Bricking it. To teenage minds, it’s the unfortunate – and one hopes metaphorical – side effect of being scared out of one’s wits. Urban Dictionary will clarify for those not up on time-old street lingo. In the land of portable audio, ‘bricking it’ means something entirely different. Rubber-strap a digital audio player to outboard amplifier or DAC (or both) – congratulations, you’ve just bricked it.
With interface and transport duties handled by the source device an external portable amplifier will almost always bring more juice to your headphones of choice. And more power means better control of the driver which invariably leads to a fuller and (perhaps) more detailed sound.
Bricking it isn’t for everyone though.The end result is more musically satisfying but in-hand it’s B I G G E R – two devices are heavier and bulkier than one. That’s not stellar news for those who a) travel light on pocket space or b) aren’t prepared to drop the double-up combo into a backpack. The extra bulk is especially inconvenient to those who get about in little more than shorts and a t-shirt for at least nine months of the year and for whom anything more that keys, wallet, smartphone, headphones DAP is considered too extraneous (especially if it won’t squeeze into a front pocket).
One such amplifier is ALO Audio’s International+ (reviewed here). Its dimensions make it an ideal fit for first generation Astell&Kern units. When fed by an AK120 over its analogue input the International+ lays out a sound that leap-frogs the second generation AK120 on all-round heft and treble sheen. There’s a clear and unmistakable audible reward for finding a way to man-handle the uptick in hardware mass.
Those wanting to also make use of the International+’s internal DAC will need to feed it via microUSB-terminated cabling. That means CCK for iOS devices, OTG cables for Android or – much simpler – a standard USB cable on the desktop. Yes, this ALO unit can be deployed as a standard desktop DAC/headphone amplifier. Incidentally, for those wondering, ALO is short for ‘Audio Line Out’
Rather than have me return the review unit to ALO’s Portland HQ, founder Ken Ball has given the green light for this gold-coloured International+ to be given away as a prize to one lucky (and skilful) DAR reader.
You’re required to do TWO things to be in the running:
1) Add your email address to the DAR subscriber list database using this form:
Fear not spam: list members are unlikely to see even a first missive before August.
The ALO International+ will ship with all original packaging, USB cables and rubber straps for attaching to a smartphone or DAP. And just to to be crystal clear with the obvious: neither the headphones nor the DITA Audio mini-interconnect form part of this prize giveaway. Cash alternative not available.
Specifications look like this:
- Frequency Response : ±1 dB: 5-50,000 Hz
- Maximum Output: 12 V Peak to Peak
- THD+N: 0.001% @ f = 1 kHz
- Input Impedance: 30k Ω
- Output Impedance: <1 Ω
- RMS per channel, both channels driven
- Output Power – Balanced: • 70 mW into 32 ohms • 100 mW into 50 ohms • 240 mW into 300 ohms • 120 mW into 600 ohms
- Output Power – Unbalanced: • 70 mW into 32 ohms • 100 mW into 50 ohms • 60 mW into 300 ohms • 30 mW into 600 ohms
- Battery: 3400 mAh Lithium-Ion (Sanyo UR18500F)
- Battery Play Time: Min. 14 hours ( Amplifier ) / Min. 7 hours ( Amplifier + DAC )
- Battery Recharge Time: 3 hours
Those hoping for the International+ ‘Optical Edition’ will need to buy one – that newer version isn’t the model up for grabs here.
Postage cost constraints prohibit this competition from being open to residents outside of Australia, New Zealand and the USA (with apologies to the rest of the world).
Entries close midnight 31st July 2015.
Our thanks go out to ALO Audio for their generosity here. Here’s to facilitating another case of bricking it.
UPDATE 14th August: Congratulations to the winner of this ALO portable, Sean M of Kalamazoo, MI. We hope that the International+ brings you many hours of listening pleasure.