Alclair Curve

Pros: BASS. Mids are just glorious. Super easy on the ear treble.
Cons: Bass really is a bit over much. Treble light for some.
Alclair Audio Curve Quick Review
Thanks to Alclair for the sample.
Full review here
Brief:  Alclairs not custom, not monitor.
Price:  US$250 or about £163 before HMRC gets you.
Specification:  Err, it’s a dual BA.
Accessories:  Err, a little case, a carabineer and 3 pairs of Comply’s
Build Quality:  Very nice.  Cable is very nice, jack is too and the buds look nicely finished.  Plus they have a removable cables if you do manage to kill them.
Isolation:  Very good.  They are BA’s so while they aren’t Ety’s they are easily good enough for long flights or a daily Tube commute.  Learn to use your eyes when out or you’ll get yourself run over sharpish.
Comfort/Fit:  Given their shape I’m sure they can’t work for everyone.  They just can’t.  However for me they were pretty awesome.  Perfect fitting and could wear them all day long with no issue.
Aesthetics:  Weird, I like them.  A bit action seeking but I’m okay with that.
Sound:  I love these. Love them, LOVE THEM !!!!!!!!  They are marketed as “monitors” erm, yeah but no, they really aren’t monitors.  They are rather light in the treble, way boosted in the bass and have stunning mids.  I mean if the bass was dialled waaaaaaaaaaay back I could think them monitors, like the SE420.  As they stand their bass is way too big to called monitors but from a purely personal point of view, this is not something I’m having a problem with.  The bass, huge yes but its BA bass, not dynamic, flabbing all over the place bass.  Sure for a BA it’s a little less taut than the most nimble but the trade-off is its so gorgeously smooth, with just the faintest hint of softness.  It’s so billowy and flawing and sumptuous like a cascade of gently melted chocolate.  Bloody good chocolate too!  The bass and the mids are just glorious wonders.  The mids are on the chocolatey side, a little rich for breathy artists perhaps.  The treble too, while retaining great amounts of detail it isn’t readily thrown in your face.  It’s rather reserved like a faint citrus note swirling in that chocolatey molten goodness.  It’s there but subtle so you may not instantly have it fully articulated before you.  Like Susan Wong’s version of “Umbrella” it’s all about the subtlety.  Heading to more vigorous stuff and the large but still BA bass means it can ratchet things up to thumping levels and still dance on a pin head.  It can roar out you with its big warm mass of sonic yumminess.  Dark weighty bass, mids rich and superbly articulate with a light sprinkling of treble to top things off.
Value:  Easily my fav in production dual BA.  Isolates superbly and has gobs of incredibly talented bass, with creamy lush mids.  Whats not to love?  I’d pay it in an instant.
Pro’s:   BASS.  Mids are just glorious.  Super easy on the ear treble.
Con’s:  Bass really is a bit over much.  Treble light for some.
Pros: Innovative design, very good build quality, fit, isolation, clarity, bass quality, response to EQ
Cons: Microphonics, default tuning is quite warm and bassy, accessory package is sparse
For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images


Back in February this year, iFi Audio, in association with Alclair, Music Direct and Native DSD Music ran a competition on Head-Fi to name the number of components in the their new iFi Retro (which had just been released.  I put my entry in – because you just never know, right ….. and to my great surprise and pleasure, I found out in March that I had won 2nd prize!  It consisted of a new iFi Micro iDSD, 4 albums from Native DSD Music, and a pair of Alclair Curve IEMs – which I am covering today in this review.
Alclair Audio is a US company, based just North-West of Minneapolis, who specialise in the creation of custom in ear monitors, custom hearing protection – and have recently added their first universal IEM to the product range – the dual BA driver Alclair Curve. 
Whilst I’ve been testing my new Alclair Curves, I’ve also had the chance to swap several emails with Tyler Folsom from Alclair.  From the communication so far, I can tell this is a company that really cares about the product range they have, and they have been very keen to get my feedback, and pass it on to their development team.
So without further comment – let’s have a look at the Curve – the only current universal IEM from Alclair – but I’m sure it will become the first of (hopefully) many IEMs Alclair bring to the market place.
I was provided the Curve by Alclair as part of a prize pack.  There was no conditional requirement for me to review the Curve, and I have no other association or affiliation with Alclair.  I do not make any financial gain from this review – it is has been written simply as my way of providing feedback both to the Head-Fi community and also Alclair themselves.
I have now had the Alclair Curve for a little over 2 months.  Normal RRP is USD 249.00
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.   (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 48 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 (Fiio X5, X3ii, X1 and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP – and now the iFi iDSD).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5/X3ii > HP, or PC > E17K > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, Dunu Titan, Trinity Delta and Altone200. 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 generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.
I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent.  I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).
I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.
Over the last two months – I’ve used the Curve from a variety of sources, but for this review, I’ve mainly used it with the iDSD, and straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X3ii, X5 and also my iPhone 5S.  Although I have tested them with an amplifier, I do not think they benefit from additional amplification.  In the time I have spent with the Curve, I have noticed no change in the overall sonic presentation.  I could not estimate the time I have spent with the Curve since I got them – but it would easily be 50+ hours, and probably a lot longer.
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.


The Curve arrived from Alclair just in a simple courier box, which on opening just revealed a clam shell pouch.
All that was in the courier box - the Alclair carry case
Opening the case
Alclair Curve and all accessories
Unzipping the Alclair carry case revealed the Curves themselves, a cleaning brush/tool, a carabina (for hooking the case to cargo pants / belt etc), and 3 pairs of genuine Comply T200 tips (small, medium and large).  This was an excellent choice for me as Comply is usually my go-to as far as tip choice is.
The accessories
Tips - genuine Comply 200 series
Cleaning tool

The clamshell case is quite large (which is why including the carabina was an excellent idea – you can clip it to a belt loop), and measures 95 x 90 mm, and a little over 40m in depth.  So it’s not exactly pants pocket friendly – but it is fine in a jacket pocket.  It is one of the better clamshell cases I’ve seen though – zipped, with a meshed outer which is very ruggedly built (will protect those IEMs very well), soft inner, and inner mesh pocket for storage or tools or tips.  It is also very spacious.
Carabina attached to case
Interior of carry case
The Alclair Curve

So all in all – a somewhat frugal accessory package – but functional. A good idea for Alclair in the future may be to include a small range of silicone based tips for those who aren’t foam fans.
(From Alclair)
Dual; Balanced Armature
Frequency Range
10 Hz – 20 Khz
22 ohm
111dB @ 100mV
3.5mm gold plated, right angled jack
1.2m – copper twisted pair, PVC coating
Approx 14g with tips in place
IEM Shell
I inquired of Tyler if Alclair had any frequency graphs they could share.  He responded that because there are so many different standards for measurement – they are a little wary about releasing any measurements that they’ve taken.  I can understand where he’s coming from – and as there doesn’t seem to be any measurements around the net, I’ve endeavoured to measure them myself.
To do this, I used a calibrated SPL meter (not an iPhone app – proper meter), measured using the C weighting, and then translated to adjusted dB levels (ie what we would actually perceive).  This is done by set formula, and I would like to shout out to @twj321 (for providing the spreadsheet and formulae) and @DJScope (for helping me format the graphs). I used a louder than normal listening level and set tones – so I could measure accurately and be above the noise floor.  All readings were checked twice.
So here are the measurements (after conversion), and below is the graph.
20 Hz
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1 kHz
1.5 kHz
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5 kHz
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6 kHz
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What I’m actually hearing is a warm sound, quite mid bassy and a little dark, with quite a clear mid-range. Treble response is a little subdued, and very smooth.  I would call this a typical modern consumer driven tuning.
The Alclair Curve is probably the most innovatively designed universal monitor I’ve seen from a design point of view.  The shells are a hard polycarbonate plastic compo – clear on the outside (ie the side facing outside your ear) – so that the internal workings are visible, and a light grey on the side facing your head.  When you disconnect the cable and take off the tips, the Curve is also pretty tiny, and literally looks like a “curve” – or more figuratively a crooked smile.
Clear plastic outer transparent window
Looking down the nozzle
The beautifully moulded and contoured interior

Although it is essentially a two piece (or more correctly two half shell) monitor, the finish is virtually seamless. Because of its unique shape, I can’t really physically measure it like any standard monitor – but maybe it’s just best to give you the following idea. From tip to tip the Curve measures approximately 60mm in length and is approximately 10mm wide and deep at its widest point.  In real terms though (not measuring the ‘curve’ of the Curve), it’s less than 30mm in length.  It doesn’t have a traditional nozzle as such – and instead simply tapers to a tube approximately 10mm in length and 4mm wide. In terms of appropriate tips, the Comply 200 series are a perfect fit.  There are three raised notches on the nozzle tube – and these work surprisingly well in keeping tips firmly in place.  There is no filter – so care would need to be taken long term to keep the Curve clean.
You can just see the bumps on the nozzle
The Curve's design is very unique
Two pronged cable

The shape of the Curve is designed so that it moulds around the inside of your ear’s Antitragus and Antihelix (lightly touching both) with the upper point (I think of it has a stability guide) lightly locking against the Triangular Fossa.
The cable connector is a traditional 2 prong (so yes the cable is replaceable), and is quite firm and feels very secure.  The cable consists of a twisted pair of copper wires with a tight PVC coating.  There is an approximately 65mm piece of mouldable hard plastic which acts as a configurable ear-guide. The cable is extremely robust, easy to coil (very flexible), and I’ve had no issues with kinking or memory. The design is such that wearing the Curve is required to be over ear.  I guess this could be changed by purchasing an after-market cable without any memory wire.
Gold plated right angled jack
Y split and cinch/slider
Curve plus memory wire section

The Y split is rubber with excellent strain relief, and a very simply clear plastic sheath which acts as a chin slider.  It is functional – but tends to slide a little too easy at times, so passably effective.
The jack is right angled, gold plated, and has very good strain relief.
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.  With the Curve though, they only include Comply 200 series tips with it (I use Comply tips often) so I was perfectly at home with this tip option.  For those who prefer silicone, as long as you use something with a relatively skinny internal diameter, you should have no issues.  Spin-fit tips fit well (I couldn’t get a seal with them though), as did the Ostry Blue and Black tips. Sony Isolation tips were also a perfect fit – so the Sony Hybrid tips should also be a perfect match.  In the end though (very surprisingly for me) I’ve ended up with a set of cut down triple flanges (into bi-flanges), or simply using the supplied Comply tips.  I would recommend playing with tips as they can have an effect on the overall sound (silicones definitely didn’t attenuate the highs as much as the Comply tips did).
Curve with standard Comply tips
Curve with Spin-fit tips
Curve with Ostrey tips - filter included in tip 

Isolation with the Curve is very good (excellent in fact), and although it may not be quite on a par with the Shure SE series, I would say that with the tips I use, it is not far away.  I would have no issues wearing these on a long haul flight.
Sony Isolation tips
Rear of Sony Isolation tips showing foam inner
Modified triple flange (to dual flange)

Comfort is excellent – I was really surprised how easy these are to fit, and how wonderfully comfortable they are when they are intact.  It really is just like wearing a set of customs – they mould so well. I was expecting pressure points because of the hard plastic – but the Curve are one of the most comfortable IEMs I’ve ever worn, and I can only marvel at how good the design is.  It fits me like a glove.  Sleeping with them intact is easy as they sit completely flush (actually slightly recessed).
Now we come to the one issue I have real problems with.  The Curve (for me) is microphonic – really microphonic.  There are two main issues – the first is the mouldable memory section (which I actually really like for fit and comfort).  The material for the guides is not too bad if I’m not wearing glasses – but with glasses intact, any slight tap, and it’s immediately transmitted.  All it needs is some sort of coating to alleviate this – and for now if I’m doing any type of active pursuit, I either wear contacts, or adjust the guides so that they aren’t coming into contact with my glasses, or tuck them underneath the glasses arms. The second issue is the cable itself.  It’s really well made – one of the better cables I’ve had – but again it is quite microphonic when active.  This can be alleviated by tucking into clothing and using the cinch – but I would also recommend Alclair look into alternative sheathing to see if it can be further reduced.
Overall though – design, build quality, fit, comfort, and isolation have all been very good – and the issues with microphonics can be alleviated.  So how does the Curve actually sound ……
The following is what I hear from the Alclair Curve.  YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).  Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X3ii as source, and included T200 Comply tips.
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list
Thoughts on Default Signature
When I heard I’d won the competition and one of my prizes was the Curve (a dual BA made by a company well known for their reference custom monitors), I was pretty excited.  My previous experience with dual BA earphones has been with Shure’s excellent SE425, and the Brainwavz B2.  Both of these, I really enjoyed.  So I was expecting an earphone with really good balance, a reference type sound, and plenty of detail – maybe at the cost of a little bass.
What I’ve described above is not the Curve.
On first listen, the Curve is instead quite warm (even a touch dark), with quite a bit of mid-bass, very clear mid-range, enough detail in the treble to convey detail, but not very extended, and really quite smooth overall.  Those who’ve followed my reviews will know that I normally like a default signature with more neutral bass, and a touch more detail than neutral.
Overall Detail / Clarity
Using my normal go-to tracks (“Gaucho” and “Sultans of Swing”) was interesting.  There is definitely more bass present and it does slightly over shadow (bass guitar) some of the detail from cymbals.  But for all that, it is a comfortable and very smooth listen, and both the sax in “Gaucho” and guitar in “Sultans” have enough life to keep both tracks interesting.  Vocals are very good, and balance is OK – I’d just like a little less warmth and a little more detail.  The emphasis coming through is more smooth and clear, than detailed and clear, if that makes sense.
Sound-stage & Imaging
The Curve, despite its warmer tuning, actually exhibits a good sense of space with Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra” – just bordering on out of head. The imaging also is very good – and I didn’t expect this with a warmer earphone. Directional cues are really good, and very consistent.
With McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer”, the presentation was interesting. Quite intimate overall, and once again – although vocals were very clear – I would have liked just a little less warmth in the overall presentation.  The trade-off though was that the cello was gorgeous, and the piano was also very nice tonally. McKennitt’ voice though – while clear, just didn’t have the sweetness I’m used to – and once again while everything was smooth and pleasant – overall it’s just too warm for me.
With the applause at the end of this track, there was a feeling of connection with the crowd though – so the sense of width and depth is really good.  I’m suitably impressed.
My last test was with Amanda Marshall’s “Let It Rain” and this time the presentation was really good. This track does tend to be slightly brighter in presentation, so this suited the Curve well – and the naturally holographic sense of the recording came through wonderfully.
Bass Quality and Quantity
I was expecting good impact, and the Curve didn’t disappoint.  Mark Lanegan’s “Bleeding Muddy Waters” was visceral in its intensity, but surprisingly no looseness or imbalance in the overall bass cohesion.  This track usually exposes bass bleed and excessive reverb if it exists, but the Curve just delivered really cleanly. Again it’s darker than I prefer – but the quality os all there, and Mark’s voice had great timbre, and tone.  Switching to Lorde’s “Royals” took the Curve impressively low and once again had great impact. When the bass guitar kicked in I could hear the depth. Ella’s vocals were clear, but again darker than I would like.
Female Vocals
I was expecting a mixed bag with the Curve. So far it has been very clear, but a little too bass emphasised, and a little dark in overall tonality.  My first test is always Agnes Obel’s “Aventine” and as expected the Curve struggled a little.  Presentation was OK – but there was a little stridency and hollowness. Cello was once again brilliant though (that bass quality is really good). Switching to London Grammar – and there is a definite improvement.  Hannah’s voice still had its magic, but I’m still wishing for just a little more balance. So I played through my usual test tracks, and it was very much hit and miss. Feist and FaTM were both really good – but I think a lot of this was the dynamic nature of the music (and the presentation of bass).  Yet Gabriella Cilmi’s “Safer”, which never fails to move me, sounded slightly dull and flat. It was still pleasant – but no connection or magic. Norah on the other hand – magic, and Lianna Le Havas was another who really connected.
So a grudging pass mark on female vocals – but for me (65% of my library would be female vocalists), the default tuning is just not quite there.
Male Vocals
This is something the Curve handles a lot better.  The dynamic bass is naturally suited to Rock music, and once again I was impressed by the quality of the bass (clean, clear, dynamic).  How did they tune this so well into a dual BA? What was really surprising was when I switched to 10CC, and how well some of the older Classic Rock sounded with the Curve. The one thing I did miss though was some of the edge and attack from guitar (Alter Bridge), and again some of the upper end detail from snare and cymbal.
“Hotel California” and “Keith Don’t Go” were both acoustic tracks which sounded incredible with the Curve, and the one thing I noticed with both was that with the absence of bass guitar, the midrange didn’t have to try to compete so much.
My litmus test is always Pearl Jam. This was a lot better – very good timbre in vocals, and some nice upper end details present.  I could relax and listen to this presentation for hours.
Genre Specific Notes
I’ll make this reasonably quick.
For Rock and Alt Rock – the Curve was pretty good.  Plenty of dynamics for the most part, and I was impressed time and time again with how clear the mid-range was despite the elevated warmth from the mid-bass.  Saying that though – Floyds “Money” did sound a bit muffled (which it shouldn’t), but this was made up for by the dynamics and quality of the bass in PT’s “Trains”.
For Jazz, Blues and Bluegrass, while overall it was clear enough and the Curve rendered detail reasonably well, for me it wasn’t ideal.  Portico Quartet sounded gloomy and overly dark (and it shouldn’t), and once again some of the upper end detail was simply AWOL.  Bonamassa’s vocals were great – but the edge and liveliness of his guitar was somehow muted.
EDM was brilliant though – tracks from both Little Dragon and Lindsay Stirling were truly toe tapping, head nodding, pure joy to listen to – as was the little Rap I own.  Switching to some Van Buuren and once again – wow.
Pop was also pretty pleasant (both Adele and Coldplay) – nice smooth, easy to listen to presentations. Most of my Indie (which is often recorded a little hotter) was also very good.  Band of Horses was a really nice and dynamic listening experience, but sadly the darker nature of the Curve with Wildlight’s “Dawn to Flight” – while pleasant – again was missing some of the captivation that has made it a favourite when heard with more balanced earphones.
Classical was actually pretty good – and again that sense of space and imaging really helped. I would still have liked a little more air with full orchestral pieces, and Netrebko & Garanca’s duet from Lakme was definitely missing some of its usual magic.  But Kempffs rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas was truly breath-taking, as was Zoe Keating’s performance with Cello.
The Curve is again easily powered straight out of the portable devices I have, and I haven’t experienced any issues with the iPhone 5S, or any of the Fiio Daps. With typical pop/rock songs on the iP5S I’m usually at a volume level of around 40%, on the X3ii around 40/120.  I did try amping with the E11K and E17K, but noticed no obvious signs of improvement.
As you’ve probably noticed, the biggest issue I have with the Curve at this stage is too much mid-bass, and not enough upper mid-range and lower treble.  In short – the default tuning seems to be toward a typically warm, bassy, modern consumer type sound.  An easy fix should be to simply EQ out the mid-bass hump and apply some emphasis from about 3-8kHz.  So I applied a rough EQ that looked a little like a roller coaster.  It’s not perfect yet (still needs tweaking – even after a couple of months), but for me, it transforms the Curve from an “OK” to a wonderful monitor. Detail is now a lot more apparent, female vocals are sublime, and tracks that were slightly dull and flat now pop.  If the Curve had this as the default tuning, I’d buy another one tomorrow.
The Curve has a RRP of $249, and for lovers of its default signature, I think it is reasonably good value for its performance sonically + the innovation in fit and build.
I do think Alclair need to seriously look at the accessory package though – as even including a couple of different silicone tips and an airline adaptor & 3.5-6.3mm adaptor would have given a much better impression of value.


When I first saw the Curve, my immediate thought was how on earth I was going get a comfortable fit with them.  Five minutes after wearing and adjusting them to my liking, I was left asking why no-one else had come up with such an innovative design and fit.
The Alclair Curve is a truly unique universal IEM in design, and subsequent fit. It is very easy to fit, and very comfortable for long term wear. I can’t complain at all about the build – except to suggest to Alclair to look into options to cut down on the microphonics.
The default sound is quite warm with an emphasised mid-bass hump, but very clear vocal range. Unfortunately for my personal tastes, the bass and mid-range are accompanied by a very relaxed upper mid-range and lower treble, which while smooth, in combination with the emphasis on mid-bass, ends up creating a safe, and sometimes dull signature.  The good news is that there is magic in the drivers, and some simple EQ can really make this IEM sing.
I guess the overall question would be would I buy the Curve for its RRP, or recommend it to friends and family?  I’m a little torn on this – simply because there is so much potential with a little tweaking.  So my answer is yes and no.  I would definitely recommend it if you like a warmer signature – the quality of the bass is brilliant, and there is a lot of clarity.  But in its current form, I wouldn’t purchase it for myself.  However – if Alclair do happen to release an updated version with a more reference tuning and maybe fixes for the cable noise, I really would be all over it.
So for this, the Curve gets a 3.5 star rating from me.  A very good monitor.  If you’re a fan of headphones like the T10i from RHA – you should definitely try the Curve (much better bass and overall cohesion).
Once again though, I’d like to pass my thanks to Tyler and the team from Alclair for their generosity in contributing to the competition.  Their feedback (especially from Tyler) and willingness to supply the additional details/info I asked for speak very well of a company who obviously values customer service.
These are easy.
  1. Have a look at expanding the accessory package
  2. Retune the drivers to remove some of the mid-bass (sub bass is perfect though – don’t touch that), and lift the upper mid-range and lower treble.
  3. Investigate possible changes in cable material to reduce microphonics
If these changes were adopted, I’d have no qualms about an immediate 4.5-5 star rating.
curve31.jpg curve30.jpg
Great review Brooko! I really love the Curves, I recently cracked on of my beloved Aclair RSM Quads. The Folks at Alclair, sent me a pair of Curves to use while they were repaired. Great customer service and the Curves sound fantstic, yur review is spot on!
Thanks :)  I'll be definitely taking these with me when I travel in July.  The fit and isolation should be perfect on the long-hauls, and with EQ I can get the sound pretty much spot on.  I'm really inetrested to see what Tyler and their crew can do with the next lot of universals (if they continue). I'd love for them to try a reference tuning.
Oh I see now, thanks for the explanation Brooko. Sorry I completely forgot that I wrote a comment in here :) Anyway thanks again for the info and the review.