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.
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.
The Reference comes with a zipper carrying case, cleaning tool, and cleaning cloth.
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.
The shell is well made and since there are detachable cables, there are no significant concerns with durability.
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.
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