of clarity and detail are more than decent. The filters largely enable you to control the level of bass you prefer. It's not possible to rapidly switch between filters, which makes it a bit more difficult to directly compare them, however, the more I listened to the (black and champagne) filters the more I noticed the differences, but they are not extreme. The champagne filter both ups the bass/weight and slightly subdues the treble, to good effect in my opinion.
I should note that I have found the filters can unscrew when fitting the earphones, which is a little bit annoying. I would also comment that, personally, I wouldn't be switching the filters while on the go, as they are small, easy to lose parts. These are minor quibbles and I applaud Rock Jaw for the inclusion of filter options. I think the Alfa Genus are an inherently good set of IEMs and having the different filters means not only do you get to tailor the sound but alternatives are always available to you, while retaining the underlying qualities. This last point is worth emphasising. Supplying filters makes the product an attractive proposition but they would simply be a gimmick if the earphones weren't up to par. As it is, I'm happy to recommend them.
A final note on Rock Jaw themselves. They (well Bob) have been very active on the forum, engaging the community and reacting to comments and suggestions. At the same time, they have followed their own path and not tried to promise everything. I think this is a sensible approach. There can be a clamour for the latest and greatest here but from a business point of view, endless revisions and tweaks can alienate customers or cause them to indefinitely delay a purchase. Thankfully Rock Jaw seem to be refraining from this.
So the final verdict is 4/5 stars (80% - 90%, including half stars), reflecting the overall package, flexibility, qualities and price point.
Well done to Rock Jaw
Pros - Natural timbre, Detail, 3 Adjustable tuning filters, Cable, Packaging
Cons - L/R Markings far too small, no cable cinch, Treble filters too bright.
Firstly, I'd like to thank Rock Jaw for the Alfa Genus sample.
Only a few weeks ago I hadn't heard of the company Rock Jaw, however through a friend was offered to sample one of their new products. Being more than interested in the filter adjustment tuning feature and neodymium drivers I happily took on a review sample. Let me say it's been more than interesting and delightful, especially tinkering around with the 3 different tuning filters. It's almost like having 3 earphones in one, if the intended sound of Alfa Genus sits well with you that's a very welcome feature.
Silver – enhanced bass, Black - enhanced treble, Champagne - balanced or ‘audiophile’ – detachable screw in
16 ohm ± 15%
20Hz – 20KHz
108dB ± 3dB
3.5mm gold plated
As you can see below it appears Rock jaw care about their packaging just as much as their product, the heavily fabricated cardboard box Alfa Genus comes in certainly gives you a feeling of satisfaction on opening your new earphones, it's very firm, solid and even contains a compartment for keeping your accessories in (this I think is a wonderful feature) It's not the kind of carton you will just throw away after wards. Well, I know I'm certainly going to keep it around for keeping my filters and tips safe.
Design / Build:
Alfa Genus is constructed of a hybrid design, this means two different materials for the earphones housing, those being aluminum and ebony (wood / metal). I think the approach was to make the housing robust as possible while trying to inherit some of that "woody" sound often found in some wooden IEM designs. I can safely say Rock Jaw have accomplished that task. It does give the earphones a great appearance all over and a certain natural timbre to their sound signature.
You can even see some careful thought has been placed into the strain relief design. Below the metal support coming off the IEM there's lengthy plastic strain reliefs which can flex easily no matter which way the earphone may get pulled. Longer the better here (within reason) as it gives leeway for any strain or tugging the housings may go through over their long life span. It seems Rock Jaw has indeed done their home work.
If there's one thing that lets me down here Its the L/R markings on the silver poles, they're far too small, I don't know about people wearing microscope glasses but this problem surfaces with many IEM I see, I understand there's not much room to stamp a marking but often I use IEM in the dark, how am I supposed to know which is left or right? It's not only that, even in the day you must bring the housing very close up to your eyes, twist them on an angle just to make out the lettering
Often some companies will place a small braille dot on one side which you can feel with your thumb, this basically takes away all need to look for the markings and easily felt in the dark. I know of other companies like T-Peos who have opted for red / blue strain reliefs which worked wonderfully though it must also sit in with the design. So not overly impressed with the small markings. Hopefully, something can be done with future Rock Jaw products.
Moving to the jack / plug we have a right angle connection but it's more than that, you can see some thought went into this design as I've had no problems connecting the plug to all phones I've tried with cases, the reach given on the end and actual design is cleverly thought out, more than one would think just by looking at it. So many earphones I see these days have overly cumbersome jacks too thick or too fat to fit insides phones wearing protective cases, a simply over looked design flaw. You shouldn't have any of those problems here.
The cable design, although I hear it receives mixed results I quite like the cable, it gives the earphones some confidence they're going to last a long time. While it can hold some memory and a little spring it's pretty well behaved for me. I presume in combination with those strain reliefs we were looking at earlier the cable should stand the test of time. It feels strong sturdy and robust. There is off course a little microphonics but most of that is handled well back up at the earpieces due to those rubber strain reliefs canceling it out.
Lastly the Y-Spilt, nothing overly built here though more than strong enough to get the job done. It's actually a good thing the Y-Spilt is made in a sensible fashion as some can tend to weigh down the earpieces also having a tendency to swing side to side while walking which also contributes to microphonics.
Keeping it small, simple and effective is the key. Another point to Rock Jaw!
Included in the packaging is:
.4 sets of ear tips (S/M/L and an extra pair of M)
.1 set of Bass filters (Silver)
.1 set of Treble filters (Black)
.1 set of Balanced filters (Champagne)
.1 Draw String Carry / storage case
As you can see below there's one thing I am not fond of here. It's the velour material storage case, even keeping the case safe inside another storage box soon as it sees the light of day little hairs from all sorts of places begin breading on it. It can be cleaned quickly using the back of some masking tape (sticky side up) and patting it over but it's just an ongoing problem with this material I've seen too many times to count. Not really a fault of Rock Jaws though something to think about.
It kind of takes away the "hey look at my new earphones" when you whip out a case in front of your friend covered in foreign hairs!
During my time with Alfa Genus, I used an assortment of sources some shown below.
All file formats were 16/44 FLAC.
Because this review is a little different from others mainly due to the tuning filters I'm going to give my thoughts on the overall timbre and naturalness of Alfa Genus. In a whole the timbre combined with the ebony housings we looked at earlier gives the sound a rather organic timbre and presentation especially in conjunction with the dynamic driver. When you add all those together this earphone does sound quite natural, organic, and smooth around the mid-range. Acoustic guitars and drums sound quite real and convincing.
For it's excellent price point the Alfa Genus has a good dose of detail, it's especially notable in the mid-range, you'll hear good extension right through the bass / mids / highs, I especially like them with ambient or country music, again due to the natural timbre and amount of detail present, vocals are also rather impressive. Let me say the Alfa is certainly no slouch when it comes to detail extension and throwing it out at you. Very high considering its price to performance ratio punching well above the price point.
Bass Filters (Silver)
Using the bass filters seems to be quite divided in opinions, I think many of the reviewers found it too much at times. Myself am in a different party. I find the bass very welcome in quantity and quality. I think due to my normal preference of analytical its a welcome change, especially with ambient tracks that require some atmosphere and impact during sections of some tracks. Texture and detail is also impressive in the low end. While it can be a little boomy at times I really don't see the issue here.
The downside to the bass filters is however it causes some bleed into the lower mids which can cloud them up a little taking away some of their glory, it hinders the driver slightly from full potential. But never fear Rock Jaw have the perfect solution for that! I mean sure, the bass is definitely forward though I was expecting much more reading the previous reviews. I quite enjoy the nice thump with EDM music and industrial tracks, really gets the song moving. Treble seems quite relaxed here also, nothing offensive.
I imagine it wasn't terribly easy to tune the filters for everyone liking as bass quantity is a tricky subject, you will never please everyone.
Balanced Filters (Champagne)
Arrh, if there was too much bass before you can certainly see Rock Jaw provided a new entry to please everyone, now the bass is much more balanced with mids and highs, the cloud that came over the mid-range has been lifted and I hear them being able to shine. Separation seems to have improved as has imaging, which I think was always there though clouded over by the emphasized bass filters. It's a real welcome change, I can see people switching out filters for different genres, not because it absolutely needs them but more so just to tweak for a country genre or folk that otherwise doesn't require as much bass.
In a nut shell the champagne filters do indeed bring the bass / mids / highs well balanced with each other, just the right amount in all areas. like a happy medium of the other two filters. There might be just a little too much mid-bass still at times though we're treading a fine line here between too much and not enough. The overall outcome adding an additional filter certainly fills any void which may have been present previously.
Treble Filters (Black)
My least favorite unfortunately, while they do make the bass very mellow they also change Alfa Genus into something quite bright and a little fatiguing, treble really comes out to play and they sound much tilted towards overly analytical, which is fine to a degree though the treble filters are a little too overwhelming for me. While the mids remain very clear and tilted slightly bright in tonality upstairs the treble just comes a little too splashy and strident, ok for a few tracks though becomes tiring after an hour or two. While I can see the appeal especially for treble heads it's not my preferred filter, though some may find it right up their alley.
Of course, it sounds the cleanest of all filters and very crisp but it's just a little too bright for long term listening.
So which filter do I like best? Well, if I was to toss up between the bass and balanced filters I would probably take the balanced for most of my genres, while I really enjoy the ambiance and atmosphere the bass filters contribute to some genres it isn't the most versatile, that's exactly where the balanced filters come in. I think the addition of this filter was exactly what Alfa Genus needed, it separates itself from the other two showing full potential of this earphone. Of course, I will still use the bass filters from time to time and they will do every genre without too much trouble, though the beauty of this entire design is accommodating the sound for your music.
Putting together the entire concept, packaging and filter tuning system with this product I can certainly see the appeal at its price point. They've taken on something not seen so widely these days offering something, interesting, attractive and rather unique for today's standards. It gives the user much freedom to alter the sound of Alfa Genus to their liking, and seeing the add on of the new balanced filters is exactly what this product needed, it kind of felt incomplete until the third filter was introduced.
The build and packaging is great, a feeling of purchasing something new is really there with this Rock Jaw product. I would like to see a new storage case, something a little more flashy and those L/R markings really need some attention, no cable cinch is also a negative point I didn't want to delve into too much. Pushing that aside the sound of Alfa Genus is certainly punching above its weight, I would like to see more of this from other companies.
Thanks to Rock Jaw for the sample!
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.
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…
Pros - Multiple filters to change the sound, wood body, great price to perfomance ratio
Cons - Case is a bit bulky, changes between current filters may be to drastic (3rd filter in the works may resolve this issue)
I am going to just stick with a written review for this little gem as others have already done an admirable job of photographing this IEM and all of it's accessories in all their glory.
When my reviewer package arrived I liked how they had made it appear crooked in the box and was even fooled initially thinking it had slipped in transit . Upon opening the box I was treated to a snappy but over engineered case that kind of reminded me of the IE8 case from Sennheiser. While I find this type of case to big for practical daily use I do have to admit it really works well for holding everything securely from a packaging perspective.
Upon inspection of the IEM I liked the quality of the cable and the strain reliefs and like the fact it is an L jack. I missed it not having a neck cinch but this is only a minor miss in my opinion. Rockjaw has downplayed the fact that these are wooden but I personally am glad to be hearing a wooden IEM. My only area of concern is the filters do come loose easily necessitating the need to tighten them occasionally.
Upon initial listen I will be honest and say I more than a bit dismayed. The bass was over cooked and so was the treble which came across as hot and flashy. But I thought I could hear potential in this little IEM so I through them on the burning station and left them for a week. During that time I would occasionally have a peak listen and could hear that these were changing for the better. But the bass was still a bit over cooked while the treble was settling down. It was at this point I started to read more about the filters (I was still using just the silver ones that came pre-installed). So I let the IEM continue to cook until I started to write up the review today.
So what's in a filter?
A lot apparently! The best way to describe the silver filter is the word DIVA! Shouty, loud, and wayyyyyyy to confident for it's own good . The black filter on the other hand is a bit of a stuffed shirt, so concerned about form that it forgets to let the music breath. So before you decide to write off this IEM because of these to statements please realize that both of these filters are great when used in the right circumstance because let's face it we have all heard some damn fine Divas in our day and I don't know about anyone else but I also can appreciate a singer who eschews control over just letting it all hang out. Which brings up the fact that Rockjaw is working on a 3rd filter that will land somewhere in the middle. This will allow people to have a nice well seasoned meal and then occasionally enjoy a spicy dish or a savoury dish for a change of pace.
OK, so when do I like the silver filter?
I have found this filter works great for albums like 2 Cello's, and live performances like Neil Diamond Hot August Night. The filter allows the raw nature of a cello to come though with excellent timber and vibrancy giving the music an extra level of aliveness. Likewise it makes Hot August Night sound fuller and more spacious. It also makes Celtic music like Loreena McKennit sound larger and more immersive.
Where this filter does not work is songs with lots of complexity and songs with lots of cymbals and delicacy as the bass and treble simply become to loose and splashy overwhelming the music turning it into a noisy mess.
When do I like the Black Filter?
The black filter reigns in the bass and treble allowing the mids to be more present especially the upper mids. So for some they will appreciate Loreena McKennit more with the black filters even though they stifle the sound stage and immersion a bit, personally I like both presentations. Harder Rock like ACDC, Led Zeppelin, and Heart all work better with this filter as it allows their complexity to come through, it also works better for Jazz from artists like Patricia Barber and classical music that is complex.
The black filter does expose music to sibilance though so artists like Patricia Barber who enunciate their S's strongly might be a bit harsh for some. It also may be to tightly controlled for some listeners. But out of the 2 filters I found it suited more music.
**NEW BALANCED FILTER** - The final filter from Rockjaw offers an excellent balanced sound that completes the chameleon abilities of this IEM. It tames the sibilance of the black filter and keeps the bass and treble in check as well.
So where do I stand on this IEM?
I find this to be an excellent mid-entry level IEM that allows you to change up the sound signature through filters in a unique way that works very well. While some like to do this with software EQ this is a good option for those that hate that option or own a device that has only fixed presets that don't match their listening preferences. For the price you won't find a more configurable IEM on the market.
Pros - Filters, Overall Sound, Build
Cons - No Cable Cinch
First I’d like to thank Rock Jaw for sending me the Alfa Genus for review. If you haven’t heard of Rock Jaw before, I don’t blame you. They are a rather new company that recently came out with a wide range of IEMs and headphones. The Alfa Genus is one of their mid-range IEMs, which is priced at £50, which is quite budget minded for people who don’t wish to spend so much on audio.
Those who know me will know that I have always loved IEMs, especially IEMs that punch above their price point and IMO the Alfa Genus is definitely one of them. Obviously, the sub $100 IEM market is filled with some excellent offerings from many companies and making an IEM that really shines in that price bracket is really quite hard but Rock Jaw have done it1 Let’s get on with the rest of the review.
**Disclaimer** These were given to me by Rock Jaw in return for an unbiased, fair review.
The Alfa Genus is definitely quite different from other IEMs that I have seen. It is actually made mostly out of wood, rather than plastic or metal. I am not really sure what effect this has on the sound quality, but it does look very interesting and quite nice. The cable feels like it can withstand some mistreatment, but it is a little rigid. The plug is right angled, which is a plus for me and there is sufficient strain relief on both the IEM housing and the plug. The shape of the IEM makes it quite hard for me to get a seal and I found that the Sony Hybrid tips were the best for me. I usually use a medium, but on the Alfa Genus I preferred the large ones. I do wish that there was a cable cinch to make over the ear wear a little easier though. Oh, and of course there are interchangeable filters, which changes the sound signature. The isolation is about average.
On to build quality. As a whole package, the Alfa Genus is quite premium feeling, mostly due to the wood housing, and the interchangeable filter which I don’t think are available in anything that is under $100. The packaging and accessories that I received are not going to be the production ones, so I’m not going to talk about them. I do hope that Rock Jaw include some more tips though.
Usually IEMs of this price range don’t scale up much when used with different sources, and the Alfa Genus doesn’t change dramatically, but I feel like it did change a bit, but obviously not enough to spend $250 on a DAP just for it. I actually really like the Sansa Clip+ and Clip Zip with the Alfa Genus, they match really well. With the DX50 and 90 they further improved, but not by much. I highly doubt people will be using the Alfa Genus with a $450 source though. Adding an amp did produce some good results, which means that it reacts positively to amping, which is always a good sign. Personally I would recommend a Sansa Clip to pair with the Alfa Genus, they really do sound very good together.
With the RE-400 dominating the sub $100 market, it is very hard for companies to make an IEM and price it around it. I will go out and say it now – the Alfa Genus sound very good, and with two separate filters and costing $20 or so less, mat be a very good choice for some people. Most my impressions are made with the “normal” filter, which is a lot less bassy than the bass heavy filter. Below, you will find comparisons between the silver and black filters.
When I first heard the Alfa Genus out of the box I was really quite shocked. It was bass heavy – very bass heavy. Luckily, the filter on the Alfa Genus was the bass heavy one and the black filters were not nearly as bass heavy. What I am hearing from the black filters is very clean, fast bass. It is definitely not for the bassheads (that would be the bass filter), I think it is actually slightly on the bass light side. I found myself just wanting some extra punch in the mid-bass at times. The bass is quite detailed, which is impressive at this price range. What I love most about the Alfa Genus’ bass with the black filter is the fact that bass lines never get muddy at all and are up there with some of the cleanest sounding IEMs I have ever heard regardless of price. Now we should probably talk more about the silver bass filters. Man, these guys punch hard! The bass is a slower that I would have liked, but it will appeal to a lot of bassheads out there for sure. The bass does bleed a tiny bit into the midrange and because of this, I prefer the black filters personally.
Here, the Alfa Genus is very crisp sounding and has great clarity that far exceeded my expectations. Vocals sound excellent and very clear. One little “issue” that I found with these is that the upper midrange could sound a little bit on the colder side at times, but that can be both a good and bad thing depending on your preference. The midrange reminded me somewhat of the TWFK drivers which also have great clarity and have a similar tone. The decay of instruments is a little on the fast side and sounds quite realistic, which is quite a feat at this price range. I would say that the midrange is not recessed nor forward, it is rather neutral. Luckily, there was not really any vocal sibilance here even at higher volumes. The silver filters did change the midrange a bit, making it sound warmer and a more like a RE-400. The clarity is not quite as good as the black filters, but that was expected but it is still quite impressive in that department. Overall the midrange performance of the Alfa Genus is one of the best, if not the best that I have heard in this price bracket.
Too many times have I heard a great sounding IEM only to be let down by its treble. One example of this is the Brainwavz B2, its treble was far too bright. The Alfa Genus is not one of them. The treble is quite well extended and a little on the bright side, but not exceedingly so. There was a little bit of sibilance creeping in at higher volumes, but it was definitely not getting in the way of the music and this was only on certain tracks where the treble was a bit hot to begin with. Details in the treble were quite good, but cymbals were a little bit too emphasized and as a result, some of the treble details were masked by the cymbals, but it wasn’t too bad. I might be a little less sensitive to treble compared to some people because others report a much more emphasized treble to what I am hearing. The silver filters were much more forgiving in the treble region, being less bright but still equally detailed. To my ears, the silver filter are much better here.
Soundstage & Imaging
No budget IEM I have heard has really impressed me with their soundstage and the Alfa Genus is no different. Now that I have heard more full sized headphones, I’ve come to the conclusion that all IEMs I’ve heard just do not do soundstage and imaging quite right. For an IEM, the Alfa Genus is not bad, but not really special either. The RE-400 and AX35 do a bit better in this regard. The stage is quite limited and is quite in your head, but at this price range I don’t expect any IEM to have a good soundstage.
Imaging is actually quite accurate and it fares very well for its price point. On sightly congested tracks it doesn’t do too badly, but on passages with a lot going on, the Alfa Genus does struggle a bit. This section may have come off a little bit harsh because I’ve been listening to a full on HD800 setup a lot lately and it excels in this area. The Alfa Genus really isn’t bad for its price in this regard, but it is not the best I have heard.
Details & Clarity
The Alfa Genus with the black filters was tuned to have great clarity and detail and it does. The entire spectrum is almost as detailed as the RE-400 and up there with the AX35, which are my favourite sub $100 IEMs. As Brooko mentioned in his review, these sound a little like Grado or AKG cans and I feel the same. Their brightness makes them overall sound seem clear and whether this is a positive or negative ting depends very much on what your preference is.
I don’t usually do a section like this in my reviews, but I feel compelled to do one over here. Rock Jaw’s customer service is simply incredible and every time someone posts on the Rock Jaw thread, Rockbob responds in a few hours or even just a few minutes. They are the first company I have come across that treat customers like this and I really wish that more companies would learn from them and pay more attention to what people want and answering people’s question on forums as well as via email. Rock Jaw also listens to what people say and they have made some changes to their models from our feedback already. Well done, Rock Jaw, keep it up!
Bronze Filter Update
I recently just got the bronze filter that Rock Jaw sent me and man, I am even more impressed by these now. The bronze or champagne filters were made from the Head-Fiers' feedback and I am so impressed that Rock Jaw is willing to listen to everyone's feedback and make an addition to an existing product to improve it. ell done guys. So onto the sound, it is really quite a transformation. The black and silver filters were not really all that great for me as terms of tuning went. Well, the bronze filter keeps all the traits of the silver filter, but it makes the sound fuller. It keeps the awesome clarity and detail, but it really solves the bass issue and adds a lot more impact and the result is a much fuller overall sound. The midrange is also a touch warmer, removing that cold tint that it had previously. Vocals sound much more realistic and less "screechy?". The treble is also toned down a little and is a bit less sibilant. Overall the sound is much more pleasant while keeping all the positive traits of the silver filter.
The Alfa Genus is a great product, but it does has its flaws. With the 3[sup]rd[/sup] filter that they are planning to add, the Alfa Genus could really turn out to be a true winner and a new baseline of what a budget IEM should sound like. If I’m not wrong the Alfa Genus is still in beta testing stages so I would expect Rock Jaw to make some minor tweaks to the sound and the Alfa Genus will be a great IEM.
Pros - Build Quality, 3 Tunable Filters, Comfortable
Cons - Very minor picky things that will be addressed in the future.
RockJaw ALFA GENUS IEM Review by TrollDragon
Way back in April a new Sponsor on Head-Fi called RockJaw created a post looking for members to test and review a new product line consisting of multiple IEM’s and headphones. I applied at once and was accepted by RockJaw’s representative Rockbob. This is going to be a great experience for myself as well as quite a few others, since we get to evaluate the new products and our opinions will be factored into the final retail products.
With all the formalities and details looked after, a large box of RockJaw products appeared on my doorstep, multiple IEM’s and a pair of headphones. I have spent several weeks with the ALFA GENUS IEM’s out of various sources and will now present my review.
*Champagne Filter Update September 10 2014*
Packaging I usually do an overview but the product we have is with beta packaging. The complete product line will have a totally revamped, nicer looking packaging in the near future.
The slide out storage case is a great way to store your IEM’s or pack them for travel. Too thick to be used as a daily carry case, i believe RockJaw are going to provide a soft pouch with future versions.
Accessories consist of nice silicone tips in S/M/L and two pairs of tuning filters in Silver (Enhanced Bass) and Black (Monitor Class). I understand that with the final product there will be a third filter tuned between the Silver and Black. These filters and IEM body are nicely threaded allowing an easy way to switch filters without fumbling to get the thread started. I can see that once you have found your desired sound signature by experimenting with the filters at the beginning, most people will stick with the one they like best and store the other two sets back in the case.
The build quality of the ALFA GENUS is exceptional and looks very solid with it’s aluminum strain reliefs and ebony wood body. I feel these will hold up to a fair bit of rough usage, the cable is a flexible shiny black PTFE material I do believe. There is a little bit of mechanical noise in the cable which can be alleviated by using the provided shirt clip or by wearing them up.
Fit & Sound
The ALFA GENUS are one of the easiest IEM’s to get a good fit on that I have used so far and the large tips provide an excellent seal.
I have run these out of a Colorfly C3 amplified with a Miu Audio MRA DIY amplifier and a FiiO X3 on low gain, switching between the two for my review. In my opinion the ALFA GENUS are very source dependent and will not have a great synergy with all devices.
Silver Filters I started with the silver filters installed and found the sound to have an amount of bass that was just about unlistenable to my ears. The bass is overwhelming and very boomy, it bleeds up into the lower midrange and will muffle voices quite easily. I tried the silver filters with a 3rd generation iPod nano and they seem to be a little more tolerable from that device. I do like a nice solid punchy bass that digs deep where you can feel the impact on EDM tracks, but somehow I doubt that bass heads would even like the silver filters. I never even bothered with testing the treble on the silver filters since the bass was so overwhelming.
Black Filters Now the black filters are at the other end of the spectrum, some will find them a little too far at the end. The bass on the black filters is acceptable to my ears, not boomy and doesn’t bleed into the mids. Some might find it a little anemic, which is why RockJaw has created a filter in between the two provided. This new filter should fill the gap perfectly regarding bass. The treble on the black filters can be a little sharp to my ears depending on the source and the genre of music played. I found Paul Simon’s Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition very sibilant at points and actually starting to get annoying, with the FiiO X3 I was able to bring the treble setting down to -5 and take some of the edge off. This could not be done on the Colorfly C3 since it’s EQ was programmed by simians and is basically unusable.
Now Jazz at the Pawnshop was a little sharp in spots but not unlistenable by any means. Some of the users in the RockJaw test group do not find these sharp or sibilant except with overly bright tracks. It is highly possible that I just may be a little too treble sensitive.
Champagne Filters Well, well, well let me tell you that when the package arrived from the RockJaw in the UK with two little champagne coloured filters in it I was ecstatic! I was off work that day and talking to a friend in the post office parking lot who inquired about said package, "any new toys?" he asked, so I showed him... Sorry dude but I have to get home NOW and hear these.
I installed them into the ALFA GENUS and prepared a set albums to check out, favorites that were either way too sharp with the Black filters or totally unlistenable to me with the Silver filters.
The first album is one of my absolute favorite Hard Bop standards by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The track Moanin' has some of Lee Morgans great trumpet work which can get really piercing on bright headphones and IEM's. I prepared a wince for the first blast at 1:00 minute in and it was not required, the Champagne filters presented Morgan's improvisation with that perfection I am used to. So I ended up actually listening to Moanin' twice, I was really that impressed.
Up next was another standard by Charles Mingus called Tijuana Moods, the track Ysabel's Table Dance is an amazing track for the mixture of instruments from Ysabel Morel's vocals and castanets, Hadi's saxophone work and of course Mingus's bass. Again the Champane Filters presented this track with no congestion whatsoever.
Switching away from Jazz, not that I wanted to but I have a lot of Jazz... I fired up the Dropkick Murphys album Signed and Sealed in Blood. The track Rose Tattoo is a classic Celtic Punk ballad with great vocals from Ken Casey and traditional instruments picking up a great driving pace at the 3:20 minute mark. This is really not the greatest test track for the AG's even though they did a good job, it is a song that needs to be played on speakers, LOUD!
Switching again, this time to Metallica and the album ...And Justice For All, we find out how the AG's do with the track One. Which starts out slow and clean building in speed and intensity as the song progresses to the dual guitar solo at near the end. This track is a great test for the AG's to see how well their bass responds when Ulrich's double bass kit kicks in. The AG's have the speed to keep up it is just the Champagne filters are not as bassy enough for this track as I would like, but that is where the Silver filters might come in for some.
Finally we move into something a little more recent and that would be Avenged Sevenfold's Hail to the King and the title track Hail to the King, A7X has hit the motherlode with some classic riff based heavy metal. The guitars of Syn and Vengeance provide a great driving sound that works perfectly with M. Shadows vocals on this track. The Champagne filters are not sharp or too bright like they were with the Black filters, Shadows sounds amazing again instead of painful to my ears.
Conclusion I would like to give some very high praise to Rockbob and his team for all the hard work they have put into modifying the ALFA GENUS filters that those of us in the test group have suggested, a job well done on the Champagne Filters! I would like to personally thank him for creating this filter so that picky/treble sensitive people like me can now use with the AG's and get great enjoyment.
These IEM’s are a serious contender in the sub $100 bracket that will please the vast majority of listeners with a sound that can be custom tailored exactly to your liking now.
I would like to thank RockJaw and Rockbob for the samples used in this review, RockJaw is a definitely a company to you should keep in your radar when considering your next IEM purchase.
Pros - Clarity, build, light weight, value, sound signature, filter tuning system
Cons - L/R markings hard to read
INTRODUCING ROCK JAW’S ALFA GENUS SINGLE DYNAMIC DRIVER IEM (Updated 8th Sept)
Special Note - I've updated the review 8th Sept 2014 - amendments are marked in red for easy identification.
The Alfa Genus From Rock JawAlfa Genus Paired With Fiio X5
RockJaw UK is a relatively new headphone/earphone manufacturer to the Head-Fi scene, so it was with particular interest that I noticed their early posts on the forums, and when they asked for potential reviewers to test their audio product range, but more importantly wanted active feedback to shape their tuning toward the final product configuration – I immediately jumped at the chance.
I received the courier pack just under two weeks ago – and after quickly trying the other products sent (most of which needed quite a few changes in various forms), I’ve mainly used the Alfa Genus IEMs – which is what I’m reviewing today. I’d estimate that so far I’ve logged around 50-60 hours with the Alfa Genus. I intend to log many more. Read on – and find out why!
I’ve listed price at USD $84 (current Amazon UK price is 49 GBP at time of writing) – however this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample).
I was provided the Alfa Genus as a review sample. I am in no way affiliated with RockJaw - and this review is my honest opinion of the Alfa Genus. I would like to thank Bob at RockJaw for making this opportunity available.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main full sized headphones at the original time of writing were the Senn HD700 and HD600, Beyer T1 and DT880. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Dunu DN-1000 or the HSA BA100 IEMs (since then I've also acquired a pair of Sony XBA4, Altone200 and Fidue A83). A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the DT880.
For the purposes of this review - I used the Alfa Genus straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X5, iPhone 4 and Studio V3 (Studio V3 has since been sold - so not tested with new filter). I did not bother with amping them, as IMO they do not benefit from additional amplification. In the time I have spent with the Alfa Genus, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in). I will allow that the more time I've have spent with these IEM's, the better they continue to sound to me. Personally I think this is brain burn in - but I will respect others choice if they interpret this as physical burn-in.
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The Alfa Genus arrived in a smart but simple (no frills) retail box – with an inner container housing the IEMs and accessories. Rock Jaw have already stated that they are reviewing current packaging – and this is likely to change in the future.
Retail Box FrontRetail Box Rear
The packaging I have is ideal for a retail presentation - an easy to display rectangular retail box - with an 'average' footprint. The retail box is easy to read, and contains the normal marketing type hook/message on the front “interchangeable sound tuning filters – your sound, your way”. On the rear of the box is a lot of information including easy to read specifications.
Inner Storage CaseOpened Sleeve Showing Accessories
The inner container is interesting – it’s plastic, but slides open to reveal the IEMs, tips and filters. While I can’t really see people using this case for transportation –I think it would be ideal for longer term storage. There is no smaller carrying case for day to day storage or transport – but we understand from contact with Bob that they are looking to add this to their IEM range in the near future.
EDIT 8th Sept - Rockjaw has announced new packaging for the Alfa Genus, and I have shown below Bob's photos. Final-final packaging will be black instead of grey.
New case designNew internal case and carry pouch
Accessory Package Alfa Genus - ProfileAccessory Package Alfa Genus - Overhead
The accessory package is relatively small – 3 silicone tips (S, M, L), a shirt clip, and two sets of tuning filters.
Paper ManualWarning On Excessive Volume
In addition there is a comprehensive double A4 sized printed sheet with full instructions on use, maintenance, fit, and warning on excessive volume (a nice touch IMO). The one thing I would change here is to maybe consider reducing the size of the guide to booklet size – and really think about whether to include the section on “running in process”. Science tells us that there are little to no audible changes “burning-in” headphones – and the suggested 100 hours is IMO a little ridiculous. I would personally like to see this left up to the user – and not suggested by the manufacturer – unless they have measurements that clearly show an audible change over time.
Filters For The Alfa GenusAlfa Genus With No Filter Attached
The two included filters are silver (enhanced bass), and ebony (‘audiophile’). The difference with the filters is that the ebony ones have a very small vent between the two rings in the centre. More on this later when I discuss the sound signature each conveys.
The Alfa Genus now comes with three sets of filters - bassy (silver), bright/detailed (ebony), balanced (champagne). More info on these later in the review.
Third set of filters - champagne (center)Original filters had no damping - new filter is both vented and damped
The shirt clip is a nice touch for those who need it – but personally I found it difficult to remove from the cable (very tight fit) – and would prefer it come as an included accessory rather than an attached one.
Silver – enhanced bass, ebony balanced or ‘audiophile’ – detachable screw in
16 ohm ± 15%
20Hz – 20KHz
108dB ± 3dB
3.5mm gold plated
Silver Filter - Click For Larger ImageEbony Filter - Click For Larger Image
Just a quick note here – I asked for these from Bob, and duly received them – and Rock Jaw were quite happy for me to include these in my review. It is refreshing to see a company willing to disclose (within reason) information that helps their potential customers in their decision making. The graphs are raw data – but should convey a general idea of the tuning of the drivers with the two filters. At time of editing I don't have info for the third filter's frequency response - but common sense would indicate it sits somewhere between the two original graphs.
In communicating with Bob, it is clear that Rock Jaw’s underlying philosophy is to maximise (as much as possible) build quality, practicality, versatility and sonic ability – and to minimise anything which adds cost without benefit. This shows clearly in the overall package.
The Alfa Genus appears solidly built using quality materials, and is very light weight (my digital scales show just 14-15g with fitted filter and large tips). Comparatively, the BA100 is a similar weight, with the DN1000 coming in at almost double the weight at 26g.
The body of the Alfa Genus is made up of an ebony tone-wood shell, with an aluminium front face (which actually holds the driver). The front face has a recessed thread to allow the filters to be attached.
Alfa Genus Ebony Wood And Aluminium Build Quality Photo Courtesy Of Rock Jaw - Early Testing And Fitting Driver Units
The strain relief from the IEM housing is aluminium (rigid) with an added flexible rubber sheath. This is really well thought out as it assists in both adjustment while wearing, and removal, without putting undue stress on the wires. One criticism here is that the L/R indicators are printed white on a silver surface, and are extremely difficult to see – especially in low light. I would prefer these to be much more visible.
Rear Of Alfa Genus - Note L/R MarkingsSplitter, Jack and Cable
The wire is a twisted pair (OFC) coated in a shiny PVC type sheath. Although the wires are relatively thin, the twist and sheath add strength, and far for me (I wear over-ear), have very low microphonics. I’ve been walking/jogging with these – and although I get the usual annoying foot-impact sound (bone induction) – actual cable microphonics are minimal. The splitter is generic, rubber, small but functional. There is no adjustable chin slider / cinch – which is a shame, as for some this will be even more important than a shirt clip. This can be easily rectified with a little bit of DIY heatshrink – (the plug is small enough to slip this over).
The plug is a 90deg plug that is very petite – but does aid some DAPs which may not have a lot of room with their 3.5mm sockets – especially with covers attached. The cable stress relief at plug and splitter is again generic – but adequate for normal wear and tear. I genuinely like the cable – and only additional comment would be that I’d like to see some sort of attached cable tie – similar to the DN-1000.
FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) - so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don't fit overly well. The silicone tips included look similar to the Sony hybrid tips (no foam filling though) and fit the Alfa Genus extremely well. I did have issues getting a full seal with them, but found over time that by utilising reasonably shallow insertion, the seal was actually better than a deeper insertion. The tips are very comfortable for me, and because the Alfa Genus is so light, after a while I hardly know I’m wearing it.
With the stocks tips, isolation was OK – but not stellar. With no music playing, I could hear people around me – but with music at a moderate level – they isolate reasonably well.
Test With Monster Super TipsStock Tips
I tried some foam complies and also some Monster Super Tips to see if I could get a better seal. I definitely achieved a better seal – but – the tips would not stay on the Alfa Genus when removing them from my ear. There is not enough nozzle length, or maybe the nozzle itself is not wide enough, to successfully keep foam type tips intact on the IEM when a deep insertion is achieved. The only way to achieve this in the current configuration is to push the tips all the way to the base of the nozzle. Unfortunately (for the ebony filter), this blocks the filter port, and turns them into bass cannons. A fix would be either using dampers rather than ports for tuning the filters, or positioning the port at the base of the filter. Bob is already working on future fixes.
With a little more experimentation I have been able to get foam filters that successfully fit the Alfa-genus without blocking the ports. The foam tips that came with my Altone200 worked quite nicely. I understand the sizing might be similar to Comply T500 tips - but might need someone else to corroborate this. In any case, I actually now prefer the stock silicone tips with the Alfa Genus - although YMMV.
Even with a relatively shallow insertion, the Alfa Genus do not extend past my outer ear, and are so comfortable that I could sleep with these intact.
So what do these sound like ……… ?
The following is what I hear from the Alfa Genus. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
Silver Filter – General
The silver filters – as long as you get a reasonable seal – are very warm and bass focused. For people that prefer a very bassy sound they may be ideal – but I found the bass overpowering.
With straight rock songs (3 Doors Down “Away From the Sun” / Alter Bridge “Broken Wings”) I just found that there was a lot of bass bleed into the lower mids, and the whole presentation became a little congested.
Even on the Studio V (bright DAP) with Beth Hart’s “Lift’s You Up” (bright recording), the resulting presentation was quite warm and bass emphasised. I have to admit though – this particular track wasn’t too bad – and there was a phenomenal bass slam with it.
Switching to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was an eye opener with the silver filters. There was enough sparkle and the vocals were actually quite clear – but the bass! – visceral is the only way to describe it. I’d actually imagine that some rap, hip-hop, EDM, lovers who are true bassheads will really enjoy these.
In order to cover all genres, I also tried the silvers with some indie acoustic (Angus & Julia Stone and Yesper), some classical, opera, and some jazz (Portico Quartet and Miles Davis). Again – a very warm presentation each time, with the mid-range (especially lower mids) politely subdued, and unfortunately a lot of the detail which I love these recordings for, somewhat pushed to the background. There is enough sparkle to retain some interest – but these filters are just a little too much for me personally. I have no doubt though that some people will love this sound.
For the rest of this review, I gratefully returned to using the ebony filters. And what a transition!
Champagne Filter (NEW) - General
New champagne filter fittedNew champagne filter fitted
The new 3rd filter to be included now with the Alfa Genus is champagne coloured, and represents a mid-point between the bassy (silver) and detailed/audiophile (ebony) filters. The other noticeable difference (physically) with this filter is the addition of acoustic dampening material inside the filter. So how does this new filter sound, and does it bridge the gap?
Again with straight Rock songs (3 Doors Down / Alter Bridge) first - and I can see already that a lot of people will enjoy this presentation. Bass is full and well presented without the bloat, and vocals retain their clarity. The most impressive thing is the amount of detail hasn't suffered - but the treble comes across very smooth. It really is quite a lush and full listening experience. Very non-fatiguing.
Trying a couple of brighter recorded albums I have in my library (Beth Hart's "Live at Paradiso" and Genesis' greatest hits album "Turn It On Again"), and for my personal tastes, these are getting close to perfect. With these albums when using some of my brighter IEMs things can get a little peaky - but the Alfa Genus gives a beautifully balanced and vivid presentation - but none of the glare.
Testing on bassier mainstream music - Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and Lorde's "Royals" and once again great mix of bass impact, and vocal clarity. The Eminem track in particular is very good (and I'm not really a hip-hop fan). The only issue I have (and this is my own personal preference coming to the fore) is with tracks like "Royals" where the vocals are recorded on the warmish side anyway - I personally would prefer a little more brightness int he upper mids and lower treble. But that''s the beauty of this filter system. I simply need to change them - and I essentially have a different IEM!
Moving to Indie - Yesper's "Cannibal King" - and the champagne filter again just gives a lush and smooth (but clear) presentation, and this feeling is repeated as I've tried other genres. Portico Quartet's "Ruins" is brilliant (although again I prefer just a little more brightness) - but it's a very good filter for jazz - really smooth. Norah Jones really does shine, and even more so Gabriella Cilmi. Classical is good - but I've been conditioned to my T1's and brighter IEMs for a while now - and I can't help wanting just that little more treble extension.
Finally onto my litmus test - Pearl Jam (male vocals). Ahhhhh. Yep - this is the one. Does Vedder's voice justice - more so than any of the other filters.
Although for my own personal preferences, I think I'll still probably use the ebony filters for most of my listening with the Alfas, if it involves extended listening of my Pearl Jam collection (I own almost all of their albums) - it will definitely be with the new champagne filter.
Ebony Filter - General
I’ll make this a short summary before I go into more detail and specific genres. The ebony filters give the Alfa Genus a more balanced frequency response but with a brighter than strictly neutral tonality. Bass is definitely there, but now it is fast, and detailed, and clean – reminds me very much of the bass on a well amped K701 (quality rather than quantity). The mid-range is very clean, and very clear, with slightly more emphasis on the upper mids, and a very clear and reasonably extended treble.
Note : At this point all further testing was done with the ebony filters fitted
Overall Detail / Clarity
For this I used both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in both tracks, and the recording quality for both is excellent.
The Alfa Genus displayed reasonable detail retrieval with a crisp and bright sound, and I was actually very much reminded of Grado or AKG type mids – which just have the ability to captivate and hold my attention. The more I listened to these tracks, I realised that the emphasis is probably more on the upper mid-range than the actual treble itself. Cymbals and high-hats are definitely presented, but not where most of the focus lies.
Sound-stage & Imaging
For this I used Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”. I used this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage.
It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The Alfa Genus for me is a typical IEM in this regard. The sound – while crystal clear (the drums are fantastic in this piece BTW), is still very much ‘in your head’ – but still very enjoyable. Directional cues are good – so for a value priced IEM its imaging is actually pretty good, and with the ebony filters it’s an enjoyable journey.
I also played Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” and the Alfas were once again extremely clear – but where full sized open headphones (HD600 / DT880) give this track a wonderful sense of space, the Alfas were far more intimate. I also like this track for its ability to portray a sense of realism. The applause at the end of the track is so well presented that with some headphones (HD600) I can actually close my eyes and imagine myself in the crowd. While the Alfa didn’t get me quite there – it definitely gave an inkling of space with this section – so that is an achievement in itself.
Genre Specific Notes
Again for tracks, albums, artists – please refer to this list: http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks
Rock – IMO the Alfa Genus loves this genre with the ebony filters. Guitars are crisp, clear, captivating. Bass is present – but doesn’t overpower other frequencies, and the driver itself is fast and keeps up with more complex passages quite well. Both male and female vocals are presented incredibly clearly – and always seem to be brought to the foreground.
Alt Rock – Again a winner with the ebony filters. Pink Floyd’s “Money” is a complex track that can trip a headphone up with its many contrasts – the Alfa Genus just took it in its stride – with perhaps my only complaint being that the very forward mid-range did portray just a touch of stridency during the sax and guitar solos. With Porcupine Tree’s “Trains” however, there was no issues at all – the tonality was almost perfect for me – with the only thing I would have really liked being just a touch more mid-bass for impact. This again is one area where the new champagne filter really shone - and the ability to switch between the two (champagne or ebony) depending on mood was very much appreciated.
Jazz / Blues / Bluegrass – clean, clear, crisp – great transparency and cohesion. Focus definitely on the full mid-range with Miles Davis’ “So What” being rendered with a great deal of focus.
Rap / EDM / Pop – Probably lacking a little impact with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, and it does detract a little from presentation of this genre. Lorde’s “Royals” on the other hand has copious amounts of bass – so this driver (in this configuration) has no issues with sub-bass. Again with EDM tracks like Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin” I was left just wishing for a little more impact – it doesn’t need a lot, but just a touch more bass would help impact and immersion. With most of these genres I’m finding really clear (still forward though) vocal presentation which you just don’t expect at this price point. With these genres in particular, I do think a lot of people will love the new champagne filter, as it does solve the issues I had with wanting a little more lower mid and mid-bass.
Classical / Opera – The Alfas handle this genre very well. Ideally I’d like a greater sense of space, but it’s very easy with the right music to get lost and lose track of time, and that is a pretty good indicator in my book. I started listening to Zoe Keating’s “Escape Artist” (modern classical cello) and before I knew it, I’d gone through 3 tracks and almost 20 minutes had elapsed. Wilhelm Kempff’s rendition of Moonlight Sonata was equally compelling. But again – I did get the feeling that with Moonlight Sonata that the mids just might be a touch more forward and energetic than ideal.
The Alfa Genus is easily powered straight out of virtually any portable device, and I didn’t experience any issues with thin-ness or hiss from the 3 DAPs I tested (iPhone 4, Studio V3, or Fiio X5). Of the three – my personal preference with the ebony filters would go to the X5 – as it seems to add just a smidge of bottom end which is missing.
RESPONSE TO EQ?
IMO - the Alfa Genus don't need a lot of tweaking. But it's always nice to see what they are capable of if you do decide to apply EQ. So I switched back to the iPhone with the Equaliser app, and gave them a little increase in the mid-bass – and they responded extremely well. The addition of a little more mid-bass impact worked well for me.
COMPARISON OTHER IEMs – DN-1000 & BA100
DN-1000, Alfa Genus and BA100Test Rig - Simple But Excellent Sonically
Track – a favourite – Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”
Vs HiSound Audio's BA-100
Both are very, very clear – with a lovely balanced presentation. The major difference I think is in timbre and body – with the Alfa’s having a slightly fuller overall presentation, and the BA100s having a little more treble emphasis, and a little less mid-range. I like both – and could easily live with either.
Vs Dunu DN-1000
Again, both very clear headphones, but the balance with the Dunus, the additional bass impact, and the added sense of space is simply superior. But let’s remember the DN1000 is a triple driver hybrid at almost 2.5 times the price of the Alfa Genus. The Alfa Genus does have a feeling of extra clarity over the Dunus – and if there was a little additional bass impact, my personal preferences might place these two IEMs a lot closer. And that really says volumes about the $84 Alfa Genus – it really is tuned well IMO.
QUICK NOTES ON MY EXPERIENCE WITH ROCK JAW
Although I’ve only been conversing with Bob from Rock Jaw for a couple of months, I can already see that this is a company to watch for the future. They aren’t simply rebranding/repackaging a generic driver with a few tweaks. They are instead developing and tuning their own drivers, and they are genuinely interested in working with the community to improve their products. They’ve listened to all of our suggestions, and actively introducing changes for their current models. One of these changes will be the addition of another filter for the Alfa Genus – which should sit sonically between the silver and ebony filter- giving a little more bass impact, but retaining the clarity and overall balance which is very much the trademark signature of the Alfa Genus. Other changes will include carry pouches, and possibly more variety in tips.
Rock Jaw have also been very open regarding information they’ve provided to date – and have dealt with all of the early testers in a very open and encouraging manner.
Because of my location, I have offered to pay for freight, and have also offered to return all of the samples following the reviews. Rockjaw has politely but firmly declined these offers – telling me instead that the feedback we are giving will be invaluable for their future development.
One of the things I've really enjoyed in dealing with Rockjaw is their patience (they didn't rush the latest changes until they felt they were right), and also their willingness to engage and listen to their customer base. I feel really privileged to have been involved with the development of the Alf Genus, and to watch as it has developed into its mature form.
ALFA GENUS - SUMMARY
Firstly my apologies. Those who’ve seen my reviews before will know that I tend to write reasonably long rambling ones. So if you’re still with me to the end – thanks.
The Alfa Genus is a light weight, well built, tuneable IEM (via filters) which has no real business being priced at its current price point – to me it represents incredible value. The sound signature (ebony filters) is very much mid-range focused, but with a bright clear presentation. It is an energetic IEM with an intimate presentation that in some ways reminds me of my HD700 (without the similar bass impact).
The litmus question for me would be “would I buy these for myself”, and “would I recommend them to my family”. The answer to this question is a resounding YES – and in fact I have already asked Bob if he would accept payment for this pair. I really do like them that much. Of course Rockjaw has declined – but that’s a debate I will have with him again at another time.
The only caution I would suggest with these is that if you are treble sensitive, it may pay to consider something a little darker in nature. Grado, Beyer or AKG lovers may find them ideal though.
The addition of the new champagne filters has really made these into an IEM for everyone, and I simply cannot think of another IEM at this point that offers even close to a similar amount of tunability and versatility. I would definitely recommend these to anyone - they are quite simply a steal at this price point, and should make any reviewers 'wall of fame'.
Congrats Bob and Rock Jaw - these are a winner in my book.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO ROCK JAW
Here is a very short list of what I’d change if I could. Some of this has been discussed with Rock Jaw already, and is already down for future alteration.
Change paperwork to remove “burn-in” information
Add carry pouch if it fits price profile (done with the latest offering)
Add 3[sup]rd[/sup] filter to bridge gap between “extreme bass” and “audiophile” (achieved with new filter - and very successfully)
Change filters to use dampers – or port filter tuning ports at base – so foam tips can be used (correctly sized foam tips do work - just needs some playing around)
Add chin slider to cable
Make L/R marking on Alfa Genus easier to read