ALO Audio’s new Island portable amp and DAC is a great upgrade to your computer audio setup. This little metal box allows you to drive some of the best headphones with your Mac or PC.
Great headphones often require a lot of power to drive them. Headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 can’t be adequately driven from the headphone port on your notebook computer requiring you to add an amplifier to get those juicy sounds out. The problem with just adding an amp is that it will not only amplify the sound, it also amplifies the imperfection highlighting the poor quality of the notebook’s built in digital to audio encoder (DAC). So now you need a DAC and an amp to get great sound into those headphones and this is where the Island comes in.
The Island is both an amp and a DAC in a tiny package thats a little bigger than a matchbox. It connects to your computer via USB allowing the digital audio steam to bypass your notebook’s crappy built-in DAC and into the Island’s high-resolution 24 Bit / 192 kHz capable Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chip. From there the built in amp drives the signal through the balanced connector and into your headphones creating a fantastic portable audio experience.
The result is a desktop caliber audio performance, one that I’ve been dreaming of for years. Its a bullet-proof compact high end USB to balanced audio device that doesn’t require external power and easily drives my favorite headphones. The price is reasonable at $299 making it a must buy for audiophiles who want a truly portable solution for using their top of the line headphones with their notebooks.
The device is really simple to operate. It has a volume knob on the top, a USB jack on one end and both a balanced and regular headphone port on the other side. There is also a small switch to change the level from low, medium or high. The Island ships with a USB audio cable but you’ll need to provide your own headphones and optionally a balanced cable.
I’m listening to Daft Punk with it as I write this review. The sound is fantastic, crisp, clean and loud. I’ve tried it with my Sennheiser HD800’s, my HD650’s (which I’m using right now,) and my HiFiMan HE-6 all through the balanced connector. I also tested it through the stereo jack with various lower-end headphones like the Sony MDR-1R. Everything sounded great, significantly better than my MacBook Pro Retina’s built in headphone jack. I actually thought it sounded as good at my International which is a $599 portable AMP/DAC.
I highly recommend the Island from ALO Audio. You can buy it directly from their website.