Alpine Headphones Listening Tests and Conclusions
I did play around with the tactile transducers from time to time but, as I predicted from my initial experience, I pretty much hated them. The vibration against my head was distracting, and with very repetitive beats I found it made my skin itch. The thing I appreciated was how the TKR3 Full Immersion Technology only worked with the bass. If a track had very little bass, the headphones wouldn't vibrate at all. At least Alpine didn't try to force the vibrations on all content.
I also noticed that the headphones vibrated most strongly with bass beats (like kick drums or bass notes) but not as much with bass sweeps. When listening to bass sweeps, however, I noted that the headphones had a resonant frequency. If I placed my hand on the headphones, during one part of the sweep, the sound character would change if I placed my hand on the top of the headphone band. This suggested to me that the bass boost I was experiencing was actually from the headphones resonating.
Alpine claims a 10-hour battery life on their Headphones. This is for the TKR3 Full Immersion Technology and the Bluetooth pairing. I couldn't tell you if that was the case or not. In three weeks, I didn't use the TKR3 full vibrational tech enough to drain the battery.
The top part of the headband was not as hard as it looked, but it's still less comfortable than the rest
With the TKR3 Full Immersion Technology turned off, I tested the Alpine Headphones with my Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC and headphone amplifier. I compared them to the V-Moda M-100 Crossfade headphones, the Oppo PM-2 Magnetic Planar headphones, the Denon AH-D1000 headphones, and a few others. The Emotiva DC-1 has dual headphone outputs making easy comparisons between the different sets of cans.
For content, I used a number of tracks that I'm very familiar with from the likes of yello, Tina Dickow, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Lorna Hunt, Rusted Root, and many more. Recently, I downloaded Dr. Chesky's The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc. This disc has a number of binaural recordings along with tests for treble, bass, and imaging. The imaging tests, in particular, I used to see how well the Alpine Headphones imaged not just side-to-side but front to back. The Dr. Chesky's disc can be downloaded in a number of resolutions. I have it in 192kHz/24-bit version.
Headphones these days tend to be bass heavy and I've gotten past blaming the manufacturers for this. Obviously they sell, so why wouldn't they make their headphones bass heavy? The Alpine Headphones have what I would call a bass emphasis, but I wouldn't push them all the way into the bass heavy category. During particular songs at particular times I would notice a bit of a bass bloat, but for the most part the bass was punchy without being too overdone. When comparing to headphones like the extremely linear Oppo PM-2 Planar Magnetic headphones, the bass emphasis was obvious; however, within their own presentation, the bass seemed balanced. Tracks like Seal's Crazy sounded full and rich. With bass sweeps, the bass sounded even down to around 30 Hz where I heard fluttering distortion start.
Instructions were in sticker form
The top end was clear and very balanced. I've heard headphones with more detail, but usually that means that any high-end noise ends up being very noticeable. On Pelding & Joy Morgan's No Angel, there is a little background hiss in the recording (something you vinyl aficionados should love). The background hiss was well masked by the bass with the Alpine Headphones. Unfortunately, this also masked some of the top-end sounds. The track has some soft notes played at the very top of the piano. I could hear these notes, though they weren't as clear or as clean as I've heard with other headphones. For many, this is an easy tradeoff. The extra bass is something that many find pleasant and the rolled off or masked high end means the headphones are forgiving of most people's poorly recorded and heavily compressed music.
Honestly, if you read the instructions, they seem out of order
The midrange was a bit recessed compared to the top and bottom ends, but it was still present. It reminded me of all those home EQs back in the 70's and 80's where everyone would make a smile with the sliders. I certainly heard enough of the midrange such that I wasn't wondering where it was, but when I compared the Alpine Headphones to other, more linear headphones, the differences were jarring. Clear treble and punchy bass were certainly the design goals. The midrange sort of got lost in the shuffle.
Imaging is where the Alpine Headphones really began to shine. The Dr. Chesky's disc has both side-to-side and front-to-back imaging tests. The side-to-side tests are usually not a problems for headphones. Even the back image most do okay with. The front, on the other hand is by far the most difficult. Even the Oppo PM-2 headphones had trouble with it. The Alpine Headphones managed to create an almost convincing front image. It sounded like it was in front of my face. It was elevated a bit, but it was there. I could only hear it with the Shaker test, but I've never heard it before with any headphones.
In real world use, the width of the soundstage with the Alpine Headphones was mind-blowing. Left to right pans seemed to start outside the room, pass through the room, and exit stage right. Imaging with the Alpine Headphones was some of the best I've heard at any price point. I'm really surprised they were able to achieve this sort of imaging with just a couple of 40mm drivers. Maybe they hit lightning in a bottle, but whatever they did, they should keep doing it.
The transducer gimmick is something that obviously took up a lot of the budget on the Alpine Headphones. If the plastic construction didn't clue you in, the sound leakage would give it away. I have open back headphones that don't leak as much sound as the Alpine Headphones. If you are looking for a headphone for the subway where you can listen to your music and not bother others, the Alpine Headphones aren't them. I hope Alpine puts out another version of these headphones without the TKR3 gimmick and instead beefs up the quality of the materials and construction. At the $300 price point, these headphones clearly have the chops to be counted among the best with just a few tweaks.
I know I was all over the map with this review and that's because the Alpine Headphones have a lot of things I like, and a few things I don't. The pluses are that they image better than any headphone in my arsenal, and they have a bass accentuated presentation but still manage to present a fairly balanced sound field. On the down side, the build quality is lackluster, the midrange is a bit recessed, and the TKR3 transducer technology is silly and detrimental to the sound quality. In the end, these headphones end up as a buy for me because of their sound quality and, most of all, their imaging. With a few tweaks, Alpine could have price-point leader on their hands. We'll have to see what they do in the future.
The Score Card
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Recent Forum Posts:
I'm afraid the likes of Grado, Ultrasone, Sennheiser, AKG, Audio Technica can and do walk over the 'new kids on the block' (Alpine).
I've owned over 35 pairs of Senn's including the HD-25-1's and HD650, down to just over 10 now, and 10 pairs of Ultrasone's, 7 pairs of Grado/Alessandro, and nothing from the likes of Monster, Focal (owned car audio speakers), B&W. There's a reason for that!!!!
Read the full review on the Alpine Headphones here.
Does anybody own a set of these cans? Make sure to share your experiences on this thread.