Choice isn’t fundamentally a good thing.
We aren’t talking Jean-Paul Sartre, “condemned to be free”, here, but there is a line to be trodden dividing generosity and the almost apologetic implication you are offering a range of inferior choices in lieu of one you consider exceptional.
MORE: Awards 2015: best in-ear headphones
That is our immediate question for the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus.
These in-ear headphones come not only with a selection of tips for your comfort, but three interchangeable filters affecting the balance of your sound: one for neutral, another with enhanced treble and a third offering enhanced bass.
When headphone manufacturers offer this kind of flexibility with their design, we aren’t necessarily filled to the brim with confidence.
Build and comfort
Generally, though, our first impressions are positive.
The Alfa Genus are well built for the price, and, we think, rather attractive with their black twisted cable and optional inline mic, lightweight wood-and-aluminium casing and translucent rubber buds.
Reasonably comfortable, too, which boosts our confidence ahead of long listening session.
After a brief Goldilocks routine determining the enhanced treble and bass filters to be frankly silly extremes, we decide to discount them from the test and go forth using only the neutral.
In fact, it is surprising Rock Jaw included the other filters, given there is evidence that they know very well how to reach a decent level of balance.
Playing Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, an album with often dense and varied instrumentation, proves it well. No frequency sticks out where it shouldn’t and there’s a decent enough level of detail to hold our interest.
What’s more, it is, if not extraordinarily full-bodied, a smooth sound to which at least it doesn’t feel difficult to listen.
That is about where the Alpha Genus’s strengths end, however. It begins with their lack of sensitivity, meaning you’ll have to turn your phone or music player up to its loudest and drain its battery faster.
MORE: Best in-ear headphones 2015
In terms of sound, their closed-in presentation, combined with a loose sense of subtler dynamics, means any detail they do have occupies the same bit of space.
At best, so little light and shade on such a tight soundfield makes for a rather non-engaging listen; at worst, it can be confusing.
Timing, too, is unremarkable. The Alpha Genus miss their step too often with anything approaching a complex rhythm – not helped by those aforementioned issues – and so lose any sense of immediacy or anticipation.
It drains excitement from the music, if not making it a mess.
Our obvious point of reference is the Award-winning SoundMagic E10Ss, which prove that budget headphones needn’t be so restrictive of quality.
Simply put, they trump the Alpha Genus on their strengths and unmercifully expose their weaknesses; the E10S are dynamically expressive, sure-footed rhythmically and reassuringly composed.
The Alfa Genus aren’t yet approaching the worst in-ears we’ve ever heard, but we can't find a reason, at any price, why we’d recommend them.
That’s why we can only justifiably award two stars.
See all our headphone reviews