Alpha & Delta D3 first impressions, $50 IEM shootout

One of the coolest phenomenons in audio right now is the big improvements moving forward in the budget sector. $100 headphones can and do compete with $400 headphones, and $25 headphones sometimes compete with $200 headphones. It’s a great time to be an audiophile, even if your budget isn’t as large as you’d like it to be. In this series we’ll see how much you get from stepping up from a budget under $25 to a budget under $50. In order to have some comparison with the under $25 segment of the market, I’ll be including the top 2 IEMs from the $25 IEM Shootout, once they are determined.

In this $50 IEM shootout series I’ll post a new set of impressions every Friday until I’ve done them all. Then I’ll select my top 3 from the list. After I’ve selected my top 3, I’ll do a post ranking the remaining units and giving them our trademark visual ratings. Finally, a post will compare the top 3 IEMs under $50 that I have in my possession. If any manufacturers want to send additional under $50 units that they think might rank before I’ve done my ranking posts, I’ll add them in. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get the Final Audio e2000 into this contest, too, as I’ve heard good things.

Here are our contestants:

Acknowledgement

The Alpha & Delta D3 was supplied by Alpha & Delta. I do not have to return it. I have not been compensated. The views expressed here are my own.

Unboxing / Functionality

I received two packages from Alpha & Delta, one with two IEMs bundled together, and one with just one. I can’t recall which was which, but both were wrapped in a few layers of bubble wrap and then colourful (bright pink and bright blue) heavy plastic mailing envelopes. Clearly, the bubble wrap didn’t stop a little dent in the D3 packaging (above). I don’t know if a normal consumer would have a similar shipping experience. There was no damage to any components inside, so it didn’t really matter.

Okay, so now we get to some hot stuff. That is a real leather case. Inside are the headphones and a real leather embossed cable wrap. These are premium components. This IEM is only $35. Hot damn! That’s a good start.

The tips included are an odd assortment. There are: 1 pair of foam tips, 1 pair of double flange silicone tips, 1 pair of triple flange silicone tips, and 3 pairs of single flange silicone tips (S/M/L). This is a pretty good assortment. I like the single flange silicone the best. In addition to the tips and the case, we get some clunky humongous ear-hooks (I hate these and never use them ever ever ever) and a clothing clip (also never use).

The cable is a roughly hewn silver-plated copper double-twisted number. The cable has substantial memory effect, a rough moving cable slider, and rough hard feeling housing. Twists in the cable look kinky rather than smooth. I’m actually not a big fan of this cable. It looks flash, but the ergonomics are not great. Others may not care so much, but the tops of my ears are sensitive, and the rough cable texture makes it hard to slide the cable slider. I like cable sliders, but this one isn’t very useful because the cable is so rough and the slider is so thin. If the slider were thicker, the roughness of the cable could be overcome to make a more effective slider. The strain relief at the ear is pretty meager, but the strain relief at the headphone jack is good. The housing is made right to be used with phones (hey TFZ!), and generally works as intended.

The cable is advertised as being able to be worn up and down. I found that I got a better seal when I was wearing the cable up as the teardrop design wasn’t fighting any of my ears’ anatomy. The fit is good either way, just modestly better up.

Overall, the build quality and functionality are good. The accessories are absolutely killer for the price. The cable looks better than it is, but the solid metal shells are reassuring and the ergonomics are overall decent. A softer cable would make these better ranked ergonomically.

Sound impressions

Sources as usual are the HiBy R3 and the LG V30. I’ve listened to these for about 20-25 hours. I didn’t burn them in, but may do so before the final countdown (doo doo doo DOO doo, doo doo Duh duh doo).

  • Bass is warm and elevated across the spectrum with some midbass bloom
  • On Boys Age – Postcards Holiday, Kaz Muto’s garble pop vocal is clear (as it is going to be). Guitar plucks and bends have a nice sweetness. On songs that don’t have a ton of dynamic range, these do better than songs with lots. So modern tracks will likely do better.
  • The bass is pretty groovy, thick, and forward on The Shins – Sea Legs. The flute in the intro is nicely presented, but a bit recessed. These have a bass forward signature with deep chug. The volume of the bass places mids and treble a bit back.
  • The bass drum positively thumps on Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings but the snare drum is pulled back in intensity. Guitar has nice crunch to it but is again, a little bit back. L-shape curve established! When the synth bass comes in, it’s dark and menacing, and more than I’m used to hearing. It gives a different feel to the song. I had never really noticed that menacing sub-bass undertone. I like it turned up.
  • Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel has lower treble energy than I’m accustomed to. I prefer my regular listening, as this song is top heavy like a 1990s Playboy centerfold in the treble region.
  • My sibilance test artist is Rush, because Geddy Lee lovess hisss essess. On the D3, the bass guitar is big and a touch stuffy on Spirit of the Radio.  Geddy Lee still has his sibilance, but I’m missing a little bit of the energy that this track should carry through his vocals and Neil Peart’s sometimes emphatic and sometimes delicate cymbal work. The bass does have some really excellent body and groove. I’m just missing the rest of the drum kit a bit.
  • If you are treble sensitive, but love a big bass, these D3 have you covered.
  • Daft Punk – Fragments in Time absolutely shines on the D3. It seems like it was made for it. the width of the presentation between the bass and the vocals gives both elements opportunity to shine.
  • Like another microdriver I’ve listened to (the RHA s500i), these take a little volume to wake up. Some of the muffled sound reduces when they are played louder, but this also might be dangerous for the ears because of how big the bass is.
  • These IEMs really dig electronic music. Now I’ve thrown on some Infected Mushroom – Echonomix and it’s delivering like a 1990s pizzaman. It’s good at driving extra big rhythms.
  • I think I’d take these around just for days when I’m feeling like electronic music. Perturbator – Perturbator’s Theme blows up delightfully in your ears. It’s a big sound.
  • The big electronic bass on Yosi Horikawa – Wandering has stunning rumble for a tiny 6mm driver. I like it. The stage on this binaural recording has good dimensionality in all directions. That is nice.
  • The characteristics of these demand some hip-hop! Bass drum on 2Pac – Changes rumbles on through the track and kicks in nice. Mids are nice and clear on the track, and stage width has excellent width. Shifting to God Bless the Dead I get some fantastic rumble. Unconditional Love sends out some beauteous big bottomed bass guitar with lots of air moving with the drum.
  • These are the basshead headphones of the under $50 bracket so far in this shootout. With music that benefits from some big bass, these will deliver.

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