a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged ALO Audio

Recently, I visited a prominent local headphone store. I was looking for a portable closed-back headphone for air travel, to replace my in-ear phones, Sennheiser IE8. I no longer feel comfortable wearing in-ear for hours, let alone, a long flight. The IE8 will fall off my ears if I do not constantly reposition it. I have tried various tips but none of them provides the comfort I want up in the air. While I was there, why not try various new & old gears that I have not tried.

The First Setup

The first was the Bottlehead Crack w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. The sound was very lean. The HD650 lost its greatness; imaging, deep bass, soundstage, all gone. Bottlehead turned HD650 into a very thin sounding headphone. After a few minutes, I switched to another setup. Later on, I found out that the culprit is on Bottlehead Crack. The amp just didn’t sound good.

The Second Setup

The second setup was ALO Pan Am w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. Now, this is what Sennheiser HD650 should sound like. It’s not the best amp for it but the Pan Am was a much better amp than Bottlehead Crack. It brought back HD650’s famous imaging and soundstage. The speed was a bit on the slow side but after the hearing the first setup, my ears needed a spa, a spa that Pan Am provided. There was channel imbalance on low volume but still very tolerable.

After listening with HD650, I switched to Audio Technica ATH-ES700. It sounded really bad (bad in every way) that after a few musics, skipped!

Then, I picked up Audio Technica ATH-ES9. Now, this was better, much better than ATH-ES700. This should be the best portable closed-back headphone to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It sounded great with the Pan Am. Wait, I can’t use the Pan Am on an airplane. So I plugged the ES9 directly into Astell & Kern AK100. Although not as great and inviting as HD650, the sound was well balanced, and easy to listen to.

My Conclusions:

  • The Pan Am is a very decent amp for its size but the price puts me off. It’s expensive for the sound quality you get out of it. If I really need a small amp w/ DAC, I’d just get my DACport. It’s even smaller than the Pan Am. If I want to go a just a bit bigger, I’d get one of Schiit’s single-ended amps and you don’t need to worry about running out of battery power or replace the battery unit after a few years.
  • Sennheiser HD650 is as great as ever, it remains one of my all-time favorites.
  • Bottlehead Crack is a bad-sounding amp. Maybe the unit is defective. I don’t know.
  • Audio Technica ATH-ES700 is a very bad sounding headphone. The sound does not sound right. Maybe it’s defective too (by design).
  • Audio Technica ATH-ES9 is a well balanced portable closed-back headphone for the money. This is the headphone I want to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It provides the comfort and SQ. My only concern is its fragile looking cable.
  • Astell & Kern is a great DAP (digital audio player). The sound is surprisingly quite neutral. The freq is very linear. I suspect it should be good for all kinds of music. The user interface is easier to use and not as flaky as iBasso DX50 that I also auditioned. SQ wise Vs. DX50? Better too.

When you buy a car, what are the parts that you will be looking into seriously? One of them is the engine, right?

I don’t get ALO’s latest offering, The Island. Actually, I don’t get ALO’s lineup. They have never really showed anything inside their products. They have never really explained the engineering marvels. They only throw a couple of chips here and there and that’s it. It’s like they are selling audio jewelries.

To be honest, I am never a fan of ALO. Looking back at their history… cables… Let’s just leave it at that. But I don’t hate them. I was ecstatic when they opened their first brick-mortar store in Portland, Oregon. But I guess old habits die hard. They were still at that point selling audio jewelries. Nothing to see in the store. I’d rather visit and support a local hi-fi dealer that I have known well that they only sell high-performance audio equipments.

Recently, they venture into desktop amp/dac and portable amp/dac. The products look pretty decent to me. And I have heard several, they sound pretty decent too but again, nothing that I would consider buying. The Island is just released today, I’m confused. I really like the design. Huge volume knob on top, someone should have done this a long time ago with portable amp/dac. Making a portable amp knob to look like a miniaturized desktop amp knob is just silly. They put USB input and audio output on each opposite end, those moves make sense. The box shape of the enclosure is a big plus too. But there is little else to see before I even consider buying one.

Maybe it’s just me or a few others, but I would want to see what’s inside and why it cost the same as DACport. CEntrance went a great length to make the DACport the way it is. There are the USB handshake thing that requests 9V, driverless proprietary 24/96 USB input, Class A amp, AKM4396 DAC, and capacitor-free headphone out. The Island has no sign of having any of engineering breakthrough. Yes, it offers balanced in/out and hi-res 24/192 USB DAC, but I don’t need balanced in/out as I don’t want to have a balanced headphone and hi-res 24/192 USB DAC is hardly an engineering marvel as there are now several easy-to-get solutions in the market.

This makes me wonder whether I should buy it or not. Maybe I should. I can always tear it down after purchase. But they could have saved all the troubles by explaining a bit more about the thing. What is it that ALO trying to avoid? …