If you spend a significant chunk of time with your headphones, it’s worth paying for something higher-end.
They don’t have to be swanky, but spending just a little bit more on a good pair of cans will usually open new doors, both in terms of sound quality and durability.
If you just can’t drop the cash for something explicitly nice, though, there are a few relatively affordable pairs that will at least get good value out of that smaller investment. I’ve reviewed a couple before, but today brings another worthy choice in the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus V2.
I know what you’re thinking: What? Even among enthusiasts, UK-based Rock Jaw Audio isn’t a household name, and “Alfa Genus V2” doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “Beats by Dre” might. But for £45 (or $66, but usually less if you look around), they mix a mature design with strong, surprisingly versatile performance. That should make them particularly appealing to audio nerds looking for a travel-friendly complement to more premium models.
he Alfas’ dark grey buds aren’t all that flashy, but their smooth, aluminium finish feels more substantial than most in-ears you’ll find for less than $100. While that metal gives them a little more heft than the typical plastic earbuds, they also don’t come off as outright heavy. In general, the earphones are comfortable; I’ve worn them for hours at a time without much of any struggle. A five-pack of extra eartips should help those who’re less fortunate.
Most of the other basics are fine enough: The rubber cable is sturdy and not easily tangled (even if it can get a pinch noisy at its worst); there’s a play/pause button and an exceptionally clear mic built in (though no volume controls, which is a pain); and they neither leak nor let in too much noise (with the music going.) The only thing to stress is that these are not for working out: They aren’t sweat resistant, and the buds tended to slide ever so slightly out of my ears after jerkier movements. They’re for listening, first and foremost, on the bus, while walking, or at your desk.
That much is obvious when you consider the trio of “tuning filters” Rock Jaw throws in the box. That’s the big, nerdy hook here: You can pseudo-customise the Alfas’ sound based on which tiny piece of hardware you screw in over its drivers. If you mostly dig hip-hop and EDM, twist on the silver filters to get bigger bass. If you’re in more of an acoustic, singer-songwriter mood, the black filters sculpt the sound to emphasise treble. If you prefer a more balanced signature, the champagne pair does that. All of these take seconds to install.
More importantly, they do what they set out to do. They’re not quite like having three headphones in one, but the differences are noticeable enough for me to float the idea out there. Either way, the sound is better than the price suggests. There’s good detail, imaging, and spaciousness throughout, and the natural filters give a particularly pleasant, accurate sound (for the money) without being totally boring. You lose some low-end depth with the treble filters, naturally, and the bass filters can get boomy at points, but neither feels obnoxiously coloured in one direction.
Now, will everyone want to swap out filters based on what they’re feeling on a given day? Probably not. But merely having the option makes Alfas more versatile than most earphones, let alone ones that cost less than $70. (And the natural filters alone would be worth the price of admission.) Higher-end pairs will still get you a more defined, lusher sound, but if you’re into music (and on a budget), don’t be afraid to give the Alfa Genus V2 a shot.