Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rock Jaw al-fa evaluation: Replace your EarPods with these cost-effective, premium earbuds

The Rock Jaw Alfa Genus V2 headphones ($49.90) are not especially meant as a replacement for EarPods, but that’s how I see them. Apple’s bundled EarPods have a lot of positives. They are ‘cheap’, lightweight and small. You can chuck them in a bag or pocket without worrying too much. This is in stark contrast to Beats on-ear and over-ear headphones, for example, which are expensive, bulky and heavy. However, EarPods leave much to be desired in regard to sound quality.

It turns out the Rock Jaw Alfa’s fill this gap nicely. They have the same portability as EarPods but with a focus on also providing great sound to listen to. They aren’t perfect but they are pretty great value earbuds. Read on for our full review …


Let’s get this out of the way. The reason high-end headphones tend towards the over-the-ear can design is because bigger drivers will always produce better sound. However, they have huge downsides in weight and size. Cans are clunky and if you start getting into noise-cancelling ones, they have to be independently charged. The Rock Jaws strike a balance between good sound, price, portability and convenience. If you want the best sound possible, do not buy the Rock Jaws and look at headphones in the hundreds of dollars range.

That being said, the Rock Jaws do have impressive audio quality way beyond their price class. The high range is particularly impressive. There is a night and day difference between the Rock Jaws and EarPods. I’m not a music buff but I appreciate the better sound for podcast host voices and gaming. The best bit about these headphones is that you can actually swap out the filters, each offering a different sound.

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Included in the box is three different tuning filters; white ‘bass’, gold ‘natural’ and black ‘treble’. They live up to their names. You can hear distinctly different noises with each of the respective filters. The bass filters really do enhance the bass with a nice deep ‘rumbling’. These levels are nowhere to be seen (heard?) when using EarPods. The mid-range sound is lost somewhat though but luckily you can always replace the Bass filter with either of the other two. The black ‘treble’ filters are good at treble but lose out in other areas — often resulting in a tinny sound. I’m sure these are specialised for a certain use case but they didn’t work for me. Still, high praise for two out of three options (given most headphones offer no choice at all) is really good.

I like the neutral filter which is great for vocal-heavy podcasts and TV shows. I think most people will pick these. Matching the moniker, these are the most balanced of all three and will work well for any type of content. As I explain below, you don’t really want to be swapping these out that often so the versatility of the neutral filter is appreciated.

On raw volume terms, the Rock Jaws max out far higher than EarPods do. I like listening to music at a relatively quiet level, so I turn my iPhone volume below 30% when using these to compensate for the loudness. If you prefer high volume, the Rock Jaws do not disappoint: there is no distortion even on 100%.

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I think part of this comes down to the ‘strange’ elongated design of the earbud canisters. Strange as in unusual, not bad. The driver housing is aluminium, so it’s almost as light as plastic but with a much nicer feeling to the touch than plasticky EarPods. They are mostly black with silver accents so it fits in discreetly to your lifestyle. If you are looking for something more outspoken fashion-wise, consider the wide array of choices that put appearance before anything else. In regard to comfort, the Alfa’s feel nice in the ear but are prone to slipping out and coming loose if you don’t get a good fit.

The quality of the materials certainly reflects the quality of the overall build too. The earbuds cord is thicker than most standard headphones cables, which is reassuring. Unless you cut it with some scissors, this cable is not going to break. It does thin out a bit at the point where the cable splits into two, one for each ear, but even then it’s still good.

At the jack end, there’s a 90-degree ending which adds another level of sturdiness and strength. As this is normally where cables fail, due to strain unplugging and replugging, the Rock Jaws reinforce this part further with more plastic for additional protection. It isn’t bulky either, so it will comfortably plug into almost any iPhone or iPad case.  However, I’m very confident that these will outlive the average life of EarPods many times over.

One element of these earbuds that doesn’t feel as resilient is the interchangeable tuners. Swapping these out is a fiddly, manual affair. There’s a lot of screwing and twisting without audible clicks as confirmation that the pieces are firmly connected. You have to trust you’ve done it right and — in my experience at least — it’s easy to do it wrong. With fear of breaking them (which I don’t think is actually possible) I hesitantly placed the new filter on and replaced the plastic covers.

Half an hour later, I pull them out my ears and the pieces immediately scattered over the floor. Evidently, I hadn’t applied enough force. This may seem like user error but knowing when to stop isn’t clear — there’s no confirming ‘click’ or anything. In another instance, I overcompensated in the other direction and managed to get the tuning filter stuck inside the plastic. I had to use pliers to unstick them.

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The option to swap out filters to suit your own music preferences is nice, but it seems like it is meant to be a one-time thing where you choose what you want and stick with it. I wouldn’t advise changing them regularly. The same is true for the three set of alternated plastic buds that come in the box. I ended up using the smaller size buds with the standard tuning filter that comes preinstalled.

The headphones do include a mic (and play/pause button on the left cord) but the sound quality of any recording is average. It’s good enough for an average Skype call and comparable to the EarPods mic.

Overall, these are really great value headphones, I’m a big fan. They offer high-quality audio at consumer-level price points. These are my new default go-to earbuds and they probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future until Apple starts shipping in-box headphones with substantially better sound.  You can buy the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus V2 headphones right now for $49.90.

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