I initially met the folks at Advanced at CanJam London 2017. I actually had mixed them up in my head as Advanced Acousticwerkes (AAW), and had them in my schedule for the 2nd day as a must visit. I was confused, but at least I was half right. Advanced surprised me as much as any manufacturer there, and I stuck a red Russian ear finger speaker column in my ear.
Advanced’s main game appears to be their mainstream gear. By mainstream, I mean gear that is designed to give the masses good sound, not gear that audiophiles ooh and aah over. I had some ooh and aah and that price is ridiculous moments. That said, I think that the Alpha is Advanced’s statement piece. It’s designed to show that they are serious about more than value, but also about showing that they can make a top-tier performance per dollar audiophile set of cans. I think they’ve proved their point.
First thing I’d like to say: I’m not getting the unbearable over-snappiness that Tyll at Inner Fidelity recently talked about in his review. I’m actually wondering if maybe he didn’t run in the drivers on the Alpha. Dynamic drivers sometimes need some break in. Planar magnetics are dynamic drivers. My experience with the HiFiMAN Susvara was that it sounded a bit fragile and had some crackles as the driver broke in over the first 80 hours. It was a bit hard sounding. With the Focal Utopia, many say that the drivers need time to break in (I’ve not noticed much difference, highs a touch softer with burn-in, maybe). I plugged the Alpha in for 4 straight days of burn-in (noise and music). I haven’t noticed what Tyll is talking about yet. I’ll give it more time, and withhold judgement on Tyll’s review, but I’ll be ready to feed back to him if I find that I disagree, and ask him to examine his methods. For now, this is just unboxing and initial impressions.
- The fit and finish of the box are to good standard, but could be improved:
- Good: sturdy, nice texture, cool looking cable space, extra pads with a place to put them
- Bad: foam is hard and inflexible which made it difficult to remove the headphones—likely to be bad as a short-term storage box. The cable insert looks nice but makes it so only the stock cable can be stored in the box. It would have been better to have a compartment for the cable (a la HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 or Susvara) rather than a showy winder built into the foam.
- The headphone has nice elements in it’s build. It is mostly metal with good finish and a confidence inspiring build.
- Accessories are okay. The cable is small for a full size headphone. It could use more length, and more girth. The lack of inclusion of a 6.3mm adaptor is an oversight. I also think a balanced cable would have been a solid move. Both sets of pads are nice. Love the magnetic cable clasp. The clasp will be too small for your aftermarket cable should you get one, most likely.
- Headphone comfort will be devisive. I find the pad pressure too high on these and am not a fan of the self-adjusting headband. It always feels and looks a bit small. I’m trying to see if I can stretch these out a bit to relieve ear pressure, but I don’t have confidence. The thicker pads can heat up in longer listening sessions.
- The sound quality is excellent. The sound is pure sounding with excellent detail.
- Bass has excellent texture and body. Sounds brilliant with Leonard Cohen.
- Macy Gray’s vocals sound on the dry side on I Try. Cyndee Peters’ voice is delicate and soft on House of the Rising Sun. Rebecca Pidgeon sounds bloody excellent. I don’t know what Tyll is on about with hard female vocals and unlistenable. That is just straight-up wrong. Do snare drums pop hard, oh yeah. Does this mess with female vocals or make them unlistenable, heck no. Snappy percussion instruments are more forward and firm than normal, which can be distracting, but it’s not a dealbreaker. You can definitely hear the percussion leaping forward on tracks.
- Male vocals on David Johansen and the Harry Smiths – Well I Been Down to Memphis are slightly dry. Other headphones get a more rich sound to his voice. So, essentially, after Macy Gray and David Johansen I can say that the lower mids can be a bit dry. John McEuen sounds more full on Excitable Boy — can you tell I like Chesky a bit. Go get it.
- Some of the vocal dryness in the lower mids can be compensated by source. The QP2R gets a bit more roundness than the Echobox Explorer with a more full sound.
- I’m not getting overly snappy twig sounds when I listen to a track with wood blocks and clapping (Why!? – Sod in the Seed). These percussion elements are more forward. Let’s try a footsteps crackling in the wood track with blocks and percussion (Yosi Horikawa – Wandering). Still sounds frickin’ cool. These are pretty neutral with un uptick where snappy percussion lives. Snare drums and woodblocks will be more forward. If you aren’t into those, well why are you listening to tracks featuring them?
- Treble is present without exhibiting any harshness. I don’t get fatique from any tonal characteristics.
- Stage dimensions are good, but fairly average for this tier of headphones, just a little outside the head with a stage that is more wide than deep or tall. Imaging is good with a mostly natural stage (aforementioned percussion issue). If you haven’t listened to much at this level, they will surprise you.
- In general, decay is fast across the whole spectrum. The sound is very precise and clear.
- Pairing-wise, these like power, but not too much of it. They’ll be picky on amping, not too much power not too little, Goldilocks zone amp required.
- Macy Gray’s vocals were fine when played out of the Questyle CMA600i, but when I used the Formula S, it was like part of her voice had been hollowed out.
- I tried these with a couple portable devices. It takes everything the Echobox Explorer has on tap to power these, but it does it. I’m talking 85% to 100% volume depending on the volume level of the recording. Ignore that 32Ω impedance figure. It takes similar volume knob requirements for the Questyle QP2R.
- I thought I was lucky when I discovered this had 2.5mm connectors, as it meant I could use the Atlas Zeno cable I’ve been using to good effect with the Susvara. However, hooking the cable up and putting the Alpha onto the CMA600i made the amp have a safety engage and shut down. Hooking it into the balanced out of the Aune S6 led to next to no volume and the amp quickly started destabilizing if I tried to give more juice. A similar effect happened on the balanced out of the Formula S. Same story on the Questyle QP2R. It’s bizarre.
A bit longer initial impressions than usual. Glad your still here.
Nice preview! I didn’t hear that unbearable stridency either, though I have come across the occasional song here and there where higher pitched female vocals were coming across a bit agro. They’ve been few and far between though. These things have found a permanent residence on my desk alongside the Susvara and Thinksound’s On2 🙂
I haven’t tried any sopranos just yet, but now opera will be on my review list. Maybe some Alanis Morissette. Mariah Carey – Someday, maybe?
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