Disclaimer: Shosy graciously sent me both Aliens for evaluation. Many thanks, Charles and crew.
To LARPers, Alien looks like a sword hilt; to Wing Commander heads, it is the TCS Tiger's Claw. The former is part of a human-killing machine, the latter is an alien-killing machine. Either way, it is most certainly Terran.
In a nod to both geek cultures I’m calling it Koractu.
Koractu’s chassis has cleaned up: gone is the 1990’s brushed metal, the needly paint job, the oddly centre-fastened back plate, and the depressed on/off/play button of the original. In their place are: absolutely smooth typography, a rear plate that adheres to the sword hilt shape and motif, engraved logos, and an every so slightly raised on/off/play button.
In a later article I’ll explain as much as I can the steps Shosy took to really clean up Alien. Their metal work is nearly flawless, and certainly outclasses most of the market.
A few notes on sound
I’ve lost my oscillator and can’t measure hiss with anything but my ears, so pinch some salt into the following. I can’t really detect a difference in hiss between either Alien model, Black or Koractu. Both hiss quite a bit less than a Gen 1 iPod nano, or about as much as an AK100 MKI. That means that the constant shhhhhh sound you heard during quiet musical passages through Alien Black is still there. If you’re into any style of popular music you shouldn’t be bothered by it, but through the DAP-wrecking combo of a well-mastered classical album, and a Shure SE846 or Ultrasone IQ, it certainly can bother. The good news is that neither hiss signature fluctuates or coughs. If you’re stuck with hiss, this is the best sort to be stuck with. There’s also a faint tick tick tick in the background of both players. It manifests itself most audibly when seeking between songs, albums, or when scanning an SD card. One the amp (and hiss) engage, it’s tick tick tick no more.
Elsewise, Koractu sounds great. It has a similarly boxy, warmish, and midrange-thick sound that rounds out any genre nicely. It offers up amazing detail especially in the transition zones, and it suffers very little from earphone and headphone load. As long as you don’t need to hit the volume ceiling, it is one of the most stable designs out there, and is able to power a good range of earphones, portable headphones, and some higher-Ω headphones without error.
Even under load, it can round out a constant 99dB of dynamic range, and keeps stereo signals miles apart. For the money, and under load, it nudges out the Plenue D, sometimes by a fair margin. Vis-à-vis unloaded signals, Koractu's loaded signals are as stable as I've tested from a DAP. But there's that hiss and that god-damned horrible maximum volume that destroys every good thing Alien and Koractu built up. Every DAP I've tested has stabler unloaded maximum volume. Ho hum.
Again, if you were into the original iPod shuffle, and have been waiting for something that not only performs better but does without a screen, Alien is the surest bet for under 2000$. And despite the fantastic workmanship that went into its chassis, it isn’t perfect.
If you’re going to use an amp with either model, the sweet spot is thirteen steps below maximum. At maximum volume, both players spit out gobs of IMD and THD distortion, among other artefacts, all of which are ameliorated as the volume approaches minus thirteen. But who am I to judge. If you’re into kludgy signals, by all means.
I would like to see the following improvements:
1. less hiss
2. stable signal all up to maximum volume
3. a removal of all tick-tick-tick seeking sounds
4. real play/pause functionality
5. volume memory
The following Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests were conducted through this equipment.
Source: Shozy Alien Gold Edition
ADC: Lynx Studio HILO LT-TB
Computer: 2012 27" iMac
Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL - no load
SM2 - Earsonics SM2
ES7 - Audio Technica ES7
DT880 - Beyerdynamic DT880/600
24-bit all loads results @+0dBV - headphone output
24-bit @+0dBV - headphone output summary
Strictly speaking, there's not a lot bad to say. Koractu sounds great. But its hiccups are big. Higher than normal hiss levels, a useless maximum volume, and that faint ticking, make it hard for me to be enthusiastic. The thing its that few, if any, DAPs out there sustain as stable signals both under load, and at normal listening levels.
Koractu: great promise, but at a cost.