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Mojo challenger? ALO Audio ready tubed-up Continental v5 portable

  • Bells and whistles – ALO Audio’s Continental Dual Mono headphone amplifier (US$1495) offered a fair few: a rechargeable battery that juiced an internal Wolfson D/A converter, a dual mono circuit, single-ended and balanced outputs and – most notable of all – a pair of 6111 pencil tubes, one for each channel, all fronting a less visible (through the CDM’s Gorilla glass window) solid state output stage.

    Any quibbles might centre on the CDM’s potential as a proper portable: this brick and its wall wart charger will easily travel to and from work but taking the CDM out on a morning jog around the park might only be undertaken by the most committed headphile.

    In March of this year at CanJam SoCal, ALO mainman Ken Ball could be found teasing a more affordable, more portable variant: the Continental v5 (aka Cv5). Shipping was slated for May.

    Then came the delays that many a manufacturer might interpret as the universe’s punishment for announcing ahead of crossed t’s and dotted i’s. The Cv5’s release date was pushed back and then pushed back again.

    And now, six months later, it looks like the Cv5 is finally, at long last, ready to ship. In October.

    Like the CDM, the Cv5 was designed in conjunction with Vinnie Rossi and puts a single, rollable 6111 subminiature tube on the unit’s input. Fewer tubes means longer battery life (8-9 hours), more output power (325mV into 32 Ohms) and a lower running temperature. Win, win and win.

    Best of all, the Cv5 ditches the CDM’s wall wart, its battery replenished via a vanilla micro-USB port (a la Chord Mojo).

    Like its bigger bro, the Cv5 is a hybrid, which some feel offers the best of both worlds: midrange bloom without a loosey-goosey bass response. The Cv5’s output stage is op-amp driven.

    The circuit is wrapped in an understatedly stylish aluminium chassis with echoes of Ken Ball’s other brand, Campfire Audio, and its tagline: “nicely done”.


    Why follow this so closely? The backstory: I find it hard to relate to those dropping big/ger DAP dollars only to bench their new toy’s headphone output and DAC in favour of an external box. A costly way to tap a DAP only for its UI and hi-res file compatibility.

    Then there’s the issue of rubber-strapping said third party brick to the DAP without obscuring screen real estate. In this regard, the first generation AK120 and AK100 remain this reviewer’s personal favs; that blank space beneath the screen has genuine utility when strapping either model to a Chord Mojo.

    But then that begs another question: why not use the DAC you’ve already paid for? This is where the DAC-less Cv5 comes into play; it’s unashamedly an amplifier and a single-ended one at that: 3.5mm in, 3.5mm out. Switchable gain promises a low noise floor for super-sensitive IEMs but enough muscle for a pair of more demanding full-size headphones including, according to ALO themselves, the HiFiMAN HE-1000 and Sennheiser HD800/S – territory into which the average DAP cannot tread alone.

    Furthermore, the Cv5’s dimensions correlate nicely with the AK100/120. Could the ALO device fatten-up the A&K’s internal DAC as an alternative ‘best’ to the Chord Mojo’s detailed but somewhat ectomorphic presentation? Only one way to find out. Expect a review down the line.

    In the meantime, early birds get US$100 off Cv5’s US$799 sticker price.

    Further information: ALO Audio

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Thanks for the update on this, I was on the ALO website looking for this to get details. Now I know.

    2. Well, the Mojo, for all it’s strengths, does get uncomfortably warm, so I’m sure this new ALO with its tubes will be competitive in the thermals category.

        • Ah, okay. Just saw the video (didn’t load the last time, for whatever reason). It’s good that he says it runs cool. Lovely finish on the amps. That’s one Yokozuna interconnect cable though.

    3. Wow. Seems awfully expensive. Wondering how many they’ll make. It’s small enough that I’ll leave it somewhere or it’ll drop out of my pocket.

    4. The technology and evolution in the MOJO is not likely matched by the ALO device – or arguably any competitive external DAC.

      But on the heels of the MOJO (the last can be used as a desktop where it is an astounding device), are mobile phones, the best of which on several counts, is the LG V20.

      This device is competitive with the best DAPs.

      • What has me curious is this: in portable rigs, does the amplifier matter more or less than the DAC?

    5. I tend to think the amp matters more in a portable rig. The difference between an exquisite dac like the Hugo and a decent chip based dac like a Sabre or Wolfson is discernible but very small in the big scheme.
      Whereas the delta between amps can be more significant. I had a Continental V2 for a while and it did add just a dose of honey to the tone. That was before Vinnie’s design chops were in the mix.
      Gotta think the sound is only gonna be more refined in Version 5…

    6. Interesting, but at that price one will get at least 3 or even 4 cheaper Chinese portable HP tube amp alternatives. And the title is misleading. By that argument any headphone amp with or without a DAC can be a challenger as long as is is priced over $400.

      BTW, the Celsus Sound Companion One should’ve been an ideal challenger to the Mojo, rather than this.

      • Earmarked as a Mojo challenger because of: a) its dimensions suit the first gen A&K players (like the Mojo); b) tubes (for potentially a different take on ‘best’) because of c) the pedigree of its designer/s; d) its understated casework and lastly e) maybe we need to talk more about buying a DAP and then out-boarding its amp and DAC circuitry to a third party device? and f) I’m curious to learn if the amplifier impacts the listening experience more or less than the DAC.

        • I understand the assumption of AK 1st Gen Players, but there are more people who use iPhone/Android, and out of that segment a marginal percentage (Larger than the AK Target Market) will consider hooking it with a DAC or an HPAmp or a DAC/HPAmp.The advantage of better UI and more options available for content consumption will always be paramount compared to a DAP, which can only play audio content stored inside. Thus my conclusion Celsus Sound Companion One, as it is also shaped like a modern smartphone device only thicker but ideal for stacking compared to a MoJo or the CV-5.

          Amplifier does impact the listening experience in a positive and a negative way. Personally I have used the iBasso Pelican PB-2 and the Portaphile 627X for portable use with inefficient cans like the Senn HD 250 LII (300Ohms, 94db @ 1Khz) AKG K 501, and they benefit, but on the other side when I’ve used sensitive BA based IEMs, there is a noticeable noise floor. It all comes down to what the OI of that particular amp.

          DAC on the other hand shapes and time encodes the noise signal. E.G. I use the Resonessence Labs Concero HP as a travel setup with my Laptop and it works perfectly fine with inefficient to moderately inefficient headphones (Senn HD 250 II, AKG K712 Pro) and also with efficient headphones (Final Pandora Hope VI). The headphones amps mentioned above on the other hand have a noticeable noise floor when used with the FPHVI. RLCHP is a DAC/HP Amp, but the HP amp has pretty low OI of 2.2 Ohms, which is why a sensitive (8 Ohms @105 Spl) headphones like the FPHVI can be driven without any audible hiss.

          Now talking about DAPs, I have been using a DAP for 1 year called the Questyle QP1R, which has a single CS 4398 Dac chip and current mode amplification and plays Native DSD. Now, this DAP can manage sensitive IEMs which hisses from phones and HP amps and can also drive the HD800 directly with power to spare. I have not looked back after that, when it comes to portable audio while commuting. There, I think the current mode amplification has a lot to do with the final outcome of the sound, because a lot of DAPs use the CS4398 chip, but non of them sound like the QP1R. It has a OI of 0.15 Ohms and THDN of 0.0006%.

          So in conclusion an amplifier does impact the listening experience like a DAC, more or less depends upon what type of gear you are using and what you expect to get out of it. Switch of a single variable in the set of combination, changes the whole experience for the user.

          • If I had my ideal scenario, my smartphone would also be my DAP. As you say, it comes loaded with more content provision possibilities and the UI is the usually waaay better than any A&K or Questyle. However, I know not of a single smartphone to which an DAC/amp can be rubber-strapped without a compromise to the phone’s usability. Either the screen, the home button or the ear-speaker end up (partially) obscured.

            • True, if it is stacked with a phone via USB the usability becomes an issue, but that’s why I mentioned the Celsus Sound HP DAC/Amp as it supports Airplay/DLNA, one can just keep the device in the backpack or in a pocket and the phone will just stream data at 24 bit 192 Khz to the device without being strapped on to anything.

              This is based on my own experiences with the device. But it’s just the beginning, with the jack-less iPhone 7/7+ the smartphone market will take a different direction, portable wireless DAC/Amp’s will now become a new market in the coming years, personally speaking.

          • You mentioned the Celsus Sound Companion One and I am interested in it and I do also own the Mojo. I assume you also own the Mojo.

            I have a couple of questions about the Companion One if you can answer them.

            How does it compare to your DAP?
            Is noise floor as good as your QP1R with sensitive iems?
            Is it better than Mojo with sensitive iems regarding noise floor?

            And would you recommend the Companion One if what I’m looking for is something similar to Mojo in sound quality but want a different signature.

    7. I actually don’t think the audiophile market will track towards bluetooth, at least not in the near term. I think it will track more towards what Audeze is doing with the Sine and Philips have done with Fidelio using lightning terminated cables…

      I still use my iPhone with a CCK as my portable transport. I don’t quite see the point of a DAP if I am going to use a piggybacked device for decoding. I’d rather have iPhone’s UI plus apps like Kaisertone or Onkyo player that give you hi-res capability. Even though I don’t use it. Redbook is enough for me, and I have Tidal on tap which is hit or miss with the DAP market.

      But I agree that the Continental price is a bit prohibitive. But it’s in the same neighborhood as the Fostex portable rig, and doesn’t suffer from Fostex unfortunate naming convention (HPV anyone?)I have the Cayin C5Dac and it really is something special for $200 bucks. It has a good Burr Brown/ TI chip based dac and an amp with gain enough for all comers (HD800, LCD2 et al). Also the iFi iDSD has serious decoding capabilities and a 1 full watt output. My only grief with the iDSD is that it can be a bit fatiguing with such a high magnification high resolution sound.

      Still if you want glass in your signal chain, without delving into questionably grey Chinese markets. The Continental is cheaper than Woo’s cinder block, the Dual Mono or Analog Squared’s significantly underpowered unit.

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