Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alpha & Delta AD01: Power of Two

Intro


TL;DR: The debut IEM of LMUE's in-house brand, the AD01 provides a thunderous, bass-heavy sound signature built almost specifically for the basshead.


Before I begin, I would like to thank Teo at Led Me UR Ears for providing the review sample of the Alpha & Delta AD01 seen in this review. Note that I am neither affiliated with LMUE or any of its staff, nor am I being paid to write this review. Everything that follows is from my own honest opinion unless otherwise specified, and all pictures are taken and owned by me. Finally, please take everything stated in this review with a grain of salt. Thanks!

Lend Me UR Ears – from henceforth will be called LMUE – is a headphone retailer and distributor based in Singapore, known for popularizing many East Asian brands and making them accessible to the Western audiophile market – not unlike Penon Audio – thanks to its Amazon warehouses in the US and Canada. Just about 3 weeks ago, Teo approached me offering to review an in-house IEM which they released in partnership with a local manufacturer. The IEM in question is the Alpha & Delta AD01.

This new IEM employs a dual dynamic driver system, priced at about $100. How will these newcomers stand up to its much older competitors? Find out after the jump.



== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories

The AD01 arrives in a fancy jewelry box-like package, adorned with the Alpha & Delta logo, a weird sticker that says AD01, and…not much else, actually. Inside you're greeted by a foam cutout containing the AD01 itself (detached from its cable), a couple pairs of eartips, and a plastic pouch with more eartips inside. Under that foam cutout is another cutout containing a hard case, inside which is the AD01’s cable.

The AD01, for a $100 IEM, has a great accessory package. Aside from the already mentioned hard case, you also get ten pairs of eartips: generic eartips in S/M/L, Sony Hybrid lookalikes in S/M/L, bi-flange eartips in S/M/L, and a pair of generic foam eartips. Despite the quantity of included eartips, they aren’t exactly of the highest quality, with the included Sony Hybrid look-alikes looking about as cheaply made as possible. LMUE also offers aftermarket accessories on their site, one of which is a neat upgrade cable (priced at 45 SGD as of this writing) which Teo was kind enough to send along with the main package (I will expand on this later).

One thing I noticed about the AD01 at first glance is the apparent lack of branding on the earphones and its packaging. About the only thing that indicates the AD01’s brand is the logo on the front of the box. Otherwise there is no indication of what brand the IEMs themselves are, being little more than your generic Chinese-brand earphones if you have no prior knowledge of what it is.


Design, Build, Microphonics

Let me put this simply: the AD01 has an excellent build. Featuring full metal housings and removable cables, they’re sure to be able to take quite the beating. The cables themselves are extremely solid – better than just about any IEM cable I’ve tried so far – and are relieved quite nicely. The AD01 is built about as well as you possibly can for a universal IEM. About the only thing that the AD01’s build needs improvement on is, well, the cable. As I said, it's very strong, but it's also very springy and retains quite a bit of memory, which does make it a bit of a nuisance when wearing them around-the-ear since the cable tends to jump out of the back of my pinna.

Design-wise I’m quite happy that Alpha & Delta didn’t skimp in this area in creating the AD01. Despite some initial concerns they actually perform quite well. The connectors on the AD01 cables are rather short in comparison to the connectors from the MEE M6 Pro and other IEMs that use a 2mm connector, but they actually fit on the AD01 quite securely. (ON SECOND THOUGHT: Teo clarified to me via email that the 2mm DC connectors are in fact the same thing used on the M6 Pro, except the AD01's connector is more recessed, which makes it protrude less.) Looks-wise they're honestly not much different from your generic dollar store IEMs, but it's not like you'll be looking at your IEMs all day, right?


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

Stock cable and upgrade cable side-by-side.
The AD01 has a quick, easy fit – you simply plug it into your ears, and you’re good to go. You can also wear them around-the-ear, but as I stated the cable is quite springy and tends to fall out of the back of your ears when doing so. Its capsule-shaped housings are also a tad large, which may cause some fit problems for those with smaller ear canals, but for the most part they should fit pretty securely. (Side note: the MEE M6 PRO cables work with the AD01 and have memory wire earhooks, so if you're looking for a more secure fit and happen to have the M6 Pro, I suggest trying them out.)

The AD01 is actually quite comfortable once you put them on. Their housings are, again, quite large, but not to the point where they cause any discomfort. The included foam eartips give the AD01 a few extra points in this sector, but overall they're about average in my opinion. Isolation is also pretty good, and should block out most of the noise of your daily commute without fail.


== Sound ==

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back in-ear monitor
Driver Type
1x 9.8mm woofer
1x 6.0mm tweeter
Frequency Response
10 – 25,000 Hz
Max. Input Power
30 mW
Sensitivity
102 dB/mW
Impedance
9 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
1.3m (4’) OFC cable
Connector
2mm DC connector (housings)
3.5mm (1/8”) gold-plated right-angled connector
Accessories
3x sets narrow-bore single-flange eartips (S/M/L)
3x sets narrow-bore colour-coded single-flange eartips (S/M/L)
3x sets wide-bore bi-flange eartips (S/M/L)
1x set generic foam eartips (M)
Hard carry case
Instruction manual
12 month manufacturer’s warranty


Equipment, Burn-in

The equipment used in this review consists of a 5th-generation iPod Touch, an iPad 3, and my custom-built PC as the sources, the former two driving the AD01 unamped and the PC powering the IEMs with a Schiit Fulla. The EQ app used in its respective test is TuneShell on iOS. As always, my test tracks are available here, although I will link specific songs in the assessment for a more direct point of reference. As for the eartips, I am using the included foam eartips.

Concerning the “upgrade cable” which Teo included in the package for me to test, I honestly found no discernible difference between the stock cable and the upgrade cable, in my opinion, the only thing the upgrade cable upgrades is the looks.

The Alpha & Delta AD01 was not burned-in out of the box – rather, I spent much of its play time listening to them. Over that period I didn’t notice any changes, major or minor, and I’m pretty sure there won’t be any down the line.

Anyway, let’s get right down to it, shall we?


Sound Quality

The AD01 equipped with the MEE M6 Pro cable.


When Teo approached me with the offer of reviewing the AD01, here was what he said about them:

The AD01 has a V-shaped sound signature. Even though the bass is punchy, it does not bleed in to the mids and the overall clarity of the IEM is still there. Several people compared it as the Havi B3 Pro 1 with a good and punchy bass. I will also be offering an upgrade cable which will improve on the highs and the mids while taming the bass a little.”

Now, for this audio assessment I’m mainly going to compare the sound of the AD01 with these (probably marketing) statements and press on these statements to see if they hold any weight. I may not have the B3 Pro 1, but I do have quite a few IEMs that are more than ready to hold against the newcomer. Let’s take a look.

Bass:
The AD01 has your average consumer V-shaped sound signature, which basically means it’s got bass. And boy, does the AD01 have a lot of it. It hits hard, digs deep, and has an authoritative, visceral impact that’s perfect for EDM (Razihel – Legends). As stated, it doesn’t bleed into the lower midrange, but it’s certainly more boomy than punchy. On the flipside, electric bass notes and drums are more accentuated on the AD01, which makes genres like metal (Megadeth – Holy Wars…The Punishment Due) and other predominantly acoustic genres sound messy and very off-putting. Otherwise, though, I’m quite impressed.


Midrange:
The AD01’s midrange is actually pretty good for an IEM with a V-shaped sig. As is expected, it has a warm tonality which adds a noticeable amount of heft to the lower registers (Coldplay – Green Eyes). However, the AD01’s dual drivers work especially well together to provide a very clean midrange with clarity that still shines through on most recordings. They still completely flunk classical and acoustic (Gareth Coker – Fleeing Kuro, Govi – Bumblebeat), though.


Treble:
The AD01’s treble is good, with great extension and enough snap to retrieve high-energy sounds such as claps, percussive details and “s,” “ch,” or similar sounds in the human voice despite the bass dominating most of the recordings I’ve tested the AD01 with. But even then, I feel the AD01 still lacks energy up-top, instead losing out to its authoritative low-end.


Soundstage/Presentation:
The AD01’s soundstage is about what I would expect from a great consumer-spec IEM – decent on all fronts. Decent size, decent width, a bit lacking in air and depth, but otherwise not bad at all. The presentation is also quite good, with good imaging and separation between instruments. However, it's no Havi B3 Pro 1 with punchy bass – no, it's far from that. Again, still pretty good for what it is.


Summary:
The Alpha & Delta AD01 is quite the contender in the consumer IEM market, featuring heavy, powerful bass, while still able to extract some degree of details in your music. However, it's not what I would classify as audiophile-grade, as their sound quality isn't exactly up-to-par with some of the “true” audiophile offerings at the same price range – or, better yet, even lower. But in the end, they more than serve as a fun IEM I would listen to with some EDM.


Other Media

Games:
V-shaped sound signatures or those with heavy bass usually don't make viable choices in competitive gaming, where one would need every sense optimized to get ahead over the competition. In this case, the AD01 is no different. With its thunderous low-end, it can be pretty difficult to hear or detect the details that matter, like footsteps and gunfire. But that doesn't mean the AD01 can't be used for gaming – I mean, that's perfectly fine, but personally they don’t prove very useful when you're gaming seriously.


Movies:
The AD01 works pretty well with movies, with its low-end again taking the spotlight for better or for worse. I'm no movie buff, but the AD01 works nicely for this purpose, bringing you a grandiose, cinematic experience. The only thing I find lacking is the soundstage, which doesn't really give you that in-the-cinema feel.


EQ Response, Amplification

With its impedance of 9 ohms, they can be driven from your smartphone or MP3 player just fine. However, noticing the lack of treble energy, I tried giving them some extra power to see if the treble would improve. The AD01 sounded noticeably cleaner and clearer out of the Schiit Fulla, but sadly the treble didn't improve much if at all. Luckily, the AD01 is very responsive to EQ, and one could tweak their sound pretty easily without having to mess with the EQ too much.


Value

The AD01 retails for $130 Singapore Dollars (~$100 USD as of this writing), bought exclusively from LMUE. For the price, I find it hard to complain about what they bring to the table. Top-notch build quality, a fun, bass-heavy sound signature – if you love bass, what’s not to like?


Comparison

Versus Brainwavz S5 ($100):
The Brainwavz S5 is a slightly older competitor that shares quite a few characteristics with the AD01, which makes them the perfect rivals to place against each other in a battle to the death. Both of them have excellent build quality, impressive sets of accessories, and a V-shaped sound signature. At first glance, sound-wise they both sound fundamentally similar, but the AD01’s dual drivers manage to edge out over the S5 with deeper bass and a clearer midrange. In comparison, the S5 sounds brighter, more forward, more aggressive, but warmer, with a midbass-focused impact. Personally, though, I’d take either without any regrets.

Versus Brainwavz R3 ($130):
The Brainwavz R3 is a fellow dual dynamic IEM that features a unique “sound chamber” technology which allows it to provide a better soundstage, among other things. If you compare them side-by-side, you'll immediately notice the stark differences in their sound signatures, the AD01 being fun and bass-heavy and the R3 chill and laid-back. From sound signature alone I would much rather pick the R3 because of personal preferences, but both complement each other in a way that would have me get both at the same time.


== Conclusion ==


In conclusion, I find the Alpha & Delta AD01 an impressive first release from the folks over at LMUE. I could say they've learned quite a bit from the products they've sold over the years and have taken that to heart in designing and tuning the AD01. With a top-notch build, an excellent accessories package, and a fun, bass-heavy sound signature, the AD01 is one of the best IEMs to get for bassheads and EDM fans alike.

Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
A beautiful jewelry box as packaging, with a ton of accessories to boot. What more could one ask for? Maybe better eartips and more branding, but otherwise I can’t think of much else.
Design, Build, Microphonics
9/10
Removable cables, full metal housings, and an excellently-built stock cable come together to make a top-notch IEM that’s built to last.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
7.5/10
The AD01 has simply-shaped housings that allow for a simple fit, but I’m concerned the size of the housings make them a not-so-universal IEM. Once you do get to fit them properly, however, they are quite comfortable and isolate external noise pretty well.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
9/10
Heavy, deep, and authoritative, with a thunderous impact that pulls no punches. It’s about as basshead-friendly as you can get.
Midrange
7/10
The AD01’s tweeter driver produces a very clean midrange, but despite its clarity I found it too recessed for the AD01 to perform anything outside of electronic genres well.
Treble
6/10
The treble is neat, clean, and extends nicely, but for me lacks the energy to balance out its powerful low end.
Presentation
7/10
The AD01’s soundstage is about average for what it is. It doesn’t do anything particularly special, although it does have a remarkable presentation and great imaging.
Gaming, Movies
6/10
Personally the AD01 does neither games nor movies particularly well, but they will serve you well if you don’t have anything else.
EQ Response, Amplification
7/10
A better DAC and amp help to make the AD01 sound much cleaner and more refined, but doesn’t fix the treble gripe I have with them. However, a minute of fiddling with EQ settings will.
Value
8/10
For $100, it’s very hard to find fault in the AD01, especially with what they manage to bring to the table at the price point.
Total
7.5/10
The AD01 is an excellent bass-heavy IEM that I find will appeal to anyone who loves bass.


Suggestions for Improvement

More mids. More treble. Less bass. That’s all.

Shout-Outs, Gallery

I just want to again thank Teo at LMUE for providing the sample of the AD01 used in this review. For a debut in-house release I’m quite impressed at what LMUE is capable of, and I hope to see more from them soon. As always, you can see the rest of the images taken in this review here. Also, be sure to check out more headphone and IEM reviews like these here.

As always, this has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!

About the Company

Lend Me UR Ears only have one mission: That is, to bring quality audioproducts to the masses and providing good customer service in the process.”

Link:http://www.lendmeurears.com/


Changelog

23/07/15: Upgrade cable price fixed.

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