We did the First Contact on the Alara just before Christmas and back then I was surprised by how quickly the company scaled up to include full-sized planar magnetic headphones in their product line-up.
Sure the legacy HM5 and their new HM-100 points to an ability to effectively jump out of their more comfortable IEM basket but planar fans know their stuff so walking into this type of headphone niche is a whole different ball game.
The pricing point at $499 also places them right in the firing line between value conscious offerings such as the Hifiman Sundara and our ‘Bang For Buck’ winner of 2018, the Verum Audio Verum 1. It has not gone unnoticed that Hifiman has been pushing the Sundara at $349 this last few months which is very competitive. Perhaps as a response to the likes of Brainwavz and Verum Audio?
This is an attractive pricing point and one that I wholly support. We need more well-built and solid sounding planar headphones at attainable prices and the Alara fits that description rather well in my opinion.
The Alara is a circumaural open-back planar headphone design. It is not too far off the Oppo PM1/2 and the Quad ERA-1 in terms of dimensions and engineering thus a little more discreet dimension-wide compared to the likes of the Verum 1.
Inside there is a 70mm diaphragm driver with a dual-sided magnet build with approximately 50-60mm of that size uncovered. The Alara is rated at 20Ω and 94dB so it should be one of the easier planars on the market to drive but its sensitivity ratings are on the low side so it will require decent current for volume from any amping setup.
The Alara has solid build quality, albeit a slightly heavy one at 430g. The cups and headbands are made of metal, however, the gimbals are made of a lighter solid plastic construction. There is a small amount of swivel up and down, left and right for positioning also so it is not a rigid arch like the Sundara.
Think more of Oppo, Quad Era-1 design approach than the more rounded lighter Sundara, Ether 2 type visual. It has more of an elongated industrial aesthetic than the traditional grilled circular baffle and cup design. Being an open back it has venting on both the front grills and side cup housing, (4 per side with 2 top and 2 at the bottom).
The plate design I like, it is very well done and honestly, the build quality looks like it could run rings around more established boutique headphone designs.
The Alara is finished in a matte black paint job with stitched PU leather/Velour for the pads and headband. The headband is very similar to the Oppo PM series finish from afar but on closer inspection, the padding is a little thicker than the PM1 or PM3 and is the comfier of the two on the top of the head.
The top of the headband is branded with the “Brainwavz” moniker etched into the leather rather than painted on. White “Alara” labels adorn the outsides of both of the plastic gimbals right at the headband join. Channel indicators and the smaller Brainwavz logo are to the base of the faceplates and like the main moniker on the headband, they are also etched into the plates.
Cables & Connectors
The Alara uses a 3.5mm stereo jack detachable cable socket system and they sit flush on the base of each cup. Each female socket is gold-plated so they should be fairly resistant to oxidization over time and usage.
This is the same socket system used by Hifiman for their Sundara, Ananda, and SE editions such as the HE500SE. If you happen to have those you can cable roll a little and try some of that more expensive single crystalline copper build cables from Hifiman in balanced and unbalanced format.
The 2m detachable cable is finished with a good quality nylon weave jacket and built with an OFC wire though what gauge I am not sure. The termination on both ends is 3.5mm TRS left and right and a single TRS gold-plated 3.5mm input jack. It is well made with a low level of microphonics and doesn’t tangle that easily.
Brainwavz does supply a quarter jack for plugging into a desktop system and at 94dB sensitivity, I do encourage you to explore tube or sweet-sounding SS amps with the Alara which is where my preferred synergy was found during our testing.
Comfort & Fit
The headband memory foam on the Alara has some decent thickness to it under the PU leather material. It does a good job with the pressure balance along the top of the head with a fairly large contact point rather than any focused small spots.
I personally find the fit though to be a little too big for my head even at the smallest setting. I would have preferred a few cm’s less length for better pressure distribution on the sides as it sits a lot on my ears. At 430g on my ears, there is a small element of fatigue after a few hours listening.
The Alara has detachable hybrid Pu leather and velour pads and of course, they are Brainwavz pads so that means no issues getting a few more spares at a later stage when they go on sale.
Changing the pads is a fairly simple process due to the plastic peg attachment system Brainwavz have deployed on the rear. Simply pull the pads out in an even manner carefully until you can pull it off safely.
Do not pull out at extreme angles on one specific point as the plastic pegs could break. Replacing it with the new pads is just a matter of aligning the pegs and pushing down and it slots in immediately.
Inner cup size is a little on the small side and with the long headband of the Alara on my head, the ears tend to feel it at the top. Having said that there is enough space for most regular-sized ears to fit in.
Accessories & Packaging
The packaging is a fairly simply but professionally produced mid-size box. Inside the legacy of Brainwavz branding is strong with a large carry case that looks like a blown-up version of their traditionally well-made IEM cases.
The case is a red and black zipper hard case with a ribbed-nylon finish and supplied with a detachable strap so more than a nudge from Brainwavz on the portability side of the Alara. Inside you have a small velcro pouch that sticks anywhere you want inside the case. Inside you will find the 2m cable along with a screw-on quarter jack adapter attached to the 3.5mm TRS jack.
The Alara just about fits inside the case but I think that is on purpose to prevent it from moving around when on the go. You do need to make sure the headband is at its smallest setting to get it all zipped up tightly.
You also get an additional set of pads with the Alara. They are the same as the stock pads on the Alara out of the box and dead easy to snap on and off.
Click on Page 2 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons