Ok so to remind everyone the Alpha has a micro dynamic driver and the UM10 has a balanced armature driver. So whilst they have all the hall marks physically of a Westone earphone, sound wise they two are actually very different beasts.
The big worry for me was whether or not the UM10 could really breakout from the restrictive or recessed top end and scalability of the UM1 which whilst sounding pretty clear lacked some headroom and sparkle for me to recommend it as outstanding. Well the UM10 is no break out revelation from the original UM1 in terms of signature sound. This is still a mid centric earphone with a little roll off in the treble and a slightly elevated mid-bass response. It has been a while since I tried the UM1 but honestly from memory the UM10 resonates in much the same way as the UM1 did though perhaps a little less rolled off than before. Perhaps the treble is a bit more energetic and the bass is a bit more authoritative but we are talking small percentages here. The single BA for me is just being stretched too far in some respects to be truly involving. Tonally though its still that wonderfully smooth and non fatiguing experience the UM1 offered and for some genre’s where musicality is more important than critical listening then the UM10 Pro is going to be quite appealing. The UM10 Pro is also one of the more forgiving BA experiences when it comes to low bit rate tracks or poorly mastered tracks unlike the RHA MA750i which I tend to find a bit more analytical and fussy though the pay off is a much more engaging experience from the MA750i.
The UM10 Pro performed better on a stock AK100 over a stock iPod Classic 7th Gen sounding more dynamic and richer and engaging but both sounded harsher and thinner compared to the performance out of the DX50. The DX50 sounded just that bit more authoritative and controlled though the top end felt a bit more subdued or blunted than both the iPod and AK100. All three drove the UM10 pretty easily and at 116db sensitivity you do not really need to amp the UM10 Pro.
The Alpha on the other hand, well I am not sure what Westone is thinking here because this is one seriously dark and veiled dynamic driver. Very much a bass centric and recessed mid section and almost no headroom to speak off. This is one of the most colored earphones I have heard in a very long time. It does sound more bombastic with a bigger sound stage than the UM10 Pro and its actually a very smooth performing driver without any rough edges or harsh attack but whole super dark tuning is a bit too much for me to be honest coming from the more sophisticated and $10 cheaper RHA MA750i. Even techno and dance needs a very articulate top end to compliment the bass and bring added layers of dimension and the Alpha just blunts this in a frustrating manner.
Just for kicks I threw on some EQ options on my iPod 7th gen and even with treble booster I couldn’t shake that Darth Vader presentation. Running stock on the AK100 was pointless without some treble EQ boost – just way too veiled and dark and overpowering bass. The only time I felt the Alpha really started to breathe a bit easier was with my trusted Vorzuge VorzAmp Duo with the treble switch flicked on strapped to the AK100 with treble boost on in the EQ. yeah it got a bit sibilant and the lower treble was perhaps too peaky but I could tell there is actually a really nice driver inside the Alpha just tuned all wrong. Shame really because its the first time Westone went with dynamic and given their expertise I would have though they could have balanced this just a little bit for a more articulate experience without loosing the bass.
The name of Westone is going to ensure these two bed down into the market pretty easily and probably sell quite well. The fit and comfort is outstanding as always, the accessory kit as to the usual high Westone standards and tonally both present a reasonably smooth experience that on the go casual listeners and those after musicality over accurate timbre and tonality will be tempted by, particularly the UM10 Pro. The Alpha’s appeal to the outdoor market might just work given the time and effort put into creating a fairly durable looking earphone that should be able to handle outdoor conditions quite well.
If I had to choose one I would go with the UM10 Pro in just about every conceived indoor and outdoor environment. Perhaps the ultra basshead minion, the cable DIY Expert or black ops EQ artist can squeeze something different out of the Alphas top end but I seriously doubt it – this is one dark and colored earphone compared to the more balanced UM10 Pro. Both though are going to find this a tough market for all but Westone loyalists with new earphones such as the cheaper dynamic RHA MA750i and the BA Rock-It R50 dual BA setting the standards in performance in the high end budget earphone market.
Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL @ 1mW
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 16 kHz
Impedance: 25 ohms @ 1 kHz
Driver: Balanced armature, full-range
Cable: EPIC Replaceable Cable
Sensitivity: 97 dB @ 1mW
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 18kHz
Impedance: 21 Omhs
Driver: 6.5mm Dynamic Driver
Cable: AWACS Reflective