The Sequel: ALO Audio The National

alo_national_06
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.

End Words

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.

 

alo_national_06 alo_national_05 alo_national_04 alo_national_03 alo_national_02 alo_national_01

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

191 Comments

  • Reply April 12, 2012

    Swbf2cheater

    Thanks for the review, Mike.  

    • Reply April 12, 2012

      Mike

      Hope you find it useful. 🙂 

      • Reply April 20, 2012

        hamid inomhodjayev

        How the NAtional compares to Triad Lisa? Is the difference big enough, when i use custom in ears? thanks!

        • Reply April 20, 2012

          Mike

          Hamid,
          With customs in ears, perhaps not so much.

  • Mike, have you compared with Hifiman 601? which one has bigger soundstage and better mid sounds?

    • Reply April 12, 2012

      Mike

      That’s a bit hard to compare as I can’t isolate the amp section of the 601. 

  • Reply April 12, 2012

    Stas Ka

    Hi
    How does it compare to TTVJ slim?

    • Reply April 12, 2012

      Mike

      Sorry I didn’t have the Slim for a comparison, but I think the National is a darker amp with fuller lows than the TTVJ.

  • Reply April 12, 2012

    Jeff Kong

    Yay! another review!! Thanks!
    hmm……this read as a win for the c421 to me…
    however, which would you recommend to people more (ignoring their cost)? the C421 or the national?

    • Reply April 13, 2012

      Mike

      I really can’t say.. I enjoy the C421’s mids more, but I like the National’s bass more and both aspects are very important for me. Of course if you make a table of pros-and-cons and you factor in the price the C421 would come out as the winner as it’s slimmer, cheaper, USB charging, bass boost, but for me it doesn’t work that way. 🙂

  • Reply April 12, 2012

    Ijul Naera

    Nice review Mike 😀

    Btw, RSA SR-71A, remember? How it perform against National? 😀

    • Reply April 13, 2012

      Mike

      Good question.
      SR-71A, I didn’t have it around but I think the bass slams harder, the soundstage bigger and micro details better. My only complain with it (as always) is the lack of recharging circuit.

  • Reply April 13, 2012

    Zac Caslin

    Is it available now to buy?

  • Reply April 13, 2012

    Ricky Chan

    National or C421, which one is better in music detail, micro-dynamic and depth (3D)?

    • Reply April 13, 2012

      Mike

      Hi Ricky,
      I think roughly comparable except the C421 having a better depth.

      • Reply April 13, 2012

        Spencer Chan

        So, for vocals (Adele, Michelle Branch, Maroon 5, ect) which do you think would be better the National or the C421?  (this is mostly with a pair of M50s)?

  • Reply April 13, 2012

    haro peralta

    Still cant decide among the 3.. Continental V2, TTVJ Slim or The National

    My gripe about the Continental is its battery life and the price. The other 2 are cheaper so they make good options plus longer battery life.

    Would you recommend the Continental for daily portable use?

    Awesome review by the way 🙂

    • Reply April 13, 2012

      Mike

      I would go for the National for everyday daily use. Double battery life, good all rounder sound.

  • Reply April 13, 2012

    Mike

    You mean:

    Laptop > ALO National
    vs
    Laptop > Alpen

    I can only say that the Alpen will give you a better DAC quality but the National set up a better amp quality. And since DACs and Amps are apples to oranges, it’s really hard to give a score on the overall combination.

  • Reply April 14, 2012

    P. J.

    Nice review, that wasn’t tiring to read, Mike. Its a shame that its possibly too weak for HE-500 because the only reason I am considering this amp is for before-mentioned headphones.
    How long does the amp need to fully recharge?

    • Reply April 14, 2012

      Mike

      Hi P.J, glad you find the review helpful.

      You know things like battery life tests and recharging times, I’m really bad at keeping track of those. 🙁

      • Reply April 15, 2012

        P. J.

        No problem Mike, I would use this with the new iPad that takes a while to recharge anyway.

  • Reply April 14, 2012

    P. J.

    Nice review, that wasn’t tiring to read, Mike. Its a shame that its possibly too weak for HE-500 because the only reason I am considering this amp is for before-mentioned headphones.
    How long does the amp need to fully recharge?

  • Reply April 15, 2012

    Brian Fu

    It’s only a matter of time until we get a TOTL International I guess. Any ETA on that? :p 

    • Reply April 16, 2012

      Mike

      That’s a good one. 🙂

  • Reply April 15, 2012

    Austin Morrow

    As always, very good review, Mike. I have the same basic impressions as you but think that the treble can actually sparkle quite nicely when the track calls for it.

  • Reply April 19, 2012

    Jeffrey Miller

    Do you think the National is less dark than the RS -71B, which I find to be too dark for my taste.

  • Reply April 19, 2012

    Fredo

    Hey I’ve got an ALO Rx 1st gen and I’m itching to upgrade. Does the National offer enough of an improvement over the Rx to warrant a purchase?

  • Reply April 29, 2012

    jonathan meader

    Out of the c421 or the national , which of the two is best suited to running the hd 600/650 ?
    Great site btw )

    • Reply April 30, 2012

      Mike

      Jonathan,
      I wrote briefly comparing the two amps on the article. With the Senns, the same argument applies. I’d like to have the National’s bass impact (not necessarily more bass quantity, just more impact and punch), but I also like the C421’s midrange and spacious sound.

  • Reply May 6, 2012

    FriedCalamari

    From what I’m getting from this review, the National would pair better with the HD598 than the C421 amp? 

    • Reply May 7, 2012

      Mike

      Ummm plus and minuses on both amps, like what I mentioned on the review.

  • Reply May 6, 2012

    BANANA

    I tried the Continental, wasnt so impressed, tried the Fostex hp_p1 today, loved it but they only had a demo – no stock

    Waiting to try The National, hopefully Japan will have stock next week (ALO said its on its way).

    So Fostex hp_p1 or The National? 
    I would be using custom copper cables for each usb/lod, mini/lod.

    ATH-ESW9, ATH-CK10, Sennheiser MX760 buds, Triple fi 10s.

    I posted last year too, but went budget and regretted it with the flavor of the month fiio E11. Gave it away in the end.

    • Reply May 8, 2012

      Mike

      BANANA,
      You’ve had time to audition the Fostex and liked it, then I would just go with that. The weak point on the Fostex is the amp, but with the phones that you’re using that shouldn’t be a problem.

      • Reply May 9, 2012

        BANANA

        Ordering a custom piccolino USB in preparation for my purchase of the fostex hp_p1, or i will just hold onto it in preparation for fostex hp mark2 😉

        • Reply May 9, 2012

          Mike

          Ouch piccolinos are never cheap. How much is that custom piccolino?

          • Reply May 10, 2012

            BANANA

            Hmm, quite pricey – but around the standard ALO usb/lod price. The main factor is this one is a low rider usb, getting it custom made.

            • Reply May 10, 2012

              BANANA

              I should really move over to the fostex hp_p1 review thread as I moving away from The National atm (Though I am also having custom copper and silver ipod to mini LODs getting made in case I go that way). LOL.

              • Reply May 11, 2012

                BANANA

                I did move to hp_p1 section but my posts keep getting deleted……

                • Reply May 11, 2012

                  Mike

                  Nobody is deleting your post. At least not us.

                  • Reply May 11, 2012

                    L.

                    I checked and they’re not stuck in Discus either

                  • Reply May 11, 2012

                    BANANA

                    Hmm strange. Thanks for the prompt replies.

            • Reply May 10, 2012

              Mike

              I see.

      • Reply May 15, 2012

        BANANA

        Yes, I just bought it tonight, thanks for the review and advice. It sounds great.

  • Reply May 6, 2012

    BANANA

    …Or should I wait for the hp_p2? 🙂

    National Vs Fostex hp_p1 Battle!

    • Reply May 9, 2012

      Mike

      Is there a HP-P2 coming already?

      • Reply May 10, 2012

        BANANA

        I don`t know, its been a year, So I waiting for the Tokyo headphone show this weekend to see If theres any announcement(of a 2nd gen), If not I`ll jump on the hp_p1.

        • Reply May 10, 2012

          Mike

          Yes that’s possible.

  • Reply May 20, 2012

    Victor Yu

    Hi Mike, do you think the National, in any aspect, better than the RSA-71A?

    • Reply May 22, 2012

      Mike

      Maybe in terms of price and rechargeable battery. 🙂

      I love the SR71A. 🙂

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Stephen Loke

    Hey Mike,

    Will the National be better for the HD25-1 II or will the C421 be better?

    Listen to mostly: Pop, Rock & Alternative

    Thanks.

  • Reply July 6, 2012

    Stephen Loke

    Hi Mike,

    What do you think about the National pairing with the Westone UM3x?

    • Reply July 9, 2012

      Mike

      I think it would be fun, warm, full sounding.

      • Reply July 10, 2012

        Stephen Loke

        Hi Mike,

        Will it suit Pop, Rock & Alternative?

        • Reply July 10, 2012

          Mike

          Yes

          • Reply July 10, 2012

            Stephen Loke

            Hi Mike,

            Which IEM will the National work best with?

            Thanks.

            • Reply July 10, 2012

              Mike

              I don’t think you can ask it that way.. there are like 10,000 different IEMs out there.

              This IEM-amp pairing thing, is not like trying to find your perfect soulmate.

              Some people may like National + IEM A, some may like it with IEM B, and so on.

              • Reply July 11, 2012

                Stephen Loke

                How about Westone 4+National vs the UM3x+National? Which one would be a more preferable combination for Pop, Rock & Alternative in your opinion?

                • Reply July 11, 2012

                  Mike

                  I still prefer the UM3X to the W4. Found the W4 lacking impact.

            • Reply July 10, 2012

              Mike

              You can’t ask the question that way..

              This IEM-amp pairing thing, it’s not like finding the one true perfect soulmate.

  • Reply July 9, 2012

    Brian Werner

    Mike, thank you for this review. I’m a relative newbie in this arena having purchased Ultrasone Pro 900’s a few months back. I was underwhelmed by the output from my ipod… I Google searched “headphone amp” after seeing the fisher price Boostaroo at Radio Shack and a whole world opened up to me. I just made an investment in some Hifiman HE-400’s and spent the last week getting more and more confused researching amps on the forums for the He-400s and the Pro-900’s… I was leaning towards a bigger iBasso option but this review has tipped the scales… Do you have any recommendations for quality cables that come at a more reasonable price point than Alo’s?

    Thank you again for all the strong content and information. This is definitely a useful site to help cut through the sea of offerings these days. I’ll be sure to make my way to Alo’s checkout desk for my National through the sponsor link on your website… so the sale tracksback to you.

    Respect,
    BW

    • Reply July 9, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks Brian,
      Glad you find the website useful! Regarding the cables, aftermarket cables can be pricey and most of them are priced at around the same price range.

      • Reply July 10, 2012

        Brian Werner

        Yeah I suppose they have a few options under $100. Plus I like the idea of throwing support behind a U.S. entrepreneur. National plus cryo dock for me. Thanks for the clarity.

        • Reply July 10, 2012

          Mike

          You’re welcome, Brian.

      • Reply July 10, 2012

        Brian Werner

        Mike one last question. I don’t mean to bother you but I want to make the right choice. I am hand wringing here. As I said I have Ultrasone Pro-900’s and HifiMan HE-400’s on the way. If you could just pick one or the other would you go with the Continental or the National? If it helps I listen to alot of Muse, Strokes, Gorillaz, some punk rock and some oldies Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly. I thought I was sold on the National based on it’s bass impact for stuff like Muse, and the electrical textures of Strokes stuff but a tube amp like the Continental almost seems too good to pass up for all the rock and punk stuff that has hard percussion but focuses largely in the mid range. Plus I honestly think the novelty of the Continental is something to consider.

        • Reply July 10, 2012

          Mike

          With the headphones that you have, I don’t think you’d have a problem with bass. Plus it’s not like the Continental is weak or thin on bass. It has a good punch, just not as full below. But again, the Pro900 and the HE-400 are both strong with bass, dont’ think you’ll have a problem with bass.

          • Reply July 10, 2012

            Brian Werner

            thanks all things considered the continental strikes me as something special… and i always favor something that gives a more live sound.. i have limited portable experience but know enough from setting home speaker systems that tubes are worth the investment in ambience… thanks i will probably have another conundrum tomorrow. i need to just pull the damn trigger.

            • Reply July 10, 2012

              Mike

              Yes, pull the trigger. 😉

              • Reply July 11, 2012

                Brian Werner

                Just pulled the trigger on Continental V2…. Funny (sorta) how I started this mission looking for a good quality sub $200.00 amp…. considering Fiio and smaller iBasso models.. then it was larger iBasso’s and JDS Labs, then it was the national possibly an RSA…. $500+ later I have the Continental… Can’t wait to hear this thing.

                • Reply July 11, 2012

                  Trent_D

                  Same here. I was originally going to get a Fiio e6 and maybe the Sennheiser hd280. My wife scoffed at the thought of an 80 dollar headphone. Now, I have the AKG K550, getting an ODAC (fingers crossed on that one) and I am saving up for the RSA SR-71A. This is a dangerous hobby. And a dangerous website.

                  • Reply July 11, 2012

                    L.

                    We’re not really dangerous you know 😉

                    • July 11, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Sure…

                  • Reply July 11, 2012

                    Brian Werner

                    Amen…. It really is a fascinating subculture for the audiophiles. When I am spending the weekend at an electronics store sifting through their opamp inventory for burr brown Opa627’s… something has got ahold of me… But I love music and really can’t wait to plug into this thing. I’m never going to want my morning commute to end.

                  • Reply July 13, 2012

                    Brian Werner

                    Trent, when you get some time with your ODAC can you let me know how you like it? I am going to need to let my wallet cool down a bit after this little audio binge but I am still in the market for a DAC and the more I read about the ODAC the more I like it.

                    • July 15, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Will do, I wont be getting it till late July or early August do to it being back-ordered, but I will most definitely post my impressions once I get it. My setup will be modest. ODAC, cMoy and K550 and the only DACs I will have to compare it with will be my computer’s sound card and the headstage DAC cable. JDSlabs also has my cMoy as I sent it back to them to have the gain lowered so it is easier to use with the K550. JDS labs is a really easy company to do business with.

                    • July 15, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      I am working my way out of humble beginnings myself. i have a top shelf portable amp and no line out dock to utilize it with…. i am running off my native sound card too so the sonic difference you see is what i am interested in. i had a back and forth with john last week about his leadtime on more odacs and he was pretty cool about answering my questions.

                • Reply July 11, 2012

                  Mike

                  I didn’t even realize you were looking at sub $200 amps..

                  But the general rule of thumb in this hobby is, as much as we hate to say it, amplifiers that cost more than the headphone usually makes very sweet music.

                  • Reply July 12, 2012

                    Brian Werner

                    I was considering FiiO and JDS Labs amps early on, and it just kept going up. I cut pretty deep into my cables and DAC budget with the Continental but l think I got everything I wanted in the V2. I like a bigger form factor, love tube amps, and really looking at my library it favors midrange. Maybe next year at bonus time I’ll chase the balanced system with my HifiMans or the latest CLAS model. But I think using your guys input I got the absolute best bang for my buck with the V2. Any suggestions on a decent DAC pairing for the V2 in the $150 +/- range?

                    • July 12, 2012

                      Mike

                      Brian,
                      You’re talking about a USB DAC? Or a portable DAC for the Ipod?

                    • July 13, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      I think I got it figured out.
                      I was thinking the Continental could pull double duty as amplifier for my Laptop as well as my iPod. I wanted the DAC for my laptop…. So my question is…. Should I get a dedicated USB DAC (without any signal amplification) like a JDS Labs Standalone ODAC or should I get an Audinst HUD MX1 and stack it with the Continental?

                    • July 13, 2012

                      Mike

                      Brian,
                      Get a dedicated USB DAC. Check out the source recommendations if you’re not sure what to get.

                      http://www.headfonia.com/source-recommendations/

                    • July 14, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      Okay…. or a DAC/ Amp with line level out…. Before I go crazy I’m gonna cut my teeth on the FiiO E10… It has a line level out that I can the Continental to… that way if I love the improvement I get from a $60 source…. I can work up to a $200.00 one…… I just really hate how this laptop sounds…. Frickin HP and their Beats sponsorship.

                    • July 14, 2012

                      Mike

                      Yes that’s a good call. Go with the E10 and see how you like it.

                      If you do enjoy the improvements, you can always spend more money later on an even better DAC and end up spending more money at the end.
                      Just kidding, Brian. 😉

                      Enjoy the E10.

                    • July 14, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      Yeah I hear you…. I’ll be selling off my home audio stuff like a crackhead….”But babe I Neeeed these Audeze cans

                    • July 18, 2012

                      Mike

                      Home Audio ? Who needs home audio when you have headphones?

                      😉

                    • July 20, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      Seriously…. the only thing my home system does is provide my kids with some killer sound for their cartoons…

                    • July 21, 2012

                      Mike

                      😉

                    • July 14, 2012

                      Brian Werner

                      BTW, My Continental showed up in the mail this morning…. I have to wait for my FiiO LOD to come before I can plug it into my iPod…. If I like these FiiO products I may not need to go and buy some fancy exposed copper LOD like the ALO or Qables ones….. although I do like the look.

                    • July 14, 2012

                      Mike

                      Nice, let me know how you like it.

                  • Reply April 30, 2013

                    George Lai

                    Oh no. No no no. All my amps cost less than my headphones!!!

                    • April 30, 2013

                      Mike

                      Yea, well I think it’s related to economics. Amp manufacturers are mostly small boutique manufacturing with limited market, headphones mass produced.

  • Reply July 9, 2012

    Jack Knight

    hi mike, which one is better in SQ? graham slee solo or national?

    • Reply July 9, 2012

      Mike

      Jack,
      The Graham Slee Solo? Of course the Solo is. Aside from sound signature preferences, the Solo is technically much better.

      • Reply July 9, 2012

        Jack Knight

        im sorry mike, i mean novo, the one that have same price range with national:)

        • Reply July 9, 2012

          Mike

          I see… but the Novo is a desktop, right? OR are you talking about the Voyager, which is the portable ?
          To clarify: http://www.headfonia.com/graham-slee-desktop-amps-novo-solo-srg-ii-solo-ultra-linear/ http://www.headfonia.com/graham-slee-voyager/

          • Reply July 9, 2012

            Jack Knight

            yeah i just wanna know your opinion, novo vs national, just in sq side,not power or portability, which one is better…:)

            • Reply July 9, 2012

              Mike

              Jack,
              The difference is less now, but the Novo is still slightly smoother and more refined. But that’s outside of their sound signature difference.
              Talking sound signature, the Novo is more slow-paced, midrange oriented, warmer. The National darker, fuller bass, better PRaT and impact.

              • Reply July 9, 2012

                Jack Knight

                thanks mike, can i ask one more thing? do you think if we compare desktop amp vs portable amp in the same price range and same sound signature, the dekstop amp is better choice if we dont need portability/size? sorry for my bad english

                • Reply July 9, 2012

                  Mike

                  Yes that can be a good idea for a comparison.

                  Thanks, Jack.

                  • Reply July 9, 2012

                    Trent_D

                    By that thought, taking portability out of the equation, would you consider the asgard a better amp then the national? Sorry for the double post.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      It think they are comparable.

                      Technically the Asgard have a slight edge, but I like the fuller lows and darker sound of the National.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      So, at this point, if I want the technicalities to increase, the price starts to rise. The National will provide greater clarity and detail then a cMoy, correct?

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      The National’s sound signature doesn’t really boast clarity though. It’s a more Senn HD650-like sound if you know what I mean.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Well, I want to have it all, and I don’t think that is going to happen. I am going to have to give on something, and I think that is going to have to be rechargeable batteries. The SR-71A, besides being my favorite airplane when I was a kid, seems to have everything I am looking for. Deep, impactful bass, clarity, soundstage. rechargeable 9volts, here I come.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      Rechargeable 9Volts it is!

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Obviously, the sr71 has a bottom up frequency curve, but it doesn’t bury the mids or treble?

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      No it doesnt

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Trent_D

                      Mike’s double post effectively negates my double post from yesterday, so all is right with the world. At least they will be when I get my K550 back from AKG.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      No it doesnt.

                    • July 10, 2012

                      Mike

                      If you want clarity and detail, go with the C421.

                      I’m not saying that the National is a muddy amp, but some amplifier’s signatures are toward a certain type of sound. It’s like comparing a Leben to a Woo. Both fine high end amps, but one sound doesn’t push the clarity aspect forward, the other does.

                  • Reply July 9, 2012

                    Trent_D

                    by that though, taking portability out of the equation, would you consider the asgard a better amp then the national?

  • Reply July 10, 2012

    Victor Yu

    Mike, after reading this Q&As from Jack, I want to ask if using a desktop setup, connecting Macbook Pro to Music Streamer II+, how would you compare the performance Asgard VS RSA-71A then, would RSA-71A be better to Asgard even tough it is a portable? Some audio shop salesman keep telling me that with the same price, desktop amp should always be better, even better than a higher price portable, what do you think?

    • Reply July 10, 2012

      Mike

      I don’t want to debate the shop salesman, but the 71A is the better amp.

  • Reply August 1, 2012

    Brian Werner

    Hey Mike and Lieven, I am loving the Continental…. It definitely takes my iPod listening to another level… I wanted to know if you guys had any exposure to Fischer Audio headphones… people seem to speak very highly of the FA-11 and FA-4 but I have no way…. and I mean NO way to audtion Fischer headphones… Hell I can barely find a vendor for them. Another things is that although the Continental works well with the iPod, it doesn’t make a great desktop amp…. I would like to get a true desktop unit with AC power, that may have a smaller transportable form factor…. I was looking at the Lake People G103S, JDS Labs O2/ODAC combo and the Channel Islands Audio VHP2…. you got any recommendations?

  • Reply August 1, 2012

    Trent_D

    How does the pace of the SR-71A compare to the National? Does it make as good an all a rounder ( just focusing on sound and forgetting the issues with size and rechargeable batteries)?

    • Reply August 1, 2012

      Mike

      I think the pace is just as good. It’s also a good all rounder amp. The 71A from my memory sounds more transparent than the National.

      • Reply August 1, 2012

        Trent_D

        So, dated conveniences aside, the SR-71A is a better amp in very way.

        • Reply August 2, 2012

          Mike

          Yes. I keep on hoping that Ray would re-release the 71A with rechargeable batteries. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Most rechargeable portable amps run on 5V batteries while the 71A on 18V (2x9V).

  • Reply August 9, 2012

    Scott Mcmillan

    Mike,
    I currently have the JDS Labs cMoy amp and have been looking to upgrade. My question is should I upgrade to the National first and purchase a Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo later or get the Solo first and upgrade amps later? I am not worried about the cost difference but currently I can only afford to buy one or the other and want to make the most logical choice.

    • Reply August 10, 2012

      Mike

      Scott,
      The theory has always been garbage in = garbage out, so if you improve the source (in this case, go with the CLAS), you would hear the improvement on the rest of the chain.

    • Reply August 10, 2012

      Nick Tam

      Or you can get a Fostex HP considering you’re trying to get audio out from an iDevice which is a DAC amp combo and is better than the CLAS on the DAC section

  • Reply August 10, 2012

    MSquared

    So how would you compare The National to the TTVJ slim?

  • Reply August 23, 2012

    baysic

    Have you tried pairing the national with JH16?
    want to know if they have any impedance output issue with ultra low impedance IEM or not.

    • Reply August 23, 2012

      Mike

      Not the JH16 but other customs including the JH5, Aurisonics and FitEar. No problems.

  • Reply August 25, 2012

    Bookaboo

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

    • Reply August 27, 2012

      Mike

      National all the way! 😀

      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

  • Reply October 3, 2012

    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

    • Reply October 4, 2012

      Mike

      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.

  • Reply October 5, 2012

    Isaiah Mackler

    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.

    • Reply October 5, 2012

      Mike

      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.

      • Reply October 5, 2012

        Isaiah Mackler

        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!)

        • Reply October 6, 2012

          Mike

          “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?

          • Reply October 6, 2012

            Isaiah Mackler

            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…)

            • Reply October 6, 2012

              Nick Tam

              Why not consider the continental or govibe?

            • Reply October 6, 2012

              Mike

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

  • Reply October 20, 2012

    D.r. Hilerio

    How does The National compare to the Triad Audio L3?

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Mike

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

      • Reply October 23, 2012

        D.r. Hilerio

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

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Mike

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

  • Reply October 30, 2012

    Isaiah Mackler

    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…

  • Reply November 19, 2012

    Eli Segal

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

    • Reply December 11, 2012

      Eli Segal

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

  • Reply December 23, 2012

    fsgb80v7cbwe

    Great website…

    please visit the sites we follow, including this one, as it represents our picks from the web…

  • Reply December 23, 2012

    lida

    Check this out…

    The information mentioned in the article are some of the best available…

  • Reply January 20, 2013

    waxdoctor

    Hey! Is the National a class A amp?

    • Reply January 21, 2013

      Mike

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

      • Reply January 21, 2013

        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 🙂

  • Reply January 25, 2013

    Kwa Zhi Ying

    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.

  • Reply February 21, 2013

    Jethro Lubas

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

    • Reply February 21, 2013

      Mike

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

      • Reply February 21, 2013

        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?

        • Reply February 23, 2013

          Mike

          Definitely the PanAm

          • Reply February 24, 2013

            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?

            • Reply February 25, 2013

              Mike

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

  • Reply July 25, 2013

    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. 🙂

    • Reply July 25, 2013

      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?

      • Reply July 25, 2013

        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. 🙂

        • Reply July 25, 2013

          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?

          • Reply July 26, 2013

            Prasetya Nugraha

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

            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?

            • Reply July 26, 2013

              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.

              • Reply July 26, 2013

                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:
                http://www.head-fi.org/t/635800/impression-apple-nano-7g-lightning-to-30pin-adapter

                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.

                • Reply July 26, 2013

                  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.

                  • Reply July 26, 2013

                    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. 🙂

                    Oh, boy, this hobby is really putting a big hole in my wallet. 😀

                    • July 26, 2013

                      Trent_D

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

                    • July 26, 2013

                      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. 🙂

                    • July 27, 2013

                      Mike

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

                    • July 30, 2013

                      Long Tran

                      I have the same setup in my office 🙂 Dacport LX + The National + HD650 with ALO cable .. It’s a good setup, I’m sure 😀 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 😀

                • Reply July 26, 2013

                  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.

                  • Reply July 26, 2013

                    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.

                    • July 26, 2013

                      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.

                    • July 26, 2013

                      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.

                    • July 26, 2013

                      dalethorn

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

                    • July 26, 2013

                      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.

                    • July 26, 2013

                      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? 🙂

  • Reply December 8, 2013

    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!

    • Reply December 9, 2013

      Mike

      ALO Continental

      • Reply December 9, 2013

        Alex

        Ooh, I see. 529$ impressive price… that’s mean step up for me cost $$$ 🙁 a lot of $$$ 🙂

        • Reply December 10, 2013

          Mike

          Yeah unfortunately.

  • Reply August 8, 2014

    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

    • Reply August 8, 2014

      L.

      This and the Cypherlabs Duet. awesomeness!

      • Reply August 8, 2014

        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

        • Reply August 8, 2014

          L.

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

          • Reply August 8, 2014

            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

            • Reply August 8, 2014

              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).

  • Reply January 24, 2015

    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.

    • Reply January 24, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      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

  • Reply March 8, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    What is the difference with the new national plus?

  • Reply July 7, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    What is the difference with the new national plus?

Leave a Reply