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ALO Audio The Pan Am

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #13 in Amp/DACs

Posted

Pros: Compact, can be transportable if you have Passport, sound quality of DAC is solid, and amp is top notch, very versatile.

Cons: No ability to be stand alone dace, RCA out?!...?

   I have had a little bit of experience with hybrid amps from the Vali, Little Dot 3, and finally the Fournier HTA-2. What I have not had experience is with all in one tube-hybrid/DAC which yes I have seen them around from unknown chinese versions that cost less and High end audio gear that cost so much more. I will say for this Price I think many units will have a hard time beating out this DAC/Amp. Now that fact that you can travel with this and have it connected to your laptop and or tablet on a bus or train and being listening nise 96khz files from a great amp and DAC is just a hefty plus. Mainly because I actually preferred getting the Gateway which is the aftermarket powersupply, for a cleaner and or more solid power supply. The sound quality on this unit for the price you can find them at is what really is amazing, because this DAC is definitely on par with the ODAC/CDAC+ that I have used in the past, which many know from their own experiences is fantastic DAC for the value it brings to all types of audio hobbyists. Well, the PanAm is not a slouch in the DAC dept. and man does it sound clean and clear with great detail, which for this price it should be. Yet, all this is for not if the amp is lacking in qualifications....well do not fret, because the Amp is in many ways the star of the show being even better, from power(raw power this thing is seriously fronting with the ring of power or something) to versatility. This amp can drive them phones, and does it sound good? *a very satisfying hell yeah, Let us get into a few specifics

 

The Design/Build

 

 Honestly this feels and looks like a higher quality DAC/Amp from the small compact size to the sturdy construction and aesthetically pleasing chassis and ability to stack the PanAm with both the Gateway power supply( same size and color if one so chooses between black and silver) and the Passport( the battery pack that can charge and last up to 10 or so hours otg) which if buying both of the aftermarket accessories/extensions this product looks really cool and still is much smaller than many to any DAC/amp combo's I have seen. That amber to orange led light is non-obtrusive to the eye and gives a very nice pairing with the the orange tubes leds. It is heavier that it looks for it's size but that just adds to the solid feel it gives when first unboxing this gem. To myself this is easily a 10 out of 10 if they had decided to throw in the ability to use RCA out and have a stand alone DAC for those hobbyists, and I am happen to be one, that like to have more than one amp for a pairing with a particular headphone. I understand that was not in the design and new this going in, but I also know 500$ is nothing to scoff at so I give Design  and build an 8/10

 

Sound quality and performance

 

  If I could of a one word description, perhaps...beautiful. I can honestly say this unit with all the headphones from 35 ohm to 600ohms, from Dynamics to Orthos everyrthing is driven with authority. Not just authority though, with the RTC French 5654 tubes I am using everything has a spaciousness and detail that just knocks me to a music dream state. I have used 5 headphones with this unit the top 3 with it that I have given ample listening time are the T70p(35ohms), the HD600(300 ohms), and the ZMF X Vibro(Ortho not sure on Ohm)...each performed admirably but these exceeded that with performing remarkably. I have say as far as closed back headphones both the X Vibro and T70p are great for a pairing, one have heavier bass impact lush full midrange and smooth easy listening treble. Where the T70p has great extension on bottom and top, the bass being lighter but tight and quick, the midrange being the best I have heard from a Beyerdynamic, and treble though bright is very detailed and not as harsh as the lesser siblings of the DT line. The T70p's resolution and spaciousness for a closed headphone really helped it be an easy fit with the ALO PanAm especially pairing with the RTC tubes which has great detail and separation yet still has a musicality and intimacy that I happen to love ...with the T70p this feels like a very detailed yet musical pairing that many hobbyists would grow to love. I happen to Listen to all three of these headphones pretty regularly with the PanAm, but what I did not expect was how incredible this hybrid would sound with the pairing of lower sensitivity IEMs such as the ER4PT. I plugged them into the 3.5 audio jack turned gain to low setting and took a shot, fingers crossed, and was surprised with awesome satisfaction when I heard no hiss and or noise with the ER4PT and never have I heard them sound so good or large for that matter. Versatility is definitely a strong point with the PanAm, because it has torn through all the Headphones and IEMs(which are only a few) that I have put in it's path. I am hopefully getting the Cfte tubes from a member of this community( a very good one at that) and will be trying them on for size and when I do I will probably put down an edit list at the bottom where I place what tubes I felt  made the best impression along with what headphones. Granted all of this is subjective because everyone's ear and taste is different to some extent. Sound quality and performance I give a 10/10 especially for the price right now.

 

As it stands there are other units for both DAC/Amp out there especially with the growing values out there in the audio world that compete with the PanAm, but I do not feel there is many that allow you to get this size, soundquality, versatility, and option to tube roll for the price that is on par with the PanAm, but granted this is my subjective opinion. Do I feel it warrants the money spent? Yes, I definitely do and it is incredible as far as audio performance in such a small package such as the PanAm. 

 

This was just the initial impressions and review after a couple weeks with this device, but after I try more headphones and some different tubes I will definite come back to edit what I feel needs to be.

Thanks for reading please leave comments and questions below. 

Posted

 

This review was done at the request of fellow newbie Head-Fier Chgm.

 

Finally, after a long burn-in period and long listening sessions with both amps, I'm ready to give my impressions. This is specifically to test out the Schiit Lyr and the Alo Pan Am with the LCD 2 Rev.2. and songs that CHGM specifically requested (plus a few of my own additions as well).

 

Let’s start with the LCD 2 first. When I first put it on the first thing that popped into my head (as with most people) was “what a dark sound!”, and I do mean dark to the point where I took them off and scratched my head thinking, “did I just pay $1000K for these?”

 

However, remembering how the sound on my ATH-M50 got better as time went by (I did not know about Head-fi at the time), and how I thought I overspent when I first got the Sennheiser HD598, I persisted. Those two cans became better as they got more use, and I felt this even without reading about the concept of burn-in. The only concept I had about burn-in was to let my computer components run continuously under stress for at least 48 hours to weed out any lemons amongst the components.  Around six weeks after purchasing the HD598, I discovered head-fi as I was researching new music to listen to.

 

So armed, I kept listening and as the LCD 2 got more head time, the sound became clearer, the highs extended more, and the feel became airy-er. The highs were no longer dry-ish, and the dark sound started to brighten up bit by bit. It is still dark compared to my HD598 and Grado SR80i, but I find I now prefer the LCD 2 as I can wear it for hours on end without rest. It is non-fatiguing at all. The only issue is the occasional neck pain I feel after long sessions.   

 

A note on the sound of the LCD 2:

The sound of the LCD 2 is like a thick wall of air supersaturated with sound waves slamming into you, permeating your whole being. Have you seen the first Fantastic Four movie? That scene where the four heroes were bombarded by that cosmic storm...that’s how I imagine the sound of the LCD 2!

 

In comparison, my second best headphone, the HD598 feels like a slight breeze (albeit a great sounding breeze). Think lowest setting on an electric fan – that is the HD598, while the LCD is on setting number 3.

 

The Setup:

Fairly utilitarian. No high end, summit-fi material here. I was asked to do this review because CHGM wanted to get either the Lyr or the Pan Am, and just so happened to find I owned both.

Shiit Lyr with Schiit Bifrost DAC and GE Tubes. The Schiit stack is connected via Optical to a first generation Macbook unibody. The Alo Pan Am is paired with a set of Siemens Tubes I ordered with it. It is connected via the Pan Am USB to the same Macbook. I used the built-in DAC on the Pan Am. Where applicable, FLAC files are played with Amarra, without any EQ. I do mess with EQ, but decided against it for this comparison. Why? Two amps, two sound sigs – I would have spent half my time fiddling with the EQ per song! So yeah, I was kinda lazy. Sorry.

 

A note on the files:

I have no LPs. I have a limited number of CDs. Please note, the majority of the songs I listened to for this review were Spotify 320 HQ streams (cached in my HDD). Some are in FLAC 16bit 44.1. I will let you know which ones are which as we go along the list.  

 

The listening tests were conducted in the following way:

·         Per-album basis rather than per song (where applicable)

·         Per song basis, LYR first, then Pan Am, then vice versa

·         Specific sections of a track that I am most familiar with, first the LYR, then Pan Am, then vice versa

 

Listening tests were conducted throughout a three-week period. 

 

The Songs and my impressions: (again these are songs requested by CHGM with a few additions from me) 

 

Offspring - Dirty Magic (FLAC)- This was fantastic on both amps. Both possessed great bass impact that was both tangibly physical and musical. It is not simply a booming sound, but actual pedal-to-drum-skin accurate and the accompanying push of the air that comes with it. I feel the Lyr reproduced the bass and snare drum with a little more accurately than the Pan Am. They fared equally well on the Bass and electric guitar.

 

The vocals are very clear on both, and I would say perform equally well at the loudness I listen to. It has to be said that I listen to the Lyr at 10:00, and the Pan Am at Low Gain at 12:00. I felt low gain to be enough for the Pan Am, and felt the bass to be a little more to my taste this setting. High gain made it boom-ier, but at an ever so slight loss of bass clarity.

 

The main difference I felt was the slightly better bass and bigger, more extended soundstage on the Lyr. You can more easily home-in on an instrument on the Shiit Lyr. Whether this is an effect of the Bifrost DAC, I don’t know, as I did not test the Lyr without a DAC. That would not have been fair, because the Pan Am has a built in DAC that I could not bypass for this reveiw.

 

Imagine Dragons – Continued Silence (Spotify 320kbps) and Fun. – Some Nights  (Spotify 320kbps)

These were my two favorite albums on the ATH-M50 + FiiO e17 (Bass + 4, Treble +2). It was even better on the Schiit Asgard+Bifrost+HD598. The HD598 seemed too bass-anemic to me on the FiiO, and anything over bass+6 on it is not to my liking. The Bifrost+Asgard+HD598 had the perfect synergy with this album methinks…until the Lyr, and Pan Am and LCD 2 arrived.

 

The Lyr and Pan Am both delivered crisp highs that were never fatiguing. I never felt the urge, not once, to clench my jaws in anticipation of the slight ear-piecing note that sometimes accompany my Asgard+Bifrost+HD598 setup. Many times, I braced myself for the pain that never came, and realised on the LCD 2, that will not happen again (at least I hope).

 

The difference again is the bass. The quality is the same, but the impact is different. On these albums, the Lyr actually made the whole LCD 2 headphone vibrate. The LCD 2 is solid. The most solid, and heaviest headphone in my possession, yet the Lyr literally shook them (ok “shook” would be an exaggeration) while on my head. Disclaimer: I have a smallish head. I have it on three steps on the telescopic adjuster prongs. Maybe that had something to do with it.   

 

Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley – Me Name Jr. Gong – I must admit that this wa not my cup of tea in terms of music – the key word there being “was”. With these amps and the LCD 2, I thoroughly enjoyed this track.

 

Bass is veeeery crisp, solid, and impactful. But more than the bass though, it’s all the accompanying sounds that caught my earbuds. The details sounded delightfully tasty. The background singers, and those clinking, snapping, sharp instruments that I can’t name. (Somebody please help me out here).

 

Everything was exquisite on both on Lyr and Pan Am, but the Pan Am delivered a very closer knit sound via its slightly smaller soundstage and it was good. Why is that good? Well, imagination is part of how I enjoy music. For this track I imagined I was on a beach resort listening to a reggae band in a makeshift stage sipping a pinacolada. And you know what? It works! The Lyr’s bigger music space did not work for me on this track. Although it felt verily the same quality, it didn’t feel quite authentic, as it did not jive with the picture and imagery I had in my head. The Pan Am for this type of music for me.   

 

Assassin’s Creed Revelations Main Theme – Lorne Balfe with London Philharmonic Orchestra (Spotify 320kbps)

This track is a very haunting one. The singer’s voice conveys such pain and sadness that it makes the soul ache. The accompanying orchestral instruments, choir sections, and other electronically added garnishing simply frame the melodic vocals. Note that the singer is not singing a song, just using her voice to make melodies.

 

Here the Pan Am presented the vocals much closer to the listener making it a more intimate experience. The Lyr presented the vocals further away, and although not taking away from the clarity overall, it left the listener a little disconnected to the emotion of the song. Score for Pan Am.

 

Master Assassin and Desmond Miles – Jesper Kyd (Spotify 320kbps)

Master Assassin was perfect on the Lyr. If you’ve played the game (Assassin’s creed) you can easily imagine Ezio running atop roofs and dodging and fighting enemy soldiers and templars. 

 

Though not that much more exceptional sonically than the Pan Am on this track, the added space and air between the instruments made it a more convincing listen. This track was from an open sandbox game, and the Lyr certainly made it feel like that. The space the Lyr conveyed was expansive, and thus the instruments are more easily picked out. The melodic background vocals were more absorbing as well.

 

I think I would have been perfectly happy with how the Pan Am presented it had I not played the game or knew about the background of the game, but I did, and my poor impressionable brain liked the way it was done on the Lyr better.

 

All above comments about Master Assassin apply to the track Desmond Miles as well.

 

Quiet Nights + Este Seu Olhar – Diana Krall (Flac)

Quiet nights was uhm...meh. Sorry to all the Diana Krall fans out there, but this just didn’t register with me sonically and emotionally. Neither the Lyr nor the Pan Am gave me a reason to change my mind.

 

Este Seu Olhar – this at least I liked. The detailed instrumentation of the track, the raspy, sultry voice of Ms. Krall mixed well with the bass and the guitar and it was especially lovely that I could pick out the sliding of the fingers on the frets. The percussion was also spot on; suitably gentle and not overly snappy. This track was enjoyable on both Pan Am and Lyr. Somehow the Lyr managed to be both spacious and yet intimate in this track. Detail is amazing on both. Tie.

 

Metallica - Enter Sandman (1000 kbps FLAC) –

This was a tough call but I preferred going back to this track on the Lyr. The Lyr I thought, delivered more “Bite” overall (Considering the overall tone and theme of the song). The vocals had the suitable amount of highs, the snare drum had a mean overbite and the better ‘snap!’, the bass, all had the right impact for the song.

 

And at the end….Booooo!!! Which always makes me say to my Lyr, “Yeah, Yeah!!!”

 

Metallica with SFSO Live - Enter Sandman (1000 kbps FLAC) –

This track was a mess and an unlistenable cacophony of noise on my Asgard+Bifrost+HD598. It was, for lack of a better word, terrible. That, I guess, was due more to the nature of SS on a naturally bass light, treble tilted pair of cans. The HD598 is still one of my favs, and it is detailed as hell, but this track was just too busy and too complicated for it. Imagine full rock band in the foreground and full symphonic orchestra in the background. Wow. One is already a handful (especially since it’s Metallica), but together? This will be a stern test for any headphone.

 

And yes it WAS a stern test – that the Lyr and the Pan Am passed with flying colors. More so the Lyr + Bifrost with its spacing and detail. On some passages, the Pan Am didn’t quite articulate the combined rock and symphony combination as well as the Lyr + Bifrost. The Pan Am showed a more Rock centric focus, whereas the Lyr, while still rock centric, managed to keep me aware of all the gyrations of the symphonic accompaniment.

 

Again…Booo! Yeah, yeah!

 

I apologize to Chgm, as I was unable to find the other tracks he requested. If you could send me a FLAC disc of said tracks, I could do a follow-up comparison. 

 

On the actual Amps:

The Pan Am I was able to get during the black Friday sale. Got me a mean deal for all that I got, and had I purchased every component, I would have easily spent more tha 50% more than I actually did. Alo Audio also took good care of me from the very first email to the thank you note when I told them I had recieved the product.

 

The Schiit Lyr was my third Schiit product from Addicted to Audio (Schiit’s Australian distributors). Addicted to Audio (www.addictedtoaudio.com.au) are a bang to deal with. Got majority of my products almost overnight, considering they’re on a totall difference country. Jason Stoddard of Schiit Audio has replied to each and every enquiry I sent him.

 

And before you get any ideas, no I did not receive compesation. Just giving kudos where kudos is due.

Value for money, I think the Pan Am trumps the Lyr+Bifrost combo IF all you need is a USB DAC. It is a whole lotta Amp-DAC for the price.

 

If you need a whole slew of digital inputs, then Lyr+Bifrost is the clear winner.

 

Portability wise, the Pan Am of course is the winner. Let’s not mince words, the Schiits are heavy and need to be plugged in. I got the Pan Am with the passport and it has now replaced my FiiO e17 as my transportable setup. I don’t do mobile listening, I plunk onto a desk, work, and enjoy. If I did listen while on the go, I think I would prefer my iPhone 4S+FiiO overall.

 

At home, I do find myself plugging-in to the Lyr more often than the Pan Am. My poor - yet still beloved Asgard – has been relegated to a platform for the Lyr. (http://www.head-fi.org/g/i/736999/the-corner-audio-station/sort/display_order/). At the office, when plugged into the Pan Am, never do I think “Gosh I wish I had my Lyr.” That is high praise I think.

 

As for which amp do I prefer? I say get both! Sorry about your wallet.

 

Posted

Pros: Size, Construction, Power, Versatility

Cons: Discontinued, So-so DAC

So the Pan Am from ALO Audio. This little guy is pretty dang impressive. An excellently-built, functioning desktop solution that is pretty easy on the eyes too! For the record, I've got the whole stack - Pan Am, Passport, and Gateway. Haven't done much comparison between the two power supplies yet.

 

As for the sound, the presentation is not glaringly tilted towards the bright or dark end of the spectrum. In a word: neutral. Now of course the tubes you pick can change that, but it's nice to know that with a conservative tube like the Yugo 6HM5 or RTC, you're starting pretty close to neutral.

 

I think that DAC implementation is equal to the ODAC. Very capable and revealing from the 256 MP3s I've tested all the way up to the 24 bit higher res stuff. No complaints here.

 

Now the amp. Power, power, and more power! Even with the ZMF V1s, high gain yields plenty of authoritative power with a dynamic punchy bass, lush mids, and nicely-detailed-but-never-sibilant treble. I also appreciate the versatility in that the Pan Am still plays well with lower impedance cans like my Grados and D2000s. I'm very impressed with it's synergy with the DT880 Pros as well. The tubes take the edge off their treble making them one of my favorites.

 

Tubes. Woohoo! I've got the Mullards, Siemens, RTCs, Voskhods, Yugo HM5s and Sylvania HM5s. So far the Mullards take the cake with the Yugos and Voskhods in at a close second. The Mullards rich lush bass and lower mids are unmatched out of this collection. Now the RTCs do treble better, but for me, I'll sacrifice a little extension for some thump.

 

Overall I'm very happy with this little setup. It's versatility, size, form factor, and tube-rolling options make it pretty dang satisfactory. Consider upgrade-itis cured... for now. 

 

Add: Unfortunately the Pan Am is being phased out by ALO. For anyone looking for a slightly tubey desktop solution that will power just about anything you throw at it, I'd seriously consider the Pan Am.

 

Posted

Pros: Size, portability, tube rolling, value

Cons: Machining for the tube slots a bit uneven

I'll post more impressions later

ALO Audio The Pan Am
Description:

Powerful Headphone Amplifier Combining vacuum tubes and transistors delivers the best of both worlds. Expansive Sound Stage Great Bass Response and Extended Highs. Frequency Response 40Hz-30KHz +/- 1dB High-Resolution USB DAC Connect with a computer with plug and play ease. 16/24 bit Resolutions supported 8/16/32/44.1/48/96 KHz sampling rates supported Wolfson Digital to Analog Converter Chip The Pan Am - Tube Rolling Fun! Personalize the sound of The Pan Am simply by changing the tubes. Adding New Old Stock (NOS) tubes provide unique sonic qualities. Each tube is individually tested on our vintage Hickock tube tester. We cryogenically treat each tube with our in house Cryo-Fi process. 6J1, 6AK5, 6BC5, EF40, 5654, EF95 and WE403 Compatible. Built to last The all metal enclosure means The Pan Am can be your constant companion. All metal, anodized enclosure available in black or silver. Ultra compact desktop foot print fits every desktop. Dimensions 124 mm(L) x 98mm(W) x 36 mm(H

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