Brainwavz is most well-known for me for their variety of headphone hangers, of which I think at least one of each model grace my shelves. In a recent discussion with them, they asked if I was interested in reviewing their inexpensive IEM or headphone offerings.
I was admittedly reluctant to cover products that had been reviewed by so many other people, and that I was more interested in products higher up in price range. The surprise reply was that they were releasing a pair of $499 planar headphones, the Alara, so would I be interested in those? NOW we’re talking, I thought, and agreed.
The headphones themselves aren’t actually made by Brainwavz, but by a company in Taiwan. However the final design and assembly is by Brainwavz themselves.
The fairly convensional design neatly blends between the metal and plastic parts. The main driver assmebly is plastic with metal cups. While the slider for adjustment is metal, the yokes themselves are plastic, with in-build hinges. Given the frequent complaints about breakage in this area with other brands, some caution is advised if one is less than kind with their headphones.
A soft and flexible cable is included. At about 2m in length, it is terminated on the headphone end with 3.5mm plugs, following the same pinout as HiFiMan, Oppo and Focal (tip and sleeve) and on the other end a 6.3mm (1/4”) screw-on adaptor covers a 3.5mm (1/8”) plug.
The Alara also comes with a zip-up carry case, inside of which is a handy pouch for the cable and the strap for the case, alongside a spare set of ear pads.
The Alaras have a fairly light clamp and, though the range of adjustment isn’t as much as other headphones, I only had to click them out a couple of notches to make them the right size for my average-sized head. The earpads are conventionally comfortable, though I would have preferred that they had done as HiFiMan has and switch away from what I describe as “dust magnet felt” on the contact side.
I plugged the Alaras into a variety of portable and desktop amps that I have here, including the Schiit Audio Vali 2, Lyr 3 and Magni 3; Massdrop CTH and Audio-gd R2R-11. The main takeaway with their sound was a general all-round competence and listenability. Their tone is warm-of-neutral, with a good evenness of presentation from very low bass up to the treble. Out of any reasonably decent amp they had no trouble deliverying the deep rumble of The New Basement Tapes, through to the varying mid-bass of Massive Attack or Sophie Tukker. The mid-range and treble were all delivered well, though not surprisingly without the level of detail that the better headphones I have here are able.
While very easy to listen with, the main area they lack is in dynamics. Music is presented much the same way, regardless of genre, and they don’t have the ability to express depth as other planar headphones are able. One might liken them to inexpensive amps such as the Massdrop CTH or Schiit Audio Magni, in that they are enjoyable to listen with, but better gear will give you more of what the musician is trying to express.
At $500, the main competitor I had for them here is HiFiMan’s Sundara. The Sundaras seemed initially a bit thinner-sounding, and the Alara thicker, but I feel that it was the result of the Sundaras being able to bring out more detail from the music, with instruments on acoustic tracks better deliniated. The Alara, in turn was softer, but less clear.
Compared to the Massdrop Senheisser HD6XX (HD650) the Alara provides a more even sound, with better deep bass, and at least a perception of a wider soundstage. The HD6XX had the strength of a clearer mid-range, with more of a focus on instruments and vocals.
In amplification, there seemed to be a noticeable step up from using the Alaras with the CTH vs. a better amp, but that stopped at about the Schiit Audio Lyr level. Swapping a Focal Clear cable didn’t seem to affect this. However the Alara proved easy to drive, working equally well out of even basic amplification.
Brainwavz has come out with a good, all-round capable entry-level pair of planar headphones which are relaxing and pleasant to listen with. However I think that $500 is a tough ask for them, given that’s serious headphone spending territory for most people, and there is increasing competition in the enthusiast area of the market.
One more thing: Brooko also independently reviewed the Alara. You can see what he had to say here.