One of the most fundamental things you need to remember about buying audio gear is that different headphones produce different sounds. Some headphones – like studio monitor headphones – produce audio that’s unadulterated and neutral. Others, particularly those aimed at fitness fanatics, tend to emphasize thumping bass notes.
But what if you could have just one pair of headphones, and, as needs determine, change the sound profile of your buds simply by swapping out a component? That’s, in a nutshell, is the basic premise behind the Alfa Genus V2 earphones, from Tamworth-based audio manufacturer Rock Jaw Audio.
Incidentally, the Alfa Genus V2s are also the subject of my final audio review of 2018. And while I wouldn’t exactly say I’m saving the best for last, I can confidently claim that they’re the most interesting headphones I’ve reviewed this year.
What’s in the box
Let’s touch on design for a second. The Alfa Genus V2 isn’t exactly flash, but it does feels decidedly well-built for a product currently retailing for £30 (about $38) on Amazon. It’s extremely tough to find an area where Rock Jaw Audio cut corners in design and construction. The cable is thick and feels like it could survive the harshness of day-to-day use without fraying, while the buds have a robust metal construction that is emphatically premium.
Rock Jaw also threw in a decent selection of ear-tips to fit all canal sizes and types. Unusually for a product at this price point, the company also included a soft carry-case. That’s a nice touch, and definitely wasn’t expected.
And then there’s the tuning filters. These are the tiny widgets that attach to your earphones and fundamentally change the characteristics and qualities of the audio. You get three pairs of these: bass, treble, and “natural.” Each comes color coded, allowing you you to easily distinguish between the trio, and ensuring you don’t accidentally mix them up.
Reviewing a product like the Alfa Genus V2 is a little tricky because, in effect, you’re reviewing three different pairs of headphones.
Attach the bass tuning filters, and you’re suddenly reviewing a bass-heavy pair of earphones. Switch to the treble filters, and the Alfa Genus V2 will place greater emphasis on the higher notes. Natural tuning filters, on the other hand, do neither, instead focusing on providing the listener with a more balanced reproduction of the audio.
See the problem? So, let’s break it down, one-by-one.
We’ll start with the bass filters. The Alfa Genus V2 comes with these pre-installed. Personally, I didn’t like them all that much. Although they deliver on the promise of emphasizing powerful low notes, a side effect is that higher notes sound annoyingly hollow, and vocals feel distant. This was something I observed while listening to upbeat pop tracks like ‘Let’s Get Married’ by Bleachers, as well as ‘Let’s Go’ from indietronica duo Matt and Kim.
The bass filters, however, do redeem themselves when listening to instrumental tracks that more prominently feature bass instruments, like the toe-tappingly ethereal ‘Hopopono,’ from Manchester-based jazz trio GoGo Penguin. That said, given most people have mixed tastes in music, I’d struggle to recommend punters use these filters for everyday listening.
Surprisingly, the treble filters felt vastly more balanced. Bass notes didn’t feel flat or dull, and yet the filters managed to shine a spotlight on higher notes, adding definition and prominence to string instruments in particular. This was apparent when listening to classical performances like ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,’ from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s album 1996.
Another strong choice are the “natural” filters, which deliver on the promise made by the name, and offer a delightfully balanced listening profile, with plenty of detail and space. My only complaint with these is that – as other reviewers have observed – there’s an element of sibilance that inevitably creeps in when listening at higher volumes.
Installing the filters isn’t hard. They pretty much screw into the earbud in a matter of seconds and, once set, stay put. That said, thanks to their diminutive size, they’re pretty fiddly. If you drop one, you’ll be on your hands and knees scouring for it, like a midfielder trying to find their lost contact lens on a grassy football pitch.
Before we wrap up, let’s touch on comfort, which is hugely important. The Alfa Genus V2 buds are really light and compact, and in my experience, were comfortable for long listening sessions. This is something I very rarely say about in-ear earbuds.
There’s an awful lot to like about the Alfa Genus V2. From the build quality to the overall sound performance, these are some cracking wired buds, and at £30 represent a solid bargain for any fickle audiophile. The interchangeable filters are well-conceived. While I wasn’t exactly enamored with the bass tuning filters, I felt the treble and natural filters offered a better-balanced listening experience, with plenty of depth and definition.
Ultimately though, what the Alfa Genus V2 offers is something seldom found in the audio space – choice. And does this at an accessible price point, which is even more rare.
I should point out that there’s a slightly more expensive model which comes with a built-in media remote and microphone. I didn’t review this one, and therefore can’t attest to the call quality. That said, if you’re curious, you can pick one up for just under £35.
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Published December 29, 2018 — 02:03 UTC