Alclair Reference Review

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Reviewed May 2012

Details: Triple-driver acrylic custom from MN-based Alclair
Base Price $399 from alclair.com
Specs: Driver: Triple BA | Imp: 27Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: N/A | Cable: 4.2′ L-plug
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Cleaning tool, cleaning cloth, and hard-shelled Pelican carrying case
Build Quality (5/5) – The reference is a two-way, triple-driver monitor with dual low drivers – a setup similar to the 1964EARS 1964-T and several universal-fit monitors. The molding quality is very good, with clean shells and very clear faceplates. The finish around the nozzles and cable connectors is good as well and the cable uses a recessed Westone-style connector.
Isolation (4/5) – The isolation provided by the fitted acrylic shells is excellent – slightly below what the higher-end Etymotic Research universal-fit earphones are capable of with foam or tri-flange tips but higher than that of the ergonomic monitors from Westone and EarSonics
Microphonics (5/5) – Pretty much nonexistent as with all of the custom monitors I’ve tried
Comfort (5/5) – The nozzles of my Reference were cut to a medium length. As with all customs, putting them in will require a bit of getting used to for first-time users but the twisting motion eventually becomes second nature. The acrylic shells are hard but not in the least uncomfortable when fitted correctly. If the earphones remain uncomfortable after an initial break-in period, a refit is probably a good idea. There is added cost with shipping the monitors back and, if necessary, getting new impressions but a perfect fit is well worth the trouble

Sound (9.4/10) – The Alclair Reference utilizes a two-way, triple-BA setup with dual low drivers, much like that of the 1964EARS 1964-T. Its signature, however, is very different from the mid-focused sound of the 1964s. The Alclair pursues a more balanced response with some treble emphasis and a more laid-back presentation. At the same time the dual woofers give the sound a warm tone and fullness, making the Alclair Reference one earphone that can easily be enjoyed for casual listening as well as professional use.

The bass of the earphones is detailed and controlled, with good note thickness and minimal bleed. The low end is accurate, but impactful. It is crisper and more punchy than that of the Earsonics SM3 and similar in power but better-textured compared to a black-filtered Phonak PFE 232. Bass depth is also good – better than with the CTM-200 and 1964-T but not quite up there with the pricier UM Miracle and Spiral Ear 3-way. The Alclair Reference doesn’t produce a lot of sub-bass rumble but it sounds very clean and resolving across the range, as a good monitor should. It beats out the K3003 in clarity and control and produces a fuller, more realistic sound than the CTM-200 – a good balance in my book.

The midrange of the Reference is balanced very well with the bass, making the Phonak PFE 232 sound mid-recessed in comparison. It is warmed up a little by the bass and very well-detailed. Detail levels are higher than with the AKG K3003 and Spiral Ear 3-way and lag just behind the UM Miracle. The note presentation is on the analytical side but not overly so – the Reference is noticeably thicker-sounding than the CTM-200 as well as TWFK-based monitors such as the Fischer Audio DBA-02. The result is clarity worthy of a reference product without a drop in note weight and overall realism.

Things start to get a little complicated moving up from the midrange – the upper mids and lower treble of the Reference seem to be somewhat emphasized, likely tuned that way to give a boost to vocal clarity. There is a bit of treble unevenness, causing the Reference to sound a touch ‘hot’ with some tracks in a manner reminiscent of the VSonic GR07 and the Phonak PFE 232. The treble peaks of the PFE 232 come in a little higher up but are also slightly stronger, making the Reference less fatiguing for long-term listening, but I wouldn’t recommend either to those who prefer smooth and laid-back highs. On the upside, there is plenty of energy at the top, which can’t be said for the pricier Spiral Ear 3-way. Treble extension is good as well – not quite on-par with the Miracle or AKG K3003 but superior to the CTM-200 and vastly better than the 1964-T.

Presentation is a strong suit of the Reference – the soundstage is nice and spacious, with width similar to that of the CTM-200 but better depth and layering. It doesn’t have the best on-center feel – the AKG K3003 and Earsonics SM3 both do better when it comes to portraying elements that are up close, but neither can match the sheer width of the Alclair’s soundstage. Instrument separation is also excellent and the Reference has good dynamics for a BA-based earphone. Overall coherence is also impressive, making obvious the slightly mismatched BA-dynamic sound of the AKG K3003 and the overly-mid-centric tuning of the 1964-T’s crossover.

Value (9/10) – Starting at $399, the Alclair Reference is a mid-level custom monitor that combines a versatile sound signature with the usual isolation, fit, and customization options of a full-shell custom monitor. The finish is nothing short of excellent and the standard recessed cable sockets make me less apprehensive of long-term cable durability, though some aftermarket cables may be more difficult to fit. More importantly, the sound signature of the Reference should make it the a great crowd pleaser – the triple-BA setup produces a slightly warm, spacious, and energetic sound, an excellent compromise between accuracy and musicality and a potential upgrade to some very popular universals such as the VSonic GR07.

Pros: Great build quality; comfort of a custom monitor; slightly warm sound with good clarity, detail, and space; excellent bass & midrange quality
Cons: Treble may be hot for some

For another perspective, see average_joe’s review.


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

13 Comments

  1. Derek on

    Great site and reviews-very well done. I really appreciate the details and how you word them. I’m a bass player and ready to invest in some CIEMs for on stage and just casual music listening. I’d like to keep it under $500 with the best sound quality I can get. It looks like the alclair reference and the custom art music two are my main contenders. Any additional comparison notes or pointers for those two? Also any other suggestions/recs would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.
    Regards.

    • ljokerl on

      Haven’t tried the CA Music 2 but the Alclair, keeping in mind it doesn’t have very enhanced bass, is a great all-rounder. Nicely accurate sound, good weight and note thickness, nice soundstage.

      If you want enhanced bass, my recommendation is the 64EARS V3 but that’s a bit pricier at $500 before impressions.

  2. Anthony on

    Hi joker have you done a revie on the alclair RSM Quad Custom In-ear Monitor, if now what is your opinion on it.
    Thank you
    Anthony

    • ljokerl on

      No, sorry – never reviewed the RSM.

  3. Batman on

    Hey Joker,

    I was wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean by “It doesn’t have the best on-center feel” regarding the soundstage. Every review of the Reference has mentioned it but I’m still not sure what it means. Is it a problem, and if so, how big?
    Is there any other custom you recommend at the Reference’s price range that is as technically capable with neutral and detailed sound?

    Thank you so much.

    • ljokerl on

      No, it’s not a big problem, just a minor quirk of the presentation. Basically, some universals and many customs (especially higher-end ones) have very good soundstage depth/layering to the point where they can really position things dead center in the soundstage/headstage. A good example is the EarSonics SM3. The Reference has a more conventional presentation, more similar to something like a VSonic GR07. Note that few people complain about this sort of thing with the GR07 because it’s really only apparent when you start running comparisons against higher-end customs, for example, which are not really relevant until you get to the Reference level or higher.

      Most customs in the Reference price range aren’t more neutral. The closest I can think of that I would consider more neutral is the Custom Art Pro 330v2, but that’s about $600 if you’re in Europe and a little cheaper if you’re outside the EU.

      • Batman on

        Thanks for your advice! In your opinion do these require an amplifier to sound noticeably better? Can these be comfortably driven straight out of a phone? I don’t really care about the volume since my listening levels are pretty low, just if it improves the sound significantly overall.
        Thank you!

        • ljokerl on

          It depends on the phone. My usual answer is that it’s probably not worth it to invest in an amp with most mid- and even higher-end IEMs if your current source(s) are good quality (e.g. iPhone 4/5/6, Macbook, dedicated mp3 player like Sansa Clip, Fiio X1, Cowon etc). However, if they are not designed to drive IEMs and have high noise floor, high output impedance, or some other fault, it is worth looking into an Amp or even Amp/DAC combo to get the full potential out of them. I wrote a little more on this topic here: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/vsonic-vc1000/#comment-27328 in relation to a source-dependent balanced armature IEM.

          My personal suggestion is always to upgrade IEMs/headphones first, then source (to a reasonable level), then your audio files (again, to a reasonable level. HD music is not really necessary but 192kbps mp3s become undesirable at this point), then apply any potential mods/upgrades to your headphones (EQ, different tips, vent mods, impedance adapters), and only then pay attention to additional stuff like external amplification, cables, etc.

          • Batman on

            Just what I was looking for. Thank you so much!

  4. john booker on

    Hi Joker,

    Was waiting for the review for the DUNU 2000 but not going to be my bag, you 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

    • ljokerl on

      Given the same price I’d go for the Custom Art for balance and accuracy. It’s technically better than the Minerva and has a flatter/more neutral signature than the Alclair Reference.

  5. Knicholas on

    Does anyone tried this in comparison to the Custom Art Music Twos and 1964v3? Those are the 3 I’m considering…

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