The Sequel: ALO Audio The National


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 ALO 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.

Sound Comparisons

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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The Sequel: ALO Audio The National
3.33 (66.67%) 3 votes

  • Bookaboo

    Hi mike, between the c421 and the national, which would pair up better with the ms pro and hd600.

    • National all the way! πŸ˜€

      I love the bass impact on the National and I think the fuller lows help the MS-Pro tremendously. The HD600 would do just well with either, but again I love the bass impact of the National

  • Justin Q.

    How does the DACport feeding 2Stepdance (sonically similar to stepdance) compare against the DACport feeding Leckerton UHA6s MKII or the The National?

    Stuff I’m looking out for include soundstage, details and non-fatigue

    • Justin,
      So the comparison here is basically the 2Stepdance vs the Leckerton UHA6s/National?

      I’ve never heard the Leckerton, so I’ll only be able to comment on the other two. The 2Stepdance is brighter and leaner, the National is darker and fuller on the lows. Soundstage should be more spacious on the 2Stepdance. Detail about the same, but the brighter presentation usually helps you hear more detail. Non-fatigue, should be more with the National.

  • Hey Mike,
    Does either the National or MK3 supersede the AHA-120 in your recommendation? I loved the AHA-120 sound sig but stupidly sold it. I’d like to replace it or find something else better. What solid state portable/transportable gets your current recommendation w/ the HD650? (Source: Line out of Ipod classic or HRT Music Streamer II (or maybe II+).
    Thanks, as always.

    • Hi Isaiah,
      Right now I love the HD650 with either the Matrix Mini Portable or the National. HOWEVER, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better than the AHA-120. I think the AHA-120 is one of the better portable amps around and it’ll be tough to find something that betters it. You can give other amps a try, but I think it’s mostly going to be a different flavor kind of thing.

      • Thanks, as always, for the response, Mike! I was afraid you were going to say that! It’s tempting to try the National at nearly $200 less but the AHA-120 just owned the HD650. Since letting the AHA-120 go, I’ve been trying to find an amp (even a desktop) in that price range that does as good a job with the HD650. Is it fair to say that while the National sounds amazing with the HD650, in a dark, luscious, smooth kind of way, the AHA-120 would get the recommendation for being technically better and bringing out more of the HD650 potential? Or is it less about technical and more about flavor?

        (In other news, I’ve ordered the Yulong A800 Mini; have you heard it? Scary ordering something with 0 reviews (at least in English!)

        • “Is it fair to say that while the National sounds amazing with the HD650, in a dark, luscious, smooth kind of way, the AHA-120 would get the recommendation for being technically better and bringing out more of the HD650 potential? Or is it less about technical and more about flavor?”

          The AHA-120 is technically more refined, cleaner.. but I think at this level (portable amps) you really are not looking for technical superiority since the difference is quite small overall between different portable amps. I would choose more based on sound signature, bass impact, features, size.

          One of the best portable amps for the HD650, I think is still the RSA SR-71A. But no internal charging so it’s a bit of a pain to use it for daily use. Plus the battery is 2x9Vs, not exactly cheap to buy new pair every two days.

          Yulong A800 Mini: I don’t know, looks like the U100 without the DAC?

          • Thanks again!

            That knowledge that at this level its more a difference of sound signature is really useful. My other amps were the Asgard, P4 (Stock opamps), O2 and E9, and I thought the AHA-120 all handily beat them…It was just kind of addicting. At that time, it seemed ridiculous to pay that much for a portable amp though… Doh!

            I think I’m only now really figuring out what I like about amps. The Asgard was fine with the HD650 but seemed to lose definition and clarity with it (I know some people love the combo); the E9 had raw power but not really finesse; the O2 is clean but sterile. The AHA-120 had some nice bass slam, revealed how good of a sound stage the HD650 has but was still basically neutral. It was a good general that told the HD650 where to go, up to its natural abilities. I think that is what I’m looking for most: an amp that pushes the HD650 where it knows it can go. I’m looking for one that can slap it around if it needs to.

            Too bad the SR-71A needs replaceable batteries! Does the casing slide off or do you have to unscrew it each time? The National still sounds tempting too… Any other amps that you think really “own” the HD650? I’d say I tend toward neutral but really I like the HD650 more than the HD600…

            (The A800 is more powerful as a standalone, class A amp. It has the same casing as the U100 in case someone wants to use the U100 Dac. I’m expecting basically neutral, which from reading seems to be the Yulong house sound. Kind of hoping for a budget, desktop AHA-120! Silly me…)

            • Why not consider the continental or govibe?

            • The SR-71A you have to unscrew it each time that’s why it’s such a big pain.

  • How does The National compare to the Triad Audio L3?

    • I think L3’s technicalities, especially the dynamics are very good and much better than the National.

      • Thank you, Mike. I figured that given the substantial price gap. R.I.P. my wallet!

    • SHouldn’t be comparing the two, to be honest. L3 is in a different league.

  • I’ve been thinking about the National from your review. Would this be great with the HD600 and RE272? Headphones that are maybe just a little too bass light and a little too analytical… I’m king of rebuilding from ground up (with an ipod classic and line out). I like both of those a ton. W/ the National, seems like it could be a killer combo…

  • Do you know the weight of this amp? I can’t find it, thanks

    • If anyone is interested the weight according to ALO is 260 gr

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  • waxdoctor

    Hey! Is the National a class A amp?

    • Nope. Most portable amps aren’t Class A due to battery life, I think.

      • waxdoctor

        Thank you Mike! So I guess it is an Class AB – as it gets warm from time to time! And sorry if my comments are sometimes rookie-ish πŸ™‚

  • Excellent and concise review Mike! Currently I have a Cowon X7 and a pair of Shure SE535s, would you recommend the National for this purpose? Or what would be a strong competitor at this price point? Also, how does the National compare with the Rx MK2, is it worth the extra? I would like a little bass impact and treble extension to complement my SE535s.

  • Jethro Lubas

    Excuse me sir, Does this Portable Amplifier pair well with the Sennheiser HD700.

    • It should be good, the HD700 is not that hard to drive. What you need is a high quality source.

      • Jethro Lubas

        Thank you sir! BUT, Between this, The Asus Essence One, and the E17|E9k, what do you think will sound the best? Can The FiiO E17 Drive this alone? Is The E17 a Good DAC?

        • Definitely the PanAm

          • Jethro Lubas

            I see. Thank you sir. That saves me the trouble that finding a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter as well. Will the Pan Am sound good without the Passport and the Gateway?

            • I’d recommend you going with the Passport, otherwise it’s not going to be as good.

  • Prasetya Nugraha

    Hello Mike,

    I’m thinking of buying the National for my Dacport LX + HD650, Do you think it will be a good pairing? Or do you have another portable amp in mind? Thanks in advance. πŸ™‚

    • Trent_D

      It is a good pairing, although, can I ask, is there a reason you are looking for a portable amp for the HD650/LX?

      • Prasetya Nugraha

        I also own a Yuin PK1, so I thought it would be nice to own a high quality portable amp so I can listen to them on the go, and HD650 when I’m at home. My Fiio E11 doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with HD650/LX.

        Do you think it would be better for me to invest in a desktop amp instead? I was thinking of pulling the trigger on a Bottlehead Crack, but I want something that’s more practical/portable so I can bring my gear to the office and meetup.

        Oh, Thanks for the reply Trent. πŸ™‚

        • Trent_D

          You have an office where you can use the HD650? Well, the Crack is wonderful with the HD650, and that is the way I would go. It still offers the best bang for the buck out there with the HD650 (although the La Figaro 336c comes close). Do you have a portable player you use when on the go?

          • Prasetya Nugraha

            Yeah, I got a room all to myself, so no coworker will be bothered by sound leaking from the HD650. πŸ™‚

            I use an iPod Touch 5G as my DAP.

            On an unrelated note, I’ve read a review saying that if we use a lightning to 30 pin converter to connect LOD cable, the line out will be provided by the DAC inside the converter.

            The review also mentions the DAC quality inside lightning to 30 pin converter is the same as the one inside iPod Touch, What do you think Trent? Should I use a converter + LOD or just double amp the iPod?

            • Trent_D

              Well, I wouldn’t double amp it. With an IEM though, I wouldn’t bother with connecting an amp. I would just use the ipod’s amp. Where is this review? I haven’t keep up on the new ipods, but the LOD usually just takes the already converted analog signal, and sends it out bypassing the internal amp. So, if you wanted to use an external amp, that is how you would do it.

              • Prasetya Nugraha

                The 5th generation iPod uses lightning instead of 30 pin. Now the problem is, lightning is an all digital port, so the only way we can get an analog line out is from the DAC inside the lightning to 30 pin converter. Which might explain why its quite pricey, (around 40-50$ in Indonesia)

                Here’s the link explaining this matter:

                It’s actually an impression for iPod Nano 7th gen, but since they both use the same lightning port, I think it applies to iPod touch as well.

                • Trent_D

                  I did not know. Thanks for that. In regards to your original question, the National is very nice with the HD650, however, the HD650 really opens up with a nice OTL tube amp, like the Crack. Another amp you might want to look at, if you are in the market for an office rig, is the O2. It retails for around $150 pre-built, and you can build one yourself for half that. Of course, the O2 is a fair controversial, love-it-or-hate-it amp. Mike and L hated it, and I loved it.

                  • Prasetya Nugraha

                    Thanks for the advice Trent, I might try the O2 for stationary listening purposes, since it’s way cheaper compared to prebuilt Crack. πŸ™‚

                    Oh, boy, this hobby is really putting a big hole in my wallet. πŸ˜€

                    • Trent_D

                      You have no idea. Although, one last plug for the Crack. It isn’t hard to build. If I could do it…

                    • Prasetya Nugraha

                      if I could find a cheap 2nd hand Crack on the local forums I will definitely buy it, but for now, I really want the National. πŸ™‚

                    • Yes the National is pretty good for the HD650 and Yuin.

                    • Long Tran

                      I have the same setup in my office πŸ™‚ Dacport LX + The National + HD650 with ALO cable .. It’s a good setup, I’m sure πŸ˜€ And it’s just small enough to not cause curiosity.
                      I also own the continental V2. But because of its short battery life, I just use it at home πŸ˜€

                • dalethorn

                  My ipod touch 5g with the Lightning adapter plus LOD cable sounds about the same as the 4g ipod touch with LOD cable, going to the same amps. At least in several comparisons I don’t hear a distinct difference. I’ve tried the adapter attached to the short cable that’s $40, and the adapter with Lightning plug right on the adapter (no cable) that’s $30, and don’t hear any difference between either of those. There probably is a difference, but the signal they convert and pass on probably doesn’t have enough resolution to make it obvious.

                  • Prasetya Nugraha

                    Thanks for the information Dale, have you tried comparing the output quality of lightning adapter versus iPod headphone out? I don’t want to spend 50$ if the difference is negligible.

                    • dalethorn

                      It’s the same as comparing the headphone out of the 4g to the LOD out. We know that the LOD (and hence the Lightning adapter) bypasses the i-device volume control. But here is where it gets interesting: Apple insists that the LOD analog out sounds the same (and is the same) as the headphone out. I haven’t been able to do a critical comparison between them because the headphone out would have to be at maximum volume. But as much as I did listen, I didn’t hear a significant difference. Certainly the headphone out on the ipod has a digital attenuator, and I could guess that when volume is at maximum, there is no attenuation and zero effect on the sound. And if that’s true of the ipod touch and iphone, I don’t know about the ipod classics. Some of those have a higher output impedance than the ipod touch etc. And even though the LOD of the touch sounds the same more or less as the headphone out, I don’t know whether they also have the same output impedance.

                    • Prasetya Nugraha

                      I see, thanks for sharing your experience Dale.

                      On my iPod Touch 4G, I feel that by using LOD cable from Fiio (L3), the sounds are clearer, I don’t know if it just a placebo or my ears deceiving me, but compared to iPod touch 4G headphone out I can hear a difference in clarity.

                      I guess I should go buy the adapter and try it for myself to see if there really is a difference.

                    • dalethorn

                      Yes, I think it will be clearer – the volume should be controlled from only one point.

                    • dalethorn

                      One test that’s fun to do if it’s not too clumsy is to plug the 30-pin end of a short FiiO LOD cable into the ipod touch, and the mini-plug end directly into the input jack of a headphone that has a detachable cable with 3.5 mm termination. I thought when I did that the sound had a greater clarity than the usual plug-in using the headphone’s regular cable. And I’m sure what I was hearing was the effect of eliminating the long headphone cable. Which suggests that headphone re-cabling might be good to do in some cases.

                    • Prasetya Nugraha

                      Interesting idea Dale, unfortunately I don’t have any headphone that has a detachable cable, so I won’t be able to do that test.

                      Right now I’m focusing on my source and amplification first before diving into the world of cables. After all, Garbage In Garbage Out right? πŸ™‚

  • Alex

    Should I change my Arrow 3G to National for opera and classical music? I like forward vocal and natural musical sound. Phones: HD565 Ovation (150ohm). Thanks!

    • ALO Continental

      • Alex

        Ooh, I see. 529$ impressive price… that’s mean step up for me cost $$$ πŸ™ a lot of $$$ πŸ™‚

        • Yeah unfortunately.

  • Ste

    Hi Guys,sorry to dig up this old article.. I need a warm sounding amp to go with my dx50,must be portable,was looking at the national? any other suggestions with warm sound,and goof battery life.. Thanks

    • L.

      This and the Cypherlabs Duet. awesomeness!

      • Ste

        Thanks mate,which do you find to have the better life with battery? I used to have a heir rendition1,so didnt have to charge it often ha

        • L.

          The Duet and CL products are known for the excellent battery life. check out our Duet review πŸ™‚

          • Ste

            Excellent thanks, I was also looking at possibly the vorzuge amps,but think they are more transparent than warm.. will check out that review thanks

            • Marc

              A recent comparison was posted between a Duet and a Vorzuge Pure II and I found it to be quite similar to my own findings. Pure II has a leaner note thickness yet is warmer than the Duet. It’s cleaner and clearer but the Duet is more spacious and has thicker mids/bass (not necessarily warmer).

  • Ddaktiv

    Hi really enjoy the reviews here, it’s a bit late in the game but I’m seriously torn..want your opinion between:
    CL Picollo & ALO national.
    Physical Dimensions I’m good with the 3 choices however,
    Based on sound stage and bass, the duet seems to be the most impressive + The balanced output..
    Between the The National and CL Picollo?
    Which has better staging and bass response?
    I’m pairing it with AK240 and a hybrid ciem (more for fun and trying to max out the bass without destroying the sound quality..)
    Currently leaning towards CL Duet though (as staging and floor noise is really excellent) but want to make sure I cover all bases.

    • Duet is the best indeed and it gives you the option to use full sized headphones. The Picollo is really good for IEMs though. You can’t go wrong with either. Do note that the Duets hass a slight hum with sensitive iems, where the picollo has none whatsoever

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    What is the difference with the new national plus?

  • Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    What is the difference with the new national plus?