Metastable NaCl-structure Ti1 − xAlxN is employed as a model system to probe the effects of metal versus rare-gas ion irradiation during film growth using reactive high-power pulsed magnetron sputtering (HIPIMS) of Al and dc magnetron sputtering of Ti. The alloy film composition is chosen to be x = 0.61, near the kinetic solubility limit at the growth temperature of 500 °C. Three sets of experiments are carried out: a −60 V substrate bias is applied either continuously, in synchronous with the full HIPIMS pulse, or in synchronous only with the metal-rich-plasma portion of the HIPIMS pulse. Alloy films grown under continuous dc bias exhibit a thickness-invariant small-grain, two-phase nanostructure (wurtzite AlN and cubic Ti1−xAlxN) with random orientation, due primarily to intense Ar+ irradiation leading to Ar incorporation (0.2 at. %), high compressive stress (−4.6 GPa), and material loss by resputtering. Synchronizing the bias with the full HIPIMS pulse results in films that exhibit much lower stress levels (−1.8 GPa) with no measureable Ar incorporation, larger grains elongated in the growth direction, a very small volume fraction of wurtzite AlN, and random orientation. By synchronizing the bias with the metal-plasma phase of the HIPIMS pulses, energetic Ar+ ion bombardment is greatly reduced in favor of irradiation predominantly by Al+ ions. The resulting films are single phase with a dense competitive columnar structure, strong 111 orientation, no measureable trapped Ar concentration, and even lower stress (−0.9 GPa). Thus, switching from Ar+ to Al+ bombardment, while maintaining the same integrated incident ion/metal ratio, eliminates phase separation, minimizes renucleation during growth, and reduces the high concentration of residual point defects, which give rise to compressive stress.