Tonality & Presentation
The V5 is tonally quite smooth and balanced sounding with a sweet midrange and a natural-sounding vocal presence. Due to the hybrid nature of the V5 design, the tonality doesn’t actually come across as terribly ‘tubey’ sounding with the stock tubes. It stays relatively neutral and balanced instead with a slight injection of warmth as a nod to that 6111 Jan Phillips input stage.
The payoff of the hybrid approach though is a healthy injection of pace, a nice tight but linear low-end response that articulates very well indeed and a treble performance that is clean and clear. The attack on the V5 is smooth rather than overly soft or rounded, the transient response is incredibly good for a portable tube amp and most importantly I do not get a sense I am losing any detail in comparison to similar priced SS portable amps.
The beauty of the hybrid formula in the V5 for me is in the midrange presentation. The V5 midrange is very spacious sounding, very detailed with excellent instrumental layering and an engaging timbre. There is very little if any grain or harshness to the tonal presentation of the V5 and certainly compared to the older V3 and even my old favorite V2 there is a lower noise floor and far less microphonics.
To me, Vinnie Rossi captured the tonal quality of the V5 very well indeed when he mentioned the phrase “souped-up” when referring to the tube design. I get the detail, staging and speed of the little RX combined with the more euphonic sweetness and richer texture of the Continental Dual Mono. Importantly, I get excellent power and drivability that I simply did not expect coming from the old V2.
The V5 is not dead silent with modern-day ultra-efficient IEMs but for a portable tube amp, its noise floor is low enough to enjoy once the music gets rolling. IEMs such as the Andromeda, SE846, and the Jupiter will display a level of noise and hiss in silent passages but once you lower the sensitivity levels a little the noise floors start to drop, such as the case with the Vega, to dead silent with the likes of the HE Edition X and HE1000 V2 planar headphones.
Balance & Control
One big thing the V5 has improved upon over the RX is the channel balance at low volume levels which was slightly off on the little SS powerhouse. This slight imbalance transitioned into a rapid gain increase making it not quite as nimble as I would like with some super sensitive IEMs. Well the V5 nailed the channel balance very well this time and the volume control on sensitive IEMs is hugely improved.
Power-wise the V5 is a fantastic portable amp with excellent power for such a small design and makes a very strong case as the best portable tube amp in the market today for drivability when it comes to planar headphones. Outside of the HE-6, which I consider to be an exception, just about every planar can paired with the V5 sounded excellent with no clipping or distortion issues and decent wiggle room in high-gain mode for volume control. Whilst I had some tonal preferences I had no such issues with acceptable drivability with the V5/planar pairings.
Impressive is all I can say with this pairing. Whilst you can get a bit of volume with low gain it really sits more comfortably on high-gain with up to 50% usable volume control before it gets too loud. The transfer of power into the output stage instead of improved battery life makes a lot of sense with these types of pairings.
Tonally the V5/HE1000 v2 pairing sounds a good deal more natural and engaging than some of my desktop SS amps. It’s sweeter sounding than the Mjolnir and certainly more natural sounding than the analytical NuPrime DAC-10 pairing.
You will not get the absolute low-end response and rumble of a balanced desktop such as the Mjolnir or the staging capability and dynamics of the Studio 6, the V5 is a bit more linear in that respect. However, you do get very good clarity and articulation and I never got the feeling it was overly smoothed out or too soft.
What I like most about this pairing is the combination of the V5’s sweet richer midrange performance with the HE1k’s new, more forward and engaging mid-performance. It is incredibly vivid, yet natural sounding and sucks you right in.
In some ways, this reminds me of the Bakoon HPA-01M pairing. Not because of any tonal similarities just the surprise on how well a portable amp can drive Hifiman’s latest planars with solid conviction.
HE Edition X V2
The Edition X V2 falls awkwardly between not quite enough power for low gain and bit too much in high gain mode. You can get decent volume in low gain and perhaps better micro-control but it pushes way past to about 80% of what the V5 can output in low gain mode. Switch to high gain and volume/gain increase is a bit too rapid and you get the reverse with only about 20% play on the pot before its gets too loud.
Tonally though it’s a stellar match with a rich and sweet-sounding midrange, decent bass body and articulation without any distortion and clean but controlled treble response. For the little play you get in high gain I do prefer the tonal signature slightly over low gain mode. It’s not until you get right to the very edge of low gain do you get the same low-end impact and dynamics that high gain can offer right away.
MrSpeakers Ether v1.1
Much like the Edition X V2 it has a slight preference for low volume in high gain over high volume in low gain mode. You do get about 10% more wiggle room on the volume control on the Ether though not by much. In short, the V5 can drive the Ether was ease.
Tonally this is a very clean and smooth yet neutral pairing with a nice sense of balance right throughout. You won’t hear too much of a bias towards either end of the spectrum perhaps with a very slight preference to the mids and vocal performance. Switching sources will tilt the balance either way very slightly, for example, the AK240 will give me a leaner signature on the Ether than the AK380 using the V5.
Bass is responsive, detailed and pacey but not hugely weighted. Mids are spacious and detail retrieval is excellent. Treble still remains a touch bright on certain source pairings such as the AK240 and especially when it gets busy. The V5 won’t color that performance too much and personally, I preferred the Ether with the V5 using a warmer source such as the AK380 or Cayin i5.
Audeze LCD-2 rev2.1
Power-wise, the LCD-2 rev 2.1 needs to be used in high gain when paired with the V5. You will get some drivability on low-gain but you will be hitting almost full volume and there is a perceptible loss in dynamics compared to high gain mode.
I would also recommend sourcing matching with a musical DAP with good low-end weight just to amplify that quality when paired with the LCD-2. Sources such as the Cayin i5 and the Mojo DAC (line out) as well as the ZX2 with ClearAudio+ get my vote.
Tonally the V5 doesn’t have the visceral physicality of the Bakoon HPA-01M current mode which I rate as the best analog SS headphone amp for planars in the market today for power. Bass is well extended but the impact is a touch softer than the mighty Bakoon.
What the V5 does have though is a slightly sweeter and richer sounding tone particularly in the mids which flow so smoothly and a vocal performance that I prefer over the Bakoon when I want a more analog sounding listening experience or something with a bit more character.
ALO Audio RX
The RX pot control, in comparison, didn’t have the same finesse as the V5 pot which had a better channel balance at low volume and a much steadier gain increase compared to the quick-fire gain increase from the RX. In some ways, the V5 is well suited to IEMs with its better volume control in low gain.
Tonally the RX is not too far off the V5 in terms of balance but there are some nuanced differences that make the V5 superior.
The midrange on the V5, for instance, is more natural sounding and refined (read detailed) than the RX. Staging on both are excellent but the V5 sounds more open which is saying something because I loved how the RX projected a big stage with excellent dynamics but yup, the V5 has the edge here.
The final difference is simply power. The RX taps out long before the V5 making it the more versatile amp for driving headphones and most IEMs.
ALO Audio Continental Dual Mono
Tonally the CDM is the richer sounding of the two with the weightier low end and the superior of the two for dynamics and staging. It’s nothing I didn’t expect given the price difference and purposing of the CDM. It’s a fantastic DAC/Amp that I have used solidly for the past year for good reason.
However, flicking back and forth I felt the V5 has the cleaner sound of the two at the top end with a little more forward treble performance. Not by a huge amount but just enough to draw attention to it more than the CDM which tends to be a bit more laid back in its treble response in favor of the mid and low-end performance. It’s something I appreciate in the V5 performance.
The Kojo KM-01 is also marginally quieter on IEMs than the V5. However, it has a wild channel imbalance with sensitive IEMs on low volume as well as a very steep and fast gain making it a difficult one to get any sort of micro-control compared to the smoother and steadier V5.
Even if the noise levels are higher on the V5 I would still go with it over the Kojo for the better volume control and channel balancing especially on sensitive IEMs such as the Andromeda and Jupiter.
Tonally the Kojo is a thicker sounding warmer amp than the V5, in fact, you would think the Kojo is the tube amp if you didn’t know beforehand. The V5 has a more balanced airier sound with a linear low end and slightly less sub-bass presence than the heavier hitting Kojo.
The Kojo mids are further forward than the V5 making it slightly less spacious sounding than the V5. By contrast, the V5 has a smoother and more refined vocal performance and the more accurate of the two in terms of instrumental timbre. The V5 simply opens up a bit more than the Kojo the further up the FR you go sounding that bit more details and articulate.
Although it is hiss-free it doesn’t have a completely zeroed out noise floor with some leakage even on zero with sensitive IEMs even in low gain. Also, if you are using the power stage with the P5 note there is a lot of interference when stacked and using efficient IEMs. Best keep those two apart.
Volume control is also a touch high for sensitive IEMs on the P5. You can get around two clicks on the P5 before it gets a bit too loud using the Andromeda and the SE846 IEMs. The P5 performs much better with lower levels of sensitivity or higher rated headphones.
The V5 might exhibit more hiss at low levels but the volume control is superior for efficient IEMS than the P5 making it a more suitable amp for efficient IEMs once the music gets rolling.
Tonally the P5 is a heck of a performer with excellent dynamics, a neutral clean sound, and excellent resolution. It is perhaps a bit drier sounding than the V5 which has a slightly sweeter warmer presentation especially in the mids as well as a slightly smoother top end.
Vocals on the V5 are more forward and also have a bit more space around them than the P5 which has a more neutral presentation.
The P5 treble has a slightly harder lower treble sound in comparison with the smoother V5 though its low end has a bit more impact and body than the V5 especially when the P5 bass boost is flicked on.
I am glad ALO Audio has continued to design and develop portable amps and at the same time trim the range down a little and give each amp a very specific focus. You now have but 3 portable amps, the RX, CDM and now the V5 and with each amp there has been a learning curve and a subsequent benefit as well as a realization at just what sound they want to achieve with both SS and tubes and a mix of both.
As such, theALO Audio V5 is their most advanced for me personally and a huge step up over the V1-3 range they produced a few years back. Its design is harmonious with the product line, its sound is the best of both the CDM and RX, and it’s got tons of power for headphones though flexible enough to make most IEMs sound good also. At $799 (currently on promo at $719) you might think it is a bit pricey for a portable analog amp. However, I think you will get your money’s worth with the V5, especially if you are a headphone user and you do not wish to go on an all-out desktop experience.
On technical merits alone there is not a portable tube amp out there right now that is this small, this well designed and as powerful as the V5. That’s the edge ALO brings to the market that could, and should, twist a lot of DAP user’s heads in their direction in a positive manner.
ALO Audio V5 Technical Specifications
- Frequency response: 10Hz – 300kHz +/- 0.1dB (very impressive)
- Input impedance: 110k (low gain) / 10k (high gain)
- Output impedance: < 0.5 ohm
- Gain (low): -10dB
- Gain (high): +10dB
- Output power (into 32 ohms): 325mW per channel, RMS
- Premium low ESR audio-grade power supply capacitors
- USB charger input (same as Rx)
- High / Low gain switch (great for IEMs and full-size headphones)
- One 6111 dual triode tube, user changeable (tube rolling)
- 6V power supply (+/- 8V)
- 20-second mute circuit for tube warm-up (blue LED ON during warm-up)
- Low output noise and microphonics
- 8-9 hour playtime
- Low voltage warning (blinking red LED)
- Charging LED (Red = charging, Green = charged, Orange = ON)