Pure Music: The ALO International

alo_international_06


Disclaimer: I received the ALO International sample from ALOAudio. AnalogHead is also an ALOAudio retailer, and we currently are selling the International on the store. 

 

I didn’t see this one coming and the first question I asked myself was: “What’s going to be the unique selling point on this one?”. I thought ALO’s line up was pretty much complete with the Continental, National, PanAm, and the RX line ups, so I didn’t really think that there is a need for another amp in the line up. I didn’t want ALO to become like Samsung in the way that they release new models every other week. So I was concerned that the International was not going to offer anything new. Of course, I was prudent to reserve my judgement until I get the actual product.

Caleb at ALO said something about the International having matching footprint for pairing with the new Astell & Kern AK100 DAP. The AK100 seems to be the next hot thing in audiophile DAPs, and it’s understandable if ALO wants to tap into AK100’s user base. If you’ve tried stacking some of the conventional sized ALO amplifiers (or even other manufacturers’ amps) with the AK100, you know that it doesn’t make a very nice stack the way a regular Ipod/Iphone does. Yes, having a matching footprint is a big deal for day to day use, but how many people are going to spend $599 just for that? And out of the people who’ve bought the AK100, how many are really looking for an external amp, and an ALO one? I think ALO is taking a pretty big gamble if they’re only depending on the AK100 player to sell the International.

Apparently in addition to the AK100-matching footprint, the International will also come with a built-in DAC. Nice addition, I thought. DACs make for a strong selling point these days, as most enthusiasts know how important a good quality source is (I don’t even listen to my Ipod anymore these days). But again, how good is the DAC going to be? As far as I know ALO doesn’t really have that much experience in Digital-to-Analog Converters, other than the ALO PanAm.

Lastly, the amplifier is supposed to be a solid state, and since there was no special topology announced with the International’s solid state amp, my enthusiasm for the updated Continental V3 aka “Continental with more bass” sort of eclipsed the International’s.

 

alo_international_02

 

Initial Impressions

Having used to the large build of ALO amplifiers (from the National, Continental, to the RX MK3B), I really liked the fact that the International comes with a smaller dimension. Together with the AK100 they make for a pretty compact build, though later when I used the AK100-International stack daily, I found out that the stack is still a bit too thick to fit my jeans pocket comfortably. I also liked the addition of the other features such as the balanced in/out, the three position gain switch, and the new ALO-logo engraved volume knob.

Overall, I think they did a good job on the build and features. But I still have yet to listen to the amplifier.

 

 

Sound Comparisons: The Continental V3

The debut fight I picked for the International was an extremely tough one. The Continental V3 is an updated version of the Continental V2 which is one of the best portable amplifiers around. With the added bass body, the V3 not only retained that special midrange offered by the V2, but also a fuller sound to the low frequencies. Not to mention that the Continental is a pure amplifier, compared to the all-in-one philosophy of the International with its fully balanced and internal DAC. The odds are certainly for the Continental V3.

The tube-based V3 has that nice midrange bloom which always been the Continental’s selling point. None of ALO’s other amplifier, or even anything else in the market that I’m aware of can quite offer that midrange, and likewise the International. Against the clean, clear, three dimensional vacuum tube sound of the Continental V3, the International seemed to offer nothing extraordinary in comparison.

Nothing extraordinary but there is no denying that from the first minute, I really dig the solid state sound of the International more than the Continental. Taughter bass section, faster pace, better PRaT, all while remaining warm, full bodied and with a relaxed treble. There was no special adjective I can attribute to the International’s sound: no spacious soundstage, no special midrange. It was simply a smooth and mature sound with a very strong musicality. The tight, full, and deep bass is extremely nice and toe tapping factor was very high. PRaT is great without being harsh or too forward. Treble is extremely smooth. The frequency response flows very well from top to bottom, with no dips or peaks.

The Continental V3 definitely has more wow to it: the soundstage is larger and depth is deeper. The International on the other hand just has enough technicalities so you never feel that music is congested or claustrophobic. While the Continental’s qualities are somehow expected due to the hybrid vacuum tube circuitry, I actually appreciate the maturity of the International sound more. It’s a very mature tuning that doesn’t try too hard to sound impressive, and yet long listening time would reveal that it’s absolutely proper from top to bottom. It has no striking flaws, no irregularities in the tonal balance, nothing but pure musicality. I know that from my experience listening to a lot of amps, this kind of a smooth and mature tuning is extremely rare. Whoever did the tuning on the International really has a ton of experience evaluating amplifiers.

 

Sound Comparisons: National and RX Mk3B

The International sound sounds like a cousin to the earlier released National, so I did the National – International comparison next. What I found was mostly a smoother sound from top to bottom on the International, while the National sounded dryer and thinner on the upper region. In this respect I’m starting to draw some comparisons of the International to RSA’s latest Intruder, as I thought the two amps having some similarities in the way that they are both full bodied, warm and smooth. The RSA being more lush, smoother, while the International has a better PRaT, the RSA more relaxed. But I didn’t have the RSA to do an A-B this time, so I’ll go back to the National comparison. The National is a good amp at $299, but the International better and would be a good amp at the $400 bracket had they not included the internal DAC (more on that later).

Pairing the two amps with anything from sensitive IEMs (I used Aurisonic’s ASG-1, Earsonics’ SM64, and JHAudio’s JH5Pro) to several mid-range dynamic headphones (UE9000, Z1000, ESW-11, etc) to big orthodynamics (Audez’e LCD-2, Hifiman HE-400), I clearly preferred the International than the National. Bottom end is tighter and hits fuller lows, maintained to a fuller and more lush mids, and finally a smoother treble, the International sets itself apart from the National especially on the LCD-2 pairing. It’s simply a better amp.

The ALO Rx Mk3 comparison is next. I didn’t think that the two amps cater to the same crowd, but I know that some people would still ask for a comparison. The Rx sounds bigger and more spacious, but again my preference falls to the International. One reason I think is the treble where the International is smoother, but overall I find the International to be more lush, fuller and more coherent. I think people who likes a spacious sound, powerful bass impact, and some treble sparkle would still opt for the Rx Mk3B, but a smooth sounding HD650 lover like me is naturally more drawn to the International. Not to mention the form factor which I absolutely love the International for.

 

The DAC Section on the next page…

Rate this review

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

98 Comments

  • Reply June 24, 2014

    Rajes

    If the battery gone bad, can I use still use it?

  • Reply January 12, 2014

    Nik

    Hi Mike
    for my AK120 I took the amp The International.
    I would like to use it with headphones Sennheiser HD650. Do you think it’s worth using them in balanced? If yes, you advise me to modified the original cable (with RSA connector) or should I look for a specific cable?

    • Reply January 13, 2014

      Mike

      Hi Nik,
      I enjoyed the sound with single ended. I think Balanced would give a bigger sound but I don’t like what it does to the soundstage image (usually, less accurate). Original cable is fine but it can be improved.
      There are a lot of good cable makers out there. If you can find Oyaide where you are, that’s the cheapest HD650 upgrade cable with a nice sound that I know. Next step up is the Green Line from ALO, comparable to the Moon Audio Blue Dragon series. Going up even further, lots of other manufacturers. SAA and ALO are two brands I’ve listened to lately and I can recommend both of them. The SAA smoother, cleaner sound. The ALO more dynamic.

  • Reply December 16, 2013

    STARSTERN

    I just got this response from the manufacture for the LCD”S ;

    Sorry for the delayed reply. With our newly designed driver the LCDX and LCDXC so not require amplification. Most any amp on the market will will provide enough power for you. We are sorry we can’t give you an exact answer as it is very subjective. Our CEO recommends the PanAm on our site. Hope this helped.

    Happy Holidays.

    Thank you very much,
    Audeze Support

    in light of this ,would like to ask ,anyone here ‘ mod or not ;had anyone compared side by side the ALO pan am desk dac/amp $ 500 .00 range with the high end portable cypher labs theorem 720 $ 800.00 range “? capable to share us your impressions ?

    • Reply December 16, 2013

      Mike

      That about sums it out.

      I like both the Theorem and the PanAm. Classic Solid State vs Tube debate.

      • Reply December 16, 2013

        STARSTERN

        am i right by saying ,that you like even more the dac port lx paired with a portaphile 627 ?

        • Reply December 16, 2013

          Mike

          Not really… personally I like the Theorem best from the three mentioned.

      • Reply December 17, 2013

        STARSTERN

        i guess every one would prefer the aliveness and life of tube sound ,if not the need of compromise for bass ‘ which totally missing at tube sound ;but ‘ no technology yet exist to supplement the missing bass ? ‘ woofers ‘exciters like aphex ‘ etc etc

        • Reply December 17, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          Read the Pan Am review. You can get it with an extremely hard hitting bass tube.

          • Reply December 17, 2013

            STARSTERN

            let me put it in more detail ,its not strictly bass ,but its along the entire spectrum of lows ,will quote from other resources ‘

            SS amps when done right, are said to be totally revealing, transparent, resolving and sometimes, a black background(low noise)Tube amps will almost always add more distortion than a decent solid state amp

            but mikes ears as far knowing him ‘loves the other side of the fence ‘

            which is ===

            Tube sound can be described as warm, smooth, musical and other esoteric terms. Their soundstage are also typically wider

            therefor its interesting to see mike prefer the solid state over the tube IE the theorem 720 over the ALO pan am

            a

            • Reply December 17, 2013

              Mike

              I can write a few paragraphs to explain why I like the Theorem…

              • Reply December 18, 2013

                STARSTERN

                HEADPHONES
                AMPLIFIERS
                SOURCE
                BUYER’S GUIDE
                Q & ASEARCH RESULTS FOR:

                THEORAM 720
                Sorry, nothing found
                http://www.headfonia.com/?s=theoram+720

                • Reply December 18, 2013

                  L.

                  It would work if you wrote it correctly “Theorem”

                  http://www.headfonia.com/cypher-labs-theorem-720-dac/

                  • Reply December 18, 2013

                    STARSTERN

                    thank you ,i find it now ;

                    mike wrote ; I can write a few paragraphs to explain why I like the Theorem…yes please go ahead and add it to your dedicated page for this ‘

                    • December 18, 2013

                      L.

                      Can you recognize sarcasm?

              • Reply December 18, 2013

                George Lai

                It’d be interesting to see Lieven’s and your comparisons of the Theorem’s amp section versus the new standalone Duet amp.

                • Reply December 18, 2013

                  L.

                  To my surprise Mike probably won’t be getting the Theorem, so you will have to do with me…

                  • Reply December 18, 2013

                    George Lai

                    We will have to I guess. 😉

                    • December 18, 2013

                      L.

                      sorry :p

  • Reply June 29, 2013

    sinty

    What are your thoughts on pairing the International with a JH16 FreqPhase, Cowon J3 for now ( soon to be upgraded once the DX50 is released ), a custom balanced JH cable, and a Moon audio single ended to ALO balanced interconnect?

    • Reply July 1, 2013

      Mike

      That sounds like a super complicated set up. Do you still need an amp after you have the jh3a?

      • Reply July 1, 2013

        sinty

        I have a lot to say about this, please forgive me 🙂 I don’t own the JH3a. I bought the JH16pros recently with nothing else because I was unsure about the JH3a. I’m not an expert on digital conversion, but I do know that the time allignment for the Freqphase models happen inside the iems. With that in mind, what good is the JH3a beyond someone simply enjoying the sound it puts out? There are a ton of factors to really think about with the JH3A system vs a typical balanced setup via something like the International. First, the JH3a isn’t really a balanced setup out of the USB, its a USB to SPDIF conversion, which is not the same as plugging in your usb cable to a USB dac that happens to have a balanced output like the International, the Intruder ect ect. Nobody talks about the soundstaging quality boost via USB to SPDIF, but its common to hear about a boost in sound staging with true USB to balanced output with the ALO/RSA connectors and a balanced cable. I am sure the JH3a has sublime clarity, but it seems like a knitpicking thing. With the JH3A, you might get better clarity and the ability to toggle bass ( but the MKIIIB+ can do the same ). With the USB to SPDIF conversion happening AFTER the freq phase time alignment, you probably are taking an audible hit in the sound staging department. However, via the Balanced input and output from something like the Intruder or International, you get an audible gain in soundstaging qualities. The most important question to ask would be
        ” Does the JH3a offer significantly more clarity than the International / MKIIIB+?” Nobody talks about this or makes a comparison, which bothers me greatly…the JH16 is not a flat response iem! Thats the JH13s job, if you are getting the JH16 you probably are buying it for amazing bass qualities and the slightly warmish tonality. The JH13 is the neutral child and would benefit more from a really flat responding amplifier or dac. But…why put this with the JH16 which itself is not a flat responding iem to begin with, you strip it of what it was meant for. Take away that bump on the low end and sacrifice the quantity potential with the JH3a’s flat response on the low end, but then offer a Bass Boost toggle to put it right back where it was before? That makes no sense to me. * passes out. *

  • Reply June 29, 2013

    Andre

    Great Job yet again Mike..

    I have a fairly good problem to have right now and need your opinion. Alo Rx Mk3, Triad Audio L3 Or International. I know right… Well I just sold my V3 and it is a slick little amp but I think I either want the strongest thing out there or balanced outs plus I love the idea of having the bass boost on the Mk3 and L3. Out of those three which would you choose paired with LCD 2.2’s and some other nice dynamics HD650’s and TH600 (soon). Or am I looking in the wrong direction and should just go after the Pan Am? I like large full sound with a strong bass presence. Only reason why I’m not looking at the 627 is because if it lacks in one area its bass so I already know that it won’t work for my taste. Thanks again Mike

    • Reply June 29, 2013

      Mike

      Phew that’s tough. Another one you should consider is the RSA Intruder. Awesome bass.

      I think they’re all great I really can’t pick one amp of the bunch.

      • Reply June 29, 2013

        Andre

        Well unless I can find it used like the others then I don’t want to pay $700 for the Intruder but you definitely peaked my interest with that one. Like I said its a good problem to have but its still a problem. I may go with the L3. Ever since your article its been top of my list along with the Rx Mk3. I think I’ll try for the L3 and go from there.

        Thanks for the Help Mike!

        • Reply June 29, 2013

          Mike

          Yeah you’re welcome Andre!

  • Reply June 24, 2013

    Jason Ng

    Why ALO Audio do not publish any tech specs at all? I can`t find the full specs on the International,WHY?

    • Reply June 24, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      They just changed their website. Click on the learn more button under Performance and scroll down. They are there.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Eli Segal

    Do you the weight of the International? is it heavier/lighter than the National?

    • Reply April 30, 2013

      Eli Segal

      I think this is the first amp the feels better than the SR-71A, am I right?

      • Reply May 1, 2013

        Mike

        It sounds really good and is my favorite ALO amp now.

    • Reply May 1, 2013

      Mike

      Ugghh I need to check on that.

  • Reply March 28, 2013

    John Solanzo

    How does this compare with the PB2+DB2 combo??? Still deciding on which to get for the Westone 4R. Thanks a bunch

  • Reply March 10, 2013

    Alok Juyal

    Mike, got the Cont V2 last year based on your reco and loved it. Sadly the battery on the V2 has gone bad and I might well be on the market again for a portable amp to pair with my CLAS and Shure 535/HiFiMan HE300 phones. I will also likely get a pair of the JH13 or 16. Any recommendations – the V3, the RX mk3? I listen to all kinds of music – rock, classic, world. I liked the V2 for its musicality yet enough bass punch. Thanks much

    • Reply March 10, 2013

      Trent_D

      Well, I’m sure ALO could replace the battery. If you really like the sound of the V2, why not stick with that?

      • Reply March 10, 2013

        Alok Juyal

        Spoke to them, they do not replace the battery but could replace the amp. I am in singapore and they need me to ship the amp over, waiting for them to get back in the details I submitted. I do love the sound of the V2 and would love to stick to it, but need to lay my hands on another while I wait for Alo

        • Reply April 29, 2013

          Alok Juyal

          So ALO sent me a replacement V2! how awesome is that. Meanwhile I also picked up the Continental V3 which sounds just as good and has longer battery life. With new comply tsx100 tips on my 535s, so back in heaven

  • Reply March 4, 2013

    K.

    Many thanks for the review and this wonderful (beautiful and insightful!) site. Is it legitimate to pair the DT770 LE with the International? I already have both 🙂

    • Reply March 5, 2013

      Mike

      I don’t remember having tried that combination, but why not if you already have both? 😉

      • Reply November 19, 2013

        K.

        …which leads me to another question…is there a portable headphone or IEMs you would recommend to the traveler, to be paired with the International? Of course, I “want it all”, in the sense that I am hoping for something I can carry around, use on the plane, with different music genres (piano, vocals, concert, melodic pop with guitars, hip hop, electronica…). I found myself taking different headphones with me as function of my mood / music I want to listen to, but I am for instance to be on the road for 3 weeks…thanks in advance for your advice!

        • Reply November 21, 2013

          Mike

          For flying, noise cancelling is almost a must. Try the parrot Zik. Good sound, comfort, NC, wireless, and quite a wide genre bandwidth.
          If you want minus the NC or wireless, try the Vmoda M100. Best genre bandwidth in the market today.

          • Reply November 22, 2013

            K.

            Thank you very much Mike. I never thought about considering the Parrot, it seemed to be too gimmicky and complicated. And I was wondering how much buyers were paying for its looks. Prejudices, prejudices…
            Not to sidetrack too much from the discussion around the ALO international, but do the Parrot and the VModa pair well with the International?
            And what about headphones like the new Philips? It’s always nice to read you and L. when you are excited about a product, it makes one tempted to join in the fun.

            • Reply November 22, 2013

              Mike

              The Parrot is good.. yes I understand we seem to have biases against good looking headphones. 😉
              Parrot I would just use with a smartphone and use it wirelessly.

              The Vmoda pairs well with the Inter.

              The Philips is a great headphone, technically the best among the portables today. But it doesn’t cover different genres as well as the Vmodas. With the Philips, hot recordings will sound hot.

              • Reply November 26, 2013

                K.

                Thanks for your reply Mike. Hearing is believing I guess (i.e. I should probably close my eyes). I will give them both a try. In truth I guess I am a bit of a snob, but aesthetically I am more into an ALO audio type of look.
                And pardon my ignorance, but what is a “hot”recording? Can you please give an example? Best, K.

                • Reply November 26, 2013

                  Dave Ulrich

                  Recordings with strong treble.

                • Reply November 27, 2013

                  Mike

                  Hot recording is my way of saying recordings with boosted trebles. 🙂

                  Lots of pop material, especially also Jpop are hot.

    • Reply November 6, 2013

      Yuanyi Akiduki Xue

      I got my International last week and have been listening it with my DT770 LE since then. Coming from Schiit Magni, I would say DT770 LE really shines through the International. The smooth nature Mike pointed out in the review here is compensating/soothing the harsh treble of DT770 LE very well (as long as for thoes Jpop music I listened a lot). It also opens up the DT770 LE quite a bit, which the instrument separation (I listen mostly to piano/cello sonata and concerto types of things over this week, so individual instrument separation is a paramount key point here) is much clearer than Magni driven DT770 LE. And the amp makes the DT770 LE so musical.

      I also listened my 600ohm DT880 with International back home, which also turned out to be excellent. Although I love the airy sound of DT880 and its detail, the DT880 was too analytical and cold for me when listening the Jpop on it (yes, I know it’s not the right genre), but when I plugin it to International I found it makes DT880 more human, but with the same detail I could hear from DT880.

      • Reply November 6, 2013

        Mike

        Glad to hear that!

        The International has been my best selling amp at the store, and people weren’t even using its balanced or USB DAC function. They just love the sound.

        • Reply November 6, 2013

          Yuanyi Akiduki Xue

          Exactly! Thank you for the review MIke!

          For myself, before my iBasso DX50 arrives, the International is going to be my desktop source….

          • Reply November 19, 2013

            K.

            Dear Yuanyi & Mike,
            Sorry for not replying earlier. I have been using the International for a few months now, i.e. I have spent more time listening to music than swapping amps and headphones :-). I have recently re-discovered it as we now can – or at least maybe just for the time being….- use its DAC with an iDevice running iOS7. This is something I always wanted to be able to do, particularly when traveling as I had been yearning to have the same sounds as when using the International in a desktop set-up (with an iMac running Audirvana). Of course, the amp section is also really good, as I found it more versatile than say my Continental V2.
            As for the pairing with headphones…well yes it is nice with the DT770 LE, or also other headphones and IEMs I have such as the ER4, or the ESW9, the Phonon SMB-02 (not sure if you have tried that Mike), but I once had the opportunity to try the Audeze’s…The portability factor refrained me from started saving for a pair but…
            If I try to summarize this post, I’d just say that the International is an incredible DAC+amp combo which one should use with all its amazing features.

  • Reply March 2, 2013

    disqus_S56v67XeRS

    Will the International be able to drive the HE-6?

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Trent_D

      Mike said the HE-400 felt underpowered on the International. If it doesn’t quite have to juice for the HE-400, no way will it power the beastly HE-6.

      • Reply March 2, 2013

        Mike

        Thanks, Trent

        • Reply September 24, 2013

          Sung

          how about he-500?

          • Reply September 24, 2013

            L.

            If it can’t power the HE-400 stay away from the HE-500

            • Reply September 24, 2013

              Mike

              Yes what L said.

    • Reply March 2, 2013

      Mike

      Nah, I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    armydicked

    I despise Digital, but whattya going to? When Irecently went back to college on my GI Bill, I was STUNNED to see the Paradigm Shift going on around me. I spied 100 GEN M’rs (GENERATION MEDIA) going to class wearing fancy high-end throat CANS hooked to their smart phones—like a bunch of SS Tiger tank Commanders!!! Yes, I saw kids wearing trash like Monster Cable’s $300.00 Dr. Dre ‘GhettoPhones’ but they were also wearing Klipsch & B&Ws & Grados & Bose & Hifi-Man & Sennheiser.
    In class, these RUG RATS had the n-e-r-v-e to mock my iBuds/iPhone4S “OLD SCHOOL!!! Whattya want, he’s into Turntables which is totally SICK!!!
    I immediately took my scholarship money (I won a $300.00 scholarship, look at me?!!!) and blew it on the first portable cans I could find [BOSE AE2=not bad sounding). The kid in my class then whipped out some ‘Altoids tin’ with a knob on it and told me to ‘JACK IT, old man!!!” I took my Bose AE2 and pluged both into my iPhone 4S and D-A-M-N, what a difference in tone!!! Then this other kid whipped out his Fiio E17 and said ‘What is this, Arts & Crafts? Try a ‘real headphone amp, Mister’.
    ME WANTS!!! ME WANTS!!! ME WANTS!!! ME WANTS!!! ME WANTS!!!
    What can I say? We Geezer-Americans are all but one Paradigm Shift away from a total mental breakdown!!!
    You guys need to set up booths at Community Colleges and ‘school these youngin’s as to the joys of VINYL and good headphones and AIFF vrs Apple Lossless and good portable smartphones-headphone amps-cans combos!!!

  • Reply February 28, 2013

    Ryan

    Hi Mike, how does the International compare to the Apex Glacier?

    • Reply February 28, 2013

      Mike

      Ryan,
      I think there is a similar question if you check on the earlier comments.

  • Reply February 27, 2013

    Michael Mercer

    KILLER review Mike!!!! I LOVE mine too. And I’ve brought my ALO RxMK3-B everywhere! Now w/ the International – I get even more closely connected to the music. A truly balanced amp in that small package, w/ my Astell&Kern AK-100 – finally we CAN say “portable Nirvana”! Excellent work Amigo

    • Reply February 27, 2013

      Mike

      Thank you, Michael. Always love the enthusiasm.

  • Reply February 25, 2013

    Trent_D

    That does seem kind of odd, as the HE400 should be easier to drive than the LCD2

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      In my experience the LCD2 is almost always the easier one to drive.

    • Reply March 1, 2013

      Michael Mercer

      I LOVE my LCD3’s and The International combo – brilliant

  • Reply February 25, 2013

    Ba Dan

    The ALO International can interwork with the Android-powered smartphone Samsung Galaxy S3:
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/595071/android-phones-and-usb-dacs/1710#post_9161612

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      Yes, thank you. I don’t have an S3 so I can’t try it. My phone is a Nexus and it doesn’t do USB OTG.

  • Reply February 24, 2013

    Fabrice

    Would love to hear how it Paris with the K701 (which may not be your favorite I realize). Thanks.

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      Hi Fabrice,
      Unfortunately I don’t have the AKG around to compare.

  • Reply February 24, 2013

    Andrew Smith

    Hi Mike, another stellar review, so thanks again for being informative and entertaining yet again. Here’s a pertinent question for you, given the same basic functionality, would you opt for the Apex Glacier or the ALO International?

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks, Andrew.

      Good question. For me, I’m leaning more and more into a darker sound signature. So that means the ALO.

      The Glacier, if you read the review has a more upfront, livelier sound. So it’s a different sound really, and it depends on what people are looking for.

      The HD650 for instance, some people feel it’s too slow. The Glacier would be the amp to get. For me the HD650 is fine and I like it even better with the ALO.

      • Reply March 5, 2013

        shigzeo

        That, and the International has a lot more distortion-dodging power than the Glacier does at similar output voltages.

  • Reply February 24, 2013

    Steven

    As an amp…

    Clas Solo -dB + International / ALO Rx Mk3?

    • Reply February 25, 2013

      Mike

      I think the CLAS was designed to go together with the RX Mk3 (David at CypherLabs confirmed this).

      • Reply February 26, 2013

        Steven

        Acknowledged but for those of us with more money than sense :D, have you compared the International vs RX Mk3 as a headphone amp output for the Solo -db? And conversely single vs balanced ended. Thanks!

        • Reply February 26, 2013

          Mike

          Sorry, Steven but I haven’t. And the store happen to not have any Solos I can test with.

          • Reply March 1, 2013

            Michael Mercer

            I’ve tried them together. To be honest, I actually like the DAC in my Astell&Kern AK100 – so running it w/o a DAC, stacked on The International, is KILLER. As for balanced vs. unbalanced: Great question, as there’s some confusion Ken at ALO and I discussed about balanced. As long as you’re using a balanced input AND output, then its a fully balanced amp (The International) and, IMO – you get far better separation, the sense of dimensionality just springs wide open!! Yeah, unfortunately they’re out of Solos I think…

            • Reply March 1, 2013

              audiohead

              I would agree with Michael, the balanced output seems to have more separation and a wider soundstage. The effect increases when you run the CLAS -dB though the balanced input. An agreeable sensation paired with the LCD-3.

              • Reply March 1, 2013

                Mike

                Thanks for the comments guys.

                Glad to see audiohead around too 🙂

              • Reply March 5, 2013

                shigzeo

                RE: balanced vs single ended: It is actually a measurable increase in stereo separation and dynamic range, but that is the case with all balanced vs single ended gear except when the condensers are used incorrectly (i.e., used balanced despite being single ended).

                • Reply March 6, 2013

                  Mike

                  Thanks for the informative comments, shigzeo

        • Reply March 5, 2013

          shigzeo

          Steven, the MK3 has a more linear output than the International, at least when driving headphones of less than 50Ω. Above 50 and the odds are evened more or less and the International actually puts more power into current dieting cans like the DT880 600Ω. You can turn a pair into desktop speakers with the International, while the MK3 turns them into a pair of strong computer speakers.

          If you are an earphone user, consider the MK3. If not, the International is quite the amazing amp. The only area in which the MK3 loses to the Internatonal is output noise. The International is quiet – quieter, in fact, than many IEM-only amps.

  • Reply February 23, 2013

    Spencer Chan

    So I gather that the international is connected to your laptop via usb and the ak100 via optical?

    How does the ak100 connect to the international? Just normal line out line in?

    • Reply February 23, 2013

      Mike

      The AK I used a mini to mini from the headphone out. Don’t think it has a dedicated line out

  • Reply February 23, 2013

    Kelvin King

    How’s the amp compare to the Portaphile 627?
    Could you also comment too on Portaphile 627 vs the Continental v3?

    • Reply February 23, 2013

      Mike

      The Portaphile sounds bigger and grander compared to the ALOs. I do find it a little too mellow and too soft for me.

      The Continental is less spacious but the sound is cleaner with less grain. With the v3 you get more bass body as well.

      Power level, the Portaphile wins.

Leave a Reply