Brainwavz Alara - Reviews
Pros: + Deep Lush sound with a natural midrnage
+ Good build quality with a lot of metal in the build
+ Portable and easy to drive
+ Lots of accessories included in the package
+ Good value and price/performance ratio
Cons: - Not for small heads
- Soundstage is not quite that large for an open back
- A bit heavy due to all that metal in the build
Planar Magnetic Bass - Brainwavz Alara Headphones

Brainwavz Alara is the first Planar Magnetic Headphone from Brainwavz, a company that's quite well-known to both music enthusiasts and consumers, for always having some comfortable products, making some of the best earpads in the world, as well as Bluetooth IEMs and more. The Price for Alara is about 400 USD at the moment of writing this review, from 500 USD at the moment of its launch.


Brainwavz is a larger company, with a few legacy products, like their HM5 headphones. They are known for providing excellent build quality and reliability, along with excellent customer support. Brainwavz is also doing efforts to reach the music enthusiast community, organizing demos and tours of their products, appreciating honest input from their fans. I fully recommend working with Brainwavz if you like reliability and support. Also, since I've been a bit on vacation with my family for Easter, you'll see more reviews, including reviews on HM100 from Brainwavz very soon. Don't forget to also comment on the review if you have questions, the bug that didn't allow you to comment has been sorted out.

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Brainwavz, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by Brainwavz or anyone else. I'd like to thank Brainwavz for providing the sample for this review. The sample was provided along with Brainwavz's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review reflects my personal experience with Brainwavz Alara. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Brainwavz Alara find their next music companion.

About me


First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:

Brainwavz is actually one company to create and design more interesting packages, compared to those who prefer to offer a simpler package. Alara comes in a cardboard box, and inside it you can find Alara, packaged inside their carrying case. It is really nice to see a carrying case with a Planar magnetic Headphone, because some folks, like me, do tend to take those on the go as well.

Inside the package you can also find a longer audio cable, a set of spare pads, and a little strap, if you'd want to take their carrying case as a shoulder bag.

There is also a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter included in the package.

The fun thing about the cable is that it looks both trustworthy, but it is also ended in a 3.5mm connector, which I see as an advantage, Alara is easy to drive and most people are most probably going to be using sources and amplifiers that have a 3.5mm output rather than a 6.3mm one.

Alara is easily within the top packages for headphones at the 500 USD price range, they come with everything you could require for you to enjoy them, along with a set of high quality spare pads, which means that you won't need to reach out to brainwavz for years to purchase a new set, as their earpads are also known to be fairly reliable.

What to look in when purchasing a midrange Planar Magnetic Headphone

Technical Specifications

Build Quality/Aesthetics/Fit/Comfor

Starting with the build quality, Alara is quite a bit heavier than you might expect, as it is made of metal. The cups have a bit of swivel, which allows for a good amount of adjustment, although if you have a really small head, Alara may be a touch on the big side, even at its minimum size setting.

The aesthetics and looks of Alara are on the edgy and industrial side, and as a metalhead I can totally appreciate that, they look like the kind of headphone you'd want to take out on a walk. They are open though, and they won't isolate you from the outside noise, and they will leak quite a bit, although sometimes, if you're out on a walk, you may want an open-back headphone, just so that you can be a bit more aware of what's going on around you.

To be fair, Alara isn't quite as open as Sundara or Jade II for example, so you may get away with using them while someone else is in the same room, if you were using low volumes. Similarly, they do provide a few dBs of passive isolation, but they're still not closed-back headphones.

The cups are incredibly comfortable, and so is the entire headphone, they are basically designed with comfort in mind, the clamping force is just right so that they don't feel tight nor loose, the cups are soft and nice to the touch, and they don't make you sweat even after hours of wearing Alara, and the headband has a bit of soft padding on the inside, making the entire headphone rather comfortable.

The Planar technology inside is designed nicely, and you can notice that the headphones themselves are more protected than a good number of planars, so alara was designed with both indoors and outdoors usage in mind, as they won't take in dust or debris easily.

The cables are attached to the cups via two 3.5mm jacks, making aftermarket cables really easily to locate and purchase, as a large number of headphones rely on those connectors, including HIFIMAN sundara, and Meze 99 Classics. The default cable is on the long and thick side for portability.

The weight of Alara is on the heavier side, they are quite a bit heavier than Sundara, (which is its main competitor considering the price), and about as heavy as Verum One (which is another direct competitor in this price range, and also an open-back planar magnetic headphone).

Alara is on the easier to drive part side of things, as they can easily be driven well from a FiiO M6 or so, but they appreciate a better source, like a QLS QA361 or iBasso DX200, scaling quite well with the source.

Overall, thebuild quality, comfort and aesthetics of Alara are all excellent and it is a headphone that both looks awesome and feels awesome, they are designed beautifully, and they are comfortable, they are reliable and you could use them as your main headphone, even when going outside.

Sound Quality

The signature of Alara can be described as thick, lush, fun, smooth, at least in the top end, impactful, deep, rumbling, clean, clear, wide and well separated. The overall sound feels very natural and coherent, musical, and flows well, especially when it comes to its bass, which reminds easily of the Audeze kind of high-quality planar bass. A more intimate soundstage paired with a good amount of instrument separation makes Alara sound natural, lush, yet clear and easy to recommend to both those looking for a really fun signature, but also those who tend to appreciate detail. There are two peaks, one at 4 kHz and one around 8kHz, both of which bring the vocals closer to the listener, but also highlight detail and clarity of Alara.

The bass is deep and reaches low quite well, has a good amount of rumble, and is enhanced considerably above what I'd call neutral. In fact, Alara is one of the deepest and most powerful in the bass planar magnetic headphones, besides Audeze, and considering the price of Alara of 500 USD, they are really convincing if you're a basshead, or if you appreciate a good amount of impact. The bass also has an uplift at the 100 Hz area, which gives sound both a nice amount of thickness and authority, and which paints a bit of weight to each musical note in midrange as well. The overall bass is fast though, but it is also natural in speed.

The midrange is sweet and slightly forward, with a more intimate soundstage. Since Alara has two bumps, one at around 4kHz and one around 8kHz, both the main midrange body and the upper midrange feel uplifted a bit, but Alara manages to keep a nice amount of instrument separation and depth, providing a nice imaging as well. You can totally tell layers from each other, and you can feel the finer details in your music, actually the rather intimate soundstage and more forward midrange being good for revealing more fine details in your music. For orchestral and classical music, Alara is a true master, tonality and tune of all instruments is very natural, and Alara works well for female voices. Male voices also have the proper thickness and power they require, and guitar solos feel forward and truly lead a song.

The treble of Alara is on the natural side, but the decay is slightly short and they are not overly splashy, rather being slightly on the dry type. I tend to prefer a more splashy presentation usually, but Alara works well with brighter sources, and softer or more splashy sources, like the QLS QA 361, where Alara feels spot-on. On the other hand, with smoother sources, Alara may be too smooth and have a bit too little treble energy, unless you prefer a more lean and smooth approach, situation in which you're set for fun, as I found Alara to not be fatiguing nor harsh in the treble. Percussion has proper snap and feels natural, with most songs, but Alara's treble has a tendency to depend more on the source material (for example, IE800 from Sennheiser tends to color all treble to its own sound, where Alara tends to render the source material more as it was recorded than color the source material with its own flavour).

The dynamics on Alara are very good, and in line with other similarly priced headphones, like Sundara, but this is when both are driven from the same source. Overall, it is a bit easier for Alara to get dynamic with more entry-level sources, where Sundara is harder to drive.

Overall, if you're looking for a thicker, more natural, dynamic, and midrange-forward sound, with a natural treble, Alara ticks those boxes quite nicely.

Portable Usage

Alara is half-portable and half-desktop, at least to me. They are easier to drive than Sundara, and they are more comfortable, provided you have a head that's on the slightly larger side. On the other hand, Alara still isn't quite as easy to drive as something like Ultrasone Signature DXP, which would be a true portable.

On the oher hand, Alara does not isolate from the outside noise, but it is very well built and dust will not get inside, since they have high quality grilles protecting the inner parts. The default cables are a bit long for portable usage, but aftermarket cables that are shorter and more flexible are really easy to find.

You may even find some beautiful sights while exploring the world and wearing Alara...

Overall, they are an open back headphone, and they are not drive-able from a smartphone, at all, neither volume wise, nor in terms of sonic quality, but a DAP like FiiO M6 can make Alara sing pretty nicely.


Alara has three main enemies in this price range, and which it will be considered against, and those are HIFIMAN Sundara(500 USD or 350 USD while on sale), Verum One (350 USD), and Sennheiser HD650 (350 USD at the moment of writing this review).

Brainwavz Alara vs Sennheiser HD650 - Well, the package is pretty similar, but the build quality is sensibly better on Alara, with a full metallic build, and better ear pads included from the factory, and with two pairs of them included in the package. This being said, although HD650 is more tight on the head, Alara is actually a bit too loose for small heads, so HD650 wins in terms of comfort, especially for those with a smaller head, Alara is just too large on the smallest setting for those with a small head. The sound, is more thick, has more deep bass rumble and impact on Alara, has a similar soundstage on both, has similar details, although Alara is a bit better separated and a bit better with musical note weight. To me, HD650 has always been the slightly veiled one, where I liked HD600 better for their almost perfect midrange. There are multiple versions on the market, so I can only talk about the ones I heard. The treble is a tricky thing, both are on the smooth side, HD650 has a slightly better detail and fine detail in the treble, where Alara is simply more smooth and has a simpler overall treble presentation. Alara is better if you like a deep impact and more rumble, it has more weight to each musical note, and a thicker sound. The soundstage is more intimate on both headphones, though Alara is easier to drive than HD650, but both are well made. HD650 is lighter, but it is less portable than Alara, being hard to drive, being more of a desktop headphone. HD650 is the better choice for a more traditional headphone, or if you have a really beefy or high-end Amplification available, as they scale quite well.

Brainwavz Alara vs Verum One - Here is where the fun starts, because you can find Alara at more or less the same price as Verum One, Alara goes often on sale, and there are coupon codes, like "HEADFI", and both become 350 USD, but with Verum One, there's a waiting time of about 6 weeks, while Alara is a headphone you can get quite on the spot. Now, the package is much better on Alara, as Verum One has no package to speak of. On the other hand, Alara also comes with two sets of pads. The pads are more comfortable, and full leather on Verum One, and Verum One can adapt much better for any size for a head, where Alara only works for medium and larger sized heads. The comfort is better on Verum One, they have a softer headband, softer pads, they are simply more comfortable. Alara has a better default cable, Verum One's cable is a bit too thin to feel trusty, but mine didn't broke. You can take Alara on-the-go, while with Verum One, despite their very low impedance, and good SPL, you cannot take Verum One On-The-Go, the cat ears aesthetic they have is simply not fit for outdoors usage. As such, Verum One is pretty much strictly a desktop headphone, and I'm a Visual Novel studio director, I don't mind having cat ears, but verum one is a bit more than I'd take outside, in Bucharest, while with Alara I'd have no issues. Verum one is better at extremely high SPLs, they can get considerably louder, if you have a source that can manage their low impedance well, they can get your source in current overdrive easily, while Alara has no such issues. The overall sound is similar in the bass, but Verum One has an even better impact and depth, an even more clear midrange, and an even larger soundstage. On the other hand, Alara has a thicker, smoother and more laid-back sound overall, it is easier to listen to for long hours, and Alara is more forward in the midrange, if you like a more intimate feel to your sound. Verum One is clearly a good desktop headphone, but it was able to get most of my portables into current overdrive, and it was able to do that even to some high-end desktop DAC/AMPs, because its real impedance is around 8 omhs. On the other hand, Alara works with pretty much any portable, and it is easier to use, it is lighter when it comes to its weight, and you can take Alara on-the-go, while Verum One you probably won't want to.

Brainwavz Alara vs HIFIMAN Sundara - Sundara is pretty much the opposite to Alara, sonically, but actually it is an interesting comparison. Starting with the build and comfort, Sundara is more universal, works better with any size of a head, Sundara has better comfort and better overall fit, and Sundara is lighter than Alara. But Sundara's cable feels less in quality than the one of Alara. Also, Alara comes with a spare set of pads while Sundara doesn't. In fact, Alara even comes with a carrying case, while Sundara doesn't (neither does HD650 nor Verum One). The accessory list and build quality of Alara surely feels nice. Alara is considerably easier to drive than Sundara, and you need something like DX220 + AMP7, or QLS QA361 to truly take advantage of Sundara, while Alara will work just fine and sound amazingly good even from a tiny FiiO M6. On the other hand, the sound is very different, and you'll either take a liking to one, or the other. Sundara is lighter, more nimble, more splashy in the treble, and more articulate, with better resolution and revealing abilities, but less body to music. Sundara can truly shine with a proper source, but will sound flat-ish and average from even good sources, is picky with its source. Alara sounds thick, lush, deep, rumbly, impactful and powerful. Sundara has a wider soundstage, while Alara is more intimate. Alara is smooth, where Sundara is splashy and more bright. I'll be honest, Sundara is closer to my personal preference, but for those who want a thick, lush, experience, with a more intimate soundstage, and with a more authority, Alara is quite amazing, and I have many friends who ordered a pair of Alara instead of getting a Sundara.

Recommended Pairings

Alara is easy to pair, not overly picky with its source, and needs not quite that much power. Also, it scales fairly well with the source, but you could drive it from an ultra-portable and be very happy.

Brainwavz Alara + FiiO M6 - FiiO M6 is pretty much the dream small form factor DAP from what I've tested to date, at least if you're trying to stay within the most conservative budget you can, as there are other options, even from FiiO that have a better sound, but M6 wins hard in what a DAP that has Tidal, is small, portable, cute, and has a good sound can be. M6 tends to have a more digital and analytical overall sound, which is more neutral and a bit cold, and this actually compliments well the warm and thick sound of Alara, making them more neutral and more balanced on an overall level.

Brainwavz Alara + Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ - If you have the chance to listen to Alara with a high-end DAC/AMP, you'll understand just how high their potential can be. Brooklyn DAC+ is one of the best to prove that with a really good source, you can have a much larger soundstage, better separation, better dynamics and just an amazing overall sound. Of course, Alara is very enjoyable with portables as well, but they also scale if you're willing to invest a bit in the source feeding them.

Brainwavz Alara + iBasso DX150 (AMP7) - Adding AMP7 to any of the iBasso DAPs that are compatible is going to be a huge upgrade for you, and I mean really huge. I was absolutely blown away when I first heard AMP7 with Sundara, and once again, when I heard it with Alara, I was just as impressed. Overall, the sound of DX150 with AMP7 is very natural, but punchy, dynamic and clear, clean, pretty much what you'd expect from a flagship DAP. DX150 can also handle Tidal and Streaming, if that's your cup of tea. DX150 is able to drive Alara in big style, and creates one of the most fun experiences with it, with a really deep, punchy, dynamic and clear sound. The soundstage is also rather large, and everything feels alive.

Value and Conclusion

Alara has been really fun to listen to and review, and they are a headphone you are probably considering. Considering that they are around 350 USD and often go on sale, their price and value is excellent, they are very much in line with other Planar Magnetic Headphones in this price range.

The package of Alara is better than most headphones in this price range actually, and they are also built really well, a full metallic build, with soft large pads, and with a really beautiful aesthetic, especially if you're into industrial-looking headphones. Unfortunately, if you have a small head, they may not be the best fit, but otherwise, they should also be very comfortable.

The sound is excellent even out of a portable, and they're easier to drive than their direct competitors like Sundara, also having a very different overall tuning and signature. Alara is very thick and lush, deep and impactful, but also pretty smooth in the treble, and Alara brings the voices closer to the listener, leading to a more intimate listening experience and giving you a very natural tonality for the voices.

If you're looking for a well-made planar magnetic headphone in the ~400 USD price range, with a thick, lush and clear sound, good impact, dynamics and depth, you should totally check out Alara, and don't forget to follow what sales are going on, as they are so often included in deals that you're surely going to get a sweet deal, if you keep an eye on them.

Full Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.

Tidal Playlist

Song List

Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry
Dope - Addiction
Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A static Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U & Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel - Addicted
Hollywood Undead - Levitate
The Offspring - Special Delivery
Escape The Fate - Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe
Dope - Rebel Yell
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Silverstein - My Heroine

I hope my review is helpful to you!


Contact me!

  • Like
Reactions: menuki
Superb review as always. I really enjoyed reading it and I had to laugh out loud when I came to the Verum One cat ears part, one reason you wouldn't wear them on the go :D. Ordered the Alaras myself and I'm pretty stocked! Currently owning the Quad ERA-1 but I have quite a few driver problems with them, so often they just don't work, but if they do, they sound fantastic. Since both look pretty similar(ear-pads can directly be put on the Alaras), I hope that the Alaras will sound as nice. :)
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
@menuki Thank you very much for your kind words!! As for Quad Era, I actually heard that a lot of people have had issues with Quad Era, I think that Alara are more or less similar, you may find that you prefer Alara! Brainwavz sure is a company that knows how to make a headphone that's both sonically good and reliable! :)
  • Like
Reactions: menuki
Pros: - Fantastic bass
- Great build quality
- People who love smooth sound and like to blast their headphones VERY loud might enjoy these.
Cons: - Recessed treble with wonky timbre
- Lacks dynamics
- Headband too large for smaller heads
These headphones were provided by brainwavz as a part of Alara review tour and have now been sent back to Brainwavz. I want to thank Brainwavz for providing this opportunity and thanks also to Dobrescu George for helping to organize the tour.

Whats in the box?

Box that the headphones are housed in is surprisingly small. Here it is next to a hifiman box that has more common size for a fullsize headphones.

Carry case provided looks also tiny. Dimensions to fit the headphones are perfect.


They come with extra set of earpads and a strap which I suppose is for carrying the case.

There is of course the detachable cable and 6.3mm adapter.


Build quality and comfort

They're heavy. Planar tech and lots of metal. Edges on the cups are quite sharp but not sharp enough to cut you. I think it might have been intentional move to make those so sharp because the look is bit plasticky but those sharp edges remind you are holding a piece made of solid metal. So very cool.

Immaculate attention to detail



Earpads are pleather on the outside, perforated on the inside and average quality ”velour” on the top. Very much like on hifiman he400i. Brainwavz pads on top and HE400i at the bottom.

Pads are a bit slim and not very responsive. Quite funny how a company that is known for their great earpads can't provide similar quality pads with their headphones. It was the same with HM100. Good thing they provide two sets of pads. Some users might want to remove the connector ring and replace the pads with better ones. That connector ring is genious by the way. It makes replacing the pads very easy and fast. There is no twisting, bending or wondering if you aligned them properly. Hifiman and some other manufacters should take a note!


Cable is very basic. Double entry 3.5mm to 3.5mm with a screw on adaptar. It does look nice and lack of propretiary connectors always makes me happy. If that cable is available for purchase seperately, I might get one for my Onkyo A800.

Yokes are of plastic. Headband is covered with pleather. There are no markers on the headband retractor which is always a shame but not uncommon. On top of the headband there is the brainwavz logo.

So let's talk about the headband little more because it is something truly special. Unfortunately in a negative way. The headband is huge! I wear the headphones with about 0,5cm extended or not at all. I have about average size male head. My wife can't use these at all. These don't fit my mini dsp H.E.A.R.S measuring system without putting something between the headband and the headrest part.


Because of the weight and large headband I don't get the grip I'd like. Alara's feel a bit loose on my head.

I find such a design fault quite problematic. It is hard to perfect sound or reach ultimate comfort. What is not hard is making a headband of proper size. This is just poor engineering or plain not care at all attitude. I't makes me think if they can't do the easy things right how are they going to deal with more demanding issues. Brainwavz hm100 has a common problem with loose headband adjuster. Please get the headband right next time. This is pretty ridiculous.

Sound quality

Bass.. Oh, yes! These have definately the best bass I have heard amongst inexpensive planars. Bass has similar body, weight and extension as LCD-3. Alara's play fast guitar notes with defination and can still fill the space with rumbling sub bass without becoming a mess. Individual sources of bass are clearly apparent with minimal blending. I must say I was not expecting to hear bass like this. If I only had one headphone and it had a bass like this, I would not mind at all.

So lets take a quick look on the measured frequency response. Channel balance is quite good. It is mostly within 2db. It's no Sennheiser HD800 but better than most headphones at this price range.

ALARA (head-fi).jpg

There is a clear drop from 1khz to 2.5khz. That is quite common, especially for a planar but what I find problematic is that response is quite low up to 10khz. Maybe a headphone with a better resolving powers could pull that off but sadly, Alara's can't. End result is plain sound with lacking dynamics and faulty timbre. One of my favorite headphones, iBasso SR1's, has similar upper mid/highs response but sounds just splendid...and ironically extremely dynamic. So it is not just the tuning that is the problem here. There is something else I just can't put my finger on.

About the timbre... Think of an instrument that should have a metallic tone. Some sort of a metallic maracas for example. Alara's will make it sound more like a washboard instrument. There is this wooden or perhaps plasticky tone partly because of lacking 2khz-7khz area.

Tchaikovsky's violen concerto sounds plain. Guns 'N' Roses "November Rain" has no pompous epic presentation that it is known for. Mids and highs are quite a lackluster compared to the bass that is propably best one can get for $500.

So what's good about Alara's sound, besides the excellent bass. I have to bring up the imaging qualities. Soundstage is quite small, even for a low(ish) end planar but the imaging is very accurate. I had a thought that this is what Sennheiser HD800 imaging would be like, if it were shrunk to pocket size.

About amplifiers

Most of the time I used Alara's with Chord Mojo attached to my cellphone playing Tidal. Most of the critical listening was done with high quality files using Hegel HD10 as a dac and SPL Phonitor and Burson Soloist for amps. I'd love to say something more "professional" like how Soloist emphasizes regions from x-y but bass sounds tubby and Phonitor has better spatial cues and better control off the drivers which translates into emphasized 2xΔ. But to my ears; They all sound the same. Alara's need SOME external amplification but they're not particularly picky about it.


Lets make a few quick comparisons against the planars I have at hand and also Ollo S4 as it has similar dark(ish) tonality and Sennheiser HD650 as it is propably the most used reference headphone ever.


Brainwavz Alara vs Hifiman Sundara


Sundara has been applauded for it's build quality. Surely it is an upgrade over previous hifimans but next to Alara it does look and feel like a bare prototype. There is no contest there. However because of Alara's over sized headband, sundaras are a lot more comfortable.

When looking at the measurement Alara's superb bass is again obvious. Sundara's are clearly brighter sounding headphones. Sundaras have a lot bigger soundstage, allmost equal imaging, better timbral balance and proper dynamics. For me Sundaras are better sounding headphones.


Brainwavz Alara vs Hifiman HE560


HE560 I have is new version. It is V3 to my knowledge. As far as I know all the new versions have the same drivers as the original one. Build quality comparison is a bit useless here. HE560 V3 is basically the same as Sundara but V3 has plastic cups and lesser quality earpads. Obviously Alara is in different class.

HE560 does better in the bass department than Sundara. However bass on Alara is still better. Like said before, I find bass on Alara truly exceptional. It is more in the range of $2000 Audeze's than with $500 Hifiman's. HE560 can sound painfully bright even, but it can be tamed with proper amping. Alara and HE560 are complete opposites with their treble presentations. If I had to choose I would take the overly bright highs on HE560 because of proper timbre. HE560 is pretty much sounds like sundara with more V-shaped soundsignature so it is no surprise I prefer HE560 over Alara.
ALARA vs HE560.jpg

Brainwavz Alara vs Hifiman HE400i


So when we move a step down in hifiman's (discontinued) product range we get HE400i. HE400i is built out of cheaper materials than HE560 so comparison against alara is pointless. HE400i is ridiculously cheap though these days. New ones can be had for $199 and used ones cost close to nothing.

HE400i sounds much like unrefined HE560 with lacking bass. There is a steep change in sound quality between HE560 and HE400i. What is sadder for Alara is that I rather take HE400i over them. HE400i is quite bass light, especially for a planar but it has decent (not good) soundstage, good clarity and proper timbre. All of which Alara's lack.

ALARA vs HE400i.jpg

Brainwavz Alara vs Ollo S4


I can't get a fresh measurement of the Ollo's right now as my rig started acting up. Here is however old measurement I've made. Don't get confused as it has the Audioquest Nighthawk chart in it too.ollo_vs_nh.jpg

Ollo is a tad bit darker headphone than Alara's but Ollos still maintain all the details and dynamics. Infact S4 is one of the most dynamically engaging headphones I've heard. It is quite spectacular in that sense. Ollo's have a lush relaxing but detailed sound where as Alara sounds boring in comparion. S4's are bassy and I love their bass presentation. However once again, from technical perspective Alara's bass can't be matched.

Both are built great. Ollo with more retro touch and Alara has more industrial look. I prefer Ollo's but it is up to taste as both are top notch.

Brainwavz Alara vs Sennheiser HD650


HD650 feels plasticy in comparison. Luxurious build materials are not what have kept them among most favored headphones through couple of decades.
ALARA vs HD650.jpg

Looking at the graph there are quite a bit tonal similarities. Sennheiser does however "fix" the issues what Alara has. And it's not just about the frequency response. Even though Alara does have somewhat clearer midrange hd650 does sound more refined. Then there is of course the difference in timbre realism. HD650 does have extremely realistic timbre (regardless of price range) and Alara has big troubles in this area.


I have to say, I'm bit sad about all this. Alara's have top notch build quality and superb bass. Lot of thought has went into designing these headphones. Oversized headband and weird treble manage to ruin otherwise fine headphones. Alara's had potential to be a true classic but they fall short in some key areas that make me prefer headphones that cost a lot less. For $499 Alara should deliver more.



This review captures them very well. Removing the inner screen & adding dynamat has helped make a sweeter/smoother can up to 1.5k. Adding a high quality cable (Custom Cans, 1.5m, XLR) has helped the bass & instrument separation. However the recessive treble which does fail timbre wise at times - not improved. Will try an angled pad mounted on the Alara ring that will let more treble through is the next step.
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)

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.



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.


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.

  • 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


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.


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)
Great review as always B9S!
I would call it a partially open design (20-25%). They sound better when they have the inner screens removed - much taller soundstage, bit less mid bass which makes low bass and low mids cleaner. The pads aren't very good for me - too small almost on not over ear, and MrSpeakers Ether Angled are much better (held on by gravity). I'm sure there are better out there. Treble still open question - pads and an XLR cable may change things.
Pros: Build quality, linearity, extension, overall sound quality, aesthetics, frequency balance, comfort
Cons: Headband too large for smaller heads


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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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.

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.

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.

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
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
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
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.

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.

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.

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.

I asked Brainwavz - they said its different. Does look similar though
  • Like
Reactions: Quinto
The Alara isn't really open. 20% or so, I've modded it to about 65% open, and at least on paper it's much closer to the ERA-1, than stock Alara. Mid bass flatter, mids sweeter, sound stage much taller. The ohm and db ratings between the two are the same. It's at least a sibling, not a cousin. Also stock Alara pads not very flattering.
Oh nice it's good to hear some one modded this, the OEM driver obviously has a lot of potential but as you've said the Stock Pads among other choices made by the BrainWavz team really held it back.

I'm hoping the second hand units create their own little modding community much like older Hifiman Headphones have