The ALO PanAm - a rollable, stackable, "portable" USB-DAC/headphone amp
I expect reviews for this amp/DAC to be rolling in soon. It is a VERY interesting product because of its form factor. It is either fed by the mains through a wall wart, fed through a separate power supply, or fed by an external battery. Only the wall wart comes standard.
If you can picture a toasted Wonder Bread and Salami sandwich, with two large gumdrops on top, you can picture the PanAm. I'll get pictures up in a couple of days. For now, I'll let you feast on my poor writing skills and hungry stomach.
ALO have done a few things differently on this amp, giving three inputs: analogue RCA, 3,5mm stereo, and USB. Each is plug and play. A selector at the back cycles through them. On the front, they have their now ubiquitous H/L gain switch and volume pot on the right, followed by a full-size 6,3mm headphone jack and a mini stereo jack after that. Both sit in recessed craters as does the on/off switch to the very left.
The case has groves in the top and rails on the bottom. If you have a stack, those rails fit perfectly into the grooves of the power supply or battery unit you purchased. Overall, the impression is cute. A headphone amp sandwich! if you purchased both the battery and the separate power supply, you can make a triple layer sandwich.
The PanAm comes in black or silver, and both are finished like the National or Continental (in other words, pretty).
While the package doesn't come cheaply, you get a well-designed amp/DAC with multiple inputs and two outputs plus the accessory package to go mobile. Very unique. Quite thrilling.
As for sound? Well, it's less 'tubey' than the Continental is. Call it a merger of the National and Continental, something I'm pretty keen on. If you've got an iPod or other similarly low-output device plugged into it, the PanAm outputs very good balance from left to right. A more powerful item like a DX100 will cause some channel imbalance at lower listening volumes meaning that sensitive earphones will have to be cranked up a bit.
There is very little signal noise though there the amp is slightly susceptible to static and other electromagnetic noises. Power-wise, well there is plenty - as long as you're feeding planar magnetic headphones. My DT880 600Ω reach comfortable listening levels at about 9 o'clock and are too loud for me by 1 o'clock.
I think this is a delightful, customisable desktop amplifier system especially for people who have enjoyed ALO's well thought-out portable amps and who want to make a more permanent spot on their desk. The fact that it goes on the road thanks to the battery unit makes it one of the most interesting/fun amps around. Stay tuned for a full review.
ALO Audio Pan Am headphone amp/USB DAC RMAA results
As promised (and as always, late), here are RMAA results:
NL=no load (control)
SM2=Earsonics SM2 32Ω
ES7=Audio Technica ES7 32Ω
DT880=Beyerdynammic DT880 600Ω
Total Harmonic Distortion