Review: The Rock Jaw Alfa Genus in-ear headphones, choose your filter

If there’s any trend to boxed smartphones over the last year or two, it’s that many ship without any headphones/headset in the box. Now, partly this is to save the manufacturer $10 or so, partly it’s to help save the planet, but either way the assumption that you already have a decent set of smartphone-compatible headphones many not necessarily be correct… By the way, stick around for this end of this review – there’s a giveaway!

What’s also interesting is that while you can pick up manufacturer (e.g. Samsung) headphones on the likes of eBay for under £10 (sometimes real, sometimes less so), there’s a huge gap to the big brands (and believe me, you pay for the brand labelling) like ‘Beats’, whose headphones start at £80 or so and go if into the stratosphere from there. What about the middle ground? Where a pair of 4-pole smartphone-aware headphones with really good audio quality came in at a price low enough that they didn’t rape your wallet, yet not so low that you doubt the quality of the design and components?

Very securely packed, the ALFA GENUS. In fact, it’ll take you a good ten minutes to get everything out – and be careful!

Which is where the new ROCK JAW ALFA GENUS (sorry about all the capital letters, that’s how they spell it) and Arcana v2 (being given away below) come in, of course, rather resplendent in deluxe packaging and in their alu-wood twin material design.

Included here are three spare sets of ear buds (of varying sizes, and in addition to the buds already fitted), two extra sets of ‘filters’ (of which more in a moment) and the ALFA GENUS headset itself, with somewhat unique glossy ‘twisted’ wires, claimed to be ‘tangle resistant’. Plus a handy velvet carrying pouch and a three year warranty.

On the other side of the packaging, spare buds/sizes – careful not to lose any of this!

This is all starting to sound like good value for just under £45 (here on Amazon), especially if the audio quality matches the rest of the package.

Of course, there’s a huge, over-arching, limiting factor when it comes to music on smartphones and other portable players – most pop and rock music gets ‘ripped’/downloaded at quite low bitrates, with everything optimised for undemanding music, undemanding ears, noisy environments and small file sizes. Listen to music at 128kbps in MP3 or even AAC encodings with really good headphones and you will hear the defects and approximations caused by the low bitrate encoding.

Making testing headphones and headset accessories somewhat harder, since the tester has to seek out music that’s of suitably high quality in the first place. I used tracks encoded at over 200kbps and also music videos with very high quality audio tracks – a lot of videos have great audio, simply because the file sizes are already large, so it makes no sense to cut down audio quality just to shave off a few extra Megabytes.

The ALFA GENUS earphones themselves are unusually long, to encompass professional speaker drivers, with the main barrel being wood (actually ebony, in this case) and the rest being (I think) aluminium. Those who like to listen to a podcast in bed while lying on their side might have a problem with how far the buds protrude, but then this (i.e. mono podcasts) isn’t the core use case.

The ALFA GENUS ebony earbud system ready to use…. Build quality is terrific.

The default sleeves were a perfect fit for my ears, though it’s reassuring to have the other three sizes though, in case I pass the ALFA GENUS onto someone else in the family in the future.

But onto testing – I ran through  around 30 music sources, music and video, comparing the Arcana v2 with my existing manufacturer in-ear buds (mainly Samsung, in this case):

  • Overall volume was slightly higher in the ears
  • Bass was slightly fuller and more rounded
  • High frequencies were much better
  • Stereo separation was noticeably better

This last is controversial, since, quite clearly, stereo separation is a function of the device driving the sound rather than the headphones themselves. However, the effect is definitely there and I can only conclude that the extra separation is because more can be heard overall, i.e. you’re hearing instruments in the stereo mix that were previously inaudible. Wow, was that a tambourine on that ZZ Top hit? And there’s a cello part that I’d never noticed… And so on.

Also very impressive was the high end. I’d become use to the slightly ‘dull’ sound of manufacturer headsets and all of a sudden I was back in business with crystal clear cymbals and shimmering vocals.

One unique feature of the ALFA GENUS design is that the outlets of each earbud, i.e. where the sound comes out, are actually screw-in cylinders (‘filters’. The silver set that are supplied fitted are just that – cylinders, and pass the raw sound through unimpeded, but the gold set have a ‘ported’ (i.e. baffled) design plus foam, designed to reduce bass and provide an even EQ. While the black set have a more complex set of obstacles to the sound, in theory reducing bass more and let the ear pick up more ‘details’.

alfa filters
The three filter types, laid out…. handy to have, though the defaults were best for me….

That’s the theory anyway. In practice, the default silver set were just about perfect for every musical style I tried them on – there were slight differences with the other two filters, but you’d need a scientific instrument of some kind – or a way of switching backwards and forwards instantly – to be able to tell the difference. Are the filters a bit of a gimmick? Possibly. But then if you’re a real audiophile then you probably have better (ok, ok, younger) hearing than me and will be able to tell which filter is which from the sound.

Along with the headset, there was an instruction leaflet, with sensible advice on not cranking up the volume too high for too long, in order to protect your ears – this advice should be given out with every pair of headphones!

Good advice for the public on volume levels in-ear!

In testing, I was able to pick up and hang up calls with the textured button on the inline pod, plus pause and play (and skip) my music and podcasts – although not tested by me, ROCK JAW does also claim iPhone compatibility, by the way.

In addition to the pod, there’s a handy spring clip to retain the wire and clip the assembly to a lapel, something which I used to have years ago on my old Nokia headsets and which I’d missed. With lapel support, the weight of the wires don’t keep dragging down on the ears and ruining the audio seal.

It’s hard to fault the ROCK JAW design, presentation, functions or performance. At well under £50 in the UK, all-in, including that manufacturer three year warranty, I don’t think the ALFA GENUS or Arcana v2 products can be beaten if you too have got a bit fed up with some of the less than glittering performance from in-box headsets and can’t face stumping up close to £100 for something with a better known ‘brand’. And if your handset didn’t come with anything (as is the modern trend) then something like the ROCK JAW unit is a no-brainer.

Right then, the giveaway: all you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a brand new boxed set of Arcana v2 (essentially the same as the ALFA GENUS but without the changeable filters, Google ‘rock jaw’ and you’ll find more information on the company’s web site), delivered to your door, is to leave a comment below – one will be chosen at random by the ROCK JAW folks in exactly a week’s time. [If you leave duplicates or otherwise try to game the system you’ll automatically be excluded from their choice!] Enjoy!

UPDATE. The week is now up and ‘foxprorawks’ (Matt McQueen) has been picked at random as the winner. Well done, ROCK JAW will be in touch with you, Matt!

[Update 2/tip: ROCK JAW are offering 20% off and FREE next day delivery in the UK & free worldwide shipping, when ordered direct from their web site, all until the end of August 2015!]

An Arcana v2 headset, being given away!
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  • Martin Hall

    These look and “sound” (from the review above) fabulous, decent in ear buds that perform, look the business and don’t cost silly money.

  • geeezeee

    These look a great mid-range buy. Hopefully they’re built as good as they sound as earbuds tend to last me 6 months before one of the drivers or cords fail.

  • hummingbird

    How would this compare to the Sony set that comes with their Xperia flagships? I’ve found those better than most included ones.

  • Kevin Watret

    A very interesting piece of kit. Personally never seen anything like this before. Definitely worth looking at more.

  • Clint Smith

    Hmm my LG G Flex 24 bit audio could be interesting being delivered via these smart looking buds!

  • DougieC

    Nice review Steve. They do look really nice and I know what you mean about a decent set of headphones completely changing the way something sounds My Z1 compact did come with headphones in the box but they are pretty awful to be honest with quite soft, undefined bass. I’ve been on the look out for something just like this, so these definitely seem worth a look.

  • Gary Gotham

    Looking forward to complimenting my Nexus 6 with a pair of these superb headsets.

  • Remy Perrin

    I just ordered a pair of the Alfa Genus and look forward to getting them. It would be nice to have another great pair of IEMs.

  • Vyrenee

    Look great!

  • GrizlyDog

    I think I have just seen my next set of ear buds!

  • These look very interesting and unusual.

  • Thomas Kalhauge

    Looks great, and looks like I finally found a good pair of ear buds which fits my ears 🙂

  • Mike Perry

    At last, an affordable good looking quality headset that can take calls too.

  • Liju Scaria

    An affordable good quality headset and it looks slick! Also, love the care put into packaging.

  • misterleoni

    I’ve bought dozens of phones over the years and tried all of them but I always end up going back to an old set I picked up in HMV about five years ago! The ones included by manufacturers tend to be a bit rubbish in my experience; through the absolute WORST were a pair included by LG with the G2. They not only had terrible fit but also sounded like I was listening to a conversation next door by holding a tin can against the wall. Even Apple’s EarPods – which retail separately for around £25 – are a load of rubbish in my opinion. There is no provision for the variety of ear canal sizes out there – it’s just a plastic moulded lump which struggles to remain seated in my ear at least.

    One day I’ll invest in some secent headphones but I tend to get sidetracked by other tech. I’ve been told the Xiaomi Pistons are decent for the money – under £15 I think – but haven’t even got around to ordering those.

    Good review anyway Steve. Nice to see your usual thorough testing put into accessories 🙂

  • Pale

    Nice review!!

  • Seems like a really nice kind of in-ear speakers. Are they available in the rest of the EU as well? NL specifically

  • Tom Lewis

    I have a pair of the Alfa Genus headphones and I can highly recommend them. Worth every penny!

  • Mark Finlay

    My Sony warbles bit the dust lat week so I have been on the look out for some decent value good quality replacements. These sound like they may fit the bill.

  • Martyn Dix

    Thanks Steve. Ordered. Delivered via link above. Exceptionally good sound and quality for the money. The review is spot on.

  • okl1970

    Interesting design. Nokia generally provides really good ear buds with their phones. Using a pair of Fischer Audio ear buds and Audio-Technica over the ears.

  • passau91

    Great review Steve. I saw your review of the Arcana 2 and was VERY tempted, but my older browsers (IE8 and Firefox 17.0.4) don’t play nicely with Rock Jaw’s website, so I couldn’t see any graphics which prevented me from ordering them!

  • Neil Gilroy

    They look like nice earphones. I can also recommend Xaiomi Piston v2 – they are not perfect but stunning value too.

  • Mike Gaston

    Sounds good value. How does it compare to the Sennheiser CX 300?

  • I always worry about the air buds. I haven’t found any that won’t fall out my ears, especially during sports activities.

  • nisched

    Look like nice headphones

  • Fingertricks

    I’m not usually a fan of in-ear headphones as I find them uncomfortable, however the 3 different sizes on offer with these sound like these might be worth a look.

  • Anthony Wellman

    I’m always looking for a new set of in-ear headphones, just may have to give these a try

  • Allen Cross

    Certainly an interesting set of design parameters. And it’s hard to find fault with their presentation…all very upscale.

  • Darrin Rich

    Look nice for earbuds. Wouldn’t mind getting some of these.

  • Robert Davidson

    Great looking headphones
    Great show
    Thanks for your great up to date news and info

  • David Hanchant

    Great review.