ALO Audio recently released their new balanced USB powered DAC/AMP called the Island priced at $299 and frankly folks this is about as small as it can get. Ok so I saw the eye catching pictures like everyone else on their website and Facebook pages and thought nice looking “gold bar” design there but I was expecting something double the size. The Island comes in at a little over 3 inches long, just over an inch wide and same again in terms of width. It really does look like a mini bullion bar except for that fantastically user friendly volume dial at the top.

With it’s origins from a 3D print design concept into a production reality sporting 4 different colored variations you cannot really accuse ALO Audio of being predictable. It looks like nothing they have ever made before and frankly doesn’t even follow the conventional norms us tired old hacks are used to seeing in our headphone amp/dac designs. The fact also ALO Audio saw fit to make this both a single ended and balanced amp out as well as stuffing a 24Bit/192kHz capable Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chip in there (USB only) and a gain filter switch makes this a pretty decent value proposition. Anyway enough of the size thing, we have seen portable amp/dac’s achieve similar things I guess with ALO Audio’s own International though not at $299 and for some that may well be reason enough to empty the wallet.

Click to next page for sound impressions and that big knob πŸ™‚ …

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • 24bit

    I had no idea it was so tiny!

    • headfonics

      They should make a key chain for it πŸ™‚

      • 24bit

        I really wanted this Island to be more popular, seems like its everything people have always asked for and now that it is actually here, hardly anyone is making a fuss about it.

        Small, Cheap, Light, Practical, Great sound, Balanced…should be product of the year.

        • headfonics

          The Island is a great little usb DAC/AMP that perhaps lacks a bit of detail to really hit home, instead opting for power and sound stage. Careful matching can negate this for me with hotter cans being toned down a little. For $299 though its a blast.

          • Sylvain Gaudet

            Hi! Great review! I’m looking for a good amp/dac to match my Grado GR10. Could this one bring some bass and smoothness without noise floor for those very clean and sensitive IEM? Or should I look elsewhere?

          • headfonics

            I dont have a GR10 to try it out but both my customs showed no hiss or humm and had a very black background as a result.

          • headfonics

            I also tried an IE800 and it played just fine but I was not in love with the tonal match.

  • I enjoyed this with the Audeze LCD phones at Tokyo’s headphone festival late last month. The volume know is amazing. Truly a work of ergonomic masterpiecage.

    • headfonics

      It is amazing that something so simple as a volume dial in a certain position and weighting can make such a difference right?

      • And I’m a big one for volume pots. The smoother and more precise the better. Wasted revolution is a problem as much as too much play. The Island really has a great feel to it.

  • Nacor de Armas

    If the headphones output is worst than the balanced one, I think here we’ve got something rare, because it could be an option for a newie, who has no DAC or Amp, but a newie or any average user usually haven’t got balanced headphones.

    I ask for the 3.5 mm output, making comparisons with iDAC from micro iFi for example, because I am one of the users with no balanced headphones.

    Excellent site, thanks for your work.

    • Thanks for the comments, unfortunately I do not have an iDAC to compare against.

      I dont think I actually mentioned that the balanced output was better or worse than the single ended output. Just that balanced was a great option for those that used balanced headphones.

      Today I am using my Island with customs with single unbalanced 3.5mm with no issues πŸ™‚

    • headfonics

      Thanks for the comments, unfortunately I do not have an iDAC to compare against.

      I dont think I actually mentioned that the balanced output was better or worse than the single ended output. Just that balanced was a great option for those that used balanced headphones.

      Today I am using my Island with customs with single unbalanced 3.5mm with no issues πŸ™‚

  • stevej

    Marcus, thanks for the review. I love the aesthetics of the Island – you just want to get one. I was wondering, on the sonics and detailing, how you would you compare it to the Centrance Dacport? Any comments on Island or Dacport with the DT880? I mostly listen to classical.

    As an aside. I’ve never found the DT880 treble ‘hot’ – though, having heard a few pop recording, I get how some people may feel that.

    Thank you!

    • headfonics

      Never got to hear the DACport sadly but with the DT880 it should be a decent match given the island is inherently warm with plenty of bass “bounce”.

  • oldandcurious

    Hello again Marcus. Now that I have an HD600 and loving it plugged into my midi-component, which one would you suggest for 80% classical music listening: The Island or JDSLabs O2 w/ ODAC? Locally, both are similarly priced. I am also thinking of using my X3 as DAC and get the O2 amp-only. Or, is the E09K “good enough” to pair with my E07K?

    Thank you for any budget-oriented suggestion πŸ™‚

    • headfonics

      I would maybe veer to the 02 on this one though the Island has a big soundstage it might be too laid back and warm for top end articulation on classical.

      • oldandcurious

        Thank you Marcus. I am now enjoying my Bach, Mozart & Vivaldi with a dash of Bolton, Vandross, Phyllis Hyman, Patrica Kass and Diana Krall passing through the JDS O2 πŸ™‚ For now, am using my X3 as DAC as I-don’t-why, but the X3’s DAC sounds more appealing to me than the E07K. The E09K w/ the E07K do perform quite well for my HD518 & SR60i at work.

        If you would be so kind to oblige me, will I smile with delight if I also get the ODAC? Or, would that be simply a “it must be better because I paid for it” experience? πŸ™‚

        • headfonics

          My apologies for the late reply.

          I personally never tried the ODAC to be able to help you put there but the HD800 might need soemthing with a bit more oomph – try looking at the schiit modi and magni combo instead.

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