In my journey as a music lover I have encountered various IEMs, earphones or in-ear headphones, and they all came in different designs, sound quality and sound signature, not to mention prices as well. But I recently stumbled upon a very unique universal in-ear monitor that has an odd looking shell and comes with only two Balanced Armature drivers. Today we are going to look at and review the Alclair Curve Universal Monitor, the company’s first universal IEM. This particular IEM has only two BAs, but surprisingly has a very warm sound signature. It’s even warmer compared to my other IEMs with 2 BAs, 3 BAs, 4 BAs, and even warmer than my Hyrbid IEM. I’m sure you are curious as to how good (or bad) its sound quality is. Well then, let’s get to know more about the Alclair Curve in my review below.
Meet the Alclair Curve Universal Monitor
Just a brief intro about the company, Alclair is a manufacturer of custom in ear monitors for artists and music lovers. The company is based in Minneapolis, with branches in Nashville and Los Angeles.
The Alclair Curve came with a very simply packaging. The package includes a clamshell zipper case, a cleaning tool and three pairs of foam tips. One pair is already attached to the Curve out of the box. The carrying case has a braided-like surface. It’s not made of hard plastic but it’s relatively sturdy. However, the carrying case does bend when applied with a certain amount of pressure. The carrying case is not primarily intended to be placed inside a pocket. There’s a Carabiner included so you should be able to hook it on your pants or bag.
It also comes with a standard IEM cable with a 2-pin connector and a moldable ear hook. I don’t like foam tips or Comply tips because it’s uncomfortable for me, so I’m using the extra ear buds I got from the UE 900s. Silicon tips give me a better seal and fit compared to foam tips.
The included black braided cable is pretty much standard. It has a right angled gold plated 3.5mm jack with tension support, and the splitter also comes with tension support. Good thing that it uses the popular 2-pin connector so you can easily replace or upgrade the cable to your liking.
By now you should be able to guess why the Alclair Curve is called “curve”. Just look at the unique curve shape of its housing. Now, don’t think that this is just some random fancy design made by Alclair to make it unique looking. It’s unique curve shape and its design in general has a purpose when it comes to comfort and sound quality.
From this angle you should be able to see the 2 pin connector. The whole body of the Alclair Curve is made out of hard plastic. The face plate (or at least half of its shell) is transparent and doesn’t have any colors or prints on it. Meanwhile the other half, which is not visible when worn, is plain grey.
The two Balanced Armature drivers are very much visible from the outside. There is also a small tube that goes from the BAs up to the opening of the nozzle. I have to admit, the housing doesn’t feel premium at all, but it is relatively sturdy. Just don’t try to crush it or put too much pressure. I’m sure the plastic shell will break at some point.
Notice that there are curves on the grey side of the Alclair Curve? Those curves will touch the surface of your ear’s Concha, while its side should rest against on your ear’s Antitragus and Antihelix.
Alclair didn’t claim that the Curve will fit every ear. But they did say that it will “fit nearly every ear” and will sound “fantastic on every source”. At first I was really questioning the fit and comfort. It also looks like it’s difficult to wear. But when I put them on, it was unbelievably comfortable! As you can see from the picture above, the size of the Curve is just right for my ear. The fit and seal is just superb and the feeling is (almost) similar from a custom IEM. It also doesn’t fall off or gets dislodge easily. I tried rapidly shaking my head and it didn’t budge a bit. So far, of all the earphones and universal fit in-ear headphones I have tried, the Alclair Curve was the most comfortable and provided the best fit for me.
However, while the Alclair Curve’s unique design was definitely an advantage and comfortable experience for me, it may not be the same case with other people. If you have smaller ears, or your Concha is too narrow and your Antihelix is closer to your Tragus, the Curve may not fit on your ears or you will have an uncomfortable experience using it. On the other hand, if you ears are larger I think you won’t be having a problem since you can tilt or swivel it so that the curve will rest nicely on your ears.
Testing and Sound Quality
In testing the Alclair Curve, I used my usual set of audio sources: my Hidizs AP100, HiFiMAN-HM-700 and my desktop PC via my current favorite DAC/AMP (iFi Micro iDSD). Of course I also tried it with my other DAC/AMPs like the Arcam rPAC, Sound Blaster E5 and the smaller iFi Nano iDSD. Honestly, there is really no need for additional amplification since the Curve is very easy to drive. I was able to use it with my iPhone 5 and there was no problem at all.
I also tried the Alclair Curve with an aftermarket cable from Estron, the Linum Music cable. I’ll discuss the effect later, but let’s start with how the Curve sounds like. I have been using the Curve for around a couple of months now. I wore them when I go out, when I go to the market, sometimes before I sleep and almost every day since it arrived.
Let’s start with the highs first. The treble on the Curve is not extended, but rather it’s somehow rolled off and lacks the sparkle that some of you might be looking for. It’s not bright either, fortunately sibilance is not observable at all no matter what type of music I threw in. Compared to the Audio Technica ATH-IM02, DUNU DN-2000, and even the UE 900s, they all have brighter treble compared to the Curve.
When it comes to the mid department, it gets better. Vocals are clear but sound a little bit warmer. The sound that it produced is smoothing, gentle to my ears and never fatiguing. The mid section is also detailed or well-articulated. It has this lush and soft calming tone that is easy on the ears.
The real star in the Alclair Curve is in the lows. It has a powerful and well-rounded bass that extends well further down. I was amazed how good the bass performance was despite having only two Balanced Armature drivers. The lows are solid and punchy but are still very much clear and detailed. Despite having a powerful bass, it doesn’t overpower the mids and highs and doesn’t sound too boomy at all. Its bass is definitely warm and smooth. Heck, neither the DUNU DN-2000,with a dynamic driver for lows, and the UE 900s, with two BAs for the low frequency, are no match for the Curve’s bass performance.
I think the design of the Curve has somehow contributed with its bass performance and its sound staging. As far as I know, the owner of Alclair did a good amount of research to make the Curve possible. Sound staging is relatively good as well and has this level of intimacy or solemnity. When I close my eyes, all I can feel is the music, like I’m in the music and very much feeling its presence.
I mentioned earlier that I also used the Linum Music cable together with the Alclair Curve. The stock cable is good, but if you get a better sounding cable (you have tons of options out there), everything gets even better. The Linum Music didn’t alter the frequencies; lows are still great, mids are still lush and the highs still lacks the sparkle. But it somehow made the Curve sounds better, and more pleasing to my ears. Aftermarket cables are not required and are optional. But they do offer a certain amount of enhancement, not only in terms of aesthetics, but in sound quality as well.
Price and Availability
The Alclair Curve is now available and currently has a retail price of $249 USD. You can other one directly from Alclair here. Alclair can warranty your new Alclair in-ear monitor for one year, but this does not cover lost or stolen monitors, and there is no warranty on the cables.
Alclair Curve Review: Conclusion
This leads us into conclusion. The Alclair Curve is definitely a surprisingly universal monitor with lots of potential. The Curve is very much comfortable to wear and offers a fantastic fit and seal, almost similar to a custom IEM. It’s generally a fun and engaging universal monitor that is never fatiguing or boring. It’s also safe to traverse from one genre to another with the Curve, with some minor exemptions. Thanks to its great fit and seal, it’s able to provide a good amount of noise isolation as well.
However, its advantage could also be its disadvantage. It’s true that it’s very comfortable for me, but that may not be the same case with other ears. If you have smaller ears, you might find it difficult or uncomfortable to wear. When it comes to its sound signature, the purist and people who loves clear and crisp mids with sparkling highs may find the Curve unwanted. The Curve is generally tuned to be subtle, smooth and warm which is pleasing and welcoming to most listeners.
The Alcair Curve is not a bad product at all. We don’t have similar ears and your taste may not be the same with mine. But I see a lot of potential in the Curve. Alclair could introduce colored face plates or patterned / textured face plates which is more pleasing for the many. I think it could also be altered just a little bit to make room for 1 or 2 additional BAs for the mid and high frequencies. I also hope they could better the overall packaging as well and include additional silicon ear tips.
Overall, I was impressed with the Alclair Curve in terms of its bass performance and comfort. It may not be for every ear on the planet, but it’s definitely for someone who is looking for a rich, well-rounded and detailed bass; and for someone who is looking for a great fit and comfortable universal monitor. Finally, I find the Alclair Curve to be a highly recommended product.