Many of you may know them by their top of the line in-car audio and Apple CarPlay-supported navigation systems, but Alpine is now starting its journey into the personal audio gear realm with the Alpine over-ear headphones. It's the company's first ever pair of headphones with an aggressive plan to outshine all other headphones in the higher-end category with unique proprietary technology and a distinct design. Starting with Alpine's "feel your music" slogan for its headphones. Powered by a set of built-in amplifiers, digital signal processing and Alpine's TKR3 Full Frequency Immersion technology, the high-performance 40mm drivers are engineered to deliver deep and powerful immersive audio quality that you can feel reverberating throughout your head. The selling point in Alpine's TKR3 technology is that the Alpine headphones are capable of producing very rich low frequencies without damaging your ears or sacrificing detail. Bundle that in with the Alpine's posh styling and you've got yourself a seriously attractive pair of headphones. We spent a fair amount of time with these, so be sure to jump below for our full and in-depth review to find out if they're worth your $300 investment!
When you're paying as much as $300 for headphones you can expect to be floored by the unboxing experience, and that's precisely the case here. The Alpine are beautifully presented inside this clean flip cover box. Basic user instructions are written directly onto the interior of the flap cover.
What you get inside along with the headphones is a USB to micro-USB charging cable to charge the built-in battery since the Alpine are actively powered headphones just like the Beats Studio, and yes, unlike the Beats Studio you can continue to use the Alpine even when the battery dies or when you simply don't want to power them on which is always welcome when it comes to powered headphones. Also included is a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable with a 3-button in-line remote and mic, as well as a soft carry pouch to store your headphones in – not pictured here because for some reason our review unit did not include the pouch inside the box.
These are striking to look at. It’s a shame Alpine didn’t name these the “Alpine Hammerhead" instead of plainly Alpine. I also really love the Alpine logo and how sporty it looks, I don’t usually say that about branding. The headphones have this very nicely fitted supercar-like metallic emblem on the side of each ear cup panel, which reminds me a little of the KTM X-Bow's white floating panels. Speaking of the Alpine's oversized ear cups, it’s as if someone flipped a square shaped ear cup on one of its four corners to make this svelte diamond-esque profile, which obviously makes for quite an interesting and district looking headphone design unlike any other. I wouldn't mind wearing these myself out in the public eye. Not that the Alpine promote portability in any way, shape or form. Not counting their obligatory headset functionality. But more on that shortly.
The Alpine headphones come in this matte white colorway you see here dubbed Apollo White, which also features a highly polished silver ear cup housing accent with a mirror-like finish that reflects lights and catches people's attention. Very clean looking might I say. Conversely, the Alpine also come in Onyx Black – an almost Daft Punk-inspired color scheme consisting of a glossy shade of black with copper gold colored polished accents in case you really want to stand out or simply own a very unique and stylish pair of headphones.
Sadly though, the polished accents aren't made out of metal and are simply plastic. So while these metallic-like accents give the Alpine its signature premium look from far away, up close and personal they don't seem as luxurious and that's a shame given the cost of the headphones. Speaking of cost, the Alpine will set you back $300.
Like most other people, the first thing that I look for when I put on a pair of headphones for the first time is the left and right symbols so that I know I’ll wear them correctly. To my surprise, the Alpine headphones have none of the standard left or right markings. I’ve comes across some oddly designed headphones before, but not once have I used a pair of headphones that had no “L” and “R” markings. I had to use my audio settings to find out if I was wearing these correctly. Care to know the super secretive and discrete orientation Alpine didn't think was important to note like every other headphone manufacture? The Alpine are to be worn with the cable connected to the right side of your head.
With that all sorted out no thanks to the designers of these headphones, I put the Alpine headphones over my ears and pressed the little power button on the bottom of the right ear cup. Little did I expect, the headphones came to life with a short pulse of bass vibration that I could feel around my ears followed by the expected, but very controlled and subdued hissing noise that is associated with powered headphones such as the Beats Studio. Thankfully, the Alpine's powered hissing noise is much, much lower than it is on the Beats Studio. The reason why the headband is so chunky is because it actually houses a small bass radiator that conducts and amplifies the bass vibrations so that you can feel it in almost a three dimensional haptic effect when you power the Alpine up, which Alpine calls its TKR3 frequency immersion technology that let’s you feel your music and movies whenever there’s bass. We'll talk more about that when we get to how the Alpine actually sound and perform.
For a pair that costs as much as $300, the Alpine headphones do end up feeling very cheaply made. They're also huge. One of the chunkiest headphones I've used so far. They’re entirely made from plastic, and not the kind of plastic that feels high quality. I honestly expected more, but I’m let down by the plasticky build quality and poorly designed construction having used them personally. I would’t say they’re even worth $200, let alone $300. Oddly enough and instead of being the other way around, the headband on the black colored Alpine model has a glossy fingerprint-magnet finish - while on the white Alpine model the headband has a matte textured finish (not a soft-touch rubbery coating mind you) while the ear cups on both colors feature this glossy type plastic with a mirror-like polish to somewhat offset the look of plain plastic.
The construction of the headband is solid I will say that, and the metal joints that allow the cups to swivel to the side into a flat position have a good springy mechanism that smoothly locks in place. However, the ear cups do have that unappealing plastic creaking noise when touched.
The cups can freely move around as they’re connected to a plastic joint that is neatly concealed behind the fixed headband that doesn't expand and retract like an ordinary headphone band, but instead it’s the ear cups themselves that are capable of discreetly sliding up or down in stepped levels behind the headband in order to fit your desired height position. Overall I’m not impressed at all with the build quality of the Alpine headphones. They’re chunky, quite hefty and not at all better made than the Beats Studio and other similarly and inexpensively priced alternatives. That being said, they do seem to be decently durable thanks in part to that extra-thick rigid headband which is the supporting frame for the entire headphones. Honestly, these are not the kind of headphones you want to take with you to the gym or exercise with outside.
The Alpine's sleeved nylon fabric cable is detachable and very durable. But it's also very short, which is a good thing for mobile use, but not so good when you're just lounging at home. At this price Alpine should have included two different pairs of audio cables in two different lengths. I'm not a huge fan of this type of cable just because it's slightly more firm and stiffer than a regular TPE cable much like braided USB cables that you'd find on most gaming mice. The nice thing about it is that it doesn't produce any vibration feedback when you're wearing the headphones as the cable runs against your clothing. And it is indeed tangle-free. The same can be said about the included USB charging cable.
The cable's gold-plated 3.5mm connectors are well built, robust and have slim rubbery housings so you won't have any trouble connecting these through a protective case.
Let's just say that if you want to use these on a flight, don't waste any more time reading this review and look for something else. After just 30 minutes of wearing these my ears started to hurt from the poor ergonomic design of the interior ear cups, which press firmly against your ears and aren’t padded in the center leaving a hard plastic driver grille to firmly press against your ears. It’s a real shame too because Alpine did a very good job designing the exterior padding of the ear cups with thick, faux leather-covered foam padding. With such thick ear cushion padding and relatively large circumaural interior, putting these on for the first time feels very comfortable and cozy. And the passive noise-isolation isn't bad either, but it still leaves much to be desired; especially when you're in a noisy environment. Alas, I could not say that the Alpine are as comfortable to wear for long periods of time as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, Beats Studio 2, Bose QuietComfort 25, Parrot Zik 2, Skullcandy Crusher, JBL Synchros S700. Everyone is different, I get that. So don't let my poor experience with wearing the Alpine be the thing that will stop you from trying them out for yourself.
If the ear cups weren't enough of a distraction when it comes to enjoy your music without pain, the headband adds a sprinkle of discomfort. Nestled between a firm yet acceptably cushioned headband is this hard white middle section, which isn’t padded like the rest of the headband's interior layer as it’s actually part of the bass reverberation feedback feature. And since this piece sits directly above your head where most of the pressure is focused and applied, it feels like it’s digging into your skull over time.
The Alpine headphones are actively powered, however, they don’t offer any active noise-cancellation. Instead they use the power to drive the built-in amplifier inside to enhance the audio quality much like the Beats Studio, albeit minus the noise-canceling feature. So if you do you $300 to spend and you’re looking for a pair of great noise-canceling headphones to purchase then definitely look into getting the Bose QuietComfort 25. They’re really the best you can get.
As mentioned earlier, the Alpine feature an in-line 3-button remote control with a built-in microphone for headset functionality. This allows you to fully take control of your audio source so long as you're using an iOS device like an iPhone with the Alpine. Just like the headphones themselves, the remote module is quite chunky as well but does have very solid feeling rubbery buttons, which do require more force than usual to depress. You'll be able to adjust your volume, answer/decline calls, play/pause your music including skipping and scrubbing though tracks.
Battery life isn't that great, but it's not terrible either. 10 hours is acceptable, but I would much rather not have to wait 8 hours for these to fully charge when I already have other things to charge as well. Realistically you're looking at charging your headphones every two days with moderate daily use. Not the greatest battery life if you think about it. We do hope Alpine improves this figure in the next iteration. Because from our experience with the Alpine headphones most people aren't going to get close to 10 hours with heavy usage on high volume levels listening to bass-intensive music. Granted 10 hours isn't nearly as impressive as the Beats Studio's 20 hour battery life, however, the Alpine have the upper hand in allowing you to continue to listen to music without having to power them on, whereas the Studio do not. To save battery, the Alpine will automatically and quietly turn off after 45 seconds if no audio is played through them.
On the power button itself is a status LED indicator which lights up white when you turn on the headphones and then blinks every few seconds when in use, turns an amber hue when the battery is low - and red when the battery requires charging. When you plug them in to charge, a steady bright amber light will turn and will later switch to a solid white to let you know that the battery has been fully recharged. So a neat little status details, yet I still find the Beats Studio's to have the best on-board battery status meter feature of all the headphones we've tested throughout recent years. It simply more detailed and gives you a better idea of the remaining battery life. You can check the battery status using the Alpine's Play Level app for iOS, but I found it to be inaccurate. At least for the time being because that may improve later on with updated software.
Although you cannot collapse the Alpine's headband into a more compact form when putting them into your bag, you can twist to fold the ear cups flat in order to take up less space using this lower profile just like the JBL Synchros S700. The hidden spring-loaded hinge, thankfully, is indeed made out of metal and twists to lock the cups into position very firmly.
My initial reaction of Alpine’s Level Play app (version 1.4), which is an iOS-only app that the company seems to push you to download by sticking stickers on the headphones themselves, was that it was perhaps the most useless and bewilderingly pointless thing about this whole package. The fact that the app wirelessly pairs with the Alpine headphones using Bluetooth for no apparent reason other than to adjust some arguably useless EQ audio settings when playing music using the Level Play app, is beyond all reason. All this app does is pick music based on three different categorized levels that the user can choose from to create a personalized playlist that consists of low, medium and high intensity music genres after the app scans both the BPM and sound waves of all the songs in your music library.
It only works with your iTunes music, so other apps and music services like Spotify aren’t supported. Why does this even exist? And why do these headphones need to be paired with your iOS devices in order to use the app instead of utilizing the built-in Bluetooth capability to wirelessly listen to music like any other headphone that features Bluetooth connectivity. I must be missing something here, Alpine. That or this is just a huge gimmick made to stand out from the rest of the headphones on the store shelf. Well, not quite. You see, I normally never use EQ settings when testing out headphones using iTunes or Spotify. But in this case, the EQ settings aren't stored on the audio source but inside the headphones themselves, which is a bit more interesting.
The Play Level app is nothing special. It's quite basic with a poorly designed user interface. You can make imprecise adjustments to the audio using the EQ settings options within the app, check on the battery status, and find out more information about the Alpine's features. One of the biggest drawbacks of the Play Level app is that as of this review it only supports iOS devices. More specifically, the iPhone. You'll be able to open the app on your iPad of course, but it doesn't seem to fully work as it doesn't support iPads.
It only took a few weeks for me to get what Alpine was trying to do with the Alpine's Bluetooth-enhanced functionality. The really cool thing about the Alpine's Bluetooth functionality is that you can wirelessly tune the EQ settings using the Play Level app using your iPhone without having to connect them to the iPhone itself. The adjustments are made in real time too, so you can listen to your music on your computer while you wirelessly make adjustments to the audio using your phone. The adjustments are then automatically saved onto the headphones, not on the device, which is great for continuity across different platforms. And you're going to want to play with the audio tuning because out of the box, the Alpine aren't very balanced.
The most fun we've ever had with a pair of headphones, period
If I had to describe the sound quality in a few sentences, I’d say that straight out of the box the Alpine are most definitely bass heavy, almost ridiculously so. The bass is way over powered so that you can actually feel it vibrating around your skull and all throughout the headband, sounds distant as if it was hiding behind a concrete wall with a weird three-dimensional effect, and so artificial it might be unhealthy to listen to. And I’m not one that dislikes good sounding bass, however, the Alpine produce unpleasant sounding mid-bass and a very muddy low-end, which is clearly a result of the built-in powered amplification and heavy DSP alteration. Listening to the same music without turning on the Alpine’s power, things drastically improve and become less contrasty in comparison.
The bass is still powerful and enthusiastically thumpy, but not as overpowering and muddled on the low frequencies. It actually sounds less three-dimensional and quite fun, but not in any way accurate or tight. The highs actually sound very clear and nicely detailed while the midrange is warm and distinguishable. Why on earth did Alpine think it was remotely a good idea to artificially boost the bass to absurd levels with a built-in amplification mode when the Alpine headphones clearly sound remarkably better without touching that power button that instantly turns them into quite frankly - garbage. A good example of how headphones can sound impressive even though they deliver bass that literally can shake your brain is Skullcandy’s Crusher headphones, which feature a bass vibration feature that users can adjust how intense it sounds and feels. That being said, it feels like Alpine was heading towards that very direction with its first powered over-ear headphones, but unfortunately it doesn’t work nearly as well as it does on the Crusher headphones. Instead all you end up with is distorting, overpowering lows as soon as you turn on the Alpine. What an unexpected shame.
This was before I discovered the Play Level app and reset the EQ settings on the Alpine headphones. By default, it seems that the Alpine headphones come with an untuned bass setting, either that or they are automatically reconfigured with different settings once you pair them with the Level Play app, which may not always end up sounding the best. After tinkering with the Play Level's audio settings, mostly resetting all the pre-assigned EQ levels, I was introduced to a much improved sounding headphones. The richness in the audio quality is unbelievably amazing, and the bass is just unreal. I do appreciate the Alpine's TKR3 which really turbo charge the relatively smallish yet still average 40mm drivers to pump out an immersive, huge sounding audio experience that can easily outperforms similarly priced headphones such as the Beats Studio 2. That being said, if you care more about accurate and precise sounding over-ear headphones, then the Audio-Technical ATH-M50x are still the cans to beat at nearly half the price. It's only a shame that the Bluetooth capability within the Alpine headphones is strictly used as an in-app sound customization setting feature and not used to wirelessly listen to music.
Alpine's bass is very thick like there's a party going down inside each ear cup. They're a lot warmer sounding than the JBL Syncros S700, which by comparison sound like they've got flat bass and heavy treble-infused clarity signature. That being said, the Alpine doesn't sound quite as pristine and precise as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. Granted they do have a punchier bass line, unsurprisingly and without requiring an external headphone amp to boost the bass response. Meanwhile the Alpine sound like everything has been enhanced to sound more lively and energetic – from the treble and mids to the boomified bass. The Alpine have a tendency to make all other headphones we've tested sound...well...dull in comparison. Tip: just picked up a pair of Alpine headphones? Listen to G-Eazy's "I Mean It" @ at least 35% volume to test out the bass capability.
Skullcandy's Crusher do a better job delivering haptic bass feedback than the Alpine including offering superior low-end bass response, however, the Alpine literally crush Skullcandy's Crusher headphones when it comes to mid bass performance. Despite the Alpine's powerful low-end, impressively, vocals still come out on top. Unlike the Skullcandy Crusher, which have recessed vocals and highs in comparison.
Skullcandy's Crusher headphones are a lot more comfortable, lighter, and deliver better and deeper bass reverberation that will literally knock your glasses off your face whilst giving your brain a massage. On the other hand, the Alpine produce better audio quality and non-fatiguing polished bass that more balanced and doesn't require higher volume to perform as it should. The Alpine also sound great in handling all music genres, partly thanks to their EQ tuning. While I do prefer the Alpine when it comes to audio performance, I do wish they were more reverberating, light and as comfortable to wear as Skullcandy's Crusher.
If Alpine's intentions for these headphones are to make the wearer experience the feel of bass vibrating in their music then they clearly haven't done a very good job at it, whereas Skullcandy's nailed it with its Crusher headphones. That being said, I don't think that the exaggerated haptic bass feedback of the Crushers is any better in that it quickly becomes fatiguing to the point where you'd rather just tone it down. Skullcandy developed some very impressive bassy headphones, but they're more of a novelty than serious sounding headphones.
The Alpine are without a doubt, hands down the thumpiest and most energetic headphones we have ever heard. Even more so than the Beats Studio headphones, which says a lot about the bass capabilities of the Alpine. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop, pop and dance music you're going to thoroughly enjoy listening to your playlist using the Alpine headphones. They deliver hugely satisfying bass, warm projecting mids and very clear highs. If you're all about that bass, treble and everything else that follows, the Alpine offer a seriously tempting proposition. If only they were more comfortable to wear for longer than an hour, better made and a bit cheaper, we wouldn't be as reluctant to give them a higher overall rating. We like the fact that you can adjust the EQ settings using the iOS companion app and for the settings to be stored on the headphones over Bluetooth, but additional features at this price like active noise-cancellation and wireless audio streaming are lacking indeed. Improved battery life is another thing we would like to see in the next iteration of the Alpine.
If you really want to spend as much as $300 on a pair of trendy over-ear headphones, you should also consider the Beats Studio 2 instead, which are now $200 on Amazon. Not only do they have active noise-cancellation, but they’re more streamlined and far more comfortable than the Alpine. And if you want something that delivers a more critical sounding audio performance, Audio-Technica's nondescript ATH-M50x are highly recommended at under $180.