Alclair Reference Master Custom In-Ear Monitor Review

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Alclair Reference Custom In-Ear Monitors

Alclair is a relatively new company custom in-ear monitor company started by Marc Musselman, whom has quite a bit of experience in the industry.  Alclair products are tuned to his specifications, and he is continuously tweaking his products based on feedback from musicians and reviewers as well as working on new products.  While Alclair hasn’t been officially launched, you can buy the products including the Reference and Crank Master 3000 are his current flagships as well as two dual driver models.  Speaking to him, he comes across as knowledgeable yet humble and willing to take suggestions.

So, where does Alclair fit within the quickly expanding custom IEM manufacturer list?  The Alclair products are less expensive than the bigger brands, and the Reference price has dropped from the $499 price when I reviewed it to $399.  Alclair does have competition from other companies such as Dream Earz, Aurisonics, Clear Tunes, and 1964 for example, in the US.  As all the companies, Alclair is trying to make a name for themselves by offering great performance for the price.  Their current customers are primarily in the pro market, however they are trying to make inroads to the portable audio enthusiast market as well.  Let’s find out more about the Alclair Reference, which was provided by Marc for review purposes.

HOW TO ORDER, WARRANTY, & OPTIONS

To order, go to www.alclair.com, then the products page, then select the product you want.  Select face plate and shell colors, then quantity, and hit the buy button.  You can see some of the custom artwork on the Alclair Facebook page.

Options: Cable length, custom colors, custom artwork, custom engraving

Warranty: There is a one year parts and labor warranty.

 

DESIGN

The Alclair Reference uses three balance armature drivers (one single driver, one dual driver) in a 2-way (1 crossover points) configuration with two sound tubes in an acrylic shell.  The cable is detachable with recessed sockets.

ACCESSORIES

The Reference comes with a zipper carrying case, cleaning tool, and cleaning cloth.

CABLE

Since the cable is detachable and easily replaced by the user, the performance and durability are not as important as that of a fixed cable CIEM.  The cable is a standard custom IEM cable in the silver variety that will oxidize green over time.  The pins are compatible with most CIEMs which include JHA, Starkey, Rooth, etc.  Microphonics is non-exstant and ergonomics is very good.

DURABILITY

The shell is well made and since there are detachable cables, there are no significant concerns with durability.

 

ISOLATION

Isolation is average for an acrylic shelled custom IEM, giving about 26 dB of attenuation in the upper registers and around 20 dB in the lower frequencies.

 

SOUND

The Reference Master (Reference from here on out) received 100+ hours of burn in as is customary before I do my serious listening.  You can read about my technique here.  The Minerva Mi-3, Fabs Fabulous Earphones, Thousand Sound TS842, Dream Earz aud-5X, Starkey SA-12, Kozee Infinity X3, and Beat Audio i9pro were used for general comparisons while the IERM was used for judging the reference sound, and the SM3 was used for a sanity check vs. universal IEMs.

Bass: Coming across on the warmer and fuller side for a reference monitor, the Reference offers a great balance of deep bass capability with a high level of detail.  The Reference reaches all the way down to 20 Hz and recreates a bit of sensation down to 17 Hz, showing it can recreate sub-bass, however it is not what you will get from a dynamic driver custom IEM.  When compared with balanced armature custom IEMs, the Reference performs well except against the aud-5X, which uses 3 bass drivers.  However, the bass is never overdone, offering nice texture and control.  With a combination of speed and note sustainment that is quite neutral between a thicker note, the presentation is very natural and believable.

Placement of the bass is very neutral and it blends in seamlessly with the midrange.  The bass is well rounded, not lacking in anything except large quantities of the deepest bass rumble and should please all but the bass heads!

Midrange: Balanced and integrated perfectly with the bass and treble, the midrange offers very good spaciousness with a 3D presentation that encompasses you in a well proportioned and realistic sounding soundstage, however the inner most portion of the soundstage is slightly lacking in definition in the class.  While the spatial recreation is very good and on par with the class leader aud-5X (however it is presented differently), detail levels are a bit below the aud-5X and the TS842.  The presentation has a fullness to it that gives a life and musicality to vocals and instruments alike, and the neutral presentation, which is not laid back nor forward.  However, the upper midrange is a bit more forward than the lower midrange due to a boost to the upper mids, but not to the extent of something such as the JH16 or SA-12.  The rich, smooth presentation allows the Reference to get away with the small boost while still retaining its musicality while having class leading clarity.

Treble: The Reference is not necessarily a bright CIEM, however it does have a brightness to it but the two reference monitors I have, the UERM and NT-6, are both brighter for points of reference.  The highlight of the treble is the attack and decay of treble notes which can often be a bit on the thin side with balanced armatures, however the Reference recreates instrument in a smooth yet believable way that is very natural with excellent attack and decay.  Extension is average in the class which doesn’t lead to much sparkle, there is air.  The important aspect to my ears is the ability to properly decay with instrument properly, which is different than many with a quicker decay that accentuates details at the expense of the natural sound.

Presentation: The presentation of the Reference is not what I was expecting when from the name as the other “reference” CIEMs I own have a bright and analytical presentation while the Reference is warm and musical in comparison due to a thicker note.  In return, the Reference doesn’t have the detail levels of the other references nor does it bring all the details right to you and it is more forgiving for poor masters/low bit rate music, detracting some from the possible use as a reference monitor for mastering.  But, it is also half the price of the cheaper of the two “reference” monitors I have, so it is good as a reference monitor in the price range, at least from what I have heard due to the balance.

With a balanced presentation, not having much of an emphasis in any part of the spectrum that would lead to parts of the spectrum being more forward, the Reference is very coherent.  Clarity levels are class leading due to the imaging and spaciousness, attack capability, and slight increase in the upper midrange, and this is in spite of notes have a nice thickness to them.  Note thickness is well done with a good attack ability, neutral average note thickness, and the ability to sustain a note better than many balanced armatures in the price range.  The speed is not the fastest, but the Reference can keep up with fast music including electronic and metal just fine.  Deep bass reverberation isn’t as good as what you can get with dynamic drivers but the note sustainment ability results in recordings that are thicker to come across as such, offering a richness.

While the balance is quite good and the note thickness sounds natural, the Reference isn’t the most transparent in the class due to a less than stellar left to right coherence of the soundstage, and the imaging, while good, is in the lower middle of the class.  It isn’t something that jumps out at you as I had to listen to determine what was causing the transparency to be lower than I expected since the Reference performs so well in other aspects.   Dynamics are good and the detail level is in the middle of the pack.  The Reference is more revealing of poor recordings than most others in the class and the ability to recreate ambiance through spatial queues and very soft tones is top three.  Variation in presentation and sound with different mastering of tracks and sources is better than average giving you different sonic signatures from warm and cold tracks, for example.

Page 2: Comparisons, source matching, and summary

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About Author

Having a life-long love of high-quality audio and gadgets, average_joe got back in touch with his audiophile side after a hiatus caused by life. His focus became headphones and related gear as the size and price fit his life better than home audio. He believes the entire audio chain is important, and likes to continue to think past the headphone and on into the head, as he believes understanding the details of how we hear will lead to a better audio experience.

22 Comments

  1. john booker on

    Hi Joe,

    Was waiting for the review for the DUNU 2000 but not going to be my bag, Joker suggested i decide on my sound signature and then cost.

    I have narrowed my choices to Minerva Mi-Performer Pro, Custom Art pro330 v2 or Alclair Reference which are all in my budget including impressions and shipping.

    I am after a natural accurate and balanced sound which favours no particular genre, what would you recommend?

    John

    • average_joe on

      Hi John, I would agree with joker’s recommendation of the Custom Art 330 v2.

  2. Alex on

    Hey Joe – great review! How would you say these compare to the Etymotic ER4S?

    • average_joe on

      Hi Alex, thanks for the question. The spatial qualities of the Reference are far superior to the ER4S, and the overall sound is warmer and cleaner. Imaging is better, and bass has note sustainment capability the ER4S just can’t recreate. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Joe

  3. Jeff on

    Thanks for a great review! Would you have any knowledge of how these stack up against the Ultimate Ears 4 Pro CIEMs? They are the same price and seem to be another great option.

    I’d appreciate any insight.

    -Jeff

    • average_joe on

      Thanks for the question Jeff. I have only heard the UE 4 Pro in universal demo format and haven’t compared it directly with the Reference, and I don’t want to speculate as to overall performance, but I believe the UE is a bit more bass oriented while the Reference has better space and imaging. UE is a very reputable company, but Alclair has proven themselves and if you talk with Marc, he may be able to upgrade your product later, saving you some $$$. I hope this helps, and let me know if you have any other questions.

      average_joe

  4. tharagz08 on

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for the response. I ended up talking to Marc a few weeks back and actually ordered a pair of the Alclair Reference. I was going to push for the 1964 V3 but they actually recently increased the price and I did not want to deal with shipping to Poland with the Custom Arts.

    Outside of some minor fit issues I am having with the right ear the sound is incredible. Coming from the GR07 BE it doesn’t have as much bass, I think i’d clock it in at 3-6 Db less, but it does go very low. Because the bass of the GR07 did leak into the mids some it does make that portion of the bass seem small on the References.

    Because I am having to send them back to Marc for a refit I decided to go ahead and upgrade to the RSM. Seeing how pleased I was with the Reference I think I will be extremely pleased with the performance. Thanks again for the feedback, I’ll chime back in with my impressions here in a few weeks when I have them.

    Mike

    • average_joe on

      Hi Mike,

      That sounds like a great plan and I am sure you will enjoy the additional jump in sound quality. The RSM reaches deeper than the Reference, so deep bass seems fuller, and Marc might be able to give a slight boost to the bass if you ask, although I am not sure how that will change things. Marc is a great guy and very accomodating. Let us know how the RSM performs when you get it back.

      Cheers,
      Joe

      • tharagz08 on

        Yes, a big factor in me sticking to Alclair. Marc, in my experiences with ANY company, is bar none the best guy I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with. I was a store manager for a few years so I understand customer service and he is just leagues above the rest. Last night we hopped in on a facetime to take a look at the fit of my References to see if new impressions would be needed or if It was something he could look more closely at on my next pair. He comes across as extremely humble and laid back and was eager to do anything he could to make these IEMs perfect.

        • average_joe on

          Great to hear he is offering that service. I have never experienced anything but excellence from him! That is great that he uses technology (facetime) to make sure you are doing what is necessary the first time.

          Looking forward to your RSM feedback.

  5. tharagz08 on

    Hi Joe,

    Have you had a chance to listen to the Alclair RSM Quad? If so how do you think they compare to the reference? From what I’ve gathered from Marc and the webpage it seems like a similar uncolored, reference sound signature just with more focus in the mids and slightly fuller bass. I’d love to hear your impressions if you have listened to them.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • average_joe on

      Hi Mike,

      Yes, I have heard a previous revision of the RSM. It is a step up from the Reference in every way while retaining the same basic sound signature. Not too long ago I was asked about what cable someone should pair with the Reference. I suggested upgrading to the RSM instead and the person was extremely happy with the result.

      While the RSM didn’t outperform the Dream Earz AUD-8X, it did compare well. The biggest issue I had with the RSM was the treble, which is what Marc was working on improving. I hope that helps, and let me know if you have any other questions.

      Cheers,

      Joe

  6. average_joe on

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for reading and for the question. It seems like you want plenty of bass, and while I haven’t heard the HE-400, I believe it is bass heavy and on the dark side. While the Reference is a very good CIEM, I don’t think it will have enough bass for you and a good amp would be necessary to really get the bass going. The bass isn’t at the level of the S4 or GR07 BE. The V3 reviewed by joker (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/1964ears-1964-v3/) does seem like a better fit for your taste.

    Of the CIEMs I have reviewed that seem to be in your price range, the Dunu DC4 seems to be the closest fit, however it may be discontinued. I have sent an email to Dunu to find out.

    Here are some other options:
    Alclair XB Duals (http://alclair.com/product/dualsxb/) – I heard a demo unit and thought they were good for a dual, but had a ton of bass, maybe too much for you. Plus, without a proper A/B, I can’t really be sure.
    Cosmic Ears HY3 (http://www.cosmicears.com/shop/hy3/) – I don’t know much about this offering, but a hybrid should have good deep bass.
    InEarz IE-P450 (http://www.inearz.com/products/) – I have the P250, not the P450, which is pretty good for the price, but the bass isn’t dynamic driver quality. I say the P450 due to the price and if the bass is better than the P250, it could be what you are looking for. The P250 treble is good, but might be a bit more than you are looking for compared with the HE-400.
    I would have suggested the Wan Xuan i9pro, but I believe it has been discontinued, and cost more than the others listed.

    From what has been reviewed on this site, the V3 would be the best fit. Please let me know if you have any additional questions and I am looking forward to hearing what you get and your thoughts once you receive it.

    Cheers,

    Joe

    • ido on

      do you think the dual xb have more bass than the vsonic vsd3\gr07be?

      • average_joe on

        Unfortunately I can’t make that comparison since I have only heard the demo of the XB and have had very limited time with the GR07BE. The demo XB had a lot of bass, and I mean a lot!

      • ljokerl on

        Joe has a pretty high threshold for calling something “bassy”, so to me that sounds like the XB would be bassier than either of the GR07s :p

        • ido on

          Lol… Looks like it!

  7. tharagz08 on

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for spending the time to write these reviews. If you can though I have a few questions about three particular CIEMs. I am not a musician and listen to almost every genre outside of rap, one day it can be Incubus, then Tool, then Gojira, then Third Eye Blind, I’m all over the place. I wouldn’t call myself a bass head but I like deep, controlled with some impact. Sound stage and clarity is something I miss from my HE-400 headphones, though they are too large to take outside the home (which I dont have a lot of time to sit and listen to them anymore).

    I currently have a pair of GR07 BEs, Klipsch S4i, and HiFiman HE-400 Headphones. It seems that I have “picky” shaped ears and have a hard time finding a fit. Thus the reason I am leaning towards CIEMs (headphones would be great if they werent bulky). My HiFiman HE-400 are almost the perfect sound signature to me except for the treble issues (I do not know if I would describe it as too bright or sparkly, it just has an annoying “hot” sound to it that ruins some cymbals for me) and it lacks bass impact and speed, though I love how deep the base is and for the quantity it does have it is of a high quality. The clarity and sound stage are to my standards.

    The GR07 BEs sound mid recessed to me. The bass is good, though I would like for it to extend further down and not go so much into the mids. Sibilance is an issue at the high end on some of my tracks. I want more sound stage from them also.

    The S4i’s bass is not controlled enough and comes off as bloated.

    Knowing these things I have narrowed myself down to the Customart Music Twos (supposed to have more bass impact than the 1s), Alclair Reference, and 1964 V3. I cannot find any extensive reviews on the Music Twos to see how the bass has improved. The clarity and sound stage on the Alclair References sounds wonderful, but is the bass enough for me? Thank you again for your time! I hope this was all explained clearly.

    Mike

    • Scot on

      Hey Joe.

      Thanks for all the great info! I am looking at the RSM Quad from Alclair. It seems the last update was more than a year ago. Any update on the treble issue you discuss above with the early RSMs? I am looking at my first pair of CIEMs coming from years with the ER4S/P. I like the detail, clarity, resolution of the Etomotics but would like more space and a bit more bass and 3 demensional presentation. I use the iBasso DX90. At the >$700 range what would you recommend? The Custom Art Mudic One/Two, the afore mentioned RSM Quad, something else? I like a realistic sound one reason I like the Etys especially when mixing/mastering/recording. Thanks!!!

      • average_joe on

        Hi Scott, thanks for the question. I haven’t heard the latest RSM Quad, but believe it would fit the bill as it retained the sound sig of the Reference for the most part but kicked up the quality.
        Other options include:
        – The Rooth LS6 is close to ER4 territory, being neutral, and analytical yet with liquidity, while performing at a much higher level.
        – The Music One has a warmer sound signature and is closer to the Alclair monitors than the ER4 from my experience.
        – The Thousand Sound TS842 is OK and relatively neutral, but not recommended. I am mentioning it because when combined with the Whiplash TWau Reference Gold CIEM, the performance is incredible. While the price of both is high, the sound is comparable to competition in the price range.
        – If you can up your budget, the Hidition Viento-R is excellent.

        • Scot on

          Thanks Joe! I will check out your suggested alternatives. One you didn’t mention is the 1964 V6. Thoughts?

          • average_joe on

            I don’t have any experience with 1964 products unfortunately. From joker’s review, they seem to be similar to the Reference, but how he described them to me they seemed like they would be brighter. I don’t want to speculate, so you may want to ask him.

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