Pros: Powerful, dynamic, and full
Cons: Biit pricey, big, and sometimes fuzzy
I just got a pair of AKG K712s, so I needed an amp. It came down to choosing between ALO Audio's The National, and the International which were both being sold by the Headphone Bar in Vancouver. The owner lets people try out ALL of his products, so I spent a good hour playing around (and trying out some tube amps as well). And he had a pair of K712s in his store, so I used his instead.
Basically, I picked the National because I didn't really need a DAC, it sounded similar to the International, and it was $250 cheaper. Yes, I double-amped everything because I was lazy and didn't bother wanting to fiddle with a DAC.
So, onto the review!
Note: Yeah, I'm not the most keen audiophile. :\
Sources: iPhone 5S, max volume. Macbook Pro Retina, max volume. This creates a line-out-ish signal, I think*. Not entirely the same, but playing with the MBP's settings, if I max out the volume, I get a 0db gain. Any lower, and it starts cutting the signal.
Previous amps owned: FiiO e6. Not the best, but it did its job.
Music: A bunch of stuff. Punk, metal, choral, orchestral, jazz, all encoded at 320k. I have a very wide-ranging taste in music.
Build quality: Like a tank. My dark side has always considered this question, when judging build quality: Can I smash a person's head? The National definitely looked like it could.
First Impressions: I didn't find it exceptionally loud. But it was full-sounding. There was more of everything. A bit dark. Kinda like a record. Neat! It's probably due to the double-amping though, so I'll be getting a Dragonfly DAC soon to
Bass: Full, with slam and just a tinge of fuzz. It extends wayyy down, but doesn't mess with other stuff.
Mids: Clear, with a bit of liquidity to it. If you play the right music, it's downright awesome. Vocals and guitar solos are gorgeous.
Highs: With the K712s, no problem. Not too sparkly, and just right.
Actually, the thing sounds like a record player. Or tube amp, which I tried later on. The power was not the same, but the sound quality was similar.
Value: This is the most questionable. I'm not sure the problem of amping the K712s was a $315 problem. But alas. It sounds good!
All in all, this is something I'll be enjoying for sure!