Revolutionary: The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo (CLAS)

CLAS_07

After months of waiting, I’m very happy to finally get my hand on the revolutionary Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo (CLAS) device.

Everyone knows that the CLAS is the first of its kind, as it is the only portable device that gives access to the Ipod’s digital data, bypassing the Ipod’s internal D/A conversion. This concept was first seen on the Wadia i170 Transport, later also on the Onkyo ND-S1 which I also happen to use, but neither docks work on batteries, nor do theycome with their own digital to analog conversion circuitry. Last year, HRT also released the iStreamer device which also had the ability to extract digital data from the Ipod, but the iStreamer also requires AC power for operational. Now, I’ve recently learned of the existence of another portable Ipod dock-amp like the CLAS, this time from Japanese manufacturer Fostex. While I can’t be sure who ultimately have the right to claim to be the first, I think it’s quite agreeable to say that both devices are the “firsts” of their kind.

While I’m still waiting for the Fostex HP-1 to arrive from Fostex Japan, Ken @ ALO Audio have sent me the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo, along with the signature ALO USB dock and mini-to-mini cable. Paired with the ALO Rx Mk2 which belongs to my friend Peter, I am very excited to be able to experience the Solo first hand.

WHAT DOES IT DO?
To do a quick recap, the typical digital audio signal chain goes like this:

SET-UP A
This is the typical direct set up. On this set up, the Ipod is doing all of the task of producing the signal for the headphones, starting from providing the digital music file, encoding the music file, feeding it to the digital to analog converter, passing on to the internal amplifier, and finally out to the HD800 headphones. As you can see, the Ipod is responsible for doing all that hard work, which gives us a less stellar result out on the headphone side.

SET-UP B
You’ve got the typical portable amp set up, where a portable amplifier, such as the ALO Rx Mk2 takes the amplifying job out of the Ipod’s internal amp. As a result, you get a more potent amplification circuit capable of delivering higher power output at a finer resolution level. And yet, on this set up, the critical Digital to Analog (DAC) conversion is still handled by the Ipod’s internal DAC. The typical Imods doesn’t alleviate this problem too, as it still takes the signal after it has been processed from the Ipod’s internal DAC.

SET-UP C
On this set up, you have the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo taking over the critical Digital to Analog conversion process, as it is able to extract the digital data out of the Ipod’s storage media, and perform the Digital to Analog conversion inside the CLAS. The result is a superior source signal, which then can be passed to a superior amplification circuit such as the ALO Rx Mk2, before finally getting to the headphones. Indeed, this is by far the best method, as it provides the optimum sonic quality at each part of the chain.

The CLAS (bottom) with the ALO Rx MkII (top). Identical footprint, but different thickness. This side reveals the output side of the CLAS, available both as digital or analog signals.

 

On the back side is the connection to the charger, as well as the USB socket for the digital data input from an Apple Ipod device.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE CLAS
The CLAS accepts the digital data from the Ipod through the USB socket on the back panel. Transmission method is through Asynchronous USB, in which a low jitter clock inside the CLAS serves as the master clock for the data transmission. The data is then passed on to a Wolfson D/A chip (the actual chip model is not revealed by Cypher Labs). Despite the USB port, it is important to note that the CLAS does not have the necessary services to act as a USB DAC. Data resolutions are limited to 16/48, which is the resolution that typical Ipod devices will accept.

As a general rule of thumb, the CLAS is compatible with all of the recent Ipod/Iphone/Ipad models, which includes the Ipod Classics, all versions of the Touch, Nano, and Iphones, and the Ipad.

My shipment from ALO consists of the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo device in its own packaging. Included with the CLAS packaging is a generic Cypher Labs USB Dock cable, three Cypher Labs rubber bands, and a 5Volts charger for the CLAS. The CLAS device retails for $579, while a CLAS and ALO Rx Mk2 package is available for $998 from the ALO Store. The CLAS device was still sealed inside its plastic packaging, which implies a brand new unit with no burn in time. Additionally, ALO also shipped me a pair of ALO reference USB Dock cable, as well as an ALO mini to mini interconnect, terminated in Neutrik L-angles, which sells for $198.

The stock USB dock cable that come with the CLAS is quite long and would be useful for using with the Ipad.

 

These are the cables from ALO.

 

SOUND IMPROVEMENTS
The improvements are obvious. Compared to the same system without the CLAS (Ipod Classic > ALO SXC LOD > ALO Rx Mk2 > HD800), I’m getting a bigger soundstage and a more distinct separation that fills up almost the entire cups of the HD800′s headstage. One of the issues that I’ve always had with Ipods in general is how the mids always sound congested when compared to the higher quality sources. Not anymore with the CLAS. The mids are now open with no congestion. Going back to the Ipod’s internal DAC gives me a more muffled sound, and though I can still hear the instrument separation pretty well, the whole band was taking place on a smaller soundstage that seems to only fill half of the HD800′s large sphere. Of course, we wouldn’t expect anything less but a much improved soundstage projection out of the CLAS.

COMPARED TO THE HIFIMAN HM-602/HM-601
Afterwards, I went on to proceed the comparison to the Hifiman HM-602, which was my current favorite DAP. The amplifier and headphone remains the same, and likewise the music files. The primary difference between the two sources is that the CLAS takes on a more lively and dynamic sound, where the Hifiman is more mellow, warmer, and more midrange oriented. The CLAS is better on soundstage width, blacker background, and instrument separation, while the Hifiman gives a deeper soundstage depth and also a better sense of ambiance. I think the difference character between the two DACs (Wolfson vs Philips TDA1543) makes the Hifiman more suitable for Acoustics, Vocals and Jazz. While the CLAS would be more suitable for mainstream Rock, anything fast-paced with a lot of strong beats.

THE CLAS AS A DIGITAL TRANSPORT
The low jitter, bit perfect Asynchronous data transfer of the CLAS makes it a good candidate for an excellent digital transport. I tested the CLAS as a digital source feeding S/PDIF signal to the Grace m902, and while the resolution was not as good as compared to my CEC TL51XZ belt driven CD player, the CLAS did offer far better level of convenience as I had hundreds of CDs available on the Ipod’s storage system.

END WORDS
The portable HiFi industry have grown tremendously, and there are a lot of choices when it comes to choosing an audiophile player these days. While most of these audiophile players come with a strong audio performance, none of them is able to match the overall package that you get with the Ipod and Iphone platform. For some player, like the QLS QA-350 that I reviewed a while ago, the UI is so primitive that I’d rather use a plain Ipod Shuffle rather than having to deal with that kind of UI.

I think the real selling point with the CLAS lies in its compatibility with the Ipod platform. To this day, there are no other players that can compete with the superb user interface, storage size, and popularity of the Ipods. The success of the Iphone also makes the CLAS an even more appealing solution as you can have a smart phone and an audiophile player in one package — something that can’t be done on the other systems. Combined with the additional solutions offered through the App Store and the Itunes, none of the other player comes even close in offering the full-scale solution that a user get with an Ipod.

I’d like to congratulate Cypher Labs for pulling off one of the most revolutionary solutions to high end portable music listening.



System used for review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800
Amplifiers: ALO Rx Mk2, Grace m902
Source: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo, Hifiman HM-601, Hifiman HM-602
Transports: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo, Ipod Classic 120GB, CEC TL51XZ
Interconnects: ALO AlgoRhythm Interconnects

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  • Fabio_Rocks

    Hi Mike. 

    I was wondering about amps pairing. What do you think CLAS plus  fiio e6 or fiio e11 pairings? Does it sounds terrific compare to Iphone 4 headphone out?The Fiio e6 pairing is nice because is very portable (more than the fostex HP-P1) 

    Thanks dude!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      If you’re going to go the CLAS route, I would feel bad about pairing it with an E6. At least use something like the JDS C421.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003992054760 Copper David

    Hi Mike,
    Which is a better portable DAC for ipod Classic in term of sound quality improvement, Fostex HP-P1 or Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo?

    Besides these two, is there other good portable DAC that works for Apple iDevices?
    Most of the time, I listen to raggae, dance, pop, rock and trance with my ipod classic.

  • Kartaar singh

    I listen to mostly classical , vocal , drums , harmonium , i mean all natural stringed or percussion instruments ,

    Headphone is hd600 ,
    For amp i am considering continental over l3, as it will be more open sounding.

    My question is will hm602 pair well with continental or should i go through the clas route only ? If u hv any better suggestion reg headfone / amp , i can consider that also.

    I previously have hd 650 which is good except for very lil bass, i dnt like high treble , a more dark sound but clear so will get headfone recabled.
    Recordings arent really good sometimes and since all natural instruments n vocals so i dont really need a solid state amp.

    I have almost read all your reviews about things i can buy in budget.and it helped a lot to decide , bt i m stuck only at source thing now

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Kartaar,
      So the question is betwen the CLAS to the HM-602?

      Sound wise, the CLAS would be more neutral, blacker background, more spacious.
      The HM-602 is warmer, fuller mids, better ambiance, better three dimensionality.

      If you’re going to add an amp (and you need an amp for the HD600), the CLAS’ footprint matches the Continental very well. With the HM-602, it’s a bit trickier as the footprint is not exactly common. Usually I use easy to drive headphone or IEMs with the HM-602 since I don’t like adding an amp to the 602 (mainly due to the footprint thing).

      • Kartaar singh

        Thanks for the reply mike ,
        for vocals and classical , drums would you recommend a L3 over continental ? for source i think i can lock on Solo and hd600 for headphones. amp is the question now ?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I think I’d go for the L3 just for the bass impact which is important for classical and drums. Vocals, the continental.

          I wouldn’t sweat over the choice though, both are great. Day to day use, I’d probably take the Continental just based on the fact that it has a smaller size and a good footprint with the CLAS. If you want to feel what the most powerful portable amp out there feels like, get the L3.

  • Alfani Gunawan

    which cable do you reccomended for LOD2USB? alo sxc22 or alo sxc 24 or whiplash or etc?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I use the copper from ALO. Never really compared it to the SXC or others.

      • Alfani Gunawan

        still thinking is it worth to upgrade LOD2USB because its digital

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Alfani,
          Digital signal is sent as electronic signals.

  • Anajab

    Hey Mike, what are your thoughts about the old CLAS vs the new CLAS?

    • http://www.frogforum.net/ John Clare

      What Anajab said!

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Mike has the new one, I can’t help you

  • http://www.frogforum.net/ John Clare

    For anyone curious, I just A/B’d the CLAS (version 1) against the iPhone 5 with the Wolfson DAC equipped lightning adapter and a Fiio L9 LOD. The amplifier I used in both cases was the ALO National. I naively thought that since the lightning adapter has a Wolfson inside it that it might be a substitute for the CLAS. Results? Well the lightning adapter DAC combo does give a respectable quality output but the soundstage is much smaller than the CLAS combo. The sound from the lightning adapter DAC combo seems somewhat muffled and lacking the clarity and power of the CLAS combo too. Oh well! So the CLAS wasn’t a waste of money! Phew.

    The combos were:

    1) iPhone 5 -> Lightning adapter -> Fiio L9 LOD -> National Amplifier -> DT-770 AE headphone. (This combo makes use of the Wolfson DAC in the Lightning adapter)

    2) iPhone 5 -> Lightning adapter -> CLAS -> National Amplifier -> DT-770 AE headphone. (This combo uses the DAC in the CLAS)

    On a related note, as ALO predicts on their web site (but never seemed to confirm), you can use the lightning adapter as a pass through for the CLAS, as I’ve shown in combo (2).

    PS: Mike, you should get some forum software on here!

    • http://gorboman.wordpress.com/ Gorboman

      I’ve seen a lightning to usb cable picture somewhere. It’s in a blog but I don’t remember which blog. Have you tried one of those?

      • http://www.frogforum.net/ John Clare

        Hi Gorboman. I’m not sure which cable you mean. Do you just mean a lightning sync cable that comes with the new apple products? What’s the point? It should work fine for connecting the CLAS to an iPhone 5 or any other new apple product. If you mean the extended (0.2 m) lightning adapter, that’s actually the adapter I used to test its DAC.

        • http://gorboman.wordpress.com/ Gorboman

          John & L: I’ve googled and found that it’s the one from Double Helix Cables. Looking from the picture, it seems that you will not need an adapter.

          Link to product: http://www.doublehelixcables.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=102

          • http://www.frogforum.net/ John Clare

            Oh I see what you mean. I saw that a while ago. They just shortened and re-clad a stock apple cable. Anyhow, I didn’t get the adapter for listening to music – I got it so I could use my old apple cables for charging. I wouldn’t ever use an iPhone 5 as a portable source unless I had to. Too delicate, and too little storage space. I just did the test to compare the quality of the lightning adapter’s Wolfson DAC to the CLAS.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Don’t you mean the stock cable? I just got a brand new Gen 7 ipod, I’ll try it tomorrow with my CLAS

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thanks for the post/info, John!

  • Jagan

    Is it possible to listen to browser audio like youtube using clas db. I can able to listen to music using various player but when I listen to audio from browser it hasn’t been cached by clas db.

    • dalethorn

      Which browser? On iPod or iPhone?

      • Jagan

        Dell inspiron running window 7.

        • dalethorn

          I have to try some things in settings on my Windows 7 – I will try to find out.

          • Jagan

            thanks for ur reply. it worked very well.

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

              You’re welcome

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Yes it is, that’s the point. It means your windows settings aren’t correct. You should set the db as your default player. But I do suggest using better quality than youtube

      • Jagan

        I am using wav files for audio player. Sometimes i need to listen to youtube or soundcloud. In that time i can’t utilize the clas db. The sound is coming from laptop headphone out. I have dacport lx and schiit modi. If i change the default audio device it is working fine. But it won’t be the case with clas db.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          That is weird. Have you asked Cypherlabs? They are very helpful even on twitter

          • Jagan

            clas -db worked very well. the issue is it hasn’t set as a default audio device automatically. u need to set it manually.

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

              Yeah, that’s what we said ;)

        • dalethorn

          Answered below. Control Panel.