Long Live Portable Tube: ALO Continental V3

Disclaimer: ALO Audio is a site sponsor, and the Headfonia Store is the Indonesian distributor for ALO Audio products.ย 

 

I was supposed to do this review in January, but the local FedEx and customs decided they wanted to play around with ALO’s latest portable tube amp for a few months, and so here we are in May and I am 5 months behind. Is this review even relevant anymore, being so late? I don’t know how many other ALO Continental V3 reviews have been published in the meantime, but I decided I’d still go ahead with mine, even if it’s to be brief.

The way I understand it is that between V1 and V2, ALO only added little things like a gain level switch, but overall there is no major changes in terms of sound. The V3 however addresses the one thing about the Continental, one of those “it’s a very nice product overall but I wish..”. That “I wish” stems from the fact that when we listened to the PanAm, we very much liked the fact that it sounded a lot like the Continental, but with a fuller bass body and overall bigger sound. I sort of understand the bigger sound as the PanAm is meant to be a higher up model, but I wished that the Continental would come with a similar bass body. After all, that clear full midrange would sound extremely nice with a full bass body.

So here we are, and like the cliche “be careful what you wish for” phrase, the Continental V3 now comes with more bass body! I don’t know if ALO actually reads what I write on my previous reviews or if they’re just thinking the same thing I’m thinking cause I never said anything to them directly (or did I?). As I went to do a direct comparison with the Continental V2, I also picked up something else as a bonus: The V3’s soundstage is noticeably larger! WHOA! And lastly, the midrange is less upfront, and the overall tonality is slightly darker. I love dark tonality and so that last bit is very welcome to me, but I know that some people have told me they’re missing the V2’s midrange on the V3 and by that they probably mean they want a more pronounced midrange. Cause everything else about the midrange is pretty much equal, the V3 is just as clean, just as smooth, just as clear, only less pronounced.

Compared to the PanAm, I also find the Continental V3 now possessing an even fuller bass body. Likewise the tonality is also darker on the V3. Obviously one thing I can’t match with the Continental is the PanAm’s overall bigger soundstage and dynamics, even with relatively easy to drive dynamic-drivers like the Beyerdynamic T5p (32ฮฉ). Not that I’m expecting the Continental to kick its big brother’s ass, but I’m just giving a frame of reference here.

All the changes I’m hearing on the Continental is right on from my ears’ frame of reference. Fuller bass that doesn’t translate to a boom-boom bass, bigger soundstage and a less agressive midrange. I think the part about the midrange may be a minus to some, just like some people prefer the newer, brighter version of the LCD2 to the first gen LCD2 that IMO is the best LCD2 version. Other than that, the Continental needs no further words, no other portable amp in the market at the moment can even come close to matching the Continental’s superb black background, clean clear spacious full sound with the signature midrange bloom you can only get from tubes.

Next time I’ll try to pitch the Continental in a formal comparison between the SR-71A, Portaphile’s 627X, and perhaps a Triad Audio L3. Gotta go pick up tougher opponents for the Conti.

 

alo_continental_v3_04 alo_continental_v3_03 alo_continental_v3_02 alo_continental_v3_01

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63 Comments

  • Reply May 11, 2013

    George Lai

    Sweet and short review. 5 months wait is worth it since ALO haven’t run out of tubes and the Continental v3 is still available. Just joking.

    • Reply May 11, 2013

      Mike

      There is the govibe Porta tube which for some reason even the local Jaben doesn’t sell.

      And in China you can probably find plenty of other portable tubes.

    • Reply May 11, 2013

      Mike

      A Japanese DIYer builds a few different models of vacuum tube cmoys, and they sound pretty good though technicalities a not as spacious and clean as the Continental.

      I’ll post some photos of them on headfonia Facebook next week.

  • Reply May 11, 2013

    Martin

    I can’t wait the comparision with lisa III, RS and Porthaphile because I was thinking about all of them. Finally I’ ve bought the Continental v3 few days ago to my RWA imod and shure 1840 but I’m still curious about which of these four is the best.

    • Reply May 11, 2013

      Mike

      Yes, the comparison should be happening soon. I have all 4 at the store waiting to be compared.

      • Reply May 12, 2013

        Eli Segal

        It would be great if you throw in the International as well

        • Reply May 12, 2013

          Mike

          The tonality is quite close, both relatively dark and laid back. Both very smooth. The International has less midrange bloom but tighter bass. Typical solid state versus tube comparison.

  • Reply May 11, 2013

    Eli Segal

    If only it wasn’t so damn heavy ๐Ÿ™

  • Reply May 12, 2013

    Alok Juyal

    Nice short review Mike! Have been using the V3 for a couple of months and love it just like I did the V2.

    • Reply May 12, 2013

      Mike

      Thanks, Alok. How do you find the darker midrange?

      • Reply May 14, 2013

        Alok Juyal

        Mike, i do like the mids on the V3 much like the V2. However haven’t been able to compare the 2 since I switched to the TSx100 tips on my se535s and while the sound is great, think I should gone with L instead of M as the bass has dropped off a bit ๐Ÿ˜‰ Also while the V3 pairs rather well with my He300 cans, it doesnt quite sound as good with the Momentums. I blame the M’s for that ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply May 13, 2013

    Victor Halgaard

    Just curious: how does it manage with CIEMs? And powerwise, how is it? I currently own the Rx Mk3b which I very much enjoy, and I’m from my experience mostly a solid state guy (I’m the kind of loonie who doesn’t find HD800 etc. in need of mods or warm tubes to ‘tame’ it) but the Continental got me curious because I do love a big soundstage for example ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply May 14, 2013

      Mike

      I need to check it again with custom IEMs. I don’t think it has a problem, but if you want a solid state with big soundstage, read the Portaphile 627 review

      • Reply May 17, 2013

        Victor Halgaard

        Alright, thank you. I assume it doesn’t challenge the Mk3 on power? I’m always looking for the portable amp most capable of handling the HE-6 ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Reply May 17, 2013

          Mike

          Nah it doesn’t have that much power, only sufficient for the LCD2.

          Get the portaphile if you need power.

    • Reply May 14, 2013

      Martin

      I have got the Continental v3 but I’ ve not tried it with custom IEM’s;
      I’ve red on head.fi.org that it’s not perfect with IEM’s and it’s better
      way to buy Pioco Slim which is one of the best portable amp for IEM’s
      but as I said there are only rumors and I haven’t checked it myself. As
      Mike said the Portaphile 627/627x has got very big soundstage, bigger
      than the Continental V2 and maybe a little bigger than V3 but in my
      opinion even it is, the Continental V3 has got a marvelous black
      background and etc. ๐Ÿ™‚

      cheers

  • Reply May 18, 2013

    Salvatore Buscemi

    I have both the V2 and V3. I love the V3, haven’t hit 100 hours yet but I got a lot of use on it with my JH16 IEMs flying cross country recently, which I do a lot.

    (DAC is old Cypher Labs, with iPod Classic.)

    • Reply May 18, 2013

      Mike

      Thank you for sharing, Salvatore

  • Reply May 21, 2013

    Will

    Hi Mike, I wonder what opinion do you have for alo continental v3 for driving a th900? also how much difference does it make when the th900 driven by Bakoon amplifier? There is huge price difference, but th900 is a low impedance phone and should not require much amplification, right? Thanks!

    • Reply May 21, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      Well, it would require much amplification to make noise. The amp will play are large part in the quality of the noise that comes out.

    • Reply May 21, 2013

      Mike

      Will,
      HUGE difference!

      • Reply May 22, 2013

        Will

        Thanks. But will the Bakoon make th900 sounds better than a Stax 009 with a 727 amp? Cost is roughly the same.

        • Reply May 22, 2013

          Mike

          You know it doesn’t work like that, will. You put together two $1000 set up, will one sound better than the other? That’s a naive question.

          Personally I am never a big fan of Electrostats. And last time I sold an SR009 the headphone alone costs $5000.

  • Reply June 6, 2013

    Martin

    Mike, where is your comparision? Have you tried Continental V3 with audeze lcd2(rev.2) ? What do you think about it, is the Continental v3 enought powerful to drive lcd-2 in your opinion?

    Thank you very much for your website and reviews.

  • Reply June 11, 2013

    Andre

    Hey Mike, so now that the V3 has a fuller bass sound would you recommend it over the Pan AM? And does the V3 have enough power to push any can out there including the HE-6?

    Thanks,

    Andre

    • Reply June 11, 2013

      Mike

      The HE-6, way no. Need the portaphile 627 for that.

      V3, I like the tonality better than the PanAm simply because my ears like dark, but as I’ve written on the review the PanAm has superior dynamics etc.

      • Reply June 11, 2013

        Andre

        Wow the 627 is “that” powerful?? I knew it was good but didn’t expect it to have that much kick to it. I like darker sounding amps myself and don’t want to sacrifice bass. Its far to important to me. Will the V3 have any issues powering my LCD 2.2’s? and is there a amp out there that has a strong low end like the V3 but with enough power to move difficult Orthos?

        Thanks Mike,

        Andre

        • Reply June 11, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          Mike did say he adored the LCD-2 with the International. That won’t do any orthos beyond that, however.

        • Reply June 11, 2013

          Mike

          Yes the 627 is extremely powerful. Please read the review I wrote quite a bit about the power.

          Please also read the V3 review.

        • Reply October 17, 2014

          s. zorin

          V3 and LCD 2.2 is not a good combination. LCD 2.2 are dark headphones and V3 would push them to be intolerably dark.

  • Reply June 12, 2013

    Martin

    I see that V3 is not as good as I thought. I have been using V3 more than month with RWA Imod as a source and Shure 1840 with DIY cable and Grado 325is and many other phones. For me V3 is no question TOO DARK and I don’t like the new bass body. I like dark sound but this is to much for me. I think that v2 was very good amp but boys from ALO screw V3 up puting inside the new tube. V3 needs also about 150h to settle while v2 didn’t need it. My advice is – get the portaphile 627 which is no doubs better and more powerful or Ray Samuels amp.which can play by 40h while v3 only by 8h and costs 529$. I sold my V3 like others from head.fi.org.

    • Reply October 17, 2014

      s. zorin

      The tube is not to be blamed at all. ALO Audio redesigned the output stage of V3 and there the ‘darkness’ lies.

  • Reply June 17, 2013

    justin

    Hi sir

    This might be overkill but any chance using the Continental V3 with the HD25? I’ve been looking at tube amps, but since I do most of my listening while commuting and on the move, I passed on the usual tube amp recommendations. The Continental seem to be a good compromise. What do you think? Thanks!

    • Reply June 17, 2013

      Mike

      Hi Justin,
      I happen to not have any HD25s around at the moment oherwise I’d gladly test it out for you.

      It should be able to drive the HD25 quite easily.

      • Reply June 18, 2013

        justin

        Hi sir. Thanks for that. I do hope that you can find the time (and the HD25) in the near future. It would be great if you can. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was supposed to try it in one of the local stores here in my country but unfortunately they do not have stocks and have no idea when they’ll receive new ones. Thank you sir and have a great day.

    • Reply June 17, 2013

      Mike

      I was thinking if the Continental would push the midrange out too much with the HD25-1 but with the V3 it should be a better pairing than if you go with the V2.

  • Reply July 11, 2013

    Matthew

    Mike, you mentioned to one poster, who referred to rumors of the v3 not playing nice with custom IEMs, that you would check the v3 again with custom IEMs. I looking for a portable amp for my still going strong UE-10 Pros, and I’m interested in the v3. Any feedback yet on the v3 with custom IEMs. Thanks!

    • Reply July 11, 2013

      Mike

      You know what I’ve misplaced my custom JH5 which is the last customs I have.
      I did try it with the Ocharaku Kaede which is an extremely sensitive IEM without a problem.

  • Reply July 23, 2013

    Marta

    How may I believe in this rewiev when ALO is a official sponsor of headfonia? Mike, where is your comparison
    between the SR-71A, Portaphileโ€™s 627X, Continental and TAudio L3?! May I
    suppose that Continental is worse than others? How we can trust you?
    I’m sorry, I would buy this amp but your silence is too suspicious for
    me.

    • Reply July 23, 2013

      Mike

      Looks like you’ve discovered the truth!

      • Reply July 23, 2013

        George Lai

        No one forces anyone to read anything on the Internet. There is information overload generally but in the world of headphones, Headfonia is a well-respected website. The store was only set up recently and Mike has always clarified when he reviews a product from a manufacturer that is either a sponsor and/or has products sold by the store. Carry on, Mike.

        • Reply July 23, 2013

          L.

          Yes, and when possible we try to let me review the products Mike sells so that there would be no reason to be biased. Head-fi, Innerfidelity and all the other will always be confronted with this. but believe me they wouldn’t be this big if they weren’t telling the truth

    • Reply July 23, 2013

      Mike

      For everyone else who’s wondering about the planned review, I haven’t been able to secure an L3. We had one at the store but the owner took it back. Also Cesar is still revising the 627X.

    • Reply October 17, 2014

      s. zorin

      Why don’t you buy Lisa L3 and lend it to Mike so that he can make a comparison ?

  • Reply July 30, 2013

    Martin

    Mike what would you recommend to chosse: iMod + ContiV3 or iriver AK100 for fullsize headfones and we are talking only about the sound. Please help Mike.

    • Reply July 30, 2013

      Mike

      Ak100 for source quality but you need an amp for full size

      • Reply July 30, 2013

        Martin

        Thank you Mike; the difference between iMod and ak100 as a source will be so large?

        • Reply July 31, 2013

          Mike

          Okay defining “large” is not easy but for me it’s a Yes.

          However if need to choose between an Imod+amp vs AK100 only set up I would go with the Imod+amp. With the AK100’s built in amp you’re not driving the drivers well and that’s a very weak link there.

          • Reply July 31, 2013

            Martin

            Ok, thank you much Mike. I’ m using now iMod/iPhone4 as a source with Continental V3. I’ ve personally checked this with:
            – grado 60i;
            – grado 325is;
            – grado gs1000i;
            – denon 7100;
            – shure 1840;
            – hd 600;
            – hd 650;
            – audio-technica w5000;
            – beyer t90;
            – hifiman he-6 (yes and it was a little to loud on hight gain and max volume – honestly).
            I may say that it is a good set and the Continental V3 is really good. I’ ve not checked portaphile or triad l3 so I don’t know if it is just the best single-end amp but v3 is very good (not only portable). Now I am thinking about changing the source and I presumed that ak100 will be the best choice.

            • Reply August 2, 2013

              Mike

              Truth is I still like the Cypherlabs+Ipod combo better than the AK100 but the Solo+Ipod combo is quite bulky especially next to the AK100.

  • Reply August 28, 2013

    Marc

    Mike, could you compare and contrast the Continental V3 with the Just Audio AHA-120?

    • Reply August 29, 2013

      Marc

      Also, how would this pair with the DACport LX?

      • Reply August 29, 2013

        Mike

        Marc,
        It should pair extremely well with the DACport LX.

    • Reply August 29, 2013

      Mike

      Marc,
      Compare the V3 to ?

      • Reply August 29, 2013

        Marc

        Oh sorry, my bad. I didn’t notice that my edit didn’t save. Compare the V3 with the AHA-120!!

        • Reply August 30, 2013

          Mike

          Marc,
          Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Here is a brief comparison.

          The V3 is clean smooth spacious and with a dark tonality.
          The AHA-120 is grainy, mellow and slower paced with a more forward midrange.
          With headphones like Beyer the AHA should be a better fit, with Sennheisers the Continental should be better.

          • Reply August 30, 2013

            Marc

            Thanks Mike!!

          • Reply October 17, 2014

            s. zorin

            You mean lower impedance Beyers because I do not think AHA-120 can drive 600 Ohm headphones. T1’s impedance peak at 100 Hz is about 1300 Ohm and even the Continental which was tailored to drive T1 moves T1’s driver at 100 Hz bass frequency to only [my estimate] between 90% to 95% proficiency / potential. To drive T1 an amplifier needs a lot of voltage and portable solid state amps do not generate this kind of big voltage. To get the sufficient voltage gain a valve has to be used in a pre-amp configuration inside a portable amp. AHA-120 does not have it.

  • Reply February 12, 2014

    Martin

    How long Continental V3 needs play to warm up tube and play with all energy? 15, 40 min or longer?

    • Reply February 12, 2014

      L.

      I think 10 (to 20) would be more than enough. It’s only one tiny tube

  • Reply October 17, 2014

    s. zorin

    “Next time Iโ€™ll try to pitch the Continental in a formal comparison between the SR-71A, Portaphileโ€™s 627X, and perhaps a Triad Audio L3.”

    Please do, and soon !

  • Reply October 18, 2014

    s. zorin

    Does anybody know what is the output impedance of the Continental ? It is some kind of a secret, I cannot find this information anywhere.

  • Reply May 29, 2016

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How compared the old Continental v3 with Cyhper Labs Trio?

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