Back in fall of 2011, ALO released the hybrid tube Continental amplifier. It was a new take at the concept of a vacuum tube portable amp (although hybrid), first made into mainstream production by TTVJ. Unlike the popular ALO Rx line up, the Continental offered a more midrange oriented presentation that appeals to people traditionally looking for a more analog sound. By employing tubes in the amplification stage, the Continental was able to achieve a superb soundstage reproduction combined with a clean and dynamic sound.
Introducing the National
Now, following the footsteps of the Continental, ALO has released a solid-state brethren to the Continental called the National. In short, the National is created to be a solid state variation of the Continental, replacing the Raytheon 6111 tube to a solid state based gain stage, while keeping the same transistor-based output stage. Powered by the same 1600mAH battery, the National is quoted to have a playtime twice as long as the Continental (8 vs 15 hours). The National is also priced significantly lower than the Continental ($299 vs $529), and comes in a slightly smaller enclosure. Worth mentioning is the new matte metallic black with a very soft, small grain finish (the picture gallery below does a better job in explaining that). It looks very nice, doesn’t attract fingerprints and looks like it can handle more abuse than the delicate glossy finish of the ALO Continental.
Comparing the sound of the Continental and the National side by side, I can’t help but thinking that we have a case similar to the Apex Peak and Arete amplifiers (like the National to the Continental, the Arete replaces the tube gain stage of the Peak into a solid state one). Moving to solid state components adds a small amount of grain the sound of the National, compared to the crystal-clean Continental. Soundstage performance is also more spacious on the Continental. The National however has a more well balanced tonality, primarily with a fuller bass body and a less forward yet full sounding midrange. Overall the tonality of the National is very pleasing, warm with full bodied mids and bass and unoffensive treble. It feels a little darker than the Continental, mostly due to the less forward upper midrange on the National.
I was just raving about the C421 the other day, but one complain I have with the C421 is that its bass is not as impactful as I’d like it to be. The National takes on a very similar tonality to the C421, but with a significant improvement in bass impact, making it a better toe-tapping amp for me. It’s a tad darker and is not as airy as the C421, and midrange on the C421 is still clearer, but the weightier bass keeps me plugged in to the National despite the larger size of the amplifier.
Now that ALO has two different amps both based on solid state circuitry, it’s important to differentiate the Rx line up from the National. The sound signature is very different first of all, the Rx having a more spacious sound with a still superior bass impact and very clean sound (especially on the bass). The National however takes on a tonality more suitable to my ears, with full mids and good bass body and a darker overall sound, though not as clean sounding as the Rx.
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