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.