While Minneapolis-based Alclair has been actively manufacturing its IEMs since 2010, the company has only recently gained the attention it deserves in pro-audio circles. No stranger to audiology, Alclair has been a primary player in that field for more than six decades, developing and manufacturing the material audiologists use to make ear impressions, and its Minneapolis retail shop also provides hearing aid fitting services. Alclair has a strong artist roster so I’ve been aware of the company for quite some time, but it was only with the release of its electrostatic driver-equipped ESM model that I knew I had to give its IEMs a try. A bit more research revealed that a handful of models are focused on studio mixing, which made me even more excited. After spending time at Alclair’s Nashville headquarters auditioning universal versions of their IEMs (a dozen models ranging from $349 to $2499) I opted to audition the ESM 13 and Studio4 IEMs for my review. Title
Alclair’s flagship ESM 13 ($2,499.00) incorporates 13 drivers and is the picture-perfect amalgamation of balanced armature and electrostatic drivers. The heart of the ESM is four proprietary balanced armature woofers, four balanced armature mid-range drivers, one balanced armature tweeter and four electrostatic drivers accompanied by a 4-way crossover. The four bore 30Ω IEMs include premium silver-plated copper cable, provide -26 dB of noise reduction and have a 110 dB SPL input sensitivity. Meanwhile, the Studio4 model ($949.00) incorporates four balanced armature drivers accompanied by a 3-way crossover. The three bore 32Ω IEMs provide -26 dB of noise reduction and have a 110 dB SPL Input Sensitivity.
To reduce distortion and increase clarity, Alclair employs a single tube and port for all of the drivers working in the same frequency range. This allows the sound to combine in your ear canal rather than the tubes making for a better resulting sound quality (this is true for all of Alclair’s IEM models).
All of the Alclair IEMs include a cleaning tool, ¼” adapter, and custom leather case by Haiti Made. It’s worth noting that besides being rugged and beautifully made, the cases support a noble cause as Haiti Made was born out of the desire to see the Haitian people (who typically live on less than $2.50/day) empowered by sustainable and dignified employment.
I’ve been living with the ESM 13 and STUDIO4 models for the past couple of months and during that time have been utilizing them daily. My critical evaluation listening was completed via Tidal, my streaming platform of choice, where I auditioned my staple reference albums, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; James Taylor’s Hourglass; The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds; Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. I also spent ample time mixing with both sets of IEMs as well as time referencing several of my own mixes from past projects. Both IEM models impressed me!
The electrostatic drivers in the ESM 13s work by applying a static electrical charge to a thin film floating between two perforated metal plates. As an audio signal is applied to the plates, the film membrane moves backward and forward because of electrical attraction and repulsion. To simplify, armature drivers work much like a dynamic microphone, while electrostatic drivers work like a condenser microphone. Electrostatic drivers are exceptionally fast, making them perfect for tweeters; the purpose of the electrostatic drivers in the ESMs is to emphasize the detail of the audio signal and add to the imaging.
The ESM 13s are a pleasure to listen to. Although they have a slight top-end and bottom-end boost, it’s just enough to make them fun without feeling overly hyped in those areas. The soundfield of the IEMs is impressively wide, laying out the perfect sonic space for the precise placement of every mix element to be clearly identified. The ESM 13’s electrostatic drivers provide amazing detail, allowing the most subtle mix elements to be heard. This was especially noticeable when listening to Hourglass, as I heard reverb trails on this album sink far deeper into the mix than I had ever noticed previously, and I’ve spent a lot of time with that album. The bottom end is full, tight and punchy. On some tracks, there is a perception of a slight bass boost, but never to the point of being overwhelming (drummers and bass players typically enjoy this type of performance in an IEM). The mid-range clarity is smooth, and the top-end is detailed and crystal clear. The headroom on the ESM13 seems nearly uncapped and there is no perceivable distortion, even at extremely loud listening levels.
Although perfectly suited for stage, the Studio4 is ideal for studio work. Think of it as a precision, uncolored pair of high-end studio monitors. Listening to the Studio4s is the closest I’ve felt to having ATC monitors in my ears. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible to mix an entire project solely with IEMs, but once I get 10% of the way into a mix, I’m completely fine moving to Studio4s and staying there until I’m ready for my final tweaking. With more and more people doing serious studio work in their homes, a flat IEM is the best solution for musicians and engineers needing to isolate from their housemates.
The Studio4 provides a tight, punchy bass with mid-range clarity and a smooth, natural top-end. Like the ESM 13, it is extremely detailed throughout, but in contrast, there isn’t quite as much headroom and there is no slight top or bottom boost (They’re not quite as fun to listen to but they are accurate as hell).
On an entirely different note, I’m a big vinyl fan and historically I haven’t been fond of listening to vinyl with IEMs. It has just never translated in a musical way, as any clicks or pops sucked me right out of the listening experience. The natural sound and flat response of the Studio4 has changed this completely. It is the ultimate IEM for vinyl listening and I can finally enjoy my vinyl collection when my wife and kids are sound asleep.
While all of the Alclair IEM’s have their place and purpose, the Electro 6 Driver Electrostatic is the perfect blend between the Studio4 Quad and ESM 13 models that I evaluated. Users attracted to Electrostatic drivers but lacking the funds for the ESM 13’s price-tag should give the $1,499 Electro 6 Driver Electrostatic consideration.
Alclair • www.alclair.com