Point 1: typographical elements
In comparison to Alien Gold’s smoothly printed logos, copyright notices, and interface elements, the original’s half-engraved, half-stippled typography both feels, and looks, like a large-budget garage project. Under the macro lens, the original shows numerous typography imperfections, and under the thumb, it feels like a blemish. Gold’s, however, holds up under magnifications as high as 1:1 as well as any high-quality product from Foxcon. Beautiful.
The original’s singular advantage: a navigation UI that returns a modicum of tangible feedback to the thumb, is cancelled by its hideously-shapen control ring, whose on/off/play button is as hard to nail as Harry Potter’s Golden Snitch.
Point 2: bevelled edges
The original’s Korean edges would just as soon gouge a hole in your desk as in your hand. Couple them with superfluous angles, wannabe Jutlands, and those damnable wings, and you’re practically reduced to holding a naked blade.
(To its credit, the top of Alien Black is bevelled.)
Alien gold extends that bevel to the bottom plate, staunching as many chances for blood to flow as possible.
Point 3: bottom plate contour
The original Alien’s rectangular bottom was so goofy that I said the following:
The bulk is just for show. A simple glance at its underbelly reveals that the circuit board is rectangular, not axe handle shaped.
It’s much too much to ask Shozy to re-design Alien with function, not fantasy, in mind. Nevertheless, Shozy re-tooled its entire bottom plate. Now, it matches the contours of the top plate to a precise, suicidal, Korean angle. Consequently, the restraining bolts have moved farther to the sides and round out a far more satisfying design than previous. In my opinion, this is how the series should have begun.
Point 4: bottom plate rigidity
When pressed, Alien Black’s hide-a-bed circuit insert back warps and bends. Alien Gold’s does not. Its rear edges fit almost symmetrically from edge to edge, contour to contour, again, meeting Foxcon precision.
Point 4: interface circle
Alien Black’s abysmal interface circle is designed for children or for men with cocaine fingernails. If you’ve got anything but Captain Hooks for fingers, you’ll be as haplessly apt to press its recessed on/off/play switch as anything. A single press of that button during play turns the player off. Turn it back on and the volume resets (to levels your earphones were not meant to sustain).
A more horribly designed DAP interface I’ve yet to encounter.
It is wonderful that Alien Gold’s raised on/off/play button somewhat ameliorates input errors, but it behooves Shozy to make the hardware interface more accessible and less abrasive to the ears.
Point 5: engraved logo
Nothing says out of beta better than shedding the stipple. Campfire did just that in their final production of Jupiter, which looks, and sounds great.
And, while making you pay for the beta (Black), Shozy did just that in the Alien Gold. Honestly, Gold’s material fit and finish are more polished and scrupulous than a number of top players on the market.
Point 6: ditch the brushed metal exterior
If done right, brushed metal looks great, if anachronistic. When shoehorned into a jaggily-fit body such as Alien black, it is cheap. Alien Gold’s smoothly anodised body looks, and feels, many, many times better than Alien Black. No misaligned stripes. No body bulges. No poor production markers that brushed metal exacerbates.
Despite the same axe-head, sword-hilt, TCS Tiger’s Claw aesthetic, Alien Gold is leaps and bounds more aesthetically cohesive than the original.
To be honest, I didn’t expect audible improvements in Gold over Black, and I wasn’t disappointed. What did, and what still does, surprise me, are the many, small improvements to the same physical design. Alien Gold is more rigid, better finished, and is slightly easier to use. I am dead set against its campy input scheme and idiotic return-to-default volume control system; and I’m more than a little surprised by its deplorable max-volume performance. But, if you stack all the cards in its favour, Alien Gold is a stunning proof-of-concept that proves that Shozy’s management of metalworking is top notch.
Minus the hiss and poor performance [read: massive distortion and other artefacts] above a volume setting of minus thirteen, Gold sounds lovely. I’d love to see both audible artefacts fixed and transplanted into a an easy-to-control body.
That would be perfect.