Living in New York City, the version I get of an outdoorsy adventure is, well, not like climbing a mountain in Europe or hiking a trail in the Pacific Northwest. So perhaps that’s why I don’t quite understand why you’d want to wear earphones during your (potentially dangerous) sojourns into the wild. Nonetheless, the Westone ADV Alpha ($249.99 direct)—the ADV stands for “adventure series”—earphones fulfill a need that even a New Yorker can get behind: They are rugged, and they sound great. The Alpha gets just about everything right from a design standpoint—a removable cable with an inline remote and mic, a weatherproof design, and gobs of ear tips to ensure a secure fit. The audio seems almost secondary, but it’s not. These earphones deliver powerful audio that’ll make bass lovers smile.
Rugged and weather-proof, the gray-and-black Alpha, which has an IPX-3 weather resistant rating, certainly can back up its adventure-ready marketing. The earpieces fit very securely, but you’ll have a whopping ten total pairs of ear tips in various shapes and sizes to choose from—half are silicone tips and half are foam tips.
A flexible rubberized portion of the cable attaches to each earpiece and loops over and behind the top of the ear. Along the right ear’s cable, there’s a waterproof remote control and microphone compartment. It’s a three-button remote, so you can control volume in addition to playback, track navigation, and answering calls.
The cable itself has a nylon reflective coating and is easily removable from the earpieces—almost too easily, as it came loose from one earpiece while in the case once. Regardless, having a removable cable greatly increases the overall value of your earphones. Cables are typically the first element of earphones to fail, and replacing only the cable rather than the whole earphone system is a big money saver.
Call clarity through the Alpha is fine. Also included: an earwax cleaning tool, a shirt-clip, and a screw-shut hard-shell storage case.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Alpha delivers deep lows with clarity—there is never any distortion, even at top (and unsafe, especially while scaling a mountain) listening levels. At more moderate levels, the sub-bass response still packs a nice punch, and is balanced out by the rest of the frequency range.
Bill Callahan’s baritone vocals on “Drover” are delivered with just enough treble edge through the Alpha to not seem too rich. The drumming on this track also gets a healthy helping of low frequency presence, but it’s not over-the-top, and thus the drums stay in their proper place in the mix. (That is, not competing with Callahan’s vocals for the spotlight.) Some listeners may wish the sound signature here were a smidge brighter—there’s room for a bit more crunch and grit on drums, guitars, and vocals, both in the high-mids and the highest frequencies. The overall sound is focused on the mids, and on a track like the this, the low-mids tend to win out. It’s a strong, solid sound, however, and never muddy or bass-heavy.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” illustrates the above point well. This is a track with a kick drum loop that sounds best when the attack of the kick has a nice high-mid crunch to it. This allows the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat to have a more powerful presence. Through the Alpha, the synth hits and the drum loop sound more like one singular, powerful presence—it’s not at all a bad sound, but the loop could benefit from a tad more high-mid definition. The vocals, however, stand out over the intense loop without any issue, so again, it’s not as if the earphones are high-mid deficient. Bass lovers will generally be thrilled with the sound signature here.
On classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances”, the high-mids get a bit more of the spotlight, due to the more transparent recording process often involved with classical tracks that allows higher register strings and percussion to naturally take center stage. The bass frequencies of a typical classical recording are far less intense than those of a Jay-Z track, so the higher-mids get more prominence here for this reason as well. This is not to say the this track comes off as weak in the lows, however—the lower register strings and brass are delivered with a nice, rich boost that helps add a bit of power to the mix without muddling things up.
If you’re looking for a rugged pair of earphones, well, you found them. There aren’t many out there with this type of design. The Alpha’s closest competition is in the fitness headphone realm, where we have sweat-proof models like the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats and the Monster iSport Immersion In-Ear Headphones, both of which deliver bass-boosted, powerful sound signatures, as well. If the most appealing facet of the Alpha is actually its detachable and replaceable cable, you don’t have to spend this amount of money to find earphones with the same excellent feature—the Shure SE215, which has a less bass-intense delivery than the Alpha, features a cable that can be removed and replaced. Finally, if all of these are out of your range but you’re looking for a decent pair of in-canal earphones that you can take with you to the gym or hiking, the Sennheiser CX 685 SPORTS lacks an inline remote and mic, but it delivers solid audio performance.
The Westone ADV Alpha may not be cheap, but we see it consistently selling for significantly less than its listed MSRP. And even for the list price, it delivers a quality audio experience inside an excellent design. It could use a tad more high-mid presence for my taste, but everyone’s personal preferences are different, and the Alpha delivers on its promises of a rugged design matched with powerful audio.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc