MrSpeakers seems an ironic name for a brand that seems entirely concerned with headphones, but I’ll let that pass just this once. The Alpha Dog as the name infers is the top model in a compact range of two headphones, both are based on the Fostex T50RP with the Alpha using only the drive units and structural headband from the donor headphone. Mr Speaker or Dan as his mates call him has used 3D printing to create the closed-back enclosures used here, externally they look solid but have thousands of holes running through them. It’s a matrix approach but in miniature and features a bass tuning system that you can adjust to taste with the supplied hex key. Engage the key with a grub screw hidden inside the matrix and move it in and out to change the balance. Apparently “it’s possible to restore them to factory tuning” but that statement ends with an asterisk that leads to a number of disclaimers the least taxing of which saying that calibration information is included on the headband.
The headband itself is thick leather which sits between head and the plastic Fostex band that supports the ear pieces. Comfort is high for a heavier than average headphone but this is probably as much to do with the leather upholstery on large earpads. Adjustment is easy yet the earpieces don’t move once in a comfortable position, you do need to put them in the smallest position if you want to rest the Alpha Dog on the supplied stand. Cables connect to each earphone with quick release connectors and the supplied cable can be terminated in either 4-pin XLR, 6.3mm or 3.5mm jack. My sample had the XLR and I used an adaptor to convert to quarter inch (6.3mm) jack.
I used a Russ Andrews HP1 headphone amp/preamp hooked up to the mighty Naim NDS streamer. The ‘Dogs feel quite heavy and you are unlikely to forget they’re there but in other respects they feel like they should survive the rigours of portable life. First impressions were of a richly populated soundfield with plenty of space and good timing, not to mention lots of air around the cymbals on Herbie Hancock’s version of Court and Spark. Moving over the a Lumin A-1 streamer produced a shinier balance but continued to make it easy to follow separate elements within each mix albeit in a less relaxed fashion. Going back to the NDS delivered sharper pace and a more compelling overall presentation as you might hope for the more than doubling of source price. I loved the low end on Royals (Lorde), the reverb on the upper bass and the reinforcement down under works a treat.
The Alpha Dog manages to combine a relaxed demeanour with good detail resolution and musicality, I imagine spending extended periods in their company would be highly amusing. The Bowers & Wilkins P7s are lighter, cooler and quite a bit more affordable (£330), they have a lighter, less weighty sound but are more perky. The ‘Dogs deliver a lot more fine detail, the noise floor is clearly lower and this makes for a more engaging listening experience. Dynamics are good too, Henry Threadgill’s rhythm section provide energy and propulsion while the man himself blows his horn, an instrument that can all too easily sound hard (as they tend to) but remains clean alongside the solid but tight double bass. ZZ Top’s Snappy Kakkie isn’t quite a match for a great amp and speaker but show me a headphone that is, pace is good as are dynamics but it’s just not as fast.
With a Chord Hugo amp/DAC, Macbook Air and Decibel software Fink’s Hard Believer sounds like it was made for headphones but Ed Palermo’s Big Band seems a little shut in by the closed back nature of the headphones. They are however very easy to enjoy thanks to high levels of musicality and comfort. It makes you wonder what benefits would accrue if the balanced to jack plug adaptor wasn’t in the way, or, if you had a balanced amp, that would undoubtedly help. The Alpha Dog’s mixed parentage make it a strong and capable headphone, it might not look as pretty as a pure breed from a big brand but if you want to enjoy long pleasurable hours of listening it’s a dependable companion.
Impedance: 50 Ohms
Frequency response (+/- 3dB): 16Hz to 18KHz
Weight (without cable): 440g
Cable: Dual entry
Special Alpha Dog headphone stand
Lamb leather angled ear pads
Bass port tuning key
Black velvet carrying bag
Black leather "comfort strap”
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