ADVANCED Alpha

Rating:
4.33333/5,
  1. Cinder
    Alpha? More Like Final Release!
    Written by Cinder
    Published Jan 29, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent sound quality, good price, great cable, solid construction, comfortable, terrific extension in both treble and bass
    Cons - No travel case, I dislike the finish on the composite material the housings are made of
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    Advanced Sound Alpha Review: Alpha? More Like Final Release!
    Advanced Sound is on a warpath to claim a top spot in every audiophile category, and at every price point. With previous hits such as the M4 and Model 3 under their belt, Advanced Sound launched themselves into the messy market of planar-magnetic headphones with the Alpha.

    You can find the Alpha for sale here, on Advanced Sound’s official website, for $500.

    Disclaimer: This unit was provided to me free of charge for review purposes. I am not affiliated with Advanced Sound beyond this review. These words reflect my true, unaltered, opinion about the product.

    Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoyability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.

    My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.

    Source: The Alpha was powered like so:

    Hidizs AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 3.5mm out -> headphones

    or

    HiFiMAN SuperMini ->FiiO A5 3.5mm -> headphones

    or

    PC optical out -> HiFiMe SPDIF 9018 Sabre DAC 3.5mm out -> headphones

    or

    HiFiMe SPDIF 9018 Sabre DAC -> Sherwood AD230B -> headphones

    All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.

    Sound Signature

    Initial Impressions:

    I find that it usually takes my peasently ears a bit of time to adjust to the highly detailed profiles of high-end headphones like planars. My experience with Alpha was no different. At first, the treble felt sharp and grainy. There was some that just didn’t seem right and I could never put my finger on it. But after a day or so of listening that feeling had completely disappeared. My ears had adjusted to the expanded frequency range offered by the Alpha.

    Post aural adjustment the sound signature became more clear to me. The Alpha makes use of a relatively even sound signature with some boosting to the upper mids and treble for an added sense of clarity and articulation. The mids are uncolored and the bass is solid, linear, and highly extended.

    Treble: Songs used: In One Ear, Midnight City, Outlands, Satisfy

    Treble has traditionally been the strong suit of Advanced Sound’s audio products. The Alpha does not deviate from its heritage and is clear and articulate. You can hear every little detail all the way down to the tiny modulation in the synths of Midnight City, all without every feeling overblown or too aggressive.

    The sheer speed of the treble also makes for a great sense of spatial placement in songs like Outlands. I could make out distinct groupings of string-based instrumentation very easily in ways that I have previously only been able to with headphones like the AudioQuest NightOwl Carbon.

    Satisfy also proved to be a workable experience. While I can’t say that the treble was totally inert, it was definitely calm enough to not distract me from the song or put me in any level of discomfort.

    Mids: Songs used: Flagpole Sitta, Jacked Up, I Am The Highway, Dreams

    It’s no secret the Harvey Danger didn’t master Flagpole Sitta very well. On lower-tier headphones and earphones its common for the upper mids to devolve into a mess. That being said, the Alpha marks the third entry into my very short list of earphones and headphones that can articulate it correctly (after the NightOwl Carbon and Earnine EN120). As it turns out the opening riff has both guitars actually playing more than one note, So that’s pretty neat!

    The Alpha just kept eating all my test songs for breakfast. It never missed a beat when working with any of the mid-bound instrumentation in any song. The many keyboards from Jacked Up and the long sonorous vocal runs of I Am The Highway sounded wonderful, carrying with them a phenomenal timbre and clarity.

    The Alpha does well with both male and female vocals but does display some form of preference towards female ones. They sound sweet and full in a way that just makes you want to listen more and more. Vocalists like La Roux sound especially good.

    Bass: Songs used: Moth, Gold Dust, In For The Kill (Skream Remix), War Pigs (Celldweller Remix)

    Bass is very level and mature but never feels stingy or flat. The bass guitar in Moth had lots of depth and character to it throughout the whole song.

    The Alpha provided just enough bass for Gold Dust to feel like a worthwhile experience. While I could have definitely used more rumble and higher impact, I get that this isn’t designed to be a basshead product. That said I was definitely able to get more bass quantity out of my Alpha by abusing my Sherwood AD230B’s analog equalizer, raising everything from 10Hz–250Hz by about 3.5dB.

    In For The Kill’s bass-line in tough for most transducers to accurately reproduce as it reaches very far down into the sonic spectrum, requiring lots of extension to actually sound good. The Alpha performs strikingly well, bringing the oft-messy bass-line into existence with great clarity and solidity.

    Packaging / Unboxing
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    The unboxing experience of the Alpha is purely luxurious. The headset is snugly fit into a precisely cut indentation in the protective foam. In the middle, you can find the cable cleanly and, most importantly, unabrasively, wrapped around an oval of foam in the middle.

    Build
    Construction Quality

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    The driver housings appear to be made of some composite material. It’s definitely not metal, as the housings are far too light for even aluminum. While I’m sure that this material is durable (it didn’t flex or bend at all in my fairly comprehensive stress testing) I would like to see this material refined and beefed up a bit.

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    The front panel is made from aluminum and looks quite attractive, especially as the black paint contrasts with the white lettering. I’d imagine that the paint was powder coated on (or applied via some similar process). This gives the paint a lot of staying power and should prevent rub-off in the far future. Note that the Alpha makes use of an open-backed design, and as such sound will travel unimpeded into them from your surroundings.

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    The left and right sides are marked by colored metal bands on the rotating hinges that band the drivers to the headband. Red is for right, and black is for left. There are two hinges on the headband. One allows the driver housing to rotate along its horizontal axis while the other allows it to rotate along its verticle axis. I have had to troubles what so ever with its articulation range either, which is a relief.

    The headband is framed with an outer metal band and makes use of an inner leather head-strap. The whole thing is self-adjusting and works very well. It easily accommodates both smaller and larger heads.

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    The cables are detachable. The female connectors are well made and have no wiggle in the housing. They seal tightly onto the cable and allow for very little rotation, which is exactly how I want them to behave.

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    The earpads are also built quite well. Both sets were stitched with extreme accuracy and I could find no deformities or abnormalities in the padding. They were both immaculate in terms of visuals too.

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    The cable is made from copper and seems to be coated with a clear grey plastic, giving it a refined color. If you look closely you’ll be able to see the individual threads making up each strand. The geometry on this cable is also pretty impressive. There were no poorly pulled “chain-links” above the Y-splitter nor any failed braids below it.

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    Advanced opted for a 3.5mm jack as a termination. It has a metal housing, as do the left/right connectors on the other end. They too are color-coded (which helps soothe my OCD).

    Comfort

    The Alpha is very light. It weighs a mere 425 g For comparison here’s the weight of some other popular headphones:

    • Audeze LCD2: 489 g (planar)
    • Audeze LCD3: 548 g (planar)
    • HiFiMAN HE560: 375 g (planar)
    • Meze 99 Classics: 260 g (dynamic)
    • Sennheiser HD 650: 259 g (dynamic)
    So it’s easy to say that the Alpha is among the lightest in its class. This makes it incredibly easy to wear for extended periods of time. The self-adjusting headband simplifies things, even more, making it so that fiddling with headband extenders is a thing of the past.

    Accessories

    The Alpha doesn’t come with many accessories, but what it does come with is high quality. Inside the box you’ll find:

    • 1x braided cable
    • 1x pair of dense leather pads
    • 1x pair of breathable cloth pads
    • 1x leather cable strap
    Summary

    The Alpha is, in spite of what its name may suggest, not a deeply flawed unstable device. It reflects a level of polish and sophistication that I wouldn’t expect from any company on their first pair of headphones, let alone their first pair of planars! These power-hungry headphones are an absolute steal for their price. Solid construction, excellent detail retrieval, and great balanced tuning make it an exceptional buy. I highly recommend it, and give a hearty congratulation to Advanced Sound!
  2. HiFiChris
    ADVANCED Alpha - Review
    Written by HiFiChris
    Published Jan 25, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - •balanced sound
    •fast, tight, deep extending bass
    •good resolution and separation
    •soft pads
    •self-adjusting headband
    Cons - •only a short cable comes included
    •some people might find the clamping force a bit strong
    •a bit more upper treble linearity wouldn't hurt
    •removing the ear pads, one can accidentally remove the protective mesh in front of the planar driver
    Vorwort:

    Die am weitesten bei Bügelkopfhörern verbreitete Treiber-Art ist ein dynamischer Treiber je Seite. Dann gibt es noch orthodynamische („magnetostatische“) Kopfhörer, die auch schon seit einigen Jahrzehnten existieren, sowie elektrostatische und (sehr wenige) hybride Bügelkopfhörer.

    Orthodynamische Wandler zeichnen sich oft, wenngleich nicht immer, durch eine schnelle, feste, trockene und präzise Wiedergabe, insbesondere im Bassbereich, aus. Das ist es auch, was ich an meinem HiFiMan HE-400 so mag, wenngleich er tonal ein paar Eigenheiten besitzt. Zusätzlich weist auch er, genau wie mein Audeze LCD-X, einen sehr schön linearen Bassverlauf bis in den Tiefbass auf.

    In dieser englischsprachigen Rezension tritt ein neuer Bügelkopfhörer mit orthodynamischen Treibern, der ADVANCED Alpha, gegen meinen Audeze und HiFiMan an und muss zeigen, was er klanglich und technisch der etablierten Konkurrenz entgegenzusetzen hat.



    Introduction:

    ADVANCED, formerly known as ADV.Sound, is a New York-based audio company that is probably best known for affordable dynamic driver in-ears that are named after various cars and an airplane, and they also used to offer a portable Bluetooth speaker named after a car, however things might change with the latest addition to their product portfolio, an open-back planar magnetic over-ear headphone named “Alpha” that is using proprietary drivers and comes with two sets of ear pads (one deep and one shallow set).

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    The headphone with single-sided mounted magnets on the outside of the 96 mm diaphragm retails for $499.99. What does it sound like, how does it perform, and how does it stack up against my HiFiMan HE-400 and Audeze LCD-X? Well, that’s what I will find out in the course of this exact review.


    Full disclosure: The ADVANCED Alpha was sent to me, free of charge, for the purpose of an (as always) honest, unpaid and unbiased review whose outcome and content is not influenced by the manufacturer in any way, and the planar magnetic headphone is treated similarly fairly as the plethora of the audio gear that I bought and reviewed myself.


    Technical Specifications:

    MSRP: $499.99
    Type: Over-Ear Headphone
    Type of Driver: Proprietary Single-Sided n48 Planar Magnetic Drivers, 96 mm Silicone Composite
    Sensitivity: 90 dB +/- 3 dB (1 kHz, 1 mW)
    Impedance: 34 Ohms
    Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
    Maximum Input Power: 20 mW
    Rated Input Power: 50 mW
    Cable: 1.5 m detachable Silver-Plated Copper, 2.5 mm Jacks @ Headphone side & 3.5 mm @ Player/Source Side
    Warranty: 3 Years


    Delivery Content:

    The Alpha arrives in a quite luxurious box that reminds me quite a bit of the one that came with my Sennheiser HD 800.
    It is especially nice since it is perfect for storing the headphone when it is not in use, and it has got holders for the spare ear pads integrated into the lid.

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    Inside, one will also find another set of (different, shallower) ear pads, along with one cable, one magnetic leather cable tie (that is actually not really necessary and rather useless given that the bundled cable is short) and what is probably the shortest (however intuitive since it has got many pictures in it) and smallest user manual I have ever seen.

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    Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

    Just look at the Alpha – it is a beautiful headphone (in my opinion at least).
    The use of red side markers on the right cable and ear cup hinge is a good choice, and just as clever is that the position where the ear pads lock in place is also marked and colour-coded.

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    In order to save weight, light metals have been used for the headband and outer grille, as well as matte black plastic for the rest of the ear cups.
    When it comes to build quality, the Alpha keeps the promise its visual appearance gives, and feels very premium and sturdy. There just isn’t anything that looks ugly or cheap about it.
    There is just one design flaw – changing the ear pads, their locks can rip off some of the fine protective mesh screen that covers the driver, and it cannot be put back in place without the help of some glue. So yes, changing ear pads should be done with proper care.

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    The cable is attached to the headphone through 2.5 mm plugs, and while I thought that I would dislike this choice, I surprisingly completely don’t. They latch securely in place and don’t seem like they would break or fall out anytime soon unless you want them too.
    The silver-plated copper cable itself consists of 8 twisted conductors below the y-splitter that split into four above it. While that cable looks good and is very flexible, it appears more like a cable designed for in-ears or portable headphones, and I somewhat question why ADVANCED went for short length and a 3.5 mm plug and didn’t include a longer cable.

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    Bundled are two pairs of ear pads – both are made of pleather, however one pair is shallow whereas the other one is deeper. All of them are perforated on the inside and very soft, the deep ones even more so, and the shallower ones have got cloth on the contact surface that touches your face/head.


    Comfort, Isolation:

    The self-adjusting headband mechanism that several companies are using nowadays, and that was made popular by AKG, works brilliantly on the Alpha. Thanks to the soft, even padding, pressure is distributed quite equally at the top.

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    If you expect a rather loose fit and clamping force like the one you get with something like the Sennheiser HD 800, then I can tell you that the Alpha will definitely not deliver it – it fits definitely tighter. It’s actually somewhat comparable to the HE-400, actually even a bit tighter, and also tighter than the LCD-X that I would say is still minimally on the slightly looser side when it comes to clamping force compared to most studio headphones.
    All in all, I would even say that clamping force is quite close to the Sennheiser HD 600, which might be a tad too tight for some people, however I have personally always preferred tight fitting headphones such as the HD 800, Amperior or Shure SRH440 over loosely fitting models, so I find comfort to be excellent with the Alpha. You mileage may therefore vary.
    The included deep pads are by the way super soft and nice, and actually on Audeze-levels in this regard. The shallow pads are soft as well, but ultimately not to the same degree.

    If you associate planar magnetic headphones with heavy weight, then you are quite wrong when it comes to the Alpha. While it is a bit heavier than a headphone like the Sennheiser HD 600, it is much lighter than the LCD-X and also still lighter than the HiFiMan HE-400, which has to do with the use of single-sided magnets for the driver as well as the use of light metals for the headband as well as grilles, and plastic for the rest of the ear cups.

    Not that much surprisingly, isolation of exterior noise pretty much doesn’t exist at all.


    Sound:

    For what it’s worth, I have had hair all around my ears during the review.

    My main sources for listening were the Stoner Acoustics UDXA prototype, Cowon Plenue 2 and iBasso DX200 (AMP2 module).

    The included “shallow” pads were used for listening and comparisons.

    Tonality:

    ADVANCED include two pairs of ear pads – one pair of deep pleather pads, and one pair of shallower pleather pads with cloth on the face’s contact surface.
    No, there is no large sonic difference between the two included pads at all – to my ears, the main (although quite small) difference is that the deep pads showcase very slightly more bass impact and warmth, and tend to have a very slightly different treble tuning around 2-ish and 9-ish kHz (minimally more brightness here while minimally less brightness around 3-ish kHz) compared to the shallow pads.
    My personal preference tends towards the shallow pads (again, there are just small differences between the two), that are otherwise similar when it comes to sound quality to my ears, albeit with a slightly narrower but similarly deep and precise soundstage in comparison.

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    What comes into my mind when I have to describe the Alpha is “balanced” – it is an overall very balanced and quite harmonious sounding headphone.
    Bass heads into the slightly warmer, more impactful side, but doesn’t cross the border of being bassy – in fact, if you consider the HD 600’s bass, that actually has got a bit of a hump compared to what would actually be flat, as “neutral”, then the Alpha has got a bit less impact in comparison, and is quite similar to the Audeze LCD-X in this regard, albeit not as warm and full sounding in the lower mids and higher fundamental range, so then you could definitely also consider the Alpha as quite neutral and flat in the bass.
    The moderate lift/impact takes place in the lower root beginning south of 200 Hz to my ears when listening to sine sweeps, and extends flat into the true sub-bass without rolling off. Yeah, it is that flat, linear extension that most open planar magnetic headphones have (however with exceptions such as the stock Fostex T50RP Mk3 that rolls off quite early in the bass), the ADVANCED Alpha included, that gives them an advantage over most open-back dynamic driver headphones that extend less linearly into the lower bass and usually roll off in the sub-bass to a smaller or greater degree.

    Midrange timbre is where ADVANCED pretty much hit the nail on the head – mostly neutral, with just a hair of warmth with low voices, and a neutral vocal timbre. Just to give two example comparisons, the LCD-X sounds a bit warmer and also a little darker in the mids, and the HE-400 is slightly more forward in the central mids due to its slight bump here (that the Alpha also seems to have, although to an audibly smaller extent in comparison) and darker in the upper mids, giving its voices’ overtones a darker, more laid-back touch.
    No matter whether male or female singers are in the focus, the Alpha reproduces them correctly and well.

    The highs are generally a bit north of neutral and set somewhat on the brighter side, giving the Alpha a mild, balanced loudness-effect tuning with the mids being just slightly in the background in the mix.
    To be more precise, listening to sine sweeps, I can hear a bit of a bump/resonance at 3 (slight), 6 (slight), 8.5 (stronger) and 10.5 (stronger) kHz, of which the 8.5 and 10.5 one are peaks. This statement might have sounded rather critical, but when listening to music, the Alpha doesn’t sound aggressive, strident or really off. No, it really doesn’t – and it doesn’t sound sibilant or unnatural. Nonetheless I definitely wouldn’t mind a bit more evenness.
    Bringing in a comparison, the HiFiMan HE-400 is brighter and splashier in the upper highs around 10 kHz compared to ADVANCED’s model. Only the middle and lower upper highs are where the Alpha is brighter compared to the HE-400 that is generally somewhat recessed here.
    Generally, I would describe the treble lift as a brightness lift that gives the Alpha a bit of a more analytical character, without making it sound unnatural. In fact, higher note timbre is still good, with trumpets being just a hair on the squeakier side and strings rendered a touch thinner.

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    The official measurement graphs available on the Alpha product page show a quite steep peak around 7 kHz that looks rather nasty. Listening to sine sweeps and music, I can say that, at least to my ears, it isn’t nearly as strong, and it’s happening higher than 7 kHz (8.5 kHz to be exact). It might well be that the hair around my ears is dampening it a little, and that my large ears and ear canals are shifting it to a slightly higher frequency. Anyway, it’s definitely milder than my HiFiMan HE-400’s upper treble ~ 10 kHz emphasis, and also very slightly less “intrusive” than my Sennheiser HD 800’s middle treble lift (mainly because it’s happening at a higher frequency).

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    To sum it up, ADVANCED has created a coherent, very balanced sounding headphone that sounds mostly realistic, with a focus on some clarity and a mild and well-integrated lift in the lows with great extension (extension is by the way also flawless in the super treble). In fact, if they could get the upper middle and treble a bit more linear, there wouldn’t really be any more room for further improvements as far as tuning goes.
    Solely if you want a headphone that is heading into the warmer and darker direction, with highs that are more in the background, or more even, then the Alpha probably isn’t the right choice for you.

    Personally, for what it’s worth, I find the Alpha’s highly balanced sound signature to be great and well-suitable to consider the headphone as an all-rounder.

    Resolution:

    Speed, tightness, control, transients and accuracy are what most planar magnetic headphones are usually known for. And the Alpha is no exception at all in this regard and delivers just that.
    Throw fast bass punches in Metal and Rock music at it – it handles them splendidly, with single notes and punches still being very well and clearly distinguishable from each other. Multi-layered Electronic music bass lines? No problem either, and the Alpha even has a some layering and good texture in the bass – not fully at LCD-X levels, but still good on its own. Sub-bass definition? Good, too.
    Despite great speed and tightness, the Alpha has still got some texture and layering in the lows – not to the same extent as the LCD-X that could be described as quite “visceral”, but nonetheless good.

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    Speech intelligibility, fine midrange details and separation in this area are on a high level as well. Energetic, fast piano play? Transients are nicely clean and there is no smear.
    What the pure midrange timbre already announces is indeed present in the central frequency range, namely evenness and a good timbre as well as detail reproduction.
    Despite its slight central midrange hump, it was the slightly “hard” midrange character that made me perceive the HE-400’s mids as not fully authentic and realistic. Not so with the Alpha that lacks that slight hardness in the vocal range.

    Treble separation is good and precise as well, albeit below the comparatively darker sounding LCD-X that ultimately renders high notes somewhat cleaner, more precisely in comparison. In this area the Alpha is quite comparable to the HE-400 however.
    More complex orchestral recordings are still separated well and quite precisely.

    Soundstage:

    To me, the planar magnetic headphones that I own, while having a believable soundstage, aren’t really among the most spacious and expansive headphones that I own or know. It just seems that some dynamic driver headphones are able to reproduce a somewhat wider, deeper and more open sounding stage in comparison.

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    The Alpha is no exception in this regard – while its soundstage’s base exceeds the space between my ears, it doesn’t really manage to go past my shoulders yet.
    Depth is what it doesn’t lack nonetheless, and its soundstage appears overall rather circular, actually slightly more oval than that, to me.
    To bring in some comparisons, the Alpha’s stage appears a bit narrower than the HE-400’s to my ears, however also a bit wider than the LCD-X’s.

    Imaging on the other hand is precise and the stage doesn’t become muddy or mush with dense, fast or complex tracks.

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    In Comparison with other Planar Magnetic Headphones:

    HiFiMan HE-400:

    One could say that the HE-400 sounds dark and bright at the same time. A weird claim, isn’t it? It’s rather simple to explain though: central mids have a slight bump, followed by a broad, even recession in the lower and middle treble that reduces overtones and vocal glare. In the upper highs however, there is an emphasis that adds some presence and splashiness to cymbals and high notes.
    It is a technically really strong, tight, fast and clean sounding headphone with superb extension into the sub-bass that I even use as the header photo for my Kopfhörer-Lounge website, and it sounds tonally balanced, however it has its own tonal character as well, wherefore I personally don’t fully consider it as a great all-rounder but prefer it as a headphone mainly for Electronic music.

    Bass extension is similarly excellent on both planar headphones, with the Alpha having the slightly fuller, slightly warmer (could I say “meatier” in comparison?) impact.
    The HE-400 has got the darker vocal timbre which comes from its toned-down overtones that generate that bit of darkness. The HifiMan is also a bit more forward in the mix due to its slight bump in the central mids.
    While the HE-400 is on the more laid-back, darker side in the lower and middle highs, the Alpha shows some elevation in the middle treble. In the upper highs however, the HE-400 is even a bit brighter and splashier, which is especially noticeable with cymbals.

    Both have a similarly tight, precise and fast bass to me, with the Alpha’s however appearing a bit more textured and slightly better layered.
    While the HE-400 has got a little bit of “hardness” in the mids to my ears, the Alpha doesn’t. Resolution is however similar to my ears, which also goes for the highs where both are quite similar when it comes to separation and actual details.

    The HE-400’s soundstage is a bit wider than the Alpha’s, with similar precision.

    Audeze LCD-X:

    General tonality of the LCD-X heads a bit into the slightly warmer, sweeter, darker and lusher territory without losing focus on naturalness and balance.
    The Audeze is also a detailed sounding headphone with great micro detail resolution, however it doesn’t show it in an aggressive, raw manner, but instead in a calm but tastefully understated way that, due to its somewhat dialled-back presence range, is still surprisingly forgiving with some sub-par recordings without sugar-coating them too much.
    Besides its great layering and texture in the lows, it also extends flat into the sub-bass without showing any roll-off.
    Personally, I mainly really like the LCD-X for Rock/Metal and occasionally for Electronic music. It also works as a great all-rounder, but I personally usually prefer other models for that purpose.

    Extension into the sub-bass is similarly great on both headphones, and both have got quite similar impact and “meat” in the bass. A little higher up on the frequency ladder however, precisely in the fundamental range and lower midrange, the LCD-X is the somewhat warmer and fuller sounding headphone in comparison.
    Mids on the LCD-X are a bit more on the warmer side, with also the darker, somewhat more relaxed and more forgiving presence range and upper midrange.
    The highs on the Audeze are darker but also more even in the upper treble.

    Bass speed and control is similarly good on both headphones, with the Alpha appearing a bit tighter compared to the slightly soft LCD-X when it comes to impact. However, the LCD-X has got the advantage when it comes to layering and texture in the lows, showcasing a visceral, finer layered presentation that is rather typical for Audeze.
    Minute details are presented in a finer manner on the LCD-X overall, with a more precise reproduction and separation of small information in the middle and higher frequencies, despite being tuned darker in comparison. However, to be fair, one has to note that the Alpha still comes reasonably close despite its price, although ultimately definitely not with the same level of refinement.

    The LCD-X’s soundstage, to my ears, is generally on the smaller side but with fairly good and authentic depth as well as layering.
    While the Audeze has got more spatial depth and is a little ahead when it comes to layering, the Alpha offers the wider presentation. Instrument separation to the sides is quite comparable, if not even similar.


    Conclusion:

    Despite being their first full-sized headphone, ADVANCED decided to take the risk and used a proprietary, single-sided mounted magnets orthodynamic driver for their circumaural headphone that they call “Alpha”. And it’s a quite successful operation – the Alpha offers good tonal balance with great midrange timbre, excellent bass extension and a revealing yet still well-done treble presentation that could only benefit from a bit more flatness/evenness in the upper highs. Together with its typically tight, precise, fast and detailed sound, along with the great design and good build quality, I think it is justifiable to say that we have a good product here.

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    Nonetheless I don’t want to end the review of this good planar magnetic headphone without mentioning some of its potential flaws and what could be improved:
    •the (upper) treble could be a bit flatter and more even
    •the choice of a short cable doesn’t appear fully logical to me – ADVANCED should have at least included a second, longer cable for stationary home use
    •removing the ear pads, one can accidentally detach some parts of the mesh screen that covers the magnets and large, thin driver foil
    •people who don’t like rather high clamping force might find the Alpha to clamp too tightly (not an issue for me personally since I like its clamping force exactly the way it is).
    1. Dobrescu George
      Nice review!

      I hope I'll get to hear sometime in the future as well!
      Dobrescu George, Jan 29, 2018
      nick n likes this.
  3. B9Scrambler
    ADVANCED Alpha: Top Dog
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published Jan 10, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Included pads – Balanced sound – Materials and comfort
    Cons - Slightly loose sub-bass (exacerbated by inadequate amping) – Fit isn't ideal for small noggins – Short cable
    Greetings Head-fi!

    Today we're going to be taking a look at ADVANCED's current flagship headphone, the Alpha.

    As the running top dog of ADVANCED's fleet, the Alpha needs to stand out in one form or another to draw attention. With massive 96mm planar magnetic drivers (or orthodynamic if you prefer that term) controlled by powerful n48 magnets, the Alpha delivers a spacious and detailed sound scape. This along with it's modern open-backed design and lush protein leather and hybrid ear pads enables the Alpha to make a convincing argument for you to join its pack.

    Come with me as we explore the Alpha's den to see what makes this brand flagship worth the bite out of your wallet. I'm also done with the terrible puns, no worries.

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    Disclaimer:

    I would like to thank Peter and Hannah from ADVANCED for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the Alpha. After experiencing the stellar GT-R, a more portable planar offering they've got in the works, I jumped at the opportunity. The Alpha was sent over free of charge for the purposes of a fair and unbiased review, with no financial incentive in place. Though it does not need to be sent back, it is still considered the property of ADVANCED.

    At the time of this review the Alpha retailed for 499.99 USD: https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/all-collection/products/alpha

    Edit: Removed .5 stars. Found a few songs where the upper mids have a tendency towards becoming strident and a little uncomfortable.

    Personal Preferences:

    I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer unique examples of signatures I enjoy.

    Source:

    For at home use the Alpha was powered by the following desktop amplifiers; TEAC HA-501 and iFi Pro iCan. ADVANCED recommends running the Alpha amped, something I certainly agree with. Properly amped it's presentation is notably tighter, more punchy, and authoritative in the low end and it's sound stage is more dynamic. I was able to power it to comfortable listening volumes (which for me are admittedly quite low) through my LG G5, though it felt a bit limp. Should you choose to take the Alpha with you on a stroll, the F.Audio S1 paired with the Walnut F1 made for a powerful and cleaning sounding pairing giving me a similar experience to what my desktop amps were putting out.

    Specifications:
    • Driver unit: 96mm, single-sided n48 planar magnetic
    • Impedance: 34 ohm
    • Sensitivity: 90dB+/-3dB at 1kHz
    • Frequency response: 20Hz – 40kHz
    • Max input power: 20mW
    • Rated input power: 50mW

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    Packaging and Accessories:

    As with everything ADVANCED makes that I've tried, the packaging that goes along with it is pretty nice. In the case of the Alpha, it and all the accessories are enclosed in a massive carrying case, bringing the spirit of flagship headphones like the HiFiMan Susvara down to more affordable levels. The exterior of the case is lined in a durable synthetic material with the ADVANCED logo printed on top. A firm metal clasp keep the lid secure when closed. Inside the Alpha is encased in a slab of dense foam for ultimate protection with the spare pads inserted into cutouts in the lid. The cable is wrapped neatly around the leather cable tie in the centre. In all you get;
    • Alpha headphones
    • 2 pairs of ear pads; angled protein leather (preinstalled) and angled hybrid pads
    • Silver-plated copper 8-way braided cable
    • Leather cable tie
    The accessories included with the Alpha are fairly limited, but really nice overall. The two pairs of angled ear pads are absolutely fantastic and I really don't think upgrading them will be necessary. The thick protein leather pads are said to contain memory foam, but I'd classify it more as just a very soft, plush cloud of a cushion instead. The hybrid pads aren't quite as thick, but my ears don't touch the driver plate at the back and they feel every bit as comfortable. They're actually quite similar to HiFiMan's Susvara pads, but round instead of ovular. Both of the included pads are top notch.

    The cable is well constructed, lacks microphonics, is free of memory, and doesn't really tangle, but it feels a little out of place on a product like this. Why do I say that? Well, its short at only 1.5 meters and feels like an iem cable terminated in 2.5mm jacks for headphone use. Everything about it screams suitability for a mobile headphone, but that's not what the Alpha is. The Alpha is for use in your comfy chair in the den or living room, or at your desk, or for those intense gaming sessions. It's not a headphone you trundle around outside with. It's large, fully open back, and needs an amp to shine. I would love to see ADVANCED include a second, longer cable that's more suitable to a product like the Alpha, or just lengthen the included cable so I'm not tethered next to my amp. Or toss in an meter long extension cable. Any one of those would work fine.

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    Design, Build, and Comfort:

    The Alpha's open-back design is very streamlined with the 9 nine large slats that ventilate the massive drivers dominating the look. The small top and bottom slats look to be cosmetic. There is some latticework visible through these slats which give the Alpha's exterior design some texture and nuance. Printed on the two centre slats is 'ADVANCED ALPHA' with 'Planar Magnetic Driver Technology' following the curve along the bottom of the ear cup. With an all-black color scheme it ends up a very clean and attractive design that shouldn't really see people picking sides. I find it has a handsome look with a fairly universal appeal.

    The build quality overall is quite good with impressive fit and finish throughout. Unlike on the GT-R which uses the same parts for the headband, the red and black knurling strips used to denote right and left channels are tight and do not rattle. The cups pivot and twist smoothly and freely without any binding or squeaking. The paint finish along the spring-steel headband does have a couple mild blemishes here and there, but they are minimal and do in any way not detract from the overall experience. You really have to be paying attention to notice them.

    The floating protein-leather hand band is lightly padded, but the underside is quite soft and I never experienced any hot spots as a result. The stitching is also very uniform and neat. The removable ear pads are also really easy to remove and reinstall. The plastic hooks slot into cutouts on the inside of the cup and twist to lock. There is absolutely no fuss involved in installing them. ADVANCED even put small red and blue dots by the hook and receiving slot to ensure the pads are always installed in the correct orientation; remember that they are angled and need to be installed a specific way to ensure proper fitment. If something does go wrong, pending it's a manufacturing or material defect, you've got a 3 year warranty backing you up.

    I did run into a minor build issue with mine that was easily resolved with a glue stick. When twisting off the pads, I found the cloth material covering the pad's opening caught on the wire mesh protecting the drivers. After a number of pad swaps, the mesh started to pull up around the bottom edge. A quick dab of glue secured it back in place and I haven't had an issue since.

    Comfort is another strong suit of the Alpha. The plush pads and floating headband do a great job of balancing the weight evenly around your head and ears. I did run into a minor concern, one I shared with the GT-R. The headband is a little too loose and lets the Alpha slide down the sides of my head more than I would prefer. Letting others with larger heads than mine use the Alpha, this seems to be an issue for only with those with tiny noggins. For reference, I use 99% of my headphones at the smallest headband setting which in many cases it still too large, forcing me to add extra padding.

    Overall the Alpha looks pretty nice, is well-built with good to great fit and finish, and is quite comfortable, though they'll be a little more comfortable if you have an average to larger head-size.

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    Sound:

    Pads: The two sets of included pads sound similar, but there are differences that give each their own character. The pre-installed deep protein-leather pads have a bit more low end focus with a softer treble response. The hybrid pads balance out the sound nicely with a punchier though less pronounced low end, and more prominent mid-range.

    Looking through my review history you'd be excused in thinking that I'm an in-ear guy through and through. That's sort of the case with the main issue being I've never really found a headphone that truly meets both of my personal comfort and sound requirements. Maybe they'll be the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, but are sloppy bass cannons or simply lack clarity. Or maybe they sound glorious with amazing sound but are too large, or painful to wear for more than a short period. In-ears are way more flexible in those regards and there are a handful I can wear and listen to for hours on end. The Alpha backs up some impressive comfort with a pleasingly authoritative, balanced signature that is detailed and vibrant, yet still easy on the ears.

    Looking at ADVANCED's frequency response chart for the Alpha, I was expecting the treble here to be somewhat unbalanced and overly sharp. There is a dip in the 5k presence region followed by a prominent spike in the 7k brilliance region. What this tune results in is an airy, spacious presentation with good detail and sparkle that lacks grating or piercing qualities. I suppose those that are particularly sensitive to the 7k region might run into issues, but personally I was surprised at the Alpha's long term listenability. Even a track like The Crystal Method's “Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)” which is notoriously screechy and painful, especially through headphones with treble spikes, is perfectly bearable through the Alpha.

    The Alpha's mid-range is quite smooth with a natural presence relative to the treble and bass regions. It's neither forward nor recessed, but is near perfectly balanced in the overall presentation. Male and female vocals share head space equally with neither stepping forward or showing prominence. There is no sibilance present. Running through a track like Big Gram's “Run For Your Life” sees both Big Boi and Sarah Barthel's vocals sharing equal prominence. Usually one stands out more than the other. I especially appreciate this as Sarah's performance is especially sensual which definitely comes through. Overall timbre is accurate too with instruments being easily distinguishable and sounding as they should.

    The Alpha's low end extension is even without any drops after a certain region, especially obvious when tossing on some sub-bass heavy test tracks like James Blake's “Limit to Your Love” or The Prodigy's “Charly (Trip Into Drum and Bass Version)” where things dig deep and warble hard. The lowest sub-bass regions are where the Alpha loses some composure. This is where the Alpha's amping requirements are most important in my opinion. If not properly powered, the Alpha sounds very loose and uncontrolled on the deepest sub-bass notes. It will even force some distortion when run through my mobile F.Audio S1/Walnut F1 combo. Properly amped through the HA-501 or Pro iCan, it's still a touch looser than I would prefer but is free of distortion. Thankfully the extra low bass found on these two tracks isn't really something you find dialed into most music. In contrast, the Alpha's mid-bass is really tight and punchy. It makes my liquid drum and bass mixes a bliss to listen to as it handles the snappy transitions and detailed hits with ease. Overall texture is quite good with lots of detail and a very dynamic presentation.

    The Alpha has a very open and spacious sound stage with a fairly even width and depth. Using it for gaming made for a positive experience due to accurate imaging qualities that enabled me to accurately judge enemy distance and location in Player Unknown's Battle Grounds. It couldn't counter my lack of PC gaming skill though, so even with this information I was still whipped in most gunfights. The Alpha's depth of layering and clear separation of effects and instruments is also top notch keeping your audio free of congestion.

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    Final Thoughts:

    Like the GT-R before it, the Alpha shows that ADVANCED is very capable of delivering a competitive product in an area where they previously had no experience. The Alpha's design is very clean and mature with good ergonomics and a durable build. The two sets of included angled pads are of very high quality and feel amazing around the ears. I see no real reason to pad swap outside of curiosity.

    The Alpha's sound signature is vibrant yet easy on the ears with a very balanced presentation. With deep though slightly loose sub-bass, a prominent mid-range, and smoothly crisp treble, as long as you properly amp them they are free of any major drawbacks and end up being very versatile across genres.

    If you're in the market for a new open back and/or planar magnetic headphone and want to try something that isn't from one of the major players in the segment, definitely give the Alpha a shot. You might very well find yourself with a new favorite headphone.

    Thanks for reading!

    - B9Scrambler

    (The review was originally posted to The Contraptionist. If you enjoyed it, there are many more reviews to be found over there.)

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    Some Test Tunes:

    Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
    BT – If the Stars Are Eternal Then So Are You and I (Album)
    Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
    King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
    King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
    Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
    Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
    Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
    Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
    Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
    Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
    The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
    Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
    Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
    Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
    James Blake – Limit to Your Love (Track)
    The Prodigy – Charly (Trip Into Drum and Bass Version) (Track)
    The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
    Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
    Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
    Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
    1. View previous replies...
    2. B9Scrambler
      Thanks! It works with portable gear at low to mid-level volumes but sounds better with something more powerful. The GT-R was the same, and that was aimed purely at the portable market. If I ever get the chance to hear the HD800 I'll let you know how they stack up.
      B9Scrambler, Jan 13, 2018
    3. Pings
      I had my eye on these until I found out the OEM sells for $300 USD less than the rebranded Alpha version.
      Pings, Jan 25, 2018
      givemeyourshoes likes this.
    4. B9Scrambler
      I saw that on Massdrop, but ADV's is supposed to be "custom tuned". Unless someone has both we'll never really for sure. Either way, this thing seems worth the cost regardless of what the OEM goes for.
      B9Scrambler, Jan 25, 2018