Pros: Build quality, low impedance, great with IEMs, enough power to drive demanding cans, comes in different varieties of wood, replaceable battery
Cons: 9V battery only, input/output plugs are in the (arguably) incorrect spot.
I'm a production manager, but focus mostly on sound engineering and installations. I install and tune a lot of P.A equipment, and also mix live acts. My work environments consist mainly of:
- live venues,
- concert halls,
I've taken a huge liking to headphones - IEM's in particular. I like the idea of having my own personal PA system that I can take with me anywhere. With Rockbox being in such advanced stages, and such great low-impedance portable amps coming out, you can really seem to get any sound signature you wish out of a portable rig.
That being said, things in the portable audio realm are getting a little “interesting” these days. Portable DAC units and amplifiers are more popular now, than they have ever been. As technology gets smaller, portable audio units are also on the rise in terms of popularity.
It starts off so innocently, just a little cheap amplifier to add to your little iPod nano. Then you add a line out cable. Then you might consider an upgrade to a higher capacity or newer iPod. Time passes, and you start thinking about different cables, different amplifiers, and by the time you know it, you are carrying around a brick of equipment.
Here is what I watched “Top Gear” on, last night. Some might call this ridiculous:
Galaxy S4, with a custom rom, Fiio DAC, JDS amp, custom cable, and a pair of the infamous Westone 3.
Amplifiers, DACs, cables, gain, boosts, cuts, line out, optical, and now even some new units have charging capabilities for mobile phones. It's a very exciting time to be a “portable audiophile”, especially if you are into gadgets. But where does it end?
Another example of a ridiculous portable set-up: My Sony MiniDisc player.
- Battery pack.
- Custom braided 3.5 cable
- C&C BOX+ Amplifier
- HiSoundAudio "LIVING" earbuds
And another: the infamous iMod.
- 80GB iMod
- Custom LOD cable (Blackgate capacitors built in)
- JDS C421 (with a 2227 OP-amp)
- Westone EPIC clear cable
- Westone ES3X, re-shelledby Unique Melody
- iPod Dock
But sometimes I wonder - is the simplest option the best? Sometimes I just can't be bothered with all the fuss.
The gadget madness ends here. It's time for simplicity to take control.
Enter, the Project Palaios: Iona.
I received this unit on a tour. It appears that one of the female connector screw rings has fallen off, but I have plenty of these at my workbench, and will be replacing it before moving it on.
The unit takes a 9v battery, which does add a little to the weight, but makes up for it with its versatility. Having an amp run out of battery whilst on-the-move (especially at an airport) is the worst, but it seems that Palaios have found a good solution for this.
The battery door has a soft magnetic slip that keeps the door snugly fit. The wood is crafted and finished nicely. I believe there are different models of wood available, all available with different finishes. As this is an early/demo model, There may be changes to the final product.
It feels solid, there was no noise from the pot, it turns well, and smoothly.
It doesn't physically line up perfectly with an iPod classic like some of the newer Fiio units do – if that matters to you.
It's also worth noting at this point, that the “input” and “output” sections are definitely not in the most ergonomic positions. The inside female port is actually the headphone plug, and the outside one is the input. This isn't ideal for 90 degree connectors on IEMs or other headphones.
There are NO adjustments on this unit. No gain, no bass boost, no charge port.. Nothing. More on that later.
My usual measurement equipment isn't available to me at this time, and I only have this amplifier for a few days. A real shame, as I feel that it would measure quite well, compared to the JDS and Fiio units that I also own.
I'd rather have no measurements, than poor measurements. Sorry guys. Feel free to break out the pitchforks.
For this review, I'll be comparing this unit to two other amps. The JDS C421 (2227 edition), and the Fiio E17.
Both the E17 and C421 will have all boost/cut/adjustments/gain set to “0”.
The Palaios is a very low impedance unit. It drives even the most sensitive IEMs without hiss. The analogue volume knob does well at low volumes – which is an area that the JDS C421 struggles with, with channel imbalance. It's very “even” and I can't hear any balance, crosstalk or separation issues.
On the other end of the scale, it's driving my 250 ohm Beyers at a decent volume, at just under “half” way. It's a decent amount of power, and I feel that it could handle some pretty strong headphones, should something step-up to the challenge.
At first, I was a little upset that the amp didn't have a gain switch – but hell, it doesn't NEED one. It drives beautifully either way. Low volume for IEMs, higher volume for bigger cans. Makes sense.
Strong, when called upon. No detectable bass roll-off, or mid-bass hump. I appreciate this, because other amps often accentuate these areas. It doesn't quite feel as accurate or as controlled as the C421, but holds up a lot better than the Fiio does. It effortlessly presents decent levels of “flat-bass” at either low OR high volumes, with either sensitive or power-hungry headphones. This is quite a good achievement, and is a warmly welcomed balance.
Compared to the JDS, the mids are a little more active. They don't feel aggressive, but the JDS feels a little laid-back by comparison. Vocals sound detailed, and lush. They really shine when used with IEMs, and the unit is pairing beautifully with my DT770s. This makes me wonder if the mids are even slightly pushed forward.
Far reaching, detailed, accurate. No piercing sibilance or treble problems. They sit well with Balanced armature drivers at low volumes. To my ears, they follow very closely behind the C421. I can't distinguish any particular problematic peaks.
Compared to the C421, it feels a little “shut-in”. It might have some kind of cross-feed built in, but I can't be sure without measurements.
Overall opinion of sound:
Just thought I would share a funny thought with you on that note.
The JDS is tried and true, aesthetically pleasing, made in the U.S.A, measures well, and has all of the features and switches you would want on an amplifier.
It feels like a classic muscle car.
The Fiio, is made in China. It has more features than any portable unit that I've ever tried. It can be used as the perfect IEM DAC – Line out for my laptop (into another amp), it can be used as a stand-alone amp, it can be used as a DAC for my phone.. hell, it can even be plugged straight into an Xbox or PS3, for instant console headphone use.
It feels like a feature packed, cheap sedan.
The Palaios, on the other hand, has none of that. It doesn't have gain switches, it doesn't have bass boost, cross-feed options, DAC support, optical input, or anything like that.
It doesn't NEED it.
It's a beautiful amp. It's sound is some of the best I've heard in a portable amp.
It looks amazing.
It has a replaceable battery, that you could pick up from any service station, supermarket or electronics store.
It has amazing performance – it can be sweet and delicate for sensitive IEMs, but can punch well above it's weight with the heavy-hitting high-impedance cans.
To me, it feels like a luxury sedan. Automatic, looks great, feels great, and just works. The $220 pricetag fits this analogy as well.
Value for money:
If you've made it this far into the reivew, then you're probably pretty keen on the amp, and there's your answer.
A big thanks to Billy from Noisy motel for lending me the amp for review, it's currently on special, but usually goes for $220.
EDIT: A note from billy.