The world of Bluetooth headphones is going through a veritable Cambrian explosion. Maybe it’s due to the smartphone industry’s collective abandonment of the headphone jack, but it seems every day we see manufacturers experimenting with new features and designs in wireless headphones. This week, we’re taking a look at the Hypercel’s Alloy Advanced Magnetic Bluetooth IEMs, which bears the company’s Naztech brand. The Alloy is a well-built headphone that mostly lives up to the manufacturer’s marketing claims, but we think its quirky sound signature will limit its appeal.
We love the Alloy’s sleek, minimalist design. Its tiny driver housings, made of polished black aluminum, are connected by a thin cable that’s neither too long nor too short. Pods of equal size hang from each ear, one with controls and a charging port and the other presumably hiding the Alloy’s battery. We like this configuration — not only does symmetry look nice, it also it distributes the weight evenly between the ears. Naztech says that the Alloy is designed for sport, and we believe it. The Alloy is light, sturdy, fits securely (especially when used with the included silicone wings), and held up to sweat during our morning workouts. If we had any concern, it’s that there are no strain reliefs along the cable — stiff connections do nothing to reduce the risk of breakage if the cable gets snagged during exercise.
The Alloy comes with three sizes of ear tips, one set of flexible wings for a secure fit, a micro USB charging cable, and a storage case. The wings are thoughtfully designed, with cutouts to avoid blocking the bass ports on the underside of the driver housings. It paired easily with our iPhone, displaying battery life in the notification screen, and its three-button control pod worked in the familiar way. The Alloy’s got a trick up its sleeve — strong magnets on the back of the driver housings serve not only to hold the Alloy around the neck when not in use, but will also pause music and put the Alloy into a low-power mode to save battery life. We have no complaints about the Alloy’s call quality, battery life, or range — all were on par with Naztech’s promises.
In use, the Alloy has a quirk: it loves to beep. The Alloy beeps for virtually every identifiable event in iOS. Start a song, change a track, force quit an app, or do nothing and allow the YouTube app to advance from video to video on a playlist — the Alloy beeps for each. It’s not something we’d call a problem, but we have to wonder what information the Alloy is receiving from iOS that triggers these beeps. A slightly bigger issue we encountered is that the Alloy needs to be charged completely before use — both our initial and replacement review samples initially displayed 40% battery, but shut off after just a few minutes of use. A full overnight charge solved the issue.
The Alloy is advertised as having studio-quality sound with dynamic bass; from our testing, we can only partly confirm. The Alloy supports only the SBC codec — no AAC or aptX here — so it is necessarily limited to the lowest-quality Bluetooth streaming. That’s not a dealbreaker; in many hours of listening, we were more surprised by the Alloy’s sound signature. True to its marketing, the Alloy has very exaggerated bass. However, vocals — particularly male vocals — sound like they’re a million miles away. We’re familiar with V-shaped sound signatures, but the Alloy has a dip in the upper midrange that is extreme enough to make vocals sound echoey, almost as if there was a 3D sound DSP effect being applied. We were able to add back some presence with an equalizer by boosting the 1 kHZ – 2 kHz region 6 – 8 dB; though we prefer a more balanced presentation, doubtless some will like Alloy’s presentation. The Alloy has an engaging and bass-heavy sound that works with rap and electronic music, but we think rock fans will likely not enjoy this headphone.
Plenty of headphones we have reviewed this year have had sound signatures that don’t exactly complement rock guitar and male vocals, and that’s fine — it makes sense for headphone manufacturers to tune their headphones to the music that much of the market is listening to. The Alloy, however, takes this signature to an extreme, with what seems to be an upper midrange recessed enough to sound like a DSP effect. Though the Alloy is a quality Bluetooth headphone with a comfortable, secure fit, handy magnetic features, and decent battery life, we think its sound signature will limit its audience even more than that of its V-shaped peers.
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