Testing and Sound Quality
In testing ALO Audio’s The International+ Optical Edition, I have two main sources. One is my desktop PC with a Gigabyte Z97X Gaming G1 WiFi BK Black Edition motherboard and the Hidizs AP100 DAP. I use my desktop for testing the Optical department since it has an optical output, meanwhile the DAP for the 3.5mm input and portable setup. I haven’t tested my iPhone 5 with the International+ Optical Edition since I currently don’t have a camera connection kit at the time I tested the DAC/Amp.
I used the Audio Technica ATH-IM50x and B&W P7 over ear headphones to listed with the Optical Edition, as well as some of my IEM collection such as the DUNU DN-2000, Ultimate Ears 900s and Alclair Curve. Another limitation of this review is that I don’t have any hard to drive headphone to test with and really push the Optical Edition to its limits. So I am unable to conclude if the Optical Edition can properly drive headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800, Beyerdynamic T1 and the likes.
The International+ Optical Edition is a very easy to use portable DAC/Amplifier, like most of the portable DAC/Amps in the market. Connect the source and connect your headphone or earphone, then power up the device and you are good to go. First thing I noticed is the good click feeling when I turn on (or off) the device. Some DAC/Amps out there, upon turning on, exhibits a loud “bump” sound that may jar your ears a bit. While the Optical Edition does exhibit a noise upon turning on, it’s not loud or irritating and won’t hurt your ears. The volume knob has a certain amount of resistance as I turn it around; making it easier to hit the desired volume that I want. I also didn’t observe any sharp or irritating sound as I switch from one gain setting to another.
I have been using The International+ Optical Edition for more than a month now and it was indeed a pleasant experience. I wouldn’t say that it is something you can put comfortably inside your pockets while on the go. But it is best to put it in a bag or place it on a table while you’re sitting and enjoying your music. I lost count of its actual battery life, but it felt longer and I didn’t have to recharge it every day. Well that really depends on your actual use.
When it comes to sound quality, ALO Audio’s The International+ Optical Edition offers a rich and lush or euphonious sound with a hint of warm tonality. If I were to compare the sound that it produced to a picture or to the colors that a monitor produced; it’s detailed, never washed out or inadequate, and it’s more or less accurate or true. It is easy to listen with and offers a fun and engaging listening experience. It is smooth on the ears while at the same time delivers that satisfying thickness in the sound.
If I were to disregard the price, I would consider ALO’s The International+ Optical Edition, over DAC/Amps, like the iFi Audio’s Nano iDSD or the JDS Labs O2+ODAC. However, I would consider it somewhat on par with the iFi Micro iDSD. Depending on the application that I need, I may choose one over the other. Despite producing a very rich sound, I also find that the Optical Edition is not a dead silent device.
While listening to nothing, noise or hiss is not observable at Low gain setting; at least that’s what my ears and current IEM tells me. At Mid Gain setting, hiss may be observed specially at the highest volume. However hissing sound is observable at high gain setting. Nevertheless, the hissing sound I am talking about didn’t interfere with my listening experience, since they are very minimal or unobservable during music playback, specially when I used headphones. It may have an effect if you use a very sensitive IEM, but I doubt that you will need to push that gain switch to High.
Price and Availability
ALO Audio’s The International+ Optical Edition is now available with a retail price of $599 USD (at the time I published this review) and can be purchased directly from ALO Audio’s online shop here. It comes with 1 year warranty from the company, as well as the accessories you saw from its packaging.
The International+ Optical Edition Review: Conclusion
I cannot say whether ALO Audio’s new International+ Optical Edition is better compared to the non-optical version, or how much better it is compared to its predecessors. But what I can do say is that the time I spent with the Optical Edition was definitely a fun and enjoyable listening experience. And I would definitely continue to use it, probably until it dies on me. Aesthetically speaking, I like the glossy black finish and it has most of the input connectivity you need in a portable device. Probably the only thing missing is a Bluetooth receiver with aptX technology.
The $599 price tag may be a lot to swallow, specially for those who haven’t jumped into the world of Audiophiles yet, or for those who are just starting their journey. But once you have tried this “eargasmic” device, it’s really hard to avoid it after that, or use your portable source as it is. If you are using a smartphone or an entry level to mid-tier DAP as your source, it will definitely elevate your audio listening experience to the next level, based on my experience.
Finally, I think The International+ Optical Edition is a great all around DAC with headphone amplifier that should please most of us music lovers. It hasn’t disappointed me and I think it won’t disappoint you as well. Not unless you’re looking for a very specific sound signature or if you think you have a much better source with better amplification.
If you are looking for a great portable DAC with Amplifier that won’t disappoint, ALO Audio’s The International+ Optical Edition is definitely worth looking at and will make your options shorter, specially if you are looking for an optical input connectivity. This is going to be one of my favorite portable devices that will stay on my desk most of the time.