Split personality Pt. 1. Ken Ball is the big cheese at ALO Audio. The Portland-based manufacturer’s stock in trade is 1) deluxe wire and 2) headphone amplifiers of outstanding industrial design. See the Studio Six (covered here) and the Continental Dual Mono (covered here) — two of ALO’s finest looking pieces with the latter a portable distillation of the former.
However, the Continental Dual Mono (CDM) has its limitations. It’s too big for all but plus-sized iPhone strap-ons and with twin dual triode 6111 pencil tubes working the inside it runs a little hot. Perhaps better to see the CDM as a transportable device, in a similar vein to Woo Audio’s WA8 ‘Eclipse’, rather than use it as an addendum for DAP or smartphone. You take it to work and back and again. The ALO unit is smaller, lighter and (IMO) far better looking than the Woo and its hybrid topology – tube input, solid state output – means it can run for longer between charges: six hours, yo. Oh, and the CDM hits the wallet at a few hundred dollars beneath the Woo.
Sticking four rubber feet to the CDM ensures it won’t do a slip-and-slide on the desk surface – that’s where I run mine, with the in-built Wolfson DAC doing D/A conversion from a MacBook Air connected via USB.
Alas, the absence of an optical input keeps Astell&Kern-er’s and their ilk at arm’s length; for such folk the CDM’s DAC remains out of reach. Besides, if you’ve gone long on DAP spend, why immediately park its in-built decoder in chasing more powerful, more tone-ful amplification?
Enter the Continental v5. A more portable take on the CDM, the Cv5 sits in the palm of the hand and would be a near perfect physical fit for first gen Astell&Kern players. As per the video below, Ball pairs his Cv5 with a Lotoo PAW Gold.
The internal DAC has gone bye-bye leaving a simple, amplifier-only hook-up: 3.5mm single-ended in, 3.5mm single-ended out.
A single 6111 pencil tube handles left and right channels before passing the signal off to a solid state output stage. With one less tube sucking on the battery’s teat, designer Vinnie Rossi has pumped up the output power and brought down the amplifier’s running temperature.
According to Ball, the Cv5 promises more grunt than even the CDM’s balanced output! Its high-gain +10db mode apparently 100% good (and then some) with a pair of HiFiMAN HE-1000 and its -10db low gain mode totally down with IEMs. Both Ball and Rossi reckon junior outclasses its predecessor’s sound in many respects.
For those who like numbers, the Cv5 pushes 325mV into 32 Ohms. On run time we get 9 hours from a full charge which, unlike the CDM, comes via the Cv5’s mini-USB port – no external power adaptor required.
Tubes on the go for US$695 – what’t not to like about that? A little patience is required though as the Continental v5 doesn’t begin shipping until May.
Further information: ALO Audio
Frequency response: 10Hz – 300kHz +/- 0.1dB
Input impedance: 110k (low gain) / 10k (high gain)
Output impedance: < 0.5 Ohm
Gain (low): -10dB
Gain (high): +10dB
Output power (into 32 ohms): 325mW per channel, RMS
– Premium low ESR audio-grade power supply capacitors
– USB charger input (same as Rx)
– High / Low gain switch (great for IEMs and full-size headphones)
– One 6111 dual triode tube, user changeable (tube rolling)
– 16V power supply (+/- 8V)
– 20 second mute circuit for tube warm up (blue LED ON during warm up)
– Low output noise and microphonics
– 8-9 hour play time
– Low voltage warning (blinking red LED)
– Charging LED (Red = charging, Green = charged, Orange = ON)