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Alclair Electro 6-Driver Electrostatic Hybrid Custom In-Ear Monitor

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Deezel177
    Alclair Electro - Elegance, Eloquence, Excellence
    Written by Deezel177
    Published May 19, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - A balance between technical performance and tonal accuracy
    - Excellent stereo separation and imaging precision
    - High resolution, speed and detail retrieval without compromising body
    - A transparent (adaptable) bass response
    - Forward-sounding, vibrant, yet spacious mids
    - A smooth, organic and refined top-end
    - Admirable price-to-performance relative to the competition
    - Strong build quality and accessories
    Cons - Not for those looking for ultra-crisp, ultra-clean signatures
    - The soundstage isn't exaggeratedly spacious
    - The low-end is only as good as your chain
    - Engineers may find the midrange a tad too forward to serve as a strict mastering monitor
    - The low-profile fit may not be compatible with some aftermarket cables, but this can be discussed with Alclair prior to your order given the bespoke nature of the product
    DISCLAIMER: Alclair provided me with the Electro in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Alclair for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

    Alclair is a custom in-ear manufacturer based in Minnesota, USA. Although they currently aren’t as widely known in the audiophile circuit, they’ve built an outstanding reputation in the pro scene. With over 60 years of experience under their belt, their customer service and price-to-performance ratios have widely been lauded by musicians as some of the best in the industry today. Back in 2013, it was our very own average_joe who introduced them to enthusiasts with a review of their triple-driver Reference monitors. Now, having come full circle, we’re immensely grateful to have been given the first go at their new flagship Electro – a gorgeously-tuned piece, featuring the world’s first e-stat design in custom form.

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    Alclair Electro

    • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers and two electrostatic drivers
    • Impedance: 24Ω @ 1kHz
    • Sensitivity: 107dB @ 1mW
    • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
    • Available form factor(s): Custom acrylic in-ear monitors
    • Price: $1499
    • Website: www.alclair.com
    Build and Accessories

    My Electro arrived in a stunning wooden box with Alclair branding subtly engraved on top. Now unfortunately, this is a limited option only made available in small amounts around late last year. But, who knows? If enough demand is heard, perhaps Alclair may consider doing another run. In addition to the wooden box, Alclair also kindly provided their default leather case, which is no less attractive in its own right. As indicated by the insignia stamped on the bottom of the body, the case was made in collaboration with Haiti Made, who craft leather goods to help feed families in Haiti. Being entirely handmade, it certainly has a more rustic feel than the pin-point precision of Sennheiser’s leather case from my most recent review. But personally, I love its character, and I admire Alclair’s initiative to help others whenever they can.

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    Both cases feature dense foam inserts with indents and channels precisely cut-out for the in-ear monitors, cables and accessories to snugly reside in. This makes organisation a breeze, and security guaranteed. Accessories-wise, the Electro arrives with a 1/4″ adapter, a cleaning tool and a magnetic cable tie. Here, I would’ve loved to also see a microfibre cloth and desiccant. For now, they’re only available as part of their $25 Cleaning Supplies Kit – which also includes ear lubricant – on the Alclair online store. There, you can also purchase in-ear vacuums, cable testers, hard-shell Pelican cases, zipper cases, microphone cables, etc. The Electro comes default with Alclair’s premium UPOCC copper cable. In terms of feel, softness and flexibility, it fares fine. But, the inclusion of a $149 cable only adds to the value of the in-ears themselves.

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    On their site, Alclair also provide an IEM designer for you to visualise your designs before you finalise your purchase. In terms of ease-of-use and presentation, it’s up there with 64 Audio, Empire Ears, Vision Ears and Custom Art. But again, JH Audio is the only thus far to feature entirely rotatable 3D models with simulated lighting. Cosmetically, Alclair offer 35 transparent colours, 15 glittered shades and 6 pearlescent hues. And, for the faceplates, you also have 6 kinds of woods, black carbon fibre and an option known as Bling; dots of odd-sized diamonds throughout the surface of the faceplate.

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    For my own, I opted for Gold Pearlescent and Black Pearlescent shells with transparent faceplates, so I get a clear view of the monitor’s innards. Cosmetically, I think Alclair did a fabulous job. Perhaps the printed logos aren’t as high-res as the engravings I’m more accustomed to, but that’s a minor nitpick. Fit-wise, the Electro is one of my most low-profile IEMs. The right side in particular can be tricky to insert with aftermarket cables. But once they’re seated correctly, all is well.

    Presentation

    The Electro’s signature is all about balance. It’s a studio-ready response that doesn’t prioritise any frequency range over another, which results in an uncoloured, matter-of-fact tone ideal for professional mixing and equalising. The Electro is the antithesis of flashy, which – given its status as the first custom in-ear to sport e-stats – is the last thing I expected it to be. I must commend Alclair for showing restraint and not parading the e-stats, even though they most definitely could have. Those tweeters blend seamlessly with the four armatures below, granting them stereo separation, resolution and background blackness that wouldn’t have been possible with a signature this unassuming, balanced and transparent.

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    In fact, spatial performance is the Electro’s technical forte. The sheer volume of the stage is impressive, but the standout qualities are undoubtedly layering, resolution and separation. Each element in any given track is effortlessly discernible without any one stepping on another’s toes. But, unlike most in-ears I’ve heard that are marketed towards professionals, the Electro is among the few that achieve this without sacrificing structure. Notes aren’t thinned out or compacted for definition’s sake. The Electro’s instruments are full-bodied, fleshed out and balanced from transient to decay. In tone, they’re lightly warm and gorgeously natural as well, with a decent helping of air. So, what you get is an organic signautre that does not sacrifice resolution, and transparency that does not sacrifice naturalness – truly the best of both worlds.

    Bass

    The Electro’s low-end is the epitome of reference. What I mean by that is it’s entirely dependent on the chain to perform. In quantity and quality, it adapts to whatever the track wills it to. It can sound warm and analog on Black Thought’s 9th-Wonder-produced track Twofifteen, and it can sound heavy and full – almost distorted – on Gallant’s Bone + Tissue. If there any consistent qualities to the bass, it’s that it tends to play second fiddle to the midrange and (sometimes) treble. No matter how big it gets, it usually speeds out of the way. So, because of all this, it’s not a low-end anyone could blindly enjoy. It’s an engineer’s dream, but bassheads should reflect on their gear and playlists to see if this’ll be to their liking.

    Technically, the low-end delivers. No matter the track, you can always count on the Electro’s bass to have physicality and weight. Wherever those hits sit in the mix, they will always hit, because of the monitor’s wonderful extension. But on the other hand, this is also still a balanced-armature bass through and through. You won’t get the raw texture or verve that a dynamic driver provides. It’s an authoritative bass response that prioritises being heard than being felt. But again, this is a tuning choice that’ll appeal more to the engineer, who’ll tend to prefer a bass clear enough to analyse, and transparent enough to tone-shape with in mixing. In conclusion, Alclair have given their flagship a linear, amenable low-end with just enough of everything to sound balanced. And, they’ve imbued extension for it to sound dense, tactile and musical too.

    Midrange

    The Electro transitions really linearly towards the midrange – eschewing the common lower-mid dip that manufacturers typically employ to generate definition, again because the Electro doesn’t need it. The e-stats produce a stage so stable and primed for nuance, that those lower-mid harmonics can sit with the transients without any congestion or veil. With that said, there is a slight bias for the upper-midrange at around 3kHz to push lead instruments a hair forward. I find this helps identify the minute changes you’re making to them when tone-shaping or mixing. This region could be toned down a hair if you were to make a strictly neutral monitor. But, I personally find it musically beneficial. The slight lift makes those melodies more immersive and vibrant, and prevents the Electro from ever sounding dull or detached.

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    The structure of the Electro’s midrange as a whole is immensely likeable. Instruments are large, vibrant and energetic, but they’re airy and spaced well too. There’s ample headroom between them and the listener to prevent any sense of claustrophobia. In timbre, the Electro has a refined, elegant smoothness that sweetens every instrument it reproduces. This isn’t the crisply defined presentation that electrostatic drivers may imply. It’s one geared more towards naturalness and long-term pleasure. Thankfully, the Electro’s stage and separation compensate for this, allowing the monitor’s black background to come through. Listening to Javo Barrera’s Just in Time, a wetness along the drums, woodwinds and bass create a cohesive image. Once you get to the chops at the end, the Electro gives you depth and stereo separation too.

    Treble

    The Electro’s treble is the key to its success; not simply by virtue of the drivers at play, but rather how they’re integrated. Resisting the temptation for an ultra-crisp, detail-oriented top-end, Alclair have tempered the region with coherence and balance in mind. What you get is a treble with an organic, natural tone. Instruments like hi-hats have a whiff of warmth to them that prevents them from sounding metallic. Rather, they sound uncoloured and transparent. But at the same time, they aren’t mushy or diffuse either. The Electro does an excellent job of sounding articulate, yet velvety and silken. Perhaps it also has to do with the e-stats’ speed, which grants this timbre without overlong decay mucking up the image.

    Technique is what allows that understated, natural tone to stand out. The e-stats give the Electro superb stereo spread. Spatial cues and depth are rendered more convincingly than most in-ears with similar sigs. And, despite how velvety smooth those treble notes are, they’re constantly defined against the black background. Given what I’ve said about the in-ear’s timbre, it’s obviously not the most crisp and clean monitor out there. If you’re coming in looking for glass-like clarity to the point of tonal detriment, you should look elsewhere. What the Electro aims to bring is an altruistic top-end that gets out of the way, whilst being resolving, transparent and studiously accurate at the same time. Not only is that a genuinely noble philosophy to foster, but it’s the more difficult task as well – a task Alclair have absolutely nailed to a tee.

    General Recommendations

    The Electro’s linear signature and neutral-natural tone lends itself to a wide variety of genres and use-cases. This is true because of the technical performance it achieves along the way too. So, here are four of its most noteworthy qualities:

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    An all-rounder by way of balance: The Electro maintains its charm throughout an immense plethora of music, simply due to its natural, well-founded and linear tonal balance. While it’s easy to earn sounds-good-with-everything points by simply sounding clean, airy and crisp, the Electro’s tone ensures that it is versatile and detailed, but with meat to its bones too.

    Stellar harmony between body and clarity: This is very much intertwined with the first point. The Electro blends body and clarity seamlessly, such that they don’t sacrifice one for the other. Whether you need more of the former for jazz or slow rock, or more of the latter for EDM and pop, the Electro will deliver. This is done through sheer extension and resolution.

    A treble response with depth and speed: Alclair have put Sonion’s e-stats to very good use, allowing the Electro to possess a top-end that’s well-textured, three-dimensional and natural in tone, with speed and refinement at the same time. This combination is rare, as the pursuit of naturalness typically results in a loss in detail. But, this is what that new tech is for.

    An adaptive, transparent bass response: The Electro’s low-end is reference-quality in that it shifts according to the track. This is in advantage in that it’s ideal for studio use. But, it can also be a con if your playlist consists of material with sub-par bass production. Regardless, the region’s extension ensures that it always has physicality and presence at all times.

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    But, the Electro’s steadfast tonal balance may make it unattractive towards those who are looking for strongly-coloured signatures. If you’re one of the two demographics mentioned below, you may want to reconsider going for the Electro:

    An ultra-crisp, compact, clarity-focused sig: Although I view the Electro’s meatier, more natural signature as something to be celebrated, those who go into the Electro expecting an ultra-crisp, in-your-face-amounts-of-detail presentation may leave disappointed. If a correct tonal balance is second to clarity on your list of priorities, the Electro may not be for you.

    A basshead-ready low-end: As mentioned previously, bassheads should be mindful of the Electro’s adaptive low-end. Although it easily has the chops to bring out the thump and verve in your favourite EDM tracks, it won’t reproduce what isn’t there. So, if you’re a basshead with an appetite, you should evaluate your playlist before giving the Electro a gander.

    Select Comparisons

    Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)

    As a mastering-oriented in-ear monitor within the price range, Empire Ears’ flagship Phantom is the Electro’s most direct competitor. In overall tone, the Electro strikes closer to neutral with clearer instruments, more vibrant projection and a more even balance between low-, mid- and upper-treble energy. The Phantom possesses a fuller profile with more laid-back instruments. This body stems from its elevated mid-bass and lower-midrange, while the biggest difference lies at 3-4kHz. The Phantom’s upper-mids sound less excited, making them sound indifferent. And, Electro has a more compact, focused treble with well-tempered transients, while the Phantom’s has that dullness which may take getting used to.

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    In terms of raw imaging and stereo spread, I believe the two perform similarly. But, the Electro has the edge in spatial performance for me, because of how convincing and tactile its notes are, especially along hard-left and hard-right. With the Phantom, you get the sense that the centre image is more resolved than the left- and right-most images. It’s more uniform resolution-wise on the Electro to my ears. The depth it portrays is more convincing too, thanks to those e-stats. The Phantom has the more cohered image overall, because of the warmth radiating from its mid-bass. The Electro relies on a track with a fatter low-end to achieve the same bottom-half coherence. But, that too speaks to its discerning ability.

    HUM Dolores (¥200,000)

    HUM’s dual-driver Dolores is the company’s entry in the reference race. More so than the Phantom, the Dolores shares several similarities with the Electro. The two are strikingly similar along the bass and the midrange. The low-end is tight, transparent and telling of the track’s inherent qualities. Similarly, the midrange is well-balanced, but with a rise around 4kHz to push lead melodies forward. Where the two ultimately diverge is in the treble. The Dolores possesses a more prominent treble, which gives it a slightly brighter tone. But, its top-end is far less articulate. A strong dip at around 7kHz rounds out transients and makes them sound pillowy to the ear. The Electro has much more of an edge to its attack.

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    Perhaps due to its stronger top-end, the Dolores has the airier, more spacious stage. There’s more room for instruments to ring and resonate, further exacerbated by its laid-back lower-midrange. The Electro has the more rounded midrange with meatier notes and fuller instruments. In terms of timbre, the Electro gives a much more engaging first impression. The Dolores’ mid-treble dip takes quite a bit of getting used to, but its stellar extension ensures that that diffuseness does not translate to a veil at all. In terms of resolution and imaging precision, the Dolores does have a slight edge. It has the peculiar ability of revealing nuance effortlessly, despite – or rather, in spite of – its soft articulation. But again, it does come with a more “unique” timbre, while the Electro’s more linear, realistic signature is much easier to buy into.

    Verdict

    Alclair’s Electro is an all-around ace. It’s a wonderfully-balanced monitor with a rare show of restraint; preventing those electrostats from overpowering the mix, and allowing them to showcase their capabilities without shoving them down the listener’s throat. The result is a gorgeously versatile tonal balance that appeals to not only a wide variety of genres, but a myriad of use cases too. Whether you’re an audiophile, engineer or performer, the Electro’s clean, resolving and complete signature will always appeal. Take into account its relative value as a flagship piece, and you have yourselves a jack-of-all-trades with little to no compromises. If you’re a diehard basshead, there are other options on the market. But those pining for clarity, refinement and depth in a full-bodied, natural signature need look no further than the Electro.

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