Upping The Ante: The CLAS-db/ALO Rx MK3-B Mobile Rig

Editor’s Note: TheDigitalFreak tops out on the very best high-end portable gear, from DAC to amp to cables. Read his journal here.

Although initially designed for mobile use with iDevices, the second-generation Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo (CLAS) DAC, the -db, can now also be used with a PC/Mac just like an external sound card. Because of its portable size and added computer support, I wanted to make it the centerpiece of the latest iteration of my portable rig.

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I’ve chosen to pair the CLAS-db DAC with an ALO Audio Rx MK3-B amplifier and connect them together via an ALO Copper 22 balanced-to-balanced interconnect.  After doing some A/Bing between a (SE) single-ended interconnect and a balanced interconnect, I found that, when listening to music in balanced mode, the bass hits harder and music sounds a tad cleaner, compared to SE mode.

Added to the mix is an ALO SXC 24 30-Pin to USB Mini-A interconnect, which connects my 160 GB iPod Classic to the CLAS-db. Although I’m now driving my gear via the SE audio-out jack, the RX MKIII-B also comes equipped with a 4 pin mini balanced audio out. To date, I have not experimented with this audio-out yet but look forward in future to trying out headphones in a fully balanced audio out setup. According to some enthusiasts, it’s a sonically enjoyable step-up from a single-ended audio-out configuration.

Sonically, I really enjoy this rig very much and it has become my number one mobile setup.

The CLAS-db has a warm and relaxed sound; aggression and PRaT are not its strong suit. However, most music, be it aggressive-sounding or not, will still sound good on this unit, as the music sounds very clean and very natural.

With the MK3-B added into the chain, the sonics improve substantially over my go-to Leckerton amp. The sound stage expands, bass hits even harder and deeper, midrange detail retrieval increases, and upper frequencies sound cleaner. Cymbal crashes, clicks, pops, etc. all sound very natural — smooth, and free from any unwanted metallic tinge.

Vocals seem a tad more laid-back than what I’m used to on my Leckerton MKII amp, but are still quite acceptable to my ears; they don’t become overpowered or overly distant compared to the rest of the frequencies.

Sound stage with the MK3-B increases drastically with both height and width; this type of presentation is especially pleasing on this setup, with instrument placement being clean and well-defined, along with nice air between instruments. Put simply, none of the instruments bleed into one another, meaning the presentation remains concise and unjumbled, sparing the listener from the flat, two-dimensional feel that lesser gear have a nasty tendency of presenting.

For those who are willing to fork out the extra coin for a CLAS-db/Rx MK3-B setup with boutique ALO cables, you’ll find the investment a sizable step up over MP3 players and many other mobile rigs. Be warned though, the price tag behind this rig is anything but small and many have turned to other more economical setups for their audio fix. Put bluntly, sticker shock syndrome goes hand in hand with owning a CLAS rig once all the extras are included. Is the high sticker shock syndrome worth it to me for this type of setup? Let me put it this way: I now have a very good sounding top-tier mobile/transportable rig as well as an acceptably capable enough hi-fi desktop audio rig all rolled up into one neat little package.

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The two niggles I have with this mobile setup are: (1) I hope Cypher Labs in future will include support not only for Apple devices but also Android and Sony devices, and (2) I hope ALO Audio fixes the background hiss of the Rx MK3-B, present when used with sensitive earphones such as my Heir Audio 4A, Westone 4 and j-Phonic K2SP. Fix those two little niggles, and my feeling is that both Cypher Labs and ALO Audio would have two very special little products on their hands.

For those afflicted with sticker shock syndrome but would still like to own a CLAS rig, there’s a cheaper path. Cypher Labs also provides a stripped down version of the -db called the -R. With the CLAS-R, you have no balanced connector options and no PC/Mac support. For amplification, there are cheaper options to consider as far as a CLAS rig is concerned — nobody says a CLAS rig must be paired with an Rx MK3-B or that you have to spend the extra dollars on a balanced interconnect like I have chosen to. I’ve also paired my CLAS-db in single-ended mode with my cheaper-priced Leckerton Audio UHA-6S MKII and ALO RX MKII amps to very good sonic results.

Also, the Apple device interconnect that comes supplied with the CLAS-db/-R will serve you quite well and there really is no need to use a pricier boutique iPod interconnect like I have chosen to. Personally, if I could do it all over again I would actually forgo the ALO iPod interconnect and would have only gone with the balanced ALO interconnect.

When it comes to mobile gear, the CLAS/ALO Rx MK3-B rig is very hard to beat and is easily deserving of the name “mobile summit-fi“. Is it the best option on the market for bang-for-the-buck performance? No, of course not — but for those with the extra funds, this rig is a very capable and potent little pocket hi-fi system that shouldn’t be overlooked. I have no qualms recommending these two pieces of gear for the discerning listener and giving them both an unheard of star rating (unheard of in my personal book) of 4.5 out of 5.

TheDigitalFreak is an middle-aged music and (C)IEM enthusiast born two decades before his time. He views being labeled an audiophile by his peers a joke yet loves to mix and match gear in order to attain different types of sonic coloration for his music. Above all, he tries not to lose sight of the joy music provides; it is ultimately what matters, rather than the gear playing it. (Full Author Bio)

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