The ALO Island is a USB-powered digital audio converter/headphone amplifier, and it's a honey! Functionally, it's not so different than many of the other USB digital converter/amps I've covered on this blog, but it's a bit bigger. The others are about the size of a thumbdrive; the Island is a 1.25x1.25x3.25-inch aluminum "brick," but it's still small enough to be considered a portable device. It handles low- and high-resolution files, up to 192kHz/24-bit. The Island sells for $299 in the US direct from the ALO Web site, … Read more
I've been listening to Jerry Harvey's custom-molded in-ear headphones for years. The very first one, the UE10, was a game changer; in 2006 it was the best sounding in-ear headphone I'd heard. Now with his new Freqphase JH13 and JH16 in-ears, Harvey's done it again. The performance gains in clarity, detail, resolution, and stereo imaging are huge -- the adrenaline-pumping sound of the music you love over a set of Harvey's headphones can't be matched by any other in-ear 'phones.
Years before he made headphones, Harvey mixed stage monitor sound for Kiss, Van Halen, … Read more
Frankly, I was a little disappointed when I first unboxed the new ALO Pan Am tube headphone amp. It looked so cute and tiny; how could it possibly deliver the goods? The dainty 4.6-inch-by-3.8-inch footprint makes it easy to place anywhere. The amp's rear end houses three inputs: stereo RCA and 3.5mm analog inputs and a USB connection. The built-in digital-to-analog converter accommodates up to 24-bit/96-kHz audio. The amp is available in anodized silver or black finishes.
I started listening with my trusty Grado RS-1 headphones and loved the clarity. The Pan Am has the … Read more
I'm a lucky guy; audio companies keep asking me to check out their gear, and that's not a bad way to make a living. Before you get too jealous, I have to listen to a lot of crap to find the good stuff. There's a lot of shipping to and fro, and that's not a fun part of my work. Every now and then something really special arrives, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Since in-ear headphones sit in or near the ear canal, they don't interact with the pinna, the bends and curves of the outer ear that direct sound to the ear canal. The pinna also serves as an acoustic filter, enhancing the frequency range of human speech, and it also supplies directional cues, so we can localize where sound is coming from. That's how our ears and brains process sound in real life, but in-ear headphones don't interact with the pinna, so they can't sound as realistic as full-size headphones or speakers. In-ears can still sound great, … Read more
I've reviewed my share of portable headphone amplifiers, but ALO's new Rx-MK3B just might be the best on a number of counts. First, the amp is compact, just about the same size as an iPhone, but twice as thick. ALO invested two years of engineering and development time in the Rx-3B, and makes it in the U.S.
The Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo is a portable digital-to-analog converter designed only for use with iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but it won't work with computers (it's not a USB DAC). There are precious few portable DACs that can … Read more
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011, held last week at the Denver Marriott Tech Center Hotel, not only showcased a vast array of high-end audio designs, there was a special headphone-oriented show within the show called CanJam. It was a fantastic opportunity to sample the world's best headphones and headphone amplifiers.
The energy in the CanJam ballroom was palpable. There's no doubt the headphone market is still expanding at a rapid rate, and anyone who spent some time listening to the latest crop of cutting-edge products had to come away from the experience shaken and stirred. … Read more
Reading about the sound of high-end headphones on my blog is one thing, but there aren't too many places where you can actually compare the sound of top-of-the-line headphones before you buy a pair.
That's why Ken Ball started 32 Ohm Audio. The shop has about 100 headphone models on hand from AKG, Beyerdynamic, Denon, Grado, JH Audio, Koss, Monster, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, and so on, as well as a large assortment of headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters you can try out. Or you can just plug the headphones directly into your iPod or Zune to try them. You can't do that online, and face it, there's no substitute for an ears-on headphone audition.
It seems as if I'm always getting e-mails from readers asking about the difference in sound quality between decent set of $100 'phones and a top of the line $1,000 Grado or Sennheiser. I understand the dilemma, but all I can do is report what I hear. I'm thrilled there's at least one place where people can go hear them with their own ears. The store also sells custom-molded in-ear headphones from JH Audio, which 32 Ohm Audio can demonstrate before you buy--the shop work with a local audiologist who makes custom ear molds.
Don't get the wrong idea, most of 32 Ohm Audio's customers aren't buying $1,000 headphones, but because of the store, they know they exist. Ken Ball says the Grado SR 80i ($95) is, "Dollar for dollar, the best sounding headphone you can buy, they're amazing."
Headphone comfort is another area that's subjective, there's no substitute for putting a pair on your ears, and listening to a song or two to see how they feel. Sure, they might feel fine at first, but give 'em some time before you commit to buying them. I'm sensitive to headphones that make my ears sweat, as the B&W P1's do for me. However, the P1 doesn't have that effect on everyone, so you can't know in advance how it's going to work for you.
It's also great to hear how a high-end headphone amplifier can transform the sound of a headphone--it's not a small change. The same applies to digital converters; at 32 Ohm Audio you can hear the difference. Bring your laptop in and have 32 Ohm set you up with a first-class headphone rig. … Read more