Alclair Curve 2.0 Review
Thanks to Alclair for the sample.
First Impressions: Oooooh it has a box!!! I totally get why they are moving to havening a box but I actually found something so refreshing about them previously just coming in their little case. Still if you want to get them into a real life shop, well or sell them anywhere really, you need a box. Its err a functional box. Spartan. Ahhh and there is that little case. Awwww no carabiner. Okay so it wasn’t really needed but it was so different I grew to really like it. Inside we got the Curves. Comply something’s on them and two pairs and a cleaning thingy. Though honestly, could you not just have left the medium Comply’s in their little bag rather than put them on? I know they fit me but it saves leaving a pair of tips that otherwise might have no way to keep together and clean.
Anyway, in the ears, Studio V in hand and hmm. Can I put my finger on what they have changed? Erm no. They feeling darker and a bit more staid. Okay 40 min later I still can’t quite say what the diff is, though these do seem firmer and darker in the bass a bit but yeah, v1 were great and these are great too. I was expecting rather more treble, not that I felt the needed more but I know others did. You know I want to be all “oooooh yey these are so exciting” but they aren’t. That’s the thing with a version 2.0 you have a pretty good idea of what’s coming so you just can’t get all excited as there is no surprise. Given that on my recent CanJam London trip the IEM I used for the entire trip (though I had several with me) was the Curve 1.0, so it’s fair to say I like them and think highly of them. Its pretty fair to say I’m going to feel similarly about 2.0 too. Burn in time.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: As these are a version 2 to the original Curve its likely what I’m most going to compare to. The bass on the 1st Curve was big, really rather big, rounded, warm and rich. Frankly the old one did all the things that it’s hard for a BA to do and it made it all look so easy. The 2.0 however is aiming for a different sound. Think of the 1.0 as the rich, bassy Curve and this 2.0 as the much more “neutral” Curve. The bass is lighter, still a bit on the boosted side but it removes the excesses of the 1.0’s flavouring. This is much cleaner, firmer, cleaner and it therefore feels more nimble. All BA’s have rather swift bass but this retains a touch of the body and depth of the first one but…… I miss the first one. I love that rich, warm, bit slow bit, bit rolled off highs etc etc that the 1.0 did so amazingly well. I recognise that this is much more in the middle ground. I get that therefore its arguably “better” certainly its less flavoured but I miss it nevertheless.
Quantitatively its big for a BA, for a dual BA especially as most of them are lightning fast and just as bright. These are still quite KC3 like in the presentation and elevation. If you’re after a bass monster a BA isn’t the way to go but these are very capable. If you want to push them you can greatly elevate their bass output. I’m sure it’s the same innards in the 1.0 but it’s very much more restrained in comparison. Anyway, it’s still pretty bassy by BA standards.
Mids: Excellent. BA’s always tend to shine in the mids and these do so magnanimously. I’m a pretty much a midhead so I’m possibly a little biased at times, I try not to be but….. well you know. When you personally love something and it plays to your own likes it’s hard not to maybe a little too praising. The mids here are practically perfect. I know they are missing a certain level of detail and they aren’t giving me quite the openness in certain vocals that there ought to be. Blah blah blah whatever. These are on their own merits fantastic. They are just a hint warm, like the flavoured waters with a hint of peach. Mostly its plain water but there is that little dash of something wonderful just to impart a light dusting of flavour. That being a dash of cream in this case and thus vocals are for the most part, open and clean but there is a creamy base layer. Sadly it’s not as creamy and luscious as the 1.0 but these just have enough of a hint to sound gorgeous.
Quantitatively they are overall middling. A little ahead of the treble and a smidge behind the bass but overall it’s a relatively gently slope. If your used to V shaped monsters then you’ll likely find the mids to me wildly prominent but strictly speaking these are a slightly middy, lightly bass centric IEM.
Highs: Ahh the highs. They are probably why there is a v2.0 to begin with. Now I loved the 1.0, I still do, they are probably my favourite thing from 2015. You see I’m fairly treble sensitive, so for me, rolled off treble is a good thing. While the 1.0 had detailed treble it was rather subtle and unspectacular. Something that it was a little bashed for. The response it would seem is the 2.0 and it’s much more gentle acoustic curve. The treble here is as good as before but it’s been bumped up in quantity and its warmth stripped away. It’s not a treble monster by any stretch but where I found the Curve 1.0 with my bright Studio V a most splendid pairing, the slightly more cool toned 2.0 plays up the Studios V upper end eagerness. It’s not like its DBA-02 levels or anything close but I so loved the melty creamy chocolatey notes of the 1.0. I miss it. This is the more grown up product though, I get that.
With the 1.0 having been called a “universal monitor” it really was a bit of a misleading name because it was too flavoured to be a monitor. Sure it was super easy on the ear but the 2.0 is almost as easy but it is acoustically something that you can legitimately call a monitor. Still if you want the furthest highs this gently slopes off and if you want aggressive detail, again look elsewhere.
Soundstage: For a BA these sound damn big. They aren’t so big and instrument separation as some BA’s do which is a little unusual. Everything is a very full, full bodied and weighty with a hint of space and air. Still while the mids are quite convincingly centre stage the bass feels a little more difficult to place. It’s just there, all around you even. The treble is very near the centre stage, just behind and flanking the mids. Integration though is great, seamless. If they have a crossover in there I’ll be buggered if I can tell where.
Comfort: Like the 1.0 these a have a shape that makes you double take. Sure it’s weird and a friend who tried them, he couldn’t wear them at all. I, however found them to be a perfect fit. Supremely comfy.
Fit: In the ears, a little shove and boom! Done. I know they won’t be for everyone but they fit me perfectly, completely perfectly.
Aesthetics: Well cables aside, for I like the silvery one much better, these look almost exactly like the 1.0. The difference being these have a black back to the earbuds rather than grey. They also came with a black cable but the cables are replaceable so that’s just what I happened to get. Honestly though I really like the buds. They just look so peculiar and I do love that transparent outer shell.
Microphonics: Erm, none. The cable, plus the ear guides meant that you got nothing, well, I got nothing.
Amped/Unamped: Just like the 1.0, they in no way “need” a lot of power. You can run them easily out of any old thing you have to hand. They will still sound excellent. However……… they were noticeably at their best when amped well. They just gain an extra layer or two, their breadth and depth, the dynamics, every aspect just seem to be more, better extended, wider, cleaner, etc etc. It’s the difference between a good, solid, perfectly competent performance and one that can enrapture the soul. When you power it well it’s just that bit better in every imaginable capacity and way you can possibly conceive.
Personally I’d edge towards warmer amping but hey that’s just me. It’s a pretty even itself so you can push it happily in either direction.
Isolation: It’s a little so so for o BA but it’s still a BA. That means it beats practically every dynamic out there. So while it wouldn’t probably be my first choice for a daily Tube commute I used v1.0 when last in London quite happily, every day too. So naturally more than easy enough to use for most activities and certainly enough to not hear traffic. So for god sake do use your eyes people when near traffic least you become a roadkill statistic.
Build Quality: It all looks good to me. Nothing I’m oooohing and aaaaaahhhing over but nothing I can find to complain about either. Maybe it’s the braided black cable but I can’t help but be reminded of the UM3x. Looks all fine to my eyes and fingers.
Accessories: Well now that Alclair are trying to make these more “retail” they now come with a box. If I’m honest I miss the quirky no box thing but I do get that if you want to put in a shop they have to come in some form of packaging. So you get 3 pairs of Comply’s (diff sizes,) a cleaning thingy and a little case. No carabiner??? Aww, sure not it was really that useful but again I liked its quirkiness. It’s a clean basic bundle.
Value: At US$250 or £165 at todays exchange rate. I gushed over the 1.0 and technically this 2.0 is every bit as capable. It’s basically flawless and I think its nearest acoustic comparable is the W4 which is considerably more costly. So yes the value is excellent for a higher end product.
Conclusion: I think it’s probably come across pretty clearly that I have not loved the 2.0. It’s not that there is anything wrong with it, far from it. It is only behind the q-JAYS in abilities of a dual BA IEM and its waaaaaaaay more expensive. My issue is that I absolutely adored how the 1.0 sounds, it wasn’t by any stretch the “monitor” its name would have you thinking but it was perfectly matched to what I personally love most. This 2.0 is the monitor its name would suggest. I dearly hope that the two products can coexist as they are acoustically so different and I would be greatly saddened if the 1.0 has come to its end.
Tonally the 2.0 is pretty much flawless. While it’s slightly slanted towards the bass, the way human hearing works, particularly the not “hearing” but feeling aspects, this bass boost and slant serve to make it “sound” like what you might get form real life. So while it’s not actually “neutral” it feels natural. Ah the human brain and its silly tricks it likes to play on us all. What this is, is a dual BA version of the W4. It may lack a little in resolution but it has a teeny bit more dynamism when well driven. It wouldn’t surprise me if Alclair used the W4 as a benchmark to aim for.
Should you buy? Well if you want a practically flawless acoustic monitor this is it. It gets you near everything the W4 can but at half the price. So if that’s what you’re after, boom! Uber bargain right? Still while my brain says Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way) I so fell for the original Curve that I can’t stop myself from thinking usurper!!! It’s totally my own bias and I realise that, it’s not fair to the 2.0 as it really is a superb product, it’s a superb monitor however that means it’s not got the same passion and joie de vivre of the original. Its dynamics give you a hint of wonder but it’s a monitor and it tries to retain composure. It’s a fantastic product, a fantastic monitor with just a smidgen of excitement.