I've been testing out ALO Audio's new National for the past week and thought that it would be best to share a couple of thoughts about the amp itself. While I don't think it's quite time yet for me to write up a full featured review since I have had it a little under a week, I feel as if though a few impressions would be appropriate. After all, I'm sure everyone wants to know just how good the National lives up to it's older, tube based portable cousin, the Continental.
First things first, let's get the general ideas about the National out of the way. What goal did ALO Audio have in mind when they set out to make the National? Well, the Continental, which I reviewed back in December and thought was an excellent portable amplifier, was tube based, and with all tube amplifiers, the tubes, sooner or later, will run out unless you can keep making them. This was not the case with the Raytheon 6111 NOS tube, a tube that was rare to find on the face of the Earth. ALO realized this issue and knew that the Continental had a limited time as portable amp, so they needed something that could take the place of the Continental, something just as good, something that was solid state. Thus, the National was born, all solid state, smaller, and a even better price tag than before. But, did ALO really make the National as good as the Continental? Let's take a deeper look.
So, this is after a 24 hour burn in. I first felt as if though the National sounded bright and a bit sibilant out of the box, but all has changed since then. While I still feel like the Continental is a significantly better sounding amplifier than the National, the National has a very unique signature and has some amazing technicalities that I have yet to hear in the Continental, but are similar in some ways. The National has one of the best imaging and layering presentations I've ever heard. Take the Continental's already awesome soundstage, increase the instrumental separation up by a few notches, decrease the width ever so slightly, and extend the depth farther out, and that's what you're left with. The National is less extended up top than the Continental, but I still feel as if though the sparkle is still there. Not as energetic, but still a good amount of treble presence. The midrange is full, warm, and features some great vocality. Not as prominent and forward as the Continental, but very enjoyable and easy on the ears. Down low, the National seems to triumph over the Continental. Better transient response with a much faster decay time, and a lot tighter with more surge. Excellent PRaT overall.
Just as a side note, I feel as if though a lot of the power hungry headphones, even the HD650, need to be on high gain for there to be enough volume. The Continental feels a lot more powerful in terms of total output power.
Build Quality & Design
Since reviewing the Continental, ALO has really stepped up the build quality and the design schematics in their amps. The chassis is still all aluminum, but not smooth and glassy, but matte and with almost no fingerprint attraction. The National is smaller in terms of height and length, and feels lighter as well. Absolutely superb for a $299 portable amp. You get a power switch (complete with an orange LED light) on the front, a gain knob, a high and low gain switch, and an input and output jack.
Just a few first impression paragraphs. While I think that the Continental becomes warmer and more colored each day, we'll see what happens after two more weeks of full blown testing!
Gear Used (so far): Sennhesier HD650 - AKG Q701 - Rein Audio X-DAC - HRT Music Streamer II+ - TTVJ Slim - ALO Triple Pipe LOD