I like Ken Ball of ALO audio. Perhaps its because he reminds me of one of my favorite high school physics teachers, or maybe its just his soft spoken mannerisms in a giant sea of boisterous audio characters that makes him stand out to me. But due to the very limited time I have actually spent with the man, I pretty sure its mostly because I also like the products he creates.
I’ve always been a big fan of ALO’s treatment of IEMs when it comes to its portable amplifiers. The original International (now replaced by the “+” and optical versions) was one of the few options on the market that offered smart dynamic sensibilities partnered with a pitch black background. Throw in a balanced cable (even more rare for IEMs) and you got yourself something that is probably at the very top of the game, regardless of price, portable or not. With IEMs it only made sense that the power supply also remained mobile, but for desktop listening the little black square was all you needed for the top flight sound. Admittedly, full size headphones are an entirely different story. With so many options and high end price points to deal with the field gets far more diluted, but at that time the amp market for IEMs was much tighter race.
One of ALO’s newest entries is still clearly aimed at IEMs. The Rx ($349) is a continuation of the product line most known for the Rx Mk3-b from a few years ago. The Mk3 was a pretty amazing portable amplifier for full sized headphones, but struggled a bit when it came to IEMs. The Rx addresses IEMs issues by branching off from the dual purpose role into a more efficient singular one. The little unit is still sans DAC, ideally designed to pair with one of the Astell & Kern players (Ken had it plugged into the AK120 II which he also sells on his site: http://www.aloaudio.com/). Given the fine job those players usually do with digital decoding, the combination has the potential to be very sweet. The Rx is a 15v push pull design and charges via the micro usb slot on the back panel. Aside from the rather simple feature set the new IEM amp also includes a unique conductive ceramic volume pot intended to help keep the background black and avoid unwanted volume adjustment noise.
For those looking for a full featured portable headphone amplifier that can handle everything and the kitchen sink, ALO had their newest version of the Continental up and running at the show as well. The new portable headphone amplifier is called Dual Mono and sports a DSD-capable DAC section with dual mono 6111 tube gain stages that are visible through a viewing window located on the top of the unit.
The new portable amp was engineered with the help of Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio who is known for his battery-powered loudspeaker and headphone amplifier designs.
The Continental Dual Mono has a Wolfson WM8741 DAC chip at the helm fed by separate linear voltage regulators for analog and digital. Somewhat surprisingly, the new amp has shed the old RSA 4 pin balanced connection in favor of the one featured on Astell and Kern players. In addition to on and off privileges, the LED lights on the front indicate the sample rate of the USB data stream.
The back panel features a manual switch that controls input selection between the micro USB and analog inputs. The Dual Mono also has a two-way high/low gain setting for a wide selection of headphone parings.
It is actually possible to tube roll the new portable amplifier with the user-replaceable 6111 tube board design.
With a little DYI magic users will be able to attach their favorite tube to this adapter available from ALO and update the amplifier’s sound output.
The new head amp will be ALO’s flagship piece and retail for $1,495 when it becomes available in May or April of this year.