First Impressions: ALO Audio the "National" Portable Headphone Amp (The Continental's Younger Sibling)

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by austin morrow, Apr 8, 2012.
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  1. Austin Morrow
    National1.jpg
     
    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.
     
    Sonics Impressions
    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
     
    KenHE18 likes this.
  2. Cassadian
    Thanks for the review.
     
    How does this stack up against the ALO RX MK2.
     
  3. skoog5600
    Yes I would like to read about a comparison between the National and the Rx MK2 as well as the pico slim. (I know this is not apples to apples, but...).Also were you using any custom IEMs llike the JH13s etc?
     
     
     
     
  4. shigzeo Contributor
    On a winter's day, the warm National will feel very good. I'm in love with the it. The spread of the in/out ports, the volume knob's perfect clearance from the chassis, the crinkled finish - amazing. I find it to be a bit warmer than the Rx - by warmer, I mean not quite as ruler flat. It is more forgiving in some passages, but nothing like a valve amp in terms of warmth. 
     
    It's a great part of a kit.
     
  5. Austin Morrow


    Quote:

     
    No, I am not wearing any customs as of the moment. I can definitely arrange a comparison between the MK2 seeing as I've auditioned it many times and will be again. I am however using some upper end headphones and earphones that I have been testing out periodically throughout the last week, and several more weeks to come.

     
    Quote:


    Yes, I agree with this a lot. I find the Rx to be very flat and more neutral-ish, but am liking the sonics capabilities that the National has to offer.
     
  6. shigzeo Contributor
    I've got the Sleek Audio CT7 which are even more sensitive than JH13Pro (which I also enjoy), so I may be of some help.
     
  7. xzobinx
    Nice impression Austin can you talk more about the hd 650 pairing I really need a transportable rig
     
  8. skoog5600
    Any comparisons between the pico slim? At the moment I am ampless and considering the Mk II, Pico Slim or the National to pair up with my customs. I am more drawn to warmer sounds.
     
    What y'all think?
     
     
     
  9. Austin Morrow


    Quote:


    I have not heard the Pico Slim, unfortunately. You should ask that question to "shigzeo" or "ljokerl" and "ClieOS."
     
  10. skoog5600


    Quote:


    Thanks hopefully they will read this and comment.
     
     
  11. Eric_C
    +1 to the request for impressions of the National with IEMs, especially the JH13.
    Would also love to hear how you guys find it against the Pico (not the Slim) and Stepdance. 
     
    Thanks Austin and shigzeo!
     
  12. Austin Morrow


    Quote:


    Wait, I have a bunch of impressions with my IEM's. I have the full review coming tomorrow.
     
  13. n3utra1
    Nice review! 
     
    Any comparisons with the TTVJ Slim? Im torn between the two. Which has more of that tube sound and which is better? :)
     
  14. Austin Morrow

    Just a few first impressions. Full review coming tomorrow. Lucky for you, I have the TTVJ Slim and they're very much comparable. The Slim seems a little more lush and romantic sounding in the midrange, and less resolved than the National.
     
  15. n3utra1


    Quote:


    Oh cool! I cant wait[​IMG]
     
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