Day to Day Usage
The National itself is a pretty straightforward amp in a traditional Ipod-footprint enclosure. The only function you’ll get aside from the audio amplifier is the gain switch. Following the recent blog post I make, I keep the National mostly at low gain. It handles all of the dynamics headphone I tried it with just fine at low gain. From my Shure SE215 IEM, The Fidelio L1 Philips, the Superlux HD661, the new open back Shure SRH1440 and SRH1840, the Alessandro MS-Pro, the Hifiman HE-300, and Sennheiser’s HD580.
I tried driving the Hifiman HE-500 with the National and got to a pretty loud volume but it felt like the amp was slightly running out of breath. Pairing the National with the HE-400 was simply awesome and one of the best amp I’ve heard the HE-400 out of. I didn’t have a chance to try it with the LCD-2, but looking at the HE-400 – National pairing, I think the LCD-2 should not be a problem.
For day to day usage I sort of miss the slimmer form factor of the ALO Rx or the JDSLabs C421, and even more the USB recharging feature of the JDSLabs C421 (the National charges through a 12V adapter, supplied from ALO). But the bottom line as with any amplifier is in the sound, and I enjoy the National tremendously.
When I reviewed the Apex Peak and the Arete, I wrote that the hybrid tube Peak has a cleaner sound and is more impressive to listen to, but the Arete has a more balanced sound signature and would cover a wider variety of recordings for day to day listening. The case with the Continental and the National exactly mimics the Peak-Arete. As I’ve mentioned earlier the Continental still sounds cleaner, clearer, and more spacious. With the right recording, the Continental holds the bigger wow factor. However, on day to day listening, I think the weightier bass body of the National makes the biggest difference in my impression. The slightly darker tone, the full midrange and the good soundstage performance makes the National one of the best all rounder amps I’ve reviewed.
The National doesn’t come with a lot of flashy features. It’s fairly understated and the only “feature” you get aside from the audio amplifier is a gain level switch. It’s doesn’t have the flair of a flagship product, nor does it have a hype-grabbing technology behind it. It’s just a simple solid state amp done right, priced at what I believe to be a good mid-level price amp. But like all things done right, I love using the National day in and day out. The slightly smaller enclosure size may not look like a big deal in the pictures, but it’s quite significant when you handle it personally. It’s not a star in technicalities, but the midrange and the bass I’m hearing out of it makes music very enjoyable and that’s the number one reason I’m enjoying every bit of the National.