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ALO Audio RXMKIII Balanced Portable Amplifier Impressions

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by monotune, May 13, 2012.
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  1. monotune
    For those of you reading it means you have heard that Ken at ALO Audio has just released a balanced portable headphone amp with a little twist a "Bass" knob.
    For those of you who have never heard the RX series portable amps. The MKI, MKII and now the MKIII you really have been missing something. I think I met Ken about 5 years ago. when he had a small portable built on a familiar circuit. I saw him at an LA Head-fi meet down by LAX. We had been e-maling back and forth. He sold me my first dock line out :). He took me around to meet Ray Samuals and told me which headphone amp I needed :) The SR71A. I thought I had the Holy Grail portable set up then..... Fast Forward to 2012. My newest set up was ridiculous. The LCD3, CLAS DAC, iBasso DAC and a RS SR71B. I bought the later, the Ray Samuals SR71B because I really thought that by going Balanced I would squeeze the last bit of Hi Fi out of my system :). I really didn't think I could improve my system. There were things about it though that I did not like sonically. I missed the musical signature of the RXMKII which was velvety smooth and interacted with the highs in a way that I liked. The SR71B had a bit of a harsh frequency in the 5K range I believe. Way up there but to be honest I did not like it and I thought it was not very musical with all the other pieces of the puzzle. I was using an iPod Classic as well, even with a dock out I still think it is a brighter unit than say the iphone or iPod Touch. Don't ask me why as it is just spitting out numbers but I heard the difference. Anyway...
    I heard Ken had a Balanced amp coming. Like a lot of people I watched his forum, I kept emailing him. Then I heard he was coming to LA for a little meet Alex Rossen was putting on at The Village (Recording Studio) in Santa Monica. I hustled down there for a quick minute to see Ken & Alex and hear the mythical RXIII. Although I only spent 10 minutes with this portable Balanced amp I was convinced that I had found a hit above what I had been listening to. Of course I asked Ken can I just take one of these :) He smiled and said that within a few weeks he would have his first shipment. So I waited "sort" of patiently. 
    I now have possession of this wonderful piece of musical gear and I do mean Musical! I have listened to more music in the last week than I have in the last couple of months. This little box has made music fun for me again. All the things I have ever complained about or felt that my little portable system have vanished right in front of me. I would never have thought that the combination of my favorite little amp and a bass knob could do that but I will try to explain why.
    If you are unfamiliar with the sound signature of the RX amp. I will start by saying that it is a very smooth sounding box. The coloration is subtle and what I consider only in the best possible way. Mids are full and true. Guitars and midrange instruments are right where they should be in a mix. Vocals sit on top of the mix. They seemed to be represented the way they were when they were mixed. The Bass was strong but never over done. I suppose that the only thing I ever wanted was a way to EQ things ever so slightly because possibly the recording was not great or to suit my taste depending on what headphone I was using. I really felt like it was the perfect amp for me. I say "me" because we all have different tastes and we all listen to different styles of music. I happen to listen to a pretty big cross range but mostly I listen to guitar driven music. Yes I am mainly a guitar player and it's what I do for a living. I have spent a large part of life in a studio or on a stage and am always chasing a sound :)
    The RXIII. At first thought the idea of a bass knob means that you are a lover of Bass and need to over annunciate the frequency. I thought well this is for people who love electronica or something... I could have not been more wrong. First off the Bass knob is so subtle and what it does is mind blowing. Yes it does increase the Bass frequency and yes you can get the drivers in your headphones moving. Yes it is fun. What is true about this amp? Less is more. When you get over the fun factor and you get down to some serious listening you find that when you pull back the bass knob once you have turned it on and engaged it you hear how it affects the treble, yes the treble. I have been accused of having doggie ears and the high end sometimes gets the best of me. I find it to often to be harsh even when listening to Hi Res files. The digital world and that frequency are not a great pairing. The RXIII has changed that. Rolling in that Bass just ever so slightly puts a little warm cushion around the vocal frequency. Not dark, not murky. Just a nice musical softness. I was in awe of this feature. Yes I loved having a little more low end when I needed it but what I got was this beautiful high end that I had never heard out of a portable set up. I do realize by the way that I am quite fortunate to have an amazing set up with top notch cables & cans, this amp sent it into the stratosphere.
    The other bonus besides ironing out unsightly treble is that I have been listening at lower volume levels. Quite a bit lower actually. I just flew with open back cans and I hardly pushed the volume at all (I am sure those next to me were quite happy about that). The fullness is so lush that I no longer have to turn up the volume to fill my head with music. This amp will save my hearing. I can now listen a lot longer without fatigue. This amp has been changing my life simply by the way I am now listening to music. I was playing Lossless files next to 256 AAC files and I will be honest I did not find myself over thinking the quality. In fact the genius of this amp is I was not listening to the quality of anything I was just listening to music :). I have to say because I am a professional musician I find myself examining music all the time. To be honest... it's a pain. I just realized as I am typing this out that for the first time in years that I can relax and listen to some digital music without frowning at how bad somethings sound. I can put a record on almost any crappy record player and like it better than what was coming out of my iPod but in the last few years some smart people like Ken Ball ( and Alex Rossen and not to leave out Steve Eddy at Q Audio) are changing that. I thought the CLAS was a huge leap forward and it was but this is as equally a big leap.
    Lucky for me there will be some great reviewers that can put things out in technical terms. These same people have helped me make some great purchases. I hope this steers you towards your next great purchase. I am excited by this amp. It sounds that good. Truly!

    Thanks for your time. M

    fabian005 likes this.
  2. AnakChan Moderator
    Hi I also picked up the Rx Mk3 yesterday from Ken. I'm burning it in for a couple of days before giving my full impressions although I do find initial thoughts is that it's somewhat V shaped (these are with the FitEar To Go! 334 IEMs). Maybe with more burn-in time it'll change. With the CLAS, it's an outstanding setup.
    The power of this amp is unbelievable. I think one should take full advantage of it with full-sized cans; especially the hard-to-drive ones.
  3. monotune
    I usually wait for impressions until after a week or so of burn in time. This time I was blown away out of the box :). This is the new set up. This was the old set up...
  4. AnakChan Moderator
    Hope you don't mind me leveraging on your thread here for the Rx MK3 reviews.
    Coming from the New ALO Balanced Amp MkIII at RMAF thread (http://www.head-fi.org/t/575927/new-alo-balance-amp-mkiii-at-rmaf/225#post_8378695), I'll still leave the more detailed SQ impressions to later this week after a decent burn-in. I didn't get a chance to burn it in yesterday as my wife doesn't know I've got a new shiny toy in my satchel yet, so I'll have to break it to her gently. As such I'll comment a little more on the build of the product, etc.
    Externally, the build is as sturdy as the CLAS but the finish is somewhat more refined. The surface pattern/texture more like the ALO Continental but very smooth. At least with my Mk3 (I can't remember about the other Mk3s there), it's different from the earlier pre-production Mk3s which had more of the CLAS or SR-71B type case with industrial lines.The heads of the locking screws are also slimmer than the CLAS so they don't protrude that much. But size/shape-wise it suits the CLAS perfectly (naturally!!). The CLAS+Rx Mk3 compliment each other, design-wise, so nicely.
    The infamous Bass/Volume knobs still protrude quite a bit but admittedly I cannot remember how much the older pre-production Rx Mk3 knobs stuck out. These however stick out approx 1.5cm. They spin firmly yet smoothly. What is interesting is that the "Off" position for both the Bass and the Volume knobs is at 12 o'clock. There's a firm click to switch either of them on. One thing that bothers me a little bit is there's a loud-ish click-pop in powering on the Mk3. There's also a click in switching on the Bass but not as loud as the Volume on click. The Volume on click-pop is actually a little louder than the Pico Slim's power-on button.
    I do find the Bass and Volume dials a little close somewhat and with a smaller diameter than, say the SR-71B, it's just a little more tedious to adjust than the SR-71B. However doing it from the side (perpendicular) to the knobs, it's fine.
    At least on my FitEar To Go! 334 and Unique Melody Merlin's, the volume gets loud really quick. In general I already listen more loudly than other people, and at 3 o'clock, it's loud enough for me (remember off is 12 o'clock). As opposed to the SR-71B, I'd probably listen around the 11:30 o'clock for a matching volume. Naturally IEMs are reasonably easy to drive. My Ultrasone Edition 8's are probably around the 4 o'clock setting. All this with Low-Gain setting by the way.

    Talking about the Gain switch, they're a little bit more recessed than the SR-71B's. Big fingers may find them "a tad" difficult to reach. With nails, it's much easier. Meanwhile at the back, the Single Ended/Balanced Input switch, is a much larger toggle switch. Although the silver switch compliments the front knobs, it probably doesn't have to be that big and probably a smaller one like the SR-71B will do. 
    One nice thing I do like about the Rx Mk3 is that the front Blue LED (to show that it's switched on), also lights up in Orange if the Single Ended headphone isn't plugged in properly/fully.
    Now for the charging, the Rx Mk3 uses a 9V 1.3A charger, whereas the CLAS is a more standard 5V 2A (basically chargeable from USB if you can find a USB to a round barrel converter). It's a pity to have to carry two different types of chargers.
    I'll get back to burning in and listening to the Rx Mk3 now :D.
  5. cooperpwc
    Interesting impressions, guys. Subscribe!
  6. YoengJyh
  7. cn11
    Subscribed. I will most certainly be ordering this amp soon! 
  8. shigzeo Contributor
    I'm impressed with the RX MKIII, but then again, the RX MKI was my sweet dream come true. I didn't expect ALO to go up THAT far!
  9. Matter
  10. raelamb
    I will be watchng this thread with great interest as I love my rig with the SR71B/ CLAS combo.I must admit to being a Ray Samuels groupie and I have always loved his "house" sound. Can't wait to see and here the impressions of people who took the ALO RXMKlll plunge:)
  11. IamChinese
    compare to SR71B...Anyone?
  12. Grev
  13. AnakChan Moderator
    Only briefly (maybe for about 30-45 mins). All I can say is that I just kept going back to the Rx Mk3 primarily cos of the detail and clarity. To me at least, the (my??) SR-71B seems to have a warm signature anyway.
    Note that my Mk3 still isn't fully burnt in yet (I had it running from 10 a.m. -> 8 p.m. straight).
    @monotune, do you have any slight channel imbalance with your Mk3 at the lowest volume setting? It doesn't bother me much since I don't listen to that low of a volume anyway but just curious.
  14. WasabiTree
    Can't wait to hear the rest of the impressions once you guys have been running it for a while... Esp. the comparison between SR-71B and RK MKIII. Thanks!
  15. AnakChan Moderator
    Hi, sorry I still haven't done a proper one-on-one against the SR-71B. Primarily 'cos I wasn't happy with my SR-71B in the first place - I don't think there's anything wrong but the signature is just somewhat warm for my taste. But I'll get around to doing the test against the SR-71B later in the week.
    Meanwhile, I spent a couple of hours listening to the RxMk3 today after yesterday's 10 hr burn-in. I'd like to add that please take what I say with a huge pinch of salt as I was literally documenting whilst listening - i.e. these are notes created along the way. Looking back now at the notes, I realise that the RxMk3 was changing during today's listening session so please bear that in mind. In addition whilst the RxMk3 was warming up, I spent most of my time listening through my new FitEar TO GO! 334 too. So possibly another variable changing there. As such, the aforementioned huge pinch of salt comment. The only exception is the last tracks where I put on my already burnt-in UM Merlins.
    --- Cut Here ---
    Bill Evans Trio - My Foolish Heart/Waltz for Debby (live recording)
    Go-DAP: narrower soundstage compared to RxMk3, somewhat mid forward
    RxMk3: clearer instrument separation, more 3D, more detailed. Similar trebled extension as Go-DAP but slightly less than the DX100
    DX100: bigger sound, more detailed & picks up bad recording more easily. Even more 3D than the Mk3. Clearer mid bass than the Mk3
    Above comments was tested at Low Gain setting for both RxMk3 & DX100. At Mid/High Gain, the gap difference narrows considerably whilst the Go-DAP drifts further apart. I can't say whether it's the RxMk3 that setups up, or if the DX100 that steps down with the gain increase.
    Diana Krall's Look of Love (S'Wonderful, Love Letters & Besame Mucho)
    At this point, the Go-DAP is out of the picture
    Mid Gain: RxMk3 vocals sounds a tad clearer, but DX100's highs/treble sounds more transparent. Basses sound similar. Vocal placement on DX100 seems narrower/specific, whereas RxMk3 feels wider/more even (L/R).
    I have a tendency to want to listen more to the Mk3 than the DX100 with the "Look Of Love" album. Primarily it's the clarity of the vocals that sways the tendency.
    Original Footloose Soundtrack (Footloose & Let's Hear It For The Boy)
    Medium Gain: RxMk3 sounds more musical & fun. DX100 a tad more transparent highs. RxMk3 & DX100 are more similar than dissimilar at this point.
    Low Gain: The differences between RxMk3 & DX100 narrows unlike the initial difference with the Bill Evans Trio's Waltz for Debby
    Just to keep in play, I pulled the Go-DAP back into the picture and it couldn't keep up with the lushness of the other two.
    Black Eyed Peas' E.N.D. (Boom Boom Pow & Rock That Body)
    RxMk3 bass has more impact than the DX100. The boom was a real boom to the heart! RxMk3 continues to sound more fun. DX100 vocals continue to remain narrower then the RxMk3's.
    RxMk3 seems to have strength in the lows & mids whilst DX100 upper mids & highs. DX100's soundstage is now marginally larger than the RxMk3.
    Low gain now both are very similar.
    Strangely after 1 hr of tests, the highs of the RxMk3 sound a little more extended than before. Wonder if constant listening has changed the RxMk3 from a cold start.
    Isaac Stern's Vivaldi Four Seasons (Summer III: Presto to Winter I: Allegro non Molto)
    RxMk3 beginning to have the bigger sound now slightly. The DX100 sounds somewhat more mellow but marginally. Dynamic range sounds similar. Again, the DX100 & Mk3 sound more similar than different. The RxMk3 sounds to have more impact whereas the DX100 almost sounds more mellow.

    For fun, I decided to swap the FitEar TO GO! 334, with the Unique Melody Merlins and the IEM change there doesn't affect the aforementioned statements.
    --- Cut Here ---
    Please forgive the messy notes above. If you find anything contradictory mentioned above, please note that again, they are live notes of which I've not actually tried to "make sense" out of them. I'm just writing what I heard/felt at that time.
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