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<img src="https://cdn.head-fi.org/a/10206427.jpg" alt="Brainwavz_Alara_Photo.jpg" class="bbCodeImage LbImage" />

Brainwavz Alara

Rating:
4/5,

Recent Reviews

  1. B9Scrambler
    Brainwavz Alara: Pull you in from afara
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published Feb 13, 2019
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Fantastic build across the board - Balanced sound with a uniquely entertaining low end - Carrying case design
    Cons - Overly long headband on smallest size - Compact sound stage for an open back - Spare pads are the same as the pre-installed set, so no pad variety (but it's still awesome that they give you two sets of pads)
    Greetings!

    Today we're checking out a new headphone from Brainwavz, the Alara.

    Established in 2008 and owned by GPGS, Brainwavz is no stranger to the audio market. With classics like the HM5 and B2 as well as modern gems like the Jive and B400 under their belt, it is no surprise they've continued to move further upscale with some of their recent releases. The Alara is their first attempt at a planar magnetic headphone and diversifies their lineup beyond the typical dynamic drivers found in the HM5 and HM100.

    Is their first go at an open-back planar magnetic headphone a success, or does Brainwavz need to reel the Alara back in for some revisions? Let's find out.

    IMG_5776.JPG

    Disclaimer:

    Thanks to Marlon with Brainwavz for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the Alara, and for arranging a complimentary sample for the purposes of review. The Alara is still the property of Brainwavz and will be sent back if requested. The thoughts within this review are my own based on my time with the Alara. They do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. At the time of writing, the Alara retailed for 499.00 USD.

    https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/headphones/products/alara-planar-magnetic-headphones

    Source:

    The Alara was run through my TEAC HA-501 desktop with a HiFi E.T. MA8, ZiShan DSD, or Shanling M0 acting as the source. The Alara isn't hard to drive and can easily be pushed to my admittedly low listening volumes, and beyond, with relative ease. That said, I preferred it being powered by the HA-501 which gave the presentation a more effortless feel. Amping isn't needed, but I recommend it.

    Personal Preferences:

    I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such there is no one sound I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800 Silver, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that I find enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

    Specifications:
    • Driver: Planar
    • Impedance: 20 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 94dB @ 1mW
    • Frequency Range: 10Hz – 40kHz
    • Maximum Input Power: 300mW
    • Plug: 3.5mm, Gold-Plated
    • Cable: 2m, cloth sheath, detachable
    IMG_5805.JPG IMG_5808.JPG IMG_5814.JPG

    Packaging and Accessories:

    After the monolith of a box the HM100 arrived in, I was surprised to see the Alara showing up in something so compact. At 7” x 5” x 9.5” this is the second smallest box I've seen for a full-sized set of headphones. Only Campfire Audio's Cascade came in a smaller box, and that's intended to be a mobile headphone thanks to its folding mechanism. The packaging has a plain white color scheme showing off the entirely of the headphone on the front. You also find the usual company branding and model information, as well as a prominent 24 month warranty advisory. The sides show straight on shots of the ear cups and their unique spiderweb-esque design as well as some social media info for Brainwavz. Flip to the rear to find a marketing blurb telling you a bit about the Alara. Below this you find the specifications as well as the contents and accessories list. Lifting open the lid you are immediately greeted by an impressively small clamshell carrying case in Brainwavz's traditional black and red color scheme. Did I miss reading that the Alara could fold up, because there is no way it and all the accessories could fit in that case? In all you get:
    • Alara headphones
    • Hardshell case
    • Fabic-covered, 2m long cable
    • Spare earpads
    • Screw-on 1/4” adapter
    • User guide with warranty card
    I have to commend Brainwavz for the design of the case. As mentioned above, I figured I missed reading that the Alara could fold up. But nope, it doesn't. The case is just extremely well designed with no wasted space. Undoing the twin zippers, you find the case conforms perfectly to the shape of the Alara with the accessories contained within a separate bag, held in place via a velcro strip. The bag is made from a stretchy mesh material and is just large enough to comfortably hold the cable, strap, and 1/4” adapter. The spare pads sit on top. Efficiency to the max.

    Overall I quite like the general presentation. The case is amazingly well-designed and the cable is long and sturdy. I appreciate the inclusion of some spare pads, though it would have been nice if they were of a different style than the pre-installed set. Good stuff.

    IMG_5785.JPG IMG_5786.JPG IMG_5795.JPG

    Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

    The moment you pick the Alara up, the weight gives away that it is a quality piece of equipment. The all-black design is quite handsome with a thick spider web-like plate covering a finer metal mesh beneath. Instead of printing the logos and left/right indicators as most companies would, those are part of the mold so they won't wear off over time. The yokes are matte black plastic but feel plenty tough. Squeezing them there is some flex so you don't have to worry about small bumps damaging them. Larger falls, sure, but that applies to the vast majority of headphones. Metal to match the cups would have been nice, but the plastic yolks work just fine.

    The headband is smoothly rounded over a flexible steel band that conforms nicely to the head to distribute weight evenly. Padding is on the thin side and will be something to keep in mind as the headphones ages and the padding breaks down. Another nice aspect to the build is that mostly everything seems to be screwed together, not glued. Hopefully Brainwavz will keep a small stockpile of replacement parts handy. If not, I fully expect to see the DIY market coming up with replacement parts you can 3D print yourself. That said, the Alara feels durable enough for me to doubt that this will ever be necessary. The straightforward disassembly process will also be nice for modders who enjoy tweaking their headphones.

    The two pairs of included pads are of excellent quality, as is expected from a company that makes some of the most popular 3rd party pads in the industry. They feature a hybrid PU leather/velour construction with perforations around the inner edge to heat with heat dissipation. If they're using memory foam, the expansion period is exceptionally quick. It doesn't matter either way in my opinion since the foam is soft and flexible. Unlike other pads from the brand, to work with the Alara they are directly glued to a plastic ring with pegs that snap into the Alara's driver plate. This propritary system means that if you wanted to fit other pads, they would either need to use the same clip system, or you'd have to cut the ring out of the spare set of pads and go about customizing them yourself.

    The included cable is fantastic. At 2m it is quite long, obviously meant for stationary use with a monitoring set up or home stereo. The dense fabric sheath is tightly braided so I wouldn't expect to see fraying around the y-split or plugs anytime soon. The 3.5mm metal straight jack is well-relieved and threaded for use with the included 1/4” adapter. The y-split is a solid hunk of rubber with no strain relief. I would not consider this an issue given how thick the cable is. 3.5mm plugs are also used for the plugs leading to each channel. I much prefer this to the less durable 2.5mm plugs used by HiFiMAN and ADVANCED, among others.

    My claim that the Alara is comfortable comes with an asterisks: it's too big to fit me properly. This is an unfortunate reality for small-noggined people like myself and as a result many headphones are either too big, or just barely fit. That is one reason I quite like self-adjusting head-bands, such as that found on the Meze 99 Neo. With the Alara I was either wearing a hat, or adding an extra band of padding to get them to fit. The latter was my go to with a broken pair of Tritton Kunai donating a headband pad, Velcroed in place to the Alara.

    Isolation is pretty amazing. Ha! No it's not. This is an open back set of headphones. Isolation is mostly non-existent, as should be expected. Sound bleeds both ways. Your local librarian will not appreciate your presence if wearing these in their establishment.

    IMG_5791.JPG IMG_5793.JPG IMG_5798.JPG

    Sound:

    Planar magnetic drivers offer some distinct benefits over your traditional dynamic driver. Sandwiching a large, light, nanometer thick diaphragm between large, powerful magnets leads to a sound that is less distorted. Where dynamic drivers deliver power from a central source and as a result are subject to modal breakup as sections of the driver further from the voice coil struggle to keep up, a planar driver distributes equal force across the entire driver, allowing it to move as one unit. The low weight of the diaphragm combined with strong magnets also results in a driver that is supremely responsive since there is so little material to create momentum. The Alara delivers these qualities along with a sound that is powerful, dynamic, and supremely well-balanced.

    Treble regions extend well without much in the way of harshness present to break up the experience. Speed as heard through King Crimson's “21st Century Schizoid Man” is rapid and able to take on multiple instruments in such a congested presentation without losing composure or becoming muddied. Decay is also just right with the pianos on Muse's “Exogenesis Symphony (Cross Pollination)” lingering majestically from one key stroke to the next. Clarity is also fantastic with subtle details being picked up with ease, such as the light pings and ticks of an engine cooling down (I watch a lot of World Rally Championship and World Rallycross). The upper treble is raised just enough to give notes decent space and air to move about, though as we will discuss later the Alara does not have a large sound stage, at least not for an open back planar.

    The mid-range is fairly even and neutral in presence with a dip in the upper mids that helps counteract listening fatigue. Even vocalists like Matt Bellomy or Mariah Carey when they go full out still sound absolutely phenomenal. Sibilance is kept to a minimum. This is evident on Aesop Rock's “Blood Sandwich” where his vocals can show some serious sizzle on the plethora of Ts and Ss present throughout the track. It's still present through the Alara, but softened, lacking the uncomfortable aggressiveness you hear listening to it through some other headphones, like the ADVANCED Alpha. Timbre is wonderfully accurate with instruments sounding as they should. You certainly won't be mistaking a viola for a violin.

    Bass is where the Alara spices things up a bit, adding in some extra presence and body compared to the rest of the presentation.Unlike other planars I've heard, the Alara's low end has a very distinct growl to it that works very well with electronic music, rock, and metal. EL-P's upbeat production on Run The Jewel's “Call Ticketron” is a wicked example of this. Notes dig deep with a strong physical presence that matches the crunchy texture on offer. Something light and more nuanced like Porcupine Tree's instrumental “Tinto Brass” from Stupid Dream is just as equally well represented. While not as quick as some other planars I've come across, the Alara is plenty quick, easily keeping up with the crushingly snappy bass lines of Havok's “D.O.A”.

    The Alara has a fairly compact sound stage for an open back headphone. It's not so confined so as to provide a claustrophobic feeling, but it never tosses effects particularly far either. It's one of the more intimate open-backs I've come across as a result. Combining this with the growling bass results in a distinctive experience. Imaging is fairly accurate but starts to lose precision as you reach the outer edges of the stage. This was noticeable running through Infected Mushroom's classic two part album, 'Converting Vegetarians', and BT's spacey “If The Stars Are Eternal Than So Are You And I”. The Alara does a good job with instrument separation and layering enabling the smaller stage and satisfactory imaging to work.

    I can certainly see some looking for a larger sound stage, but in my experience the intimate nature, decent technical performance, and aggressive bass works in it's favour. The Alara is an exciting headphone to listen to, especially when you pair it with aggressive tracks that play to its strengths.

    Select Comparison:

    ADVANCED Alpha (499.00): Right off the bat the Alpha sounds larger and more spacious. It has a less linear signature with a leaner mid-range and stronger upper-mid peak that gives it a more airy, but also more fatiguing presentation. The Alpha also moves sounds from channel to channel with greater differentiation and more precision, though layering and separation qualities are quite similar between the two. Sound stage fans will feel more at home with the Alpha. Bass on the Alara has more impact and depth with a cleaner transition from lower to upper bass. While not quite as quick, I found it more textured and that notes lingered more realistically, particularly in the sub-bass regions. The Alara's mid-range is more prominent and has a meatier note presentation, though not at the expense of detail and clarity. Treble is cleaner and tighter on the Alara. The Alpha has a brighter, more shimmery presentation that also comes across slightly artificial in comparison.

    While both headphones use plastic and metal for their construction, they go about things very differently. Where the Alpha's cups are plastic, the Alara's are metal. Where the Alara uses plastic for the yoke material and the lower half of the headband assembly, the Alpha uses pressed steel everywhere else. The Alara is much heavier and more sturdy feeling overall with smaller, more naturally shaped ovular cups and ear pads. The Alpha features a floating headband system that automatically sizes to the head while the Alara goes with a more traditional slider assembly. While the Alara is too big for me forcing the addition of an extra strip of padding to the underside of the headband, both systems work equally well. Maybe it's simply because of the size of my head, but I found the Alara's clamping force lighter and more pleasant than the Alpha which grips tighter. Neither are uncomfortable whatsoever.

    When it comes to accessories, the Alpha comes in a large, visually impressive textured case with the headphones secured within a dense sheet of protective foam. Accessories are limited to a cable that would be more at home on an iem instead of a full sized planar headphone, a leather cable wrap, and spare hybrid-style pads that slightly alter the sound. Compare this to the Alara which comes with a much more compact and portable hardshell case, a longer cloth cable more suited to the style of headphone, a 1/4” adapter, a removable strap to carry the case, and spare pads which are identical to the pre-installed set. I prefer the Alara's more practical accessory kit, though I wish the spare pads were of a different style.

    The Alpha has a larger sound stage at the expense of a more uneven tune with faster roll off in the bass, but it fits me like a charm. On the other hand, the Alara is better built, has a more weighty, balanced sound signature, and comes with a accessory kit that is more useful and better tailored to the product.

    IMG_5821.JPG

    Final Thoughts:

    It is hard to be disappointed with any aspect of the Alara. From the subtle but interesting design, to the rigid build quality, to the balanced sound and growly bass, it's a crowd pleaser at every turn. It would have been nice for the headband to have been smaller to better accommodate those with tiny noggins like myself, but that is easy enough to work around. The inclusion of two sets of pads is never something to complain about, though I find it odd that they're both the same. It feels seems like a missed opportunity since pads can alter sound quite drastically and it would have been useful to swap between different pads for different signatures. Regardless, these are minor qualms with what is otherwise a standout headphone in virtually every way.

    It's hard to believe they haven't been making planar headphones all these years. Fantastic work Brainwavz.

    Thanks for reading!

    - B9Scrambler

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****​

    Some Test Tunes:

    Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (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)
    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)
    Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
    Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)
      volly likes this.
    1. volly
      Great review as always B9S!
      volly, Feb 14, 2019
      B9Scrambler likes this.
    2. B9Scrambler
      B9Scrambler, Feb 14, 2019
  2. Brooko
    Brainwavz Alara – Planar Open Headphone Review
    Written by Brooko
    Published Jan 14, 2019
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Build quality, linearity, extension, overall sound quality, aesthetics, frequency balance, comfort
    Cons - Headband too large for smaller heads
    [​IMG]
    INTRODUCTION

    Brainwavz seem to be on a roll just recently. Their last 3 releases (at least the ones I’ve known about) have been the B400 IEM, HM100 circumaural closed headphones, and now they have a first full sized planar headphone. The Alara is their latest release, and I have had a chance to take it for a test drive over the Xmas break.

    So what is different about a planar headphone (from a traditional dynamic)? Instead of using a moving voice coil (to pull the diaphragm in and out from one ring within the driver), a planar uses an ultra thin diaphragm suspended between two plates of magnets. This typically results in very low distortion, and fast transient response. There often is a typical downside – planars tend to be heavier, and can sometimes suffer from perceived reduction in sound-stage.

    Although I’ve heard a few planars (mainly Audeze LCD series or HifiMan) the only one I own is the Audeze Mobius. So for this review, I’ll be simply taking a look at how the Alara performs against my open dynamics, and also briefly comparing to their HM100.

    ABOUT BRAINWAVZ
    Brainwavz Audio was formed in 2008 as a subsidiary of GPGS Hong Kong. Their goal has always been to develop a full range of audio solutions (mostly earphones and headphones) that cater for a variety of different tastes, uses and price brackets. They originally started with predominantly OEM designs from other companies, and more recently have been working to develop their own stand-alone products.

    In their own words:
    At Brainwavz we have a simple mission, to produce innovative, high quality audio products with a dedicated focus on high-end sound. Our strength, success and product range is built on the unique relationship with our customers. A relationship that has produced a simple and obvious result, we give real users real sound quality.

    DISCLAIMER
    The Brainwavz Alara headphone that I’m reviewing today was provided to me freely as a review sample. Marlon has asked me to keep it for my personal use, or for follow up comparisons, and I thank him for this. The retail price at time of review is USD 499 – 550.

    PREAMBLE
    If you haven’t read any of my reviews, I suggest starting here, as it will give you an insight into my known preferences and bias.

    For the purposes of this review – I’ve used the Alara from a variety of devices including (among others) my FiiO portables including X7ii, X5iii, M9, my iPhone and also the Luxury & Precision LP5 Gold. I also used my desktop set-up iFi stack (iUSD, iTube, iDSD), both with and without the VE Enterprise Tube amp. Finally I also tested them portable but amped (using the Q1ii, Q5, A5, XRK-NHB and IMS X1).

    In the time I have spent with the Alara, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (break-in). This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.

    THE PACKAGE
    The Alara comes in a large retail outer measuring 170 x 245 x 120mm. The box is predominantly white with some good photographs of the Alara and a list of specifications and accessories on the back.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Inside the box is a sturdy fabric/mesh covered carry case. This contains the Alara and accessories. The full accessory pack includes:

    • The Alara planar headphones (fitted with pleather + velour pads)
    • The carry case (with detachable strap)
    • 2.0m stereo cable to 3.5mm jack
    • Screw on 6.3mm adaptor
    • Spare pair of pleather + velour ear-pads
    • User guide including warranty card
    THE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    [​IMG]
    MEASUREMENTS
    The graphs I use are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. In this particular case, I used no calibration apart from an adjustment to take the 4k Hz resonant peak of the measurement hardware out. I don’t have a headphone measurement rig, and have no ear simulator – so you can’t use the graph as a representation of how the Alara sounds. What I use is a head width simulator coupled with a latex soft face (or the headphones) with a hole so the veritas can sit flush.

    My main aim is to take a reference headphone – my HD600 – and then compare the Alara on the same rig and under the same conditions, and show the differences. The graphs are provided merely as a point of discussion, and later in the review I’ve included measurements of different headphones using the same set-up.

    [​IMG]
    BUILD
    External
    The Alara is a very nice looking headphone – simple yet stylish and reasonably low profile for a planar. They have typical planar heft – coming in at 484 grams (includes the 2.0m cable). But the weight distribution is pretty good overall.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The headband is nicely rounded with very soft foam padding encased in the black leatherette. When worn this sits nicely on my head with no obvious pressure spots. The top of the head-band has the Brainwavz name embossed. The two ends of the headband terminate in a pair of black plastic sockets which are screwed in place. It reminds me somewhat of a Beyer (DT880) type headphone assembly.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The headband sliders are steel with very short extension (just 25mm per side). The sliders are not marked, but have a smooth action with some obvious click for each extension. The sliders terminate in the black hard plastic yoke assembly. While the yokes appear nicely built, they are plastic so there may be some concerns around longevity (time will tell), The yokes swivel side-to-side in their assembly about 5-10 deg both ways which allows easy seating of the cups onto your head. One small note here and a comment where the design (for me) is a little ill though out. I have a large head (I’m 6 ft tall and reasonably solidly built). With no extension of the sliders at all the Alara fits comfortably on my head. If anything they might be sitting slightly low (so no adjustment possible). The headband is simply a little too long in its default position. For those with a smaller head, you might have issues.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The ear-cups are circumaural, and are very comfortable for me. Internal measurements on the pads are approximately 60mm x 50mm x 15mm – so just enough room for each ear. The outer pad measurement is approximately 100 x 85 x 45mm. The pads are attached to a removable studded plate (simple pull/push on or off) which makes pad changing very easy. The cups all black, all metal, and embossed with the Brainwavz name and logo. At the bottom of each ear-cup is a socket for the replaceable cable. The frame has L/R marking which is mirrored on the cable – but somewhat hard to see (black on grey would be easier than white on grey Brainwavz!). The sockets are 3.5mm stereo sockets (o pretty easy to convert to balanced).

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Cable
    Brainwavz supplies a 2m cable. The cable is OFC wiring with an outer sheath, and terminates with a 3.5mm straight gold-plated screw threaded jack. This allows the 6.3mm adaptor to be screwed in place for a very secure fit. The cable is encased in a cloth like fabric which is a little more difficult to manage, has slight microphonics (the cable material), but ultimately would be more likely to be used for a stationary listening position.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Pads
    Brainwavz supplies two sets of the same pad. The pads are easy to swap out (gently lever/pull off, remove from headphone, change pads, push on after lining up the “studs”). The pads are soft pleather over memory foam, with the pleather perforated internally. The outer material against your ear is velour – and its very soft.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    All in all, I would describe the build and design as pretty good – with my only real concerns being with the black plastic yoke (IMO light-weight metal would have been a better choice), and the length of the head-band.

    COMFORT / ISOLATION
    Isolation with the Alara is about average for an open headphone – i.e. it will leak sound out, and allow ambient noise in.

    Comfort for me is personally is very good. The ear-pads fit completely around my ears, and the foam cushions provide softness without becoming irritable. The headband is nicely curved to minimise individual pressure points. I do find them a little on the heavy side, but to be fair I’ve had some several hour sessions with the Alara and not felt stiff or sore afterwards.

    Clamp is moderate – enough to stay in place, but not enough to cause undue pressure. As a glasses wearer there is some slight pressure from the cups (pushing the glasses to the bridge of my nose), but nowhere near as bad as the HD600/650 from Senn or the HM5/HM100. I know that the clamp can be adjusted over time simply by carefully bending the steel extenders, or by simply stretching for a few days across some books.

    SOUND QUALITY
    My testing for this section was done with the FiiO X7ii (AM3A module), no Eq or Viper engaged, and paired with the FiiO A5 amplifier. I used the X7ii + A5 simply because it provides both a very transparent window to the music with low impedance, and also more than enough power. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list https://www.head-fi.org/f/articles/brookos-test-tracks.17556/

    [​IMG]
    Relativities
    • Sub-bass – very good extension, with practically no roll off into the sub-bass. The sub-bass rumble in Lorde’s “Royals” is audible and clearly defined, and I find it quite balanced with the rest of the signature. Definitely no bass bleed from the sub-bass. I would call it neutral sub-bass rather than overly enhanced.
    • Mid-bass – good impact, and very slightly elevated compared to the sub-bass (small mid-bass hump). There is good impact and it is both quick and clean.
    • Lower mid-range – essentially flat and perfectly balanced with the bass. Male vocals have good presence and richness in timbre and I’m not finding male vocalists thin or lacking.
    • Upper mid-range – slightly elevated compared to lower mid-range (mainly in the 3-5 kHz area, which helps add euphony in the presence area for female vocals. There is a dip from 1.5-2.5 kHz but it doesn’t appear to sound unnatural to me (perhaps the tiniest bit of stridency with a very few female artists). I think the dip is countered by ear geometry – so I suspect the Alara is in fact tuned very flat.
    • Lower treble – very good extension without dropping off, even after 10 kHz. Cymbals have good presence with good decay. This isn’t an accentuated treble – and one which I find perfectly balanced.
    • Upper treble – seems to be nicely extended. Its hard for me to judge this area, because my hearing tops out well under 14kHz nowadays, and the measuring equipment is not accurate enough from about 9 kHz up. No signs of brittleness, and I personally don’t find anything missing.
    Resolution / Detail / Clarity
    • Clarity is excellent, and there is a high level of detail in all of my usual test tracks. With Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go”, the micro details such as audience interaction and fret-board slides are easily heard. Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” is likewise brilliant with every detail of the cymbal brushes and snare taps present, yet perfectly mingled within the music. I think this is attributable to the nicely neutral frequency response.
    • Cymbals hits (especially hi-hats and crash-cymbals) are present, and the trailing decay is audible and not at all little splashy. My test track for this is Pearl Jam’s EWBTCIAST, and the cymbals have a nice shimmering decay which sounds perfectly natural.
    Sound-stage, Imaging
    • My usual first track for checking width, depth and shape of perceived sound-stage is Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra”. While there is projection just outside my perceived head-space (violin), the overall impression is more of intimacy than space, and everything sounds incredibly clean and clear – but also quite close.
    • Directionally the track is consistent and stage shape has perfect balance of depth and width. Imaging of all 3 instruments is extremely precise with good sense of separation, and the transients are extremely clean.
    • I use the applause sections of “Dante’s Prayer” and Lakme’s “Flower Duet” for a feeling of immersion. Very good headphones can give you a real sense of being in the audience. The Alara is draw droppingly realistic with this. Grandly spacious – no. But there is a great sense of depth and width, and the presentation really is extremely clean and clear. There is a life-like sense of flow around me.
    • The last track in this section is Amanda Marshal’s “Let it Rain” which has a natural 3 dimensional feel (the way the track was miked). The Alara handles it really well, the sense of instruments being around you is very good.. I also use this track as my sibilance test (its quite a hotly mastered track – and it is present in the recording). The Alara does reveal the sibilance but it isn’t highlighted.
    Strengths
    • Overall balance end to end in the frequency response – quite exceptional.
    • Bass balance of impact, timbre, speed and definition.
    • Imaging is a strong point – very clean and easy to pick directional cues
    • Very good at lower volumes with extremely good clarity
    • Both male and female vocals are rich, display good timbre, and (more importantly) sound realistic.
    Weaknesses
    • There might be very slight (and it is marginal) dissonance with a couple of tracks (female vocalists – e.g. Hannah Reid from London Grammar). This is really nitpicking though, and I remain unconvinced that it might actually be the track mastering.
    • Perceived sound-stage is reasonably intimate for an open head-phone.
    AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS
    The Alara is one of those headphones which looks harder to drive on paper than it really is. The on-line Digizoid Headphone Power Calculator tells me that at 20 ohms and 94 dB sensitivity, it requires 1.59 Vrms, 79.5 mA and approx 126 mW to reach 115 dB SPL (on the verge of pain). This halves if you’re simply wanting to top out at 110 dB (mW required actually drops by 2/3). Because of the low sensitivity, the Alara requires more current than voltage, and as long as your DAP can supply the necessary power output (high current), there is no reason why you can’t drive the Alara straight from a DAP or portable. So lets start with the lowest volume output – my iPhone SE – and work from there. From my testing (volume matched and compared subjectively to the X7ii + A5 combo) using the track “Trains” from Porcupine Tree’s album “In Absentia”:

    • 55% volume on the iPhone produced ~70-75 dB. The iPhone was definitely loud enough, and sounded really good. The X7ii + A5 combo sounded slightly more dynamic at the same volume level. Somewhat cleaner and better defined.
    • 65/120 volume on the X5iii (low gain) achieved ~70-75dB and while the X5iii was slightly warmer than the X7ii + A5, it was a combination which was on par with the X7ii +amp.
    • With the M9, the volume required was approx 70/120 on low gain to achieve ~70-75dB, and again the M9 had no problem driving the Alara with good control over the drivers.
    • 67/120 volume on the X7iii (low gain) achieved ~70-75dB and I noticed no difference in dynamics when addding the A5.
    • The final test was with Luxury & Precision LP5 Gold. This is a DAP with a very powerful internal amp (it drives my HD800S easily), and for the Alara only required ~25% of the pot for equivalent volume. Completely subjectively, it was also one of the best sounding combos – but that could well have been placebo on my part.
    What this means is that virtually all of my higher end DAPs are easily able to drive the Alara to very listen-able levels without distortion, and without needing extra amping. This surprisingly includes my iPhone SE – which manages quite nicely at around 55% volume. It would not be my 1st choice though.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    So does the Alara get better with amping? For this I used the Q1ii, Q5, XRK-NHB, and E17K. With each of the amps I didn’t really notice any audible signs of greater driver control (once volume matched). What I did notice was that the slight added warmth (2nd order distortion) of the XRK-NHB was a pleasant addition to the tonality. This continued when I used my desktop set-up (iFi stack). I really liked the Alara with the iFi stack, but adding VE’s Enterprise tube amp took them to a slightly higher level for me. Does the Alara need a lot of amplification though? In my opinion – not really.

    RESPONSE TO EQ?
    I like the Alara’s default frequency response, and TBH I really wouldn’t want to change it. I did initially think the dip on my measurement rig at 2kHz might be an issue. But using my desktop set-up and JRiver Media Center’s parametric EQ, nulling this dip out did not really enhance the sound. I can hear the dip in frequency sweeps – but it really doesn’t detract (so maybe its associated with the external ear / pinnae). Either way – I personally don’t think added EQ is necessary.

    I did try to experiment with added sub-bass just to see what the Alara would do, and it really did respond magnificently. But here some added amplification helped.

    COMPARISONS
    Comparing headphones is always hard – especially when you don’t have another open planar for direct comparison. But I could compare it with a recognised reference (HD600) which should give readers an understanding of how it sounds comparatively. To give more alternatives, I also used my HD800S, and Brainwavz HM100 dynamic.

    In all cases I used the X7ii + A5 combo. With the graphs – please re-read the measurement section earlier in the review. The graphs show comparative measurements on the same rig – and without an ear simulator. The comparisons were all done without EQ, and volume matched using a calibrated SPL meter and fixed 1kHz test tone first. They are very subjective (my opinion only).

    Alara vs HD600
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Build / Design
    Both headphones share similar build materials – a mix of plastic and metal. The HD600 clamp is stronger (when new) but can be relaxed with gentle stretching. Both have detachable cables, and both have very good padding. Both have replaceable ear-pads, but the HD600 is more modular in design.

    Comfort / Ergonomics
    Both are extremely comfortable and very ergonomic – with good head support and circumaural pads. The Alara is significantly heavier – although I still don’t find it fatiguing over long periods. The HD600 has longer extenders and can be used for smaller heads – the Alara has a longer headband by default which lacks adjust-ability for smaller heads.

    Overall Sound Quality
    The first noticeable point is that the HD600 needs significantly more volume / power. The second thing is that the HD600 is airier / brighter, and leaner through the lower mid-range. The Alara has better overall bass extension and impact, more body to the lower mid-range (male vocals sound significantly better to me), and is more balanced in end-to-end frequency response. The Alara also has a better sense of imaging (the HD600 is slightly hazy in comparison). The Alara is quicker with transients and sounds cleaner. In terms of sound-stage, the HD600 has a slightly larger overall stage, however I would call neither expansive. Both are great sounding headphones – just with different frequency signatures.

    Alara vs HD800S
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Build / Design
    Both headphones share similar build materials – a mix of plastic and metal. The Alara clamp is stronger but can be relaxed with gentle stretching. Both have detachable cables, and both have very good padding. Both have replaceable ear-pads. The HD800S has angled drivers to enhance sound-stage.

    Comfort / Ergonomics
    The Alara is more compact (but heavier). The HD800S is larger in size but lighter. Both have very good padding and are both comfortable and very ergonomic. The HD800S has longer extenders and can be used for smaller heads – the Alara has a longer headband by default which lacks adjust-ability for smaller heads. Overall comfort goes to the HD800S – it remains one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve experienced.

    Overall Sound Quality
    The first noticeable point is that the HD800S needs again needs more volume / power. The second thing is that the Alara is warmer with more noticeable bass although the lower mid-range is quite similar. Some of the noticeable bass warmth could be because of the Alara’s less treble emphasis comparatively. Again the Alara has better overall bass extension and impact, and again male vocals do sound better to me (although I prefer female vocals on the HD800S). Imaging is pretty close on both headphones – they both give very consistent and clean spatial cues. In terms of sound-stage, the HD800S has a significantly larger overall stage, and is expansive where the Alara is more intimate. Again both are great sounding headphones with similar frequency signatures (HD800S is brighter and airier, Alara is warmer and richer). The fact that the Alara is not embarrassed in this company speaks volumes for the headphone (especially when comparing cost/value).

    Alara vs HM100
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Build / Design
    Both headphones share similar build materials – a mix of plastic and metal. The HM100 does have the wooden cups, and is a closed design vs Alara’s open design. The HM100 clamp is significantly stronger but can be relaxed with gentle stretching. Both have detachable cables, and both have very good padding. Both have replaceable ear-pads.

    Comfort / Ergonomics
    Both are extremely comfortable and very ergonomic – with good head support and circumaural pads. The Alara is heavier – although I still don’t find either fatiguing over long periods. The HM100 has longer extenders and can be used for smaller heads – the Alara has a longer headband by default which lacks adjust-ability for smaller heads. OOTB the Alara is more comfortable.

    Overall Sound Quality
    Both have similar overall volume at the same power output. The HM100 is airier / brighter, and much leaner through the lower mid-range. It also sounds quite closed in. The Alara has significantly better overall bass extension and impact, more body to the lower mid-range (male vocals sound significantly better to me), and is more balanced in end-to-end frequency response. The Alara also has a better sense of imaging (the HM100 is hazy in comparison). The Alara is quicker with transients and sounds cleaner. In terms of sound-stage, the Alara has a slightly larger overall stage, however I would call neither expansive. Both are great sounding headphones – but after direct comparison, I do find myself enjoying the Alara a lot more. It simply sounds more natural.

    VALUE
    The Alara is not a cheap headphone, and the price of $500-550 sits it squarely in the price range for a second hand Audeze LCD2 or HifiMan HE500/560. For an extra 2-3 hundred dollars you can add in an EL-8 or go brand new on an LCD-2. As far as budget planars go, the Alara is a little more expensive than the HE-400S and M1060. Unfortunately I can’t comment on these headphones because although I’ve heard both the LCD2 and EL-8 it was during “NZ Meet” conditions and I haven’t got an opportunity to compare side-by-side.

    I can compare with my current full sized headphones, and for my tastes, while the HD800S clearly bests them for overall comfort and staging ability – the Alara is not embarrassed in overall performance. Sonically it is very good. And I prefer it to my HD600s.

    When you look at the overall package of the Alara – aesthetics, comfort, build, and most of all sound – I could imagine this headphone in a slightly higher price bracket. For the RRP of $500-550 you’re getting a very well balanced headphone with planar transient speed and low distortion.

    BRAINWAVZ ALARA – SUMMARY
    I’ve always wanted a decent planar and was sorely tempted to try a Monoprice M1060 when I first heard about them, but it was difficult to justify with the amount of headphones I have (my wife only has so much tolerance).

    The Alara from Brainwavz was an instant hit for me. A beautifully balanced headphone sonically, with a depth of bass extension which is highly addictive and quite different to my experience with dynamics. Couple this with a genuinely neutral end-to-end frequency response, and you have a headphone which is very pleasurable to listen with (critically or in a relaxed setting). The icing on the cake for me is that for a planar its relatively easy to drive.

    The overall build quality seems very good (maybe a slight question over the plastic yokes – time will tell), and the comfort is excellent. The one design flaw comes with the long head-band. Those with smaller heads may find a lack of adjustment options. Fortunately the Alara fits me perfectly.

    The asking price of $500-550 is not cheap, but for me the Alara justifies the expense and for the overall package, it competes well with other headphones in similar price brackets. I just want to close with thanking Marlon for allowing me the chance to review the Alara. IMO it is the best Brainwavz release to date. If I was informed tomorrow that the Alara was the only headphone I could ever own – I wouldn’t be disappointed.

    [​IMG]
    Amos asked me (before I left for our family Xmas holiday) to give some thought ot a “best of” summary for 2018. I haven’t written it yet – but for me, the top prize goes to Alara. I’ve reviewed some great products in 2018 – but the Alara is something extra special. Nice one Brainwavz.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
      B9Scrambler, volly and voxie like this.
    1. dan3952
      I think it's the same headphone as the $800 Quad ERA-1, in a slightly different package! The specs are the same, and the pegged pads.
      dan3952, Jan 15, 2019
    2. Brooko
      I asked Brainwavz - they said its different. Does look similar though
      Brooko, Jan 16, 2019
      Quinto likes this.

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